Rev. Charles Bunworth

Rev Charles Bunworth (1704 – 1772) was a Church of Ireland rector of Buttevant. He was born in Freemount, son of Col Richard and Elizabeth Bunworth. At 18, he studied Divinity Studies at Trinity College, Dublin. He was ordained in 1731. By then, he was already rector of Knocktemple, and for about four years up to 1740, he served as prebendary of Cooline parish. From then also, until his death, he was vicar of Bregoge, Tullylease and Kilbrin. Bunworth lived in the Coach House (near the Creamery) and was much loved by the community.

After a spell in the Royal Irish Academy of Music, he developed a passion for the harp and Irish music. Rev. Bunworth was noted as an accomplished harpist, but most of all as a great patron of harpers and poets.

Mid-eighteenth-century Ireland was a place of oppression and fear, when the infamous Penal Laws were being enforced and both school and mass were held outdoors away from the public gaze. However the southwest of Ireland managed to nourish poets and harpers for a significant period through triennial poetic conventions and sympathetic patrons such as the Rev. Charles Bunworth.

While the tradition of the wandering harpist and the popularity of the harp as musical instrument faded during the eighteenth century, Bunworth, however, helped many harpists. When he died he owned 15 harps, bequeathed him by the last of the wandering harpists.

It is Bunworth’s grand nephew who can tell us most about Bunworth: Bunworth was, he said, a man of unaffected piety, and of sound learning, pure of heart and benevolent of nature. By the rich he was respected, and by the poor beloved; nor did a difference of creed prevent their looking up to ‘the minister’ (so was Mr Bunworth called by them) inmatters of difficulty and in seasons of distress, confident of receiving from him the advice and assistance that a father would afford to his children. He was the friend and the benefactor of the surrounding country – to him, from the neighbouring town of Newmarket, came both Curran and Yelverton for advice and instruction. Previous to their entrance at Dublin College [sic].

Both, said Croker, benefited from his wisdom and knowledge. But what extended the fame of Mr Bunworth beyond the limits of the parishes adjacent to his own, was his performance on the Irish harp, and his hospitable reception and entertainment of the poor harpers who travelled from house to house about the country. Grateful to their patron, these itinerant minstrels sang his praises to the tingling accompaniment of their harps, invoking in return for his bounty abundant blessings on his white hand, and celebrating in their rude verses the blooming charms of his daughters, Elizabeth and Mary. It was all these poor fellows could do; but who can doubt that their gratitude was sincere, when, at the time of Mr Bunworth’s death, no less than fifteen harps were deposited on the loft of his granary, bequeathed to him by the last members of a race which has now ceased to exist.

A tombstone at the rear of the graveyard states: ‘Here lieth the body of Rev. Charlis [sic} Bunworth who departed this life the 14th day of Sept. 1772. Aged 68.’ This marks the final resting place of the most notable and interesting clergyman associated with the parish of Buttevant.

The Bunworth Harp

The Bunworth Harp was the Reverend’s favourite harp. It was made by John Kelly, a famous harp maker, in 1734. It was given to Bunworth’s granddaughter, Miss Dillon of Cork and thence to her nephew, the famous Irish antiquarian, Thomas Crofton Croker (1798 – 1854).  The sides and soundboard were carved from a single block of willow and incised with scrolling foliage and flowers. Black, red, and white painted decoration. The harp bears the inscription: “made by John Kelly for the Reverend Charles Bunworth, Ball-Daniel 1734.” The Bunworth Harp is currently in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

In recent times, Bunworth and his work were commemorated when the local community organised a festival of music and art to commemorate the music and art of the area.

In 1995, local craftsman, Mick Culloty was commissioned to design and make a harp to commemorate Bunworth. This was unveiled by the Right Rev. Robert A. Warke, Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross.

Bunworth’s Banshee

Bunworth was much-loved by the community. When he became ill local people became concerned. They were not worried about his illness. Instead, the strange events that took place in the area prior to his demise worried them greatly.

A servant of the household reported to the concerned family of Reverend Bunworth that he had heard the wailing of a banshee. He described how the woman had wailed and moaned and clapped her hands in despair, repeating the Reverend’s name. Local people knew that this could only mean one thing: death was approaching the house. The banshee was known to all as the lone female figure whose cries of despair herald an impending death.

The family of Reverend Bunworth dismissed the talk of the servant as mere superstition, as the Reverend’s health appeared to be improving. However, without warning, his condition declined and on the night before his death events took a further turn. Reverend Bunworth had been moved downstairs to sleep. Outside of his room moaning and clapping was heard. When going outside to investigate, it was found that a rose bush close to the window had been partially dislodged. There was no sign of any humans that could have made the noises or dislodged the bush. Those who had remained inside the house once again heard the sound of moaning and clapping.

As the night wore on the Reverend’s health worsened and by the time that dawn broke he had died. As, many said, had been predicted by the arrival of the banshee.

The illustration of the Bunworth Banshee by W.H. Brooke is taken from the book Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland, by Thomas Crofton Crocker, published 1825.