31 October 2014

Visiting the country house in Co Wicklow
where Wittgenstein lived and worked

Kilpatrick House … Ludwig Wittgenstein lived and wrote here from December 1947 to April 1948 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

My search for places associated with Ludwig Wittgenstein’s visits to Ireland continued this afternoon with a visit to Kilpatrick House near Redcross, the house where Austrian philosopher lived and worked from December 1947 to April 1948.

Kilpatrick House is an elegant 18th century Georgian country house set at the foot of Kilpatrick Hill in the hills between the Wicklow Mountains and the coast at Brittas Bay. The house is just an hour from Dublin yet is close to sandy beaches, woodland trails, golf courses, the Wicklow Mountains and the other attractions Co Wicklow.

Kilpatrick House is just minutes from Ballymoyle Wood, a large area of natural woodland hosting a rich variety of flora and fauna, while Brittas Bay is just 5 km east of the house. Glendalough, the Vale of Avoca and Avondale House and Forest Park are also close at hand.

Kilpatrick House was built about 1750 by the Howard family of Shelton Abbey for their land agents (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Kilpatrick House was built around 1750 by Ralph Howard (1726-1786), 1st Lord Wicklow, a local landowner, as one of three houses to accommodate his agents or rent collectors. Lord Wicklow was eldest son of Robert Howard (1670-1740), Bishop of Elphin, and before becoming a peer was MP in the Irish House of Commons for Co Wicklow (1761-1765).

The last holder of the family title was William Howard, 8th Earl of Wicklow (1902-1978), who was educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford, before entering Saint Stephen’s House, Oxford. His Oxford friends and contemporaries included Evelyn Waugh and John Betjeman.

After his ordination to the priesthood in the Church of England, he worked with the Magdalen Mission in Somers Town. He was a devout Anglo-Catholic, but he became a Roman Catholic in 1932, and from then on lived as a layman. He was disinherited by his father and banished from the family home at Shelton Abbey near Arklow on Sundays because he was seen as an embarrassment when he went to Mass with the servants.

During World War I, he was a captain in the Royal Fusiliers, but returned home and in 1946 succeeded his father as Earl of Wicklow. In 1959, he married Eleanor Butler (1915-1997), an architect and author of school textbooks who was also a Labour Senator (1948-1951). When he died in 1978, the title became extinct.

Kilpatrick House is close to all the attractions Co Wicklow has to offer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Meanwhile, Kilpatrick House has been the Kingston family home and a working farm for three generations. The house first opened as a guesthouse in 1941, and one of the earliest and most eminent guests was the Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who stayed there from 1947 to 1948.

While he was staying at Kilpatrick House, Wittgenstein worked on one of his major treatises, Philosophical Investigations, now accepted as a classic of 20th century philosophy.

In his letters from Kilpatrick House to friends in Cambridge, Wittgenstein complains of feeling old and tired. “I have, somehow, an old soul,” he wrote on 5 February 1948. He complained of “occasional … states of nervous instability” that taught him how to pray.

In March 1948, he complained that his work was “progressing very slowly and painfully,” adding: “I wish I had more working power and didn’t tire so very easily … my brain feels very stuffy indeed.”

In another letter later that month, he said: “I often believe that I am on the straight road to insanity. It is difficult for me to imagine that my brain should stand the strain very long. That I dread this end I needn’t say … May our fate not be too terrible! and may we be given courage.”

While he was staying at Kilpatrick House, Wittgenstein kept in touch with his former Cambridge student and friend, Dr Maurice O’Connor Drury. Con Drury had once been an Anglican ordinand at Westcott House, Cambridge, but by the late 1940s he was working as a psychiatrist in Saint Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin, and Saint Edmundsbury’s Hospital, Lucan.

Wittgenstein and Drury met about once a month in Dublin while the Viennese philosopher was staying at Kilpatrick House. In April 1948, he had moved from Kilpatrick House to Con Drury’s holiday home in the west of Ireland, Rosro Cottage in Renvyle, Co Galway, and stayed there until the following October. This is now the Killary Harbour Youth Hostel.

From Co Galway, Wittgenstein moved to Ross’s Hotel, now the Ashling Hotel in Parkgate Street, and he remained there until June 1949. In all he spent 18 months in Ireland before returning to Cambridge, where he died in 1961.

The plaque at the entrance to Kilpatrick House marking the 50th anniversary of Wittgenstein’s death (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

To mark the 50th anniversary of Wittgenstein’s death, the Austrian embassy erected a plaque at the entrance to Kilpatrick House in November 2001. Every year, visitors from all over the world call to the house where Wittgenstein stayed, worked and found inspiration.

We were there on our own this afternoon, and we never got to see Saint Patrick’s Well in the grounds of Kilpatrick House. Local legend says Saint Patrick blessed the well before he set out on his journey north to convert Ireland to Christianity.

From Redcross, we had planned to return to the N11 at Jack White’s and to go for a walk on the beach at Brittas Bay. But the afternoon weather was looking dull and grey, and rain was threatening. Instead we had a late lunch in an autumnal setting at the Avoca Garden Café in Mount Usher Gardens near Ashford, and a stroll through the garden centre and shops before heading back through the Glen of the Downs to south Dublin.

Lunch at the Avoca Garden Café at Mount Usher Gardens near Ashford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

‘By thy Cross and Passion,
Good Lord, deliver us’

‘By thy Cross and Passion, Good Lord, deliver us’ (Litany 1) … a carving at the end of a prayer desk in the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels, Penkridge, Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

This morning in the Chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, we are using the modern-language version of the Litany in the Book of Common Prayer (2004) of the Church of Ireland.

The Litany has the advantages of both simplicity and of praying for everything, including those things we are likely to leave out of our prayers.

The Church of Ireland Directory is mistaken when it comes to the Psalms for this morning, and repeats yesterday’s appointed Psalms. But the appointed readings being used this morning (Psalm 90, Revelation 13: 1-10) are reminders that in the Calendar of the Church we are preparing for All Saints’ Day (1 November), All Souls’ Day (2 November), and Remembrance Sunday (9 November).

Of course many people who are celebrating Hallowe’en this evening will have no idea of how this day has deep roots in the Christian calendar. When he was Dean of Liverpool, Archbishop Justin Welby designed a service to appeal to a new generation that is not associated with church-going, and called it ‘Night of the Living Dead.’

It was an inventive, creative and appropriate title, for Hallowe’en ought not yo be about ghouls and ghosts but instead ought to be the evening of preparation for All Saints’ Day. Then, if we truly believe that those who have died in Christ are alive in him, an evening preparing for remembering all the saints would be appropriately a joyous night for celebrating and remembering the living dead.

Many of the verses in Psalm 90 which we are parying this morning are incorporated into the traditional biddings and prayers for Remembrance Day, and the reading from the Book of Revelation concludes with the verses:

Let anyone who has an ear listen:
If you are to be taken captive,
into captivity you go;
if you kill with the sword, with the sword you must be killed.
Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints (Revelation 13: 9-10).

I am speaking tomorrow afternoon [1 November 2014] at the autumn conference of the Church of Ireland Historical Society in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on ‘The Archbishops of Dublin and the Deanery of Penkridge: a mediaeval peculiar in the Diocese of Lichfield.’

In preparing my PowerPoint illustrations for this paper, I came across a photograph from Penkridge Church that I have used on the cover of the brochure for this morning’s service.

It is a carving on the end of a prayer desk and has a simple quotation from the traditional version of the Litany in the Book of Common Prayer.

