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Archival Puzzle Solved by Recent Deposit of Papers Relevant to the Haydn Family of Limerick

Archival Puzzle Solved by Recent Deposit of Papers Relevant to the Haydn Family of Limerick

By Dr Susan Hood

For May, Archive of the Month moves to the cathedral, city, county and diocese of Limerick, and a follow–up story to a previous Archive of the Month featured back in December 2018 here.

In 2018, with financial support from the bishop, diocese, and St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, the RCB Library acquired a volume that had come up for public auction which documented in detail the fund–raising and construction work involved in a significant renovation of the cathedral between 1859 and 1863.

Cover of the volume created by John Armour Haydn (left) documenting the mid-19th century restoration of St Mary's Cathedral, with detail of the preliminary statement of the committee that undertook this work, RCB Library Ms 1048
Cover of the volume created by John Armour Haydn (left) documenting the mid-19th century restoration of St Mary's Cathedral, with detail of the preliminary statement of the committee that undertook this work, RCB Library Ms 1048

The volume (accessioned as RCB Library Ms 1117) was digitized and made available for all to view online through the Library’s webpages, together with an accompanying introduction by Matthieu Isbell (a student intern from Trinity College Dublin who worked on a placement in the Library that summer). He concluded that the volume – effectively a scrapbook of minutes, press–cuttings, subscription lists and other memorabilia related to the construction projects of 1859–1863 – could have been compiled by either of two creators – a father and a son both of whom were called John Armour Haydn, the name which appears on its front cover.

John Armour Haydn Sr. (1845–1920) had a distinguished career in the ordained ministry of the Church of Ireland. He was born in the Tallow, Co. Waterford, the son of Mary and Thomas Haydn, in 1845. He was educated at Youghal and in Fermoy College Co. Cork, and then entered Trinity College Dublin in 1862, graduating with a BA in 1866, an MA in 1870 and the LLB & LLD in 1871. He was ordained for the diocese of Limerick, where he served his entire clerical career – initially and briefly as curate of St Michael’s, Limerick, 1868–69; then successively as Rector of Chapel Russell, 1869–72 and Nantenan, 1873–1918.

In addition to his parochial duties, Haydn became a canon of St Mary’s cathedral, Limerick in 1891; then served as cathedral treasurer, 1906–12, as chancellor, 1912–13 and finally as archdeacon of Limerick, from 1913 to 1918 when he retired. In addition to his clerical career, Haydn Sr. was recognised as a skilled musician and composed anthems and chants for use in worship, while his ability as a painter has been significantly realised after his death, with valuable sales of his works at auction in recent years. He died 102 years ago this month, on 21 May 1920. His contribution is commemorated on a stone memorial plaque in the cathedral.

Memorial plaque to John Armour Haydn Snr (1845-1920) in St Mary's Cathedral, Limerick. Image courtesy of Philip Talbot
Memorial plaque to John Armour Haydn Snr (1845-1920) in St Mary's Cathedral, Limerick. Image courtesy of Philip Talbot

One of his sons, John Armour Haydn Jr. (1881–1957), was like his father a skilled artist. Although he did not follow a path of ordained ministry he served the church in a lay capacity as secretary of the cathedral vestry from at least the 1930s. Haydn Jr. was also passionate about the history of St Mary’s, advertising it to a wider audience as evidenced by his authoring a historical survey on the cathedral’s bells for the Limerick Chronicle in 18 July 1936, in addition to a guidebook for visitors to St Mary’s in 1950, as well as a booklet on the 15th–century misericords of St Mary’s.

Because the cover of the restoration scrapbook bears the name of both men, together with an address in Barrington Street, where both had resided, we could not be certain which of them had been responsible for its creation. This was the focus of the original presentation in December 2018 when the story generated a lot of public interest.

One of the online viewers to see it was Aileen Goulding Blomgren, who lives in Illinois in the USA. Her grandmother’s second husband, William H. Allen, was connected to the Haydns via marriage. William’s grandmother, Frances Priscilla Gregsten, nee Young, (1842–1930) was the sister of Louisa Young (1845–1916) who married Revd John Armour Haydn, Sr. on 29 April 1873 in Dublin, at Monkstown parish church. Both women (known affectionately by the family as Fanny and Louey) were the daughters of James Mitchell Young and Sarah (nee Morrow) Young of Annaginny Lodge, near Dungannon, County Tyrone.

Three months after her sister’s wedding, Fanny married Samuel Gregsten on 29 July 1873 in Nantenan, County Limerick. The ceremony was performed by the Revd John Armour Haydn, Sr., with Louey present. Soon afterwards, the newly–married Gregstens left for the USA, where Samuel was a wealthy real estate developer and hotel owner in Chicago, Illinois. They lived in that area for the rest of their lives, although they travelled extensively every year. Fanny kept in close correspondence with her family in Ireland. Every summer or fall, she and Samuel would spend several months in Europe, including visits to the Revd Haydn and his family.

Four generations later, having read of the existence of the “Haydn” scrapbook, and the Library’s quest to identify which of the two John Armour Haydns had compiled it, Aileen Goulding Blomgren contacted us and subsequently donated her family’s additional collection of papers and artefacts to the Library.

