Sunday, 18 October 2009

A walk on the beach in Rush

The North Beach at Rush, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)

Patrick Comerford

It’s been a busy weekend: I was working on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with the NSM and part-time MTh students on their residential weekend, with lectures, tutorials and chapel services.

I missed my Saturday afternoon beach walk on the north Dublin coast, that have almost become part of my weekly diet at this stage. And so after this morning’s Community Eucharist and a buffet lunch I headed off to the beach at Rush.

Rush (Ros Eó, “Peninsula of the Yew Trees”) is a small seaside town, with a population of 8,280, between Skerries and Lusk, on the Fingal coast. In the past it has also been known as Kenure, which means the very same thing in Irish (Ceann Iubhair, “Headland of the Yew Trees”).

One of the few remaining thatched cottages in Rush, behind the North Strand (Photograph; Patrick Comerford, 2009)

I haven’t been in Rush for over 40 years. I remember Rush from the early 1960s, with its thatched cottages and the sand-dunes on the South Beach, when this area was at the heart of market gardening in Ireland. In those days, the dunes were littered with caravans and old train coaches and converted buses that served as summer homes. Today, Rush is more a part of the Dublin commuter belt, although the glass houses that are dotted across the landscape are a reminder that Rush still has an agricultural and horticultural heart.

Rush also boasts a past stepped in stories about 18th century smugglers, including Jack Connor, also known as “Jack the Bachelor” and “Jack Field,” and the French pirate Luke Ryan, who was also born in Rush.

Rush has two sandy beaches – the North Beach and South Beach – which are separated by Rush Harbour, a small tidal harbour and the rocky head of the peninsula.

I began my afternoon stroll around the harbour, where a few families were playing around with boats. From the harbour, I walked along the North Beach towards the rocky headland at Drumanagh, which is said to have provided the evidence that there were Neolithic settlements in the Rush.

The cliffs and the sandy bay beneath Drumanagh, beyond the North Strand in Rush (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)

Drumanagh is a large fort and headland surrounded by cliffs on three sides, with a large rampart enclosure on the fourth side. There is a passage grave and cist on this headland, where flint tools have been found. Although the site has not been excavated, it is said to date from the Bronze Age or the Iron Age.

A report in the Sunday Times in January 1996 claimed that this site provided “clear evidence ... of a Roman coastal fort of up to 40 acres ... [and] a significant Roman beachhead, built to support military campaigns in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.” However, these claims have been disputed by many archaeologists, who simply see the site as evidence of trade between Ireland and the Romans.

According to Barry Raftery of UCD, Drumanagh “may well have been (and probably was) a major trading station linking Ireland and Roman Britain. It was probably populated with a mixture of Irish, Romano-British, Gallo-Roman, and others, doubtless including a few genuine Romans as well.”

Because the artefacts were illegally excavated after they were discovered with metal detectors, they are no longer available for study. In addition, legal disputes with the land owner have meant that further excavations have not been carried out so the debate cannot be settled.

The west of Drumanagh, on the other side of the Skerries Road, Saint Damnan’s Church at Kenure is in ruins and thickly covered in ivy. But this may have been the original church in Rush in the Celtic period.

The ruins of Saint Maur’s chapel in Whitestown cemetery, about a mile west of Rush, date back to Anglo-Norman times and are named after Saint Maurus, a follower of Saint Benedict. In 543, Saint Maurus founded the Benedictine Abbey of Glanfeuil, now called St Maur-sur-Loire. He died in 584, and in 1750 his relics were removed to Germain des Prés.

Legend associates these ruins with some French sailors or crusaders who were caught in a storm. They made a vow to Saint Maur that if they survived they would build a chapel in his honour on the first point of land they reached. They landed at Rogerstown and built a chapel in his honour there.

In 1776, a church was built closer to the centre of Rush to replace the old chapel. It was also dedicated to Saint Maur and is one of the earliest examples of a penal Roman Catholic church in Fingal.

