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A cup to toast Tom Moore

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In the depths of what many consider the only jungle left in Bermuda, down Hamilton Parish way, stands the venerable and ancient home, “Walsingham House”, known colloquially for many decades as “Tom Moore's Tavern”, though he, the poet, probably never slept there.

Next to the building, on the edge of an extensive range of caves (perhaps some of the largest in Bermuda like of those destroyed in the building of Dockyard) stood a solitary calabash tree, itself perhaps as old as Walsingham House, but alas no more, being toppled, like an ancient oak in a great storm of wind some years ago.

According to the authoritative “Hamilton Parish”, one of the books in the Bermuda National Trust's Architecture Heritage series, “Walsingham House” is one of the oldest homes on the Island and was considered of such importance that a replica was put on show at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924.

The building is of a ‘cruciform' type and along with “Norwood”, “Inwood” and “Palmetto House” of similar design gives Bermuda a larger collection of such early structures than any of the mainland English America lands of the day.

This is another example of where significant ‘world heritage' may be found outside St George's.

Be that as it historically may, it was at St George's for a few months in 1804 that an Irish poet, one Thomas Moore, resided, though he visited his later-namesake tavern a number of times and “may have dined there, possibly with President Samuel Trott great-grandson of the first Samuel Trott in Bermuda”.

That first ‘Mr Trott' probably built Walsingham House in the 1670s and, while enlarged several times, the setting of the building is much as it would have been in Tom Moore's day, due perhaps to the difficulty of construction in an area riddled with caves, not to say legends.

One enduring such story revolves around the calabash tree at Walsingham House and it was said that Moore penned one of his Bermuda poems under the shadow of its leaves and enormous seed casings, the latter about the size of a 32-pounder cannonball, a danger perhaps to the ethereal head of such a savant.

Tom Moore, we know well, was quite down to earth and displayed such characteristics in his perhaps overbearing, if not unsolicited, attentions to the wife of a Tucker of St George's.

He left town before matters proceeded to a state of duelling, but his poem “Ode to Nea” said all that he may have, or have not, whispered to the young lady under the shade of a calabash or cedar tree, who knows?

Thus for over two centuries, a visitor of but a few months has had his name attached to the legends of Bermuda and to one of our finest domestic buildings, the last probably of more historic value than some of his odes and rambles, but then a poet your writer is not and never shall be.

Thirty years after his sojourn and flirtations hereabouts, we find the poet married to the actress Bessy Dyke, whom he had met at the Kilkenny Theatre Festival in 1808 when she was fourteen and he a mature 29; they married three years later.

Nea was nowhere to be seen, but perhaps he reminisces in this lines:

‘Turns by the shade of the calabash tree

with a few who would feel and remember like me

the charms that to sweeten my goblet, I threw,

with a sigh to the past, and a blessing on you.'

Hot stuff, but Moore had another reason to remember Bermuda and that big-seeded tree in 1834, when he wrote: “Lines in one of my Bermuda poems still live in memory, I am told, on those fairy shores, connecting my name with the picturesque spot they describe, and the noble tree which I believe still adorns it. One of the few treasures (of any kind) I possess is a goblet formed of one of the fruit-shells of this remarkable tree, which was brought from Bermuda, after years since, by Mr. Dudley Costello and which that gentleman, having had it tastefully mounted as a goblet, very kindly presented to me.”

Upon receipt of that sterling silver and gilt memento of Bermuda, Moore wrote that his wife “Bessy does nothing but drive about, carrying it with her and exhibiting it to all her friends”.

Hallmarked 1834 and made by Charles Rawlings and William Summers of London, the Moore Cup is now in the collections of the National Museum, acquired through the good offices of recent resident, Lt Col Tim Spicer OBE, a man of the sword rather than the pen, perhaps, but someone with a keen interest in Bermuda.

Made with half a calabash shell, engraved around the rim are the words:

‘Drink of this Cup, you'll find there's a spell in Its every drop 'gainst the ills of Mortality!”

On the pedestal is the commemoration:

‘To THOMAS MOORE ESQR. This cup Formed from a Calabash which grew on the Tree that bears his Name, near Walsingham in Bermuda, Is gratefully inscribed By one of the most ardent Admirers of His Patriotism as a Man and His Genius as a Poet MDCCCXXXIV Dudley Costello.'

Dudley Costello (1803—1865) was a soldier, journalist and illustrator whose sister Louisa, a limner, author and poet, was admired by Moore.

Costello was stationed in Bermuda as an ensign in the 96th Regiment of Foot, when he presumably picked the calabash at Walsingham House in 1825-6.

His idea for a gift for Thomas Moore resulted in the beautiful piece of Irish-Bermuda heritage that stands before you today in these pages.

Without any implied reference to the Irish and drinking, I hope you understand, we are looking for a donor to name this Cup for immortality and may even, even if Irish, allow such a person, with poetic licence, to ‘Drink of this Cup', with best wishes for a long life and in hope of other donations to come!

Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Director of the National Museum at Dockyard. Comments may be made to director@bmm.bm or 704-5480.

“Walsingham House” in Hamilton Parish has been synonymous with the name of the Irish poet Thomas Moore and postcards stated, probably erroneously, that he lived there, overlooking one of the ‘lakelets' of ‘Tom Moore's Jungle'. During a visit by the Bermuda Hunt Club, possibly in the 1930s, the building was labeled “Tom Moore's House Tavern”, with the unlikely date for its construction of 1632. The famous calabash tree stood to the left of the palm tree.
The soldier Dudley Costello commissioned this sterling silver cup to present to his friend Thomas Moore, the exterior bowl being a calabash from “Walsingham House” in Hamilton Parish. The interior of the bowl is gilded with a layer of gold, the element often used to detect poison in drink and the base of the cup is engraved with a dedication to the Irish poet.

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Published October 12, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 11, 2013 at 8:12 pm)

A cup to toast Tom Moore

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