25 July 2015

A taste of Italy and of the sea
on a grey afternoon in Bray

Sailing out from Bray Harbour this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

After a week inland in England, I missed being by the sea.

Despite walks by the River Cam in Cambridge, and by the River Stort, the River Lea and the canals, locks, weirs and small lakes in the Lea Valley in Essex and Hertfordshire, during the past week, I think I missed being by the coast and opportunities for walks on the beach.

Late this afternoon, two of us went to Bray for a late lunch in Carpe Diem, close to the seafront.

A glass of Vernaccia from Tuscany )and a double espresso) in Carpe Diem this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The staff in Carpe Diem offer interesting selections of Italian wines that change day by day. Lunch this afternoon was accompanied by a glass of Vernaccia di San Gimignano from Tuscany.

The Tuscan variety of Vernaccia appears to be an ancient one, but wine mappers and experts do not agree whether the grape’s origins are Eastern European, Greek or Roman. In the Middle Ages, a Vernaccia wine known as Vernage was popular in England.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano, which I tasted this afternoon, is the best-known variety and is a crisp wine with good acidity and tastes of citrus fruit.

After two double espressos, we crossed over to the Promenade and the seafront. But, while this should be high summer, and the funfairs are still spread along the promenade in Bray, there were grey skies above and a slight chill in the air.

We opted for a short walk along the sand on the foreshore, and as we began a clutch of sailing boats began to move out of the Bray Harbour and into the natural cove between the harbour and Bray Head.

On the tiny beach at Bray Harbour, beside Bray Sailing Club this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The chill and the grey skies apart, it now looked like an ideal summer afternoon, and we continued on past Martello Terrace to the small compact harbour where Bray Sailing Club is based. The River Dargle flows into the sea here, along the North Wall of the harbour. The tide influences most of the activities because the harbour dries at low water.

Bray Sailing Club is more than 100 years old, and welcomes new members, who are welcome to take part in racing events for dinghies, keelboats and cruisers. Many former members have earned national and international reputations.

The clubhouse, which was refurbished and reopened recently, overlooks the harbour and was refurbished recently. There are three public pontoons on the North Wall of the harbour but the sailing club’s moorings are on the South side.

Afternoon calm in the harbour beside Bray Sailing Club (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The club caters for all ages and for cruisers, keelboats and dinghies, with a full programme of racing, cruising and an active sea school that provides training courses for adults and juniors.

The club races between Killiney and Bray Head against the backdrop of the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains, and the club also offers the possibility of long-distance trips to other destinations in Ireland and to Wales and the Isle of Man.

Sailing between Bray Harbour and Bray Head this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

This afternoon’s delightful sight in the natural cove between Bray Harbour and Bray Head was part of the Club’s Sea School, which includes an exciting programme of sailing and training for junior members running until September and a programme of courses for adults and improvers.

Back at the bus depot beside Carpe Diem, unlike other afternoons, there were no buses displaying ‘Palermo’ as their destination. But it was good to get a taste of Italy and a taste of the sea this evening before heading off tomorrow afternoon for a week in Sicily.

A taste of Italy in Carpe Diem in Bray this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Saint Catherine’s restored to its splendour
as the ‘poor man’s’ Cheadle in Dublin

Saint Catherine’s Church, Meath Street, Dublin … the beautiful interior has been restored to its original splendour (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

After presiding at the mid-day Eucharist in the Lady Chapel in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, yesterday [24 June 2015], I decided to take time in the afternoon to visit the Liberties and Saint Catherine’s Church in Meath Street, a church that has risen from the ashes and has been restored to its glory dating back to the 1850s.

In an arson attack in January 2012, Saint Catherine’s Church suffered extensive fire damage, along with smoke and water damage. During the fire, an explosion blew out the stained glass windows, and it seemed 150 years of architectural history had been lost within the space of a mere 20 minutes.

The explosion took out the windows, blew the top off the organ, melted the light fittings which dripped down on to the seats and the floor, and even melted the paint on the walls.”

A homeless man who admitted setting a light to the straw in the Christmas crib in the church was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The restoration and reconstruction project cost €4.1 million. Most of the cost was covered by insurance, with the additional €230,000 needed provided through local fundraising.

The church reopened at the end of 2013, when Bishop Eamonn Walsh celebrated the first mass in the restored church. A year later, the altar was consecrated by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

When I visited the church on Friday morning, I found on one hand a very different, bright and truly splendid interior, and yet, on the other hand, I was in the glorious interior that was first intended when the church opened in 1858.

