Heraldry in the Cathedral of the Assumption, Tuam
Originally an Article in JOTS 2009 (Journal of the Old Tuam Society)
The town of Tuam has its share of heraldry associated mainly with its two cathedrals. The heraldry in the Cathedral of the Assumption occurring mainly on the east window represents those associated with its building. The families involved are identified and discussed. The practice of heraldry dates back to Norman times when knights were clad in armour in battle and they put on a mail over the armour to distinguish between opposing armies in battle. This is a kin to modern hurling or football teams wearing jerseys so that team mates can easily identify each other and their opponents. The knights had various designs or patterns thus began the practice of heraldry and coats of arms. Later on heraldry took on a less practical use but it continued to be used by leading families to highlight their importance or their network of influential relationships in their local community.
The Cathedral of the Assumption was built through the efforts of Archbishop Oliver Kelly (1815-34) who called a meeting on 18 March 1827 to discuss the possibility of building a new cathedral for the diocese. The meeting was held in Tuam’s first post-reformation Catholic Church built in 1783, and the decision was made to build a cathedral (Waldron, Tuam Herald). The foundation stone was laid on 30 April 1829. Archbishop Kelly lived to see the cathedral roofed and all but finished by the time of his death in 1834. Because it was not ready for use, Archbishop John MacHale (1791-1881) was enthroned in the old pro-cathedral. He supervised the construction of the tower and dedicated the completed cathedral on 18 August 1836 (Claffey, page 7). On the tower the arms of the Archbishopric of Tuam impale those of Hale or MacHale. It was common for bishops not to register their arms, Archbishop MacHale is not listed in the Armory as bearing arms but the arms that are on the tower are those of the Hale family of Alderley in Gloucester. The following inscription is also on the tower ‘IN HONOREM B.V.M. ASSUMPTAE ERECTAM DEDICAVIT DIE XVIII AUGUSTI A.D. MDCCCXXXVI JOANNES MACHALE ARCHIEPUS TUAMEN CATHEDRAM ISTRAM’.
Kelly Coat of Arms
MacHale (Hale) Coat of Arms
The East window referred to as the ‘great oriel’ window by Waldron portrays in centre the Virgin Mary with the child Jesus and also portrays the four evangelists with their insignia. Above these lie the arms of some of the subscribers to the cathedral. The window was made in Dublin and bears the date 1832. It is an early work of Michael O’Connor (1801-67) who began work as a heraldic artist (Claffey, page 24). O’Connor was an important figure in the early days of the gothic revival in stained glass working with such eminent figures as Pugin and Butterfield. He set up studio in Dublin and subsequently moved to London where his career was prematurely cut short by blindness but his sons continued the work (Lawrence, page 186). Waldron also noted that the window was badly damaged on the night of the ‘Great Wind’, 5 January 1839. The ten coats of arms on the window are namely from left to right, St George, Kirwan, Bellew, Browne, Tuam Archdiocese, Kelly, Talbot, Handcock, Maxwell and Burke. The Maxwell arms have been previously attributed to Newell. Most of the families were donors, some chose to remain anonymous and it is possible that some of the arms belong to them. The arms of Kelly represent Archbishop Kelly; Waldron describes the project of building a cathedral as his ‘magnum opus’. Beside the Kelly arms are the arms of the archdiocese surmounted by the archbishop’s hat and tassels. The heraldry allows us to identify some of the families not specifically listed as donors. The coats of arms are illustrated for ease of understanding of the heraldic terms.
East 'Oriel' Window at Tuam
St George and French
The St George coat of arms while named does not necessarily allow us to identify the particular family, the heraldry where the St George arms are quartered with those of French allows us identify the family as that of St George of Tyrone House near Clarinbridge. A quartered coat of arms usually has the arms of the husband in the first and fourth quarters and those often of an heiress in the second and third quarters. Arthur French of Tyrone married (1736) Olivia, eldest daughter of John Usher and Mary St. George, only daughter and heiress of George St. George, 1st Baron St. George of Hatley, Co Leitrim. Arthur died on 8 May 1779 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Christopher French of Tyrone, (born 1754) who in 1774 assumed the surname of St. George in pursuance of a direction contained in a settlement made by his grandfather, Baron St. George. He married in 1778 Anne, daughter of Henry Bingham of Newbrook. Their son Arthur French St George of Tyrone (1780-1844) married in 1801 Harriet St Lawrence and in 1811 the surname of St George was exemplified to Arthur French Esq. of Tyrone, on his assuming by royal license, the surname and arms of St George in lieu of French (Burke 888). This identifies the Tuam window as belonging to the St George (French) family of Tyrone House.
