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The Warp

Mary and Arthur

Mary and Arthur

It was Arthur Sandford, also known as ‘Kit’, my grandfather, who helped Algy on the start of his final journey. Kit carried the dying Lord Carbery on to the boat at Cork. Algy asked Kit to look after Mary when he was gone.

Three years passed and Arthur now decided he would like to marry Mary, but she was still not sure whether she wished to become closer to him. She wrote, ‘you couldn’t possibly be happy permanently yoked to a Rebel, an untamed and untameable Rebel.’ She was, compared to him, ‘a wild thing that might nestle momentarily at your fireside, even confidingly, so long as you held your breath and didn’t speak or move.’ But at the first conventional word or movement, she warned him, she ‘would start up and flee, away and away to the Heart of the Wilderness, where it would be no use your coming in search.’

Arthur had been born in Kilvernon Rectory, County Tipperary, in 1859, the son of the Rev William Sandford, Rector of Clonmel and Chancellor of Lismore Cathedral. He was educated at Dr Knight’s School, Camden Place, Cork, and studied medicine at Queen’s College, Cork.

By the time Mary met him, he had become the Consulting Surgeon at Cork Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, of which he was also a founder; Lecturer and Professor in Opthalmology and Otolaryngology at the University College, Cork; and a Member of the Board of Examiners for medical degrees at the National University of Ireland and Queen’s University, Belfast.

Mary’s sister Constance claimed that Arthur was nicknamed Kit because he resembled St Christopher who is often pictured carrying the weak and vulnerable over rivers and fords. ‘The people of Cork had their own name for him,’ says Constance. ‘They called him ‘God’s Doctor’ and loved him for his skill and great kindness.’

The development of Mary and Arthur’s feelings for each other is chronicled in a series of letters between them, in one of which she recalls the first time he came to Castle Freke and, as he walked ‘that long walk from the door to the fireplace end of the saloon’, she remembered that it was Friday, and Good Friday at that, and that they had no fish, and that this might cause problems. She was ‘quite reassured’ when he ‘cheerfully said yes to our excellent pressed beef’.

Mary drove him in a donkey cart down to the beach and they walked along the cliffs. They stopped at the top to get their breath and Arthur ‘shuddered and buttoned up his coat and complained of the East Wind’. Mary pointed out to him that the wind was in fact due West. Arthur unbuttoned his coat again and ‘set to digging with great energy and cleverness by questions and severe eye probing’.

As time passed the relationship which had been foreseen and given his blessing by Algy grew deeper. Mary received advice from her friends. Doty Bandon wrote that she had ‘prayed that you may be guided to do what is best’. If Mary felt she could be ‘contented and happy’ with Arthur, then Doty was in favour. Another friend told her, ‘he is by a long way the best looking man in Cork, tall, straight, strong, broad-shouldered but well proportioned, flat-backed!’ Mary herself was experiencing feelings which she found confusing; ‘God made us a trinity, body, mind and spirit,’ she wrote. ‘The body not to be slighted or despised or treated as if it was the devil’s contribution. I am afraid I have had always the puritanical idea of the body as a thing to be hard-worked and disregarded. All the same I am most thankful to God for letting me be tall and slim and pretty.’

Kit had more to offer besides being the ‘best looking man in Cork’. My grandmother was both romantic and practical; but Kit was probably better at relating to other people, and was sometimes able to give reality to her dreams. He was to show himself good at sorting out travel arrangements. He found dogs for the children, and for her the most ideal of all mares. Kitty’s owner, he claimed, did not particularly need her but, Mary says, ‘Of course, as I suspected at the time and verified soon after, Kitty had belonged to Kit himself and he was letting me have her.’ As a result she was not well received by Driscoll, his coachman, when she next visited his stables in Patrick’s Place in Cork. Driscoll was ‘very sour’.

‘The master made a great mistake the day he let Kitty go,’ he said. ‘She was very sweet tempered in the stables.’

Mary ventured to say, humbly, ‘I do appreciate her very much. She has a good home.’

‘It was a good home she had here,’ he answered bitterly, ‘an’ I liked her best of all the horses.’ Mary felt ‘withered’.

A simpler person than Mary, Arthur was less volatile and more dependable. He adored Mary and for her later gave up much of his career. As well as loving him Mary was to a degree in love with herself and perhaps loved him partly for the love of her she saw in him.

She also valued him as a steadying influence on John and Ralfe, who had been showing signs of getting out of hand since their father’s death. The earliest existing letter from John Carbery thanks Kit for a dog he had given him.

A time of the day cherished by Arthur was the evening when sunset brings mystery and the landscape is imbued with what he called ‘evening lights’. At such times he would recite at some length from Longfellow and Tennyson.

In 1902 Mary and he were married in the minute All Saints church in a pine wood at Branksome near Bournemouth, by Arthur’s elder brother Philip who was vicar there.

