Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Archive for the tag “revival”

Coastguard

I had a letter from my mother’s cousin, Keith Walmsley, a few years back. I had asked him what he knew about our Irish forbears – my great great grandmother (who is Keith’s great grandmother) was Mary Hickson, who came out to Australia with her husband William from Kerry in 1877. Mary Hickson was the eldest child of the Needham family of Templenoe, County Kerry. She was born in 1833. Her parents were George and Susan (Carter) Needham.

According to Keith, Mary Needham

“was one of ten children in the Needham family that lived in the south of Ireland. Her father was a captain in the coast guards and her mother died early (is it any wonder after so many children)…”

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The captain’s daughter, Mary Needham (1833-1916), in later life

Lackeen Point Coastguard Station
I have not found any other documentary evidence that George Needham was in the Kerry Coastguard, but on examining old maps I discovered that there was a Coastguard station very close to Templenoe where the Needham family lived. It was situated at Lackeen Point at the opening of the Blackwater River on the northern shore of the Kenmare Bay. Surely this was where George worked in his early adulthood.

There was another station on the southern side of the Kenmare River at Kilmakilloge, across the water from Lackeen. Westward from Lackeen toward the Atlantic there was a smaller station at a place called White Strand in the vicinity of Daniels Island and further out still toward the ocean was a bigger station at Waterville. The best known coastguard station on the Iveragh Coast is the one at Ballinskelligs, west of Waterville. The ruins are still standing.

There is a website for Ballinskelligs which says something about the Coastguard station there. Of the Irish Coastguard in the nineteenth century, it explains:

The Coast Guard Stations scattered around the coast of Kerry were set up by the British Navy in 1821 to curtail and if possible end smuggling on the coast of Ireland which was losing a great amount of money to the King’s or the Queen’s revenue. From 1836 they were given the added task of stamping out illegal distilling for the same reasons, but without much success. Apart from the ship ‘Manpower’ they had 11 cruisers off the coast of Ireland…

The Coast Guard stations were part of rural life around our coasts. The stations flourished during the 19th century. The coastguards were finally disbanded in 1923. They were about 100 years in operation in the country. They were vitally important in the eyes of the British Empire, they were closely linked on the Iveragh Coast, at Waterville, Ballinskelligs, Portmagee, Valentia, Cahirsiveen and Kells. The Coastguards were known as “Na Fír Ghorma.” …

The Coastguards were mainly naval reservists, or men at the end of their service. They were good seamen, and highly capable of managing life boats, and were trained also in life saving. They also acted as recruiting agents for the British Army…

The Griffiths Valuation of 1852 lists George Needham as a parish clerk in Templenoe. So his days with the coastguard must have been prior to this. Although I do not know the exact date of George’s birth, I believe he was around fifty in 1852. One can wonder whether George had been in the navy before he was in the coastguard, or whether he was also a naval reservist. His son Thomas went to sea at an early age, and left a book and a number of letters that are still in existence, about his experiences in the British navy. I will write about them another time.

Kenmare River 1

The northern shore of Kenmare Bay, looking west from Templenoe pier toward Lackeen Point.

The Irish Coastguard Service
The website mentioned above explains more about the activities of the Coastguard:

Many ships were shipwrecked on the coast. The Coastguards job was to salvage anything valuable from the ships. Often the locals would outwit them and get there before them and hide their spoils and use the wood to repair their houses etc… There are many stories of shipwrecks and adventures.

I do not have any hard evidence that George worked at the Lackeen Point Coastguard Station, but family tradition said he was with the coastguard, and there is no reason to doubt it, and Lackeen Point is the closest to where George and his family later lived. The coastguard was not greatly liked by the local population, it being a representative of the British Government which was so resented by many of the Irish population. What is more, some of the locals must have been dependent on smuggling for their livelihood, and any authority that stood in their way was seen as the enemy. However, during the Potato Famine which began in 1845 the coastguard was involved in distribution of food relief, which perhaps redeemed them in the eyes of some.