The Collect of the Day:

Blessed Lord,
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
Help us to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the blessed hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

The Collect (All Saints’ Day):

Almighty God,
you have knit together your elect
in one communion and fellowship
in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord:
Grant us grace so to follow your blessed saints
in all virtuous and godly living
that we may come to those inexpressible joys
that you have prepared for those who truly love you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect (All Souls’ Day, Common Worship):

Eternal God, our maker and redeemer,
grant us, with all the faithful departed,
the sure benefits of your Son’s saving passion
and glorious resurrection
that, in the last day,
when you gather up all things in Christ,
we may with them enjoy the fullness of your promises;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

30 October 2014

Reminders of Philip Larkin’s poetry in
Penkridge and a Lichfield house sale

There are so many monuments to the Littleton family inside the Church that it times it seems like a Littleton family mausoleum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

I am speaking on Saturday afternoon [1 November 2014] at the autumn conference of the Church of Ireland Historical Society in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on ‘The Archbishops of Dublin and the Deanery of Penkridge: a mediaeval peculiar in the Diocese of Lichfield.’

Wandering around Penkridge Church on a summer’s day earlier this year, and as I gazed on the collection of Littleton family tombs, resplendent with squires, wives, children, heraldic arms and pet dogs, I was reminded of Philip Larkin’s poem, ‘An Arundel Tomb’:

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd–
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends could see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
Their air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the grass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone finality
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

– (Philip Larkin, ‘An Arundel Tomb,’ The Whitsun Weddings, 1964)

Of course, Philip Larkin and his family lived for some time in Lichfield. Peter Young, Town Clerk of Lichfield, has spoken on a number of occasions – to Lichfield Discovered (2014), to Lichfield Speakers’ Corner Group (2012), and to Lichfield Civic Society (2008) – about Philip Larkin (1922-1985) and his associations with Lichfield.

Peter has been town clerk of Lichfield since 1987, and is only the 26th clerk of the City since 1583. He was a student at Hull University when Larkin was the Chief Librarian, and jokes that Larkin once said of Lichfield: “God this place is dull.”

Larkin was born in Coventry, the only son and younger child of Sydney and Eva Larkin. Sydney Larkin (1884-1948) was from Lichfield and his family’s long-standing associations with Lichfield date back to 1757. Some Larkin families lived at both No 21 and 49 Tamworth Street, Lichfield, and the family graves are in Saint Michael’s Churchyard.

Philip Larkin entered Saint John’s College, Oxford, in October 1940. Following the Coventry blitz in 1940, Sydney and Eva Larkin moved with their family to 33 Cherry Orchard, Lichfield, the family home of an aunt and uncle. Sydney Larkin continued to work in Coventry, while his wife Eva stayed in Lichfield.

However, the house was too small for all the Larkins, and Philip moved out to another house in Cherry Orchard. There he had a room to himself and regularly drank in the George.

The George Hotel, Lichfield ... a favoured drinking place for the poet Philip Larkin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

While he was in Lichfield, Larkin wrote three poems: ‘Christmas 1940,’ ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Out in the lane I pause,’ in which he described his walk into the centre of Lichfield one night.

‘Out in the lane I pause’ was written when he returned to Lichfield for a Christmas holiday in 1940. In this poem, he stands alone under a starless sky beside the railway bridge, contemplating the futures of the ‘Girls and their soldiers from the town’ whose steps he can hear on the steep road towards the shops. From his invisible vantage point, he contemplates the disappointments to come:

Each in their double Eden closed
They fail to see the gardener there
Has planted double error.

The critic and biographer of Larkin James Booth says there is a touch of John Donne about the Biblical rhetoric in this poem and in its complicated rhymed stanzas. Larkin imagines the lovers going their separate ways from each other, and turning back in the future with ‘puzzled tears’:

So through the dark I walk, and feel
The ending year about me lapse,
Dying, into formal shapes
Of field and tree;
And think I fear its faint appeal
Addressed to all who seek for joy,
But mainly me.

In his lectures, Peter Young suggested that Larkin may have referred to the Gazebo and the White Lady at the Swan in these poems.

After graduating in 1943, Larkin worked in libraries in Wellington, Shropshire, University College, Leicester, and for five years at Queen’s University, Belfast (1950-1955). From 1955, until his death in 1985 he was a librarian at Hull University. Shortly before his death he turned down the position of Poet Laureate following the death of John Betjeman in 1984.

In 1977, the ashes of Philip Larkin’s mother, Eva, were buried in Saint Michael’s Churchyard, Lichfield, and both Eva and Sydney are named on tablets among the raised stones, although the poet is buried at Cottingham, near Hull.

Larkin’s former home in Lichfield, a five-bedroom house at 33 Cherry Orchard, Lichfield WS14 9AN, was put on the market earlier this year [26 June 2014] by the Lichfield Estate Agent John German of 29 Bore Street, Lichfield, WS13 6LZ, with a guide price of £550,000.

Philip Larkin’s temporary home at 33 Cherry Orchard, Lichfield, was placed on the market earlier this year (Photograph courtesy John German, Lichfield)

29 October 2014

Matthew 25: 1-13: ‘Keep awake therefore,
for you know neither the day nor the hour’

Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom (Matthew 25: 1)

Patrick Comerford

In this tutorial group on Wednesday mornings, we are looking at the readings for Sunday week. Next Sunday week [9 November 2014] is the Third Sunday before Advent (Proper 27) and the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) for that day are: Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78: 1-7; I Thessalonians 4: 13-18; and Matthew 25: 1-13.

But that Sunday is also Remembrance Day, and in many parishes in the Church of Ireland the challenge may be to relate the readings to any commemorations of Remembrance Day.

Matthew 25: 1-13

1 [ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς,] Τότε ὁμοιωθήσεται ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν δέκα παρθένοις, αἵτινες λαβοῦσαι τὰς λαμπάδας ἑαυτῶν ἐξῆλθον εἰς ὑπάντησιν τοῦ νυμφίου. 2 πέντε δὲ ἐξ αὐτῶν ἦσαν μωραὶ καὶ πέντε φρόνιμοι. 3 αἱ γὰρ μωραὶ λαβοῦσαι τὰς λαμπάδας αὐτῶν οὐκ ἔλαβον μεθ' ἑαυτῶν ἔλαιον: 4 αἱ δὲ φρόνιμοι ἔλαβον ἔλαιον ἐν τοῖς ἀγγείοις μετὰ τῶν λαμπάδων ἑαυτῶν. 5 χρονίζοντος δὲ τοῦ νυμφίου ἐνύσταξαν πᾶσαι καὶ ἐκάθευδον.

6 μέσης δὲ νυκτὸς κραυγὴ γέγονεν, Ἰδοὺ ὁ νυμφίος, ἐξέρχεσθε εἰς ἀπάντησιν [αὐτοῦ]. 7 τότε ἠγέρθησαν πᾶσαι αἱ παρθένοι ἐκεῖναι καὶ ἐκόσμησαν τὰς λαμπάδας ἑαυτῶν. 8 αἱ δὲ μωραὶ ταῖς φρονίμοις εἶπαν, Δότε ἡμῖν ἐκ τοῦ ἐλαίου ὑμῶν, ὅτι αἱ λαμπάδες ἡμῶν σβέννυνται. 9 ἀπεκρίθησαν δὲ αἱ φρόνιμοι λέγουσαι, Μήποτε οὐ μὴ ἀρκέσῃ ἡμῖν καὶ ὑμῖν: πορεύεσθε μᾶλλον πρὸς τοὺς πωλοῦντας καὶ ἀγοράσατε ἑαυταῖς. 10 ἀπερχομένων δὲ αὐτῶν ἀγοράσαι ἦλθεν ὁ νυμφίος, καὶ αἱ ἕτοιμοι εἰσῆλθον μετ' αὐτοῦ εἰς τοὺς γάμους,καὶ ἐκλείσθη ἡ θύρα. 11 ὕστερον δὲ ἔρχονται καὶ αἱ λοιπαὶ παρθένοι λέγουσαι,Κύριε κύριε, ἄνοιξον ἡμῖν. 12 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐκ οἶδα ὑμᾶς. 13 Γρηγορεῖτε οὖν, ὅτι οὐκ οἴδατε τὴν ἡμέραν οὐδὲ τὴν ὥραν.

Translation (NRSV):

1 [Jesus said:] ‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.

