Sunday, 12 August 2012

A walk in the gardens at Killruddery and by the shore in Bray

Killruddery is one of Ireland’s great historic houses (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

Bray is preparing to welcome Katie Taylor home tomorrow [Monday] with her gold medal. Despite heavy rain throughout the afternoon, Bray was alive and bright today, with music and crowds along the Promenade, and air of excitement everywhere.

Earlier in the afternoon, we were in Killruddery, which has been home to the Brabazon family and the Earls of Meath since 1618. This is one of Ireland’s great historic houses and the gardens deserved more of our time for walks and exploring.

Killruddery has been home to the Brabazon family and the Earls of Meath since 1618 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

We started our walk in the Walled Garden, first built around 1830. This is four acres of space within tall red brick walls. A long walk leads past potatoes, spinach, lettuce, asparagus, broccoli, swedes, courgettes, beans and herbs. There are pear, apple, damson and fig trees and at the heart of the garden is a perfect picnic spot. Close-by are hens and a cockerel, and pigs in an open pen.

The gardens at Killruddery are the oldest in Ireland still surviving in their original 17th century style (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The gardens at Killruddery are the oldest in Ireland still surviving in their original 17th century style, with 18th and 19th century additions. They were designed for the entertainment of a large number of people and the scale is comparable to that of a park. They are mainly the work of the 4th and 6th Earls of Meath, who engaged Bonet, a French landscape architect and a pupil of Le Notre.

The middle section of the garden, ‘The Angles,’ is a series of walks flanked by hornbeam, lime and beech hedges that meet at two centre points. Beyond ‘The Angles’ is an avenue of Ilex trees dating from the 17th century and steps leading to what was the bowling green. This area is under restoration.

The Long Ponds are twin canals 187 metres long and known as miroirs d’eaux or reflecting ponds (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The Long Ponds are twin canals 187 metres long and known as miroirs d’eaux or reflecting ponds.

Opposite ‘The Angles,’ on the far side of the Long Ponds, is a wooded area known as the Wilderness. A gate leads out to the Park and a statue of Venus. The circular granite edged pond is 20 metres in diameter and the four Victorian cast iron statues at the entrances depict the four seasons of the year.

Beyond the Beech Hedge Pond are the gardens laid out in a 19th century style. A low yew hedge encloses a rose and lavender garden with a fountain in the centre.

Killruddery House is one of the most successful EIizabethan-Revival mansions in Ireland. In the 1820s, the 10th Earl of Meath engaged Richard Morrison and his son William, fashionable architects of the day, to remodel Killruddery.

In the 1950s part of the house was demolished and the house was greatly reduced to its present size. However, much of the Morrisons’ design and architecture remains.

The glass dome in Orangery was designed by Richard Turner (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

We were brought through the house, ending finally at the magnificent Orangery. This was designed and built by William Burn in 1852 after the fashion of the Crystal Palace in England. The original glass dome was the work of Richard Turner, who designed the curvilinear range at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin and at Kew Gardens in London.

The Orangery in KIllruddery was designed by William Burn after the fashion of the Crystal Palace (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)
The Orangery houses a collection of marble statues gathered in Italy in 1830-1850. Classical sculptures include Ganymede giving water to Zeus disguised as an eagle, Cyparissus with his dying deer, and Cupid with Pysche and Venus. A collection of busts includes Homer, Socrates, Napoleon, William Pitt and the Duke of Wellington.

From Killruddery we returned to Bray and stopped for a moment at the former Town Hall and Market House, built by the Earls of Meath as a gift to the town. In front of the Town Hall is a monument to the Brabazon family with their heraldic wyvern, which we had seen throughout the house at Killruddery. Above was a banner preparing to welcome Katie Taylor back to Bray tomorrow.

The Brabazon wyvern fountain and the Town Hall in Bray ... preparing to welcome Katie Taylor home (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The Meath family were generous patrons, giving Dublin the Meath Hospital, the Coombe Hospital and the Brabazon Home. What a sad reflection on life today that the Town Hall they gave to Bray has not remained a public building but is used by a well-known fast food chain!