There is a Facebook page devoted to the Kenmare Chronicle which has some references to a new coastguard station built at Lackeen Point built in 1863, the year after George Needham’s death. This was in response to a memo recorded in the House of Commons Reports from Committees in June 1860 (see Google Books here) which speaks of the poor condition of coastguard stations in Ireland at that time:

In many instances the coast guardsmen in Ireland are lodged worse than the cattle; cases have been reported where the rooms are in such a dilapidated state that the men have been obliged to thatch the beds, and this at a time when their wives and children have been lying sick in them, the sickness having been produced by the cruel exposure to which they have been made subject. (memorandum by Commodore Eden, re Public Board of Works in Ireland).

Lackeen Point new station

This picture can be found on the Kenmare Chronicle Facebook page

Some drawings of the new station at Lackeen Point (see above) and some information about what happened to it can be found on the Kenmare Chronicle Facebook page. One of the comments mentions that the fate of the station was sealed when it was destroyed during the Civil War in 1922 with the remains of the station later being dismantled and removed to be replaced by forest. Many of the coastguard stations in Ireland were destroyed by the IRA, as the Ballinskelligs website explains:

The Coastguard Station at Ballinskelligs was burnt down by the local IRA during the War of Independence. Most of the coastguard stations were destroyed at this time. The excuse was that they would become ready barracks for the British solders. The station at Valentia survived, it is now converted into holiday apartments. Kells Coastguard station also survived, it is now a private house. Cromane station is now a pub.

A possible biography of George Needham
George Needham was probably born around 1802. I am unsure whether he was Irish or English. I have almost no knowledge of his life, apart from the fact that he married Susan Carter, a girl some 16 years his junior when she was only 15, and that they together had 10 children, the oldest of which was my great great grandmother, Mary Needham. Susan was also English, according to an entry in the 1910 US Census for her son Benjamin Needham (one of Mary’s younger brothers). From Mary’s marriage record it is also evident that by the age of fifty George was a parish clerk in Templenoe.

One of George and Susan’s sons, Thomas Needham, joined the British navy in around 1864, when he was 13 years old. His parents were by that time both dead, as he mentions in his book, From Cannibal Land to the Glory Land. Thomas’s love for the sea and ships may well have been something he inherited from his father.

A picture of George’s early life begins to take shape in my mind. I suspect he was English and went to sea as a teenager, in the great age of the British navy, following the Napoleonic Wars. Perhaps around the age of thirty he left the navy and joined the coastguard, and was posted to Lackeen Point Coastguard Station on Kenmare Bay in southern Kerry. It is possible that he met and married his wife, Susan Carter, in England before he came to Ireland – they must have married around 1833, but their first child, Mary, was born, as far as I know, in Kerry.

George may have been in the coastguard for many years, though I have not been able to find a record of his service anywhere. Perhaps he only served for a few years, though what he did when he left is uncertain. At some stage he gained employment as a parish clerk in Templenoe, very close to Blackwater where the Lackeen Point Coastguard Station was located. Between 1833 and 1856 he and Susan raised a family of ten children. The first of these was Mary, born in 1833, the last was William, born in 1856, when George was 54 but Susan was only 38. Susan died the same year, leaving her 10 children motherless and her husband George a widower. However, by that time Mary was already 23 years old and doubtless played an important role in the care of her younger siblings, though the 1852 Griffith valuation suggests that she was not living in Templenoe at that time.

The Needham family was devout one, and were regular members of the Templenoe Church. They were Protestants in a predominantly Catholic community, their family roots English in a very Irish region. As parish clerk in Templenoe, George would have had close links to the local aristocracy, namely Denis Mahony of Dromore Castle, who was the Needham’s landlord and also a clergyman of the Church of Ireland, presumably vicar at the church which the Needham family attended. The Rev Mahony was a few years older than George Needham, but he died in 1851 to be succeeded by his first son, Richard Mahony, who was about 5 years older than George’s daughter Mary.

In 1858, two years after her mother’s death, Mary married William Hickson of Killorglin, whom she had got to know some years earlier when the Hickson family had been living in Sneem. Mary and William appear to have moved to Killarney after their marriage.

