Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Rev. Francis Ryan Hitchcock 1867-1951

F.R. Hitchcock was born in Dublin in 1867. A Trinity scholar and ordained minister he served in several Church of Ireland parishes around Tipperary before moving to Kings County. A prolific author he published several books on theology and history including ‘The Midland Septs and the Pale. An Account of the Early Septs and Later Settlers of the King’s County and of Life in the English Pale’.

Appointed rector of Kinnitty in 1903, his wife Kathleen (nee Ingram) passed away in 1908 and he remarried three years later. The Hitchcock’s sons Reginald and Francis were reared at Kinnitty.

Francis Jr. won a Military Cross while serving as an officer with the Leinster Regiment and wrote an account of his experiences “Stand To, A Diary of the Trenches 1915-1918.” Reginald emigrated to the United States hoping to study and become an artist. Working under the name Rex Ingram he enjoyed a career as one of Hollywood’s biggest directors in the silent movie era, with blockbusters such The Four Housemen of the Apocalypse.

A strong believer in the British Empire, Reverend Hitchcock wrote in 1912…

‘The establishment of a Federal Constitution in Great Britain would lead rapidly to the dismemberment of the Empire. Once the principle is introduced in any integral part of the Kingdom the way of complete disruption is paved for the whole. And if Ireland is to be wholly Irish (meaning by Irish not those who have the best right and claim on represent Ireland., but the intellectually, morally, and socially inferior and numerically larger element in Ireland) Scotland will be wholly for the Scotch, and England will be wholly for the English… are we as Protestants and Unionists not justified in our determination to oppose, as far as in us lies, any attempt to hand us over to the tender mercies of those who are in no sense our friends, and in many senses regard themselves us as their bitterest foes. ‘(1)

On the anniversary of the outbreak of Great War in 1915, he told his congregation at Kinnitty…

‘It was forty years before our Lords prophecy was fulfilled and Jerusalem was laid in dust. It may be long coming, but so surely will come the fall of the German Empire. In the meantime, let us pray to God to strengthen the soul of our nation and to bless the arms of our empire that from this great struggle we may issue victorious and triumphant, a holy Nation, a God-fearing people.’ (2)

During the 1916 Rising the only existing manuscript of Hitchcock’s  ‘The Irish Antiquity’ was destroyed when Maunsel’s publishing house on Middle Abbey Street burnt down.

In April 1922 when pro and anti-Treaty contingents clashed over the occupation of a house in the village, Hitchcock, and his Catholic counterpart Fr. Houlihan operated as mediators to prevent bloodshed. In the same month, writing in response to sectarian violence in Belfast, Hitchcock struck a very different tone from a decade previously, when addressing ecumenical relations in the south …

‘Both churches are of the friendliest terms. I have always found my Roman Catholic brethren laity and clergy most genial and lovable as all true Irishmen are and ready to co-operate in everything that is for the public good; and I have in my wide and varied experience of all sorts and conditions of people never known one case of religious intolerance. We can only live and let live down here; we have learned the secret of living and helping to live-a far sounder proof of our common Christianity.’ (3)

In addition to his religious and theological interests Hitchcock was an avid boxing fan and constructed a ring in the stables of Kinnitty rectory. He is sometimes credited with discovering the boxing prowess of Jack Chase. A member of the famous Garda boxing teams, who fought at the 1928 Olympics, Chase was stationed at Kinnitty with the National Army during the Civil War.

In 1924 Hitchcock took up an offer of the parish of Tolleshunt Knights in Essex and he lived there until his death in 1951.


Sources:

1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/

Ruth Baron, Michael James Ford. ‘Irish Brothers in Arms: the solider and the film director Online at

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/film/irish-brothers-in-arms-the-soldier-and-the-film-director-1.1991074

John Stocks Powell. Offaly Claimants 1916. In Offaly Heritage 12. (Tullamore) 2023.

Dublin Daily Express. 8 February 1912.

Irish Times. 16 April 1921.

Leinster Reporter. 14 August 1915. 22 April 1922.

Nenagh Guardian. 5 August 1950.

Offaly Independent. 10 September 1966. 12 February 1993.

(1) Dublin Daily Express. 8 February 1912.

(2) Leinster Reporter. 14 August 1915.

(3) Leinster Reporter. 22 April 1922.

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