10 April 2011

A community pulls together in Skerries

Spring sunshine and hints of summer on the calm shoreline on the South Beach at Skerries this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

It was a beautiful, sun-kissed day in Skerries this afternoon. The past week has been filled with emotion, heartbreak and tragedy for the people of Skerries. This is a community that has pulled together, with solidarity, with love and with compassion over the past week, waiting and praying for two missing fishermen and lovingly caring for their families.

Ronan Browne and David Gilsenan were lost at sea a week ago. Their bodies were recovered early yesterday off the Co Louth coast near Clogherhead.

Local volunteers from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, teams of neighbours, friends and strangers, have spent every daylight hour of the past week searching the beaches of north Dublin, Co Meath and Co Louth for the two companions. Sailors and trawler crews joined the search at their own expense. Garda divers, Air Corps pilots and naval crews have braved the waves and the sea.

By Wednesday evening, community solidarity was so coherent that thousands of people took part in a walk of solidarity with those involved in the search. On Friday night, candles were lit across Red Island in prayerful hope.

That search for the men came to an end early on Saturday morning, when they were found by the Guiding Light. Their funerals begin tomorrow. The tragedy continues for the families of Ronan and David.

Throughout the tragedy of the past week, the Skerries Facebook page has kept the wider community and people beyond informed of every development, offering people much-needed opportunities to express their grief, and to share their prayers and hopes.

For the people of Skerries, there is a new sense of community and togetherness, new depths of caring and of love.

TS Eliot opens his poem The Waste Land with the words:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

But this afternoon, it was difficult to imagine the sea could have taken its cruel toll or that April is the cruellest month.

The tide was out, the sea was calm, children were skipping in and out of the gentle waves, a handful of people were out on the water in kayaks and canoes, the sun was shining, the Harbour Road was full of cheery people who were spilling out of the pubs, sipping in their drinks in the bright sunlight, and the car park spaces on Red Island and along the Strand were filled with cars from families eager to enjoy what felt like an early twinkle of summer.

It was as if, as Eliot goes on to say, “Summer surprised us.”

“Summer surprised us” ... April sunshine on the Harbour in Skerries this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

This afternoon, as we walked the South Strand, then around the Harbour, and back to the Olive in Strand Street, there was a feeling that this is a community that has many blessings.

Earlier in the day, preaching at the Morning Eucharist in the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, death was to the forefront as I reflected on the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. But our Easter hope and faith has to be confident of moving beyond death, and we know that love conquers all.

Spring reflections of the quays on the Liffey waters in Dublin this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

From there, I headed into the city centre, and four of us from Christ Church Cathedral had lunch in La Taverna in the Italian Quarter. Walking back to the cathedral, the sun was bright, and the reflections of the Quays on the River Liffey reflected that promise of summer.

Two of us then headed north to Skerries, but went a little further on the road to first take a look at Balrothery, on the southern fringes of Balbriggan, on the old N1 Dublin-Belfast road. The towers of Balrothery were landmarks for me over 40 years ago in my schooldays on the road from Gormanston into Dublin, but the M1 means I seldom see them these days.

The 19th century church and mediaeval tower of Balrothery Church on a hill overlooking the village on the fringes of Balbriggan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The name Balrothery, Baile na Ridire means the “Town of the Knights.” The origins of Balrothery date back to the arrival of the Anglo-Normans, and Balrothery was the name of an old but long-forgotten local administrative area. The original feudal barony of Balrothery was one of seven in the overlordship of Fingal dating back to 1208.

The church at Balrothery stands on top of a hill overlooking the village. The church has a mediaeval defensive tower at the western end, a square tower with a circular stair turret on its western side. Built into the East Wall of the 19th century church attached to the tower is a curious mediaeval “mouth puller,” just above an inscribed stone. The grounds of the church include a number of early grave markers. Close-by, on the south side of the church, are the ruins of Balrothery Castle.

The mediaeval “mouth puller” in the east wall of Balrothery Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Local lore says King James II slept at the White Hart Inn in Balrothery before the Battle of the Boyne.

At one time, the trustees of Wilson's Hospital, Co Westmeath, were patrons of the Rectory of Balrothery. Saint George’s Church in Balbriggan was built as a chapel of ease in the parish, and was endowed by the Revd George Hamilton. The church at Balrothery has been closed for a number of years, and Balbriggan is now part of the same parochial grouping as Holmpatrick (Skerries) and Kenure (Rush).

After coffee in the Olive on Strand Street this afternoon, and collecting the Skerries News and the Sunday papers in Gerry’s, we drove south through Rush to Portrane to visit my Lynders cousins.

I’m looking forward to returning to this part of Fingal next Sunday to take the services and preach in Holmpatrick Parish Church in Skerries and Saint George’s Church in Balbriggan.

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