Gerard Manley Hopkins S.J., William Delany S.J. & the Cassidy’s of Monasterevin.

This paper was delivered by Tom Morrissey S.J., at the Monasterevin Hopkins Society Festival July 14 2010

The aim of this paper is to explore the links between Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Delany, and the Cassidy family, especially the two Cassidy sisters, Mary and Eleanor.

In many ways, the key figure is William Delany who had brought Hopkins to Ireland and, most probably, had introduced Hopkins to Monasterevin.

William Delany’s life was largely devoted to winning for the Catholic majority in Ireland equality of educational opportunity at secondary and university level. The struggle was protracted. In 1904, during his second term as president of University College, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, Delany summarised his arguments on the university question in a pamphlet which ran to four editions. It was entitled significantly, A Plea for Fair- Play: Irish University Education, facts and figures. An influential friend, Lady Betty Balfour, almost despaired of democracy that the government ignored or refused “a case of such plain and simple justice”. (1)

Delany’s personal challenge for justice extended over 40 years. By persistent political lobbying, the enrolment of support among persons of influence on all sides, a steady stream of letters to newspapers, evidence before royal commissions of enquiry, and his achievements as an educationalist at secondary and university level, he kept before successive governments the need for equality of treatment in education between Catholics and the members of the Established Church. The schools of the latter were state-supported, those of Catholics were fundless. Delany’s achievements as an educationalist buttressed all other endeavours and presented a challenge which could not be ignored. First at a small intermediate school in Tullabeg, County Offaly, and then at University College, he demonstrated, as his celebrated colleague Fr Tom Finlay noted in 1924, “that handicapped for funds, equipment, and even staff”, his students “could meet and overcome the far more numerous and favoured sons” of state-aided institutions. “Step by step he made good his proposition that Irish Catholics were capable of profiting by, and desirous of, the best education possible. It had been considered an absurdity; in forty years Fr Delany made it an axiom.” What he accomplished, Finlay continued, had “profoundly affected … all the secondary schools in Ireland. … He was a notable figure in that movement of reform in education which has resulted in so many changes and the force of which is not yet spent”. (2)

More than thirty years later, in 1956, the then vice-chancellor of the National University of Ireland and president of University College Dublin, Professor Michael Tierney, judged that “it was probably due to Fr Delany more than to any other single man that the National University was given its present form”. (3)

William Delany sought both “to raise up the intermediate education of the whole people” (4) and to prepare his students to become leaders in the forthcoming Home Rule Ireland. He had no doubt that he and his college on St Stephen’s Green were nation-builders, nor had his students. “The young cocks were crowing”, C. P. Curran recalled in his James Joyce remembered (Oxford 1968, p. 61), and many of that talented generation became famous “in the afterglow of history”. Also bathed in that same glow were members of Delany’s teaching staff, notably John MacNeill and Patrick H. Pearse. And in a wider and different context, Delany’s college could boast of one professor and one student who achieved international reputations, as poet and novelist, respectively, namely Gerard Manley Hopkins and James A, Joyce.

William Delany was born at Leighlin-Bridge, Co. Carlow in 1835, and he died in Dublin in 1924. Thus, he was a boy at the time of the great Irish famine and lived to see the establishment of the Irish Free State. His father, John Delany, had established a bakery in Leighlin Bridge after being evicted from his moderate-sized farm. He married a resourceful woman, Mary Brennan. They had ten children, of whom three girls and two boys survived. William was the second child. Two of the girls married, and one became an Irish Sister of Charity. William’s brother, Tom became a priest of the Kildare and Leighlin diocese.

