17 February 2010

A sun-kissed taste of the Aegean in Donabate

Blue skies and blue waters made being in Donabate this morning like being on an Aegean island in the sun (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Today’s Ash Wednesday retreat in the Waterside House Hotel in Donabate provided generous opportunities for walks on the beaches in Corballis and Balcarrick. We arrived just before 9, but the sky was clear and already the rising sun was shining and glistering across the Irish Sea, with a few ships on the horizon. With these blue skies and blue waters this morning, it was like being on an Aegean island in the sun.

From the hotel terrace above the beach, as I looked south, I could see beyond Dublin Bay as far the Sugarloaf in the Wicklow Mountains. A little closer, Howth Head was craggy and clear, while a little to the north Lambay Island was crisply clear.

The hospital, seen across the fields beside the cliff walk between Donabate and Portrane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Later in the morning, as we took time for silence and contemplation, I walked from the Martello Tower at Balcarrick, I walked along the sand dunes this morning as far as the hospital grounds in Portrane and the Round Tower erected in 1843 by Charles Stewart Parnell’s great-aunt, Sophia, in memory of her husband, George Hampden Evans of Portrane House.

The round tower erected in 1843 by Sophia Evans of Portrane House in memory of her husband (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

As I walked on along the cliff path, some of the cliffs beneath were high and steep. Local people tell stories of smugglers and shipwrecks around these cliffs, but looking out from the black stone cliffs onto the blue, sparkling, sun-kissed sea, I could have imagined I was in Santorini.

Beneath the path between Donabate and Portrane, the cliffs are high and steep (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The names local people give to the places here include the Chink Well, which is supposed to mark the site of Saint Kenny’s, a Celtic stone church; the Priest’s Chamber, said to have been a hiding place in Penal times; the Bleeding Pig, so-called because of its colour and not because of any animal cruelty; the Camel’s Hump, originally known as the Pig’s Back; the Piper’s Hole; and the Mermaid’s Churn.

From there I walked on along the coastline until the Martello Tower at Tower Bay and the neighbouring coast guard station came into view. Both Martello Towers were built on land bought in 1803 from Edward McMahon of Balcarrick, and his brother James McMahon of the Quay, Portrane, who were tenants of Hampden Evans of Portrane House. Each tower had a canon at the top pointing towards the sea and a resident artillery man below, while the basements were used to store weapons and ammunition.

Tower 7 in Martello is now a private house, but Tower 6 in Balcarrick is bricked up and in a sad state of disrepair. In all, the return walk between the two took little more than 30 minutes.

The blue waters of Corballis Beach this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The sun was not so strong in the afternoon, but it was still bright as I walked some of the length of the beach at Corballis, south of the Martello Tower at Balcarrick.

The lands at Corballis were acquired by James Butler, Duke of Ormond, after the Caroline restoration in 1660. Later they were sold, first to Archbishop James Margetson of Armagh, and later to Bishop Charles Cobbe, five years before he became Archbishop of Dublin, and who lived at Newbridge House.

The Cobbes are commemorated in memorials and plaques on the walls of Saint Patrick’s Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Donabate, where we ended our Ash Wednesday retreat yesterday afternoon with a celebration of the Eucharist.

Saint Patrick’s Church dates back to the 13th century, when the first church was built on this site to replace the much older Celtic church in Turvey dedicated to Saint Colman. The mound on which the church stands indicates that this was an ancient ecclesiastical site.

The monument in Saint Patrick’s Church porch remembering Patrick Barnewall and Begnet De La Hoyde is dated 1592 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Some local family monuments from the 16th century have been saved, and those in the church porch include one for Patrick Barnewall of Staffordstown and his wife Begnet De La Hoyde, dated 1592.

The Cobbe family’s heraldic swan makes an appearance in stucco plasterwork in their private pew in the gallery at the west end of Donabate parish church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

From the 18th century, the Cobbes of Newbridge House were the principal benefactors of the church. They had their own private pew – complete with their own private fireplace and highly-decorative stucco plasterwork – in the gallery at the west end of the church, and used the Norman tower attached to the north-east end of the church as their private crypt.

The tower at the north-east end of Saint Patrick’s Church was used as a crypt by the Cobbe family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The Rector of Swords and Donabate, Canon Robert Deane, reminded us that there are excellent ecumenical relations between the two Saint Patrick’s churches in Donabate. After a very spiritual and moving quiet day led by Carol Casey, it was a privilege this evening to end the retreat by celebrating the Eucharist in the village where my grandparents were married over 100 years ago.

The charming interior of Saint Patrick’s Church in Donabate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Beautiful Pat, it was just as stunning to walk along the path this morning in 2016. What a pity Fingal Co Co have attempted to close the cliff path to pedestrians due to some repair works needed to the fencing. Fortunately it hasn't stopped the regular walkers.Hope to see you two in Portrane this summer.Tricia and Tom.