31 December 2015

The sun sets on 2015 at
the boating lake in Farmeligh

The sun sets on 2015 in Farmleigh late this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

This December has been the worst on record in Ireland, with six successive storms from A to F, and another storm and more heavy rainfalls predicted in the days to come. The Shannon, the Blackwater and the Slaney rivers continue to rise, many places in Ireland that were never flooded before are submerged tonight, and the risk of flooding remains severe in many places.

I think especially of places I know from my childhood and early adult days. At Cappoquin, the N72 Lismore to Dungarvan road was closed because of flooding.

In north Co Wexford, heavy floods have hit Enniscorthy and are threatening Bunclody.

The floods in Enniscorthy have closed Abbey Quay, Templeshannon Quay and Shannon Quay, Island Road is also closed and diversions are in place along the Coast Road. These floods have devastated homes and businesses in Enniscorthy, which is suffering the worst floods in recent memory.

The Quays are completely submerged, the underground car park at the Riverside Park Hotel was completely flooded as the river rose up to the door, and homes on Island Road were severely affected as the Slaney burst its banks.

It all made it impossible to get from one side of town to the other and roads are flooded right along the Slaney at Kilurin and Edermine.

Many roads across Co Wexford are badly flooded. In other parts of Co Wexford, the Castlebridge to Ferrybank road (R741) is flooded at Castlebridge and impassable, and the N11 Wexford to Dublin road is flooded at Ferrycarrig and impassable through Enniscorthy, and there are diversions on the N11 in both directions at Kyle’s Cross near Oylegate.

The floods in Enniscorthy this week are far more severe than those that hit the town in November 2014. Ironically, a deal was signed last month on the long-awaited work on building a flood relief scheme in Enniscorthy, but this is not set to begin until later next year (2016). Many people in the town must be angry that the plans are not already being put in place.

In November, Wexford County Council appointed the design consultants Mott Mac Donald from Cork and Roughan and O’Donovan from Dublin to begin working on the detailed design of the scheme.

The scheme combines a number of measures to prevent flooding in Enniscorthy, including river channel widening, river deepening, bridge relocation, and building extensive glass panelled flood walls through the town.

The proposed works will cover a 3.5 km length of the River Slaney, stretching from 1.5 km upstream of Enniscorthy Bridge to 2 km downstream, finishing just south of the Riverside Park Hotel. It includes deepening of the riverbed beneath the present Railway Bridge and the Old Enniscorthy Bridge; building a new road bridge over the River Slaney and the Railway Line, about 100 metres south of the Riverside Park Hotel, removing the existing Seamus Rafter Bridge and building a new pedestrian bridge in the town centre.

Only a few weeks ago, Enniscorthy was basking in the glory and attention from the movie Brooklyn, based on Colm Toibín’s book, with many scenes filmed in the town.

These floods have been caused by strong winds, heavy rains and high tides – the Slaney is tidal as far upstream as Enniscorthy and the Blackwater as far as Lismore.

But why are these weather symptoms causing such devastation and wreaking such havoc this winter more than any previous winter?

Anyone who doubts climate change and its effects on the planet only needs to visit Ireland, northern England and Scotland this week to see the consequences of global warming and how it is churning up these storms in the mid-Atlantic.

But surely too it has been aggravated by allowing building and development on flood plains and unsuitable sites, with a detrimental knock-on effect.

Tranquillity on the boating lake by the Boathouse Café in Farmleigh this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

I enjoy being by water – whether it is by the sea, on a beach, by a river bank, at a lake or on a canal bank. I said goodbye to 2015 this afternoon by water, but this time by the relative safety of the Boathouse Café, enjoying a double espresso by the boating lake in the grounds of Farmleigh, the official guesthouse for State visitors, on the edges of the Phoenix Park.

The Boathouse Café offers a stunning yet quiet haven close to Dublin’s city centre, and has been described as an “an Oasis of calm and tranquillity.”

I sat on the decking outside the café as the sun site on 2015. The setting sun to the west was casting beautiful lights across the ornamental lake and the surrounding woodlands.

I hope the sun rises on a 2016 that brings promise and hope to all the victims of 2015.

Silhouettes in the trees as Farmleigh in the hours before 2016 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

2015: a year symbolised by the tragic
death of a small child on a beach

The heart-breaking photograph of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi is the one abiding image of 2015

Patrick Comerford

The major story of 2015 must have been the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, and the one abiding image that shall remain with me from 2015 is the heart-breaking photograph of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old the Syrian boy who was washed up on a beach in Turkey in early September as his family tried to make the perilous crossing to Kos.

His five-year-old brother met a similar death as they and their families fled from the northern Syrian town of Kobani, the scene of fierce fighting between Islamic State insurgents and Kurdish forces earlier this year.

I was deeply heart-broken when I first saw this photograph, and immediately had images of my own sons at that age playing on beaches on Achill Island or the island of Crete in Greece.

If one horrific symbol has come to represent this year it is barbed wire. Who would have thought that countries like Hungary, Slovakia and Poland would be erecting razor-wire and barbed-wire fences along their borders 70 years after the end of World War II and only 25 years after they rejoiced in their own liberty?

Who would have thought that once again one whole group of people was going to be categorised, labelled, marginalised and dehumanised because of their religion and their ethnic identity just seven decades after the end of the Holocaust?

There were positive images too: the compassionate image of the Turkish policeman carefully carrying the little boy’s body from the sea; the crews from the Irish naval service rescuing helpless people in the Mediterranean; the volunteers who are working in Greek islands like Lesbos, Samos, Kos and Rhodes, or in the parks of Athens, to rescue, feed and clothe the refugees; home-grown response from groups like Ireland AM and the Jacket off Your Back; and people like the Irish journalist Valerie Cox who sacrificed her holidays so they could provide basic needs in Kos for the most needy people in Europe.

The refugee crisis took on gross proportions as the year rolled on, and it now overshadows all our memories of the economic crisis and political in Greece earlier the year. The Angela Merkel who was being praised late in the year for opening Germany’s borders to the refugees passing through Greece was the same German Chancellor who earlier in the year on behalf of Europe’s strongest economies had tried to squeeze the lifeblood out of one of Europe’s weakest economies.

Perhaps Alexis Tsipras should be acknowledged as Europe’s politician of the year in 2015. He was a tough negotiator on behalf of his country, he risked his political reputation for the sake of his country, he was principled yet realistic, and he faced down critics within his own party for the sake of seeking his own country’s good.

Had Germany and other stable European economies had stood by Greece, then politics might not have become so polarised across the continent. And if the European dream had been shown to have a vision for the weak and the faltering, the wind might have been taken out of David Cameron’s sails as he tried to unpick the European enterprise with his demands for changes and his threat of a Brexit.

If the attacks in Paris at the beginning of the year at Charlie Hebdo and at the Batalclan theatre at the end of the year are fuelling the rise of Islamophobia – and the growing popularity at the French polls of the National Front may indicate this – then Isis has been handed yet more victories in its battle to portray all Europeans as the enemies of Islam.

The rise of Donald Trump in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has moved from the silly and ludicrous to the dangerous and frightening. It became even more frightening when the American evangelist Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, came out in support of Trump and spoke not of countering extremism of “the war with Islam.”

