08 February 2015

‘Nothing is so beautiful as Spring …
that blue is all in a rush / with richness’

Blue skies and blue water in Skerries this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

I expect to give my all in any Sunday morning celebration of the Eucharist, and I expect to be tired – spiritually and physically – by the time the afternoon arrives.

I was particularly tired today after a long and busy working weekend. It was a joy to reach the climax of that weekend with the celebration of this morning’s Teaching Eucharist.

By this afternoon, I wondered whether to go for a walk on a beach or in the countryside. I was tired, grey clouds were hanging over Dublin, and there were patches of heavy fog around since I left the house this morning.

But by the time I reached north Co Dublin this afternoon, the fog had lifted, the bright skies were sunny and blue, and but for the chill factor in the air it was hard to imagine that we are still in the first few days of Spring and that Winter may not have fully departed.

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote:

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

The light of a low and slowly setting sun on the harbour in Skerries this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Two of us were heading towards Skerries, but we missed a turn on the road, and ended up driving through tree-lined back roads and country rides, through rolling dales and farmland in the area around the quaintly-named Man O’War.

We were only a mile or two east and west of the main Dublin-Belfast road and the coastline from Balbriggan to Rush, but we were lost in a tranquil, rural idyll. As the winding road twisted here, and twisted there, once and once more, we were surprised to come upon the old thatched cottage that is the Man O’War bar and restaurant.

With its thatched roof, whitewashed walls and traditional bar, the Man O’War claims to date back to 1595. There has been plenty of speculation about the origin of the name “Man O’War.” Its strategic position on a hill (Irish mean bharr, “middle height”) is one answer, but a more romantic tale tells how the area was once covered with trees that were felled and used to build British Man O’War ships.

However, the most popular local story tells of the “Turk’s Head” – a large wooden carving of a Turk’s Head that for many years adorned a pillar outside the pub. It was said the figure came from a shipwrecked Man O’War and gave the area its name.

Standing on a hill, this was once a stopping point on the coach road established by Act of Parliament in 1732. The Dublin to Dunleer Turnpike operated until 1855, and a turnpike or toll booth stood halfway along the road at the site of the Man O’War Pub.

It is said that Theobald Wolfe Tone once had breakfast here in July 1792, and Dr John Gamble and Austin Cooper who both wrote about their stay at the Man O’War. Highwaymen also took advantage of the route, including the infamous “Collier the Highway man” (1780-1849).

‘If love is the answer, could you please rephrase the question’ … a café in Skerries anticipates Saint Valentine’s Day at the end of the week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Eventually, we found our way back onto the road between Lusk and Skerries, and went for a walk by the Sailing Club and along the Harbour.

The tide was in, the sun was low but not yet setting, and although no-one was sailing there were one or two people out on the water attending to their boats and their riggings and moorings, and two or three seals bobbing up and down in the water near the harbour wall, as though they had told one another to come and see the people out for a spring afternoon’s stroll.

The sun casts its rays across the water at Skerries Harbour this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

On the South Strand, there were so many families on the shoreline it was possible to imagine, but for their warm clothing, that under this clear blue sky that we were being offered the promise of a good summer this year.

A number of jellyfish were dotted along the shore, stranded by the receding tide. But I do not know my jellyfish well enough to know whether any one of these was a Man O’War.

Sitting out with two double espressos at the Olive Café in Skerries this afternon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

After picking up some newspapers in Gerry’s, we sat outside the Olive Café on Strand Street, enjoying two double espressos beneath the olive tree. This is the first time, so far, this year that I have sat outside with a coffee.

I am back in Skerries next week for a retreat on Ash Wednesday in the Sailing Club.

All alone in the water at Skerries Sailing Club this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

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