William developed into a precocious youth, avidly interested in reading and music, and careful to observe the accent and pronunciation, the conventionalities and manners of the ‘nicer’ people whom they met among the local gentry. (5) Small and compact in build, he had an alert face and a head of fair, curly hair, which gave him a permanently youthful appearance; years later, at the age of forty-two, the Duke of Marlborough was to mistake him for a divinity student. (6) At the age of sixteen he went to Carlow College to study for the priesthood. After two years, he moved on to Maynooth College, 1853-54. In 1856 William joined the Jesuits. His noviceship was spent in France and England, and he then taught in Clongowes Wood College before being appointed to St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, in 1860. Apart from three years in Rome, he was to be stationed in Tullabeg for the next twenty years, and in this unlikely location he achieved the reputation as an educationalist which paved the way for his appointment to the presidency of University College Dublin.

From early on, Delany proved a successful teacher and an ambitious administrator – expanding the school, improving facilities, bringing opportunities for culture in the appreciation of art, music and public speaking. He cultivated the parents, sought publicity for the college and the support of the strongly Catholic landed and business families in the region. Neighbourhood affinity was a factor of life often overriding other differences. Thus, one of William’s closest supporters in his struggle for education for Catholics was Arthur Kavanagh, M.P., a Protestant and the leader of the Irish Conservatives, who came from the neighbouring town of Borris. William established close links with the Dease family of Rath House, with the Cassidys of Monasterevin, with Lord and Lady Portarlington, with William Monsell (Lord Emily), and many others well known to the Cassidy family. William’s links with local families were facilitated by his much-loved brother, Tom, who was equally at home with rich and poor, with the gentry as well as with members of the Land League, and had a unique charm, whimsical humour, and a modest life style. He was particularly close to the Cassidy family from his time as curate at Monasterevin.

William spent the years 1865 to 1868 in Rome studying theology, followed by a spiritual year or tertianship. Ordained in Rome, he soon found himself ministering in hospitals to soldiers wounded in the battle of Mentana, when Garibaldi’s larger army was defeated by a combined Papal and French force. Months later, on 5 July 1868, he related to the congregation at the church in Monasterevin how he had attended three young Irishmen, who had taken part in the battle and who died cheerfully because they had fought, as they believed, in defence of “their holy faith”. (7)

While in Rome, he had arranged to purchase copies of paintings and some sculptures for his brother Tom, which were available at a cheap price, and which Tom was keen to use to improve the church in Monasterevin. There is an indication that they were paid for by Mrs Wheble, nee Eleanor Cassidy.

The Cassidy Sisters

The Cassidy family was the main employer in the area by means of its thriving Monasterevin Distillery. The proprietor, James Cassidy, following his marriage, moved from the family home, the Georgian Monasterevin House, which he left to his sisters Mary and Eleanor. (8) Fr Tom Delany had known Mary and Eleanor from their early years. Eleanor to him was “Elly my dear child” or “My dear Elly”, and he wrote frequently to her. From the Cassidy papers in the National Library of Ireland it is clear that the Cassidy sisters had been well educated and were accomplished women. They had learned French and Italian, been taught singing and to play the piano and the harp, and to paint in watercolour. Educated at the boarding school, The Lodge, Taunton, England, they became familiar with London and had many English friends and family acquaintances. They probably travelled in France and Italy. Both women were deeply spiritual and generous towards religious causes and persons.

Mary, as a school girl, was described by the headmistress or reverend mother, Mrs W. Neale, as “amiable and sweet-tempered”, cheerful, and “always ready to oblige either mistresses or companions”. She longed to be at home, however, riding her pony. (9) Eleanor, who seemed the more out-going of the two, married Daniel O’Connell Wheble, who was manager of the brewery section of the Cassidy business. He worked a good deal in England and was a devout Catholic, a frequent visitor to the Oratory and to the Jesuits in Farm Street, London, as well as to Gardiner Street in Dublin. Sadly, he died unexpectedly, after a short illness, in May 1865. Mary sent word to Fr Murphy at Gardiner Street, who expressed surprise at his death and, in a letter on 2 June 1865, assured her that Daniel had prepared himself well through life for anything, however sudden, that might occur. He wished her to present Mrs Wheble with his “most sincere condolences”. (10)

