Sunday, 16 May 2010

The harbours and castles of Dalkey

Dalkey island, seen from Coliemore Harbour this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

It has been a long weekend. I worked all through last week, co-ordinating exam results for the meetings of the Courts of Examiners that take place this week. On Ascension Day, I celebrated what was the last Eucharist for students on the BTh course, but also the closing Eucharist for students on the first year of the new MTh course.

Afterwards, we had a barbeque on the lawn, and of course it was sad to say goodbye to students who have been so close over the past three years that they have become friends.

I celebrated a quiet Eucharist on Friday morning for the Feast Day of Saint Matthias, who is a quiet reminder that much of our time in ordained ministry can go unmarked, unmentioned and without praise.

Immediately, I then found myself caught up in the busyness of the residential weekend for NSM and part-time MTh students, the last one for this academic year. On Saturday, my tutorial group went to breakfast together in Dundrum Town Centre, and later that day we had a celebratory graduation service for students on the NSM and foundation courses, with Bishop Michael Jackson of Cashel and Ossory and Bishop Michael Jackson of Clogher presenting certificates and diplomas.

There was also a special presentation to the Revd Eileen Turner of Saint John’s College, Nottingham, who retires in a few months’ time. And we had another barbeque on the lawn that evening. Eileen also preached at this morning’s Eucharist, marking the end of another term and another year for yet another group of students. Eight BTh students and eight students on the NSM course are being ordained deacon over the next few weeks,

Throughout the weekend, the symptoms of my sarcoidosis and my deficiency of Vitamin B12 have been playing up and have been difficult to cope with. I’ve had constant “pins and needles” under my feet and at the ends of my fingers; my joints – especially my knees – have been painful; my cough has been irritating; and the swelling in my lymph glands appears to have flared up once again, causing particular trouble with pains in my neck.

It has been a joyful, happy and rewarding weekend. But when we finished up at lunchtime I needed a walk on the beach. However, instead of heading out to Skerries or some my other favourite beaches, I thought instead I’d head south. At first I found myself in Seapoint and Dun Laoghaire, then regretted I had passed through Sandycove without stopping. The skies were cloudy but the sea was blue, and some people were brave enough to go swimming at Sandycove. It was only when I had passed by that I realised I should have stopped.

Bulloch Harbour on an earl summer afternoon (Photograph; Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Heading on towards Dalkey, I found myself at Bulloch Harbour. I cannot remember ever being in this quiet corner of south Dublin. But obviously it was once an important port. This afternoon, there were boats for hire, people were gathering around the piers watching a diver feeding the seals in an attempt to film them, and small groups were offering scuba diving lessons. There were clear views across Dublin Bay to Howth Head, and it seemed to be a perfect afternoon for sailing.

A seal swimming in the waters by Bulloch Harbour (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Above the harbour, beside the retirement home known as Our Lady’s Manor, Bulloch Castle on Ulverton Road, running from Dun Laoghaire to Dalkey, is an impressive sight.

Bulloch Castle above Bulloch Harbour, one of three surviving castles in Dalkey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The castle is said to date back to the 12th century, and a tiny town grew up around it. The castle is oblong with a tower at each end, and the archway under the western tower was probably used to pass from one court to another within the boundary walls of the castle.

From there I headed on to Coliemore Harbour, located directly across from Dalkey Island, with the ruins of Saint Begnet’s church and a Martello Tower. Local lore says this was once the principal harbour for Dublin until the piers were built at Dun Laoghaire. Children were fishing at the old harbour, the coastguards were out on training exercises, Dalkey Island with its Martello Tower and ruined church was clear to see, and the waters were gently lapping against the walls of a few houses that seemed to be dangling over the water, like houses on the shores of Mykonos.

Dolphin Cottage, fronting onto Coliemore Road and “Martha’s Vineyard” dangling above the coastline south of Coliemore Harbour, like picture postcard houses in Mykonos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Only on Thursday last, one of these houses – Dolphin Cottage, fronting onto Coliemore Road and next door to Jim Sheridan’s “Martha’s Vineyard” – featured in the property supplement of The Irish Times, with an asking price of €1.25 million. Next to Dolphin Cottage, a memorial commemorates one of Ireland’s great radicals, Dr John de Courcy Ireland, my predecessor as President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

Dalkey and its streets have an Edwardian charm (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Dalkey feels less like a Dublin suburban village and more like an Edwardian market town, with shops with mock Tudor facades, interesting wine shops, restaurants, coffee shops and book shops, and elegant boutiques. The last time I was here was for a nephew’s wedding, but I had little time then to stroll through its streets. This afternoon, actors from Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre were strolling through the town in mock Tudor costumes, promoting visits to Dalkey Castle.

Dalkey Castle, a fortified townhouse dating from the early 15th century, is now a tourist attraction in the town centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The castle on the appropriately named Castle Street was originally known as Goat Castle or the Tower House. It is a fine example of a fortified townhouse dating from the early 15th century, and is one of three castles remaining of the original eight castles that once stood in Dalkey – the other two being Archbold’s Castle and Bulloch Castle.

Archbold’s Castle, a few steps away from Dalkey Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Next to Goat Castle stand the ruins of Saint Begnet’s Church and an old graveyard. But the gates were locked, and after taking a look at Archbold’s Castle I headed off for a coffee.

I was tired but happy. And I’m ready to head back to work tomorrow and face the coming week. I’m looking forward to Canon Katharine Poulton’s installation as Dean of Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, on Friday, and a birthday party in Portrane on Saturday.

I may have sarcoidosis, but sarcoidosis will never have me.

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