Irish Church Music - 1538 to 1598

William H. Grattan Flood
Chapter XV

BY a Royal Commission dated April 7th, 1538, a clean sweep was ordered to be made of the Irish monasteries, and pensions were promised to those religious who surrendered. Lord Leonard Grey, Lord Deputy of Ireland, wrote a very urgent letter, on May 21st, 1539, to Thomas Cromwell, Vicar-General to Henry VIII., pointing out that six of the larger monasteries ought to be allowed "to stand and continue, changing their habit and rule into such sort as the King's grace shall will them," giving as a reason that not only were these houses ever accustomed to be utilised as lodgings for the Council and officers of State, but were excellent schools for "young men and children, both gentlemen's children and others, both of mankind and womankind, to be brought up in virtue and in the English tongue and behaviour, to the great charge of the said houses." [1]

As an evidence of the use of organs, even in the smaller religious houses, it is merely necessary to quote a State Paper dated July 26th, 1538, in which Lord Leonard Grey mentions that he had carried off a "pair of organs" from the Augustinian Priory of Killeigh, King's County, and had presented the instrument to the Collegiate Church of Maynooth. Moore, in his History of Ireland, gives the date as 1537, whilst Renehan, quoting from Moore, places the event as occurring in 1539.

Among the pensions given to the monks of the Abbey of St. Thomas, Dublin, for which a warrant was issued on September 10th, 1539, there was an annuity of £5 to Patrick Clinch, "clerk of the organs," or organist of said abbey.

Evidently, the suggestion of Lord Deputy Grey resulted in the preservation of Christ Church Cathedral, but as a religious community it was dissolved, and, by warrant of December 12th, 1539, the Prior and Canons of Holy Trinity were transformed into secular clergy, henceforth to be known as the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church—Robert Penswick, alias Castell, Prior, and Richard Ball, Sub-Prior, becoming Dean and Precentor respectively, whilst Walter White, Seneschal and Precentor, developed into Chancellor and Vicar-Choral, and John Moss, Sub-Precentor [Succentor] and Sacristan, into Treasurer and Vicar-Choral of the new foundation.[2]

Let not the reader, however suppose that the change of name and dress in the least affected the ancient Roman Rite according to the Use of Sarum. Neither the Ritual nor the musical services were in aught altered, and the dignitaries, like those of St. Patrick's, were bound to reside in the church. In the royal warrant, it was expressly stipulated "that, saving the Dean, one of the dignitaries shall celebrate second Mass daily, and the Mass of the Blessed Virgin, and High Mass on festivals proper to the same"; and, further, "that eight regular Canons and four choristers shall be known as the Vicars-Choral, £53 13s. 4d. being yearly assigned for the Vicars, and £6 13s. 4d. for the choristers," that is, about £600 a year of our money. John Curragh, the first of the Vicars-Choral was named Sub-Dean, with a place and voice in the Chapter; John Kerdiffe, the second Vicar-Choral, was named Succentor, with the like privileges of Sub-Dean, "whose office it shall be to instruct the choristers"; Christopher Rathe, Chancellor, was to be Minor Canon, and, as a Vicar-Choral, was bound "to correct the Latin of the choir books"; and Oliver Grant, Treasurer, was made Minor Canon and Vicar-Choral. Finally, it was ordered that "a clerk learned in music and organ playing shall teach the boys, perform at Mass, and have the office of beadle, with a stipend of £6 13s. 4d."; also, "a sacristan and a third clerk be appointed to ring the bells, etc.; and that a syndic steward or proctor be elected to manage the affairs of church and chapter." [3]

The musical reader, will, doubtless, note that the first recognised cathedral organist of Christ Church (no longer to be known as the Priory of the Holy Trinity) was bound to act as beadle, which office was likely performed by deputy, and his salary was equivalent to about £70 a year, not including perquisites. In June, 1540, the letters patent of Henry VIII. confirming the "new foundation" were made out, in which appear the additional names of William Owen and Nicholas Owgan, completing the number of eight secular Canons. It was also enacted that William Power, Archdeacon of Dublin, and his successors, "should have a stall in the choir and participate in the acts of the Chapter." However, it was only on July 11th, 1542, that all the formalities were complied with, in favour of the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church.[4]

A very circumstantial account roll of the economy rents of the "Cathedral Church of the Blessed Trinity," in 1542, was furnished by the Rev. John Moss, Treasurer and Proctor, and is printed in Sir John Gilbert's History of the City of Dublin, copied from the Novum Registrum. Among the receipts entered from the Church, we find "the Knells," "the Month's Mind of Bea," the anniversary offices for the dead, "the Funerals, the Obligations, and the Compos." To the antiquarian, the payments are of exceptional interest, e.g., the sum of 4d. is set forth for "a quire of paper,"; "rushes to Our Lady Chapel, 2d."; "thirteen dozen tallow candles, 13s."; "two chalice cloths and making, 10d."; "washing the choristers' surplices, 2 towels and 2 rochets, 6d."; "5 girdles for albs, 4d."; "a dozen of Christs, 2s."; "7 pair of gloves for the ringers, 1s. 9d."; "a quire of paper for songs, 6d." etc., not forgetting the item: "To Sir John Moss for his pains, 40s."