6 But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9 But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” 12 But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’

‘Pax 1919’ ... the spires of Lichfield Cathedral seen from the gates of the Garden of Remembrance … how do we remember the war dead in our cathedrals and churches on Remembrance Sunday? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The context of the readings:

Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25

The people who were once slaves but were freed and who have spent 40 years in the wilderness have now arrived in the Promised Land, and this has been divided among the tribes. They gather at Shechem, on the edge of the hill country, 50 km north of Jerusalem. Here Abraham had built an altar to commemorate his meeting with God; here Jacob set up camp, bought land, and erected an altar; here Joseph was buried.

This reading describes a treaty between God and his people, like a treaty between a victorious king and a vanquished people, who in return for protection undertake obligations, including revering the Lord (verse 14), and with warnings about the consequences of breaches in the terms of the treaty (verse 20).

The people are free to worship God or the local gods, but they elect to serve God (verse 15), recognise all God has done for them, and choose to serve him.

[Discussion: How would you relate this reading to Remembrance Day and God’s protection of a people in conflict or when they have been vanquished?]

Psalm 78: 1-7

This psalm recounts the story of the liberated slaves and their descendants, from the Exodus to the reign of David. In this way, it teaches that God has continued his saving acts in history despite the unfaithfulness of his people. They should recount for generations to come how God has intervened in human affairs through his “power” and “wonderful works” (verse 4).

[Discussion: Does God continue to work through mighty acts and in history?]

I Thessalonians 4: 13-18

Saint Paul has just urged his readers to live a godly, ethical life “because the Lord is an avenger” (verse 6). Now he raises an important question about what about those who have “fallen asleep,” those who have already died (verse 13).

Understanding this, he says, is important so that we may have hope, because we believe in the crucified and risen Christ, and that through him, God will bring those who are asleep into his company (verse 14). In verses 16-17, Saint Paul express a basic truth in terms of the cosmology of the day (with heaven above and the earth below): at the time of the second coming, God will descend, those who are already dead will rise, then we who are alive will ascend, joining those who have already died. And so we will all be with God forever (verse17).

[Discussion: is there an appropriate way of remembering the dead on this Sunday? Is there a border between remembering the dead and glorifying war?]

Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you’ (Matthew 25: 11-12)

Looking at the Gospel reading:

The setting for this morning’s reading is on the Mount of Olives, looking down on the Temple, where Christ has teaching in the week leading up to the Passover, and in the week leading up to his passion, death and resurrection. In the Church Calendar, we are also preparing for the Season of Advent, when we think about his Second Coming, as King in Glory, at the end of time: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 23: 39).

In the verses before this reading (24: 45-51), Christ tells the parable of a master who leaves his household for a time, but suddenly returns. If, while he is away, his servant lives a godly, ethical life, he is “blessed” when the master returns. On the other hand, if he thinks his master is delayed in returning, misbehaves and lives a life of debauchery, he will be condemned when the master returns.

In fact, the master will return when he least expects him.

Christ is speaking about the connection we should make between how we live now and what will happen at the Second Coming.

This reading is another parable Christ tells about the end of time, the Second Coming, the coming of the Kingdom of God.

In Christ’s day, weddings could last for days, as we know from the story of the Wedding at Cana (see John 2: 1-11). Weddings still go on, for days on end, in Greece today.

In Christ’s day, the groom and his family would gather at his household, while the bride and her family and guests would gather at her household. The groom and his family then make their way to the bride’s house to meet bride. When the groom arrived, he would take the bride inside, the marriage would be consummated and the wedding celebrations would continue.

In this parable, the party goes ahead without the bridesmaids who have not prepared themselves properly for the arrival of the groom, and who hastily rush away and try to return in the pretence that they had been prepared all along.

It was normal at Jewish weddings for the bridegroom to be delayed (verse 5). So the sudden, early arrival of the bridegroom (verses 10) is unexpected and surprising to those who are the first to listen to the telling of this parable.

Each of the wise bridesmaids has made her preparation and has made sure she is spiritually prepared. But being prepared is something we cannot transfer to others. Their refusal to give oil to the foolish bridesmaids is not an act of selfishness but a lesson in how each of us is expected to make his or her own preparations.

The surprise created by the early arrival of the bridegroom is added to as two further developments unfold in the story: the door is shut against those who arrive late (verse 10); and the groom refuses to recognise the foolish bridesmaids: “I do not know you” (verse 12). Those who are not prepared, or are too late in their preparation, are refused entry to the Kingdom.

The surprise is shocking when we think that this is the same Jesus who taught, healed, and broke bread with anyone who would join him, and who has particular compassion for the poor and outcast. Why now is Christ portrayed as someone who would shut the door on half of those who are waiting for his arrival?

But what are the expectations of the majority of people in our society today?

What would they prefer most?

The values of this world’s kingdoms … or the demands and expectations of the Kingdom of God?

The exhortation to “Keep awake” (verse 13) is a call to be prepared – for the coming of the Kingdom of God, for the Second Coming of Christ.

And how ought we to do this?

Think back to the readings of the three previous Sundays, about rendering onto God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22: 15-22); about living by the two great commandments – loving God and loving our neighbour (Matthew 22: 34-36); and about living by the spirit and not merely by the letter of the Law of God when it comes to discipleship (Matthew 23: 1-12).

Some additional notes:

The Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens … the word παρθένος has resonances that go beyond single, chaste women (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Verse 1: The Greek word the NRSV translates as “bridesmaid” and the RSV as “maidens” is παρθένος, which means a virgin, a marriageable maiden, a woman who has never had sexual intercourse with a man, or a marriageable daughter.

But this word has resonances that go beyond single, chaste women. This is the word that also gives us the name of the Parthenon in Athens. Athena Parthenos ( Ἀθηνᾶ Παρθένος, Athena the Virgin) was the title of a giant-size statue in gold and ivory of the Greek goddess Athena in the Parthenon in Athens.

It was the best-known cult image of Athens, and was seen as the greatest achievement of Phidias, the most acclaimed sculptor in ancient Greece.

There may be a reference here, therefore, to cult worship, often in the night and under the cover of darkness, and true worship of God, which should take place in the light. If so, there is an interesting connection between this Gospel reading and the persistent Johannine theme of darkness and light and the true worship Christ invites us to take part in.

Other Johannine parallels can be found in the Book of Revelation:

“Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19: 7).

“And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21: 2).

Verse 2: The wise and foolish young women can be compared to the wise and foolish man who each build a house (see Matthew 7: 24).

Verse 3: Oil is not only a symbol of life but also a symbol of repentance and anointing (see Matthew 6: 17.


Almighty Father,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the king of all:
Govern the hearts and minds of those in authority,
and bring the families of the nations,
divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin,
to be subject to his just and gentle rule;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer

God of peace,
whose Son Jesus Christ proclaimed the kingdom
and restored the broken to wholeness of life:
Look with compassion on the anguish of the world,
and by your healing power
make whole both people and nations;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group with MTh students on 29 October 2014.

28 October 2014

A Service of the Word for a commemoration
of the First World War in a local church

A simple war memorial in Saint Michan’s Church, Church Street, Dublin … the Liturgical Advisory Committee has produced ‘A Service of the Word for a commemoration of the First World War in a Local Church’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

The Church of Ireland Notes’ in The Irish Times last Saturday [25 October 2014] said:

“This year, as remembrance tide approaches there will be a particular emphasis on the events of World War I and the Church of Ireland is seeking to relate to this in a number of ways. In many parishes there has been much local research, centred on parish war memorials on those who fought and those who died and they will be a particular focus for remembrance.

“The Liturgical Advisory Committee has produced ‘A Service of the Word for a commemoration of the First World War in a Local Church.’ It has been posted on the Church of Ireland Worship page http://ireland.anglican.org/worship from where it can be downloaded and reproduced locally. The LAC hopes that this will prove beneficial to those parishes wishing to commemorate the centenary of the start of World War I on Remembrance Sunday, or at some other appropriate time.”

