I went looking for a family seat ….. and added a few more threads to my knowledge of the family’s tapestry. In our hall there is an oil painting of a rather gorgeous lady and only recently I found out that she was a great great grandmother, Sarah Fosbery. I know from the marriage certificate of one of her nine daughters that she lived in Adare, County Limerick, in Ireland. A few of you may stop reading now, the blinds coming down with the words ‘great great gra…’, having a phobia for uncovering our unique ancestry; personally I think it’s fascinating and important and helps me feel more grounded in this world.
Sarah Eleanor Fosbery 1822-1861
Andrew Black was my contact and I hoped through him to find the family seat, the house near the town of Adare. He was a rather amusing chap, typically Irish, self-educated and self-made; he called a spade a spade, or a shovel, depending on his mood. He continuously expounded his dislikes for food, especially those dishes from other countries, a dislike of sport in any form and a fervent dislike for any other race than the Irish or English – well the white ones at least. Each position was justified with a passion; I sensed that within a few months we could have had some form of discussion, but he just ‘switched to send’ and talked …. and talked ….. as those from his country have a reputation to so do. He assured me he could ‘show me Curraghbridge House’ so we booked a couple of nights in the Absolute Hotel in Limerick (Note 1).
I couldn’t come to the City of Limerick without understanding something of its history, as that was crucial to my own. The city sits at the upper limit of the navigational part of the river Shannon and has played a hugely important part in the history of Ireland. The castle dates from 1200; rebellions by the largely Catholic population led to it being besieged a number of times. The last one was in 1690 when the defeated Catholic armies of King James retreated to Limerick after the Battle of the Boyne and were besieged by the armies of the Protestant King William lll. The Treaty of Limerick in 1691 created a peace that lasts until today, although I sense that those with long memories believe this a black moment in Irish history. This treaty allowed Patrick Sarsfield, 1st Earl of Lucan, to sail with his Irish Jacobite Army of some 19,000 to France, in what became known as the Flight of the Wild Geese (Note 2). With the Protestants victorious, land was distributed to a number of loyal English families who emigrated to Ireland. Burke’s ‘The Landed Gentry of Ireland’ (1910) records that a Francis Fosbery was ‘said to have emigrated to Ireland 1690’ and settled in Clorane, on land south of the Shannon river, to the west of the town of Adare (pronounced Adooore if you have the Irish brogue!).
Limerick today is a place of “wonderful pubs, friendly people, scenic riverside views and an enormous castle”, but mention it to any Irishman, particularly those from Dublin, and they frequently mention the city’s nickname of ‘Stab City’. For sure there are areas of deprivation just like in many modern towns and cities, but we found the place safe and interesting, although I did find the height of the shower head in the Absolute Hotel had been fixed for Leprechauns, but that is a minor criticism!
During our countryside search for Curraghbridge House we stopped at various little bungalows, built on tiny plots of land a direct result of land distribution, to inquire about the house owner and ask if someone had his contact number; no one did!
Curraghbridge House, behind the locked gate, in the distance
I was by now growing frustrated that Andrew hadn’t made contact before our arrival, but the sun was out and this was Ireland, where there is little sense of hurry! At one such stop I did a double take, for the oldish chap was wearing what my somewhat distant father would have worn when gardening – a pair of dun coloured corduroy trousers sitting high on the waist with a piece of bailer twine to keep them up, and turn-ups A rather well-worn shirt of the same sort of grubby colour and muddy shoes completed the look, that of the care-worn Irish male. We saw a similar look the following day, passing through Kilrush. It was market day and, in addition to the food stalls laid out up and down the High Street, a group of men were hanging around outside the S. O’Ouibir Pub with a collection of dubious looking horses and ponies.
We had driven along the north banks of the Shannon estuary and eventually had lunch at Kilkee on the Atlantic Ocean. We were blessed with gorgeous weather, completely contrary to the expected rain, and eventually paddled in the sea at Spanish Point.
We never got onto the land or into the house of Curraghbridge but knowing it’s there, this family seat, and its importance in my history, made this trip very worthwhile. (Note 3)
Richard 29th June 2018
Note 1 The city rather downplays its obvious connection to the word limerick as a form of nonsense verse, made particularly popular by Edward Lear, which are rather rare today. The reason for the connection is lost in time!! It’s ‘ a jingle, now usually epigrammatic (short poem ending in a witty or ingenious turn of thought), and frequently indecent, consisting of five lines.’ Here’s an example from Anita V: “An infatuated man from Dover, was left by his imaginary lover. He pulled at his hair, in sheer despair, forgetting his wig was his cover.” And of course we know them as nursery rhymes. For example: “Hickory, dickory, dock, The mouse ran up the clock. The clock struck one, And down he run, Hickory, dickory, dock.”
Note 2 These troops continued to serve King James as he planned and then aborted an invasion of England. Lord Lucan was himself killed in the Battle of Landen in 1693; he was aged 33.
Note 3 Sarah had nine daughters and died shortly after the arrival of the last, aged just 39. Her husband Francis married again and, eventually, produced an heir. Unable to inherit anything from the family estate, well, apart from their mother’s portrait, all the girls emigrated to New Zealand apart from one who went to the USA.
Note 4 Limerick hit the headlines again in 1996 when Frank McCourt published his story ‘Angela’s Ashes’ about growing up in the poverty and deprivation that was Limerick in the 1930s. It’s been suggested that 60% of his account was fabricated and embellished but I know how difficult I find it to remember last year let alone sixty years ago so I would sympathise if it was the case!