Church historian’s research shows strong Irish roots of the Archbishop–elect of Canterbury
Added on 31/01/2013
The Archbishop–elect of Canterbury, Dr Justin Welby, has strong family links to Ireland, with ancestral roots that trace him back to the 1798 leader, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, according to new research by the Church Historian, Canon Patrick Comerford, published in the latest edition of the Church Review.
Recent research in Britain has traced the hidden story of Archbishop–elect Welby’s father, the late Gavin Bramhall James Welby, and his German–Jewish ancestry. However, the investigation by Canon Comerford reveals the new archbishop has strong Irish roots through his mother’s descent from a well–known County Kildare family whose ancestral home was Celbridge House, now known as Oakley Park and part of a special needs school.
Canon Comerford lectures on Liturgy and Church History in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and is an Adjunct Visiting Professor at Trinity College Dublin.
“I knew Archbishop–elect Welby and his mother, Jane Gillian Portal, were related to the former Tory politician, RAB Butler,” Canon Comerford told the editor of the Church Review, the Revd Nigel Waugh. “However, when I traced RAB Butler’s ancestors, I was surprised to find that they had no verifiable connections with the Butler families of Ireland.”
He then went in search of Irish ancestors among the Portal family, ancestors of Archbishop–elect Welby’s mother, now known as Lady Williams.
“I found that the archbishop’s maternal grandmother was Rose Leslie Napier,” he says, “and then I realised that there had to be a strong Irish connection. I was familiar with the story of Sir Charles James Napier, an Irish general who was Governor of Kephalonia and who played a role in the Greek War of Independence. He was a first cousin of the 1798 leader Lord Edward FitzGerald, and I wondered whether Rose was descended from the same family.”
“After Christmas, I visited Celbridge, County Kildare, the home over 200 years ago of the three Lennox sisters,” he adds. “I can now confirm through my research that Archbishop–elect Welby is a direct descendant of Lady Sarah (Napier) Lennox, a sister of both Lady Emily Lennox, Duchess of Leinster and mother of Lord Edward FitzGerald and Lady Louisa Lennox, wife of Thomas Conolly of Castletown House, Co Kildare.”
Archbishop–elect Welby’s Irish ancestral home, Celbridge House, is now known as Oakley Park. It was built in 1724 by the Vicar of Celbridge, the Revd Dr Arthur Price, later Archbishop of Cashel. It became the home of the Napier family in 1785. Oakley House is now part of the Saint Raphael centre run by the Saint John of God order.
Professor Comerford’s fascinating story of Archbishop Welby and his Irish ancestral roots is told in the February edition of the Church Review, the monthly magazine for the Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough.
For further information about the Church Review, please see www.churchreview.dublin.anglican.org.
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