Amid an outcry over Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, Franklin Graham has come out in support of his plan, saying that he has been advocating a similar stance for months. “For some time I have been saying that Muslim immigration into the United States should be stopped until we can properly vet them or until the war with Islam is over,” Graham wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.

It might be as logical to argue that all Americans should be excluded from the US until all handguns and personal weapons have been destroyed. The figures for shootings and deaths because of this problem continue to spiral in a frightening way in the US, but no-one is talking about those who resist changes in the law as “far-right extremists” or “white supremacists.”

In the past Franklin Graham has described Islam as “a very evil and wicked religion” and claimed “true Islam cannot be practiced in this country [the US],” because, in his understanding, the practice of true Islam requires wife-beating, child murder and adultery.

Franklin Graham remains President of Samaritan’s Purse and heads up Operation Christmas Child. Samaritan’s Purse continues to exploit images of distressed Syrian refugees in Greece as part of its fundraising efforts, creating what seems to be one of the most unbelievable ideological paradoxes today.

The rise of Islamic State has destroyed the economy in Tunisia with one single rampage, has damaged tourism in the Sinai Peninsula with one carefully thought-through attack, and is threatening the stability of Turkey. In both instances, the ordinary decent citizens and businesses of countries with Muslim majorities are the victims of the Islamist militants, who have also wreaked havoc this year in Beirut, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

In the West, we somehow forget that more Muslims than Christians are the innocent victims of Islamist extremism. The forgotten civil war in Yemen shows that Saudi Arabia can continue to act with impunity as it claims more and more areas of the Middle East as parts of its sphere, and until the West faces down Saudi Arabia – and deals with Israel as it would with any other state – there can never be a shard of hope for peace in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, elections in Britain, Greece, France, Spain, Portugal, Turkey and elsewhere seem to indicate that politics are becoming increasingly polarised across Europe.

In Ireland, the referendum on marriage equality earlier this year and the floods, storms and high tides that have inundated the land since the arrival of winter have been the two main news stories of the year. But the old stories of continuing corruption in banking and in public life are still there too, and despite public outpourings of grief following the death of traveller families in fires in south Dublin, discrimination of all sorts remains a social problem throughout Ireland.

During the year, I spoke about the problems created by Isis and similar groups at conferences organised by the Three Faiths Forum, when I was invited to give one of the Dr Kieran Flynn Memorial Lectures in the Lantern Centre in Dublin [21 April], and when I was invited to speak at a conference in Dundrum Methodist Church organised by the Methodist Missionary Society [25 April 2015]. I also brought a group of students to visit the Irish Islamic Centre and mosque in Clonskeagh.

A hot air balloon journey over the ‘Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

I spent some weeks this year travelling in Turkey, Italy and Greece.

Immediately after Easter, I spent a week in Cappadocia, where I stayed in the Maccan Cave Hotel, which is built around a cave in Goreme. This was an ideal base for visiting sites associated with the Cappadocian Fathers and the Patristic tradition, including churches and monasteries hewn from the rock face in central Turkey, many with frescoes that survived the Iconoclast heresy.

There were visits too to the Sufi holy shrine at Konya, an evening with “whirling dervishes,” a hot air balloon flight over the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, a descent into the labyrinth of ancient underground city, and two brief stopovers in Istanbul.

On the balcony of Sicily … a view from Taormina across the coast of Sicily (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

In July, I visited Sicily for the first time, and stayed in the Hotel Villa Linda in Giardini Naxos. During that week, I climbed the slopes of Mount Etna, visited the classical theatres in Taormina and Syracuse, explored the site of the first Greek settlement in Sicily at Naxos, and walked through the beautiful baroque city of Noto.

Walking along the harbour of Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

In September, I spent a week in Julia Apartments in Platanes on the eastern outskirts of Rethymnon, with breakfasts on the balcony overlooking the gardens, lazy days by sea on the long sandy beach, lingering meals in the evenings with friends, visits to the churches, museums and architectural delights of Rethymnon, and some quiet days in the mountains, in the Monastery of Arkadi and the Venetian village of Maroulas.

Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, with the Master’s House and the chapel on the left … the location for five films made by Dave Moore (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

I returned time and again to Lichfield this year, staying in both the Hedgehog on Stafford Road, and in the Premier Inn on the corner of Swan Road and The Friary.

In January, the local historian David Moore interviewed me for five short films he made for his YouTube channel. In this films, filmed in the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, I talked about family and local history, my views about war and peace, my vision for the future, and how a visit to Saint John’s when I was a teenager became what I describe as my self-defining moment.

In May, I was invited to take part in a guided tour of Dr Milley’s Hospital, organised by local historian Kate Gomez and the local history group Lichfield Discovered.

With Canon Andrew Gorham after preaching in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield

I was back in Lichfield in June when I was invited by Canon Andrew Gorham to preach at the Patronal Festival Eucharist in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital [24 June 2015]. This was a particularly moving evening as the chapel of Saint John’s has played such a key role in my faith development, in shaping my life, and in determining so many decisions.

The Master of Saint John’s Hospital, Canon Andrew Gorham, presided at the Eucharist, and a reception was held afterwards in the gardens of Saint John’s Hospital, an almshouse dating back to the late 15th century. The attendance included the Lord-Lieutenant of Staffordshire, Dr Ian Dudson CBE, the Deputy Mayor of Lichfield, Mrs Sheelagh James, and former Mayor Mrs Norma Bacon.

During those few days I also visited the Roman site at wall, and went for walks in the countryside around Wall, Chesterfield and Shenstone, and also visited Christ Church, Leamonsley, with its unique Pre-Raphaelite ceiling paintings.

In October, I stayed over in Lichfield again after a meeting in Birmingham of Midlands supporters of Us. That visit also provided opportunities to continue on my ‘Pugin Trail’ when I visited Saint Chad’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, and te revisit Saint Philip’s Anglican Cathedral, the cathedral of Charles Gore. Which has been celebrating its 300th anniversary this year.

There were three or four visits to Cambridge this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

I was back in Cambridge three or four times during 2015. Before the council of Us (USPG) met in the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, I spent a Sunday morning in Cambridge, taking part in the Eucharist in Saint Bene’t’s Church, which feels like my own parish church when I am in Cambridge. Later that morning I went for a walk along Paradise Island, one of the nature preserves along the banks of the River Cam. I was back again later that week for an afternoon of architectural photography, browsing in the bookshops of Cambridge, and dropping into Sidney Sussex College.

In August and September, I was back in Sidney Sussex College as I took part once again in the annual summer school of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. Each morning I was able to attend the Daily Eucharist in Saint Bene’t’s Church, there was time to catch up with some old friends, for more browsing in the bookshops, and some more architectural photography.

I was in Cambridge again in November for a meeting of the Trustees of Us in Westcott House, one of the two Anglican theological colleges in Cambridge. I stayed in the Travelodge, and there was some time to relax watching the rowing crews on the river, and to search for some gems of Eric Gill’s sculpture throughout Cambridge.