The East Window by Frederick Settle Barff above the High Altar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The beautiful East Window above the High Altar by Frederick Settle Barff (1823-1886) was repaired in Germany. The organ, which everyone thought was completely destroyed, was salvaged; and the Stations of the Cross were removed and restored.

The ceiling boards and insulation above the ceiling boards were removed and replaced. The slates on the roof were replaced. All stonework was stripped back to the original stone. The walls and ceilings were cleaned and repainted. The electrical works were replaced, and a complete new lighting system was installed. All the floor tiles were removed and replaced. The altar, and all the marble stonework was cleaned and polished.

The layers of paint melted away from the High Altar, revealing Caen stone (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The High Altar is by Henry Lane, and for many years it was believed that this was stucco plasterwork. However, when the layers of paint melted away they revealed that the altar was made of beautiful French limestone, and all the pillars were made of the same stone.

The butter-coloured stone from Caen in Normandy is inlaid with gold mosaic tiles. A parquet floor has been fitted to replace mid-20th-century linoleum. The wooden pews have been cleaned, varnished and reupholstered. And the stained glass windows have been restored and they now reflect patches of coloured light around the golden stone.

Many of the Victorian, Minton-style Staffordshire tiles have been saved (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Saint Catherine’s was designed in the Decorated Gothic style like the ideal English country parish church favoured by AWN Pugin. The original church was funded by the Power family who were intermarried with the Talbot family, Pugin’s own patrons in Staffordshire and Co Wexford, and the craftsmen who worked on it had all been engaged in Pugin’s own works in Ireland.

The window in the south wall commemorating the Power family from Edermine, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Saint Catherine’s was built in the 1850s to replace an earlier, octagonal shaped Georgian chapel that stood on the site. Canon John Laphen’s proposals for the new church were approved by his parishioners at a meeting called in February 1852 and chaired by Sir James Power (1800-1877) of Edermine, Co Wexford.

Power was the proprietor of Power’s Distillery, and in 1843 he had married Jane Eliza Talbot, a daughter of John Hyacinth Talbot and a first cousin of Maria Theresa Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury. In 1851, at the age of 58, and almost 30 years after the death of his first wife, Anna Eliza Redmond, John Hyacinth Talbot married Power’s sister, Eliza. Perhaps through Power’s persuasive powers, Laphen’s plans were accepted immediately, and JJ McCarthy began work without delay: the foundation stone was laid on 30 June 1852 by Archbishop Cullen.

The restored open timbered roof in Saint Catherine’s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

McCarthy’s plans included a nave with open timbered roof, side aisles and chapel at an estimated cost of up to £9,000. The church was complete by March 1857 – apart from the upper portion of the tower and spire – and was dedicated on 30 June 1858. McCarthy’s intended tower was never completed, and the stub was finished off later with a machiolated parapet. The side elevations include perforated buttresses and trefoil aisle windows above the stone-roofed aisles.

The interior of Saint Catherine’s Church is plain. The impressive great East Window (1862) is by Frederick Settle Barff (1823-1886), a former Anglican priest who had converted to Roman Catholicism in 1852.

The East Window was matched by an equally impressive West Window with perpendicular panelled tracery … just as Pugin advised McCarthy when it came to designing churches.

‘The Martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria,’ by William MacBride of Dublin, was in a similar position as the ‘Doom Painting’ in Saint Giles in Cheadle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The painting in the architrave was in a similar place to the ‘Doom Painting’ in Cheadle, but the space has been left blank in the restoration work (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Indeed, Saint Catherine’s is, for all the world, like a poor man’s version of Saint Giles Church in Cheadle, Staffordshire, which Pugin regarded as his “perfect” work.

However, the painting in the architrave, separating the chancel from the nave, has not been restored. This painting depicted ‘The Martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria,’ and was by William MacBride of Dublin. It was in a similar position as the ‘Doom Painting’ in Pugin’s ‘perfect’ Cheadle, near Alton Towers, the Earl of Shrewsbury’s home in mid-Staffordshire.

Some of the unusual features in the church that have been retained though include a bust of Kevin Barry masquerading as a saint, which was installed in the early 1920s by a priest with strong nationalist views.

The bust of Kevin Barry, masquerading as a fresh-faced saint (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)