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Dublin Characters: The Brilliantly Mad Richard Pockrich

Pockrichs' Angelic Organ

Dublin Characters: The Brilliantly Mad Richard Pockrich

When challenged to come up with the names of notable people who lived in Dublin during the 18th century, the usual suspects always boisterously barge their way to the tip of the average Dubliner’s tongue. First up we have the man himself: Arthur Guinness, father of the black stuff and whose mega-brewery is the destination for hordes of slightly bemused tourists from all over the world. The second name on the list would have to be Jonathan Swift, writer, master satirist, and generous pioneer in the field of mental well-being. Of course, how could we leave out George Frideric Handel whose oratorio Messiah was first performed in Fishamble Street in 1742. Granted, Handel only came over to do a gig but he was in Dublin for over four months so we’ll have him anyway – we Irish are good at that sort of thing.

There was, however, another notable person who lived in Dublin at the same time as these luminaries. His name was Richard Pockrich, an unfamiliar name to most people; it seems history decided that he be relegated to the status of a mere footnote, which is a bit of a shame and, maybe a stroke of good fortune because if he had more success in his business endeavours, we’d be living in very different and extremely odd little country altogether.

Richard Pockrich was born around 1695 and came from Aughnamallagh, Ballinode, Co Monaghan. He was the oldest son of Richard Pochrich, an Irish landowner and military commander who was a Member of Parliament in London from 1713–1714. When he was 25, he inherited his father’s estate which was said to be worth anything from £1000 to £4000 per year – depending on who you asked. Whatever the correct amount; it was a hell of a lot of money back in the early 18th century and Richard Pockrich was just the man to squander it on the most hare-brained commercial endeavours.

His first attempt at a business was the setting up of a brewery in Islandbridge. It was a short-lived venture but it didn’t stop him from buying up vast tracts of land in Wicklow for the purposes of geese farming. He thought he could make Ireland the main supplier of geese for Britain and France, he was wrong, the Wicklow mountains were no place to rear geese.

Things started to take a turn for the weird when he proposed (to the public and parliament) that the bogs of Ireland could be drained and vineyards be planted in their stead. Pockrich then claimed to be able to make wings for people, yes, wings. He maintained that with the proper funding he could open a nationwide chain of wing shops; “the man and women of Ireland would never have to walk anywhere again.”

At that time, the latest advances in medical technology were in the field of blood transfusion. Pockrich believed that if blood from a young person’s body was syphoned into an older person’s, it would prolong the recipient’s life indefinitely. This prompted him to lobby parliament and propose that a law be passed where no MPs should be permitted sit in Westminster for more than nine hundred and ninety-nine years at which point they would have to be declared legally dead!

There were occasions when some of his plans seemed to be inspired. In fact, he was described by one of his contemporaries as a ‘man of amazing ingenuity employed in a hundred different schemes and inventions.’ He proposed one such scheme to get the homeless off the streets and into paid employment. He spoke of ships with metal hulls over 100 years before the first Ironclad, HMS Warrior was launched to protect the southern coast of England. He even spoke of the importance of connecting the canals with the river Liffey before anyone else.

He had a keen interest in the supernatural. He twice (unsuccessfully) ran for parliament after, according to him, being convinced to do so by the ‘ghost of a dead hag’ who appeared to him in his brewery in Islandbridge. Richard Pockrich was at this stage in his forties and almost broke; his fortune dwindled away on a succession of scatty business ventures and silly attempts at invention. However Richard Pockrich will always be associated with the glass harp, or as he called it – The Angelic Organ.

The Angelic Organ was a musical instrument consisting of glasses filled with different amounts of water. It wasn’t his idea to create this type this type of instrument, where the musician rubbed a wet finger on the rim of a glass to create a musical note but he definitely refined it. He first performed in public in February 1744 at Hunt’s Great Auction Room on Stafford Street. The sound of his invention was described as a “charming set of glasses that sing like nightingales”. The public came out in their droves to see Pockrich and his Angelic Organ. He was quids in, reportedly earning six pounds per day.

Back on his feet with a steady income, he was was described at that time as “a tall middle-aged gentleman with a bag wig and a sword on”. He was fifty when he met, fell in love and married Mary White. They both mistakenly believed the other was rich. the marriage lasted only three years. After she had accrued substantial dressmaking business debts, she left Pockrich and sailed away with an actor by the name of Theophilus Cibber. Unfortunately the ship they were on was shipwrecked off the coast of Scotland. All on board perished.

Pockrich’s fame grew, he eventually started giving performances in England. It was in London that Richard Pockrich played his Angelic Organ for the last time. He was killed in a ‘great fire’ while staying in lodgings in Hamlin’s, a coffee house in central London. It was claimed that he accidentally started the fire while doing experiments in his room.

There’s not enough material to properly document the life of Richard Pockrich. In a way, it’s fitting that there isn’t because there’s a satisfying sense of mystery in not knowing if he was a absolute genius who was years ahead in his thinking, or just plain-old splendidly bonkers.

A relative of his, Brockhill Newburgh sarcastically summed up Richard Pockrich’s life in a poem with the title of The Elegiac Text of Newburgh.

Mourn him, ye bogs, in tears discharge your tides,

No more shall Pockrich tap your spongy hides;

Ye geese, ye ganders, cackle doleful lays,

No more his mountain tops your flocks shall graze;

Be silent, dumb, ye late harmonious glasses—

Free from surprise, serenely sleep, ye lasses.

Let drums, unbraced, in hollow murmurs tell

How he that waked their thunders silent fell.

Let tempests swell the surge, no more his boat,

Secure from wreck, shall on the billows float;

No more, ye sons of Nappy, shall his beer

Or nut-brown ale your dropping spirits cheer,

To his own castles, built sublime in air,

Quitting his geese and bogs and glassy care,

With blood infused, and, like a meteor bright,

On his own pinions, Pock has winged his flight.

One Response

  1. What a charachter… and what a satirical elogy! Family… who’d have them!!!

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