Monday, 4 August 2014

Island hopping to Ireland’s Eye,
the tiny island close to Howth

Ireland’s Eye is just a mile off the coast from Howth, but feels like a seldom-visited island in the Mediterranean (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

The summer sun returned for today’s bank holiday [4 August 2014] and two of us booked a Dublin Bay Cruise at 1 p.m. from Howth to the City Centre on board the MV St Bridget, and contemplating the option of then continuing on to Dun Laoghaire.

However, we were sadly disappointed when we arrived at the West Pier to find the 1 p.m. sailing had been cancelled because of a technical malfunction at the bridge on the Liffey. It was no fault of the operating company, Dublin Bay Cruises, and we plan to take the option of rebooking on another day.

5188 Small boats leave the East Pier in Howth for Ireland’s Eye every half hour (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

We were heading back to find a light lunch when accidentally we came across a sign on the East Pier advertising boat trips to Ireland’s Eye, the tiny, uninhabited island a mile immediately north of Howth.

Ireland’s Eye is only 21.5 hectares in size, and a number of boats run by two local companies leave the East Pier in Howth regularly throughout the day during the summer months.

Arriving at Ireland’s Eye in the afternoon sun (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The journey took only 15 minutes. As we left Howth Harbour, there were views first to the beach at Sutton, and then out to sands of Portmarnock and Malahide. Soon we could glimpse the towers at Portrane, before Lambay Island came into sight.

We were brought around the west side of Ireland’s Eye to the north side of the island to disembark at a flight of tiny steps on the rocks beside the 200-year-old Martello Tower.

The tower has a window five metres above ground level, but children were scaling up and down the side on a rope hanging from the window that gave them access to the inside of the tower.

Ireland’s Eye has half a dozen or more expansive, sandy beaches (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

We climbed back down the cliffs to the south side of the island, and walked along the cliff-edge walks leading down to a series of four or five beaches along the length of the south and west coasts of the island.

Some of these beaches are little more than sand-covered tiny coves, others are as picturesque and as beautiful as beaches in Achill and Connemara that are promoted as typical Irish beaches.

In the warm summer summer sunshine, this could have been Greece, Turkey or Italy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

They include some of the few west-facing sandy beaches on the east coast of Ireland, and in today’s warm summer sunshine it felt like being on a remote island in Greece or off the coast of either Turkey or Italy, with all the fun of island hopping.

At the east end of the island, we came to a range of rocks that links Ireland’s Eye to the tiny islet of Thulla.

The Stack at the north-east corner of the island is home to a large variety of seabirds (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

We then turned north to walk across the island, below the summit to the Black Hole, a tiny, grey shingle cove, and spectacular, dramatic views of the huge, free-standing rock known as “The Stack,” at the north-east corner of the island.

The Stack is home to a large variety of seabirds, including thousands of guillemots, razorbills, fulmars and gulls. Ireland’s fifth gannet colony was established on the Stack in the 1980s, and now a few hundred pairs are breeding there each year.

The island also has a large cormorant colony and a few breeding pairs of puffins, while Grey Seals are abundant in the sea around Ireland’s Eye.

The church is linked to the ‘Garland of Howth’ ... an early manuscript of the Four Gospels (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Below us, in a hollow to the west, we could see the ruins of an eighth-century church, known as the Church of the Three Sons of Nessan. Local lore says that around the year 700 AD three monks, the sons of Nessan, a prince of the Royal House of Leinster, built the first church on Ireland’s Eye.

The monastery is said to be the place where a manuscript copy of the Four Gospels, the Garland of Howth, was compiled in the late ninth to early tenth centuries. Also known as the Codex Usserianus Secundus, this is a fragment of a mediaeval Irish Vetus Latina gospel book, or a Latin version preating the Vulgate.

The Garland of Howth was later kept in the parish church in Howth. It is written with dimuendo script from initials, a feature of the oldest manuscripts in insular script, such as Cathach of Saint Columba. It has been described as the work of many scribes, none of them first-class.

The “garland” of its title is derived from a corrupted English form of the Irish Ceithre Leabhair “four books,” referring to the Four Gospels. Only 86 folios have survived; for example only John 5: 12 to 10: 3 has survived from the Gospel according to Saint John. It is now in Trinity College Dublin (Ms. 56).

Ireland’s Eye was named bhy the Vikings who attacked the island in the 9th and 10th centuries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The Vikings attacked the island late in the 9th century and they returned in the 10th century to pillage and plunder it. It was they who gave the island its name – the word Ey is the Norse for island, and so it eventually became Ireland’s Eye.

