When she died at Te Kao in May 1883 Sarah Guinness Minchin, wife of schoolmaster Thomas Mahon Minchin, left six children aged five to 19 years, three sons Arthur, Paul and Tom and three daughters Mary Ann, Ellen and Zara. Neither they nor she could have ever imagined how different their life’s pathways would be, or the happy times and the sad times that they would experience.

Two years after Sarah died, Thomas and his family moved to Rangi Point on the northern shores of the Hokianga Harbour. The eldest son, Arthur worked as a bushman and had one acquaintance, also named Arthur – Arthur James Bertie - who became a friend of the Minchins, with far-reaching consequences.

As a clergyman at Collooney in County Sligo in the 1840s Rev William Guinness would have believed all his flock equal in his God’s sight. As an astute clergyman there would have been some families who he might have regarded – to quote George Orwell’s famous line in “Animal Farm” – as more equal than others. Among those would have been the O’Haras of Annaghmore, Coopers of Coopershill, Coopers of Markree Castle, and the Percevals of Temple House.

Guinness soon discovered just how much influence the likes of Joshua Cooper had in the parish.  Cooper had been on particularly good terms with Guinness’ predecessor Rev Lewis Potter who had moved to the neighbouring parish of Dromard.  The Coopers felt that friendship so strongly that they paid to build a new church at Ballisadare, near Collooney, to replace the old ruined building, and arranged for Potter to be installed there as “officiating clergyman”, ie back in his old parish. Potter employed a curate to conduct services at Dromard on Sunday mornings and he preached at the new church, Holy Trinity, Ballisadare.

Thursday 22nd September 2016 was one of the most memorable days I had researching for “Guinness Down Under”.  It was planned as a visit to see two historic houses in Canterbury that had belonged respectively to Michael Burke jnr and his brother William, the sons of Michael and Maria Burke (chapter 5 in the book). In fact, it was that and more - it turned out to be a journey back in time, to the 1890s, an imaginary look into the mind of a young man who dreamed the dreams of empire, and developed a mindset that would ultimately take him to his death in the horrors of northern France in May 1916.  It was a day that gave me some background to the sad demise of the Burke family.  The ten grandchildren all died without family - five the victims of war - and brought the line to an end. 

First stop on the journey was Amberley House, once the home of William Minchin Burke and his mother Maria Frederica Burke, widowed in 1869 when her husband Michael John Burke died aged 57.

In the tumultuous Irish arguments of the early 1800s Arthur Guinness II – a Protestant - was a vocal supporter of greater freedoms for the Catholic population, but he would not support violent overthrow of the English government.  It was a middle-of-the-road stance that saw him attacked from both sides. Some of his Protestant peers rejected his liberalism and Catholics condemned his Protestantism.

Controversy erupted in the winter of 1812-13 when a group of extreme Protestants in Dublin circulated a petition to Parliament against concessions to Catholics. Among the signatures was one Richard Guinness of Nicholas Street and this was seized on by critics of the Guinness family. In fact, the signature was a forgery, and there was no such person in Nicholas Street, but it caused enough offence for the brothers running the brewery at the time – Arthur II, Benjamin, and William – to placed advertisements in local newspapers offering a £500 reward to anybody who secured successful conviction of the fraudsters. 

Rev William Guinness returned to his old church, St. Paul’s, in Collooney in 1884. Parish records from the time are held at the Church of Ireland archive in Dublin, and there is one interesting account of events that presumably would have involved the vicar, though to what extent is not known.  According to the records, the graveyard at St Paul’s was proving too small and an approach to the local landowner Colonel Cooper was successful in securing additional land and some funding towards the new fencing.  The records are somewhat cryptic in relation to the actual graveyard extension work.  Tenders were called for the job and Mr John Tighe’s bid accepted.  However, his paperwork was found to have an error, so further tenders were sought and a new contract awarded to Mr. John McKim.  Four months later however vestry inspected the burial ground extension work, “done by Mr. John Tighe”, the original successful tenderer.  The records are silent on how he came to win back the contract – some things never change.

© 2021 Eyeglass Press Ltd - All Rights Reserved.