Pre-Reformation Church Music in Ireland (2)

William H. Grattan Flood
Chapter XIV | Start of chapter

On the death of Archbishop Talbot, on August 15th, 1449, John Streguthen, barber, acting as agent for the Prior and monks of Christ Church Cathedral, pledged the archiepiscopal cross and crozier to Richard White, tailor, for five marks. These insignia were not released for seventy-eight years till Archbishop Allen redeemed them on payment of "almost 100 ounces of silver" out of his own substance, as he himself states in a note which is contained in the Liber Niger.

Nor was Dublin peculiar in upholding a good standard of sacred music. We learn that the Cashel province was equally zealous in the cause of plain chant. This is apparent from the 86th Canon of the Provincial Council of Cashel, in 1453, under Archbishop Cantwell: "Statuit Concilium, quod in civitatibus et locis in quibus cantus habetur et chorus regitur, nulli ad aliquas praelaturas nisi cantores admittantur, salvo privilegio speciali Sedis Apostolicae."

Archbishop Tregury—a skilled musician, as well as a most erudite prelate—by his will, dated December 10th, 1471, bequeathed his "pair of organs" to St. Patrick's Cathedral, "to be used at the celebration of service in St. Mary's Chapel."[5] He died on December 21st of same year, and was succeeded by John Walton, in 1472, during whose rule an Act was passed by the Irish Parliament, in 1474, for the regulation of St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Under Thomas Harold, Prior of Christ Church from 1474 to 1489, the Cathedral of Holy Trinity received many valuable bequests, and the excellence of the musical services was fully maintained. Richard White of Swords, by his will dated March 26th, 1476, left 12d. to 12 choir boys to assist at the singing of a Requiem for his soul. Similarly, by his will dated June 10th, 1476, Nicholas Delabre bequeathed the sum of four nobles to a choir boy named Robert Plunket.

On April 15th, 1480, Thomas Bennett, ex-Mayor of Dublin, granted the lands of Ballymore-Eustace, Co. Kildare, to the Prior and Convent of Christ Church, "in order to sustain four choristers, to be instructed," and to assist at certain specified Divine offices. However, as Johanna Sowerby, mother of said Thomas, had a lien on the property, it was not until May 4th, 1484, that seisin of the lands so assigned was given to Prior Harold.[6]

From the Calendar of Christ Church Deeds we learn that on October 8th, 1485, John Estrete, or Street, Sergeant-at-Law, granted certain lands and other property in trust "to convey to the Prior and Convent of Christ Church for a Canon to celebrate the Mass of the Holy Ghost daily in the Chapel of St. Laurence O'Toole, in the south aisle next the choir"; and, on every Thursday, there was to be a solemn High Mass, with full choir, for the repose of the soul of said John and his benefactors, the Earl of Kildare, Sir Rowland FitzEustace, and others; also directing that the annual obit should be sung in Whitsun week.[7]

In July, 1488, there was a grand celebration in Christ Church Cathedral, when general absolution was given to all those who had aided in Lambert Simnel's rebellion; and there was "joyful music on the viols and the organs," after which an oath of allegiance was signed by the Archbishop of Dublin, the Bishops of Meath and Kildare, and many others.[8]

David Winchester, who had been elected Prior of Christ Church on March 5th, 1489, was evidently determined to have the music a special feature of the services, and so, on August 28th, 1493, he founded a Professorship of Music in connection with the Cathedral. By the terms of the foundation, "the oblations offered to the relic of the Holy Staff of Jesus within the said church," with various rents of lands in Dublin and Ardee, were allocated to establish a music school. The "music master" was bound to teach four choristers and four probationers; and these boys were to assist at "daily Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Mass and Antiphons of Jesus every Friday in Lent, and at all other times when required." In addition to being instructed in music, the four choristers were provided with "meat and drink," and were clothed at the expense of the convent.

As an interesting specimen of the duties required of a church organist and choirmaster at this period, I cannot do better than quote the following Indenture, dated December 11th, 1502, which is among the Harleian manuscripts. This Indenture was made at Rushen Abbey, Isle of Man, on said date, between an Anglo-Irish musician, John Darcy, and William Parke, whereby John Darcy agreed, for certain considerations, to live in Rushen Abbey for six years, and to teach said William Parke "to sing prick song discant of all manner measures, and to sing upon a prick song faubourdon to tunes of every measure, and to set a song of three parts, four or five substantially, and also to play upon the organs, and any manner plain song or pricked song in two or three parts, and to make plain and shew him the secrets and method of teaching and instruction of every of the premises in the best manner." Apparently, John Darcy was engaged for the term of six years in order to teach William Parke, a Cistercian monk, the profession of "clerk of the organs."