My introduction to this resource says:

A Service of the Word
for a commemoration of the
First World War
in a Local Church

Remembering World War I:

The number of events to commemorate multiplies for the years 2014-2018. Understandably, much of the attention is going to focus on the centenary of the landings at Suvla Bay and the Gallipoli Campaign, between 25 April 1915 and 9 January 1916, and on the Battle of the Somme, which was fought 1 July and 18 November 1916.

A conservative estimate says nearly 4,000 Irish troops died in the 1915 Gallipoli campaign, but the figure is probably much higher.

On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the 5,500 casualties of the 36th Ulster Division on 1 July were men drawn almost entirely from one community in Ulster. Nearly 2,000 soldiers from cities, towns, villages and townlands in Northern Ireland were killed in the first few hours of fighting.

In a continuation of the same battle, the 16th Irish Division had 4,330 casualties in September, of whom 1,200 were killed. These came mainly from the other three provinces.

In addition, many more Irish soldiers fought in other divisions of the regular army or in the newly-raised battalions. The total number of Irish casualties cannot be calculated with certainty but they affected every part of the island and continue to influence the evolution of Irish politics.

The Battle of the Somme is an important but often politicised commemoration in Northern Ireland, yet in both campaigns men from both parts of the island and from both traditions fought side-by-side suffered together, and sustained, encouraged and cared for each other.

Many of the stories from both campaigns remain untold. The majority of the Irish regiments, not all based on this island, have been disbanded, and the loss of continuity means the loss of story-telling. In addition, the changing political climate in Southern Ireland meant former soldiers and families felt they were forced into silence. Those who had gone out in bravery and thought they were returning home as heroes, now found their stories could not be told, and feared being marginalised as ‘traitors.’ Heroism and bravery were forgotten, and those who suffered, both former soldiers and their families, often suffered in silence.

In the new Irish Free State, even the promise of secure jobs for returning soldiers often disappeared.

In giving voice to the silenced generation, the Church must give voice to their suffering, their untold stories, their bravery and heroism. Perhaps they answered the call from Redmond to fight for the freedom of small nations; perhaps they hoped their decision would bring financial security and employment for their family and for future generations.

How we design and structure our commemorations can restore these hopes and give new hope for the security they sought for future generations.

Confession and thanksgiving, in the proper proportions and in creative tension and balance, can help achieve this.

Patrick Comerford

The service and additional full resources can be downloaded here.

The pulpit in Saint Iberius’s Church, Wexford, serves as a World War I memorial (Photograph: Patrick Comerford,2014)

Saint Simon and Saint Jude: they
just about make it onto the first XI

Saint Simon and Saint Jude … not ‘celebrity saints’ but worth remembering

Patrick Comerford

Saint Simon and Saint Jude: 28 October 2014:

Isaiah 28: 14-16; Psalm 119: 89-96; Ephesians 2: 19-22; John 15: 17-27.

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

This morning we celebrate Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Apostles.

How wonderful to have Simon reads the Gospel on this day. But in Dublin today, if you asked who Saint Simon is, apart from Simon here, you might be told Saint Simon cares for the homeless and the misfits.

If you asked who Jude is, you might be told he is “Obscure” – or the Patron of Lost Causes.

They are little known as apostles, without fame.

In an age obsessed with reality television, the X-Factor and celebrities who are celebrities – just because they are – Simon and Jude appear like a pair of misfits: we know little about their lives or how they lived them, they are hardly famous among the disciples, and they certainly are not celebrity apostles.

Simon and Jude are way down the list of the Twelve Apostles, and their names are often confused or forgotten. In the New Testament lists of the Twelve (Matthew 10: 2-4; Mark 3: 16-19; Luke 6: 14-16; Acts 1: 13), they come in near the end, in tenth and eleventh places. Well, with Judas in twelfth place, they just about make it onto the “first eleven.”

The ninth name on the lists is James, the James who was remembered here last Thursday. Judas or Jude is often referred to as “the brother of James” and this in turn leads to him being identified with the “brothers of the Lord.” So, on this day, we celebrate Simon the Zealot, one of the original Twelve; and Jude or Judas of James, also one of the Twelve and author of the Epistle of Jude.

But poor Simon is not mentioned by name in the New Testament except on these lists – after all, there is a better-known Simon than this Simon: there is Simon Peter. As for Jude, his name is so close to Judas – in fact, their names are the same (Ιούδας) – is it any wonder that he became known as the patron saint of lost causes? Trying to remember him might have been a lost cause.

After the Last Supper, Jude asked Christ why he chose to reveal himself only to the disciples, and received the reply: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14: 22-23).

In his brief Epistle, Jude says he planned to write a different letter, but then heard of the misleading views of some false teachers. He makes a passionate plea to his readers to preserve the purity of the Christian faith and their good reputation.

The Epistle includes a memorable exhortation to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3), and ends with that wonderful closing: “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).

But after that, surprisingly, we know very little about the later apostolic missions of Simon and Jude, where they were missionaries or whether they were martyred.

In truth, we know very little about these two saints, bundled together at the end of a list, like two hopeless causes. There was no danger of them being servants who might want to be greater than their master (John 15: 20). All we can presume is that they laboured on, perhaps anonymously, in building up the Church.

But then the Church does not celebrate celebrities who are famous and public; we honour the saints who labour and whose labours are often hidden.

In our Gospel reading, the Apostles are warned about suffering the hatred of “the world.” Later as the Gospel was spread around the Mediterranean, isolated Christians may not have realised how quickly the Church was growing; in their persecutions and martyrdom, they may have felt forlorn and that Christianity was in danger of being a lost cause.

But in our Gospel reading, Christ encourages a beleaguered Church to see its afflictions and wounds as his own.

No matter how much we suffer in our ministry and mission, no matter how others may forget us, no matter how obscure we become, no matter how many people forget our names, no matter how often our labouring in the Gospel appear to others to be a lost cause, we can be assured that we are no longer strangers and aliens, that we are citizens with the saints, that we are building up the household of God upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ himself as the cornerstone, and that we are being built together spiritually into the dwelling place of God (Ephesians 2: 19-22).

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


Almighty God, who built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone: So join us together in unity of spirit by their doctrine that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord God, the source of truth and love: Keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, united in prayer and the breaking of the bread, and one in joy and simplicity of heart, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This reflection was shared at the Eucharist on the Feast Day of Saint Simon and Saint Jude, 28 October 2014.

27 October 2014

From Avondale to Ardavon, visiting
Parnell’s home and a ruined house

Avondale House … the birthplace of Charles Stewart Parnell, was designed by the Lichfield architect James Wyatt (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

The extended bank holiday weekend has come to an end, the clocks have gone back, and although some leaves are clinging to the trees and the weather was still in the high teens this afternoon, autumn is visibly turning to winter.

Two of us planned to use this extra one-day holiday for a walk on the beach at Bray, Co Wicklow. But as we drove towards Bray this afternoon we were caught up in listening a documentary on Leonard Cohen by John McKenna on RTÉ.

We kept driving south through the Wicklow hills as we listened, and decided instead, as the programme came to an end, to visit Avondale House, the birthplace and home of Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891) near Rathdrum.

Avondale House is set in 2 sq km of forest park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Avondale House, with the Charles Stewart Parnell Museum, is set in a magnificent forest park of over 2 sq km (500 acres) with tree trails and walks, with trees from all over the world and the tallest collection of trees in Ireland.

This fine Georgian House was designed by James Wyatt (1746-1813), who was born at Weeford, on the southern edges of Lichfield, and was engaged in the restoration of Lichfield Cathedral in 1788-1795.

Avondale House was built earlier in 1777-1779 for Samuel Hayes, a barrister who was also an expert on forestry and a pioneer of the re-afforestation of Ireland. At the same time, Wyatt was designing Farnham House near Cavan for the Maxwell-Barry family of Newtownbarry (Bunclody), Co Wexford, and he also designed Curraghmore House near Portlaw for the Beresofrd family, Marquesses of Waterford.

Hayes planted many thousands of trees on the estate. In 1795, he bequeathed Avondale House to his friend and fellow MP Sir John Parnell, and Sir John Parnell’s great-grandson Charles Stewart Parnell was born there in 1846.