Arms of St George and French
Bellew and Dillon
The Bellew coat of arms at Tuam is impaled, this where the husband’s arms appear on the left hand side as viewed (dexter in heraldic terminology) and the wife’s arms appear on the right hand side (sinister). Christopher Dillon Bellew of Mountbellew who died in 1826 was particularly keen to cultivate an alliance with high profile figures working in the Catholic cause – a policy that his successors continued, culminating with a joint visit to Mountbellew by Daniel O’Connell and Archbishop John MacHale. Generous patronage on the church was in keeping with the paternalistic attitude and won the favour of Archbishop Kelly (Clarke, page 12). Michael Dillon Bellew, son of Christopher is listed by Waldron as one of the donors towards the cathedral. Michael Dillon Bellew was married to Helena Dillon, the eldest daughter of Thomas Dillon of Mount Dillon, Dublin and Eadestown, Co Kildare thus explaining the impaled coat of arms.
Arms of Bellew and Dillon
Archbishop Kelly procured the site for the new Cathedral between St Jarlath’s College and the residence (later the Presentation Convent) of Mr. William Burke. The landlord was William Henry Handcock of Carrowntryla near Dunmore who owned much property in Tuam (Waldron). The site was obtained, initially on a rental basis from Handcock and on 10 February 1830 he agreed to a lease at a yearly rent of one shilling. In the Landed Estates website, Patrick Melvin notes that Carrowntryla was originally a Burke property, which was sold in 1753 to Anne Henry (widow of Hugh Henry, a Dublin banker, who died in 1743). It then passed to William Henry whose only daughter, Anne, married William Handcock in 1802. Both William Handcock's father and grandfather were clergymen (Landed Estates website). William Handcock married Anne Henry as his second wife, in October 1802. As he was a man of no fortune the Henry family opposed her right to the estate under the terms of the will. Handcock took the case through Chancery to the House of Lords. He achieved success in 1816 thus establishing the Handcocks at Carrowntryla. Anne died on 20 August 1818 leaving five children with William (Linley website). William Henry Handcock married Catherine Josephine Kelly and left 3 daughters at the time of his death in 1842 (Landed Estates website).
The Browne coat of arms is easily attributed to the Marquess of Sligo as the arms are for the Browne family and the coronet for a Marquess is also present. Waldron notes that in 1828 Archbishop Kelly sent Fr Nicholson to open an office in London and solicit subscriptions. Some of the amounts received through him were: Marquis of Sligo, £50; the Duke of Sussex, £10; Directors of the Bank of England, £25 also subscriptions from the Bishop of Norwich and the Marquis of Clanricarde, amounts not stated. Howe Peter Browne (1788-1845) of Westport House succeeded as 2nd Marquess of Sligo in 1809. He was married to Lady Hestor, sister to Ulick De Burgh, 1st Marquess of Clanricarde.
Arms of Browne (Marquess of Sligo)
The Burke coat of arms has no name beneath it; most likely the window honours William Burke of Corralea House, Tuam who died in 1834. He bequeathed much of his wealth to various charities thus enabling the Mercy and Presentation Sisters to establish convents adjoining the cathedral. He was also the subject of one of the statues in the church. Since the sculptor, Sir Thomas Farrell (1827-1900), had no likeness of William Burke on which to model his work, Tuam-born, Thomas H. Burke, then under secretary at Dublin castle acted as a model (Claffey, page 24). The statue now outside has a Latin inscription that recognises that William Burke donated ‘Corraghleach’ and is dated 1873. The absence of a coronet probably means that this window was not intended for Ulick John De Burgh, the Marquess of Clanricarde who was also noted by Waldron as a generous benefactor.
Arms of Burke
The Talbot coat of arms is easily attributed to the Earl of Shrewsbury as his name appears beneath the window and the coronet for an earl lies above the coat of arms. With the succession of John Talbot in 1827 to his uncle’s title and property as 16th Earl of Shrewsbury and Waterford came immediate responsibility to Catholic missions historically supported by the family. He was the acknowledged leader of lay Catholicism in England (O’Donnell, page 11-12). He generously donated towards church building in England and in this country.