During two working visits to London, I visited Dr Johnson’s House off Fleet Street, and, in preparation for the a feature on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Wellington, went in search of places associated with the Duke of Wellington, including Wellington Barracks and his tomb in the crypt of Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

I stayed at the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hertfordshire in July, when I was elected to the Trustees of Us (the new name for the Anglican mission agency USPG, the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel). During the conference, we had interesting discussions about empowering women and challenging discussions about human trafficking and gender-based violence in Pakistan, South Africa, Central Africa, Britain and other parts of the world.

It was appropriate that these discussions took place so soon after the appointment of the first women as bishops in the Church of England. If there is a face for Anglicanism this year then it must be Bishop Libby Lane, who was consecrated Bishop of Stockport in the Diocese of Chester on 26 January 2015 in York Minster.

High Leigh also offered opportunities for country walks and riverside walks in the Lea Valley in rural Essex and Hertfordshire, lunch in the Rye house, an old pub by the canal, and an exploration of new architectural finds in the Salisbury Arms, one of the oldest pubs in Hoddedson.

In August, I spent a weekend in the Lord Byron, an old pub in Trumpington, outside Cambridge. There were walks along the Cam and by Byron’s Pool, lunch in the Orchard in Grantchester, and more searches for the work of Eric Gill.

Of course, there were regular return visits to Co Wexford throughout the year. There was a wedding reception in the Seafield Hotel, with walks on the beach in Ballymoney. Later, I was back for walks on the beaches in Courtown, Cahore, Morriscastle and Kilumckridge and walks by the shore in Wexford, where I was disappointed to find that Dolce Vita in Trimmer’s Lane has closed.

I stayed in the Millrace Hotel in Bunclody, and explored the 18th century domestic and commercial architecture of the planned town of Newtownbarry, which owes an unusual legacy to the Wyatt architectural dynasty from Lichfield. There were visits too to the Book Café and Zozimus Bookshop in Gorey, to Enniscorthy, to the grave of John Kelly in Saint Anne’s churchyard in Killanne, and to the sites of the Celtic monastic foundations in Taghmon and Ferns.

Before the end of the year, I was back in Wexford again for the launch of the Journal of the Wexford Historical Society in the Talbot Hotel earlier this month.

There were a few visits to Kilkenny, staying overnight in the Pembroke Hotel earlier in the year, and visiting later in the year for the Arts Festival. There was a lecture in the Parade Tower in Kilkenny Castle by Alexander Lingas, uncovering the lost traditions of Byzantine music. There was lunch in Café Sol. There were visits to Saint Canice’s Cathedral, to Rothe House, and to the Hole in the Wall. And there was a glass of wine in Petronella, the new restaurant in the Langton House in Butterslip, one of my Comerford ancestral homes.

I stayed too in the Charlemont Arms Hotel in Armagh during the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, in Barberstown Castle, Co Kildare, during a wedding, and in the Station House Hotel in Kilmessan, Co Meath, which provided an opportunity to visit the ruins of Bective Abbey and the site of the Battle of the Boyne at Oldcastle, Co Meath.

I spent Ash Wednesday on a retreat based in the Sailing Club in Skerries. I missed the one-retreat in Saint John’s Monastery in Tolleshunt Knights that was once part of the IOCS summer school in Cambridge. But my week in Crete provided an opportunity for a day in Arkadi, a monastery in the mountains above Rethymnon.

A walk by the North Strand and harbour in Skerries earlier this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

There were walks on the beaches in Bettystown and Laytown (Co Meath), Balbriggan, Dollymount, Donabate, Malahdie, Portmarnock, Sandycove and Skerries (Dublin), Bray, Greystones and Kilcoole (Co Wicklow), Cahore, Courtown, Kilmuckridge and Morriscastle (Co Wexford), Dugort and Keel (Achill Island, Co Mayo), and on beaches in Crete and Sicily. There were walks by the sea in Blackrock, Burrishoole, Carlingford, Clontarf, Dun Laoghaire and Howth, by the lakes in Virginia, Co Cavan, and by the banks of the rivers Liffey, Dodder, Slaney, Nanny, Boyne and Cam, by the canals in Dublin, by the Boating Lake in Farmleigh, and by Stowe Pool and Minster Pool in Lichfield, and in the gardens at Mount Usher, Co Wicklow, the Botanic Gardens, Dublin and Beacon Park, Lichfield.

There were walks in the countryside throughout Ireland and England, and walks in the mountains in Ireland, in Sicily and in Crete.

My publications included my regular contributions to the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough), the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory), occasional contributions to The Irish Times, the Lichfield Gazette and the Church of Ireland Gazette papers in Koinonia on TS Eliot, the spirituality of cinema, Richard Hooker, and the Lichfield carol-writer Frederick Oakeley, and a feature in the annual report of the Friends of Lichfield Cathedral.

I also contributed two chapters to a new volume of the Treasures of Ireland, edited by Professor Salvador Ryan, published by Veritas and lunched in Maynooth by the former Minister for Education, Mary O’Rourke, a chapter to an Irish Times ebook on the Marriage Equality Referendum, edited by Denis Staunton, and wrote a paper on the Greek poet CP Cavafy for the Hellenic Foundation for Culture (Ελληνικό Ίδρυμα Πολιτισμού).

Some of my photographs have been shown in an exhibition organised by Lichfield Discovered and the Lichfield Waterworks Trust in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield, as part of the programme for Lichfield Heritage Weekend, in a new book edited by Professor Salvador Ryan of Maynooth, to illustrate a book of Cambridge memories by Professor M. Harunur Rashid in Bangladesh, on this year’s Christmas card for the Tui Motu InterIslands Magazine in New Zealand, and on the forthcoming Epiphany card of Bishop Jeffrey Lee of Chicago.
I preached regularly in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, as a member of the chapter, and in the Chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and preached at the Harvest Thanksgiving Services in Christ Church, Taney, and Straffan Parish Church, Co Kildare. I also preached or took services in All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman, Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Saint Werburgh’s Church in Dublin’s city centre and Zion Parish Church, Rathgar.

I was invited again this year to speak at the Heinrich Böll Summer School in Achill. There I spoke on the trustees of the Achill Mission, opened an exhibition of photographs, and spoke about TS Eliot and his Irish connections. This year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the death of TS Eliot, and apart from the paper in Achill and in Koinonia, there was a lecture in a Lenten programme in CITI, and material for many talks and sermons throughout the year.

I was a lecturer on this year’s programme of monthly lectures of the Genealogical Society of Ireland, speaking in Dún Laoghaire Further Education Institute on ‘The Comerfords in Ireland: disentangling myths and legends to find true origins.’

There were baptisms and weddings, which are always a joy, but far too many funerals.

I was upset that I did not get to funerals of the Revd Dr Roger Grainger – he made interesting observations of my lecture on TS Eliot in Achill, we later shared memories of Lichfield, and he sent me signed copy of one of his books shortly before he drowned tragically in a rainstorm in Achill; of Bishop Peter Barrett – we had been students together in the Irish School of Ecumenics, and later collaborated on a number of projects in Trinity College Dublin and the Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory; Dara Gallagher – we had been at school together in Gormanston and kept up our friendship through Facebook; and Canon Bob Reed – he had always been a welcoming presence in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

I continue to lecture in Anglicanism, Liturgy, Church History and Patristics at CITI, on the staff at Trinity College Dublin as an Adjunct Assistant Professor, and as the Visiting Lecturer in Anglicanism at the Mater Dei Institute, which is in process of being integrated into Dublin City University. I was also invited to co-chair the opening session of an international conference on Martin Luther in Maynooth University, and took part in an earlier seminar on Luther in the Emmaus Retreat Centre in Swords.