Cill Mac Nessan eventually ceased to function as a church in the 13th century, when the monastic community and life was moved to Saint Mary’s Abbey in Howth.

Ireland’s Eye remained uninhabited until the Napoleonic wars at the beginning of the 19th century, when the Martello Tower was built.

The Black Hole ... at the centre of a Victorian scandal and murder trial (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

A few decades later, the island was the centre of a scandal in September 1852, when Sarah Maria Louisa Kirwan was killed on the island. She and her husband, William Burke Kirwan, an artist who lived at 11 Upper Merrion Street, Dublin, were on holidays in Howth, and regularly visited Ireland’s Eye, where he sketched while his wife bathed.

At his trial, William Burke Kirwan was defended by a spirited Isaac Butt, a Home Rule MP and one of the most eminent barristers of the day. He was convicted of her murder, although later researchers claim there was no murder and that Sarah Kirwan drowned accidentally after an epileptic seizure.

William Burke Kirwan was sentenced to death, but this was commuted by the Lord Lieutenant, the Earl of Eglinton, to life in prison. He was the last prisoner on Spike Island, and was released on 3 March 1879, on condition that heshould leave Ireland. It is said that after his release Kirwan took the boat to Liverpool and then moved to the US, where he married Theresa Kenny, the woman said to have been his mistress throughout his marriage and the mother of his nine children.

A local legend in Howth says that years later he returned to Ireland and visited Ireland’s Eye, where he stood “wrapped in contemplation at the Long Hole, surveying the scene of his adventure.” A sunset watercolour of Ireland’s Eye and a sketch of Maria by Kirwan are among a collection of his prints and drawings in the National Library of Ireland. At his trial, Kirwan claimed that a sketch he had made of the sunset on the day of his wife’s death proved he could not have killed her.

Leaving behind the cliffs and caves of Ireland’s Eye (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

We returned to Howth on the Pinalia, a companion of the Christmas Eve. The Pinalia once operated as an angling boat out of Killybegs in Co Donegal, while the Christmas Eve hs operated out of Valentia Island in Co Kerry running trips to the Skelligs.

The trip to Ireland’s Eye takes 15 minutes and costs €15 for an adult, €10 for a child. You can spend as long as you wish on ths island, and at this time of the year the last boat returns at 5 p.m.

Back in Howth, we shared two panini and had two double espressos in Il Panorama café, at Island View on Harbour Road, a tiny, friendly Italian-Australian café and wine bar with views across the harbour and out to Ireland’s Eye.

The cruise on Dublin Bay must wait for another day.

Israel denounced by senior Irish cleric

In this morning’s edition [4 August 2014], The Irish Times carries the following half-page report across five columns on page 4:

At least 2,000 people marched in Dublin on Saturday to urge an end to the violence in Gaza. Protests elsewhere included Cork, Derry, Limerick, Galway, Armagh and Sligo. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

Israel denounced by senior Irish cleric

Canon Patrick Comerford ‘shameless in my
accusations of war crimes against Israel’


Patsy McGarry

Israel was unequivocally denounced for its actions in Gaza and accused of war crimes in an unprecedented and strongly worded sermon by a senior Irish priest in Dublin yesterday morning.

Speaking at the Eucharist service in Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral, Canon Patrick Comerford recalled that, in the context of what has been happening in Gaza, the Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Derner had told a Christian lobby group there last week that some were “shamelessly accusing Israel of genocide and would put us in the dock for war crimes. The truth is that the Israeli Defence Forces should be given the Nobel Peace Prize ... a Nobel Peace Prize for fighting with unimaginable restraint.”

Canon Comerford, lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute in Dublin, rejected this assertion, recalling also that truth was the first casualty in war.

‘Battered children’

“Night after night, on television screens and impartial news outlets, I see the wounded, injured, maimed and battered children, frightened, screaming and even mute in shock and terror, brought by inconsolable and despairing parents to hospitals deprived of adequate facilities and medicine,” he said.

Whoever argued against criticising Israel “has never read the Old Testament prophets and their condemnations of Israel and its political leaders”, he said, and that such “Old Testament prophets can hardly be labelled dismissively as anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic”.

‘How long have we known that war … only brings the delusion of peace?’


As for himself, he was “shameless in my accusations of war crimes” against Israel “and when I describe Gaza as a wasteland and a wilderness. The crowds cannot flee in fear from the tyrant, for they are hemmed in and under siege, barraged by flares at night and bombarded by missiles by day, irrespective of whether they support Hamas or not, children or adults, fighters or civilians.