Among the manuscripts now housed in Trinity College, Dublin, there are Psalters, Antiphonaries, and Breviaries of the fifteenth century—catalogued respectively as Nos. 69, 77, 82, 86, 95, 101, 102, and 109 in Dr. Abbott's Catalogue—but, of all these, the most interesting from a musical standpoint is No. 82, being the Kilcormick Missal, with a four-lined stave notation—written by a worthy Irish scribe, Brother Dermot O'Flanagan, a Carmelite Friar of Loughrea, and finished on March 3rd, 1458. It was written for the Carmelite Friary of Kilcormick, or Frankford, King's County, at the request of the Prior, Father Edward O'Higgins. As is usual in pre-Reformation Missals, there are thirteen sequences (of course the number varied), and there is also a valuable Kalendar, containing obits of benefactors, etc. A charming sequence, "Mellis stilla," is given for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The Mass of St. Patrick, too, has a very fine Sequence, and there is a fragment of the Sequence of St. Brigid.

Richard III. and Henry VII. were generous patrons of music and musicians, and, naturally, their Deputies in Ireland took the cue accordingly. In the privy purse expenses of Henry VII. we find that, in 1490, Arnold Jeffrey, "orgon pleyer," received his quarterly salary of ten shillings.[9] Henry Abingdon, Mus. Bac., "Master of the Song," had a yearly salary of forty marks, as had also his successor, Gilbert Bannister, in 1480. However, the earliest record in Ireland of a salaried organist is that of William Herbit, who, in 1506, was appointed "pulsator organorum"—or organist—of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, with the munificent (?) stipend of £3 6s. 8d. a year.[10] It was, in truth, no misnomer for the organist of the fifteenth century to be called a "pulsator" or smiter of the organs, because the keys were both large and stiff, and could only be played on with the clenched fist.

Maurice Fitzgerald, Archbishop of Cashel, was not unmindful of the interests of church music in his diocese, and the fourth canon of a Synod which he held, in 1512, has reference to the cultivation of psalmody by the clergy. The Statutes of the Synod were inserted in the Black Book of Lismore, compiled by John Russell, Economist of Lismore Cathedral, under the direction of Thomas Purcell, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore.

Archbishop Fitzsimon died May 14th, 1511, and was succeeded by William Rokeby, who held a provincial Synod in Christ Church Cathedral, on September 2lst, 1512. In September, 1513, the body of Gerald, eighth Earl of Kildare, was interred with all religious and musical solemnity in the Kildare chapel of Christ Church; and, on January 16th, 1518, died Thomas Fitch, Sub-Prior, who wrote many important works, notably the White Book of Christ Church.

In 1518, Archbishop Rokeby held a Synod (the canons of which are extant in the Red Book of Ossory, published by Spelman), and many useful regulations were made, including some in reference to ritual and liturgical chant.[11] In the same year he confirmed the Statutes of the Collegiate Church of Maynooth, and he subsequently united the Prebend of Maynooth to the Wardenship of the College, and the Vicarage to the Sub-Wardenship.

A sidelight on the "music-makings" that were wont to be held in the greater monasteries on the double-feasts is to be found entered on the Patent Rolls. From a deposition made by Sir John Plunket (Chief Justice of the King's Bench) it appears that in 1528, on a certain festival there was a musical at-home at St. Thomas's Abbey, Dublin, in the chamber of John Brant, Abbot of St. Thomas's, "on which occasion Chancellor Fitzsimon, of St. Patrick's, with his strollers, sang ballads."[12]

William Hassard, Prior of Christ Church, resigned in January, 1537, and on July 4th, 1537, William Power, Archdeacon of Dublin, in pursuance of a mandate from George Browne, schismatic Archbishop of Dublin, installed Robert Penswick, alias Castell, "late canon of the monastery of Lanthony," as Prior of Christ Church —Richard Ball continuing as Sub-Prior. Geoffrey Fishe, Dean of St. Patrick's, died in January, 1538, and his successor was "the scoundrel Basnet," of whom Dean Swift wrote so savagely. This brings us to the period known as the "Reformation."



[5] MSS., T.C.D., B. 52—see also Register of Dublin Wills, 1457-1483, by Berry.

[6] The musical antiquarian may be interested to know that one of the earliest inventories of choir music in England is that of St. Paul's Cathedral, London, in 1445, in which for the first time we fin d a separate organ score.

[7] On July 28th, 1488, the conditions of the various benefactions given to Christ Church by Sergeant Estrete are recited at length wherein the Prior undertakes to have the Mass of the Holy Ghost celebrated daily, "between the quire Mass and High Mass; that the entire convent and choir shall sing every Thursday a Mass of the Holy Ghost; that Vespers, Complin, and De Profundis be said every Sunday and Holyday for said persons; that, when dead, the souls of the various persons shall be prayed for, the obit of John, the founder, being kept on the Thursday and Friday of Whitsun week, the dirge being said and the parties treated as founders."

[8] At this date the compass of the organ was from B natural to f", two octaves and four notes, whilst the pedal keyboard was from A to a", (Story of the Organ, p. 53).

[9] In the 31st of Henry VI (1452) an "orgon pleyer," or organist, who, however was only employed for the greater feasts, was given a fee of 3s. 4d. for each service.

[10] Herbit was succeeded as Organist of St. Patrick's by William Browne.

[11] Tin chalices were strictly ordered to be discontinued; and, "the playing of football by clergymen was forbidden under a penalty of 3s. 4d. to the Ordinary, and 3s. 4d. to the repair of the parish church."

[12] Cal. Rot. Pat. Depos., Feb. 7th, 1578.