Eleanor Wheble shared her husband’s deep interest in religion. She visited Aline, Countess Portarlington, at Emo Park, and corresponded with her and exchanged spiritual books, especially after Lady Aline’s conversion to Catholicism; and she and her sister, Mary, took part in at least one retreat of several days devoted to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius at the Sacred Heart Convent in Dundrum, Dublin. (11) They joined Lady Aline and Lady Londonderry for tea and discussion on occasion, and the conversation may be presumed to have mentioned William Delany and Fr Robert Carbery, S.J., who were well known to each of them. Fr Carbery, indeed, had instructed Lady Portarlington in Catholicism and was very friendly with Eleanor. He sometimes called on her and stayed at her house, and she called on him when he was at Clongowes. Other Jesuits known to have stayed with Eleanor at Monasterevin were Joseph Clery and Thomas Everard. (12) Significantly, a letter to Eleanor from Catherine Wheble, London, 23 December, remarked – “I hope you have enjoyed your so frequent privilege of having a priest with you”. (13) The close association with the Jesuits, and Tom Delany, makes it understandable how Hopkins came to find a welcome from the Cassidy sisters.

Tom Delany

By 1867 Tom Delany was no longer in Monasterevin. He and Eleanor kept in touch by letter. Although conscious of his precarious health (14), he decided in 1868 to enter the Society of Jesus. He wrote to Eleanor from the noviceship at Miltown Park, Dublin. (15) He stayed only six months. On 21 April, 1869, William Delany wrote to Mrs Wheble informing her that Fr Tom was leaving the noviceship. Dr Lyons had insisted that his health was too frail for him to live as a Jesuit. William had hoped “to stop at Monasterevin tomorrow evening” on his way home to give her the news personally “but”, he explained, “I find I have to take a new boy back with me to Tullabeg and business must go before pleasure”. (16)

Tom obtained a curacy at Bohermeen. Eleanor invited him frequently to Monasterevin but he regularly responded with palatable, semi-humorous excuses. Thus, in an undated letter, he posed the question – “What good would I do by going to Monasterevin even admitting that I am doing very little good here?” Where he was, he was surrounded by scarlatina and diphtheria. “The sick children are all crying out for me. They will have no one else. I am literally worn off my feet”. Even Protestant parents had asked him to visit their dying child. Hence, he concluded: “Is not that a better occupation for me than gadding about in Monasterevin where you are all saints and where I would do no good”. (17) On another occasion he gave as excuse that he had only one shabby suit and was short of travel money, and on principle refused to accept any financial assistance.

His last recorded letter to Eleanor, again undated, captured something of the unique relationship between them and indicates why Fr Tom Delany was so widely esteemed and loved. (18) She had suggested that he should publish his prose and poetry writings, which he had shared with her over the years. He declined, but admitted that when he was younger he had such ambitions but “truth and wisdom persuaded him that those are happiest who do not seek immortality and notice”. To her comment that she would have liked to have known him when he was young, he responded that he was even more self-centred when he was young, and that she was lucky not to have known him then. On this occasion, his letter was written in an elegant and colourful style, perhaps tongue-in-cheek. He included two stanzas of verse summing up his reasons for not publishing, and concluded by asking her prayers and apologising for his long and rambling letter, adding – “You see I abuse my friendship and affection for you by scribbling what comes into my head. Will you forgive me and pray, my own dearest Elly, for your most sincere and affectionate friend, Thomas.”

His sudden death on 23 October 1880 came as a great shock and sense of loss to the Cassidy sisters and all their family and to his brother William.

