Thomas Moore and Kilkenny

Kilkenny Archaeological Society & Old Kilkenny Review

Major George “Punch” Bryan inherited Jenkinstown in 1805 on the death of his unmarried uncle James. George had married Countess Louise de Rutant, daughter of Count de Rutant of Nancy in France. They came to live at 11 Henrietta Street in Dublin, in 1802. Bryan retained this Dublin residence for the remainder of his life and kept in contact with his Dublin friends. When did Moore and Bryan first become friends? Both were active in Dublin in pursuit of Catholic Emancipation. It is possible this common interest drew them together in Dublin for the first time. It is certain their friendship was very real from the time both took prominent parts in the activities of the Kilkenny Private Theatre. Bryan was involved from 1804 to 1810, and Moore took part in productions in 1808, 1809, 1810.

In 1810 Bryan gave a Fete at Jenkinstown in honour of the Prince of Wales’ birthday. Moore took this opportunity to write “The Prince’s Day” or “Though Dark are our Sorrows”. He added that the poem was written “on the occasionof the Fete given by my friend Major Bryan at his seat in the County of Kilkenny.It was published in the fourth number of Irish melodies in November 1881. According to staunch local tradition it was while he was at Jenkinstown that Moore also wrote “The Last Rose of Summer”. Indeed a certain rose still prevales in the locality and in the Botanic Gardens, Dublin, as the type that inspired Moore. This poem was published in the fifth number of Irish Melodies in 1813. This could have been composed before he went to England and marry Bessy Dyke in 1811, especially as it was only one of twelve published in 1813 and hence written well before the actual publication took place.

Many references to the close friendship of Moore and Bryan are to be found in the eight volumes of his letters and diary edited by his friend Lord John Russell and published in 1853. The most touching entries refer to Moore’s daughter Anastasia, whom Bryan befriended in a special way. Many references to meeting with Bryan and his family are to be seen, especially in 111, IV, V, and VI. While saying with the Powers at Kilfane in 1815 Moore wrote to Lady Donegal saying “we have been with the Bryans for a week or ten days”.

As Bryan’s wife was French they often visited Paris and seemed to have a house there. They were there in 1822 from June to November. Moore, too, was in France at Passy, some short distance from Paris. He was there from 1819 until 1822. The reason for his long stay in France arose from the fact that in 1803 on his appointment as naval Registrar at Bermuda he gave a deputy responsibility for the work while he himself retained the office. The deputy incurred large debts. Moore was held responsible for these. When he realised he could be prosecuted and even jailed he went to France. He returned to England only after one of his wealthy benefactors on learning of the situation paid his the debt for him.

During the months of 1822 Moore met the Bryans almost every day. They dined together, shopped, visited the theatre, etc. In the diary entry for August 13th. we read “Bryan rode out this morning with a present of a pretty watch set in pearls and gold chain for Anastasia to wear at the childrens’ ball given by the Douglases tonight. Anastasia was about nine and a half years of age at that time and was visiting her father in France.

For May 23rd 1824 the diary tells us ”this morning Bryan delighted me with a piece of intelligence which showed the kindness of his heart, as much as it made mine happy. He means to put out a thousand pounds to interest for my dear Anastasia, to whom he considers his duty as godfather transferred since the death of poor Barbara….. (he) presented me also with a gold repeater; evidently much pleased with my conduct in the transaction, though he at first, thought with the rest that I ought to take the money”. Barbara died in 1817. A further reference to the one thousand pounds came while Moore was in Ireland in 1825. The diary of th 27th and 28th December tell us that he was at Jenkinstown, that he walked about a little with Bryan. “Told me he had not found any satisfactory way of vesting Anastasia’s thousand pounds and had therefore left it to her in his will, bearing interest from the date of – the will”. Alas for Anastasia, she was never to enjoy this gift. She died 8th March 1829. Moore broke the sad news of her approaching death in a letter to Bryan. It reads”

