31 December 2013

Goodbye to 2013 (Part 2) and my top
ten personal stories of the year

Goodbye to 2013 ... sunset on Stowe Pool in Lichfield ...

... and hello to 2014 ... sunrise on a flight to Greece (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

I began my reflection on the passing year yesterday morning [30 December 2013] by reviewing what I think were the ten main religious stories of the year.

This morning, I want to look back at ten of my own stories of the passing year.

1, Being a small part of Greek journalism

EnetEnglish ... an online news service from Eleftherotypia

For many years, I was a regular reader of The Athens News, once Greece’s oldest and only English-language newspaper. After 49 years as a daily newspaper, The Athens News became a weekly newspaper in 2001, and it was a pleasure to be a guest contributor, reviewing the exhibition Byzantium 330-1453 a few years ago.

However, with the collapse of the Greek economy and increasing competition, The Athens News fell on hard times, it folded for last time on 5 October 2012, and the website was finally taken down in March this year.

Some of the former journalists with The Athens News have faithfully maintained the Facebook page, others have been involved in setting up a new English-language newspaper, Athens Views, which hit the newsstands and the kiosks or periptera across Greece on 2 August this year.

An exciting development, with immense potential in recent months is EnetEnglish, an independent, online news service focused on Greece. This online service was launched last February and is backed up by a Facebook page that gives access to the main website and can also be followed on Twitter.

EnetEnglish has provided unrivalled news coverage of the arrest of the leading members of the Neonazi hate gang, Golden Dawn, which poses as a political party. With its comprehensive and analytical news reports and features, photographs and cartoons, backed up by an up-to-minute blog roll, it is unmatched by any other Greek news site.

EnetEnglish is a division of one of my favourite Greek newspapers, Eleftherotypia (Ελευθεροτυπία), a national daily with sympathies on the left in Greek politics. It was founded in 1975, a year after the collapse of the colonels’ regime and the restoration of democracy in Greece.

It faced severe financial problems two years ago, when only four editions were published in 2011, and the newspaper filed for bankruptcy that December. But Eleftherotypia and its internet site, Enet, were relaunched at the beginning of this year.

The site supports making Greece’s democracy and economy more transparent, meritocratic and accountable, and the staff include Damian Mac Con Uladh, who is also known in Ireland for his reports and analysis of Greek politics and life in The Irish Times.

During the year, EnetEnglish reposted my blog posting from Rethymnon on the periptero or kiosk that is found on almost every street corner in Greece, and that serves as much more than newsstands. The posting was quickly reposted on websites such as Real Corfu and on the Athens News Facebook page, and has since been shared on countless blogs and Facebook pages on Greece.

One Greek diplomat, now living back in Athens, commented: “From one who knows Greece probably much better than most Greeks, who has an amazing understanding and genuine love for Greece.” We have been good friends for many years, but to read her comments still brought a smile to my face.

It was a true pleasure to be part of EnetEnglish, Eleftherotypia and Greek journalism this year. It was a tiny but positive contribution to life in Greece, which continues to be wracked by economic woes and plagued by a vicious and nasty far-right.

2, Journalism, blogging and freedom of expression

The Graduates’ Memorial Building, Trinity College Dublin … the venue for the debate at ‘the Phil’ about Edward Snowden on 21 November (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

This year has been the second worst year for jailed journalists, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Around the world, 211 journalists, editors and bloggers are in jail, a figure that is marginally below that the peak figure of 232 last year. Turkey still jails more journalists than any other country – there are 40 journalists in Turkish jails – followed by Iran (35), China (32), Eritrea, Vietnam, Syria, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Uzbekistan.

The list does not include journalists who have been abducted or are missing; for instance, at least 30 journalists are missing in Syria. In all, 52 journalists have died this year doing their work, according to CPJ, but Reporters without Borders puts the figure at 71. They include 21 in Syria, six in Egypt and five in Pakistan. Iraq, the Philippines, Algeria, Russia and Syria are the most deadly places for journalists to work.

Journalists remain among the most powerful weapons against state brutality and oppression, so the death and detention of journalists is more than just a personal tragedy. This is probably difficult to imagine in Britain, where the press is still tainted by phone-hacking scandals.