From William Delany to Hopkins

By then, William had become a nationally-known figure. In 1875-’76 the success of his students in the London University examinations was hailed in the public press, and he was sought after on public platforms and, in a city that prided itself on its ‘fine talk’ his wide range of knowledge, clear brain, engaging manner and sonorous voice, made him a welcome guest in Dublin’s drawing rooms. He was invited also to join a small influential circle of mainly professional men, who met convivially and favoured wide-ranging, interesting and witty conversation. The group included Gerald Fitzgibbon, the solicitor-general, Edward Gibson, the attorney-general, Michael Morris, who became the first Catholic lord chief justice of common pleas in Ireland (later Lord Killanin), Dr J. P. Mahaffy of Trinity College, Lord Chief Justice Ball, and the celebrated parish priest of Little Bray, Fr. James Healy. The group befriended Randolph Churchill on his arrival in Dublin as secretary to the new viceroy, the Duke of Marlborough. The circle favoured full denominational education for Catholics. As a result, Delany played a prominent role in the formulation of the Intermediate Education Act of 1878, which provided a system of competitive examinations carrying money prizes on the basis of results. (19) This provided an opportunity of funding to Catholic schools. In the first Intermediate Examinations, there was widespread surprise when the schools with the highest results were Blackrock College and St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, while the leading individual student came from Sacred Heart College, the Crescent, Limerick.

A key figure in the circle of Tory friends and in the drafting of legislation was Gerald Fitzgibbon. Delany and he exchanged views on education and the education bill, sometimes corresponding through John V. Cassidy, commissioner for intermediate education. (20) A further dimension to his influence was provided by the Duchess of Marlborough who, according to R.F. Foster’s Lord Randolph Churchill (p. 59), “was much involved in the choosing of personnel for the Intermediate Commission, and was closely advised by Dr Delany”. She had been introduced to him, it would seem, through her Catholic relations, her sister-in-law, Lady Londonderry, or her own sister, Lady Portarlington, with whom and her husband, Delany, as noted, was particularly friendly. Portarlington, though a Protestant, took a strongly Catholic line on educational questions, and frequently called on Delany at Tullabeg. Delany’s friendship with the Duchess facilitated contacts with the Duke and Randolph Churchill on educational issues and led to visits to Blenheim, the Marlborough ducal home.

With so many favourably disposed Conservative friends, Delany also played an important role in the Royal University Bill of 1879, which applied a similar principle to that of the Intermediate Act, namely, payment by results. It opened for Irish Catholic Colleges the possibility of competing at university level with the full approval of the Catholic hierarchy. It led to the Jesuit General deciding to establish a university college in Temple Street, Dublin, with William Delany as its president.

Faced with a serious shortage of funds, Delany sought to have as many suitably qualified Jesuits as possible on the staff. They would not have to be paid. He applied to Jesuit provincials on the continent and in Britain. To the English provincial, Fr. Edward Purbrick, whom he knew, he proposed the names of seven Jesuits. Purbrick replied that he could not spare six of the seven as they were “the cream of the province”. The seventh, Gerard Manley Hopkins was a possibility, but, Purbrick warned, “Fr Hopkins is very clever and a good scholar – but I should be doing you no kindness in sending you a man so eccentric. I am trying him this year in coaching B.A’s at Stonyhurst, but with fear and trembling”. (21) Delany continued his search.

Meantime, the Catholic University had become moribund. The bishops decided to use its premises for a University College and arranged with the government that the vast majority of the Fellows and Fellowships accorded to Catholic Colleges under the new Royal University should be allocated to their University College, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. The Fellows were paid by the government and both lectured in the college and set the examinations for the rest of the university colleges. It was a big advantage to University College and a considerable saving in expense. Despite that, the college did not attract students under the bishops’ appointee. They decided to hand over its running to the Jesuits on condition that Fr Delany was president. This was agreed to by the Jesuit provincial with some reluctance.