We parked on the seafront, and walked back in the rain to have lunch in Campo De Fiori, on the corner of Strand Road and Albert Avenue. The restaurant takes its name from a square in Rome, known as the “field of flowers” because in ancient days it was decorated with nice daisies, poppies and many wild flowers.

Walking along the seafront in Bray this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Earlier in the day, I was in Tullow Church on Brighton Road in Carrickmines to preside at the early morning Eucharist at 8.30 and to lead Morning Prayer and preach at 10.30.

Tullow Church serves about 200 families in the Church of Ireland parish in the Carrickmines, Foxrock and Cornelscourt area.

Between the two services I strolled in early morning drizzle as far as Foxrock village, and back again.

Tullow Parish traces its history back to a church dating from the late 12th century and said to have stood on the site of an earlier church founded by Saint Brigid. Tullow or Tully (an earlier version of the name) means hillock and the original name was Tullagh na nEspuc (the Hill of the Bishops). Legend says the “Seven Bishops of Cabinteely” started out from there to visit Saint Brigid in Kildare.

The 12th century church was in use until about 1615, and was supplied with clergy from Christ Church Cathedral in the city centre. By 1630, the church had been badly damaged in storms. It was abandoned and fell into ruins, and the parish was united with Monkstown.

Tullow Parish Church on Brighton Road, Carrickmines, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The story of the present church begins in 1860. The parish church in Monkstown was finding it difficult to accommodate the growing numbers of church-goers on Sundays and Foxrock was a growing suburb served by new suburban rail stations in the Foxrock and Carrickmines on the Harcourt Street line to Bray.

The Revd John Fawcett, a curate in Taney, was nominated to the new parish of Tullow, which first used a schoolhouse on Ballycorus Road until the new church was consecrated in 1864.

The church, designed by Welland and Gillespie, had a simple rectangular shape and gothic-style spire. It was built in granite at a cost of £1,600. The rectory beside the church was built in 1890. The church was extended by JF Fuller in 1904, so that the original building became the transepts and the nave and chancel were added at right angles.

The East Window, which was added on 1959, shows four scenes from the life of Christ – the Annunciation, the Incarnation, the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Below is a discreet carved inscription quoting John Donne: “The whole life Christ was a continual passion ... His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and the morning of one and the same day.”

The East Window in Tullow Parish Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The grieving love of a parent for a wayward child

David and Absalom (Marc Chagall, 1956)

Patrick Comerford

Tullow Parish, Carrickmines, Co Dublin

Sunday, 12 August 2012, the Tenth Sunday after Trinity

8.30 a.m.: The Eucharist (Holy Communion 1);

10.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer 2

II Samuel 18: 5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4: 25 to 5: 2; John 6: 35, 41-51.

May I speak to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

One of the reasons people say they are turned off the Old Testament is the amount of violence we find in it.

People who have no problems watching boxers punch each other around the head in the ring in the Olympic Games, have real problems when it comes to stories in the Old Testament of wars, murders and battles.

And we have them all here this morning in our Old Testament reading (II Samuel 18: 5-9).

It is a story of violence: father and son fighting each other after son has violated sister, mercenaries brought in, pitched battles with slaughter and overkill – in those days a battle force of 20,000 amounted to weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

Trying to find religious meaning in all of this, with our modern approaches to issues of justice and peace, becomes a difficult task.

So difficult, in fact, that it is not surprising to find some people find it difficult to reconcile the God of the Old Testament with the loving God that Jesus addresses not just as Father, but in the simple and direct Aramaic of his day as Abba.

And yet we have a story that that as we wade through the horror and gore, allows us to catch a glimpse of the love of God as a perfect father.

David has never been a perfect husband, nor has he ever been a perfect father, never a perfect king.

