Dean Mosson is looking particularly glum this evening; he was to have travelled to Dublin tomorrow for restoration work, but was too big to fit into the car that called for him.
He hung for years on the deanery stairway wall with passers by assuming him to be Jonathan Swift. Only when the portrait was removed to protect it during renovation work did his true identity emerge; notes attached to the back of the canvas, which had not been seen through the frame being screwed to the wall, identified him as Doctor Robert Mosson, Professor of Divinity at Trinity College Dublin and Dean of Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny for 46 years. He died on 3rd January 1747, some eight years before the building of the present deanery.
It is a pity he is not Swift, a onetime pupil of Kilkenny College, it would have been easier to have dug up information about him as he loiters on the floor of the front hall. Compared to the various 19th Century prelates hanging around the dining room, Mosson is a figure of jollity and mirth. They stare fixedly from dark canvasses, unmoving and unmoved by the world around; a world which they, and the Establishment they represented, ruled with rigour but little by the way of warmth and kindness.
Googling “Mosson” and “Kilkenny” did not bring many promising results. More than a century after Robert Mosson’s death, there was a Charles Mosson amongst the landowners of Kilkenny in 1876, no address is given and he is listed as having 75 acres of land. Reading the 1876 list of landowners was illuminating. The list was of those who had holdings of more than one acre; some had a few acres, some a few dozen acres, some a few hundred, then there were those whose holdings were altogether different:
Marquess of Ormonde, The Castle, Kilkenny, owned 11,960 acres.
Charles B. C. Wandesforde, Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny, owned 22,232 acres.
Earl of Bessborough, Bessborough, Piltown, owned 23,967 acres.
Viscount Clifden, Gowran Castle, Gowran Kilkenny, owned 35,288 acres
Searching the Net for details of Co Laois, where I minister, reveals a similar picture.
The Earl of Portarlington, Emo Park, Portarlington 11,149 acres
Viscount de Vesci, Abbeyleix House, Abbeyleix 15,069 acres
The Rt Hon. Lord Castletown, Lisduff, Errill, Templemore 22,541 acres
Sir Charles H.Coote, Ballyfin, Mountrath 47,451 acres
What did struggling small farmers, and the mass of people who were even poorer, make of such gross inequities? Asking Dean Mosson what Biblical defence he, a professor of divinity, would offer for a world in which one man has forty thousand acres when most have none brings no response.
Hmm some things never change really. The Catholic Church here particularly has some of the most beautiful land while their parishioners struggle to pay the rent.
As you know, the Catholic religious orders did a deal with a Fianna Fail minister capping their liability for compensation to victims of abuse at €127 million – the balance of more than a billion has to be found by the taxpayer. The clerics, on both sides, were strangely silent.
“What did struggling small farmers, and the mass of people who were even poorer, make of such gross inequities?”
Lord Castletown owned 5% of Queens County (Laois) and supported land reform as a MP until his own untenanted lands were slated for sale. In one instance, he thwarted the Land Commission’s plan of division for Lisduff by leasing the land for 25 years to a man named Barton, a deft maneuver that also led him to evict his gamekeeper of 25 years, Michael Loughman. Castletown defended his large holdings by arguing he employed local men at three desmesne lands (Lisduff, Granston and Doneraile). His paternalistic justification did not calculate how many people would be employed if untenanted lands became farms and other benefits of self-sufficiency. Local people responded to Castletown’s arguable greed with agitation, illegal ploughing of fields, joining the United Irish League and, ultimately, the events of 1916. Police intelligence notes document Castletown needed constant protection from local people because of his refusal to sell Lisduff under laws he had supported. Such gross inequities and utter hypocrisy ushered in a new era in Irish history.
In the two years I have worked in Laois, where Castletown is within the parish, Lord Castletown’s name has not once been mentioned – a ‘damnatio memoriae’ perhaps.