Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lost History of Eire: "Baelor, Anthony, 1st Baron Baelor" [DNB]

Baelor, Anthony Theodore, first Baron Baelor (28 February 1824, Riga, Latvia – 7 May 1915 off the coast of Ireland near Kinsale), Ph.D., KP, FRHS, JP, DL, Irish businessman, historian, and Liberal politician.

Baelor Ancestry and Childhood
Anthony Baelor was the second son of Arthur Patrick Baelor, an Irish merchant living in Latvia, and a Clancy Margaret Dunlow of Waterford. His paternal grandfather, Eustace Perceval Baelor, was vicar of Ballybricken in Waterford. His maternal grandfather, Michael Joachim Dunlow, was a farmer in Kilkenny. Baelor was born while his parents were on a business trip to Riga, Latvia, a province of the expanding Russian Empire. His family remained in Latvia for the next fifteen years, only returning to Waterford, Ireland, in the autumn of 1839. During his time in Latvia, Baelor learned Russian, German, Polish, French, Italian, and Latin, in addition to English and Irish Gaelic. His ability to learn languages proved to be a strength later in life.

Upon his return to the United Kingdom, Baelor completed his primary education and began studies in theology at Trinity College in 1848. To enter the college, he had to renounce his Catholic faith and accept the Church of Ireland. He did so reluctantly but the action haunted him for much of his life. When the Crimean War broke out in spring of 1854, Baelor dropped out of school and offered his assistance to the military as a translator, having learned Russian and French while living in Latvia. He remained a translator throughout the war and relocated to Paris to negotiate the peace treaty in 1856. When the treaty was signed, he returned once more to the United Kingdom and applied as a doctoral student to Cambridge University. He earned his degree in 1860.

Business and Political career
Baelor settled in County Waterford in 1862. There he founded the Anthony Baelor & Company shipping line, which specialized in exporting consumer goods to the Americas. The company subcontracted to major ocean liner companies, which would prove to be Baelor's undoing many years later.

Baelor was Member of Parliament for Waterford City between 1868 and 1873 and for Waterford County from 1880 to 1885. He held the office of Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant of Waterford.

Career in History
Baelor was invested as a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1887 following research into Early Modern origins of the modern Irish state, especially in the area surrounding Cork and Waterford. Until 1895, Baelor was considered an exceptional historian and was considered one of the top in his field. It was while researching the origins of Blarney Castle in 1895 that Baelor's health went into decline. He was taken to Mercy University Hospital in Cork where he spent six weeks recovering from a minor stoke. While Baron Baelor emerged, he was a changed man. His health continued to fluctuate throughout the last two decades and most medical doctors of the time surmised that he had gone mad.

The Apparent Madness
Baron Baelor's theories regarding the early history of Ireland became muddled in a fantastical universe of strange languages and beings. From 1897 until 1904 he was known to discuss such strange topics as lost histories of Ireland and a significant cover-up committed during the Tudor era. He provided little evidence for these theories though he did publish an essay to the little-known Limerick Field Journal entitled "On the Mythical Origins of Blarney Castle" which presented an implausible theory on the importance of the Blarney Stone to pre-Tudor culture. He followed this essay with another, published a year later in 1899, entitled "Theories on the Medieval Peoples of Eire". These essays remained obscure and those friends of Baelor chose mostly to ignore them, regarding them as ramblings of an aged man.

Baelor became chief editor of the Journal of the Ivernian Society when it went into print in 1908. He used this magazine, as well as the Journal of the North Munster Archaeological Society, with which he had many connections through his archaeological work at Cork, as a springboard to announce further theories from his supposed research. By this time, his writings had become more coherent but disturbingly illogical. His last known publication, printed in October 1914, was entitled "On the Language of the Fae" and discussed such absurd notions as an alternative history of the middle ages in Ireland in which no humans lived on the island. No evidence supported his findings and he was publicly declared mad. Later unpublished material found in his personal collection suggested a long loss of mental stability resulting from his stroke.

Death on the Lusitania
Baron Baelor's luck ran out on the fateful afternoon of 7 May 1915. Through his shipping consortium, Baelor & Company, the baron had arranged transport of weapons to Europe via the United States. He had earlier arrived in New York to conduct a public lecture and speak with some former students now lecturing at Columbia University. He arranged a return transit via the Cunard Line ship, the RMS Lusitania, which departed on 1 May. His munitions were loaded and Baron Baelor boarded the ship bound for Cork, where he planned to be dropped off before his cargo was delivered to Liverpool.

At 2:10, the Lusitania was torpedoed by U-20 of the Imperial German Navy. The torpedo slammed into the hold, detonating the munitions stash of Baelor's and destroying the ship. Baelor drowned in the sinking and with him was destroyed many of his personal effects including what is thought to have been over a dozen unpublished essays regarding his absurd theories on the early origins of Ireland. He was without issue and on his death, the barony became extinct. He bequeathed money for a chair of History at Trinity College and a ward in a hospital.

The British government decided to overlook his late madness and made him one of the last members of the Order of Saint Patrick posthumously. His earlier historical works remain important documents and a lecture series was later developed by his trustees entitled the Baelor Illustrated Lectures at Trinity College.

-- D.R. Whaley

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