After their marriage Mary and Kit lived at Castle Freke, and also some of the time at his homes, in St Patrick’s Place in Cork and Frankfield House near Cork. They travelled in their own horse-drawn caravan which is now parked outside my home at Hatfield Court in Herefordshire. Besides a number of horses, Kit possessed one of the first motor cars in Ireland, and rode or drove to work most mornings when he was not abroad. Mary and Kit had two sons: Anthony, and Christopher, my father.

13 St Patrick’s Place, now known as 12A, is a pleasant house whose ground floor is still used as a surgery and waiting room. It occupies a corner site on the side of the steep St Patrick’s Hill and had fine views, now partly obscured, over the city. Arthur bought it in the 1880s. It is approached up steps from the street, leading to a classical portico; a substantial, comfortable place of three stories. The stables and large garden, known to Mary and Kit as ‘Himmel Garten’ were at its back and have now been replaced by another house.

Frankfield House, Arthur’s country residence in Douglas, a few miles from town, was in those days a small classical country house with about a thousand acres of farmland attached. In the woods behind it Mary and Arthur created a garden. Frankfield is now a golf club and its greatest glory is, past a Monterey pine tree, an extraordinary view of the town of Cork stretched beneath it.

Arthur’s duties kept him in Cork longer than suited Mary and the pressures she put on him to forsake his career and concentrate on being her consort are already apparent in a letter of 1906, from Castle Freke, in which she describes loneliness as ‘the most dreadful thing in the world’ and then reveals that she herself is lonely that night. She writes: ‘for all my roses, and my wood fire, and the glint of the lighthouse and the deep breathing of that beloved Baby in your bed.’

It is all, she says, because of the students he has to stay in Cork to examine, ‘a score of silly, snuffley, mean, conceited, irrepressible, unspeakable students [who] have to be met, seen, smelt, felt, borne with, shone upon, ploughed, passed, hustled, scorned, pitied, forgotten, and anything else beyond my vocabulary. She deeply regrets that, in this time of ‘heavenly weather’, he has to be ‘shut up’ in his ‘mildewed halls of science’, when he might be ‘crawling thro’ brown bracken’ with his ‘bare body’ and ‘sleeping in the quarry on the warren on soft heather among rabbits and other creatures of the night’. The sea, stars, and earth are enlisted on her side; ‘Oh how odious is the present state of civilisation and hateful are houses, clothes, servants, dust and animal food ... At least that’s at this moment the feeling of your graminivorous savage woman.’

Kit was an industrious man coming from an ecclesiastical family. His grandfather, Beech Sandford, was Archbishop of Clonmel, and his great grandfather, John Sandford, was ‘Monarch of Tuam’. This man’s wife was Miss Berry of the Lough. These Sandfords looked back to the mediæval Bishop Sandford of Dublin and the Sandfords of Askham in Cumbria for their ancestry.

As a part of his professional life, Kit gave many blind people back their sight. One of his happiest moments was when he was able to restore sight to a boy of 14. Mary’s sister, Constance, writes;

What joy it was to the boy to find he could see, and how lovely the world appeared to him. At first he had to shut his eyes in order to find his way about - so long had his hands guided him by feeling. Kit was deeply interested in his reactions to this newly-found world. ‘What did you like best?’ he asked.

‘Oh, the hedges, your honour; they were so beautiful.’

‘Were your father and mother like what you had imagined them?’ he asked again.

‘Not father, but mother was,’ the boy answered.

A journalist described Arthur Sandford as a ‘famous and attractive figure in Irish medicine’. ‘There are those who still remember him for his skill and his infinite kindness to people of all ranks and classes’. Although he was a man of ‘Unionist opinions, firmly held’, and his career covered a stormy period in Irish history, he ‘managed to keep the respect and affection of his neighbours in Southern Ireland, and indeed he was known far beyond his province of Munster.’

Arthur Sandford, the article continues, was ‘equally expert on the tennis court, on the bank of a salmon reach, and on the deck of a yacht.’ But he was also a contemplative man, a man of books, and ‘such quiet pleasures, with those of travel in his later years, played a large part in his life.’ His marriage to Mary was ‘an ideal union’. For many years Arthur and Mary were ‘the most sought-after couple in Cork’, giving ‘distinction to every gathering they attended’.

It was presumably their popularity as a couple which resulted in a photographic slide of their firstborn, Christopher, my father, being projected for some years onto the screen of a Cork cinema, wearing his dressing gown and holding a candle, about to go up to bed at Castle Freke, to bring the evening show to an end.