I remain a member of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, the Dublin and Glendalough Diocesan Synod, and the boards of Us in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. I was elected a Trustee of Us in Britain this year, and became a member of the Dublin and Glendalough Diocesan Council.

In the back streets of Greek towns like Rethymnon, away from the gaze of tourists, other lives face difficulties (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

I continue to live with the symptoms of Sarcoidosis and a severe deficiency of Vitamin B12. These cause breathing problems, coughing, night sweats, joint pains and occasional loss of balance. But I live with them, and, as I have said in the past, I have them, they do not have me. There are too many other problems at home and in the world to worry about and that demand my priorities.

At the end of the year, I was involved in the Black Santa Appeal at Saint Ann’s Church in Dawson Street, which broke all records in fundraising this Christmas.

This year, the Dublin Black Santa Appeal has raised in excess of €40,000, exceeding all previous records. It has helped to make this a Happy Christmas for many people who depend on the support of local charities in Dublin.

In Crete, I was humbled by the work of medical professionals in Rethymnon. The Voluntary Welfare Clinic Rethymno (Εθελοντικό Ιατρείο Κοινωνικής Αλληλεγγύης Ρεθύμνου) works from a storefront crèche in Kastrinogiannaki Street, providing free attention, advice and consultation for anyone without health insurance. That includes migrants without proper papers, but also includes many Greeks who have fallen on hard times.

They refuse to call themselves a charity, because they see health care as a human right. The clinic is open to all people without access to health care. It is a gesture of solidarity by experts and professionals who have already seen their own salaries and incomes cut in public spending cuts and in the decline in the Greek economy. Some of the hidden work here also includes helping refugees and migrants trace missing family members.

The Voluntary Welfare Clinic Rethymno (Εθελοντικό Ιατρείο Κοινωνικής Αλληλεγγύης Ρεθύμνου) can be contacted at Kastrinogiannaki 12, Rethymnon Old Town 74100, Crete (Καστρινογιαννάκη 12, Παλιά Πόλη, 74100).

Visit their website here, watch their work on this video, like their Facebook page or contact the clinic directly: ethiatreio@gmail.com

If, like me, you want 2016 to be a better year than 2015, then there are plenty of organisations, charities and NGOs you can support. Your support, from a cheery message to workers and volunteers to a donation, really makes a difference. In the year to come, I hope to continue supporting Us (formerly USPG, the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) in Ireland and Britain, and in Greece I hope to continue supporting the work of the Voluntary Welfare Clinic in Rethymnon.

I pray that 2016 is a better year for refugees fleeing in turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, caught in the Mediterranean in Malta, Greece or Turkey, trudging through the cold weather in southern and central Europe or clinging to any desperate action in Calais that may bring them hope.

I pray that 2016 is a better year for those in our own society, in Ireland and in Britain, who are marginalised because of religion, ethnicity, gender, age, sexuality, spending capacity, poverty, health, intellectual ability or any other distinctive mark that allows others to ignore, pillory or refuse to help them.

I pray for a lot less hate and a little more love in 2016.

May you be blessed in 2016, and may you be a blessing to others.

Father Stratis Dimou was the founder of the NGO Agkalia (Hug) in Lesvos, which has helped thousands of refugees and immigrants in the last few years. In this image he is carrying Aylan Kurdi in his arms, one of the drowned refugee children who the sea brought out on the shore of Alikarnassos on Wednesday in Turkey. Father Stratis also died on on the same day. Thanks to Damian Mac Con Uladh for drawing my attention to this image.

Christmas with Vaughan Williams (8):
‘Hodie’, 12 and 13: Hymn and Narration

‘Behold there came wise men from the east’ … the Magi arrive at the crib scene in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

During this Christmas season, I am inviting you to join me each morning in a series of Christmas meditations as I listen to the Christmas cantata Hodie (‘This Day’) by the great English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), drawing on English Christmas poetry from diverse sources, including poems by John Milton, Thomas Hardy and George Herbert that reflect a variety of Christmas experiences, and the narration of the Nativity story in the Gospels.

Hodie, with its blend of mysticism, heavenly glory and human hope, was composed by Vaughan Williams in 1953-1954 and is his last major choral-orchestral composition.

Today is New Year’s Eve [31 December 2015] and we have reached the end of the year. This morning, I invite you to join me in listening to the twelfth and thirteenth movements of Hodie, which include a hym based on the poem ‘Christmas Day’ by the Scottish poet William Drummond, and a narration adapted from Saint Matthew’s account of the first Christmas (Matthew 2: 1-11).

12 and 13: Hymn and Narration

12, Hymn

The hymn in the twelfth movement is the only solo movement for the tenor in the entire cantata. It said to have been a late addition by Vaughan Williams when the original tenor soloist complained about the size of his part. The movement is brilliantly scored for full orchestra, and opens with a bright brass fanfare. The text is the poem ‘Christmas Day’ by William Drummond:

Bright portals of the sky,
Emboss’d with sparkling stars,
Doors of eternity,
With diamantine bars,
Your arras rich uphold,
Loose all your bolts and springs,
Ope wide your leaves of gold,
That in your roofs may come the King of Kings.

O well-spring of this All!
Thy Father’s image vive;
Word, that from nought did call
What is, doth reason, live;
The soul’s eternal food,
Earth’s joy, delight of heaven;
All truth, love, beauty, good:
To thee, to thee be praises ever given!

O glory of the heaven!
O sole delight of earth!
To thee all power be given,
God’s uncreated birth!
Of mankind lover true,
Indearer of his wrong,
Who doth the world renew,
Still be thou our salvation and our song!

William Drummond, who was born at Hawthornden on 13 December 1585, was the son of John Drummond, first Laird of Hawthornden, and his wife, Susannah (Fowler). In 1590, John Drummond was appointed Gentleman-Usher to King James VI of Scotland, to whom the Drummonds were distantly related, and his uncle William Fowler was made private secretary to Queen Anne.

Drummond attended Edinburgh High School, and graduated MA from Edinburgh University in 1605. In 1606, he went to England and then to France, and studied law at the university in Bourges before returning to Scotland in 1608. His extensive book collection included a considerable theological section.

13, Narration

Vaughan Williams follows his setting of Drummond’s Christmas poem with a narration adapted from Saint Matthew’s account of the nativity (Matthew 2: 1-11):

Now when Jesus was born, behold there came wise men from the east,
saying, “Where is he that is born King? for we have seen his star in
the east, and are come to worship him.” And they said unto them,
“In Bethlehem.” When they had heard that, they departed; and, lo,
the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came
and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star,
they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into
the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell
down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures,
they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
The voice of the kings is provided by the men of the chorus.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.

30 December 2015

Calm after the storm and a last
walk on a beach for this year

A final walk on the beach in 2015 … on the beach in Balbriggan after Storm Frank passes by (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

Storm Frank has swept across these islands and town and villages across Ireland, Scotland and northern England have been devastated by the high winds, heavy rains and swollen rivers that have burst their banks.