The interior stucco decoration in Avondale House is the work of the Francini brothers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Inside, Avondale House has fine stucco plasterwork by the Francini Brothers and many original pieces of furniture. The American Room is dedicated to Admiral Charles Stewart (1778-1869) – Parnell’s grandfather who commanded the USS Constitution during the 1812 war.

Charles Stewart Parnell was born in the house on 27 June 1846, the third son and seventh child of John Henry Parnell (1811–1859), and his American-born wife Delia Tudor Stewart (1816–1898).

Parnell studied at Magdalene College, Cambridge from 1865 to 1869. However, the estate he inherited from his father was in poor financial circumstances. Because of this, he was often absent from Cambridge and never completed his degree. But at home he was an improving landowner who was also interested in mining and industrialisation as ways of bringing economic development to the area.

In 1874, he became High Sheriff of Co Wicklow, his home county in which he was also an officer in the Wicklow militia. In the mid-1870s, he became involved in Isaac Butt’s Home Rule League and he was an MP first for Co Meath (1875-1880) and then for Cork City (1880-1891).

The family trees in Avondale House recognise the place of Katherine O’Shea in the family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Parnell was known as the “Uncrowned King of Ireland” until his affair with Katherine (‘Kitty’) O’Shea was made public when he was named as the co-respondent in a divorces case and brought about his downfall as the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party.

He died a broken man at the age of 45 in Hove, near Brighton, on 6 October 1891, but the exhibits in Avondale House show clearly his love for the women he married shortly before his death, and the family trees on the walls clearly name her and their three children.

After his death, the Parnell estate was sold to a Dublin butcher who felled most of the trees to recoup his investment.

The woodlands were renewed in 1904 when the estate was sold to the government. The house was used as a forestry school and the grounds planted with a great variety of trees, the most successful being conifers from the Pacific coast of North America. The grounds also boast specimens of giant redwoods from California and Sitka spruce from British Columbia.

Ardavon House is in a sad state of decay … at one time the Comerfords’ Ardavon House and the Parnells’ Avondale House bookended the village of Rathdrum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Avondale House is about 1.5 km outside Rathdrum. At the other end of the village stands Ardavon House, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, home to generations of the Rathdrum branch of the Comerford family. It is as though the village is bookended between Avondale House and the Parnell Estate, with the Church of Ireland parish church, at one end, and Ardavon House, the Comerford mills and the Roman Catholic parish church at the other end.

So, from Avodale we made our way through Rathdrum to Ardavon House, which had once been home to James Charles Comerford (1842-1907), a friend and political ally of his neighbour, Charles Stewart Parnell.

On 15 December 1881, when the Land League organised a day of demonstrations and actions in support of Parnell by calling on people to plough and manure his fields at Garrymore, near Rathdrum, and at Avondale, Comerford gave his mill workers in Rathdrum and Laragh the day off to take part.

The former Comerford mill in Rathdrum, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The Comerford mill in Rathdrum burned down in June 1885, but was rebuilt and the business was flourishing a year later in June 1886 when the Comerfords hosted a visit by British and Irish millers.

A year after Parnell’s death, on 7 September 1892, James Charles Comerford married Eva Mary Esmonde (1860-1949), daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Esmonde (1831-1872), who was decorated with the Victoria Cross for his role in the Crimean War, when was the first British officer to enter Sebastopol after the siege. Colonel Esmonde was a younger brother of Sir John Esmonde (1826-1876) of Ballynastragh, Gorey, Co Wexford, and Glenwood, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, Liberal MP for Waterford (1852-1876). Eva Mary (Esmonde) Comerford was three times tennis champion of Ireland.

The former orangery at Ardavon House … is it long past repair? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Ardavon House was home to this branch of the Comerford family until 1958 when it was acquired by the Wicklow County Vocational Education Committee (VEC). It was a school until the end of 1991 when it was replaced by the newly built Avondale Community College.

Ardavon House was badly destroyed in a fire in 1997. Despite local authority undertakings to rebuild it, the house stands derelict today (2014), a sad reminder of former days.

Brendan Behan’s brother Dominic Behan once wrote a song about Parnell’s former home that has been recorded by Mary Black, Christy Moore, the Dubliners and others:

Oh have you been to Avondale
And wandered in the lovely vale
Where tall trees whisper all the tale
Of Avondale’s proud eagle

Where fame and ancient glory fate
Such was the land where he was laid
Like Christ was thirty pieces paid
For Avondale’s proud eagle

Long years that green and lovely vale
Has nursed Parnell, our grandest Gael
And cursed the land that has betrayed
Fair Avondale’s proud eagle.

We left Rathdrum as evening shadows were falling and the tall trees whispering, feeling Parnell’s memory was honoured at Avondale but the memory of his close friends at Ardavon has been betrayed.

Autumn colours in the fields at Avondale near Rathdrum this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

26 October 2014

Watching the horse and rider as one
on the shoreline at Bettystown

The horse and rider as one on the shoreline at Bettystown, Co Meath, at dusk this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

To my regret I have only been once to the races on the beach at Bettystown and Laytown on three miles of golden beach on the ‘Gold Coast’ of Co Meath. But these races are colourful, exciting and unique, and this is the only race event in Ireland that is run on a beach under the Rules of Racing.

The races have a story going back almost a century and a half, and the first recorded meeting was in 1868, when races were run as a side show to the Boyne Regatta, with the rowing competition taking place on the high tide and the racing later at low tide. The Home Rule leader, Charles Stuart Parnell, was one of the first stewards at these races.

At one time, strand races were common throughout Ireland: they were run at Milltown Malbay, and at Baltray and Termonfeckin in Co Louth, and even feature in the movie The Quiet Man.

Evening lights on the beach at Bettystown this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

At one time, the races at Laytown and Bettystown were an ideal preparation for the Galway Races. There is no race track, and until recently the races were run at distances between five furlongs and two miles, with a U-shaped turn at Bettystown where the horses made a colourful sweeping return before heading back to the Laytown.

The only time I was there was 20 years ago in 1994. After an unfortunate incident that year, when one of the horses was shot, the U-shaped track was done away with and the Turf Club restricted the number of entrants in each race.

Since then, the attendance has dropped from 10,000 in the early 1990s to about 5,000 in more recent years, and the races are run on a straight, near-level course over six and seven furlong.

The next races at Laytown and Bettystown take place on 10 September 2015. But I was reminded of these colourful races this afternoon when I went for a walk on the beach at Bettystown before a late lunch in Relish this afternoon.

Three horses on the beach at Bettystown this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Three horses were being exercised on the beach although the sea was still far in after the high tide. The riders stopped just beside Relish, and it was certainly a far more pretty sight than the cars that so often blight this beautiful beach.

Inside Relish, where there is always a warm welcome, the walls are decorated with paintings of the beach races, and many are for sale.

Later, as we strolled on the beach after lunch, the tide was receding and another horse and rider were out on the shoreline.

There is a classical Japanese phrase, Jinba ittai, expressed in a four character compound (人馬一体) and describing how a horse and rider become one. This phrase was used in a recent advertising campaign by Mazda to describe a driver and car, but this description of the unity of horse and rider as one, which comes from Japanese mounted archery, could have described the scene out of time on the shoreline at Bettystown this afternoon.

The clocks went back last night, and we could notice the evening lights were beginning to close in. By the time we reached Skerries, dusk was beginning to fall, but we still had enough light to enjoy views first of the Harbour and then of the South Strand before heading back through Rush and Lusk to the M50 and home.

A table for two on the terrace at Relish, looking down onto the beach at Bettystown today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

25 October 2014

A circular search for
Wittgenstein’s Dublin

By the River Liffey at the Strawberry Beds this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

Following an afternoon in the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin last week, I have started working on a short paper on the Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and the Irish doctor and former Anglican ordinand, Dr Martin O’Connor (‘Con’) Drury, who persuaded him to move to Ireland in the late 1940s.