Three years later a Christian revival broke out in Kerry, centred on the Sneem-Templenoe area in which the Needhams lived, largely led by Richard Mahony of Dromore and his friend Francis Christopher (FC) Bland of the neighbouring Derriquin Estate. The revival resulted in the formation of Plymouth Brethren assemblies in the area, and it would seem that the Needham family, especially the younger children, was profoundly affected by this religious awakening. The four youngest sons of the family all became evangelists in North America later in life.

In 1862 in the midst of the revival George Needham died. He was around 60 years of age. A few years later his children began to disperse to the wider world. Perhaps it was for religious reasons. The Plymouth Brethren were regarded with some suspicion by much of the Kerry population. Or perhaps the Needhams just felt a bit too English for southern Ireland, even if all George and Susan’s children were born there. By the end of the 1870s there were no Needhams left in County Kerry. Most of the children ended up in North America. Mary and her husband, although first migrating to the USA in 1865, decided, after 12 years, to move further to Australia. Their first daughter Suzie Hickson, born in 1861 in Kerry, raised in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, ended up in Sydney, NSW, where in 1885 she married a newly arrived migrant from Kerry, George Byrne.

George and Susie Byrne were my mother’s Irish grandparents.

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George and Susie Byrne and four of their children (ca 1900)

Templenoe to the world

An unconquerable passion for the sea shaped the whole course of my early life. No wonder it was so. I was born by the ocean; on the shores of Kenmare Bay in the South of Ireland, not far from the beautiful lakes of Killarney, with their echoes, their legends and their weird fascinations. The sea was to me as toys and amusements. But more than that it was the boundary and limit of my world. I knew that beyond that vast expanse of water, were great cities and strange sights. I longed to see these things for myself. Anyone who has been born and reared on an island will understand the sense of restraint which filled my boyish heart. Thus all my youthful pranks took a seaward turn. If my father deprived me of a boat, I launched the pig trough into the heavy breakers. If he hid the oars I made a pair of garden shovels answer the purpose. When all means of rowing failed I made a sailboat with the sheets from my bed. No punishments, no remonstrances from my gentle sisters could subdue the wild passion that constantly drove me into the deepest “perils of waters!” (Needham T. From Cannibal Land to the Glory Land, p.6)

Kenmare Bay from Templenoe jetty

Thomas Needham (1854-1916) went to sea when he was 13. His father had been a captain in the Kerry coastguard in his younger days, so seafaring was in the family. George Needham knew the perils of the sea, and especially the wild Atlantic. He died, however, when Thomas was a young boy, and in exasperation over what to do with him, his older siblings allowed Thomas to fulfil his longings and sign on to a ship as soon as he was old enough.

He left the shores of the Kenmare Bay in 1867 to explore the world. After many adventures he came back eventually to Ireland, but his family had all gone. They had migrated to America. He followed them, and once there became a strong Christian believer. He spent his life as an evangelist, in the time of DL Moody, one of the greatest American evangelists of the nineteenth century. Thomas became known as the “sailor preacher.”

Templenoe, where Thomas grew up, is hardly noticeable nowadays as you drive along the forested road from Kenmare to Sneem. There is a sign to Templenoe jetty and following the dirt road through the trees brings you to the banks of the Kenmare Bay, where the photo above was taken. It was a calm and sunny day when we were there, the waters of the bay still, the sky blue above the mountains beyond the bay.

The old Church of Ireland which the Needhams attended, and where Thomas’s oldest sister, Mary, and William Hickson were married in 1858, was closed up and for sale when Hanna and I were there in late August this year. I wandered through the churchyard and spotted the name Needham on one headstone, but it was clear that most of the Needhams had departed. The Church of Ireland was a lot stronger in the nineteenth century, and many of the old churches are now shut or converted to homes or restaurants.

The minister of the Templenoe church was a member of the local Anglo-Irish gentry in the area. The Rev Denis Mahony lived at Dromore Castle, which we did not see, but which still stands on land now owned by the Irish Forestry. He was a keen “proselytiser” according to Wikipedia, which made him unpopular with many of the local population, who were mostly Catholic. The Needhams were, however, Protestant, and The Rev Denis Mahony was also their landlord, according to the Griffith valuation of 1851, so they presumably had a good relationship with him, and were sympathetic to his evangelistic fervor. In 1861 his son Richard Mahony was instrumental in the outbreak of a Christian revival in the area, which was to have a lasting impact on the world and our family.