In the autumn of 1543, Thomas Lockwood, erstwhile Archdeacon of Meath (a see which, strange to say, never had a Dean, Cathedral, or Chapter), was appointed Dean of Christ Church, the other dignitaries mentioned above remaining unchanged, with John Kelly as Sexton.

Another important, albeit minor, personage connected with the Cathedral is mentioned in deeds of this period, namely, Thomas Grace of Dublin, barber, who was given certain lands on condition of "shaving, and trimming the Dean, Chapter, and Vicars-Choral when required, to come once a week for the purpose of shaving and, should some of the brethren be absent on the shaving day, to come when sent for, and also to poll and round the choristers."

On March 16th, 1546, the Dean and Chapter granted to Robert Hayward, of Dublin, "singing man," an annual stipend, for life, of £6 13s. 4d., twelve pecks of wheat, and eight pecks of malt, "payable at the feasts of the Nativity, Easter, Nativity of St. John the Baptist, and Michaelmas; a livery coat, and a cartload of wood at Christmas, and the chamber [the monastic scriptorium] by the east of the churchyard; and the Vicars-Choral grant him four pecks of malt, in equal portions, at said feasts, his daily finding, table and board, sitting and taking same with them."

From the above précis of the emoluments and perquisites of Mr. Robert Hayward, it will be seen that his was a very good position, and he was "empowered to distrain the lands of the Dean and Chapter in Dublin county and city, for his salary." His status as a "professional gentleman" was fully recognised, as appears from the proviso that he had daily table and board in the common hall of the reverend Vicars-Choral; whilst, at the "festive season," there was no danger of his running short of wood for the Yule log, not forgetting the "peck of malt," which was not improbably "brewed." In addition, the "livery coat," which, we may presume, was a splendid specimen of sartorial art, must have added to the dignity of his presence on all occasions. Surely, a musician to be envied!

But the reader may possibly be desirous of learning what were the duties of this first "professional" organist of Christ Church Cathedral. They are explicitly set forth in the original document, of which the following is a résumé:—

The said Robert Hayward was bound "to play the organ, to keep Our Lady's Mass and Anthem daily, Jesus' Mass every Friday, according to the custom of St. Patrick's, and Matins when the organs play on the eight principal feasts, as well as on a greater feast day, or Major Double, grantors finding an organ blower." Moreover, he was to supply, at the expense of the Cathedral, "suitable church music," and "to behave humbly and well" to the Dean and Chapter. As soon as he was put in possession of his residence, he was "to instruct the choristers in prick song and discant to four minims, and to play at Our Lady's Mass." In regard to the choristers, it was the office of the Organist "to present them to the Precentor to be admitted, and they were found in all requisites during the time of their child's voices."

This deed was signed by Thomas Lockwood, Dean; Richard Ball, Precentor; Walter White, Chancellor; John Moss, Treasurer; John Curragh, John Kerdiff, and Christopher Rathe, Prebendaries; and William Lynch, William Owen, Robert Lloyd, and John Dillon, Vicars-Choral, and John Dorning.[5]


[1] State Papers, vol. viii., 1539.

[2] Calendar of Christ Church Deeds, No. 431.

[3] Calendar of Christ Church Deeds (20th Report D.K.I), 1888.

[4] The Priory of the Holy Trinity was not the only establishment that was converted from its original foundation at this epoch, and on June 28th, 1543, the Cistercian Abbey of Newry was incorporated by royal charter as a secular collegiate church, as "the Warden and Vicars-Choral of the College of the Blessed Virgin and St. Patrick of Newry," John Prout, Abbot, to be first Warden. This Wardenship collapsed in 1549, when ex-Abbot Prout was given a pension of £15. Again, after the dissolution of the Collegiate Church of Maynooth, we find a lease of the College House granted to John Kelly, Cook, on April 20th, 1551.

[5] Calendar of Christ Church Deeds—No. 1201.