But the threats to freedom of speech and freedom of expression by journalists, editors and bloggers come not only in the form of arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. Any country considering offering asylum to Edward Snowden soon drew down the wrath of Washington, which even tried to block the European flight of one Latin American president when it was rumoured that Edward Snowden was on board his plane.

I don’t know the origins of the saying: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not all out to get you.” But Henry Kissinger once said: “Even a paranoid can have enemies.” I suppose it may just help to explain what has been happening to this blog since the end of last month.

Even in my wildest dreams, I cannot imagine this blog becoming a celebrated and celebrity blog. It is of interest to those who want to read my lecture notes, to re-read my sermons or my columns in local diocesan magazines, or to discuss the boring details of the conditions they share with me – Sarcoidosis and severe Vitamin B12 deficiency.

Occasionally a posting sparkles, and then I hear about – an example was that blog posting from Crete on street-corner kiosks. But, for the most part, my blog postings get few online comments, rarely do I attract more than 900 or 1,000 readers a day, and so I feel I know many of my readers well, and know what you enjoy reading.

I resisted putting a counter on this blog because I wanted to write what was meaningful to me … not to write in order to attract readers in greater numbers. It took a long time to reach the half million mark, and a long time again to notice that I had a million readers. I am not feigning modesty or humility when I express gratitude.

But towards the end of the year something funny started to happen.

Last month [21 November 2013], for the first time ever, the number of hits on this blog passed the 2,000 mark, with 2,004 pageviews that day. The following Tuesday, the numbers passed 2,400. A month later, on 22 December, it reached an all time high of 2,710 hits.

Why, I wondered, was the normal number of visitors to this blog more than doubling?

As I reviewed the hits and the source of traffic, the only coincidence I could identify was that this began on the day I was the guest speaker at a debate in the ‘Phil’ in Trinity College Dublin, speaking out for Edward Snowden, for freedom of information and for freedom of the media.

Of course, those speaking against my team tried to assure all present that those of us who have done nothing wrong have no need to fear the snoopers.

But 2,004 pageviews on that one day? And 2,710 a month later?

Even I do not believe – yet – that I can attract or am deserving of such sudden popularity. Too boring, I thought, and so I let it go. I’m not paranoid enough to draw too many conclusions from such a coincidence.

The traffic became furtive. In just over a month, there have been almost 200 anonymous efforts to post comments to my postings that appear to be meaningless but also appear to carry malicious viruses with them.

I cannot imagine how any person or organisation has the time or the staff to post so many anonymous comments on a blog posting from April 2012 on music in a south Dublin parish. Once yes, but over 40 times? None of the comments was relevant, but all appeared to have malware or bots.

Malware is malicious software used to disrupt computer operations, gather sensitive information, or gain access to private computer systems.

Bots involve the co-ordination and operation of automated attacks, spamming large amounts of content on the Internet, usually adding advertising links.

None of the seeming advertising that was being posted to my blog today could have had any interest to my readers.

I opened none of the links, thankfully. But while Google and Blogger have blocked all these attempts today, I still received email notices for every effort, with the links that failed to get through.

I am anxious to protect the small number of true readers of this blog, and to ensure that when you access these pages your computer is not infected with bots or malware. I pay careful attention each day to posted comments and delete any that have links to advertising that seems dangerous, malicious, distasteful, or that link to sites that run counter to the values I want to promote and encourage.

In particular, I delete comments and links that are racist, sexist, violent, homophobic, misogynist, pornographic and fascist. If anything slips through, let me know, please. When others are offensive, I can be ruthless.

Some readers have protested to others about how I have shared editorial comments or leaders from The Irish Times, and have said to others they wanted them removed … yet they demand freedom of speech for themselves.

I have resisted adding Captcha or similar software to this site because I want to encourage comments from real readers rather than making it more difficult for them. But I may have to do so sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, I am delighted if this blog attracts more readers, but only if they are real readers. I feel sorry for the poor minions who designed the malware and bots that were intended to attack this site today – and with it, my laptop too.

