Friday, 31 December 2010

Father Prout

Today is the birthday of Francis Sylvester Mahony known as 'Father Prout'. With a nom de blog like mine, the thought came to me that I ought to make some tribute to the author of The Bells of Shandon. As it turned out, his story brings side-lights into many of the stories that I have already published.

The Catholic Encyclopedia gives a good biography upon which the authors of wikipedia have been unable to improve and which the Diocese of Cork and Ross has adopted in its entirity. The most notable points are that having studied with the Jesuits in Clongowes Wood, he spent a few years as a novice with them and became a teacher of rhetoric at his own school, the great Canon Sheehan being one of his pupils, but he was dismissed for leading some of the students on a drunken outing to Celbridge. He studied in a variety of Continental Seminaries and was ordained at Lucca in Italy in 1832, against all advice. He returned to his native Diocese, where he served as a zealous and hardworking hospital chaplain during a cholera epidemic, where he won the life-long friendship and admiration of Father Mathew, the Capuchin Temperance campaigner. Among the ecclesiastical misadventures of 'Father Prout' was to be the attempt to have Father Mathew made Bishop of Cork!

The misadventure that led to Father Mahony's leaving the Diocese - and the active Priesthood - was his campaign to be given the living of 'the brickfield chapel,' that was to become St. Patrick's Church on the Lower Glanmire Road, then a chapel-of-ease to the Cathedral Parish. Father Mahony had been the principal fundraiser for the building of the new Church, which, I think you'll agree, is a fine building, and a magnificent achievement that was virtually the first new Church built in the City in two generations. The disappointment of Father Mahony, who had proved himself apostolic and capable, was understandable, especially when met with the immovable object of Bishop Murphy (r. 1815 - 1847).

He moved to London and held his own amid the literary greats of the time, although his name is now 'writ in water.' We read in The Catholic Encyclopedia: "Dowered with a retentive memory, irrepressible humor, large powers of expression, and a strongly satiric turn of mind, an omnivorous reader, well-trained in the Latin classics, thoroughly at home in the French and Italian languages, and a ready writer of rhythmic verse in English, Latin, and French, he produced... an extraordinary mixture of erudition, fancy, and wit, such as is practically without precise parallel in contemporary literature. The best of his work appeared in "Fraser's Magazine" during the first three years of his literary life. He translated largely from Horace, and the poets of France and Italy, including a complete and free metrical rendering of Gresset's famous mocking poem "Vert-Vert" and Jerome Vida's "Silkworm". But his newspaper correspondence from Rome and Paris is notable chiefly for the vigours of his criticisms upon men and measures, expressed, as these were, in most caustic language."

The Catholic Encyclopedia is not noted for its forgiving tone towards renegades but it expresses itself generously towards Mahony: "Although for thirty years Mahony did not exercise his priestly duties, he never wavered in his deep loyalty to the church, recited his Office daily, and received the last sacraments at the hands of his old friend, Abbé Rogerson, who left abundant testimony of his excellent dispositions."

His roguish humour caused him to adopt the name of a certain Father Prout of Watergrasshill as his nom de plume.

The original Father Prout had been forced from his Diocese (Cashel) on account of a wrangle with Archbishop Butler over his refusal to agree to the amalgamation of his Parish, which he described as "the greatest injustice since the partition of Poland." Fortunately, he was welcomed into the neighbouring Diocese of Cork by Dr. Moylan.

Mahony's fictional Father Prout seems no less sanguine, although he claimed to be a French-educated parish priest, the son of Dean Swift and Stella, who writes works such as The Apology for Lent in scholarly praise of fish!

When he died on 18th May, 1866, as we have read, fortified by the rites of Holy Mother Church, his body was taken back to Cork for a Solemn Requiem Mass in St. Patrick's Church "the church which", in the words of his biographers, "was the dream of his impetuous youth," as his biography says, from where he was taken to his family vault in St. Ann's Churchyard, Shandon, to be buried in the shadow of the bells he immortalized.



