Saturday, 4 June 2011

Summer comes to Bray ... at least for a day

The waves were beginning to get choppy at the end of the day today in Bray (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

This is the first bank holiday weekend of the summer.

It’s not Whit Weekend, although many people continue to call the June Bank Holiday weekend Whit Weekend.

Whitsunday, or Pentecost Day, comes ten days after Ascension Day, and this year it falls on Sunday 12 June. In the Church Calendar tomorrow [5 June] is designated the Seventh Sunday of Easter or the Sunday after Ascension Day.

But Whit or no Whit, summer has started, and Bray, Co Wicklow, was packed this afternoon with day-trippers, enjoying the sunshine and the beach.

After drafting an address for a memorial service next Saturday, I had spent a few hours on the terrace in the back garden enjoying the sunshine. By the time I got to Bray in the late afternoon, the sun had lost much of its heat, clouds were beginning to form, and the waves along the shoreline were a little choppy. But it was still bright, and it was a good afternoon for a stroll.

Two of us stopped first to buy some real Italian ice-cream at the small shop-front ice creamgelateria beside the former Palazzo restaurant on Strand Road, opposite Sea Life and the Beach House.

I’m sorry Palazzo has closed for business, it was a great place for both lunch and dinner, had a good wine selection and the walls were decorated with some interesting paintings for sale.

But the ice cream parlour is a delight, and a notice on the restaurant door promises that it is soon to reopen under the same management as Campo de’ Fiori around the corner in Albert Avenue.

That’s promising indeed because Laura and Marco Roccasalvo have an enthusiasm for good Italian food.Campo de’ Fiori takes its name from a square in Rome with an important flower market

The sunshine brought a lot of visitors to Bray this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

With our ice creams, we strolled south along the Promenade as far as the Bray Head Hotel, which looks as if it’s in a very sorry state indeed. Then we strolled back alongside the cheap-and-cheerful shops selling ice creams, sweets and burgers – the warm sunshine really had brought a lot of people to Bray this afternoon.

In the side-streets, we bumped into a former colleague from The Irish Times, and then past the Dart station we took a look at the terrace of houses in Royal Marine Terrace, beyond the Hibernia Inn.

Royal Marine Terrace ... an interesting example of Victorian architecture in Bray (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

This terrace of semi-detached, three-bay two-storey over basement houses was built in 1862. To the front or west side, the houses are accessed through a short, private cul-de-sac. These are well-preserved, mid-19th-century houses, with an imposing design and setting that add to the 19th-century character and streetscape of Bray’s promenade. It is unusual in that they should face a private cul-de-sac and have a very public elevation to the promenade. Backing onto Strand Road, the houses have views out to the east and the sea from the rear, but the private access means most people only see the rear-view of the houses.

The houses are built in brick with moulded quoins, rusticated render to the basement level and a moulded string course above the second floor window openings to the front. Each house has a short flight of stone steps rise to the panelled front doors which have free-standing columns, which along with respondent pilasters, support projecting cornices.

Over the doors there are fanlights, all set within semi-circular-headed openings in slightly recessed bays.

Window openings are a mixture of flat-headed and segmental-headed with either one over one or two over two timber sash frames. To the rear (east) there are canted three-storey bays, as the houses are set on a slight rise with the rears overlooking the promenade.

Having looked at Martello Terrace about two weeks ago, this was another architectural delight to find in Bray. And I had enjoyed my walk on the beach.

By the time we got back to the car, it was getting a little chilly, and it seemed most of the day-trippers were heading home too.

‘All our knowledge brings us nearer to death’

‘Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger/ Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions’ ... sunset at Skerries Harbour (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am sitting at my desk this morning writing a short address for a memorial service next Saturday.

The service commemorates deceased staff members of The Irish Times. Many of the people we are remembering, and many of the people present, might be described as secular in their thinking, but nevertheless are deeply spiritual people.

And I have to keep in mind that not everyone there, and not everyone present, has been a journalist, even if the words of journalists have provided their income.

How do I make the connection between the word and the Word, between truth and the Truth, without coming across as too preachy?

And then this morning I re-read TS Eliot’s Choruses from the Rock, written by Eliot seven years after his conversion to Anglican Church. Here he speaks so much of the search for meaning in the world today.

There are a lot of ideas to help me think clearly about next Saturday’s service.

Choruses from the Rock

The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,
The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.

O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

The lot of man is ceaseless labour,
Or ceaseless idleness, which is still harder,
Or irregular labour, which is not pleasant.
I have trodden the winepress alone, and I know
That it is hard to be really useful, resigning
The things that men count for happiness, seeking
The good deeds that lead to obscurity, accepting
With equal face those that bring ignominy,
The applause of all or the love of none.
All men are ready to invest their money
But most expect dividends.
I say to you: Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.

The world turns and the world changes,
But one thing does not change.
In all of my years, one thing does not change,
However you disguise it, this thing does not change:
The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.

You neglect and belittle the desert.
The desert is not remote in southern tropics
The desert is not only around the corner,
The desert is squeezed in the tube-train next to you,
The desert is in the heart of your brother.

Let me show you the work of the humble. Listen.

In the vacant places
We will build with new bricks

Where the bricks are fallen
We will build with new stone
Where the beams are rotten
We will build with new timbers
Where the word is unspoken
We will build with new speech
There is work together
A Church for all
And a job for each
Every man to his work.

What life have you, if you have not life together?
There is not life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of GOD.

And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads,
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbour
Unless his neighbour makes too much disturbance,
But all dash to and fro in motor cars,
Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere.

Much to cast down, much to build, much to restore
I have given you the power of choice, and you only alternate
Between futile speculation and unconsidered action.

And the wind shall say: “Here were decent godless people:
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls.”

When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?

Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.

There is one who remembers the way to your door:
Life you may evade, but Death you shall not.
You shall not deny the Stranger.

They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
But the man that is shall shadow
The man that pretends to be.

Then it seemed as if men must proceed from light to light, in the light of
the Word,
Through the Passion and Sacrifice saved in spite of their negative being;
Bestial as always before, carnal, self seeking as always before, selfish and
purblind as ever before,
Yet always struggling, always reaffirming, always resuming their march on
the way that was lit by the light;
Often halting, loitering, straying, delaying, returning, yet following no other

But it seems that something has happened that has never happened
before: though we know not just when, or why, or how, or where.
Men have left GOD not for other gods, they say, but for no God; and this has
never happened before
That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first Reason,
And then Money, and Power, and what they call Life, or Race, or Dialectic.

What have we to do but stand with empty hands and palms turned
upwards in an age which advances progressively backwards?

There came one who spoke of the shame of Jerusalem
And the holy places defiled;
Peter the Hermit, scourging with words.
And among his hearers were a few good men,
Many who were evil,
And most who were neither,
Like all men in all places.

In spite of all the dishonour,
the broken standards, the broken lives,
The broken faith in one place or another,
There was something left that was more than the tales
Of old men on winter evenings.

Our age is an age of moderate virtue
And moderate vice

The soul of Man must quicken to creation.

Out of the meaningless practical shapes of all that is living or
Joined with the artist's eye, new life, new form, new colour.
Out of the sea of sound the life of music,
Out of the slimy mud of words, out of the sleet and hail of verbal
Approximate thoughts and feelings, words that have taken the
place of thoughts and feelings,
There spring the perfect order of speech, and the beauty of incantation.

The work of creation is never without travail

The visible reminder of Invisible Light.

O Light Invisible, we praise Thee!
Too bright for mortal vision.

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