17 May 2015

A wayside cross and a promise of
summer after a walk on the beach

The green and golden fields of Duleek this afternoon … holding out a promise of summer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

These past few weeks have been exceptionally busy.

Reflecting on the week before last, I realised I slept in four different beds over seven days: in Grey’s Guest House in Dugort on Achill Island, Co Mayo; at home; in the Charlemont Arms Hotel during the General Synod in Armagh; back at home again; and then in Barberstown Castle, Co Kildare, after taking part in a wedding in Culmullen, Co Meath.

This was followed by a busy working week that ran into a full working weekend that included lectures on the Church History module and a field trip with students yesterday [16 May 2015] to the National Museum of Ireland in Kildare Street, Dublin, and the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin Castle.

By this afternoon I was feeling tired and a little exhausted and needed some fresh air between those brain cells, either by the sea or out in the countryside – and I managed to do both.

The vast expanse of rippled sand on the beach at Bettystown this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

After a light lunch in the Village Café in Templeogue, two of us headed north to Bettystown on the east coast of Co Meath.

Although the skies were grey, the tide was out and the long stretch of beach between Laytown and Mornington seemed to extend for a greater expanse than usual, and there curious trailing pools and rivulets of water were forming shapes between the ripples in the sand.

There were few people on the beach, and apart from one or two cars driving on the beach, I almost imagined I had Bettystown all to myself.

A speed sign seems to disappear into the sand at Bettystown (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Two friends who live outside Navan had invited us to their house, and we headed back through Laytown and Julianstown before heading west towards Duleek.

The rain showers were intermittent, and at this time of the year the translucent effect of the rain brings out the colours on the fields and hills and in the rivers.

Before reaching Duleek, a hill of bright yellow rapeseed rose up before us, and we stopped for a few moments between the showers of rain to enjoy the sight.

A field of yellow rapeseed in the green countryside near Duleek, Co Meath, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

After passing through Duleek, I noticed for the first time the Athcarne Cross on a raised bank at the corner of a small junction, about three miles south-west of Duleek.

This cross is national monument and was erected ca 1675 as a memorial to Sir Luke Bathe and his wife, Dame Cecilia Dowdall, who lived nearby at Athcarne Castle.

The Athcarne Cross embodies both Renaissance and Baroque influences, with the Crucifixion depicted on the west face and the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child on the East and West face. A coat of arms representing the Bathe and Dowdall families has also been carved out next to the implements of Christ’s Passion.

The cross, which was repaired in 1810, is one of a series of crosses erected by Cecilia Dowdall in memory of her husband, and there is another notable example in Duleek.

The Athcarne Cross south-west of Dulkeek was erected in the 17th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

In the distance, we caught a glimpse of Athcarne Castle, now in ruins on the banks of the River Nanny. This is an Elizabethan castle, and the original tower and house were built by William Bathe in 1590. When the house was rebuilt in 1830, the original tower was kept and an impressive turret was added.

James Gernon, the last resident, lived in the castle until the 1950s. I understand the original stone staircase at the north-west corner, survives with all 77 steps leading to the top of the ruins.

Nearby at Beaumont, the ruins of a large corn and flour mill stand on the side of the road.

Until at least the late 1830s, Duleek stood on the mail coach road from Dublin to Belfast. But today, these country roads are quiet and sleepy, apart from local traffic.

I was away from the bustle and busy-ness of life in Dublin, and the rain brought out the green and golden colours of the landscape that hold out the promise of summer.

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