Maxwell (with Haggerston, Constable and Herries)
The Maxwell window at Tuam is a fine example of how heraldry can carry part of the family history in its coat of arms. The coat of arms has the Maxwell arms in the 1st and 4th quarters, the arms of Constable in the 2nd quarter and has those of Haggerston in the 3rd quarter. William Haggerston of Haggerston Castle (Northumberland) married Ann, daughter of Sir Philip Constable, 3rd baronet of Everingham in Yorkshire. Their grandson, William Haggerston assumed the name Constable upon inheriting Everingham. In 1758 he married Lady Winifred Maxwell, only child of John Maxwell, Earl of Nithsdale. Their son was Marmaduke William Constable (1760-1819). Upon his mother’s death in 1801, Marmaduke inherited the Maxwell property of Carlaverock (Drumfrieshire) and he assumed by royal license the additional surname of Maxwell (Burke, 327-8). Their son was William Constable Maxwell (1804-76) of Carlaverock and Everingham Park who became 10th Lord Herries of Terrgles (near Drumfries). He was responsible for building the Italianate Catholic chapel next to the house at Everingham. It was built by him in 1839 to celebrate Catholic Emancipation and he was likely to be a generous supporter towards Tuam.
Arms of Maxwell (& Herries), Constable and Haggerston
The Maxwell arms in the 1st and 4th quarters are also interesting for they illustrate aspects of Scottish heraldry. Robert, 6th Lord Maxwell (who died in 1552) bore the Maxwell arms of a black (sable) saltire. His grandson, Robert, 10th Lord Maxwell (who died in 1646) or Earl Nithsdale bore the double-headed eagle with the saltire as inescutcheon ‘en surtout’ (superimposed) as it is displayed on the window at Tuam. In Scottish heraldry the inescutcheon ‘en surtout’ is the principal coat. The latter Robert’s sister, Elizabeth married John, 6th Lord Herries and their son, John 7th Lord Herries succeeded his cousin as 3rd Earl Nithsdale. He bore the same arms as his uncle, Robert 10th Lord Maxwell but now differenced with an urcheon (hedgehog) from Herries, his mother’s arms (McAndrew, page 391).
The arms of Kirwan are probably due to the work of James Kirwan of Gardenfield. Not alone did he work on the masonry in the Cathedral but he sourced all the materials himself save the scaffolding (Claffey, page 11). Claffey also notes that one of the finer features of the cathedral is its superbly-cut limestone ashlar that is to the eternal credit of Kirwan. The family were also landed gentry in the parish, the Gardenfield estate amounting to 1,843 acres was advertised for sale in the Encumbered Estates' Court in April 1854 by James and Robert Kirwan.
Arms of Kirwan
The Arms of Tuam and Neary
In the year 2000, the coat of arms of Archbishop Michael Neary was beautifully crafted by Ms Ursula Klinger. The arms are on a 12 by 13 inch cedar and utile piece and were completed using enamels and oil paint by Ms Klinger. The modern arms of the Archdiocese of Tuam are on the dexter side while the personal arms of the Archbishop on the sinister side. The personal arms were used by him as Auxiliary Bishop. The modern arms of the Archdiocese bear the cross and broken wheel. The broken wheel is a reminder of the providential ‘breakdown’ of St Jarlath’s chariot as he journeyed through Tuam. The Book of Lismore provides a dialogue between St Brendan of Clonfert and St Jarlath, where Brendan interpreted a dream for Jarlath to go and build a community wherever his chariot wheel broke down (Claffey, page 5). The rays under the crossbeam symbolise the grace and light flowing from the cross of Christ. In common with Cardinal Brady and other Irish bishops, Archbishop Neary has adapted his existing family arms, in his case those of Neary and Gibbons to evoke Christian symbolism on his arms.
Arms of Tuam
Arms of Tuam (Modern) and Neary
The Neary and Gibbons arms each bear three annulets (rings). Two of the rings are transformed to represent the ancient Christian symbols, the sun representing Christ, the light of world and the moon representing the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Church. The central ring is an emblem of the wedding band of gold and its promise of fidelity. The Archbishops arms also reflect his family’s closeness and contribution to the Marion Shrine at Knock. The Marian theme is also central to the coat of arms where the Marian monogram (MR) at the base of the shield symbolises Mary, the Mother of God drawing the faithful towards her son. The monogram along with the lamb on the chief of the shield further develops this theme. The presence of the lamb at the apparitions at Knock evokes the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and in turn draws our minds to the centrality of the sacrament of reconciliation at Knock. Above the coat of arms is the galero or archbishop’s hat with ten tassels draped on either side of the coat of arms. Behind the coat of arms lies the archiepiscopal cross.