The Reliques of Father Prout, is perhaps his most famous work and it is in that collection that his true claim to fame, The Bells of Shandon, is to be found as part of The Rogueries of Tom Moore.

In my opinion, it is the true anthem of Cork, although the words of The Banks and Beautiful City were handed out to every school child in the city by the Lord Mayor last year! The Bells has none of those shameless hussies pressing wild daisies and Beautiful City lifts "the sweet bells of Shandon were dear to my mind." I may stand on a Shandon Belle ticket in the next mayoral election!

The clip consists of that fine ecumenical anthem Iníon an Phailitínigh (a Kerry song, mind you) and a verse of The Bells sung by Seán Ó Sé, whose own voice is another contender to be the true anthem of Cork!

THE BELLS OF SHANDON

With deep affection
And recollection
I often think of
Those Shandon bells,
Whose sounds so wild would,
In the days of childhood,
Fling round my cradle
Their magic spells.
On this I ponder
Where'er I wander,
And thus grow fonder,
Sweet Cork, of thee ;
With thy bells of Shandon,
That sound so grand on
The pleasant waters
Of the river Lee.

I've heard bells chiming
Full many a clime in,
Tolling sublime in
Cathedral shrine,
While at a glibe rate
Brass tongues would vibrate —
But all their music
Spoke naught like thine ;
For memory dwelling
On each proud swelling
Of thy belfry knelling
Its bold notes free,
Made the bells of Shandon
Sound far more grand on
The pleasant waters
Of the river Lee.

I've heard bells tolling
Old "Adrian's Mole" in,
Their thunder rolling
From the Vatican,
And cymbals glorious
Swinging uproarious
In the gorgeous turrets
Of Notre Dame ;
But thy sounds were sweeter
Than the dome of Peter
Flings o'er the Tiber,
Pealing solemnly ; —
O! the bells of Shandon
Sound far more grand on
The pleasant waters
Of the river Lee.

There 's a bell in Moscow,
While on tower and kiosk o !
In Saint Sophia
The Turkman gets,
And loud in air
Calls men to prayer
From the tapering summit
Of tall minarets.
Such empty phantom
I freely grant them ;
But there is an anthem
More dear to me, —
'Tis the bells of Shandon
That sound so grand on
The pleasant waters
Of the river Lee.

10 comments:

Brigit said...

Great stuff! Really enjoyed this post, thank you.

Just a Girl said...

What a beautiful poem! Thanks for a really interesting post.

Jemma said...

I heard of the song but never the composer. It is really interesting to read all the connecting accounts of Cork and Munster in the early years of the 19th Century. You're giving us a real sense of the period. It's sad that Fr. Prout didn't get the Parish of St. Patrick. I think that many disagreements like this have been the source of tension in the Church and the loss of good men even before the scandals and disgraces.

Boy of Fairhill said...

UP THE REDS! Nice one Shandon! Sean O'Se rocks!

Brummer said...

This is a fine post that brings together several threads of research. It is a credit to the author and to your impressive blog.

Anthony S. "Tony" Layne said...

Wonderful post! Also wanted to thank you for stopping by my website. I've linked St. Conleth's Catholic Herigage Association on my blogroll; hopefully, anyone else who stops by will come here to read fine articles like this one. Pax tecum!

Semper Eadem said...

Well done Maeve. This is the culmination of many fine posts over many months. I also had never heard of Fr. Mahony or Fr. Prout but I had heard of the Bells of Shandon. The words are excellent. What a fantastic set of rhymes. I agree with you that this should be an official anthem of Cork. The man on the video has a beautiful voice. This is a real insight for me. So many things I'd never known before. I'm really happy to read this post.

Donnelly's Hollow said...

Its a fantastic story and a great song.

Random Thinker said...

I'm still laughing. What a guy! Lovely post. I love the song.

Fitzy said...

Hey Maeve! Ding dong!