15 June 2014

From Carlow and Cambridge to the city
centre and the ‘Gold Coast’ of Co Meath

Walking in the summer sunshine in Bettystown, Co Meath, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

It has been a roller-coaster weekend that has taken me to Carlow on Friday, to Cambridge on Saturday, to two inner-city churches in Dublin for Trinity Sunday this morning, and to the ‘Gold Coast’ of Co Meath and the beach at Bettystown this afternoon.

Two of us drove down through Co Wicklow, by the Blessington lakes and through Co Kildare to Carlow late on Friday afternoon for the funeral of a neighbour’s father.

We arrived in Carlow in time for a short stroll through the cathedral town and had an early dinner in Brasserie 15, a new restaurant in Tullow Street in the heart of the town. It was interesting to be reminded as we strolled back along Tullow Street that Carlow is proud of its strong links with George Bernard Shaw.

On the way back to Dublin, the countryside in Co Carlow and Co Kildare was basking in the late evening summer sunshine in an array of greens and yellows and browns.

With Archbishop Rowan Williams, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Metropolitan John Zizioulas and other participants at Saturday’s conference in Westcott House, Cambridge

It was an early start on Saturday morning to get to Cambridge for the conference in Westcott House organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

This one-day conference was a celebration of the life and work of Metropolitan John Zizioulas, who is perhaps the leading living Orthodox theologian. I arrived in time for the Divine Liturgy the college chapel at which Metropolitan John presided and later in the day he speak on “Eschatology: A Challenge to Orthodox Theology.”

At the Divine Liturgy in the chapel of Westcott House, Cambridge, on Saturday morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

In the morning, the Revd Dr Bogdan Bucur, of Duquesne University, spoke on “Eschatology Now: Observations on the Emmaus Story in Luke and Mark’s Longer Ending,” and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Rowan Williams, now Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, spoke on: “The Eucharist and the End of All Things.”

In the afternoon, Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, who is a speaker at IOCS summer school in Cambridge each year, spoke on: “Eschatology and Eucharist: Time and Eternity in the Divine Liturgy.”

At lunchtime in the dining room, the monks of the Monastery of Saint John in Tolleshunt Knights sang a special birthday tribute to Rowan Williams.

There was a little time to stroll around Cambridge in the afternoon sunshine. The place was busy, with garden parties in many colleges, and a sense of weekend fun around the May Bumps and the May Balls.

There was even time to drop into Sidney Sussex College, where I have stayed regularly since 2008. But I was sorry to miss dinner in Westcott House in the evening, but had a flight to catch at Stansted to be back in Dublin this morning.

Bicycles on Sidney Street outside Sidney Sussex College during Saturday’s sunshine in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

This morning was Trinity Sunday, and I presided at the Eucharist and preached in two city centre churches, Saint Werburgh’s in Werburgh Street at 10 a.m. and All Saints’ in Grangegorman at 11.30 a.m.

Saint Werburgh’s Church is close to Dublin Castle and is one of the oldest churches in Dublin, dating back to 1178, when a church was built on this site shortly after the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in Dublin.

The church is named after Saint Werburgh, the Abbess of Ely and patron saint of Chester, who died in 699 AD, and is first mentioned in a letter of Pope Alexander III dated 1179. However, the parish dates back much further than the Anglo-Norman foundation, In Viking Dublin, the parish church was named after Saint Martin of Tours, and the church stood near the south end of Werburgh Street.

The original Saint Werburgh’s was burned down in 1300, along with much of Dublin, and was rebuilt. From the time of Archbishop Henry de Loundres, who died in 1228, Saint Werburgh’s was linked with the Chancellors of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

When the church of Saint Mary del Dam on nearby Dame Street was closed by 1559, the two parishes were merged and Saint Werburgh’s became the parish church of Dublin Castle.

