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WEDNESDAY 16th. OCTOBER, 2013 AT 8.30 p.m.
Main Street, Ck-on-Shannon.


A hitherto unknown link between Carrick-on-Shannon and Cambridge University, which is ranked first among Britain’s universities and third among universities worldwide, will be the subject of a talk at the Carrick-on-Shannon and District Historical Society on Wednesday 16 October given by biographer Charles Lysaght and genealogist Alyson Gavin

There is at Cambridge University an award called the Robert Gardiner Memorial Scholarship, funded out of the wills of Robert’s two unmarried sisters Susan and Margaret, both natives of Carrick-on-Shannon, the last of whom died in Malvern in Worcestershire in 1953, aged 90.

The scholarship is open to any student or graduate of an Irish university who wishes to study at Cambridge. In deciding on the award the electors are required, in accordance with the terms of the will, to give preference, other things being equal, to students of Trinity College Dublin, gifted students of literature and, somewhat quaintly, descendants of Irish landed proprietors. The fund out of which the scholarships are awarded now amounts to almost a million pounds.

Since 1956 over one hundred and fifty students have been aided by the scholarship to finance their stay in Cambridge. They include David Spearman, Professor of Mathematics and Vice-Provost of Trinity; Hilary Pyle, the art historian; Finola Kennedy, the economist, recently author of an acclaimed biography of Frank Duff; John Neill, Archbishop of Dublin; Nicholas Grene, Professor of Anglo-Irish literature at Trinity; David Ford, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge; and Eunan O’Halpin, Professor of Contemporary History at Trinity. The early awards were between £200 and £400 a year; the most recent awards have been £6000 per year.

Charles Lysaght was a recipient of the award from 1962 to 1964 when he studied economics and law and was the first Irish Catholic ever elected President of the Cambridge Union, defeating by a majority of over two to one Vince Cable, a member of the present British government. He was intrigued by the terms of the bequest, especially the preference given to the descendants of Irish landed proprietors, and was curious about the identity and background of those who had made this provision. However, the authorities at Cambridge University knew nothing about them beyond their names and the contents of the wills containing the bequest.

He sought the assistance of his friend Alyson Gavin, a modern languages graduate of Trinity College Dublin and holder of the diploma in genealogy at University College Dublin.

It emerged from her extensive and painstaking research into records and old newspapers that the two sisters were the daughters of Mathew Sarsfield Gardiner of Gallows Hill, Carrick-on-Shannon, variously described as architect, builder or farmer, and of his wife Susan Irwin. The sisters moved to England where they eventually joined their elder sister Mary, a milliner, in running a fashion business in Liverpool while their brother Robert, in whose memory the scholarship is named, became an apprentice architect in Derbyshire. He died in 1874, aged 29, in rather tragic circumstances retailed in the records of the hospital where he spent his last months. He is buried in an unmarked grave at Macclesfield.

The sisters retained property in Carrick well into the twentieth century, some of which provided a site for a British Legion Hall. Although all their immediate family had died or departed, they kept contact with the district, subscribing to the Leitrim Observer newspaper and even corresponding with it occasionally.

Why they bequeathed their entire estates to found this scholarship when they had nieces and a nephew living, and why they chose Cambridge University and inserted the grounds of preference they did, still remain unsolved mysteries.