And if one or two people were also taking offence at my remarks last month about Edward Snowden, or what The Irish Times has to say about women bishops, then they need to reconsider their priorities. And I am delighted that this blog passed the 1,111,111 mark in terms of page views on Sunday [29 December 2013].

3, Beach walks at home

Walking on the beach in Bettystown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

I continued finding joy in my regular beach walks, at home and abroad, with walks this year on beaches and by the sea in Ardmore, Bettystown, Bray, Carlingford, Donabate, Dugort, Dún Laoghaire, Greystones, Howth, Inishbiggle, Keel, Keem, Kilcoole, Laytown, Malahide, Mulranny, Portmarnock, Portrane, Rush, Skerries, Sutton and Tramore.

There were walks in the Phoenix Park and rambles through the grounds of Kilruddery House, walks along the cliff walk between Bray Head and Greystones, and country walks in Ballinrobe, Cong and Connemara, and Kilmacanogue. There were walks by the River Boyne in Navan, the River Lee in Cork, along the banks of the Dodder in Rathfarnham, the Barrow in Goresbirdge, the Nore in Kilkenny, the Liffey in Dublin, and by the shores of lakes in Cavan and Connemara.

There were visits to castles including Ashtown Castle in the Phoenix Park, Ashford Castle in Connemara, Dublin Castle, Gormanston Castle, Kilkenny Castle, Malahide Castle and Strokestown House, and to interesting archaeological sites at Ardmore, Ballinrobe, Callan, Carlingford, Duleek and Kilcash. I was in Kilkenny about ten times during the year, for book launches, meetings of the USPG/Us boards, the clergy conference, talks with the Moravian church, a cathedral concert, church history field trips and lectures, and family visits.

I was back in Achill twice this year, once for a quick overnight visit in February, and then in May to speak twice at the Heinrich Böll weekend, which was also a celebration of the 70th birthday of the poet John F Deane.

In tiny Holy Trinity Church on the tiny island of Inishbiggle, I spoke of the history of the Church of Ireland community; in Bunacurry, I spoke about the poet as theologian and the theologian as poet.

4, Return visits to England

Back in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

I was back in England half a dozen times this year. My Easter retreat in Lichfield Cathedral, where I followed the daily cycle of prayer and liturgy, was good for body and soul, spirit and mind, and was back again later in the year.

I stayed each time in the Hedgehog on Stafford Road, and enjoyed regular walks into the cathedral along Beacon Street, walks in Beacon Park, around Minster Pool and Stowe Pool, and in countryside out along Cross in Hand Lane. There was time to meet friends, for meals and to read.

I had two visits to Cambridge this year. After an absence of a year, it was good to return to the annual summer school at Sidney Sussex College organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. The summer school also included a one-day retreat at Saint John’s Orthodox Monastery near Tolleshunt Knights.

In Cambridge, there was time to visit old friends in Saffron Walden, and for walks to Grantchester and Trumptington, along the Cam and by the boathouses.

I visited theological colleges in Oxford and Nottingham, including Ripon College Cuddesdon, Wycliffe Hall and Saint John’s College, to compare notes with colleagues teaching in the same areas.

While I was at the annual conference of Us (formerly USPG) in High Leigh, I added on time for country walks near Broxbourne and Hoddesdon and along the Lea Valley in Hertfordshire and Essex, and walks around Bishop’s Stortford, photographing the parish church and historical buildings.

I also stayed at the guesthouse attached to the Anglican Communion Office in London while I attended a staff day at the Us (USPG) offices in London.

5, Holidays in Italy and Greece

Back in Rethymnon in August and September (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

I spent a week in Italy in July, visiting Sorrento, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Mount Vesuvius, Positano, Amalfi, Ravello and Capri, although I never managed to get to Naples.

Later in the summer, I was back in Rethymnon in Crete, staying again in Pepi Studios in the heart of the old city.

There were trips into the olive groves and the mountains above the city, visits to monasteries and churches, visit to exhibitions in Rethymnon and Iraklion, lazy hours by the beach and the pool, and long, lingering , and delightful meals with friends.