The River Bracken, which flows through Balbriggan, was flowing fast through Balbriggan this afternoon, its waters deep brown and heavy, its pace determined, but the river channel is well banked up and it looks like it never threatened to break its banks as it rushes down to the harbour.

The River Bracken is known locally at ‘The Canal’. It once formed a lake in the town, but this was reclaimed through land-fill in the early 1980s to form a public park and the car park where we parked.

According to PW Joyce, the river gets its name from the town, and the name is derived from the Irish Baile Breacain (‘Brecan’s Town). The river, in turn, probably derives its name from the Irish word breicín (‘little trout’).

However, local tradition says the true Irish name of the town is Baile Brigín, meaning the “Town of the Little Hills,” a reference to low hills surrounding the town. Others say the town’s name means Breaga, the area of a tribe or clan known as the Bregii tribe.

We parked in the car park where the small lake could be found until the 1980s. On the hill above us stood Saint George’s, the Church of Ireland Church founded over 200 years ago for the growing town the Revd George Hamilton of Hampton Hall, in the face of opposition from the Rector of nearby Balrothery.

The Railway Viaduct and the Lifeboat House built into one its eleven arches are two of the best-known landmarks in Balbriggan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015; click on photograph for a larger image)

We crossed the car park, and walked through the round-headed arches of the fine railway bridge onto the small beautiful sandy beach beside the harbour.

The harbour was built by Baron George Hamilton of Hampton Hall in 1761 and is still a working harbour, although fishing vessels and sail boats were all tied up this afternoon and there was no sign of any activity.

William Dargan’s eleven-arch Railway Viaduct and the Lifeboat House built into one the arches are two of the best-known landmarks in Balbriggan. The viaduct was completed in 1844 as part of the Dublin to Drogheda line and was officially opened in March that year.

The Lifeboat House was once used to smoke fish and was later used as a storehouse. It is built of rubble stone with dressed limestone surrounds to the openings. It is said the upper part of the building was designed to provide sleeping quarters for the cox swain who gave up using it because of the noise of trains overhead. It has a fine slate root with a dormer window set into the apex at the front.

The original plaques with the date and initials of the station are placed on either side of the main entrance. However the rear of the building is covered with graffiti, and this part of Balbriggan’s architectural heritage needs attention.

Graffiti covers the beach-side of the Lifeboat House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Although Storm Frank had calmed down, but the waves were beating strongly against the beach.

The Front Beach is a natural inlet and crescent shaped, fitting neatly between a headland crowned by a Martello Tower to the north, the harbour to the south, and to the west the hills on which the railway viaduct is built.

This was probably my last walk on a beach for the year 2015. Two friends had invited us to lunch, and we stayed on until darkness fell. As we left, gentle lighting was highlighting the architectural beauty of Balrothery Church.

Calm after the storm … the Harbour in Balbriggan this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Christmas with Vaughan Williams (7):
‘Hodie’, 10 and 11, Narration and Lullaby

‘Sweet was the song the Virgin sang’ ... the Nativity icon in the Lady Chapel in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

During this Christmas season, I am inviting you to join me each morning in a series of Christmas meditations as I listen to the Christmas cantata Hodie (‘This Day’) by the great English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), drawing on English Christmas poetry from diverse sources, including poems by John Milton, Thomas Hardy and George Herbert, that reflect a variety of Christmas experiences, and the narration of the Nativity story in the Gospels.

Hodie, with its blend of mysticism, heavenly glory and human hope, was composed by Vaughan Williams in 1953-1954 and is his last major choral-orchestral composition.

This morning [30 December 2015], I invite you to join me in listening to the tenth and eleventh movements of Hodie, which include a short reading from Saint Luke’s account of the Christmas story, and a Christmas Lullaby.

10 and 11, Narration and Lullaby

10, Narration:

The tenth movement is a narration that is a short citation from Saint Luke’s Gospel (Luke 2: 19):

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her own heart.

11: Lullaby:

The eleventh movement of Hodie is a lullaby scored for soprano and women’s chorus. This lullaby is based on an anonymous text that is also known in a setting by Benjamin Britten:

Sweet was the song the Virgin sang,
When she to Bethlem Juda came

And was delivered of a Son,
That blessed Jesus hath to name:
“Lulla, lulla, lulla-bye,
Sweet Babe,” sang she,

And rocked him sweetly on her knee.

“Sweet Babe,” sang she, “my son,
And eke a Saviour born,

Who hath vouchsafèd from on high
To visit us that were forlorn:
“Lalula, lalula, lalula-bye,
Sweet Babe,” sang she,
And rocked him sweetly on her knee.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

29 December 2015

‘Stay back, stay high, and stay dry,’
as Storm Frank hits the Irish coasts

Waiting for Storm Frank to hit the coast at Kilcoole, Co Wicklow, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

“Stay back, stay high, and stay dry,” is the advice weather forecasters and the Coast Guard are giving as Storm Frank, the latest winter storm hits the coasts of Ireland this evening.

Everyone is being advised to show extreme caution while walking on exposed seafronts and piers, with the expectation of high tides and forceful weather over the next few days. High tides are expected offshore and inland along with winds of up to 80 kph or higher in coastal areas, bringing exceptionally high waves on western and southern coasts and storm warnings for all vessels.

As the high tide arrived in Kilcoole, Co Wicklow, this afternoon, two of us crossed the railway line and the rocky coastal defences for a walk along the shoreline.

Two years ago [7 January 2014], I was soaked up to my knees in the same place as another storm blew in with high waves and high winds along the east coast. It was relatively calm early this afternoon, and while the waves were high they seemed to lose their ferocity as they reached the pebbly and rocky shore, and never quite reached the rocks and boulders that protect the Dublin-Wexford railway line.

Flooded lands in Kilcoole this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

However, the farmland behind the railway line is flooded, and in the face of extensive television news reports of flooding in the west and along the Shannon Basin, it is important to note that farmers and residents are suffering throughout Ireland this winter.

From Kilcoole, we drove north, back through Killincarrig and Greystones to Bray, for another walk along the beach. In Bray, Storm Frank seemed to be gathering strength, and the sound of the waves beating against the shore sounded like a train trundling along, parallel to the rail line behind me.

Undeterred, posters along the promenade are advertising the Bray New Year’s Day Sea Swim at 12 noon on Friday [1 January 2016]. Last year’s Sea Swim raised €8,684 for Bray Stroke Club, Caring for Carers, Bray Poor Relief Fund, the Bray Branch of Enable Ireland, and Bray Lions’ Club Senior Citizens’ Holiday.

This annual event was set up 32 years ago to have some festive fun and to raise funds for local charities. In the years since, the Bray Se Swim has raised €313,488 for a long list of worthy local causes. Many swimmers turn out in fancy dress, making this a fun, colourful event.

The charities chosen for Friday’s swim are: Marino Community Special School, Lincara Daycare Centre, Open Door Daycare Centre, and Bray Lions’ Carers’ Fund.

We retreated to Carpe Diem on Albert Avenue for a late lunch, including a glass of Ibisco and double espressos.

As we left, darkness was closing in on the seafront. It could be a storm night tonight.

