DOCTOR Richard Pococke, Bishop of Ossory from 1756-65, is described in a plaque in St. Canice’s Cathedral as having “discharged every duty of the pastoral and episcopal office with prudence, vigilance and fidelity, adorning his station with unshaking integrity of heart and purity of conduct and attentive to the interest of religion.”
His refurbishment of church buildings in the diocese is also noted in this monument, together with his encouragement of “every useful public work” and the “very considerable legacy” which he bequeathed to the Incorporated Society for Promoting English Protestant Schools in Ireland.
Pococke is better known, however, for the extensive travels he undertook before his appointment as Bishop of Ossory, and his fame was sealed world-wide by the publication of his travel book of the Eastern Mediterranean, printed in two volumes in 1743 and 1745. Before embarking on this intrepid journey, he and his younger cousin (Jeremiah Milles) made two Grand Tours, the first (1733-34) to France and Italy and the second (1736-37) to Central Europe, where they visited the Low Countries, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland and the Balkans. At the time of their second Grand Tour, both cousins held prominent positions in the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore under the patronage of their uncle, Bishop Thomas Milles. This bishop, who was unpopular in his own diocese, paid for his younger nephew’s travel expenses and arranged for the pastoral duties of both to be undertaken by a curate during their prolonged absence.
While abroad, the cousins wrote copious letters to their relatives, Pococke to his mother in England and Milles to his uncle in Waterford. This enormous collection of correspondence is housed in the British Library, and up until 2011 had never been published. Dr. Rachel Finnegan, Lecturer in Heritage Studies at WIT, rescued them from obscurity last year with her production of Volume 1 of Letters from Abroad. This book, the first in a series of three, reproduces selected letters from the first tour, together with biographical accounts of the main characters involved. Last week she brought out Volume 2 of this edition, which reproduces the entire collection of letters from Pococke to his mother, from the second tour. This correspondence, which is written in a chatty and amusing style, provides a fascinating insight into contemporary European life and society, and in particular the conduct, dress, hair-styles and dining habits of the European royal and imperial families.
Volumes 1 & 2 are on sale locally in Kilkenny at Rothe House, The Book Centre and Dubray Books, for €18 and €19.95 respectively. Copies can also be obtained direct from the publisher: see www.pocockepress.com.