Once again I am turning to the Reverend Patrick Comerford for today’s contribution. A very interesting talk about the Church of Ireland: Church, Culture and being relevant. It was part of a series of talks on Anglicanism being delivered by him at the Mater Dei Institute of Education in Dublin.
He might have added William Carleton (1794-1869) to the list of writers who were members of the Church of Ireland, although he came from a Catholic background and wrote mainly about the poor tenant farmers in the Clogher Valley: ‘Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry’. Carleton died in Ranelagh and is buried at Mount Jerome cemetery in Dublin and he spent most of his adult life in the city. This article on the Life of William Carleton was published in the William Carleton Society summer school booklet 2013 and is also included in a new publication due to be launched in Dungannon next Tuesday (19th November) on the ‘Shared History, Shared Future’ project involving five local historical and cultural societies.
William Carleton (1794 – 1869) was born the youngest of a family of fourteen children in the townland of Prolusk (spelled ‘Prillisk’ in his autobiography) near Clogher in Co.Tyrone, on Shrove Tuesday, 20th February, 1794. Although there is little suggestion that the Carletons were upwardly mobile, they did move house frequently within the Clogher area and were established at the townland of Springtown when William left the family home. Carleton obtained his education at local hedge schools which he was to write about, fictionalising the pedagogue Pat Frayne as the redoubtable Mat Cavanagh. From other retrospections of his home district, we learn of Carleton’s delight in his father’s skill as a seanachie and the sweetness of his mother’s voice as she sang the traditional airs of Ireland; of his early romances- especially with Anne Duffy, daughter of the local miller; of Carleton the athlete, accomplishing a ‘Leap’ over a river, the site of which is still pointed out; of the boisterous open air dancing. Initially an aspirant o the priesthood, Carleton embarked in 1814 on an excursion as a ‘poor scholar’ but, following a disturbing dream, returned to his somewhat leisurely life in the Clogher Valley before leaving home permanently in 1817. Journeying via Louth, Kildare and Mullingar, he found work as a teacher, librarian and, eventually, as a clerk in the Church of Ireland Sunday School Office in Dublin. In 1820, he married Jane Anderson who bore him several children. By 1825, Carleton. who had left the Roman Catholic Church for the Anglican Church of Ireland, met a maverick Church of Ireland cleric, Caesar Otway, who encouraged him to put his already recognised journalistic talents to such prosletysing purposes as satirising the attitudes reflected in pilgrimages to ‘St Patrick’s Purgatory’ at Lough Derg, a totemic site in Irish Catholicism. Further writings in the Christian Examiner & Church of lreland Magazine led in 1829 and 1833 to the publication of what is arguably Carleton’s best known work: Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry. In these stories Carleton returned imaginatively to the Clogher Valley, drawing on comedy, farce, melodrama and tragedy to present a tableau of the life of the country people of the north of Ireland before the famines of the 1840s altered their pattern of existence for ever. Carleton went on to respond to the challenge of the novel, in his tirne a comparatively undeveloped genre amongst Irish writers, and published Fardorougha the Miser (1839), Valentine McClutchy (1845), The Black Prophet (1847), The Emigrants of Aghadarra (1848), The Tithe Proctor (1849), The Squanders of Castle Squander (1852). In these works he addresses many of the issues affecting the Ireland of his day such as the influence of the Established Church and landlordism, poverty, famine and emigration but does so with an earnestness that regrettably often caused his more creative genius to be swamped in a heavy didacticism. Carleton continued to write in a variety of forms, including verse, until his death in 1869, but critics are agreed that the quality of the work is uneven. Despite his prolific output, Carleton never really made a living from his writings and welcomed the pension voted to him by the government following the advocacy of such contrasting figures as the Ulster Presbyterian leader, Dr Henry Cooke, and Paul Cardinal Cullen, Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. His last project, uncompleted when he died, was his Autobiography, which was re-issued through the efforts of the Summer School Committee in 1996. Carleton was buried in the cemetery at Mount Jerome in Dublin and over his grave a miniature obelisk records the place “wherein rest the remains of one whose memory needs neither graven stone nor sculptured marble to preserve it from oblivion”.