All these failings are there to see in earlier stories in this book: David and Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah (II Samuel 11: 2-27), and then David’s failure to deal with Amnon’s violation of his own half-sister Tamar (II Samuel 13: 1-21).

In this story, David’s love for his first-born son and heir is great, but it prevents him from administering justice.

There is an old legal adage or maxim that justice delayed is justice denied. Frustrated by David’s inaction, his third but second surviving son, Absalom, takes the law into his own hands, and has Amnon killed. After time in exile, through Joab’s mediation, Absalom returns to the court of his father, King David.

But David’s refusal to see him for two years leads Absalom to hate his father. Absalom plans a coup d’├ętat. He knows how to capitalise on festering resentment to the growth of David’s empire, court and bureaucracy, and to David’s inability to accept changing social patterns and values.

Absalom marches on Jerusalem. Fleeing the city, David escapes across the Jordan with his army and begins a military comeback. He divides his army into three groups, one each commanded by Joab, Abishai and Ittai (verse 5).

But David’s advisers keep the king away from any direct involvement in the decisions about what should happen to Absalom.

David orders his commanders to “deal gently” with his rebellious son. Despite his rebellion, David still loves Absalom, perhaps hoping against hope at this late stage to save his life.

The battle is fought in the “forest of Ephraim” (verse 6), on the east bank of the River Jordan. But Absalom’s militia, “the men of Israel” (verse 7), are no match for David’s army.

It is a cataclysmic battle. In the midst of the slaughter, in the killing of perhaps tens of thousands, we hear of the death of one individual, the wayward Absalom whose rebellion against his father began with good intent.

As he is riding through the forest, the handsome prince is caught by the “head,” perhaps by his long, dangling hair, which he cut only once a year, and he is left dangling from the branches of a great oak tree (verse 9; see II Samuel 14: 25-26).

In his desperate plight, we are left hanging too, wondering what happens, for this morning’s reading hastens the pace as it skips over some verses (10-14), perhaps for the sake of abbreviation – not to make a long story longer on a Sunday morning. In those missing verses, a man tells Joab of the plight of the dangling Absalom. But he leaves it to Joab to make the politically-charged decision of whether to kill Absalom.

Ten young men are sent to take advantage of Absalom’s predicament. He is still hanging from the tree when he is killed.

Another missing verse tells us Absalom’s body was thrown into a “big pit in the forest” (verse 17), despite the fact that he had already built himself an elegant, pillared tomb in the Valley of the Kings near Jerusalem so that he would not be forgotten (verse 18).

But the men who are brave enough to kill the prince when he is an easy target are not brave enough to tell David what they have done to his son. It is amazing how brave men can become so timorous.

And so, instead, they send a Cushite, an Ethiopian or Sudanese mercenary or slave (verse 21), to tell David the whole story, both the good news and the bad news, about the victory and about his son being slain (verses 31-32).

David is heartbroken, and his open grief makes him politically weak too. Instead of honouring the victors, he mourns the death of his son.

The cry of a grieving parent for the death of a son or daughter, no matter what age either of them is, is a cry that pierces the soul. Once you hear it, you can never forget it.

No parent expects to see a child grow to full adulthood, and then live to see that son or daughter die. It is an unnatural sequence or pairing of life events. It is one of the great injustices in life.

And David’s grieving, despite all that has happened before, despite his own role in bringing about these bitter and ugly events, is one of those truly authentic passages of reportage in the Bible:

“O my son Absalom, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

These truly are the words of a distressed Father’s love for his son, a parent’s love for the child.

No matter how wayward, how rebellious or how violent that child may be – and every parent has children who give problems – been there, done that – yet the love of a parent for a child is impossible to quench totally.

This was one of the readings chosen by Bishop John McDowell for the devotional reflections at the General Synod earlier in May, and as he read it, I could feel my heart breaking.

Perhaps this is what it means when it is said David was “a man after God’s own heart” (I Samuel 13: 13-14; Acts 13: 22). Despite David’s many faults, he had a heart like God’s, weeping over his wayward children, willing to die in their place, never allowing their rebellion and cruelty to harden his heart towards them.