From the 14th century, the Manor of Kenure or Rush was belonged to the Ormond Butlers. In 1506, the Dean of Dublin, John Allen, wrote to Ormond bemoaning the fact that “Your towne of Rusche is fallen greatly in decay, and many tenements therein voide and somme ben roynose (ruinous), and been occupyet with pore people becaus the said towne have ben holden most of seamen and fishers, and they have no haven to more their Pickardys ne botes, nether to keep them from the tempest and stomres of the sea, but atte other havens and yppon other lordschippys in ferre compasse from them.”

Eventually, a sheltered harbour and pier were built in Rush in the 1680s.

The harbour below the North Strand at Rush (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)

The Butlers held onto their lands in Rush until 1714, when they passed to the Echlin family. In 1780, Elizabeth Echlin married Francis Palmer of Castlelacken, Co Mayo. Colonel RH Fenwick-Palmer, the last of the line, sold the estate to the Irish Land Commission in 1964.

After the sale, many movies were made on location at Kenure House in the 1960s, including The Face of Fu Manchu (1965), Ten Little Indians (1965) and Rocket to the Moon (1967).

George Papworth’s classical portico is all that survives of Kenure House

However, the house had fallen into disrepair by the 1970s and was torn down in 1978. All that remains of Kenure House today is the classical portico added to the house about 1840 by the English architect George Papworth, and Saint Catherine’s housing estate now stands on the parkland that once formed part of the Butler, Echlin and Palmer estate.

Kenure Church was built in 1866 by the Palmer family of Kenure House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)

Sir William Palmer helped to build Kenure Church in 1866. This pretty little church on the Skerries Road is the Church of Ireland parish church of Rush. The church was designed by James Edward Rogers (1838-1896), who also designed Holmpatrick Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Skerries.

The church, built by Gilbert Cockburn, is of cut limestone with bands of red sandstone, and is surmounted by a one arch bell turret, the arch of which is carried on marble shafts, as are the window arches. The porch is of Portland stone and red sandstone, finely moulded and carved.

The stained glass window over the communion table commemorates Mary Ellen Peel, nee Ellen Palmer. She married Archie Peel, a nephew of Sir Robert Peel, the British Prime Minister. She died tragically in 1863, ten days after giving birth to her third child. There is an unusual circular stained glass window in the west gable.

Kenure Church had an unusual circular glass window in the west gable (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)

Sir Roger and Lady Palmer of Kenure House are also commemorated on memorial tablets inside the church. When Archbishop Peacock consecrated the burial ground around the church in 1899, Sir Roger Palmer read the lesson while it was reported that Lady Gertrude played the organ and “conducted the psalmody of a hearty and efficient choir.” The congregation and clergy dined afterwards in Kenure House.

The church had only two chaplains – the Revd George TH Barton (1866-1868) and the Revd North R. Brunshill (1890-1914) – before it was united to Lusk. It is now united with Holmpatrick and Balbriggan, and the Rector is the Revd Alan Rufli.

When a new Roman Catholic church was being built for Saint Maur’s Parish, the priests and parishioners were offered the use of Kenure Church.

The Olive on Strand Street, Skerries ... one of my favourite cafés (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)

From Rush I moved on this afternoon to Skerries, where I had a delightful vegetarian antipasto and espresso at one of my favourites cafés, the Olive on Strand Street.

I strolled through the streets of Skerries and bought the Sunday papers in Gerry’s before returning through Rush. I took a second look at the South Beach, with its sand and dunes, which I hear is a popular place for kite-surfing. Rush Sailing Club operates from a second harbour at Rogerstown Harbour on Rogerstown Estuary. From there, there is a captivating view across to Portrane, where my grandparents lived and are buried.

But the late autumn evening was closing in. I must return for another stroll on the South Beach soon some afternoon. Those walks on the beach and the fresh sea air are great for my lungs and for my wobbly knees.