08 February 2012

Time for prayer and poetry in Kilkenny

The former Kilkenny College reflected in the waters of the River Nore (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

Our two principal speakers at the Dublin and Glendalough Clergy Conference this afternoon [Tuesday 7 February 2012] were Professor David Ford of Cambridge and the poet Micheal O Siadhail.

David Ford, who spoke about ‘Theology and Poetry in the Drama of Living,’ spoke of those cries that are central to our Christian faith. The Psalms remind us constantly that “I cry aloud to God, and he will hear me,” while we are told constantly that “Wisdom cries out ...”

We emit cries and are cried to, and there are key cries. Wisdom is worked out in the heat and the intensity of life, and wisdom is the discernment of cries. Even in politics, governments try to respond to multiple cries. Wise living is a test of wisdom, of how we discern our own responsibilities and priorities in relation to the cries that come to us from many quarters.

He asked: what is the wise way to live our faith in this world? And he identified the cries that set up the dynamic of Christian living:

1, “The Lord is God”, to which the response is : “Allelulia, praise the Lord” – in which ia or “I am” speaks of God.

2, “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.” The response: is: “Come Lord Jesus.”

3, Receive the Holy Spirit. The response is: “Come, Holy Spirit.” All we have to do is ask and it shall be given.

He then spoke of four further cries:

4, “Beloved let us love one another.” Response: “Let everyone who is thirsty come.”

5, The cry of the world. The response is “Your kingdom come.”

6, “Hear instruction and be wise.” Response: “But where shall wisdom be found?”

7, The call to each of us by name, to which the response is: “Here I am.”

Turning to the ending of Saint John’s Gospel, he said that in response to “Follow me” in the drama of living, we only know your own story in that following of the living Jesus through the rest of our life, in the drama of loving.

These are Intensities that are also expressed in poetry. Professor Ellen Dais of Duke University points out that Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs are poetry. So too is most of the Book of Job.

He spoke too of his work with the poet Micheal O Siadhail and how it has had an impact on how he writes theology, and introduced us to the Biblical prayer, “Hallowed be thy name,” and the rabbinical concept, expressed in the Talmud of Kiddush hashem, the concept of martyrdom as hallowing the name of God.

He asked us how we can live with joy after the Holocaust, for if we do not live a vibrant life Hitler wins.

Speaking out of his experiences of meeting survivors of genocide in Rwanda, he hoped that evil does not have the last word, yet recognised the reality of genocide, and spoke of the need to hold together the Cross and the Resurrection.

As he spoke of Patrick Kavanagh as “the poet is a theologian,” and how he speaks openly in his Self-Portrait (1962) that “the poet is a theologian,” I was reminded how John Jordan sp0eaks of Kavanagh as “an instinctive theologian.”

But he regretted how s often the Old Testament is ignored in liturgy and in preaching. In Saint Bene’t’s, Cambridge, the tradition is one of preaching on all three readings. And he reminded us of how as Anglicans so many of us have been shaped spiritually and theologically by the canticles in Saint Luke’s Gospel: Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79) and Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32).

Wisdom from the past ... Saint Kieran’s College, Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Later, Professor Micheal O Siadhail, the poet and author who was speaking on ‘Talking in tongues,’ talked of how he and David Ford had been friends for over 46 years, and how each had been the other’s first reader.

He spoke of the knot-tiers who knot together the strands of the story, including those who are living, such as Jean Vanier and Nelson Mandela, and figures from the past, including Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

He told the story of how Karl Barth had once preached a university sermon. Afterwards, an astronomer approached him and said he knew little about theology but said all religion could be summarised in the words: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

Barth, with typical humour, replied that he was only a theologian and knew nothing about astronomy, but thought it could be summarised ih the words: “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.”

A glimpse into the past ... Rothe House in Parliament Street, Kilkenny, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

During a break in the conference this afternoon, I took a stroll through the streets Kilkenny, dropping into the bookshops and into Rothe House, the Tudor merchant house that serves as the offices, museum and library of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society.

Kilkenny is so rich in architectural heritage that it is difficult to pick and choose which buildings to visit in such a short time.

On my way to Rothe House, I stopped briefly at the Langton House, which had been home to a few generations of the Comerford family in the 18th and 19th centuries. Over the last few decades it has changed hands as a restaurant, and in recent years it has been Colosseum, an Italian restaurant, but it was difficult to know this afternoon whether it is still open.

From Rothe House, I walked back along High Street again, stopping here and there to photograph buildings, and then made my way up Patrick Street and turned onto Ormonde Road to photograph Saint Kieran’s College, one of the finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture in Kilkenny.

The Parade, Kilkenny ... repaved in recent month (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The Parade has been pleasantly repaved in the last two years or so, and I stopped briefly to look in at Kilkenny Castle, which I have mentioned in my current columns in the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel and Ossory).

Back in Rose Inn Street, in a small antique shop opposite Shee’s Almshouse, I bought a home communion set that one of my colleagues had spotted in the shop window. We then went for a walk along the banks of the River Nore, beneath the castle ramparts, as far as the junction of the river and the old canal.

On the other bank of the River Nore, the River Court Hotel, where I am staying, spread out beside us, and then beside the hotel, the former premises of Kilkenny, just where the river cascades over a weir on its way down to Inistioge and New Ross.

Kilkenny College traces its history back to a college of vicars’ choral in Saint Canice’s Cathedral that existed from the 13th century. In 1538, Piers Butler, Earl of Ormonde, and his wife, Margaret, founded a school to the west of the Cathedral, where the library now stands. So, when James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde, founded Kilkenny College in John Street ca1666, he was following the Butler tradition of promoting education in the city. The school motto, Comme je trouve, comes from the Ormonde Butler coat-of-arms.

Kilkenny College soon became a famous school, and during the reign of James II in the 1680s the college had a short-lived status as a university. In the 1780s, a new college was built on the same site overlooking the River Nore.

The long list of famous past pupils includes Jonathan Swift, the author and satirist, who was Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and Bishop George Berkeley, the philosopher and Bishop of Cloyne, who gave his name to the university city of Berkeley in California. Others include William Congreve and George Farqhuar, both Restoration playwrights, John Banim, Thomas Prior, founder of the Royal Dublin Society, and David Beatty, first Sea Lord at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

At the end of the 19th century, the College was reduced to one pupil, and an amalgamation with the nearby Pococke School was its saving. In 1973, Kilkenny College and the Collegiate School, Celbridge, were amalgamated, and Kilkenny College became co-educational. In 1985, the college moved to a green-field site on Castlecomer Road.

The Georgian school building, with its elegant facade, now houses the offices of Kilkenny County Council.

Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, before the Conference Eucharist this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

From my room looking out onto the River Nore and across to Kilkenny Castle, I walked up to Saint Canice’s Cathedral this evening for our Eucharist. After a reception in the Old Palace, we returned to the River Court Hotel for dinner. Tomorrow, David Ford talks about “John in the Spirit” before we leave Kilkenny and return to our parishes and our work and commitments.

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