Richard Mahony’s best friend, FC Bland, of the neighbouring Derryquin Estate, near Sneem, was also deeply involved in this revival, which seemed to have affected the Needham family, as well as many other Kerry Protestants. Thomas Needham was only seven when the revival broke out and was more interested in boats, but his older brother, George, was 15 at the time and was profoundly changed by the revival. He too later became a well known evangelist in North America: in 1901 a newspaper article from Cambridge Massachusetts reported, “Mr Needham owes his conversion to the great religious revival that swept over Ireland in the year 1861.”

1861 was also the year that my great grandmother Susie Hickson, the first daughter of William Hickson and Mary Needham, was born in nearby Killarney. Her parents, who I believe had met one another when William lived in Sneem some years earlier, were also affected by the revival, possibly through an association with FC Bland, though they were living in Killarney or Killorglin during the revival years. Like many of those affected by the revival, they became Brethren, and this legacy was passed down to my grandmother (Susie Hickson’s daughter Gertie, born in Sydney in 1899) who grew up in the Brethren church in Sydney, Australia.

Gertie, to her parents’ dismay, married an English immigrant (my grandfather, George Simmonds) who was Anglican, but as a sort of compromise they raised their three daughters, one of whom was my mother, as Baptists. Though my mother also married an Anglican, a streak of non-conformism has run through my family ever since the Irish revivals of the 1860s (and the Scottish revivals of the 1840s) and created a longing even in me which has made me look beyond the “Established Church” for a spiritual pathway through life.

Templenoe Church in the ninteenth century

Templenoe Church, now closed and for sale

Sneem

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Sneem Bridge

While driving around the “Ring of Kerry” with my daughter Hanna in late August this year we passed through the colourful little village of Sneem. We had driven “the ring” counterclockwise and therefore came from the Atlantic coast where we had delighted in the beautiful coastline that passes the Skellig islands and Waterville, and all the little rocky coves and sandy beaches around the seaward end of Kenmare Bay. It was evening. The drive around the Ring had taken a lot longer (and we had left a lot later) than expected and we were due back in Killarney for a concert later that evening, so we didn’t stop, driving onward along the northern side of the inlet to Kenmare and then north over the winding road back to the big tourist town on the other side of the mountains.

We went back the next day, driving in the other direction, because I wanted to see a little more of Sneem. I have been interested in the village because of its place in our family history, of which I first became aware when I read Don Robinson’s notes about John Christopher Hickson (JCH):

Some part of his boyhood was spent in the picturesque village of Sneem, on the wild rocky coast of Kerry, where he had Needham relatives.

Later I had got a copy from my father of the book JCH had written after returning from his world trip in 1893, which he embarked on with his twenty year old daughter Alice. On that journey he returned to the places where he had grown up, which he had left when in 1870 he, like the rest of his family before him, had emigrated from Ireland. In Notes of Travel, JCH writes:

[We] drove by jaunting car to the little village of Sneem [from Kenmare], which lies hidden by the headlands and rocky promontories of the wild coast of Kerry. To a stranger this district would appear barren and deserted, but to some of my acquaintances it is a veritable garden of Eden, and the remembrance of early days of innocent childhood clings with a perennial freshness like the fragrance of a withered rose. Here we visited the village church where once I worshipped and was taught in Sunday School; and on the green bank outside, sloping to the river, I saw the monuments of those whom I knew and revered, but who have gone to the “bourne whence no travellers return.” Unpretending and insignificant as this village of Sneem is at present, there have gone forth from the ranks of those born within its limits men and women who have been a credit to the land of their birth, and who have made their mark in the political, military and social history of the age. (Hickson JC, Notes of Travel, p.40, published 1893)

John Hickson, it is clear, lived in Sneem for some part of his childhood. But he was born on the other side of the mountains in Killorglin. So why did the Hickson family live in Sneem, and when?

Why?

