30 December 2014

A change of plans opens the wonders of
the Phoenix Park in mid-winter sunshine

Winter sunshine and reflections in the ornamental lake beside the Boathouse Café at Farmleigh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

It has been a bright crisp sunny winter day, with clear blue skies and deceptively warm sunshine that almost carried a hint or promise of spring, perhaps even summer.

I started off this morning with the intention of visiting my GP for my regular B12 injection. But he was out, and it was suggested I should return later in the afternoon. I was out, and it took little imagination to change the day’s plans. Two of us decided to visit the Grangegorman Military Cemetery on Blackhorse Avenue, close to the Phoenix Park.

The cemetery opened in 1876 as a graveyard for the soldiers and families from Marlborough Barracks (now McKee Barracks), across the road, but some of the early graves include soldiers killed earlier in the Crimean War.

Many members of my grandfather’s regiment, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and their close relatives are buried in the graveyard. Until recently, it was a forgotten corner of Dublin, lost in the mist of obscurity created by the myths surrounding Irish nationalism.

Those buried here include Martin Doyle (1849-1940) from Gusserane, near New Ross, Co Wexford, who was a Sergeant-Major in the Royal Munster Fusiliers and was decorated with the Victoria Cross and the Military Medal by King George V for his bravery in World War I. He later fought in the Irish war of independence, and then joined the new Irish Free State Army.

The ambassadors of Turkey, New Zealand and Australia planted a Turkish Hazel in the cemetery in 2005 by to mark the 90th Anniversary of the Gallipoli landings on 25 April 1915.

This is the largest military cemetery in Ireland and it is managed by the Office of Public Works to standards set by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I expected it to be open this morning, but the gates were locked, there were no signs and the number provided in a brochure from the OPW was not being answered.

Morning sunshine in the Phoenix Park near Blackhorse Avenue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

I crossed the road, and for a few minutes stepped inside the Phoenix Park, where a dusting of cold frost was covering the grounds, and the morning sun was bursting through the trees lining the avenue, where the only signs of human life were two single joggers and one man and his dog.

We decided to drive back around through the gates at Infirmary Road into the Phoenix Park, and realising that next year marks the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, decided to look at the Wellington Monument, in a corner at the south-east end of the Phoenix Park.

The Wellington Monument … it took almost half a century to build, from 1817 to 1861 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

This obelisk, more correctly called the Wellington Testimonial, overlooks Kilmainham and the River Liffey. Standing at 62 metres (203 ft), this is the largest obelisk in Europe.

The Wellington Testimonial was built to commemorate the victories of the Duke of Wellington, who was born in Mornington House, now the Merrion Hotel in Merrion Street, Dublin, in 1769.

This is a testimonial rather than a monument, because it was erected while Wellington was still alive. The original plan was to erect it in Merrion Square, close to the house where he was born. But it was built in the Phoenix Park because of opposition from the residents of Merrion Square.

The obelisk was designed by Sir Robert Smirke and the foundation stone was laid in 1817, two years after Wellington’s defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. However, the project ran out of funds in 1820 and it was not completed until 18 June 1861. There were further plans for a statue of the ‘Iron Duke’ on horseback but this too ran out of funds.

There are four bronze plaques above the base of the obelisk. There were cast from cannons captured at Waterloo. Three of these panels depict major events in the life of Wellington’s military and political career: the Indian Wars, by Joseph Kirk; Waterloo by Thomas Farrell; and Civil and Religious Liberty, by John Hogan, recalling that Wellington was the Prime Minister who delivered Daniel O’Connell’s demands for Catholic Emancipation in 1829, despite opposition from among his fellow Conservatives.

The fourth panel has an inscription in Latin and English that reads:

Asia and Europe, saved by thee, proclaim
Invincible in war thy deathless name,
Now round thy brow the civic oak we twine
That every earthly glory may be thine

The Duke of Wellington died on 14 September 1852 and was buried in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Winter buds in the People’s Flower Garden this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

From the Wellington Monument, we crossed Chesterfield Avenue to the Victorian People’s Flower Gardens, close to the Parkgate Street entrance to the Phoenix Park.

The gardens, covering an area of 9 hectares (22 acres), were originally established in 1840 as the Promenade Grounds. But new gardens were laid out and enclosed in 1864. The gardens now include a large ornamental lake, children's playground, picnic areas and Victorian bedding schemes.

The pedestal of the former Carlisle Statue in the People’s Flower Garden (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

A lonely sight in the centre of the gardens is the pedestal of the former Carlisle Statue. This was erected to thank George Howard (1802-1864), 7th Earl of Carlisle and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1855-1864), for his role in laying out the gardens. The statue, unveiled on 3 March 1870, was 8 ft high and cast in bronze by John Foley, showing Carlisle in the robes of a Knight the Order of Saint Patrick.