Delany saw great possibilities in the college. He was attracted by the presence of Fellows and the possibility of well-qualified Jesuits becoming appointed as Fellows and their salaries being ploughed back into the college. He determined to make University College such a success that it would oblige the government to concede Catholic claims for equality in university education. Within a few years his students were achieving more honours than all other colleges combined, including the state-supported Queen’s Colleges. As Fellowships became vacant he sought to fill them with highly qualified Jesuits, if such were available. At one such juncture, he turned to Fr Hopkins. The fact that the latter was an exhibitioner and first-class honours graduate of Balliol College, Oxford, and highly praised by his professors, made his appointment by the Senate of the University very likely, and, in addition, his talent for writing classical verse was an important consideration “on account of the competition with Trinity College which prides itself on its verse writers”. (22) In the event, Delany was surprised to find at the senate meeting that his friend, Dr Walsh, president of Maynooth College, was putting forward Dr Reffé of Blackrock College for the Fellowship. Walsh argued that it was unfair to have all the fellowships in one college, even though the arrangement had been made by the hierarchy. The senate strongly supported Hopkins, who was easily the better qualified candidate. The issue received much publicity and roused considerable feeling. Hopkins felt uneasy about his position and the advantage University College was enjoying in having Fellows as both teachers and examiners, and he decided at the beginning of each year that he would not teach anything that would be asked in the examinations! This, of course, was quite unfair to his students. As it happened, his lectures came to be attended by only those who valued learning for its own sake, and those who occasionally dropped in to find out what they might safely omit.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Hopkins was small in stature, frail looking, gentle and rather effeminate in manner, but strong-willed and stubborn, and very English with what his biographer has called a “guileless chauvinism”. (23) He sometimes found his students rude, uninterested, and anti-English. His colleague, fellow Oxford graduate, convert and Englishman, Fr Joseph Darlington, was a favourite with the students. He took a keen interest in them, empathised with Irish political aspirations, and towards the end of his life voted for Sinn Fein. Hopkins, on the other hand, remained rather aloof and was personally affected by the current anti-English sentiment among so many Irish Catholics. It was a time of land-war and fervid nationalism. He complained to John Henry Newman, his mentor, who had received him into the Catholic Church, about the tactics of the Land League and the “appalling” state of rebellion, only to be reminded by Newman that “Irish patriots hold that they never yielded themselves to the sway of England and therefore never have been under her laws and never have been rebels”, and that if he, Newman, were an Irishman he should feel, in his heart, a rebel. (24)

Despite Hopkins inadequacy as a teacher, his tendency to be aloof, and his limited social life by his going early to bed, his Jesuit colleagues remained well disposed and kindly towards him. Of Delany, he wrote that the college would surely weather its difficulties because Fr Delany had “a buoyant and unshaken trust in God”, and he added – “He is as generous, cheering, and openhearted a man as I ever lived with”. (25) Delany was an extremely busy man, but Matthew Russell, the editor of the Irish Monthly,, who knew everybody, took a special interest in Hopkins, introduced him to many young writers and artists, including Katherine Tynan, J. B. Yeats and W. B. Yeats. Fr Darlington also professed regard for Hopkins, while a young Jesuit, who taught mathematics, Robert Curtis, became a close friend, brought him to his Dublin home, and went on walking holidays with him.

Here we come to curious seeming contradictions in Hopkins’ life. He was to become one of the most influential poets of the 20th century, but very few people knew that he wrote poetry and most of those who did found his poetry difficult to understand and appreciate. To Yeats and Tynan he was a charming, discerning, very sensitive man, but they had no idea that he was a poet; similarly with all the Irish Jesuits, with the possible exception of Robert Curtis. Again, his unhappiness in Dublin was manifested in letters to such friends as Robert Bridges and A.W.M. Baillie, in which he complained of the inadequacies of the accommodation in St. Stephen’s Green, the filth of Dublin and its philistinism, and of his poor health. Bridges, a doctor, considered Hopkins something of a hypochondriac, and was familiar with his friend’s swings in mood from exaltation to deep depression. The aura of depression has become immortalized in his “terrible sonnets”. “I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day … I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decrees bitter would have me taste; my taste was me”. Or again,

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there …

Yet, even in the deepest layers of depression, there remained an inner strength:

“Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee”. And in 1885 during which he wrote some of his ‘terrible sonnets’, he also wrote:

“Thee God I come from, to thee go,
All day long I like fountain flow
From they hand out, swayed about
Mote-like in thy mighty glow’

In his final year in Ireland there was the consolation expressed in his poem “That Nature is a Heracletean Fire and the Comfort of the Resurrection” in which he wrote:

I am all at once what Christ is, since he is what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal
               Is immortal diamond.”