Waves beat against the rocks as darkness closes in on Bray this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Christmas with Vaughan Williams (6):
‘Hodie’, 7, 8 and 9: Song, Narration, Pastoral

Trinity College, Cambridge, in the winter snow... both George Herbert, whose poetry is part of ‘Hodie,’ and Vaughan Williams were students here (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During this Christmas season, I am inviting you to join me each morning in a series of Christmas meditations as I listen to the Christmas cantata Hodie (‘This Day’) by the great English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), drawing on English Christmas poetry from diverse sources, including poems by John Milton, Thomas Hardy and George Herbert that reflect a variety of Christmas experiences, and the narration of the Nativity story in the Gospels.

Hodie, with its blend of mysticism, heavenly glory and human hope, was composed by Vaughan Williams in 1953-1954 and is his last major choral-orchestral composition.

This morning [29 December 2015], I invite you to join me in listening to the seventh, eighth and ninth movements of Hodie, which are inspired by poems by Thomas Hardy and George Herbert, interspersed with a short reading from Saint Luke’s account of the Christmas story.

7, 8, 9: Song, Narration, Pastoral

7, Song:

This movement features the baritone soloist, and is introduced by quiet and atmospheric woodwinds. The text is ‘The Oxen’ by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928):

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,

In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

The poem ‘The Oxen’ was by Thomas Hardy in 1915, at the height of World War I and in this short poem he encapsulates the urge to faith that persists even in the face of all better judgment.

Hardy was familiar with the legend that cattle would kneel at midnight on Christmas Eve, and he had drawn on this legend many years earlier in Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891). When Tess arrives at Talbothays looking for work as a milkmaid, Dairyman Crick tells her the story of William Dewy, who was walking home to Mellstock late at night after a wedding. Crossing a field, he is chased by a bull, but tricks the bull by breaking into song with a Christmas carol. “William used to say that he’d seen a man look a fool a good many times, but never such a fool as that bull looked when he found his pious feelings had been played upon.”

When he was writing his last symphony, the Symphony No. 9 in E minor (1956-1957), Vaughan Williams’s intended to create a programmatic symphony based on Tess of the d’Urbervilles, although the programmatic elements eventually disappeared as his work on the composition progressed.

8, Narration:

The eighth movement of Hodie is a narration using a single verse from the Nativity narration in Saint Luke’s Gospel (Luke 2: 20):

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God
for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was
told unto them.

“Glory to God in the highest.”

9, Pastoral:

This song is again scored for the baritone soloist, and is a setting of a poem by George Herbert:

The shepherds sing; and shall I silent be?
My God, no hymn for Thee?
My soul’s a shepherd too; a flock it feeds
Of thoughts, and words, and deeds.
The pasture is Thy word: the streams, Thy grace
Enriching all the place.

Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers
Outsing the daylight hours.
Then will we chide the sun for letting night
Take up his place and right:
We sing one common Lord; wherefore he should
Himself the candle hold.

I will go searching, till I find a sun
Shall stay, till we have done;
A willing shiner, that shall shine as gladly,
As frost-nipped suns look sadly.

Then will we sing, and shine all our own day,
And one another pay:
His beams shall cheer my breast, and both so twine,
Till ev’n His beams sing, and my music shine.

This is the second part of the poem ‘Christmas’ by George Herbert (1593-1633), which comes from his collection, The Temple, edited and published by Nicholas Ferrar after Herbert’s death.

George Herbert is remembered for carefully and pastorally nurturing of his parish and his parishioners, and for his poetry, much of which has been adapted as hymns. His spirituality is the Anglican Via Media or Middle Way par excellence, which his poetry provides constant evidence of the intimacy of his dealings with God and his assurance that, alone in a vast universe, he is held safe by the Crucified Christ.

George Herbert was born in Wales but is generally regarded as an English poet. His mother was a patron and friend of John Donne and other poets, while his older brother, Edward Herbert (later Lord Herbert of Cherbury), was an important poet and philosopher. From Westminster School, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated BA and MA and was elected a fellow. In 1618 he was appointed Reader in Rhetoric in Cambridge and in 1620 he was elected to Cambridge University orator, a position until 1628.

As an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge, Herbert intended becoming a priest, but he came the attention of King James I, and served at the royal court and for two years in Parliament as the MP for Montgomery in Wales.

Herbert gave up his secular ambitions in 1630, at the age of 37, and was ordained in the Church of England. He spent the rest of his life as the Rector of Fugglestone Saint Peter with Bemerton Saint Andrew, a rural parish in Wiltshire, near Salisbury.

George Herbert was known for his unfailing pastoral care for his parishioners, bringing the sacraments to them when they were ill, and providing food and clothing for those in need. Henry Vaughan described him as “a most glorious saint and seer.”

Throughout his life, he wrote religious poems that were characterised by a precision of language, a metrical versatility, and an ingenious use of imagery or conceits that was favoured by the metaphysical school of poets.

In a letter to Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding, Herbert described his writings as “a picture of spiritual conflicts between God and my soul before I could subject my will to Jesus, my Master.”

In 1633, shortly before his death, Herbert finished The Temple, a collection of poems that imitates the architectural style of churches through the meaning of words and their visual layout.

Some of his poems survive as hymns, including as “King of Glory, King of Peace,” “Let all the world in every corner sing,” and “Teach me, my God and King.”

Herbert died of tuberculosis only three years after his ordination. On his deathbed, he gave the manuscript of The Temple to Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding – the community that later inspired TS Eliot – telling him to publish the poems if he thought they might “turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul,” but otherwise to burn them.

George Herbert … his poems were collected and published in ‘The Temple’ after his death, and many continue to be used as hymns

Herbert’s poems were published subsequently in The Temple: Sacred poems and private ejaculations, edited by Nicholas Ferrar. These poems are religious, some continue to be used as hymns, and many have intricate rhyme schemes, with variations of lines within stanzas described as “a cascade of form floats through the temple.”

Herbert also wrote A Priest to the Temple (or The Country Parson), offering practical pastoral advice to priests. He tells them, for example, that “things of ordinary use,” such as ploughs, leaven, or dances, could be made to “serve for lights even of Heavenly Truths.”

Richard Baxter later said: “Herbert speaks to God like one that really believeth a God, and whose business in the world is most with God. Heart-work and heaven-work make up his books.”

Although George Herbert died on 1 March 1633, he is remembered in Church calendars throughout the Anglican Communion on 27 February. Herbert influenced the metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan, and he in turn influenced William Wordsworth. Herbert’s poetry has been set to music by Vaughan Williams and many other composers, including Benjamin Britten, Randall Thompson and William Walton.

George Herbert ... the poem Christmas is included in his collection, ‘The Temple’

Christmas (I)

All after pleasures as I rid one day,
My horse and I, both tir’d, bodie and minde,
With full crie of affections, quite astray,
I took up in the next inne I could finde,

There when I came, whom found I but my deare,
My dearest Lord, expecting till the grief
Of pleasures brought me to him, readie there
To be all passengers most sweet relief?

O Thou, whose glorious, yet contracted light,
Wrapt in night’s mantle, stole into a manger;
Since my dark soul and brutish is thy right,
To Man of all beasts be not thou a stranger:

Furnish & deck my soul, that thou mayst have
A better lodging then a rack or grave.