“Like the crowd in our Gospel reading, they are being told to go away. But there is nowhere for them to go, not even the sea.”

Lesson of history The principle casualties of war, time and again, he said, “are not the failed politicians, the failed diplomats, or even the poor soldiers, but civilians, children, the young and the elderly, women and men. And truth.” He recalled the saying that “in war, truth is the first casualty “, sometimes attributed to Æschylus, a playwright in ancient Greece.

The 18th century Anglican saint Samuel Johnson wrote: “Among the calamities of war may be justly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.”

Canon Comerford asked “how long have we known that war never ends war, that war only brings the delusion of peace? The Roman orator and historian Tacitus, who lived at the time of the Gospel writers, condemns those who plunder, slaughter and steal and then falsely call the result Empire, for ‘they make a wasteland, and they call it peace’.”

Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

Rupert Brooke remembered in the quotation outside Peacokgreen in Lord Edward Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

Lord Edward Street is a street that has great potential, and with signs of economic hope beginning to spring up here and there, it is interesting to see the number of tourists thronging Lord Edward Street in the summer sunshine, making their way from Trinity College Dublin and Dame Street, up past Dublin Castle to Christ Church Cathedral and from there on, perhaps, to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, or the Guinness Hop Store.

After preaching in Christ Church Cathedral at the Cathedral Eucharist on Sunday morning [3 August 2014], I had a short but delightful lunch in the Falafel Lounge, a small, delightful Lebanese vegetarian restaurant on Dame Street.

Strolling back up Lord Edward Street towards the cathedral the summer sunshine broke through after the previous night’s stormy rains, and I noticed the awning outside Peacockgreen in Lord Edward Street, a bright café that also runs the café in Christ Church Cathedral.

The words on the awning read: “Stands the church clock at ten to three, and is there honey still for tea?”

There is a slight variation in the punctuation and the versification, but these are the closing lines the poem Old Vicarage, Grantchester (1912) by Rupert Brooke:

Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?


The Old Vicarage, Grantchester remains one of Rupert Brooke’s most popular poems. Last summer, I visited Grantchester, the small village of Grantchester, near Cambridge, where Brooke lived for a time after 1909. But he wrote this poem in a café in Germany in 1912, two years before the outbreak of World War I.

The poem expresses his nostalgia for an England far away, and reflects his patriotism and homesickness:

And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill ...
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?


The poem was written in the midst one of the most turbulent periods in Brooke’s life that ended in a nervous breakdown. Brooke spent several months in rehabilitation, when he was not allowed to write poetry. He had recovered enough that summer to travel to Germany, and then went on to the US and the South Pacific.

Brooke returned to England in the spring of 1914. When World War I broke out a few months later volunteered for the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.

In The Soldier, his most famous and most patriotic poem, Brooke imagines his own death, but sees it as a noble sacrifice for his country:

If I should die, think only this of me,
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England.


Rupert Brooke’s name on the war memorial in the churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

On Easter Day 1915, the Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, the Very Revd William Ralph Inge, read aloud The Soldier during his sermon. Brooke died three weeks later: in February 1915, he had been ordered to sail to the Dardanelles for the Gallipoli landings. During the journey, he contracted malaria and blood poisoning from a mosquito bite on the lip.

Brooke died on 23 April 1915 on his ship in the Aegean and was buried in an olive grove on the Greek island of Skyros. His death ensured his name was always be intertwined with the war sonnets.

Looking out at Lambay Island from The Quay, Portrane, on Sunday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Later yesterday afternoon, I took a break from the Heart to hand sale in the Lynders home at The Quay in Portrane, and went for a walk on the beach below the house where my grandmother once lived. As I looked out to Lambay Island from that small beach and at the the yachts sailing from Skerries and Rush, I thought not only of Rupert Brooke, but of my grandfather, who first met my grandmother in that house, and how he later sailed to the Dardanelles and the Gallipoli landings, before being moved to Thessaloniki, where he too was bitten by a mosquito and contracted malaria.

He was sent back to Ireland in May 1916, and death came more slowly ... he died in January 1921, and is buried in Saint Catherine’s, the old Church of Ireland churchyard in Portrane.

Saint Patgrick’s Church, Donabate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

On my way back through Donabate, I stopped briefly in Saint Patrick’s Church, Donabate, the church my grandfather had worked on, where he was married and where he was buried from.