And as if to counter his sense of achieving nothing of note, of being “time’s euneuch”, there was the consoling insight expressed in his poem to honour the canonization of Alphonsus Rodriguez, the Jesuit lay-brother, who spent 40 years as hall-porter in the college of Palma, in Majorca:

Honour is flashed off exploit, so we say;
Yet God …
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years without event
That in Majorca Alphonso watched the door.

Returning to the anomalies in Hopkins life. His hours and nights of agonized depression seem to have been known to very few. There were no signs of it in his relations with people in Ireland. Those who met him remarked on his charm, his spiritual quality, his physical frailty, and, despite his criticism of Dublin in private letters to friends in Britain, he had many friends and happy hours in Dublin and Ireland.

The names of only some of those friends and close acquaintances have come down to us. They included Judge O’Hagan and his family, whom he visited in their home at Howth overlooking Dublin Bay, Stephen Curtis, Q. C. (father of Robert) and his family, Bernard O’Flaherty, a former student, with whom he stayed in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, William Monsell (Lord Emily) at his home in Co. Limerick, a nameless friend with whom he stayed in his yacht in Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) harbour, Miss Mary Cassidy at Monasterevin, and the McCabe family at Donnybrook Dublin. With Fr Russell, he visited Katherine Tynan at her farm in Stillorgan, outside Dublin, and also met her and W.B. Yeats at the house of painter J. B. Yeats. Among the Jesuits, Fr John Conmee, rector of Clongowes, had studied philosophy with him and made him welcome at Clongowes, and he also enjoyed visiting the Jesuit novitiate first at Dromore, Co. Down, and later at Tullabeg. At St Stephen’s Green there were, as mentioned, Frs Russell, and Darlington, and Robert Curtis. In addition, the very busy Fr Delany very readily gave him permission to travel to various parts of the country and even to be absent from the community at Christmas, which Jesuits usually celebrated together.

Recollections of his visits to the McCabe family at Donnybrook have survived. He regularly visited and dined there between 1884 and 1889. On Christmas Eve 1885, Hopkins wrote to his brother Everard, “I have friends at Donnybrook, so hearty and kind that nothing can be more so and I think I shall go and see them tomorrow”.(26) Mrs McCabe seems to have been particularly caring towards him, darning his clothes and visiting him, at his request, when he was dying. He was highly regarded by Mr McCabe and got on well with the six children. He felt at home. The McCabes were Catholic, Irish, and pro-British. The three boys had been educated in England and were attending Trinity College. Three of the children recorded their memories of him. One daughter, Mary, remembered Hopkins as charming and at ease with children. He went out in a boat with her two brothers in a deep quarry across from their home (where the bus depot now stands) and was sufficiently relaxed to take off his collar with the words “To hell with the Pope” or “with Rome” in another version. He fished with the boys in the quarry. He “was always bright in manner and very boyish – taking interest in all our games”. One of the boys remembered visiting Hopkins in his room at the top of the house in St Stephen’s Green. He asked Hopkins how high up the room was. “I don’t know”, said Hopkins, “but let us find out”. “He at once set me to work. I had to drop lumps of coal out of the window while he measured the time they took to fall to the ground. This he did by counting the ticks of his watch … The experiment took a long time and most of the coal but he enjoyed himself thoroughly. This is only one example of the extreme simplicity which I remember as his chief trait.” “Friendliness, simplicity and sanctity” were other phrases used by the children. (27)