Carlisle had many Irish family connection: his grandfather, the 5th Duke of Devonshire, lived in Lismore Castle, Co Waterford. But his statue was blown up by the IRA in the early hours of 28 July 1956.

The statues of dead men are always soft targets – a nearby equestrian statue of Field Marshall Viscount Gough, also by John Foley, was constantly vandalised until it was removed in 1990. Yet Gough too was thoroughly Irish: he was born in Woodstown, Co Waterford, and when he died at Saint Helen’s, Booterstown, he was buried in Saint Brigid’s Churchyard, Stillorgan.

The former Royal Military Infirmary, seen from the People’s Flower Gardens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

From the gardens, the bare winter branches of the trees provided a view of the Royal Military Infirmary, built in 1786 and now the headquarters of the Department of Defence.

This building, which gives its name to Infirmary Road, was designed by James Gandon and built by William Gibson. Gandon’s other buildings in Dublin include the Four Courts, the Custom House, the King’s Inns and O’Connell Bridge.

The Royal Military Infirmary was replaced in 1913 by the nearby King George V Hospital, later known as Saint Bricin’s Hospital.

The deer near the Magazine Fort … was I watching them or were they watching me? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

We traced our steps back to the Wellington obelisk, and then drove on through the Phoenix Park, stopping to see the deer near the Magazine Fort.

They stood there regally, seemingly undisturbed by the people who came to see them. At one stage, I wondered whether I was watching them or they were watching me.

We doubled back by the Magazine Fort and the Wellington Monument before continuing on through the park to Farmleigh and a late morning coffee in the Boathouse Café.

We sat on the deck overlooking the Ornamental Lake; the bright sky was reflected in the lake, giving the waters a bright blue colour. The proprietors of the café claim the landscape here remains unchanged since the 19th century. We were soon lost in time, in a scene rich in promise at the end of December and the end of the year.

I was back at my GP in the late afternoon, after a wait of three hours received my B12 injection. I was glad of that change in plans that gave me a morning in the mid-winter sunshine in the Phoenix Park.

Carols and Hymns for Christmas (6):
‘The Wexford Carol’

Winter on the quays in Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

As part of my spiritual reflections for this Christmas season, I am thinking about an appropriate carol or hymn each morning. Today (30 December 2014), I have chosen ‘The Wexford Carol,’ which I spoke about two years ago on RTE Radio 1 on Christmas Day. I was interviewed by Aoife Nic Cormaic in 2012 for that programme, which traced the history of the famous carol and talked to musicians and listeners about what makes it special and what gives it its distinctly Irish character.

‘The Wexford Carol’ is said to date from the 12th century and is one of the oldest Irish carols and one of the oldest surviving Christmas carols in the European tradition.

The carol is thought to have originated in Co Wexford, but there are many traditions about this poem and song, and for many years it was said that only men should sing it. However, since it gained a new popularity from the 1990s, many female artists have also recorded ‘The Wexford Carol.’

Saint Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford ... the organist, Dr William Grattan Flood (1857-1928), claimed to have discovered ‘The Wexford Carol’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

‘The Wexford Carol’ achieved a new popularity because of the work of Dr William Henry Grattan Flood (1857-1928), who was the organist and musical director at Saint Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, and the author of The History of the Diocese of Ferns (1916). According to the Revd Joseph Ranson, in a paper in The Past (1949), this carol was discovered by Dr Grattan Flood in Co Wexford. He transcribed the carol from a local singer, and it was published in 1928, the year of his death, as No 14 in the Oxford Book of Carols, edited by Percy Dearmer, Martin Shaw and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The carol was quickly included in collections of carols and Christmas poems around the world, and is sometimes known as the Enniscorthy Carol, and was recorded under this title by the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on a Christmas recording in 1997. It is also known by its first verse, “Good people all this Christmas time.”

The New Oxford Book Of Carols, in a detailed footnote following No 162, “Good People All, This Christmastime,” says: “… Dr WH Grattan-Flood (1859-1928) lived in Enniscorthy from 1895 until his death, and [...] took down the words and tune from a local singer; after revising the text, he sent the carol to the editors of The Oxford Book of Carols, who printed it as the ‘Wexford Carol’.” However, the note continues with more detail showing the text to be English in origin, and verses 1, 2, 4, are 5 are from Shawcross’s Old Castleton Christmas Carols.

Certainly, the Irish-language version seems to be a translation from English, as it is unlikely that any carol was written in Irish in English-speaking Co Wexford.

Winter at Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford ... the Wexford Carol is often associated with the tradition of the Kilmore Carols (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

‘The Wexford Carol’ is often associated with the Kilmore Carols from Kilmore, Co Wexford. It is often attributed too to Bishop Luke Wadding of Ferns and his collection of carols, first published in Ghent in 1684.