This morning [4 August 2014], we mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Over the next four years there are countless lives to remember. Unlike Rupert Brooke and Stephen Comerford, however, the vast majority may not be recalled and may remain forgotten as, in the words of Rupert Brooke, “the centuries blend and blur.”

The Old Vicarage was Rupert Brooke’s home and is celebrated in his nostalgic poem from 1911 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Old Vicarage, Grantchester, by Rupert Brooke (1912)

Just now the lilac is in bloom,
All before my little room;
And in my flower-beds, I think,
Smile the carnation and the pink;
And down the borders, well I know,
The poppy and the pansy blow...
Oh! there the chestnuts, summer through,
Beside the river make for you
A tunnel of green gloom, and sleep
Deeply above; and green and deep
The stream mysterious glides beneath,
Green as a dream and deep as death.
-- Oh, damn! I know it! and I know
How the May fields all golden show,
And when the day is young and sweet,
Gild gloriously the bare feet
That run to bathe...
Du lieber Gott!

Here am I, sweating, sick, and hot,
And there the shadowed waters fresh
Lean up to embrace the naked flesh.
Temperamentvoll German Jews
Drink beer around; – and there the dews
Are soft beneath a morn of gold.
Here tulips bloom as they are told;
Unkempt about those hedges blows
An English unofficial rose;
And there the unregulated sun
Slopes down to rest when day is done,
And wakes a vague unpunctual star,
A slippered Hesper; and there are
Meads towards Haslingfield and Coton
Where das Betreten’s not verboten.

eithe genoimen ... would I were
In Grantchester, in Grantchester! –
Some, it may be, can get in touch
With Nature there, or Earth, or such.
And clever modern men have seen
A Faun a-peeping through the green,
And felt the Classics were not dead,
To glimpse a Naiad’s reedy head,
Or hear the Goat-foot piping low:...
But these are things I do not know.
I only know that you may lie
Day long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass,
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass,
Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester...
Still in the dawnlit waters cool
His ghostly Lordship swims his pool,
And tries the strokes, essays the tricks,
Long learnt on Hellespont, or Styx.
Dan Chaucer hears his river still
Chatter beneath a phantom mill.
Tennyson notes, with studious eye,
How Cambridge waters hurry by...
And in that garden, black and white,
Creep whispers through the grass all night;
And spectral dance, before the dawn,
A hundred Vicars down the lawn;
Curates, long dust, will come and go
On lissom, clerical, printless toe;
And oft between the boughs is seen
The sly shade of a Rural Dean...
Till, at a shiver in the skies,
Vanishing with Satanic cries,
The prim ecclesiastic rout
Leaves but a startled sleeper-out,
Grey heavens, the first bird’s drowsy calls,
The falling house that never falls.

God! I will pack, and take a train,
And get me to England once again!
For England's the one land, I know,
Where men with Splendid Hearts may go;
And Cambridgeshire, of all England,
The shire for Men who Understand;
And of THAT district I prefer
The lovely hamlet Grantchester.
For Cambridge people rarely smile,
Being urban, squat, and packed with guile;
And Royston men in the far South
Are black and fierce and strange of mouth;
At Over they fling oaths at one,
And worse than oaths at Trumpington,
And Ditton girls are mean and dirty,
And there’s none in Harston under thirty,
And folks in Shelford and those parts
Have twisted lips and twisted hearts,
And Barton men make Cockney rhymes,
And Coton’s full of nameless crimes,
And things are done you’d not believe
At Madingley on Christmas Eve.
Strong men have run for miles and miles,
When one from Cherry Hinton smiles;
Strong men have blanched, and shot their wives,
Rather than send them to St. Ives;
Strong men have cried like babes, bydam
To hear what happened at Babraham.
But Grantchester! ah, Grantchester!
There's peace and holy quiet there,
Great clouds along pacific skies,
And men and women with straight eyes,
Lithe children lovelier than a dream,
A bosky wood, a slumbrous stream,
And little kindly winds that creep
Round twilight corners, half asleep.
In Grantchester their skins are white;
They bathe by day, they bathe by night;
The women there do all they ought;
The men observe the Rules of Thought.
They love the Good; they worship Truth;
They laugh uproariously in youth;
(And when they get to feeling old,
They up and shoot themselves, I’m told)...

Ah God! to see the branches stir
Across the moon at Grantchester!
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
Is dawn a secret shy and cold
Anadyomene, silver-gold?
And sunset still a golden sea
From Haslingfield to Madingley?
And after, ere the night is born,
Do hares come out about the corn?
Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
Gentle and brown, above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain?... oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?