Don Robinson says that the Hicksons had Needham relatives in Sneem. It is unclear from his notes what he means. However, of interest is the fact that Richard Hickson’s wife (John’s mother) was named Mary-Anne Carter before she married, while George Needham’s wife was named Susan Carter. Were they related – sisters, or cousins? Mary-Anne was 16 years older than Susan. Both died relatively young, Mary-Anne in 1853 at the age of 51 and Susan in 1856 at 38. If they were sisters then the Hickson children and the Needham children were cousins. More research is needed here. But a relationship between these two Carters might go some way to explaining the Hickson’s connection with Sneem, since George Needham and his wife and many children lived in Templenoe, very close to the larger village.

There is a fascinating book about Sneem that I picked up in a little souvenir shop when we were there. It is called “Sneem, the Knot in the Ring,” by T.E. Stoakley, published in 1986. Chapter 7 relates the history of the Bland family, who were the local gentry during the years that our forebears were associated with the area. The Blands were an Anglo-Irish family who had lived in Kerry for over a hundred years. Their estate was called Derryquin and the house they lived in, built in the first half of the nineteenth century (and only one of several Bland residences in the area) was called Derryquin Castle. It stood majestic on the shores of Kenmare Bay a few kilometres south east of the village.

derryquin-castle

 

Stoakley describes the estate in his book as follows:

Derryquin formed a community that was largely self-supporting. There was timber in plenty and a saw pit where sawyers were kept busy converting the logs into the planks, boards and scantlings for the carpenter’s shop where doors and sashes were made and all the innumerable odds and ends of estate joinery were done. There was a forge where the tenants horses were shod and all the general smithy work was done, even the manufacture of bolts and nails. (Stoakley TE. Sneem, the Knot in the Ring, p.77)

This last sentence caught my eye when I read it, because I knew that William Hickson, who was John’s oldest brother, was, like his father, a “nailor” – a manufacturer of bolts and nails. I remembered how puzzled I had been by this occupation when I first saw it recorded on William’s marriage certificate. I had never heard of such a trade. Could it be, I wondered as I read these words in Stoakley’s book, that William Hickson and his father had been employed on the Derryquin Estate as nailors? This could have been the reason that they lived in Sneem. But it does not cast any light on exactly when they lived there.

When?

John Hickson was born in Killorglin in 1848. He was the youngest in the family, in which seven children survived to adulthood. The oldest was Susan, born in 1832. William, his big brother was born in 1833, so was 15 when John was born, and presumably at that stage ready to start an apprenticeship. So the family could have moved to Sneem any time after John’s birth, and William may have learnt the manufacture of nails on the Derryquin Estate.

The Hickson family’s life during John’s first fifteen years, can be divided into three five year periods divided by significant life events:

  • 1848 John Hickson’s birth
  • 1853 their mother Mary-Anne Hickson (Carter) died age 51. John was 5 years old. That same year the first of the Hickson children, Susan, who was 21, migrated to Australia. Two more sisters Mary and Ellen migrated two years later in 1855.
  • 1858 William Hickson, the oldest son, married Mary Needham in Templenoe Church. John was 10 by this stage.
  • 1863 Two more of the Hickson children, Kate and George, migrated to Australia. John was then 15 and presumably leaving school.

But in which of these five year periods did the family live in Sneem?

Another clue to times and places is found in a poem John wrote many years later, in Australia on the occasion of the twentieth birthday of William and Mary’s first child, Richard, recalling his birth in Killorglin. Here are the first five stanzas from that poem:

The day was advancing, the bright sun was pouring
Its beams through the leaves of the Elms in the Grove,
The lark which the morn had seen loftily soaring,
Had descended to guard the soft nest of it’s love.

The fair Laune was following in majestic splendour,
The trout replied brisk to the angler’s fly,
The reeds in the distance rose brighter and grander,
All nature seemed pleased that last day of July.

O’er the field the light breezes of midsummer softly
The meadows and bright corn whispering wooed
Midst their shade undisturbed sang the Cormeraks gaily
And the Cuckoo’s note rang loud tones from the wood.

Mid such scenes of such beauty and fullest enjoyment,
This baby was born with tribute to pay
I have spared a few moments for mental employment,
To con a few lines for his twentieth birthday.