Sloperton Cottage, Devizes. February 24th 1829

Dear Mr. Bryan,

I have more than once, during the last two or three weeks, sat down to communicate to you the sad news which this letter must contain – but still the hope, from day to day, for a change for the better for our dear child’s health has made me put off the disclosure till now. I can no longer delay telling you that our poor Anastasia (your Anastasia as we have always called her) is in the last, the very last, stage of consumption. I need not tell you, my dearest Bryan, who knows Bessy’s feelings, and mine, how this dreadful result of two years anxious watching and hope has afflicted and overwhelmed us. The firmness which Bessy has borne and still bears up against the trial (solely from her thinking of everyone and everything except herself) is miraculous but I dread what must come after all this long course of excitement and effort. As it is, she is my only support, and but for her sake and her example, I know not what would have become of me. The dear child herself is now free of suffering, and, of course, wholly unconscious of her danger both of which I trust in God will continue till the last but it is a dreadful thing to see such a creature dying before our eyes, and we are obliged to appear unconcerned and cheerful before her. Of your sympathy and Mrs Bryan’s are sure indeed, if the kindness of friends could console, we have testimonies of it on all sides – but to time alone we must look for real relief. It is my decided intention to take Bessy to Ireland in the Summer – but of this more hereafter – I have now only time to say God bless you, my Dear friend.

Ever Yours
Thomas Moore

Do not take the trouble of answer this, My Dear Bryan – letters of condolence give but pain to those who write and those who receive them. From the way you felt your poor grand-child’s death, I know how you will feel for us.

Major Bryan’s Reply

My dear Moore Silence at this moment might be construed into unkindness. This fear alone inclines me to take up my pen. Consolation is implicit, the attempt would be an insult. Tell Bessy that if I was near her, I would feel melancholy pleasure in mingling my tears with hers

Adieu, believe me always,
Your sincere friend,
George Bryan.

One of Moore’s expression of gratitude to Bryan for their mutual friendship was to dedicate to him the life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan. This dedication reads as follows:-

“To George Bryan, Esq., this work is inscribed by his sincere and affectionate friend, Thomas Moore”

There is scarcely need to seek further proofs of their great friendship. Bryan died in 1843 and Moore in February 1852.

(Reproduced by kind permission of Kilkenny Archaeological Society)

Quoting Margery Brady’s book “The Last Rose of Summer”

"The Love Story of Tom Moore & Bessy Dyke”

In between receiving these pieces of information about Lord Edward, the Moores visited the Bryans in Kilkenny. “Set off with Bessy, the boys and Hannah for Jenkinstown, starting at twenty minutes past seven .. arriving at Bryan’s at 6 – found them all delighted to see us..” in 1830, that year of Tom’s visit, his welcoming friend, Major George “Punch” Bryan, had been appointed high Sheriff for the County of Kilkenny – the first Roman Catholic to hold such an office since 1690.

“Drove into Kilkenny with Bryan & Bess – In looking along the walk by the river, under the castle, my sweet Bess & I recalled the time when we used, in our love-making days, to stroll for hours there together. We did not love half so REALLY then as we do now..” Of course the Moores were feted day after day. Staying with the Bryans, Tom was asked to lay the first stone of a new house for George in the neighbourhood of Jenkinstown. “After laying the stone Bryan ordered 10 barrels of beer for the workmen; but on the master Builder representing to him that this would make them drunk for a week, the choice was given them whether they would have the beer or the value of it (one pound a barrel) and they wisely and un-Irishly chose the money – having one barrel of beer, (which George had ordered them to drink).”

Next day Tom walked with his son through Kilkenny city to show it to him. “..called at Mr Banim’s (the father of the Author of the Tales of the O’Hara family who keeps a little powder and shot shop in Kilkenny) and not finding him at home left a memorandum to say that I had called out of respect to his son – Took care to impress upon Tom how great the merit of a young man must be who, with not he one hundredth part of the advantages of education that he (Tom) had in his power could yet distinguish himself as to cause this kind of tribute of respect to be paid to his father. – I had not, it is true, read more than one of Banim’s stories, myself, but that one was good & I take the rest upon credit – Besides he dedicated his Second Series to me, calling me ‘Ireland’s free son and true poet’, which was handsome of him.”

Around 1809, when Tom first met Bessy, he had been visited by the eleven year old John Banim who had written juvenile verses. Tom had greeted the young lad by asking what one poet could do for another. Young Banim replied that he would like a ticket for the remainder of the acting season in Kilkenny. Over the years, Tom had inquired about the aspiring writer, who had fulfilled his early promise and had achieved fame by writing “Tales by the O’Hara Family”, in conjunction with his brother Michael. His spirits sank a little when he saw the theatre where he and Bessy had met – “the scene of my former gaieties – and saw that place turned into a Horse-Bazaar where I once used to make the galleries roar in ‘Peeping Tom’ (his first show with Bessy) & ‘Robin Roughhead’”. He met his old theatrical friends the Powers of Kilfane at a party at the Barracks.

(Reproduced by kind permission of Margery Brady)

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