The monument in the porch remembers the four Archbishops who are interred in the Cathedral: John MacHale (1831-81), John MacEvilly (1881-1902), John Healy (1903-18) and Thomas Gilmartin (1918-39). It also remembers the two most recently deceased Archbishops who are interred in the Cathedral grounds namely: Joseph Walsh (1940-69) who died in 1972 and Joseph Cunnane (1969-87) who died in 2001. The memorials to Archbishop Walsh and Archbishop Cunnane also bear the arms of the archdiocese along with their mottos ‘Dominus Adiutor Meus’ and ‘Familiam Dei Aedificare’ respectively. The monument in the porch along with the memorials outside also bear the galero, tassels and the archiepiscopal cross.
Arms of Tuam Modern
Coats of Arms
All the coats of arms apart from the latter two are taken from the General Armory and the page numbers are not given as the names are listed in alphabetic order.
Heraldic terms: argent = silver, azure = blue, gules = red, or = gold, sable= black, ermine is a type of animal fur, dexter = right (left as viewed by an observer) and sinister = left (right as viewed). Some of the other heraldic terms are technical and the photographs serve as a pictorial illustration.
Bellew Sable, fretty or.
Browne (Marquess of Sligo) Sable three lions passant in bend argent between two double cottises argent.
Burke (Earl of Clanrickard) Or, a cross gules, in the dexter canton a lion rampant sable.
Dillon Argent, a lion rampant between three crescents, an estoile issuant from each gules, over all a fess azure.
(Fitz)Gibbon Ermine a saltire gules on a chief or three annulets or.
(Mac)Hale Argent a fesse sable, in chief three cinquefoils sable.
Handcock Ermine on a chief sable a dexter hand between two cocks argent armed.
Herries Argent three urcheons (hedgehogs) sable.
Kelly Azure, a tower triple-towered supported by two lions rampant argent as many chains descending from the battlements between the lions’ legs or.
Kirwan Argent a chevron sable between three Cornish choughs proper.
Maxwell (Constable-Maxwell, Lord Herries) Quarterly 1st and 4th argent an eagle displayed with two heads sable beaked and membered gules on his breast an escutcheon argent charged with a saltire sable and surcharged with an urcheon or for MAXWELL; 2nd quarterly gules and vair, a bend or for CONSTABLE; 3rd Azure on a bend cotised argent three billets sable for HAGGERSTON.
Neary/Nary Gules on a fess argent, three spearheads gules, in chief as many annulets or.
St George (Tyrone House) Quarterly 1st and 4th argent a chief azure, overall a lion rampant gules ducally crowned or for St George; 2nd and 3rd ermine a chevron sable for French.
Talbot (Earl of Shrewsbury) Gules a lion rampant or, a bordure engrailed or.
Tuam Azure three figures erect, in the middle the Blessed Virgin with a child in her arms, on the dexter side a mitred abbot, with the dexter hand giving benediction, with the sinister holding a crozier bendwise, on the sinister side St John holding his dexter hand upwards, and in the sinister a lamb, each in proper vestments, all or, hands and feet proper over each of their heads a piece of Gothic architecture or.
The following arms could be blazoned as:
Neary Per fess gules and azure on a fess of the first fimbriated between in chief a lamb passant and in base the Marian monogram (MR) all argent, an annulet between on the dexter a sun and on the sinister the moon all or. Motto: Fidelis et Misericors
Sable a Latin cross debruised in base by a broken wheel of ten spokes.
General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales
by Bernard Burke, 1884
A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain and Ireland
by John Burke 1836
The Cathedral of the Assumption: Tuam
by John A Claffey, 1986.
Christopher Dillon Bellew and his Galway Estates, 1763-1826
by Joe Clarke, 2003.
‘Nineteenth-century stained glass in the Church of Ireland diocese of Limerick & Killaloe’ Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies, The Journal of the Irish Georgian Society, Vol X, pages 132-199.
by David Lawrence, 2007.
Scotland’s Historic Heraldry
by Bruce McAndrew, 2006.
The Pugins and the Catholic Midlands
by Roderick O’Donnell, 2002.
The History of Tuam Cathedral
by John J. Waldron, Tuam Herald, Saturday 16 November 1968.
for St George and French
for Henry and Handcock
My thanks to Archbishop Michael Neary and Fr Fintan Monahan at the Archbishop’s House, Tuam for help with the Archbishop’s arms. Dr Tony Claffey (Tuam) provided invaluable advice pertaining to Tuam and Gerard Crotty (Fermoy) likewise in matters heraldic. I would like to acknowledge the kindness and help from the staff at the library in Tuam. Finally many thanks to Anne Tierney and the editorial team of the Old Tuam Society.