Christmas (II)

The shepherds sing; and shall I silent be?
My God, no hymn for thee?
My soul’s a shepherd too; a flock it feeds
Of thoughts, and words, and deeds.

The pasture is thy word: the streams, thy grace
Enriching all the place.
Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers
Out-sing the day-light houres.

Then we will chide the sunne for letting night
Take up his place and right:
We sing one common Lord; wherefore he should
Himself the candle hold.

I will go searching, till I finde a sunne
Shall stay, till we have done;
A willing shiner, that shall shine as gladly,
As frost-nipt sunnes look sadly.

Then we will sing, shine all our own day,
And one another pay:
His beams shall cheer my breast, and both so twine,
Till ev’n his beams sing, and my musick shine.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

28 December 2015

Crossing a bridge that recalls stories
of bigamy, kidnap, slavery and murder

Crossing Annesley Bridge yesterday brought back memories of old stories of abduction, bigamy and murder (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

On my way back from the Bull Wall and Dollymount after a stroll along the North Wall and Dollymount Strand yesterday, I was reminded of an old story as I crossed Annesley Bridge over the River Tolka just sout-west of Fairview Park in Dublin.

The East Wall Road, North Strand Road and Poplar Row meet at the west end of the bridge, with Annesley Bridge Road at the east end, making it an important junction in the north inner city.

The bridge was first built in 1797, when it was named after the Hon Richard Annesley. The name was retained when Annesley Bridge was rebuilt in 1926.

Richard Annesley (1745-1824) was a Commissioner of Irish Excise (1786-1795), Irish Customs (1802-1806) and director of the Royal Canal Company, making him an important figure in the commercial and civic life of Dublin at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries.

He was an MP in the Irish House of Commons until the Act of Union, for Coleraine (1776-1783), the constituency of Saint Canice or Irishtown in Kilkenny (1783-1790), Newtownards (1790-1798), Fore (1798), Blessington (1798-1800), Clogher (1800), and finally for Midleton (1800-1801). The loss of his Irish constituency had little effect on his political career, for when his childless elder brother died in 1802, Richard Annesley succeeded him as 2nd Earl Annesley and 3rd Viscount Glerawly.

But Richard Annesley’s success was in was a sharp contrast to the life of his contemporary and namesake, his second cousin Richard Annesley, 6th Earl of Anglesey (1693-1761).

Crossing Annesley Bridge on Sunday afternoon jolted my memory. I was brought back to my most recent visit to Bunclody, Co Wexford, and recalled the story of Richard’s dissolute life that I may have first heard in my childhood, and that I first told in a feature on the River Slaney in The Irish Times over 35 years ago [27 July 1980].

This second Richard Annesley was known as Lord Altham from 1727 to 1737, and was Governor of Wexford. But he is remembered for a famous story of child abduction, kidnapping and conspiracy that surrounded the doubts about his claims to the title of Lord Altham, and the questions about legitimacy of his marriages.

It is a story of attempted murder, the suspicious killing of a supposed poacher, multiple and bigamous marriages, a penniless heir who ended up as an urchin on the streets of Dublin, a punch-up at the Curragh racecourse, and the kidnap of a former schoolboy in Bunclody whose whirlwind life ended up in almost every court in both Ireland and England.

The story of the abducted heir and his later escape from slavery in the North Americans colonies to the West Indies inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped.

Late at night, I found myself re-reading the court cases, trial transcripts and contemporary reports from the 18th century. It is a tale far more gripping than the classic novel it inspired, and I resolved to write about it in greater detail in my column in the Church Review and the Diocesan Magazine early in the New Year.

Richard Annesley (1745-1824) gave his name to a bridge … but his cousin Richard Annesley (1690-1761) was involved in some of the greatest scandals of the 18th century

Christmas with Vaughan Williams (5):
‘Hodie’, 6, Narration

The Slaughter of the Innocents by Domenico Ghirlandaio … the fresco is part of a series of panels in the Cappella Tornabuoni in the Church of Santa Maria Novella, dating from 1486-1490

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Feast Day of the Holy Innocents [28 December 2015]. During this Christmas season, I am inviting you to join me each morning in a series of Christmas meditations as I listen to the Christmas cantata Hodie (‘This Day’) by the great English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), drawing on English Christmas poetry from diverse sources, including poems by John Milton, Thomas Hardy and George Herbert that reflect a variety of Christmas experiences, and the narration of the Nativity story in the Gospels.

Hodie, with its blend of mysticism, heavenly glory and human hope, was composed by Vaughan Williams in 1953-1954 and is his last major choral-orchestral composition.

This morning I invite you to join me in listening to the sixth movement of Hodie.

6, Narration

The sixth movement of Hodie is a narration adapted by Vaughan Williams from Luke 2: 8-17 and the Book of Common Prayer, and introduces the shepherds.

Once again, the tenor sings the words of the angel; the chorus, introduced by the soprano, sings the words of the heavenly host. The men of the chorus sing the part of the shepherds:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field,
keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of
the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round
about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,
which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in
the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this
shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in
swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the
heavenly host praising God, and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will
toward men. We praise thee, we bless thee, we worship thee, we
glorify thee, we give thee thanks for thy great glory, O Lord
God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty.”

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another,

“Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which
is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the
babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made
known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were
told them by the shepherds.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.

27 December 2015

Kitesurfers and hardy swimmers
in the winter cold at Dollymount

Kitesurfing on the beach at Dollymount this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

It has been a busy Advent and Christmas season, with Carol services, Sung Eucharists, Choral Evensongs, seasonal sermons, cathedral meetings … as well as dinners, parties, shopping, cards and family visits.

I was preaching at the Sung Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral this morning, and it was encouraging to see how many people were present this morning, both members of the cathedral congregation and visitors and tourists.

The Sunday after Easter is often known as Low Sunday, because of the low tone to celebrations after the climax of Easter. But it is also associated with the low numbers attending churches on that Sunday too. And the same might be said about the Sunday after Christmas.

Happily, this was not so at this morning’s Eucharist.

As the Communion Motet this morning, the Voluntary Choir sang ‘The truth sent from above,’ often known as the ‘Hereford Carol.’ This carol was collected early in the last century by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Cecil Sharp and other folk song collectors in Shropshire and Herefordshire, and the version the choir sang this morning is the one collected by Vaughan Williams.

Vaughan Williams collected this Dorian mode version of this carol at King’s Pyon, Herefordshire, in 1909 from Mrs Ella Leather, a folk singer. He later used this carol to open his Fantasia on Christmas Carols (1912).

Kitesurfers enjoying the high winds on Bull Island this afternoon (Patrick Comerford, 2015)

After coffee in the crypt and family visits in Clontarf, two of us decided to clear our heads this afternoon and went for walk along the length of the Bull Wall, with the waters of Dublin Bay to one side and the sands of Bull Island or Dollymount Beach on the other.

It was interesting to see how busy the port is, even on a Sunday afternoon during this extended holiday weekend. It was surprising too to see one or two swimmers braving the cold temperatures, the high tides and the choppy waters this afternoon.

Out on the long stretch of sand at Dollymount Beach, a dozen or more kitesurfers were taking advantage of the high winds along the shoreline.