Despite the good friends in Dublin, he still proclaimed to his English friends that Dublin was “a joyless place”. When Hopkins felt unhappy, unsuccessful, he tended to blame the place and its inhabitants, and when unhappy he not infrequently felt ill. In July 1883 he wrote to Bridges from Stonyhurst, where he was reasonably happy: “I do not know how it is, I have no disease, but I am always tired, always jaded, though the work is not heavy…”. (28) He was not a well man. Three years later he wrote from Dublin to his other good friend, A.W.M. Baillie: “The melancholy I have all my life has become of late years not more intense in its fits but rather more distributed, constant, and crippling”. In its lightest form he felt “a daily anxiety about work to be done”. (29)

He found relief in the peace and religious atmosphere of the novitiate in Dundrum, Co. Down, and subsequently in Tullabeg, Co. Offaly, and in “pleasant days down in Co. Kildare”. The Cassidys, he observed, were “nice people”, Monasterevin was a “nice place”, and the people he met there “made no secret of liking me and want me to go down again”. Central to all the joys of his stay was the gentle, kind and solicitous Mary Cassidy, whom he spoke of as “an elderly lady who by often asking me down to Monasterevin and by the change and the holiday her kind hospitality provides, is becoming one of the props and struts of my existence”. (30)

Envisaging Hopkins’ time at Monasterevin House over Christmas 1887 and 1888, Norman White in his Hopkins in Ireland, depicts the town as free from the noise of dray and cart convoys and the distant canal traffic, while Hopkins relaxed “in the comfortable, privileged female domesticity of Miss Mary and other ladies, with children sometimes about and waiting servants. He was the welcome, looked-up to male guest, and moreover a priest, to be made a fuss of, his every need catered for. In return he said Mass in the house’s small private oratory, and chatted authoritatively and wittily, reviving his Balliol manner, here openly welcomed, at table and in sitting room. He strolled in the large gardens and orchard, and walked along the banks of the Barrow, in the grounds of Moore Abbey, where there were kingfishers, or across the bascule bridge, where the canal crossed the river, and along the road to the steep incline of the Earl of Essex’s narrow bridge.”(31)

At Christmas 1887, and presumably in 1888, he helped out in the parish church, assisting Fr Comerford, the parish priest, in giving out communion as “many hundreds came to the rail, with the unfailing devotion of the Irish whose religion hangs suspended over their politics as the blue sky over the earth, both in one landscape but immeasurably remote and without contact or interference”. (32)

He visited Monasterevin in January, March, June and December 1887, in January and Christmas 1888, and in March 1889. On his second Christmas he expressed himself artistically with a sketch entitled “Monasterevin, Christmas 1888”, which still survives. He also found inspiration for a poem while staying with Miss Cassidy. “On a Portrait of Two Beautiful Young People” was prompted by a portrait, which hung in her house, of her niece and nephew, Ursula and Leo Wheble. The Barrow River, too, found passing reference in “the burling barrow brown”. He was not imposed on in any way, was at ease with young people and with the type of people with whom the Cassidys were friendly. Many of Hopkins Oxford friends, including Robert Bridges, came from upper-middle-class landed families. (33) With these and minor aristocracy he moved and chatted easily, and all the more so in County Kildare where those he was most likely to meet were Catholic and loyalist.

Hopkins biographer, Robert Bernard Martin observed that Hopkins was “already deeply unbalanced mentally when he came to Dublin”. He existed on two levels, “both real enough but apparently incompatible, just as he conducted himself in the College so that sympathetic colleagues could see him daily and never suspect that he was so deeply unhappy in Dublin”. (34) Under a calm exterior there was a see-saw of emotions and an unrelenting process of mental self- laceration. (35) Mary Cassidy was no more likely than his colleagues to suspect his deep unhappiness, but it was clear to her how much he enjoyed visiting her house, and, in fact, her hospitality and affection helped him to survive and to write some of his best loved poems.