This collection (now accessioned as RCB Library Ms 1117) comprises 11 separate files (mostly correspondence, but also including photographs, genealogies and pictures), with a cover letter from the donor. There are letters written by both men allowing us to compare the handwriting and determine that the original scrapbook was in fact the work of the Revd John Armour Haydn senior. More significantly, the material provides insight as to how families of Irish descent in America retained vital genealogical information about their connections in Ireland, through correspondence and other memorabilia. Much of the correspondence focuses around significant family events, most notably the deaths of family members, and how news was conveyed across the Atlantic.

We are most grateful to Aileen for generously donating this personal family collection to the permanent custody of the RCB Library, allowing us to complete the story of the restoration scrapbook, but also to build a more accurate picture of the Haydn family and their American connections.

There is genealogical information about the parents of John Armour Haydn Sr, both of whom hailed from of Tallow Co. Waterford. His mother Mary Hayden/Haydn, died in 1886, and sometime after her death he sent the American family an original photograph of her grave that he had taken himself, in July 1891.

We learn too something about the lives of John and Louisa Haydn’s children. Copies of original press items relating to the death of James Thomas Armour Handel Haydn (1874–1892), their eldest son, were sent to Fanny following his tragic early death aged just 18 on 19 March 1892. Handel was well–named as he became an accomplished musician, and scholar at the Royal College of Music, London. The file includes a copy of Archdeacon Haydn’s letter as published in the Limerick Chronicle acknowledging his family’s support from the ‘great number of letters’ of condolence that poured into the family at the time, on 22 March 1892.

Handel’s death was preceded a few years before by the eldest daughter of John and Louisa Haydn Mary Sarah Frances Haydn, who died at Nantenan Glebe on 8 April 1888, aged just 13. Again copies of the death notices published in local newspapers were sent to her aunt in America.

In happier times, there are letters received by ‘Aunt Fanny’, from Florence Adelaide Haydn (1877–1947), the youngest daughter of the family, from Nantenan Glebe, Askeaton, and in 1920 from 26 Barrington Street, Limerick where she would continue to live with her brother following their father’s death in 1920. Each letter contains family news and local gossip, revealing a deep affection between niece and aunt. 

The file of material relating to Louisa “Louey” Sarah Young (1845–1916), wife of John Armour contains the oldest items in the collection including a letter written to her sister Fanny, aged just 14, when at the Moravian settlement in Gracehill, where she appears to have been educated, dated 4 October 1859. This is accompanied by a second letter to Fanny from E. Angell [possibly the school mistress at Gracehill] reporting about an outbreak of illness, possibly smallpox, but that Louisa was not infected, and she is ‘improving in all her studies’, 14 October 1859.

Some 55 years later, following her long and happy marriage with the Revd John Armour Haydn, he had the sad task of writing to her sister (his sister–in–law) ‘My dear Fanny’ to recount the sad news of her failing health and demise – on his birthday, the 5 March 1916.

Clearly devastated, it has taken him two months to gather the strength to write in detail, describing the nature of her illness and how her death was ‘an utterly crushing blow, leaving me a wrecked and worn–out old man’.

A further letter to Fanny, written four years later thanks her for ‘the generous present of the dressing gown’ encloses his original watercolour painting of Louisa’s grave in the plot at St Mary’s cathedral which he had purchased and which he tells her he visits ‘every Sunday’.

This letter also reveals his poor health and general sadness: ‘I am a very lonely and sad old man, and have had to cease all clerical duty this long time. Painting and typewriting are about my only recreation…’.

Two months later, Fanny received another letter, this time from Haydn Junior or ‘Jack’, from the home in Barrington Street, informing his aunt that his father had passed peacefully away on 21 May 1920.

It is Haydn’s marriage to Louey that brought about the provenance materials relating to another Church of Ireland cleric, the Revd William James Mitchell Young, (c. 1825–1900) who was their older brother. Ordained for the diocese of Derry, serving in Armagh and Connor diocese, before transferring to the Church of England, Young’s troubles in later life and death in Hastings, Sussex, on 14 February 1900, form the basis of letters to their mother, Mrs Sarah Young, and Fanny herself, including his funeral expenses.

Such a treasure–trove of personal family memorabilia is quite unusual and we are very grateful to Aileen Goulding Blomgren and her family for seeing fit to transfer it to the permanent custody of the Library, allowing us to complete the story of the restoration scrapbook, but also to build a more accurate picture of the life of the Revd John Armour Haydn.

Haydn’s original watercolour has been temporarily loaned to St Mary’s Cathedral, who have framed it, for the purposes of a public exhibition about the cathedral’s colourful history. For more about St Mary’s Cathedral history see here

The Hayden story is just one example of many that have come to light thanks to recent work undertaken in the RCB Library. In 2020 a large consignment of registers was transferred to the RCB Library from St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick. This consignment consisted of parish registers from approximately 65 parishes including most of the city parishes and elsewhere throughout the Diocese of Limerick. Some of the parishes were already represented by Library collections but 39 of them were new to the Library’s holdings and thus have greatly expanded the information available in the Library about the city, county and diocese of Limerick, and have already proven to be a valuable resource for researchers.
A full list of the updated or new, Limerick detailed handlists, compiled by the Library Administrator, Robert Gallagher, are available at this link

To view the list of Haydn materials as donated by Aileen Goulding Blomgren and accessioned as RCB Library MS 1117, click this link


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