His heart-breaking grief is echoed in our Psalm: “Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice” (Psalm 130: 1). It is a cry to God for deliverance from personal trouble, yet it ends with a message of hope for all. God is attentive to our pleas, despite everything that has gone wrong. God forgives, God is merciful, God offers unfailing “love”, freedom from grievous sin.

Christ understands the difficulties created by the relationship between a parent and child, and between a parent who is grieved by the bickering and battling between two children.

That’s why the story of the Prodigal Son rings so true. It’s not just the story of a grieving father waiting for a wayward son, but it’s the story of a grieving father waiting for a son who may be his ruin, and the story of a grieving father who has two sons have fought so much with each other, that one refuses to welcome the other home. It has parallels with Absalom’s clashes with Amnon, and contrasts with David’s refusal to go out and meet Absalom when he returns home.

God’s love for us surpasses the love of any father or mother for their children.

God’s love is never petulant. God never goes into a corner and sulks.

And God’s bitter weeping and grieving when he sees our plight is expressed most perfectly in the life, death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.

And Jesus understands that so well. He asks in the Sermon on the Mount: “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” (Matthew 7: 9).

We did not have the Epistle reading provided in the Lectionary for this morning (Ephesians 4: 25 to 5: 2). But in his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul asks them to love “one another” (4: 32), expressing generously the same forgiveness that Christ shows us. In the way I forgive and I am loving, I should do so as God does (5: 1), for Christ loves us, even to the point of giving himself up to death for us.

I am the bread of life ... This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die (John 6: 48-50) … an icon in a shop window in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

In our Gospel reading (John 6: 35, 41-51), after feeding the 5,000, Christ offers himself as “bread that came down from heaven” (6: 41), and the promise that we are being brought into full union with God. If we believe in him (verse 45), who has “seen the Father” (verse 46), then we have the offer of life “forever” that comes from God the Father (verse 51).

Of course there are exceptions to what I say. I know only too well there are abusive parents and there are dysfunction families. But I also know that with God that there are no exceptions, that in Christ there is no abuse, and that Christ calls us into a relationship with his Father that is free of any dysfunction that we may have known in the past.

God’s grief for us is more perfect that David’s grief for Abaslom. God does not refuse to meet us when we reach out to him. And the love of God the Father, offered to us through Christ his Son, knows no exceptions, knows no boundaries, when it comes to his children.

And so may all we think, say and do be to the praise honour and glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.


Let your merciful ears, O Lord,
be open to the prayers of your humble servants;
and that they may obtain their petitions,
make them to ask such things as shall please you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

O God,
as we are strengthened by these holy mysteries,
so may our lives be a continual offering,
holy and acceptable in your sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This sermon was preached in Tullow Parish Church, Carrickmines, Co Dublin, on Sunday 12 August 2012.

A lot to celebrate in Portrane tonight

The lights along the coast from the Burrow in Portrane as far as Rush joined in our rejoicing tonight (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

The big red-and-white marquee at The Quay in Portrane that served to shelter the bookstall for three days last weekend became the venue for our celebrations tonight (Saturday 11 August 2012).

The candles were lit, the tables were decorated, and the chairs were out, and we dined together as the volunteers celebrated raising almost €25,000 in aid of Heart-to-Hand and the projects it supports in Albania and Romania.

Within the next month or two, 40 volunteers are going to go from Ireland to work in Albania, four or five truckloads of supplies are going out, and local businesses in Albania are getting a boost as money raised raised here helps work in schools and soup kitchens there.

Volunteers were thanked, friendships were consolidated, there was particular praise for Mary Lynders and her daughters.

As we left Portrane tonight, the lights along the coast from the Burrow out along as far as Rush seemed to be joining in our rejoicing.

Celebrating with Mary Lynders and her family in the big marquee in Portrane tonight (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)