The incomparable Jane Eyre

Week III

In the edition of the Galway Weekly Advertiser March 25 1843 extensive coverage is given to the funeral of George Frederick De Carteret, a young ensign in her Majesty’s 30th Regiment, who drowned when he fell into the docks on his way back to the Shambles barracks three days before. He served on the revenue cutter The Raven. After a ‘party of pleasure’ he was walking along the docks, ‘the night being pitchy dark and tempestuous’ he was blown over ‘the brink’ and drowned before his fellow officers could reach him.*

He must have been a very popular young man as his death prompted an enormous funeral. ‘ Throughout the early part of the day the carriages and cars of the neighbouring families were pouring in, so that at about three o’clock the streets were crowded to excess. ‘In the principal streets, through which the sad and mournful funeral was to pass, there was a general suspension of business, and all the shops were closed, while the windows of every house were crammed with the rank, beauty and fashion of the town and neighbourhood for many miles around.’

The marble plaque, attached to a limestone backing on a wall in St Nicholas’, reminds us of that crowded day. ‘Deploring her irreparable loss and bearing in remembrance his many virtues’, his mother had the plaque erected.

Poor Frederick may well have been worse for wear after the party, and drunk as a mad hatter, had lost his footing in the dark. But to avoid any such speculation his mother wisely adds ‘the cause of his lamentable death was occasioned by want of lights on the docks.’ We should remember that all mothers are wise.

Radical change

Not too far away is a plaque in memory of Rev John D’Arcy, 1792 - 1875, a Vicar of the church and Rector. D’Arcy was a remarkable man who, for over half a century, threw himself into improving everything connected with life of the town. During his time Galway was invaded by thousands of desperate people who sought refuge from the Great Famine, cholera and fever. He organised relief works, food kitchens, and medical help bringing aid himself into the crowded tenement houses where the seriously ill and dying found some sort of safety and protection.

With his Catholic counterpoint, the notorious Fr Peter Daly, chairman of the Town Commissioners, they set about bringing major changes to the town such as building the first footpaths, railings around Eyre Square, providing a hospital for the sick, and bringing the railway.

And yes the problem of the lack of lighting at the docks once again reared its head some 20 years after De Carteret’s mum wrote that darkness at the docks caused her son’s demise. But like all developments in this town there were objectors from those who believe they know all the answers. D’Arcy called a public meeting to discuss getting the docks and streets lit by gas. The objectors, as they do today, regarded such a move with great suspicion. “What was the need of lighting the town,” a voice cried. “Couldn’t people, if they had to be out of doors after nightfall, and if they wanted a light, carry a lantern, or employ a boy to carry it in front of them; and besides how many of these boys would be thrown out of employment by this new fangled idea of erecting lamps on poles here and there.”

It required all D’Arcy’s influence and skill to carry out this radical change.**

A duel

St Nicholas’ Collegiate church, celebrating its 700th anniversary this year, is a treasure trove of funerary monuments and stories from the 13th century down to the present time. Few early ones which pre-date the 16th century survive with the exception of the Crusader’s Tomb, which according to tradition marks the grave of a crusading knight. But all these can be read, and wondered at as you walk around this library of history written in stone.

In more recent times there was sad little James Kearney who was run over by a horse and cart while playing with his spinning top. And Isaac Robson, the manager of the Provincial Bank, was instantly killed when, on his way to Salthill, his horse reared, and he was thrown from his carriage on August 15 1836.

Memorials testify to fallen sons in battles in India, and in France, and under Nelson at Trafalgar, and while serving Wellington during the Peninsular War.

There was poor Henry Jolly, a lieutenant of the Grenadiers. He was playing billiards in a coffee-house in Galway, when Robert Martin rushed into the room waving his sword, demanding satisfaction from ‘the rascal who spat on him as he was passing by’. Jolly admitted that it was he who spat, but not deliberately, and offered his apologies. Martin was not satisfied with an apology, and the two men fought a duel. During which Jolly was ‘pierced out of his back quite through the body’. At a subsequent trial Martin was found not guilty.

One great plaque addresses the virtues of the incomparable Jane Eyre (no relation to the Brontes of Haworth ). She is described as ‘A loving and obedient wife, A careful and indulgent mother, affable and courteous to her acquaintance, Her piety, prudence and well disposed bounty to the poor; Giving bread to the hungry and clothing to the naked, Made her a worthy example to her sex.’ In December 1760 she ‘Resigned herself cheerfully into the hands of the Redeemer.’

She also bequeathed £300 to give bread to 36 ‘poor objects’ for perpetuity. What happened to the £300? Nobody knows. I am left wondering whether this Jane Eyre was just too good to be true.

Next time: March 12th, The curious story of Warden Bodkin’s hand.

NOTES: *Information concerning these plaques and inscriptions are taken from Monuments of St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, Galway - A Historical, Genealogical, and Archaeological Record, published 1991. A truely magnificent collection of scholarship and research, edited by Jim Higgins and Susanne Heringklee, .

**The Story of St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, by J Fleetwood Berry, originally published 1912, reprinted 1989.


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