Luke Wadding’s little book had a far-reaching influence on the spiritual lives of the people of his diocese in Co Wexford. The book had the lengthy title: A small garland of pious and godly songs composed by a devout man, for the solace of his friends and neighbours in their afflictions. The Sweet and the Sower, the nettle and the flower, the Thorne and the Rose, this Garland Compose.

Bishop Luke Wadding, who should not be confused with his kinsman, the 17th-century Franciscan theologian from Waterford of the same name. Luke Wadding, whose family came from Ballycogley Castle, Co Wexford (which was on the market recently), was the Roman Catholic Bishop of Ferns from 1683 to 1692, and he lived in Wexford town while he was bishop.

Wadding’s book contains some religious “posies” or poems written for the disinherited gentry of Co Wexford, and some verses relating to the “Popish Plot.” It also includes what was to become the foundation of a tradition of carol singing in Co Wexford, with 11 Christmas songs, two of which are sung to this day in Kilmore.

A similar carol is found in the Revd William Devereux’s A New Garland Containing Songs for Christmas (1728). William Devereux (1696-1771), from Tacumshane, was Parish Priest of Drinagh, near Wexford, from 1730 to 1771, and wrote several carols. He called his collection A New Garland to distinguish it from Bishop Luke Wadding’s earlier Pious Garland. The carols were first sung in a little chapel at Killiane.

‘The Wexford Carol’

Good people all, this Christmas-time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done,
In sending His beloved Son.
With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas Day:
In Bethlehem upon that morn
There was a blessed Messiah born.

The night before that happy tide
The noble Virgin and her guide
Were long time seeking up and down
To find a lodging in the town.
But mark how all things came to pass;
From every door repelled alas!
As long foretold, their refuge all
Was but an humble ox’s stall.

There were three wise men from afar
Directed by a glorious star,
And on they wandered night and day
Until they came where Jesus lay,
And when they came unto that place
Where our beloved Messiah was,
They humbly cast them at his feet,
With gifts of gold and incense sweet.

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep;
To whom God’s angels did appear,
Which put the shepherds in great fear.
“Prepare and go,” the angels said,
“To Bethlehem, be not afraid;
For there you’ll find, this happy morn,
A princely Babe, sweet Jesus born.”

With thankful heart and joyful mind,
The shepherds went the Babe to find,
And as God’s angel had foretold,
They did our Saviour Christ behold.
Within a manger He was laid,
And by his side the Virgin Maid,
As long foretold, there was a blessed Messiah born.

‘The Sussex Carol’ by Ralph Vaughan Williams

‘The Wexford Carol’ is sometimes confused with ‘The Sussex Carol,’ which is sometimes referred to by its first line too: “On Christmas night all Christians sing.” We sang ‘The Sussex Carol’ as the Post-Communion hymn at the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on Sunday morning [28 December 2014]. It is said the words of this carol were first published by Bishop Luke Wadding in A Small Garland of Pious and Godly Songs (1684). However, it is not clear whether he wrote the song or that he was recording an earlier composition.

‘The Sussex Carol’ often features in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in the Chapel of the King’s College, Cambridge, and a version of it also appears in the Irish Church Hymnal (5th edition, 2004) as Hymn No 176.

Edward Darling and Donald Davison, in their Companion to Church Hymnal, say the words are from a traditional English source, that they were adapted by Luke Wadding, and that they were reintroduced to English use through later editions of Wadding’s carols, published in London in the early 18th century, subsequently undergoing considerable modification.

Both the text and the tune to which it is now sung were discovered and written down quite independently by Cecil Sharp in Buckland, Gloucestershire, and Ralph Vaughan Williams, who heard it being sung by a Harriet Verrall of Monk’s Gate, near Horsham, Sussex – hence its name, ‘The Sussex Carol.’

The tune to which it is generally sung today is the one published by Vaughan Williams in 1919. Several years earlier, he included the carol in his Fantasia on Christmas Carols, first performed at the Three Carols Festival in Hereford Cathedral in 1912.

The words of ‘The Sussex Carol’ in the version collected by Vaughan Williams are:

On Christmas night all Christians sing
To hear the news the angels bring.
News of great joy, news of great mirth,
News of our merciful King’s birth.

Then why should men on earth be so sad,
Since our Redeemer made us glad,
When from our sin he set us free,
All for to gain our liberty?

When sin departs before His grace,
Then life and health come in its place.
Angels and men with joy may sing
All for to see the new-born King.

All out of darkness we have light,
Which made the angels sing this night:
“Glory to God and peace to men,
Now and for evermore, Amen!”

Tomorrow:From glory unto glory!’.