In Flaybrick Hill Cemetery

Flaybrick Hill Cemetery – now a memorial garden – was established in 1864 as the new municipal cemetery for Birkenhead, sitting in an elevated position above Liverpool and the River Mersey. In this tranquil site sits the grave of Anne Elcock Higgins. This was John Ireland’s Great Aunt Anne. Originally a Nicholson, she married Charles Hayes Higgins and the family relocated from Bristol and Taunton to the Wirral. The middle name ‘Elcock’ seen on the grave comes from the wealthy Barbadian side of the family. Anne Nicholson’s mother was Lucy Reynold Elcock, daughter of Grant Elcock and Elizabeth Reynoldia Alleyne.

It’s quite possible that Ireland knew this great aunt, who died only in 1892. Birkenhead is no distance from Southport, where the composer’s family lived briefly, and also not at all far from Bowdon, the main home of Ireland and his parents Alexander and Annie.


Holbrooke performing Ireland

Joseph Holbrooke had a career as composer and conductor, but was also an accomplished pianist. In the latter capacity, on 9 December 1918 he appeared in Liverpool’s Crane Hall, in a substantial programme of contemporary English music. Among the pieces heard were Ireland’s new piano pieces, ‘Chelsea Reach’ and ‘Ragamuffin’. Holbrooke also played works by Cyril Scott, and later accompanied Astra Desmond (1893–1973) in a selection of English songs, including ‘Sea Fever’.

Ireland as orator

While Ireland did occasionally give lectures, he was not particularly known for this activity. However, on 17 March 1914 he took it upon himself to assist his good friend Thomas Dunhill, who was in ill health. Dunhill had written a paper on ‘Progress and Pedantry’, and it was Ireland who delivered this to the Musical Association (now the RMA). The paper in any case resonated with Ireland as it argued that the study of counterpoint was still an essential part of a composer’s training. Dunhill did propose a relaxing of the rules of harmony and placed great emphasis on the importance of aural training – learning to listen. At the conclusion of the paper a ‘lively discussion’ took place, with theorists such as Stewart Macpherson contributing to the debate.

Source: Musical Times, 1 April 1914, p.247.

Cousin John Nicholson Varty

John Nicholson Ireland had a cousin going by the same name, born just two years earlier in 1877. This other John Nicholson was the son of Ireland’s aunt Lucy, who was married to Thomas Varty of Stag Stones, Penrith. John Nicholson Varty grew up in Cumberland and, like others in his immediate family, emigrated to Canada following the death of his father in 1898. Sadly, like his brother Henry Alleyne, this John Nicholson died young, aged only 31, in 1908. He is buried in Fort Saskatchewan Cemetery, north of Edmonton, Alberta.

John Nicholson Varty



Mr Brown

One of Ireland’s close friends, as well as being his solicitor, was Mr Brown, known to the composer from his time living in Deal. Herbert Sydney Brown worked for the firm Emmerson Brown & Brown, then just Brown & Brown, based at number 127, High Street, Deal. It is primarily in that capacity that he knew Ireland, working for him in various capacities, including drawing up a will in 1940.

However, a less often cited fact about
‘HSB’ is that during the Second World War he was ARP Head Warden for the Deal district, a particular difficult role given the cross-channel gunfire that affected the town. Before he took on this role, while Ireland was still living in Deal in 1939, Mr Brown often invited Ireland to dine with him and his wife at his home in the lovely Kent village of Shepherdswell.

St Andrew’s church, Shepherdswell


Second Violin Sonata in Birmingham

Ireland’s Second Violin Sonata was a work much performed by many different soloists. In 1922 Ireland’s it was taken to Birmingham by Paul Beard and Michael Mullinar. The latter is perhaps best known for his associations with Vaughan Williams, as discussed here. Beard was originally born in Birmingham and in 1922 was back in the city as leader of the CBSO, staying there for the next ten years. After that he led first the LPO, then the BBCSO.