6, Church-based activities

Christ Church Cathedral Dublin on a cold winter’s day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

I preached and celebrated in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. I also preached on Remembrance Day in the chapel of the King’s Hospital, Dublin. I was invited to preach in Annagh Parish Church, Belturbet, Co Cavan; the Chapel of the Mageough Home in Rathmines; Rathgar Methodist Church; Saint Ann’s Church, Dawson Street; Tullow Parish Church, Carrickmines; and the Unitarian Church, Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, where I preached during the 150th anniversary celebrations on ‘Being an Anglican in a Pluralist World’ and spoke later in the year at The Irish Times annual memorial service.

I was the Chaplain at the Porvoo Consultation in Dublin in April 2004; spoke at the annual conference of Affirming Catholicism Ireland.

I attended ordinations in Belfast and Dublin for the dioceses of Connor, Down and Dromore, Dublin and Glendalough and Meath and Kildare; the installation of the new Dean’s Vicar in Cork; and the institution of a new rector in Rahney.

In Whitechurch parish, Rathfarnham, as part of the centenary commemorations of the 1913 lockout, I spoke with Archbishop Michael Jackson and former Irish Times colleague Padraig Yeates at a seminar recalling the role played by the Revd Robert Malcolm Gwynn in the formation of the Irish Citizen’s Army.

During Heritage Week in August, I was invited to lecture on Saint Doulagh’s Church, Balgriffin, on Celtic Spirituality, and in Saint Lachtain’s Church, Freshford, Co Kilkenny, on the history and architecture of the church.

With Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya of Swaziland ... celebrating 300 years of Us/USPG/SPG in Ireland (Photograph: Scott Hayes, 2013)

I continue to serve on the boards of Us in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and as a member of the Council of Us in Britain, taking part in the council meeting in High Leigh; visiting the Us offices in London for staff day; attending the meeting of the Us trustees in Dublin, which included a special Choral Evensong in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and dinner in the Chapter House in Christ Church Cathedral; and bringing Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya of Swaziland and senior Us staff on a walking tour of Dublin.

I renewed my engagement with the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission (DUFEM) during the visit to Dublin of Archbishop Paul Kwong of Hong Kong, meeting him the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, where he preached, and attending a special dinner in his honour in Christ Church Deanery in Dublin.

As well as my retreat during Easter Weekend at Lichfield Cathedral, I was at an Ash Wednesday retreat in Manresa House, Clontarf, and spent a day at the Orthodox Monastery of Saint John in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex.

I remain a member of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, a member of the Council for Christian Unity and Dialogue and the Anglican Affairs Working Group, I am a participant in the dialogue between the Church of Ireland the Moravian Church, and I have been asked to chair the Arts Committee at Christ Church Cathedral. I have also been appointed Visiting Lecturer in Anglicanism in the Meter Dei Institute.

7, Publications and broadcasts:

My photograph on the front cover of the Christmas edition of the Lichfield Gazette

It was particularly satisfying to see dissertations I had supervised going to publication this year.

This year I was invited to contribute to the Lichfield Gazette, writing about architecture, the arts and local history. I wrote for the Jesuit journal Studies, and I continue to write each month for the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel, Ferns and Leighlin), and I write occasionally for The Irish Times, the Church of Ireland Gazette and in the US for Koinonia, which is published in Kansas, Missouri.

Other publications this year include:

“Josiah Hort (1674?-1751), Bishop of Ferns: ‘A Rake, a Bully, a Pimp, or Spy’ and ‘Bp Judas’,” in the Journal of the Wexford Historical Society, No 24 (2012-2013), pp 94-114;

“Comerford Monuments in Callan and the Search for a Family’s Origins,” Chapter 2 (pp 23-39) in Callan 800 (1207-2007) History & Heritage, Companion Volume, ed Joseph Kennedy (Callan: Callan Heritage Society);

“Bale’s Books and Bedell’s Bible: Early Anglican Translations of Word and Liturgy into Irish,” in Salvador Ryan and Brendan Leahy (eds), Treasures of Irish Christianity, Volume II, A People of the Word (Dublin: Veritas), pp 124-128;

“‘Thou my high tower’: The Celtic Revival and Hymn Writers in the Church of Ireland” in Ryan and Leahy (eds), Treasures of Irish Christianity, Volume II, A People of the Word (Dublin: Veritas), pp 203–206.