As a child in his cradle I rocked him to slumber
Oft his bright chubby form I have nursed on my knee
But as boy our firm friendship was riven asunder,
For early he crossed o’er Atlantic’s blue sea.

It is clear from this poem that Richard was born in Killorglin. William and Mary, and presumably William’s brother John and their father were all probably living in Killorglin by that time. My records indicate that their second child Suzie was born in Killarney in 1861 (though whether that means they were living there I cannot say), and I have no record of where their third child, Mary-Anne (who was always called Lizzie) was born (I believe in 1863). The last two lines of the fifth stanza refer to William and Mary’s migration with their three children to America in 1865.

Are we any closer to knowing the time of the Hickson’s sojourn in Sneem? If John’s “innocent childhood” was up to the age of five, it would place them there in the years between 1848 and 1853, the year that John’s mother died. The trauma of her death may well have precipitated a move. But it is not impossible that they remained there after 1853, and that John started school in Sneem, even if he finished in Killorglin.

The “fragrance of a withered rose”

John Hickson remembered Sneem with nostalgia, something that is clear from his book: “the remembrance of early days of innocent childhood clings with a perennial freshness like the fragrance of a withered rose.” This is interesting knowing that the Irish potato famine had ravaged the area in the years from 1845 to 1852, during the latter years of which the Hickson’s were probably living in the village. Sneem suffered greatly along with the rest of Ireland.

Sneem Church

Church of the Transfiguration

 

The church (Church of Ireland) where the family worshipped still stands, though it is somewhat changed from its condition in the 1850s: it is called the Church of the Transfiguration. Hanna and I peeked inside its quiet interior and stood in the same churchyard described by John in his book: and on the green bank outside, sloping to the river, I saw the monuments of those whom I knew and revered, but who have gone to the “bourne whence no travellers return.”

The Bland family of Derryquin has a family vault in the churchyard. There is at least one Bland commemorated on the inner walls of the church. The Bland family were very likely a significant part of the Hickson’s life while they were in Killorglin. However, Derryquin Castle has long since disappeared, as has the family who owned it. The main surviving “big house” of the Bland family is called Parknasilla and is today a luxury hotel on the shores of Kenmare Bay. What happened to Derryquin and the Blands?

The spiritual legacy of Sneem

By the beginning of the 1860s, Stoakley explains in his book, “Ireland was passing through the difficult years of the land agitation, and it was inevitable that the fortunes of the Derryquin Estate should decline.” (p.78) However, in 1861 there was an unexpected development in the area that possibly hastened the demise of Derryquin. It was the year that William and Mary’s second child, Suzie, was born (in Killorglin, Killarney or Sneem – I am unsure which). In Kenmare, some twenty kilometres east of Sneem, a religious revival broke out, resulting in the formation of a group within the Protestant church whose members were usually known simply as Brethren. Richard Mahony, the Needham family’s landlord, who owned Dromore Castle near Templenoe, was converted to their beliefs.

Richard Mahony was best friends with Francis Christopher (FC) Bland; the Bland’s estate bordered his. FC Bland, the son and heir to the owner of Derryquin, was, through his friend, also persuaded by the revival. To explain what happened Stoakley in his book quotes FC Bland’s obituary:

It was in the year 1861, and while busily engaged in the improvement of the estate and the condition of the tenants thereon, by building, road making, draining, that the revival broke out hard by in the meetings held by his dear friend and neighbour the late Mr Richard Mahony, of Dromore. Becoming anxious about his salvation, in the presence of numerous conversions among his acquaintances, he [Bland] consulted the Rev Frederick Trench, of Cloughjordan, the well known founder of the Home Mission, and from him received the strange advice to begin preaching, and, as he said, “in watering others you will yourself be watered.” (Stoakley, p.77)

FC Bland followed his advice and became a travelling evangelist, and later an advisor to the famous American evangelist, D.L. Moody. This meant that in 1863, when his father died and Francis inherited the estate, that he was unable to deal directly with the problems the estate was experiencing. Stoakley describes this in a mildly disappointed tone:

For several years while the revival was at its height he [FC Bland] travelled around Ireland on a preaching campaign. He then turned his attention to England… It was the worst possible time for a landlord to absent himself from his estates… In his preoccupation with the salvation of himself and his fellow men, the owner of Derryquin was unmindful that his estate itself needed its own kind of salvation. It is clear from his obituary that he considered his estate as merely an “earthly inheritance”; the duties he had been called upon to perform were on a higher plane. (Stoakley, p.78)

FC Bland played an important and influential role in the spiritual revivals of Ireland, England and America in the last four decades of the nineteenth century. But his neglect of his own estate may well have hastened its decline. Eventually the estate would be sold and in the troubles of 1923 the castle was burned, becoming a ruin that eventually was demolished. Today there is no sign of the old house, the site of which has been swallowed up by a golf course in the grounds of the Parknasilla Hotel.

The Hicksons had almost certainly left Sneem by the time the revival broke out, and I have nothing in my possession written by John to suggest that it had any kind of strong impact on him. However, his older brother William appears to have been affected, as was William’s wife Mary. Mary’s four youngest brothers (who were growing up in Templenoe) all became evangelists. William and Mary probably became Brethren, and their beliefs and practices continued into the next generation. Their daughter Suzie, born in the year the revival broke out, would eventually marry another Irish migrant from Kerry, George Byrne, in Australia many years later. They were staunch members of the Brethren church in Sydney, a fact that profoundly affected their family life, in a way that caused Suzie later came to regret. But that is another story. Susie was my great grandmother, but she died long before I was born.

This Brethren influence thus became in some ways the most important legacy of Sneem in my family. It may not have had much effect on John, but it certainly affected William, and through him his daughter, Suzie, and her children, among whom was my grandmother, Gertie Byrne (later Simmonds).

I have mentioned the fact that Suzie Hickson married George Byrne, another migrant from County Kerry, and that they followed the Brethren path in their beliefs. George had a younger brother, Richard (Dick) Byrne, who came out to Australia a good many years after (early 1890s). He too grew up in Kerry and though he was not even born at the time of the revival, is likely to have been influenced by the Brethren movement. I suspect George and Richard’s parents may have been Brethren. After his arrival in Sydney Richard fell in love with John Hickson’s eldest daughter, Alice, and they planned to marry. John refused to give them his blessing, however, and forbade their marriage.

I have long wondered why John Hickson disliked Dick Byrne so much and I have elsewhere suggested some possible explanations. Another theory is that Dick was too religious for John, which may have been a result of a suspicion that John Hickson had for the non-conformism of the Brethren. John himself was a staunch Anglican in Sydney. Alice, as a result, was not allowed to marry Richard, though many years later after both their respective spouses died they did in fact marry, by then in their early seventies, much to the annoyance of John Hickson, still alive and opinionated and by then into his nineties.

Sneem

The village is now a picturesque little place on a wild and beautiful coast. The Sneem River tumbles through the middle of the town, spanned by an attractive bridge. The houses are painted in many bright colours and tourists flock to the village in summer, providing it with a good deal of its income. But Sneem has not always been as picturesque as it is now. During the Famine (1845-1852) a traveller described it as a “poor, dirty village.” This was about the time the Hickson’s lived there. In the mid-nineteenth century it was a small place, in 1851 boasting a population of only 359 which had risen by 1861 to just 406 (Stoakley, p.18) The bright colours of the houses for which the village is famous, and the attractive village greens, only began to appear in the first quarter of the twentieth century, so at the time John Hickson lived there it was a bleak and colourless place. By contrast, according to Stoakley, in more recent years “many have expressed the opinion that it is the most attractive village in Ireland.” (p.20)But small and dirty and colourless as it may have been to some, to John Hickson it was a place of “perennial freshness like the fragrance of a withered rose,” even if to a stranger it may have appeared “unpretending and insignificant.” And whether JCH was in favour of, or opposed to, the religious enthusiasm that resulted from the revival there seems little doubt that the effects of that revival, good and bad, were felt around the world through not just the ministry of FC Bland, but also of the changed lives of William Hickson and his wife Mary, in Australia, as well as Mary’s extended family, the Needhams, in America.

 

 

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The colours of Sneem

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