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Irish Bar till the one became Lord Chancellor of Ireland, with the title of Lord Plunket in the
of the United Kingdom; and the other the Right Hon. Charles Kendal Bushe (who was somewhat unfairly kept out of the House of Peers), became Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.
William Conyngham Plunket is the third child and the eldest son of the late John Span Plunket, the Third Baron Plunket, who was the second son of Lord Chancellor Plunket, and for many years honourably and ably filled the post of Chairman of the Sessions of the County of Meath as well as other positions of responsibility in connection with the Irish Bar. He married in 1824 Charlotte, the daughter of the Right Hon. Charles Kendal Bushe, afterwards Chief Justice of Ireland, by whom he left five sons and eight daughters. The present Lord Plunket was born in Dublin in the year 1828, and received a part of his education at Cheltenham College, where he gained the highest distinctions. Nevertheless, the most essential portion of his training may be said to have been effected in the home circle, and no small share of the character of Lord Plunket is due to the remarkable influence of that most accomplished, cultured, and thoroughly Christian lady whom he had the happiness to call mother. The Dowager Lady Plunket is in every sense a worthy daughter of the late Chief Justice Bushe, and the honour and respect which have been gained by the numerous family whom she has brought up, testify to her noble and vigilant discharge of the duties incumbent on a woman in that highest of all positions in life-namely, that of a mother. During the period of adolescence there were certain indications of a delicacy of frame and constitution in her eldest son, calling for the most sedulous care, which, however, was not wanted, and happily, under a judicious course of treatment, pursued by the advice of his relative, the late Sir Phillip Crampton, the celebrated Surgeon-General in Dublin, and during which his studies were not neglected, all fears as to health and constitution were ultimately removed.
Although not a member of a very wealthy family, the position of young Plunket was such that he had before him good prospects of success in any of the liberal professions which he might select. His mind, however, perhaps partly owing to the delicacy of body above indicated, had turned to religious topics, on which he thought and felt deeply and seriously, and he esteemed it to be his duty to spend his
life in the service of his Creator. He therefore decided upon entering the Ministry, and having passed the ordinary examinations with credit in Trinity College, Dublin, he was ordained, and in the year 1857 his uncle, the Right Hon. and Right Rev. Thomas Lord Plunket, Bishop of Tuam, appointed him his chaplain. His residence for some years thereafter was for the most part in the palace at Tuam; and in the discharge of the duties which there devolved on him, he found much to strengthen and enlarge the convictions of truth, which had already seized hold of his vigorous intellect. While here, though not directly engaged in the mission work carried on in the West of Ireland, he took great interest in the movement, and organised a society for collecting endowments for the newly formed parishes in the West, a work which he has continued till but recently, having collected some £30,000, which has been applied to the regular endowment of twelve of those parochial districts in the West. These are now, therefore, useful and important portions of the diocese of Tuam, and are of much value to such members of the Church as come to reside in that part of Ireland. In 1863 he published a pamphlet entitled "A Short Visit to the Connemara Missions," which had some effect in calling attention to the mission work done in the West of Ireland, and in setting it in its true light before the English public.
This little book was republished under the title of “A Book for Tourists in Ireland.” In it, after referring to the assertion that the Irish Celt must be got rid of, as the shape of his head and the race whence he springs show that he is unalterable, the writer says:-“Now, if Irish Missions have taught me nothing else, they have taught me this—that the character of the Irish Celt, however degraded by external influences, is not unalterable ; and the more I see of the success of such efforts, the more I feel convinced that the shape of an Irishman's head is no greater obstacle in the way of his social and religious reformation than the shape of his swallow-tailed coat."
In the course of his visits to his family in Dublin, somewhere about the year 1861, he became acquainted with Miss Annie Lee Guinness, the only daughter of the late Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness, and sister of the present Lord Ardilaun. It is needless to say that Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness was well-pleased to find that his daughter's affections were so worthily and suitably placed, and that Mr. Plunket's family were equally well satisfied with the connection. The marriage took place in Dublin, in 1863, and the young couple started on a brief Continental tour. They afterwards resided at Old Connaught Bray, the former residence of the first Lord Plunket, but no small portion of their time was spent in the house of Mr. Guinness, St. Anne's, Clontarf, now the residence of his son, Lord Ardilaun, who in continuance of his father's liberality to the City of Dublin, has renovated and opened the old enclosure of Stephen's Green for the public.
