25 March 2012

The sun shines on the ‘canon in residence’

Unseasonal sunshine on the River Liffey this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

I am the canon-in-residence in Christ Church Cathedral this week. So I had a busy day, preaching at the Choral Eucharist this morning, and taking part in Choral Evensong later this afternoon.

The setting for the Eucharist this morning was Francis Grier’s Missa Trinitatis Sanctae, composed in 1991 for Trinity Sunday in Westminster Abbey.

This English composer has been a chorister at Saint George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, a music scholar at Eton, and an organ scholar at King’s College, Cambridge, as well as Assistant Organist and then Organist at Christ Church Oxford. He has written extensively for the Anglican choral tradition, and he was an appropriate composer for our Eucharist on Passion Sunday this morning as his latest work The Passion.

In the afternoon, the settings for the Preces and Responses were by Thomas Ebdon (1738-1811), while the settings for the canticles Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were from the Evening Service in F Minor by Alan Gray (1855-1935), once the organist at Trinity College, Cambridge.

A sunny afternoon in Trinity College Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

In between, there was time for lunch at the Taverna in Dublin’s Italian Quarter on the north side of the River Liffey, and for a stroll through Trinity College and along Grafton Street and Wicklow Street. The sun was warm, there were bright reflections in the river, and it seems as though the arrival of Summer Time has brought exceptional early summer sunshine too.

After Evensong, the temperature was still hovering between 16 and 20, which is simply unbelievable in Ireland for this time of the year. The extra hour summer time gives was a chance not to pass on. Two of us went back across the river again, and out to the North Bull Island for a stroll along the long beach on this lengthy, narrow offshore island.

Long stretches of sand, sunshine and a view across to Sutton from Bull Island this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

We parked near the sand-dunes, and crossed onto the beach, which was bathed in warm hazy sunshine. The sand was flat and the tide was out. Despite the hazy sunshine, there were views across Dublin Bay to Bray Head in the south and Sutton and Howth Head nearer to the north.

Although this can be a very crowded beach in the summer, the tide was out in the late afternoon, and in places there were open, isolated broad stretches of sand.

Families were playing with kites, children were making sandcastles, a few younger men were learning to dive on the flat sands – even the ice-cream sellers were out in their vans with their hurdy-gurdy tunes. One couple had found a lengthy sandbank to walk along and in the reflections it looked as though they were walking on water.

Hazy sunshine at the wooden bridge linking Dollymount and Bull Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

On the way back from Dollymount, we stopped to look at Clontarf Castle, which is said to date back to 1172, when Hugh de Lacy built the castle on the site as part of an inner circle of defences protecting Dublin. Later, the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller had a house on this site until the Dissolution of the Monasteries at the Reformation in the 16th century.

Clontarf Castle later passed to the Fenton and King families, but during the Cromwellian era, Clontarf was granted in 1649 to John Blackwell, who sold it to John Vernon, who was Quarter-Master General of Cromwell’s army. The family motto was Vernon Semper Viret, “Vernon always flourishes,” and the Vernon family remained in Clontarf for almost 300 years.

George Frideric Handel was a frequent visitor to Clontarf Castle during his stay in Dublin for the premiere of his Messiah in 1742. Dorothy Vernon of Clontarf Castle was from Hanover and was said to be “particularly intimate” with the composer, who wrote a piece called Forest Music for her, said to combine German and Irish melodies. It is said that the area of Dollymount takes its name from this member of the Vernon family.

Clontarf Castle ... home to the Vernon family for almost 300 years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Between 1835 and 1837, the distinguished Irish architect William Vetruvius Morrison rebuilt Clontarf Castle for the Vernon family. The last direct descendant line of Vernons to live at Clontarf Castle was Edward Kingston Vernon (1869-1967), who inherited Clontarf from his father in 1913.

Edward Kingston lived in the castle for only six months before leasing it to his nephew John George Oulton, and the castle was sold to the Oulton family in 1933. JG Oulton died in Clonttarf Castle in 1952, and his son Desmond Oulton had to sell the castle to pay death duties and debts. The building lay vacant for a number of years until 1957, but has since become a four-star hotel.

It was after 6, and the sun was still warm – the temperature was still around 15 or 16. As we reached the north bank of the Liffey, there was a warm glow from the sun on the waters of the river. And there are promises that this sunny weather is going to continue for the rest of this week ... a good week for “the canon-in-residence.”

Sunshine in the lingering late evening on the banks of the River Liffey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

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