Wittgenstein spent solitary moments in thought and contemplation on the steps inside the Great Palm House in the Botanic Gardens. He spent some of his time in Ireland living in Ross’s Hotel, now the Ashling Hotel, in Parkgate Street, close to Kingsbridge and the Phoenix Park.

But the philosopher’s time in the Dublin hotel, from November 1948 to June 1949, was never completely happy.

Saint Edmundsbury’s Hospital, Lucan, where Dr Con Drury was on the staff as a psychiatrist (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Con Drury was a very hard-working psychiatrist, on the staff of both Saint Patrick’s Hospital, near Kingsbridge and the Ashling Hotel, and Saint Edmundsbury’s Hospital, in Lucan, Co Dublin, which was linked to Saint Patrick’s and also served as a nursing home for some of the better-off patients at Saint Patrick’s.

Con Drury’s patients included Annemarie (Anny) Bertel, the wife of another great Austrian intellectual, the physicist and Erwin Schrödinger, who was living in Dublin at the same time.

Schrödinger was living in Clontarf and was a Professor at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and where Con Drury's son, Luke, would later become Senior Professor of Astrophysics in the School of Cosmic Physics.

At Saint Edmundsbury’s, Con Drury treated Anny Schrödinger for depression, and another patient was Yorick Smythies, one of the close friends who later gathered around Wittgenstein’s death-bed in Cambridge.

After visiting some family members in Lucan this afternoon, I stopped briefly to photograph Saint Edmundsbury’s, which stands in its own grounds sloping down to the banks of the River Liffey and looking across to the Strawberry Beds, west of Chapelizod.

The plaque on the Ashling Hotel remembering Ludwig Wittgenstein’s time in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

From there, two of us drove back towards Kingsbridge and Heuston Station to photograph the plaque unveiled at the Ashling Hotel in 1989 to commemorate Wittgenstein few months in Ross’s Hotel.

From Parkgate Street, we turned into to the Phoenix Park and at Farmeligh House we had afternoon coffee in the Boathouse, sitting on the decking looking out onto the pleasure lake where the Guinness family once went boating.

On the decking at the Boathouse Café at Farmleigh House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

We took a wrong turn out of the Phoenix Park at Knockmaroon Hill and ended up driving west along the Strawberry Beds on the north side of the River Liffey, between Chapelizod and Lucan.

Much of the land in this area once belonged to the Guinness family and the area – once devoted to market gardening, including the cultivation of strawberries – remains largely unspoiled despite modern building and developments.

This part of the Liffey Valley is also known for the Liffey Descent, and a number of river-side places offer training in kayaks, canoes and rowing.

There were three inviting pubs on the north side of this narrow country lane – the Angler’s Rest, and the Wren’s Nest. On the opposite side of the river we could see the Hermitage Golf Club, and the slopes behind Saint Edmundsbury’s Hospital. In our search for Wittgenstein’s Dublin, we had come full circle.

24 October 2014

A day in the Burren and at the Cliffs of Moher
before the evening shadows begin to close in

The Cliffs of Moher are nothing less than spectacular and breath-taking (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

Today marks the beginning of a bank holiday weekend known to many people in the west of Ireland as the “Hallowe’ens.” The bank holiday seldom falls on Hallowe’en itself, but it always falls at the end of October, and this weekend is marked by opera in Wexford, the marathon in Dublin and the clocks going back.

From now on, the days are getting shorter and the evenings are truly closing in. This weekend marks the transition from autumn to winter, and because it often coincides with a mid-term break in schools it is the last opportunity many families have for time off together before Christmas arrives at the end of the year.

Many years ago, many decades ago, I spent this weekend as the last weekend on Achill Island before returning in the Spring.

Today [24 October 2014], two of us marked the beginning of this holiday weekend and returned to the West of Ireland. But instead we took a one-day tour to the Cliffs of Moher and Co Clare with Paddywagons.

Many years ago, I might not have given a tour like this a second glance. But the offer came on Groupon, and two of us thought: well, if there was an offer like this in Crete or Italy we would go for it … why not in Ireland?

Someone said earlier in the week: “But the bus is going to be full of tourists!” But we are tourists when we go on trips like this on holidays. They’re going to be just like us. Why not go for it? After all, I had been in the Burren only once before, as far as I recall, and I do not remember ever visiting the Cliffs of Moher.

It was a memorable day with John, an entertaining guide working with Ireland’s leading tour company, which has been on the road since 1998. We visited rugged landscapes and coasts, fishing villages and ruined monasteries, traditional pubs and a great castle. It was a 12-hour tour that took us through 11 counties, three provinces, and across the Shannon twice.

Kinvara is a traditional and picturesque fishing village in south Co Galway (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

We began our tour in O’Connell Street in Dublin’s city centre at about 7.50 a.m. and had an early and short pit-stop for coffee at Enfield before driving across the Midlands, crossing the Shannon at Athlone, and turning off at the Oranmore roundabout for the south coast of Galway Bay and the Wild Atlantic Way.

After passing Dunguaire Castle, our first real stop was at Kinvara, a small, colourful and picturesque fishing village, known for its traditional fishing boats called “Galway Hookers.” In Kinvara, we strolled around the harbour, through the village, and through the stalls at this morning’s Farmers’ Market.

The tomb of King Conor na Siudane Ua Briain in Corcomroe Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

We crossed from south Galway into Co Clare and the Burren district, and our next stop was at the ruins of Corcomroe Abbey, in the middle of remote countryside. It was built ca 1205-1210 with local limestone. It was named Sancta Maria de Petra Fertilis, or Saint Mary of the Fertile Rock, perhaps a reference to its place in a sheltered, fertile green valley in the Burren.

Local legend says the monastery was built for King Conor na Siudane Ua Briain, who died in 1267 and whose tomb niche and effigy is in the north wall of the choir. The legend says he then executed the five masons who completed the abbey to prevent them from building a rival masterpiece anywhere else.

In reality, Corocomore Abbey was probably built by his grandfather, Donal Mór Ua Briain, who was the patron of a number of other religious foundations in the Thomond region.

The ‘Mini Cliffs’ near Doolin in the heart of the Burren (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

We then returned to a coastal drive along the southern shores of Galway Bay, as we made our way through the Burren. The unique landscape of the Burren is shaped by the limestone rock that stretches as far as the eye can see and reaches down to the Atlantic shore.

We stopped next at the “Mini Cliffs,” with views across Galway Bay and taking in the Aran Islands and out to Connemara. We also dared to take a small ramble through the rocky landscape of the limestone hillsides with their unique ecosystem and colours.

A little later we arrived for lunch in Fitz’s in the small fishing village of Doolin. This was the only disappointing part of the day. It was a carvery-style lunch, served in large dollops for large numbers, but hardly the best experience of Irish cuisine I can imagine – despite the fact that the Danish couple who shared our table seemed content.

I am a vegetarian, and the only option available for me was overcooked pasta. I noticed the only fish options were farmed salmon and a seafood chowder that had more potato than fish. In a fishing village, tourists should expect more.

A tiny beach hundreds of feet below the towering heights of the Cliffs of Moher (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

But the highlight of the day was nearby at the Cliffs of Moher, a few minutes away and on the south-west edge of the Burren, where we stopped for an hour and a half.

The Cliffs of Moher, which form part of the edge of Western Europe, attract a million visitors a year. They stretch for almost 10 km, and are two-thirds the height of New York’s Empire State Building.

The rain could not take away from the pleasures and attractions provided by the breath-taking views as we walked along the cliff edge.

We also visited the Atlantic Edge Exhibition in the interpretive exhibition centre, housed in an underground, domed cave with exhibits and displays.

The beach at Lahinch, Co Clare, this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

As we left the cliffs, the rain was coming down heavily but there was a rainbow in the sky, and the rains had passed as we drove on through the winding roads of Co Clare and Lahinch and Ennistymon, entertained by John’s song and “Limericks.”

Evening lights on the river estuary at Bunratty, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Our last stop was at Bunratty, to see Bunratty Castle, Dirty Nelly’s and the river estuary below us, before having a scone at Lilly Mai’s.