Mary was interested in local folklore and history. She came to meet the O’Briens, a farming family on the shore of Lough Gur in Limerick, where the Carberies had land. Mary describes at the start of her book The Farm by Lough Gur how she came to be in County Limerick seeking the words of a lost song. In ‘the little town of Bruff, where the song was born,’ Mrs Fogarty welcomed her to her home ‘on the bank of the lovely river Dawn, or Morning Star’. Mary found her an enthusiast for the old stories and legends of Bruff and Lough Gur, ‘the notable banshee Ainë and her brother Fer Fi, the dwarf; fairies in the hollow hills; a drowned city in the Enchanted Lake; giants and ghosts, saints’ wells and fairy thorns. She had even in her youth heard the lost song sung.’

In 1910, John (Jacky) was eighteen, Ralfe (Baby) twelve, my father Christopher seven and my uncle Anthony was five. Something terrible happened in that year; a fire broke out accidentally in the attics of Castle Freke.

Arthur, in Cork at the time, received a telegram telling him of the fire at eight that morning and at once rang up the head of the Cork Brigade, Superintendant Hutson. The latter set out in ‘a powerful motor car’, accompanied by a couple of firemen, a quarter of a mile of hose, ‘chemical engines’, and John Carbery.

Arthur lingered long enough for Mary to get ready and they followed in a second motor car. Cork police telegraphed those in Bandon and Clonakilty to clear the roads, so that within 75 minutes from setting out the party arrived at Castle Freke. As they approached the castle they realised it was doomed. Arthur, to the alarm of his wife, braved smoke and flames to go down into the cellar where the family silver was stored. With relief he realised that the flames would not be able to penetrate the safe in which it was secured. On the way out he was ‘nearly killed’ by falling masonry.

Late that night, when she and Arthur got back to St Patrick’s Place, Mary sat down to write to her friend Doty Bandon a letter with the news;

It is with a heavy heart that I write to tell you of the destruction of dear Castle Freke. We saw the smoke from near Clonakilty and when we got there the house was blazing.

It was so grievous watching the beautiful oak room burning and the organ - my sitting room - Oh! Doty dear - I feel so homeless, and never again will it be my home, never shall I see my babies round the nursery table, for it will take 2 or 3 years, I should think, to rebuild. It is too sad, and I feel broken.

John was quite splendid and came out wonderfully but, poor child, he is very sad tonight. All the poor ‘neighbours’ were so kind, everything was got into shelter and sorted. We have many mercies to be thankful for, and no lives were lost in the splendid fight made by our men against the flames.

Beginning in the roof, there was no chance of saving the house. I rather hoped you would drive over and yet I am glad you didn’t, dear Doty, as it was a sad sight.

The castle was insured and Mary at once began to plan its rebuilding. This although some say that John, now a spirited young man of 18, was already adamant that he would rather she didn’t. There are those who claim he perhaps had some premonition of those events which, all too soon, were to rock Ireland and erode much of the authority of those who, like the Carberies, believed themselves to be its backbone for ever.

Despite the castle being in ruins, the family continued to spend much of their time there living in Kilkerran Cottage, a place on the shore of the lake which Mary had caused to be rebuilt and modernised.

In the summer of 1911, while the rest of the family were staying in the cottage, Mary and Ralfe went up to the castle to sleep in one of the towers which had been saved from the fire. Owls and bats and the sound of dripping rain made it ‘bogey’.

Over the next few years, the floors and roof of the castle were rebuilt in reinforced concrete in the hope that this would prevent fire raging through it again. Craftsmen worked to provide plasterwork ceilings, panelling, elaborately carved chimney pieces, and a huge oak staircase in Edwardian Jacobean style.

While waiting for Castle Freke to be rebuilt, Mary indulged herself in her horse drawn caravan. From a common where they were parked near Llandindrod Wells, in Wales, she wrote of ‘an interesting talk’ she’d had with a ‘Welsh nonconformist (a dear friend of Lloyd George)’. Sitting in one of her collapsible chairs by the caravan, the Welshman told her that Lloyd George and many others ‘anticipate revolution in England, and are straining every nerve to prevent it.’ In Wales, said the nonconformist, the ‘educated workman’ felt a terrible anger for ‘the idle rich (not those who do their duty)’, and a ‘terrible feeling’ against ‘the millionaire who motors all over the country, and eats and drinks and enjoys himself and thinks nothing of the poor.’ There was much to agree with in what he said, Mary decided.

By August 1912 the caravan was in Ballyvourney in Ireland. Kit was driving every day in his motor car to work in Cork and returning in the evening with provisions. One afternoon, when it was pouring with rain, they ‘got into the van and tied the horses behind, but 11 times Kingcup broke away and had to the caught and tied up again’. Kit overtook them before dark and ‘rode Kingcup, leading Paddy, through torrents of rain, until at last we reached Macroom about 8.30, 25 miles.’ There they rang ‘boldly’ at the ‘great gateway of the old Castle’. Out came a ‘sort of a porter’ who, recognising Kit, invited them in enthusiastically. The caravan ‘squeezed through the most ancient gateway and anchored just inside under a great wall and a tree’.


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