8, Television and broadcasting work

With Dervla Kirwan on Who do you think you are? ... repeated on television a few times this year

George Hook interviewed me on his radio show following my address as President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at Irish CND’s annual Hiroshima Day commemorations in Merrion Square, Dublin.

Vincent Browne invited me to be a panellist with Professor Salvador Ryan and the Revd Corinna Diestelkamp on Episode 4 of Challenging God, ‘Martin Luther – the Protestant Reformation’ (Sunday 25 August).

The episode of Who do you think you are?, in which I helped Dervla Kirwan trace her Jewish ancestry, was shown again on RTÉ two days later on 27 August 2013, and was repeated on other channels around the world.

I also took part in Neal Delamere’s television mixture of history and comedy, There’s Something About Patrick which was shown on RTÉ in March. It was partly filmed in Christ Church Cathedral and in Trinity College Dublin.

9, Ending the year

At Leonard Cohen’s concert in Dublin in September (Photograph: Patrick Comerford,2013)

This was a year when I attended concerts by Leonard Cohen in Dublin in September and by Neil Hannon (aka The Divine Comedy) in Kilkenny.

This year also marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Greek poet CP Cavafy in Alexandria on 29 April 1863 and the 80th anniversary of his death on 29 April 1933, and I was invited to speak in the Greek school in Dublin on his life and on his poetry.

This was the year for anniversaries remembering Verdi, Wagner, John F Kennedy, CS Lewis, Benjamin Britten, and Dr Who. This was the year we said farewell to Nelson Mandela, Seamus Deane, Sean Freyne, Margaret Thatcher, Doris Lessing, Colm Murray, Alec Reid, Geza Vermes, Jerome Murphy O’Connor, Marcella Pattyn, John Taverner, Lou Reed, Peter O’Toole, Inez MCormack, Iain Banks, Sean Hogan, Seán Mac Connell and David Coleman.

10, Funny ... or not so funny

Nigel Farage ... a funny or a frightening photograph?

Politically, the funniest photograph of the year might have been one in The Times of the UKIP leader Nigel Farage in front of a microphone at a fringe meeting of the Conservative Party. I say might have been with caution, because it makes one fear the reasons some Tories could even consider extending an invitation to a right-wing leader, who admires Enoch Powell and who has been accused of singing Hitler Youth songs with glee in his younger days ... perhaps into a mic just like this.

At an innocent level it reminded me of a Father Ted episode involving a window that needed cleaning. But even that serves as a reminder of how the Tories need to clean up their act, for it is listening to the likes of Nigel Farage that has raised a storm among their troops about relaxed immigration regulations for Bulgarians and Romanians.

The Old Vicarage at Grantchester (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

But I have decided to end my end-of-year review instead on a seasonal note. The Revd John Galbraith Graham, who died in 2013, was known for many years as Araucaria and for his creative crosswords in the Guardian. His clues often included long anagrams, with his favourite appearing in a Christmas puzzle:

O hark the herald angels sing the boy’s descent which lifted up the world.

It was an anagram for “While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground.”

But the best example of his brilliance in clue-setting is:

Poetical scene has surprisingly chaste Lord Archer vegetating (3, 3, 8, 12)

It was a clue to “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester,” the title of a poem by Rupert Brooke. The anagram was a topical reference to Jeffrey Archer who had become the owner of the vicarage and was lying low there at the time following a sex scandal.

It was a surprisingly good year for Irish cricket and a devastating year for English cricket. Once again, I did not see enough rugby this year, or enough cricket ... apart from a Saturday afternoon in Grantchester.

I am sorry to say it was not goodbye to Sarcoidosis this year, or Goodbye to the join pains and balance problems the come with severe Vitamin B-12 deficiency.

So, it is goodbye to Grantchester, goodbye to the bailout, goodbye to Trapattoni, goodbye to 2013. Have a happy New Year in 2014.

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