19 December 2010

Where the snow-covered Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea

The snow-covered Mountains of Mourne, seen from Red Island, Skerries, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

It’s four weeks since I was in Skerries and since I last had a walk on the beach.

In the intervening weeks, the demands of full working weekends, a joint performance of excepts from Handel’s Messiah by the choirs of Christ Church Cathedral and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and some heavy snow falls have stopped me from getting out onto the shorelines of Fingal.

I was in Portrane and Donabate last weekend for the baptism of my cousin’s baby son – in the same church my grandparents were married in over a century ago. But a working weekend left no time for a walk on the beaches in either place.

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and Canon Aisling Shine was the preacher at the Choral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this morning. The setting was Sir Lennox Berkeley’s Missa Brevis, first performed in Westminster Cathedral over 50 years ago in 1960. Berkeley (1903-1989) studied with Stravinsky and Ravel, and his students included John Tavener. The anthem was ‘A spotless rose’ by Herbert Howells (1892-1983), best known to many for his large output of Anglican church music.

There had been a thin fall of snow throughout most of Dublin last night. After the Sung Eucharist two of us, undeterred, headed out to Skerries for lunch and a walk on the beach.

I was last in Skerries on 21 November. Since then, the 70 or 80 trees lining Strand Street and Church Street have been decorated with Christmas lights, the monument has been turned into a beacon of Christmas lighting, and the shops are abuzz with Christmas excitement.

There was a little breeze of snow as we made our way into to the Olive Café on South Strand Street, which was full to the door with customers. Their mixed baskets make ideal Christmas presents, and here they make the best double espresso in Fingal.

Then it was out onto to the South Beach for a brisk walk. The snow was gone again, the tide was out, and there was a beautiful shimmer on the water. Overhead, an air-sea rescue helicopter was practising its manoeuvres.

As we walked up the steps and up around Red Island, the Mountains of Mourne came into view – sweeping down to the sea, they were covered in snow. The harbour was quiet, almost lonely. As we headed back onto the South Beach, a moon that was almost full had risen high, and it seemed the evening light was lingering a little longer than you might expect in the deep mid-winter.

Winter creates a quiet afternoon at Skerries Harbour (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

In Gerry’s, I picked up the Sunday newspapers and the latest edition of the Skerries News, which gives proper praise to the Skerries Chamber of Commerce for raising the money to light up the town this Christmas.

As we were leaving, snow was falling on Skerries once again. Within hours the town was covered in a blanket of snow, snow on snow, in the bleak mid-winter.

This has been a good and deeply spiritual and meaningful Advent. I’m looking forward to tomorrow evening’s Service of Nine Lessons and Carols in the cathedral; I’m looking forward to the Midnight Eucharist in the cathedral on Christmas Eve; I’m looking forward to celebrating Christmas. But this country is in the grip of an Arctic freeze and after a few weeks of cold and snow, I’m not looking forward to a white Christmas.

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