It is good to get the salt air into my lungs after a few busy days like this.

Brave or foolhardy? A swimmer off the Bull Wall in Dublin Bay this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

‘Little children, love one another
… because it is enough

Saint John with the poisoned chalice, above the main gate of Saint John’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford,

Christ Church Cathedral,

Sunday 27 December 2015,

Saint John the Evangelist,

11 a.m., Sung Eucharist

Exodus 33: 7-11a; Psalm 117; I John 1: 1-9; John 21: 19b-25.

In the name of + the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

This morning the Feast Day of Saint John the Evangelist, or Saint John the Divine, is an alternative to marking the First Sunday of Christmas.

It seems appropriate in the days immediately after Christmas that we should be jolted out of our comforts, in case we begin to atrophy, and to be reminded of what the great German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer called the “Cost of Discipleship.”

Following Christ is not all about Christmas shopping, feasts, decorations and falling asleep in front of the television – comforting, enjoyable and pleasant as they are, particularly in family settings.

Yesterday was the feast of Saint Stephen [26 December], often referred to as the first Christian martyr; tomorrow is the feast of the Holy Innocents [28 December], the first – albeit unwitting – martyrs according to Saint Matthew’s Gospel.

In The Ariel Poems TS Eliot puts wise words into the mouth of the Wise Men who recalls the cold coming of it experienced in the ‘Journey of the Magi’. There he makes the connection between birth and death:

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Between those two commemorations of martyrdom, we find ourselves today [27 December] marking the Feast of Saint John the Evangelist.

The symbol of the serpent and the chalice, a carving by Eric Gill in the capstone at Saint John’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

At first, this too may not seem to be an appropriate feastday to celebrate in the days immediately after Christmas. Even chronologically it creates difficulties for tradition says Saint John was the last of the disciples to die, making his death the one that is separated most in terms of length of time from the birth of Christ.

In art, Saint John the Evangelist is frequently represented as an Eagle, symbolising the heights to which he rises in the first chapter of his Gospel.

For Saint John, there is no annunciation, no nativity, no crib in Bethlehem, no shepherds or wise men, no little stories to allow us to be sentimental and to be amused. He is sharp, direct and gets to the point: “In the beginning …”

But the Prologue to Saint John’s Gospel is one of the traditional readings on Christmas Day, so many of us immediately associate his writings with this time of the year.

Saint John the Evangelist is unnamed in the Fourth Gospel. Yet tradition identifies him with the John who is:

● one of the three at the Transfiguration,
● one of the disciples sent to prepare a place for the Last Supper,
● one of the three present in the Garden of Gethsemane,
● the only disciple present at the Crucifixion,
● the disciple to whom Christ entrusts his mother from the Cross,
● the first disciple to arrive at Christ’s tomb after the Resurrection,
● the disciple who first recognises Christ standing on the lake shore following the Resurrection.

The Beloved Disciple, alone among the Twelve, remains with Christ at the foot of the Cross with the Mother of Christ and the women and he is asked by the dying Christ to take Mary into his care (John 19: 25-27). After Mary Magdalene’s report of the Resurrection, Peter and the “other disciple” are the first to go to the grave, and the “other disciple” is the first to believe that Christ is truly risen (John 20: 2-10).

When the Risen Christ appears at the Lake of Genesareth, “that disciple whom Jesus loved” is the first of the seven disciples present who recognises Christ standing on the shore (John 21: 7).

The site of Saint John’s tomb is marked by a marble plaque and four Byzantine pillars (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Paul names John as one of the pillars of the Church in Jerusalem (see Galatians 2: 9). Later, tradition says, he takes over the position of leadership Paul once had in the Church in Ephesus and is said to have lived there and to have been buried there.

According to a tradition mentioned by Saint Jerome, in the second general persecution, in the year 95, Saint John was arrested and sent to Rome, where he was thrown into a vat or cauldron of boiling oil but miraculously was preserved from death.

According to ancient tradition, during the reign of the Emperor Domitian, Saint John was once given a cup of poisoned wine, but he blessed the cup and the poison rose out of the cup in the form of a serpent. Saint John then drank the wine with no ill effect. A chalice with a serpent signifying the powerless poison has become one of his symbols.

Domitian then banished Saint John to the isle of Patmos. It was there in the year 96 he had those heavenly visions recorded in the Book of Revelation. After the death of Domitian, it is said, he returned to Ephesus in the year 97, and there tradition says he wrote his gospel about the year 98. He is also identified with the author of the three Johannine letters.

The tradition of the Church says Saint John lived to old age in Ephesus. Jerome, in his commentary on Chapter 6 of the Epistle to the Galatians (Jerome, Comm. in ep. ad. Gal., 6, 10), tells the well-loved story that Saint John continued preaching in Ephesus even when he was in his 90s.

He was so enfeebled with old age that the people carried him into the Church in Ephesus on a stretcher. When he was no longer able to preach or deliver a long discourse, his custom was to lean up on one elbow on each occasion and to say simply: “Little children, love one another.” This continued on, even when the ageing John was on his deathbed.

Then he would lie back down and his friends would carry him back out. Every week in Ephesus, the same thing happened, again and again. And every week it was the same short sermon, exactly the same message: “Little children, love one another.”

One day, the story goes, someone asked him about it: “John, why is it that every week you say exactly the same thing, ‘little children, love one another’?” And John replied: “Because it is enough.” If you want to know the basics of living as a Christian, there it is in a nutshell. All you need to know is. “Little children, love one another.”

According to Eusebius, Saint John died in peace at Ephesus, in the third year of Trajan, that is, the year 100, when he was about 94 years old. According to Saint Epiphanius, he was buried on a mountain outside the town. The Basilica of Saint John the Theologian gave the later name of Aysoluk to the hill above the town of Selçuk, beside Ephesus.

A relief sculpture of Saint John ... one of a series in Pugin’s font in Saint Chad’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Birmingham with the symbols of the four evangelists (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

I am constantly overwhelmed and in awe of the emphasis on love and light throughout the Johannine letters. That emphasis on love, which informs the story of Saint John’s last days, is brought through in the first of the Johannine letters (I John 1: 1-9) which we read this morning.

This emphasis constantly informs all aspects of my ministry.

I was once doing Sunday duty during a vacancy in a parish that has three churches. A student asked me at the time how many sermons I preached. I replied: “Three.”

“You preach three sermons every Sunday?” she asked with an air of incredulity.

I explained: “I preach three sermons all the time. The first is ‘Love God,’ the second is ‘Love one another,’, and the third, in case someone missed the first and second sermons, is ‘Love God and love one another’.”

That is the heart of the Christmas story, that is the heart of the Gospel, that is heart of the Johannine writings, and that, to put it simply, is why we celebrate Saint John in the days immediately after Christmas. “Little children, love one another.”

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.


Merciful Lord,
cast your bright beams of light upon the Church;
that, being enlightened by the teaching
of your blessed apostle and evangelist Saint John,
we may so walk in the light of your truth
that we may at last attain to the light of everlasting life
through Jesus Christ your incarnate Son our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Grant, O Lord, we pray,
that the Word made flesh proclaimed by your apostle John
may ever abide and live within us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This sermon was preached in Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday 27 December 2015.