A tangent I had to follow…

The writings of Irish Roman Catholic Katharine Tynan-Hinkson have distracted me this morning, and I have come across the following moving extract which has both a Belgian and a Tunbridge Wells and Southborough connection.

Katharine Tynan and her family lived for less than a year (1910-1911) in Southborough and in 1916 she published a volume of reminiscences entitled ‘The Middle Years’ in which she was less than complimentary about the townspeople. There were however a number of exceptions as the extract shows : the Irish curate in question was the Rev. Horace Stirling Townsend Gahan, Curate of St Thomas’s Church, who went on to be Anglican Chaplain in Brussels in 1914.

“There was another person who came and went that summer and played cricket with the children on the Common, who has recently acted a part which shall not be forgotten. Some time in the preceding winter the vicar’s wife had asked me to tea to meet the new curate. “Such a good Irishman !” she said. “You will be so much interested in each other.” I was rather doubtful about it. The new curate belonged to a militant Irish Low Church family, and since I had come to Southborough I had become militant on my own side — at least when I came up against the other militancy. Still the Vicar’s wife and I were friends, so I agreed to go, having protested that we should probably make a battle-ground of her drawing-room.

“The new curate was certainly very Irish to look at – he had in fact the face of an Irish priest: he was Irish, although he hated the Pope ; and there was enough kindly Irish about him to make me forget my antipathies. And I really think he forgot his.

“Of course, his views were very narrow – too narrow even for Southborough – and he banned other people’s cakes and ale in a way which made other people rather indignant. But – perhaps it was the Irish – beginning with a strong prepossession against him, I came in time to like him. There was a streak of the poet in him and the visionary. I used to meet him on the Common talking to the cows, and he would observe the birds by the hour together.

“It was an odd association between him and the Catholic Irish children, who, as soon as they were free, would sally down the Common to his lodgings and call to him peremptorily to come and play cricket. He used to come as soon as he could and play as seriously as though he were playing for his school or ‘varsity. Other children came and joined in, and Father Pat, as we had learnt to call him, used to keep them in order, even the small boy who owned the ball and wanted to go home with it when he was “Out.”

“Southborough generally came to call him Father Pat, and when he was so addressed publicly he took it very well, ascribing its origin to the proper source, but bearing no malice.

“The other day Father Pat, the Rev. Horace Gahan, turned up as the fearless and faithful chaplain of Edith Cavell’s last hours, the man to whom we owe an immense debt for his witnessing to that lofty soul. I could have foretold it of him. He would be perfectly fearless, devoted and sincere. A good hand to hold in those last moments on earth. For what he was to Edith Cavell, for the immeasurable service he rendered us by setting her there on her pedestal for us to see plain – Sancta Editha – let us remember and praise Father Pat of the Great Summer.”

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