Newburgh’s cousin Pockrich mastered the musical glasses phenomenon.

Newburgh the Poet, Swift’s opinion, and cousin Pockrich

Ballyhaise poet Thomas Newburgh and his eccentric Monaghan cousin Richard Pockrich are the subjects of this week's Times Past column by Jonathan Smyth...

Imagine you were a writer, and you had written lots of poetry and by some quirk of fate, your father, and not you, received all the credit. Strangely, that is what happened to Thomas Newburgh (1695-1779), who was to one day inherit Ballyhaise House and estate from his esteemed father, and yet, somehow, his poems and publications were consistently attributed publicly under his father’s name, the erstwhile Ballyhaise landlord, Brockhill Newburgh. One of the books that Thomas wrote was incidentally about his father and was titled, ‘Particulars Relating to the Life and Character of the Late Brockhill Newburgh, Esq’.

Born in Dublin, Thomas was the eldest child of Colonel Brockhill Newburgh; Brockhill was a nobleman and politician, being a member of parliament for Cavan from 1715 to 1727, and chairman of the Linen Board, and High Sheriff for County Cavan in 1704. Thomas’s mother was Mary Moore Newburgh, Brockhill’s first wife.

Thomas Newburgh’s ancestors were the Taylor family, and it was a Cambridge man, John Taylor, his great great grandfather, who in 1609 became the recipient of lands at Ballyhaise under the English plantation scheme. John Taylor’s son Brockhill Taylor was grandfather to both Brockhill Newburgh, and an eccentric inventor called Richard Pockrich MP, born in Co. Monaghan, of whom his cousin Thomas Newburgh famously immortalised in one of his poems.

William of Orange

Perhaps, what is one of Thomas Newburgh’s best-known poems was written on the blindness of the German-English composer George Frideric Handel. In recent times, an article about the poem by Michael Talbot was composed for the ‘Handel Institute Newsletter’ and published in Autumn 2018. Talbot described Thomas’s father as ‘a militantly Protestant landowner’ who had served ‘with distinction’ in the army of William of Orange during the Siege of Derry.

Thomas Newburgh obtained a BA degree from Trinity College Dublin in 1714, and then trained in London as a clerk to an ‘attorney at law’ and was to be called to the bar in England and Ireland, and yet, as Talbot asserted, there has never been any recorded proof that Newburgh practiced professionally. Among Newburgh’s friends was the poet Henry Brooke from Mullagh, the father of another celebrated Cavan writer, Charlotte Brooke.

When his father Brockhill died in January 1741, Thomas took charge of the family estate at Ballyhaise where he developed an interest in applying progressive agricultural methods on the farms held by his tenants. In 1743, he married Charity Julia Blake, but she would die after just two years of marriage and her memory became an inspiration of many poems for him. Like his father before him, he was afterwards to marry again for a second time; his next wife was Martha Cary.

Ballyhaise and Swift

Ballyhaise House, the stately home of the Newburghs was designed by the venerated architect Richard Cassels (or Castle as some called him). The building once came under the compliment of Jonathan Swift, who described the perfectly designed ‘Big House’ as being the ‘best and only house in Ireland’. The original house was to have undergone a makeover when redesigned and altered to Brockhill Newburgh’s taste. Interestingly, an old painting dating back beyond 1730 shows an older building and the surroundings as they once appeared. According to an article in ‘The Irish Aesthete’, the Rev William Henry gushingly declared that Ballyhaise House was ‘made to last forever’. Today, ‘the best house in Ireland’ as Swift called it, is home to an important agricultural institution, Ballyhaise Agricultural College.

The design of the original Market House at Ballyhaise was also attributed to the architect Richard Cassels and built for Brockhill Newburgh in 1733. However, the builders seem to have made a wonky job of it, and the proof of this was witnessed by the people of Ballyhaise when the building collapsed three years later, and it was necessary to rebuild it all over again. More details on the old Market House can be found in Kevin V. Mulligan’s ‘The Buildings of Ireland: Southeast Ulster’.

Musical cousin

Thomas Newburgh’s cousin Richard Pockrich (1690-1759), the Monaghan-born inventor of the musical glasses, a musician and entrepreneur, had by the age of twenty-five inherited a then fortune of £4000 which according to one source, ‘he dissipated in the pursuit of visionary projects’. With great fervour, Pockrich dreamed up his big and bold ideas, some of them fascinating and others ludicrous, from ‘planting vineyards in reclaimed Irish bogs’, to the development of ‘unsinkable’ tin boats for the navy to save men from sinking, to contemplating the possibilities of eternal earthly life through blood transfusions, and the development of ‘wings for Human beings’.

Now, to the musical glasses, and no, they weren’t the ones you place on your nose. The story, as it goes, tells of Pockrich buying thousands of drinking glasses which he then set about tapping, having ‘harmonically arranged’ each of the goblets to create musical notes which he later put to good effect in the concerts he put on. During his musical glass demonstrations, he was accompanied by the singer John Carteret Pilkington whose voice enthralled the audiences who indulged their ears in a glass tinkling extravaganza. In a volume of Thomas Newburgh’s ‘Miscellaneous Works’, there is a poem he wrote called ‘The Projector’ in which he captures the eccentricities of his dear cousin, Richard Pockrich.

The Newburgh property and lands were later sold to William Humphreys, and you can read a lot more about Ballyhaise estate in ‘Ballyhaise Agricultural College, 1906-2006: including a History of Ballyhaise House from 1610’, researched and written by Michael Swords.


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