22 December 2013

Teasing experiences of Four Seasons
on the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Winter lights and snow clouds on the beach at Bettystown, Co Meath, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

The bite of the bitter chills of Christmas weather could be felt along the east coast this afternoon.

Earlier in the morning there was a clear blue above Christ Church Cathedral that looked deceptively like summer skies – but for the bare branches on the trees in front of the Chapter House. But by the time four of us got to Laytown in the afternoon for a late lunch in Bettystown, the rain had turned to sleet, and soon in turned to snow.

Deceptive blue skies but bare branches at Christ Church Cathedral this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Yesterday was the winter solstice, and soon some smart people are going to begin repeating the well-worn Irish mantra: “It won’t be long before you start noticing a grand stretch in the evening.”

But this afternoon I noticed there the bite and chill of winter.

It was as though this Fourth Sunday of Advent was teasing us with some of the experiences of the Four Seasons on one day.

Earlier this morning, at 8.30, I had presided at and preached at the early morning Said Eucharist in the Lady Chapel in the cathedral.

Later, after a light breakfast in a pleasant café in Lord Edward Street, and a little time to skip through the pages of the Economist, I was back in the cathedral to preside at 11 a.m. at the Choral Eucharist.

The Lady Chapel in Christ Church Cathedral before the Said Eucharist early this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The preacher was the Dean of Residence in Trinity College Dublin, the Revd Darren McCallig, and the setting was Tomás Luis da Victoria’s Missa Ave Regina Coelorum, sung by the Cathedral Choir – an appropriate setting for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, when the Gospel reading, the fourth candle on the Advent Wreath, and the Collect and Post-Communion Prayer traditionally remember the Advent role of the Virgin Mary.

This morning’s hymns included: O come, O come, Emmanuel! (Post-Gospel Hymn), by TA Lacey; Long ago, prophets knew (Offertory Hymn), by F. Pratt Green, with its rousing season chorus:

Ring, bells, ring, ring, ring!
Sing, choirs, sing, sing, sing!
When he comes,
When he comes,
Who will make him welcome?

And All for Jesus! all for Jesus! (Communion Hymn), by WJ Sparrow-Simpson, with its tune by John Stainer; and Lo! he comes with clouds descending (Post-Communion Hymn), by Charles Wesley, to the tune Helmsley, attributed to Thomas Olivers.

During the Communion, the choir was in ambulatory to sing a 14th century Latin motet to a setting by Francisco Guerrero (1527–1599):

Ave virgo sanctissima, Dei Mater
piissima, maris stella clarissima.
Salve semper gloriosa, margarita pretiosa,
sicut lilium formosa, nitens, olens velut rosa.

Hail, Holy Virgin, most blessed Mother of God,
bright star of the sea.
Hail, ever glorious, precious pearl, beautiful as the lily,
shining and giving perfume like the rose.

The splendour of Gormanston Castle this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

After coffee in the crypt, and a brief stop in Clontarf, four of us continued north for lunch, stopping on the way so a visitor from New York could see the splendour of Gormanston Castle and the unique Yew Walk in the grounds of my old school, Gormanston College.

Local legend and popular tales given currency by schoolboys say Lord Gormanston created this sculpted yew walk as a triangular-shaped cloister in the late 17th century to appease his daughter and to persuade not to become a nun.

As we were leaving Gormanston, there were heavy black clouds in the sky. As we turned east from Julianstown towards Laytown, the rain started to pour down. Although we still had good views of the river and estuary, we joked that no-one could describe this as “a grand soft day.”

As we drove north along the “Gold Coast” of Co Meath, it was a matter of gold turning to silver as the rain turned to sleet, and then – by the time we got to Bettystown – turning to snow.

Snow on the terrace and tables outside Relish in Bettystown, Co Meath, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

We got a table by the window at Relish, and sat watching the brown, snow filled choppy waters beating against the sands of the shore.

As we waited for our food, two of us descended the steps behind Relish, and as we photograph the winter scene, the snow suddenly stopped, the clouds turned to white and the sky to blue, and there was a blue reflection along the waters in the ripples in the sand. It was possible to imagine we could see as far as the Co Down coast to the north and the Mountains of Mourne that sweep down to the sea.

Looking south towards Laytown from the beach at Bettystown this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

We lingered in the warmth of the welcome at Relish, over an accompanying bottle of Pinot Grigio, and stayed even longer with four double espressos in this winter wonderland. How long is going to be this pleasant? Snow, ice and heavy rain is threatening to sweep across these islands with flooding and severe disruption to traffic over the next 24 hours.

Snow clouds above the Irish Sea at Bettystown this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

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