FATHER EDWARD PRENDERGAST, 1798

by ehistoryadmin on October 9, 2018

Leinster Leader 2 January 1965

Father Edward Prendergast

A 1798 executed priest was condemned to death here

In the centre of Monasterevan town, stands a splendidly proportioned house, its front windows overlooking the main thoroughfare and River Barrow, with quiet green fields stretching beyond the water’s edge.

It is a peaceful picture and nothing out of the ordinary to the casual passer-by in this area of delightful scenery.

But if walls could speak, what stories Monasterevan House could tell of the ’98 Rebellion when the streets ran red with the blood of United Irishmen and of the town garrison; it could tell of the cruel ordeal of the region’s best remembered native son, Father Edward Prendergast.

Executed

The district abounds in traditions of the heroic priest who was executed in the town on the 11th of June, 1798, and to whose memory a monument was erected in 1899 by the people of the parish.

Monasterevan House, the home of local knitwear manufacturer, Mr. Anthony Tynan and his family, has interesting historical connections with Father Prendergast’s tragic fate.

It is one of the finest buildings in the town in so far as architectural design is concerned, being a noble example of later English Renaissance architecture. The house is a two-storey building; the façade is of ashlar construction, and the windows of the first and ground floors have finely moulded architraves.

Pleasing design

The front wall is carried above wallplate level to be surmounted by a bold cornice of graceful design. On either side the façade is continued by curved ashlar walls sweeping around to connect with wide gateway arches in the same style. In all a pleasing design, its beauty enhanced by recent renovation of the entire house. The exterior walls are painted white, the woodwork and ornamental railings black, a contrast which emphasises the striking elegance of the building.

In 1798 the house belonged to Lieut. Bagot, commander of the infantry corps of yeomanry which formed part of the town garrison when on the 25th May of that year the United Irishmen led by Capt. Padraig O’Beirne of Nurney, attacked and seized Monasterevan. Later that day the rebels were driven out with heavy losses.

Two weeks after the Battle of Monasterevan, the Curate of the parish, Father Prendergast, was arrested and charged with complicity in the rebellion.

Priestly duty

His presence in the rebel camp at Barn Hill was the only evidence to support the charge. Tradition states that his presence there was in the ordinary course of his priestly duties. Another tradition tells of an attempt to save his life by an Englishwoman, a Mrs. Rice of Cherrymills. As a dinner-guest in Monasterevan House she heard of the intended arrest, and feigning illness, was driven home. Her husband warned Father Prendergast of his peril, but he appeared unconcerned for his safety.

His trial by court-martial was held in Monasterevan House, followed at once by his execution. He was hanged from a tree beside the River Barrow; the spot in a garden is still pointed out, although no trace of the tree remains.

Within living memory the garden was known as Bagot’s Lawn. It is opposite Monasterevan House, across the Main Street, and is still part of that property.

Secret burial

Father Prendergast’s body was taken secretly by friends that night to the family plot in Harristown graveyard. The inscription on a limestone cross over his grave reads:

‘Of your charity pray for Rev. Father Edward Prendergast, formerly Curate of his native parish, whose mortal remains were here interred. He was tried by Courtmartial and forthwith executed at Monasterevan on 11th June, 1798. May he rest in peace.’

Father Prendergast was born in June 1749 and educated and ordained at Salamanca. His birthplace in the vicinity of Kildangan is uncertain; local tradition points to either Kilpatrick or Richardstown.

Captain Padraig O’Beirne was born at Harristown on a farm near Nurney where six generations of his descendants have lived. The farm was bought not long ago by Mr. Patrick O’Loughlin. Mr. F.H. Boland, Chancellor of Trinity College, is also a descendant of the ’98 leader.

Fought bitterly

Captain O’Beirne’s burial place is also at Harristown inside the ruined walls of the church there. The stone over his grave in inscribed:

‘Pi fideles pro anima Patritti O Beirne de Cloney cuius reliquiae cum cinere avita hac sub lapide jacent. Natus mense Julii 1769, obit dominica sucunda Aprilis 1854. Juvenis pro patria acriter demicavit; causam victam nec erubuit nec deseruit Uxor Maria Quin et filii hoc monumentum prosuere.’

The subsequent history of Monasterevan House up to recent years is linked with that of the Cassidy family, proprietors of the famous distillery which was founded in 1748 by John Cassidy, merchant and magistrate.

He moved to Monasterevan House in 1854. His grandson, James, built Togher House about 1870, leaving Monasterevan House to be occupied by his brother-in-law, Mr. Wheble, who established the brewery section of the famous family business. In 1933 the distillery closed, and the premises were bought by the general engineering machine shops firm of Samuel E. Holmes, Ltd.

Monasterevan House was still occupied by the Cassidy’s until the death in 1953 of Mrs. Norman Uniake (nee Cassidy). It was then bought by Mr. Issac Willoughby, from whom Mr. Tynan acquired it in 1962. The restoration of the building to its former splendour is a matter for congratulation to the present owner.

For some years before moving to Moore Abbey in 1925 John Count McCormack lived at Togher House, Monasterevan, now the residence of the Parkinson family.

Re-typed by Kevin O Kelly

 

 

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