The journey back to Dublin took us across the Shannon on the outskirts of Limerick and through the tunnel. We returned through Moneygal – still boasting about its links with Barack Obama – and the Midlands, where many of the fields were still green and golden. It was dark by the time we reached the centre of Dublin, 12 hours after setting out, but there was still a feeling of autumn in the dark, night air.

Tiny islands in the River Shannon at Limerick this evening (Potograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

23 October 2014

Anglicanism 2 (MDI, 2014-2015): Faith,
Practice and Spirituality: Spirituality

Mater Dei Institute of Education, a college of Dublin City University (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mater Dei Institute of Education,



Patrick Comerford,

23 October 2014,

2 p.m., Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Faith, Practice and Spirituality:

1: Faith and Practice:

2: Spirituality

2 p.m.:


Earlier this afternoon, I was quoting the theological maxim, Lex orandi, lex credendi. In other words, how we pray is what we believe.

If you want to know my theology, you do not have to set me an examination. Simply see how I pray, and in the case of the Church of Ireland, see how we pray on our own, and how we pray with others.

Many Roman Catholics in Ireland know by heart the words of the Angelus and the Hail Holy Queen from the prayers they learned in families and schools as children. Only in Catholic Ireland could people with that background understand the lines in plays such as “full of grapes,” or “the Lord is a Tree,” or the title of a book, A monk swimming.

Similarly, many members of the Church of Ireland will have learned from an early age, prayers from The Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secretes are hidden,: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name: trough Christ our Lord, Amen.

The words of many collects are known by heart, such as:

“Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” … words from the collect once used for Advent 2.

So, part of the inherited riches of the Church of Ireland and Anglicanism and the personal spirituality and piety is founded on the liturgical tradition of Anglicanism:

“Prevent O Lord/Go before us O Lord;”

The words “Stir up” from the post-communion prayer for last Sunday, the Sunday before Advent, and the collect used this week have given us the colloquial name “Stirrup Sunday” for last Sunday, the day many women traditionally began preparations or making their Christmas cakes:

Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people: that, richly bearing the fruit of good works, they may be richly rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Many of these collects are the work of Thomas Cranmer, who left his mark on Anglicanism through his pivotal role in the compilation of the first Book of Common Prayer.

Among his best-loved collects is the collect for Advent Sunday:

Almighty God, give us the grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; So that, on the last day, when he shall come again in glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, Amen.

Famously, when John Keble was asked about what was at the heart of Anglicanism, he replied: “Study the Collects in The Book of Common Prayer.”

Cranmer was adept at weaving passages of scripture into the liturgy, so that many Anglicans are familiar with words of scripture woven into liturgy through the versicles and responses.

Many are familiar with the Psalms and other portions of Scripture through the use of the Psalms and Canticles in the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer.

The pointing of the Psalms and Canticles allows them to be sung by a choir without little training and rehearsal in a unique style, based on Benedictine monastic choir-style and now known as Anglican chant. And singing makes familiar

Personal prayers and family prayers for many will include reading a passage of scripture, perhaps reading, or even reciting from memory, a Psalm, and some prayers from The Book of Common Prayer, such as a familiar collect.

Or the Prayer of Saint [John] Chrysostom:

Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee; and dost promise, that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests; Fulfil now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen.

Hymns and Spirituality:

One of the rich aspects of Anglican worship that is carried into personal spirituality is contained in hymnody, including the hymns by Irish hymn writers.

For example, Mrs Cecil Alexander, wife of William Alexander, Bishop of Derry and later Archbishop of Armagh, was the author of All things bright and beautiful and of Saint Patrick’s breastplate.

The Revd Henry Francis Lyte, a former curate of Taghmon, Co Wexford, and previously at school in Portora, near Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, was the author of a least 40 hymns, including Abide with me and Praise my soul the king of heaven.

But we also use hymns that include words by Thomas Aquinas and John Wesley; traditional Irish hymns; the Taizé Community. The music here at the Cathedral Eucharist on Sunday mornings in Christ Church Cathedral may include settings by Mozart, Vittoria, Haydn, Brahms, Fauré, Bach and Palestrina (last Sunday), or one of the great Anglican composers such as Byrd (next Sunday).

There is an important choral tradition throughout Anglicanism, and many of the English-language carols by Anglican hymn writers are now popular throughout all English-speaking traditions.

For many people outside the Anglican tradition, Anglican spirituality is experienced in its full splendour as they hear Choral Evensong, and the canticles Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis sung by great cathedral choirs, at Evening Prayer, particularly at Choral Evensong.

Devotional legacy

There is such a rich inheritance of devotional literature that it could be said that Anglican spirituality has been shaped by Anglican devotional writers, and the Anglican spiritual heritage is also a literary heritage.

There is a pre-Reformation corpus that is an integral part of Anglican spirituality. This includes the anonymous work we know as the Cloud of Unknowing, as well as the writings of mystics such as Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich, the most popular of English mystics.

Julian of Norwich ... All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well

Julian was a joyous mystic who stressed the homely love of God which has been poured upon this planet and humanity for ever. She concludes in these beautiful and well-loved words: “All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

When we come to great post-Reformation writers in Anglican spirituality, we should remember too that, like Julian of Norwich, these writers have not always been ordained and have not been exclusively male. Indeed who could have been a more unexpected but-oft quoted author of a pithy but mystical and spiritual understanding of the Eucharist or the Holy Communion, than Elizabeth I?

Elizabeth can be credited with holding together in one Anglican tradition the competing claims within the Church of England and Anglicanism after the death of her half-sister Mary. And it is she who is said to have written of the Eucharist:

His was the Word that spake it:
He tooke the bread and brake it:
And what that Word did make it,
I do believe and take it

In the immediate post-Elizabethan age, Anglican spiritual writers included country parsons such as George Herbert (1593-1633), who is remembered for his careful pastoral nurturing of his parish and his parishioners, and for his poetry, much of which has been adapted as hymns.

Herbert’s spirituality is the Anglican Via Media or Middle Way par excellence. His poetry is constantly evident of the intimacy of his dealings with God and his assurance that, alone in a vast universe, he is held safe by the Crucified Christ.

Richard Baxter later said of him that Herbert speaks to God like one that really believes a God and as one who whose business in this world is most with God.

In his poem Obedience, George Herbert wrote:

O let thy sacred will
All thy delight in me fulfil!
Let me not think an action mine own way.
But as thy love shall sway,
Refining up the rudder to thy skill

George Herbert ... Prayer, the Church’s banquet

For George Herbert, prayer is concerned not only with things heavenly, but also with the earthly. In his poem Prayer he writes:

Prayer, the Church’s banquet, Angels’ age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;
Engine against th’Almighty, sinner’s tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The Milky Way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood

In this poem, Herbert is saying that in prayer it is possible to be transported, even if momentarily, to another realm. “Angel’s age,” “the milky way,” and a “tune beyond the stars” suggest that prayer touches the infinite. The poem concludes with “something understood” – a profound but elusive encounter with the mysterious otherness of God.

Herbert was close to Nicholas Ferrar and the Community of Little Gidding, which showed that prayer, community life, and a life of discipleship and service ought to be inter-woven.

Herbert, John Jewel and Richard Hooker and were profoundly influential on the Caroline Divines, including John Cosin, Lancelot Andrewes and Jeremy Taylor.

John Cosin was as a bishop who sought to improve the worship and liturgy of the Church, and who drew on patristic sources for his Collection of Private Devotions, as did Lancelot Andrewes in writing his Latin Devotions. There he wrote that “he who prays for others, labours for himself.”

John Donne ... Each man’s death diminishes me

He was a contemporary of the poet John Donne (1571-1631), who was Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, for his last ten years. He is best remembered today for his lines:

No man is an island,
entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thine own
or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
for I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
for whom the bell tolls,
it tolls for thee

The devotional writings of the Caroline Divines emphasised the centrality of the incarnation in Christian spirituality: the incarnation revealed to humanity in Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, in the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, in the revelation of Christ’s continuing presence in the holy example of the saints. In their devotion, the Carolines shied away from abstraction in favour of the fruits of love and charity, and their devotional life was worked out in their pastoral service.

Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), who ended his days as a bishop in the Church of Ireland, in the dioceses of Connor, Down and Dromore, is best known for his Holy Living (1640) and Holy Dying (1641), which had a profound influence spiritually on later generations, including figures as diverse as John Wesley and John Keble.

No book other than the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer has had a more profound and lasting influence on the distinctive inwardness of Anglican devotion. No other book so clearly expresses the essence of the classical Anglican understanding of the spiritual life, with its insistence that there is no division between what is religious and what is secular.

Nor should we neglect the Puritan divines, who were contemporaries of the Caroline Divines but are often written out when it comes to telling the story of Anglican spirituality.

Among them was Richard Baxter (1615-1691). He too was influenced by the poetry of George Herbert, and although he ended his days as a Presbyterian he spent most of his life as an Anglican. He described his faith as ‘catholic’ or ‘mere’ Christianity – a term that we can see was later to be adopted as his own by CS Lewis. One of his most joyful yet mystical contributions to our hymnody is Ye holy angels bright, with its mystical understanding of the Communion of Saints and our place in it.

Thomas Traherne was a hidden mystic of the same period, whose writings only became known long after his death in 1674. In his Centuries of Meditation, Traherne sees God in everything and everything praising God.

Curiously, the most influential book from this time, though, may have been one whose author remains unknown. The Whole Duty of Man, first published in 1657, reached its 28th edition in 1790, so that for more than a century, this anonymous book shaped an Anglican spirituality that was defined by the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer in terms of doctrine and worship, and in practice by an understanding “that religion without morals is but superstition, that Christianity is not a set of beliefs but a way of life.”

Jeremy Taylor’s spirituality, as expressed in his Holy Living and Holy Dying has many echoes in William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1728), which brought deeply sacramental piety and emphasis on community of the Nonjurors back in the mainstream of spirituality, especially through his influence on John Wesley.

The great Anglican movements of the late 18th and the 19th centuries were the Evangelical Revival and the Oxford Movement, which had a second generation expression in the Anglo-Catholic Movement.

Those two strands were not so much about style and churchmanship as about mission work: the evangelical movement gave us the Church Mission Society (CMS) and its related family of mission societies, while the Oxford Movement and the later Anglo-Catholics gave us USPG and its family of mission agencies, now known simply as Us.

In both cases, they show us once again that to be truly Anglican is to be incarnational. And in living this through, their faith was expressed in social action. For men like William Wilberforce, it was translated into action through their opposition to slavery and the slave trade. He was convinced that Christianity required the response of the heart as well as the head. For a later generation of Anglo-Catholics it was lived out in commitment to the poor and the oppressed in the slums and the inner cities, exemplified in the life and work of the slum priests.

The great hymn writer of the Oxford Movement and of the later Anglo-Catholics was John Keble, whose hymns and poems are collected in The Christian Year. If what we sing rather than how we pray shows what we believe – a new way of looking at the maxim Lex Orandi Lex Credendi – then through the English Hymnal Percy Dearmer and Ralph Vaughan Williams have had a profound influence on modern expressions of Anglican spirituality.

But two of the most influential writers in terms of Anglican spirituality must have been CS Lewis and TS Eliot. CS Lewis, who was born in Belfast, is known to all of us as a spiritual writer ever since we first read the Chronicles of Narnia. However, if you have not already read it, could I recommend to you The Four Loves, which is known and loved well beyond the Anglican tradition of spirituality.

TS Eliot, on the other hand, is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century. Ash Wednesday (1930) is the first long poem written by him after his conversion to Anglicanism in 1927. In this poem, Eliot deals with the struggle that ensues when one who has lacked faith strives to move towards God. Sometimes referred to as Eliot’s “conversion poem,” Ash Wednesday is richly but ambiguously allusive and deals with the aspiration to move from spiritual barrenness to hope for human salvation, inspired by Dante’s Purgatorio. Its groundwork of orthodox Christianity discomfited many of the more secular members of his literary circle.

The Four Quartets ... considered by many to be TS Eliot’s masterpiece, it led to him receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature

However, Eliot and many other critics considered The Four Quartets his masterpiece, and it was this work that led to him receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature. In The Four Quartets, Eliot draws upon his knowledge of mysticism and philosophy. It consists of four long poems, each first published separately: Burnt Norton (1936), East Coker (1940), The Dry Salvages (1941) and Little Gidding (1942). Each has five sections. Although they resist easy characterisation, each approaches the same ideas in varying but overlapping ways, and are strongly theological and spiritual.

Burnt Norton asks what it means to consider things that might have been. East Coker continues the examination of time and meaning, focusing in a famous passage on the nature of language and poetry. Out of darkness, Eliot continues to reassert a solution: “I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope.” The Dry Salvages strives to contain opposites:

… the past and future
Are conquered, and reconciled

Little Gidding is the most anthologised of the Quartets. Here for the first time he talks of Love as the driving force behind all experience. From this background, the Quartets end with an affirmation of Julian of Norwich:

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well

In The Four Quartets, Eliot draws upon the theology, art, symbolism and language of such figures as Dante, and mystics Saint John of the Cross and Julian of Norwich. The “deeper communion” sought in East Coker, the “hints” and whispers of children, the sickness that “must grow worse in order to find healing,” and the exploration that inevitably leads us home all point to the pilgrim’s path along the road of sanctification.

Poets, Artists and Writers

‘The Light of the World’ by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) …one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

There are others. We could have looked at poets like Christina Rossetti, artists like William Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelites, writers such as at Dorothy Sayers, for example, or modern novelists like Susan Howatch and Catherine Fox today.

For many, Anglican spirituality has been conveyed down the generations by great composers, from William Byrd, John Taverner, Thomas Tallis, Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Tomkins, to Hubert Parry, Charles Stanford, Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells and John Rutter.

Who can say whether the lyrics of U2, most of them Dublin-born Anglicans, will shape future spiritual thinking? – already we have had celebrations that have used the designation U2charist.

But spirituality is always elusive and mercurial when it comes to defining or analysing it. It is not always true that its influences and growth can be found in writers and poets.

Who can claim credit for the interesting movements in the past century, such as the Parish Communion Movement of the 1930s, the Charismatic Movement in the 1960s and 1970s, the search for Fresh Expressions of Church in our own time? Yet each has had a profound impact on our understanding of Anglican spirituality.

Many of these new insights have been and hopefully will continue to be channelled into the life of the church, and become part of the spiritual life of all Anglicans, though liturgical revival, through theological education, through the ways we live out our lives.


The Presentation of the Christ Child in the Temple ... a window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I have spoken of the way the canticles Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis are an integral part of what has shaped the Anglican tradition of spirituality.

One of two poems written at the time of TS Eliot’s conversion, A Song for Simeon, is based on the Canticle Nunc Dimittis, although Eliot titles his poem A Song for Simeon rather than A Song of Simeon, the English sub-title of the canticle in The Book of Common Prayer.

The story of this poem concludes the Christmas season, which you are all looking forward to, I imagine. Some of you may have noticed the windows in this cathedral that tell the Christmas story, including the window telling the story of the Presentation of the Christ Child in the Temple. And so I conclude with that poem:

A Song for Simeon (TS Eliot)

Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season had made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.

Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have given and taken honour and ease.
There went never any rejected from my door.
Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children
When the time of sorrow is come?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.

Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.

According to thy word.
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
Thine also).
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.


4 December 2014:

3, The Church of Ireland and its place in Irish society today;

4, Church, Culture and being relevant.

11 December 2014:

5, The Church of Ireland Anglicanism, from the Reformation to the Act of Union;

6, The Church of Ireland Anglicanism, from the Act of Union to today.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College, Dublin. This lecture was delivered on a course at the Mater Dei Institute of Education (MDI), Dublin, on 23 October 2014, in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. MDI is a College of Dublin City University (DCU).