In 1865, he was appointed Treasurer and subsequently Precentor of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, and on the festival of St. Matthias, 1865, the cathedral was re-opened after its thorough restoration through the munificence of Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness, who had expended at least £150,000 in carrying out the work. The cathedral was filled that evening with a large and distinguished congregation, and the Rev. W. C. Plunket preached the sermon from Luke xiv. 17, "Come, for all things are now ready." He commenced by saying: “Brethren, I have a threefold message to deliver to you this night. On the part of him who has restored this Cathedral on the part of that body of clergymen whose duty and privilege it is to minister to you within these walls—on the part of my God—I come before you this night to deliver the message contained in my textCome, for all things are now ready.'” The preacher went on to say that the motive which had prompted the restorer of the cathedral was not merely to gratify artistic taste, and to rescue the ancient relic from destruction, to adorn his native city, or to add dignity to his much loved Church. The great motive which had urged him to the task was the desire to provide his fellow-citizens with a great central and national Temple wherein to worship. On the part of the clergy of the Cathedral, of whom he was one, he told his hearers that it would be their aim so to conduct the services of God's holy House that, while under perfect musical arrangements, the glorious harmony of sacred song might vie with the sublime beauty of that ancient temple, these services might never degenerate into an irreverent form or a mere theatrical display. He further expressed the hope that they would be able to provide for the citizens of Dublin special services whither all, both rich and poor, might flock, and partake of the grand simplicity, so well befitting the chaste magnificence of the building. Having then again delivered his message from their fellow men, the preacher solemnly said, “I now come before you as the ambassador of my God, and in God's stead I beseech of you again to 'Come, for all things are now ready.” The remaining and larger half of the sermon was an ardent and affectionate appeal to his hearers to come to Christ. He alluded to the scheme of human redemption, and after quoting the passage, “When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, Thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers ” he added, "To my mind these words seem always to call up a wondrous picture. As I repeat them, I seem to see in the foreground of this picture the open sepulchre, and the stone rolled away-tokens of the sharpness of death, and how it was overcome ; while rising up immediately behind these evidences of our Saviour's sufferings I seem to see the portals of the Heavenly Kingdom, and Christ standing at the open gate, asking the sinner to believe and enter in.” After a powerful appeal to the vast congregration to come to Christ, the preacher concluded with a striking and beautiful reference to the approaching hour when the doors of the great cathedral of Heaven will be at last Aung open to receive the redeemed worshippers of the Lamb. The sermon was shortly afterwards published in Dublin, under the title “All things are ready.”
In 1864 was born his eldest son, the Hon. Wm. Lee Plunket, and two years later the Bishop of Tuam died, leaving issue four daughters, when the Barony of Plunket came to his brother John, and the subject of this memoir became the heir apparent to the title. In 1867, his fatherin-law was created a Baronet, with a special grant of license to use supporters to his coat of arms, but in 1868, the family suffered the affliction of losing him by death.
It was just after this that the period arrived when the Hon. and Rev. W. C. Plunket was to enlarge his sphere of useful
In Nov., 1868, the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone, was elected Premier of England on the issue that the Irish Church of England should be disestablished, and in 1869 the Act of Disestablishment was passed to come into operation on the ist January, 1870. In this year met for the first time a general Synod of the Church of Ireland. The sittings were held in Dublin, and it was not for a considerable time that a constitution was finally decided upon. In the numerous and important discussions relating to the constitution and maintenance of the disestablished Church, an important and prominent part was early taken by the Hon. and Rev. W. C. Plunket, who was indefatigable in his work, and very largely contributed to the reconcilement of differences. In the matter of Church history few chapters are more interesting or more instructive than that which records the proceedings of the Synod of the Irish Church, and the mode in which that Church, supposed by many persons to have no cohesion, save such as was afforded by its connection with the State, developed rapidly a vigorous energy which under the judicious management of Christian leaders was directed so as to fuse together a harmonious body and to construct and maintain an organization which not without some reason is now believed by many to be more effective than that which in England may be said to be rather encumbered than strengthened by its alliance with the State.
In the judicious conduct of the business and the arrangement of the organization and management of the Church of Ireland, Lord Plunket, who had come into the title, on the decease of his father in 1871, had a very large share, and in 1876 on the decease of the most Rev. Samuel Butcher, Bishop of Meath, Lord Plunket was at once chosen unanimously by the clergy and laity of that diocese to fill the premier See in the Irish Church. The Irish Synod was at this time engaged in the revision of the Prayer Book, and into this work the Bishop of Meath entered with a deep sense of its importance, as well as of the necessity for its being undertaken.
In 1876 he published a pamphlet addressed to the members of the General Synod then about to assemble, in which he reviewed the progress already made with the revision of the Prayer Book, and urged that sacrifices should be made, if needful, to preserve unity in the Church. In the commencement he says:-“No one can have read the report of the last General Synod, or studied its division lists, without perceiving that, with a very large majority of its members, the preservation of Church Unity was a leading motive. To those who recall the proceedings of that Synod, not a few instances will, I have no doubt, occur of leading men, representing various schools of thought, who seemed to vie with one another in their readiness to make any sacrifice, short of an abandonment of principle, that seemed called for in the interests of Unity and brotherly love. Nor were these sacrifices made in vain.