The clergy of Saint Werburgh’s in the past have included Archbishop James Ussher, who was appointed to the church in 1607; and Edward Wetenhall, later Bishop of Kilmore and author of the well-known Greek and Latin grammars; Dr Patrick Delany (1685-1768), was rector in 1730; and his friend Jonathan Swift was baptised there.

In the 17th century, there were conflicts between Saint Werburgh’s and the neighbouring parish of Saint John the Evangelist in in Fishamble Street over parish boundaries involving houses in Copper Alley and around Essex Gate and Essex Bridge.

A new church was built on the site in 1719, at a cost of £8,000. It was damaged by fire in 1754 and reopened in 1759.

The majestic interior of Saint Werburgh’s Church, Dublin, this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Later in the 18th century, Saint Werburgh’s became a fashionable city centre church, attended by the Lord Lieutenant and his entourage, and with a reserved Viceregal pew. Saint Werburgh’s was the Chapel Royal attached to Dublin Castle, and in 1767 the Royal Arms were carved on the west gallery, under the vice-regal pew in which the Lord Lieutenant sat when he came to qualify himself for his high office. Viceroys were sworn into office there, and seats were reserved for the officers and soldiers until 1888.

The pulpit was first designed for the Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle. It is said to have been carved by the celebrated Jacobean wood-carver, Grinling Gibbons, although it may have been the work of one of his students, Richard Steward.

The intricate carvings include the arms of the bishops of Ireland and the heads of the four evangelists, Saint Matthew, Saint Mark, Saint Luke and Saint John. The pulpit was moved from the Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle when Lord Carlisle decided he preferred a pulpit of Portland stone.

One of the carved heads on the pulpit in Saint Werburgh’s Church, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The organ was first built in the 18th century by Ferdinand Weber and, like the organ in Saint Michan’s, it too claims links with George Frideric Handel. It is said Handel used this organ for the rehearsal of his Messiah before its first performance in the Great Music Hall, Fishamble Street, in 1742.

The church also holds a 15th or 16th century tomb of the Earls of Kildare which was moved there from the Priory of All Hallows after the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII.

The vestry in the church looks out onto a small churchyard and there are 27 vaults beneath the church. The burials in Saint Werburgh’s include: Nicholas Sutton, (1478) Attorney General for Ireland, whose family had lived in Werburgh Street for generations; Sir James Ware (1666), historian; John Edwin (1805), actor; Lord Edward FitzGerald (1798), leader of the United Irishmen; and his captor, Major Sirr (1841).

Lord Edward FitzGerald is buried in a vault that was reserved for the Rectors of St Werburgh’s. His coffin bore no name but the initials ‘E.F.’ were scratched onto it by an old man who recognised Lord Edward’s aunt, Lady Louisa Connolly, as the sole mourner at his burial.

The church spire was removed in 1810 as a security measure because it overlooked the grounds of Dublin Castle, and the tower was removed 26 years later. The church also boasts two of the earliest fire engines in Ireland, dating from a time when parishes were responsible for putting out fires in their areas.

This morning, I preached in a smaller pulpit rather than the grand carved Gothic pulpit. Later, as the Post-Communion hymn was being sung, there was a surprise Father’s Day present from the children of the parish. And there was a surprise Father’s Day present later in the morning from a parishioner in All Saints’ Church – a “Father’s Day present for Father,” the Romanian woman told me with a smile as she gave me Italian truffles.

Looking across to the Mountains of Mourne from the beach at Bettystown, Co Meath, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The sunshine was bright as we left Phibsboro and Glasnevin in the early afternoon. After a short visit to Glasnevin to inquire about available historical tours, two of us continued north to the ‘Gold Coast’ of Co Meath and Bettystown, where we walked the beach and had lunch in Relish.

As we walked the beach, the Mountains of Mourne were clearly visible along the Co Down coast in the distance to the north.

We returned through Balbriggan to Skerries and finally got back to south Dublin to enjoy a glass of wine in the garden in the evening as the sun faded slowly.

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