Finally, it must be said that how and when Miss Cassidy first met Fr Hopkins remains unclear. It could have been at some function in Dublin, or at Clongowes Wood College, or Gardiner Street or Miltown Park, where Fr Carbery was stationed or visited, or again through her friend Mrs Monsell, who had welcomed Hopkins to her home in Tervoe, Co. Limerick, for Christmas 1884, his first year in Ireland. The possibilities seem endless. But, given the Cassidys’ long friendship with Tom and William Delany, and William’s expansive kindness towards Hopkins, it seems most likely that Gerard Manley Hopkins met Mary Cassidy through the thoughtfulness of William Delany.

Notes to G M Hopkins S.J., W.Delany S.J. & The Cassidys of Monasterevin

  1. This is a briefer version of a paper read at the Hopkins Summer School, Monasterevin, on 14 July 2010.
  2. Finlay in Clongownian, 1924, p. 18
  3. From ‘text of introductory address’ in Irish Jesuit Year Book 1956, pp. 31 ff.
  4. From Delany’s address to Catholic headmasters in Printed report of conference of Catholic headmasters (Dublin 1883), p. 12
  5. M. McDonnell Bodkin, K.C. in the Clongownian, 1924, p. 16
  6. T. J. Morrissey. Towards a National University. William Delany S.J. (1835-1924), p. 8-9
  7. Mrs. Neale-Mrs Cassidy, 7 March 1839. NLI. Cassidy papers. Correspondence to Mrs Robert Cassidy, folder 1839-40
  8. Fr Murphy-Miss Cassidy. NLI. Cassidy papers. PC 412-15. Box 1, 1817-’65,
    miscellaneous correspondence
  9. Letters from Sacred Heart Convent, Dundrum, concerning retreat arrangements
    for Eleanor and her sister, 2 & 7 July. NLI. Cassidy papers. Box 1, Mrs Wheble’s
    Correspondence, 1870-‘74
  10. Everard-Mrs Wheble, 1 Nov. 1876. Joseph Cleary-Mrs Wheble, from Athy, no
    date. Cassidy papers. For Everard, Mrs Whebles Letters 1875-’78; for Cleary,
    Mrs Wheble’s Letters, 1874-‘75
  11. Catherine Wheble- Eleanor, 23 Dec. No year. Mrs Wheble’s correspondence.
  12. Wm Delany- Mrs Wheble, 21 April 1869, from Gardiner Street. Cassidy papers.
    Box 1, Mrs Wheble correspondence.
  13. T. Delany- Dear Elly, no date.P.C. 412-’15, Box 1, Correspondence of Mrs Wheble.
  14. Cf. T. J. Morrissey. Towards a National University…, pp. 34-5
  15. Purbrick-Delany, 10 Nov. 1882. IJA
  16. Delany-Dr Walsh, 29 Jan. 1884, telling of his visit to Cardinal McCabe. IJA
  17. Robert Bernard Martin. Gerard Manley Hopkins. A Very Private Life (London
    1991), p. 159
  18. Newman-Hopkins, 3 March 1887, IJA
  19. Martin, op. cit., p. 372
  20. Cit. Joseph Feeney, S.J. in “Hopkins and the McCabe Family” in Studies
    autumn 2001, p.300
  21. Idem, p. 305
  22. Hopkins-Bridges, July 1883, cit Martin, op. cit., p. 352
  23. Hopkins- A.W.M. Baillie, Further Letters of Gerald Manley Hopkins, Including
    his Correspondence with Coventry Patmore, ed. C.C. Abbott, 2nd ed. 1970,
    cit. Martin, op. cit. p.395
  24. Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges, ed. C.C. Abbott (1935, 1955),
    p. 305; cit. Norman White. Hopkins in Ireland (Dublin 2002), p.130
  25. N. White. Hopkins in Ireland, p.180
  26. Further Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. C.C. Abbott, 2nd ed. 1956, 183
  27. Martin, op. cit. p. 58
  28. Idem p. 383
  29. Idem, 409