22 February 2015

An island beach walk, an old Jewish
cemetery, and a musical start to Lent

Walking on the beach on Bull Island this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

An “Orange Alert” storm warning is in place throughout Ireland this evening, there are high winds and the rains are heavy, with occasional flashes of lightning.

But before the storm broke, two of us headed out to Dollymount on Clontarf Road, immediately north of Dublin’s inner city, for a walk along the Bull Wall and the beach on Bull Island.

Despite the churning waters and rising tides, families in large number were enjoying the new vistas created by nature and the spectacular views along the beach north to Sutton and Howth Head and out to the Irish Sea.

Watching the ferries leaving Dublin Port from Bull Island this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Close to the beach a number of ferries and cargo ships were making their way out of Dublin Port and gliding along the water, parallel to the beach. They were so close it was possible to imagine that one could still be hardy and foolish enough to swim out towards them, despite the threatened storm.

Even as the rains began to fall, car loads were still driving across the single-land wooden bridge linking Dollymount with Bull Island. Winter storms add an additional attraction to the sea and sand at this time of the year.

The gate lode to oldest Jewish cemetery in Dublin has a plaque saying in was ‘Built in the Year 5618’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

On our way out to the Bull Wall, we stopped in Ballybough in search of Dublin’s oldest Jewish cemetery. The hint that the hidden cemetery is there is found on a gable-ended house with a plaque that is inscribed “Built in the Year 5618.”

The reference is to the year 1857 in the Hebrew Calendar. The house was built as a gate lodge for a much older cemetery that is almost 300 years old.

In the 1700s, a small number of Jews had settled in the Annadale area off Ellis Avenue (now Philipsburg Avenue), in Fairview. Most of these Marrano Jews were descendants of families who had fled the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal, and some also came from the Netherlands.

In 1718, Alexander Felix (David Penso), Jacob Do Porto, and David Machado Do Sequeira, on behalf of the Jewish community in Dublin, leased a plot of land for a burial ground from Captain Chichester Phillips, MP, of Drumcondra Castle.

The plot was bought in 1748 by the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in London acting with Michael Phillips, of Crane Lane Synagogue, Dublin, with a leasehold for 1,000 years at the annual rent of one peppercorn.

The gate lodge was built in 1857 to replace a temporary hut built by the Cohen family in 1798.

A glimpse of the old Jewish graveyard and the graves in Ballybough (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

I caught a glimpse of the cemetery itself, which has more than 200 graves. In 1908, Lewis Harris was elected an Alderman of the City of Dublin. However, he died the day before he was to be made Lord Mayor and was buried in Fairview Strand, beside his wife Juliette.

Burials had stopped around 1900, with just a few burials in 1901, 1908, 1946, and 1958. After that last burial in 1958, most Jewish burials in Dublin now take place in Dolphin’s Barn.

Today, 148 tombstones are still standing in the cemetery and are inscribed in Hebrew, and English, with the Jewish calendar month of death, along with the birth, age and place of origin of the person. The Cohen tombstones all have a depiction of hands over their remains. The reason for this is to show that they were descendants of the Cohens who were the Priests of Israel and the hands are shown as blessing the people.

Looking across Dublin port at the twin towers of the Pigeon House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Before arriving in Ballybough, we also visited Dublin Port. It is ten years or more since I travelled across the Irish Sea on a ferry from Dublin Port, and today – perhaps because it was a Sunday afternoon – the place seemed eerily quiet, despite the steady flow of shipping out of the port.

It is estimated that about two-thirds of port traffic in the Republic of Ireland passes through Dublin Port. The Port is located on both sides of the mouth of the River Liffey, out to its mouth. The main part in on the north side of the river, and covers 205 hectares at the end of East Wall and North Wall, from Alexandra Quay. The smaller part of the port, on the south side of the river, covers 51 hectares and lies at the beginning of the Pigeon House peninsula.

But the mediaeval port of Dublin was a short distance upstream, on the south bank of the Liffey, below Christ Church Cathedral, from its current location. In 1715, the Great South Wall was built to shelter the entrance to the port, and Poolbeg Lighthouse at the end of the South Bull Wall was built in 1767.

Looking east along the River Liffey this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Cmerford, 2015)

When James Gandon’s Custom House was built further downstream in 1791, the port moved downstream to the north bank of the river estuary. In 1800, Captain William Bligh, better known for his part in the mutiny on the Bounty, recommended building the Bull Wall. When the Bull Wall was built in 1842, the North Bull Island formed slowly as sand built up behind it.

We had driven along the north banks of the Liffey on our way to and from the port and the Bull Island.

With the Revd Dr Patrick McGlinchey and the Revd Mpole Samuel Masemola in the Chapter House of Christ Church Cathedral

Earlier in the day, I was in Christ Church Cathedral, where I was deacon at the Cathedral Eucharist for the First Sunday in Lent, reading the Gospel (Mark 1: 9-15) and assisting at the administration of Holy Communion.

The Dean, the Very Revd Dermot Dunne, presided at the Eucharist, and the preacher was my colleague, the Revd Dr Patrick McGlinchey. It was also good to see the Revd Mpole Samuel Masemola from South Africa robe for the Eucharist this morning. He is the Assistant Chaplain at the Anglican Chaplaincy in Oslo, which is part of the Diocese of Europe in the Church of England.

The setting was Collegium Regale by Herbert Howells (1892-1983). This setting and its name find their origins in a challenge from Eric Milner-White when he was the Dean of King’s College, Cambridge.

Throughout Lent, I am reflecting each morning on a hymn setting or a piece of music associated with Ralph Vaughan Williams. It is interesting that Howells was confirmed in his conviction that he should become a composer when he was in his late teens and heard the premiere of Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis at the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester Cathedral in September 1910.

Howells recalled later in life how Vaughan Williams sat next to the awestruck aspiring composer for the remainder of the concert and shared with him his score of Edward Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius.Both Vaughan Williams and the Tudor composers, including Tallis, profoundly influenced Howells’s, and the friendship between Howells and Vaughan Williams developed into an interesting musical understanding.

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