29 February 2016

Henry Comerford (1936-2016),
solicitor and actor, dies in Galway

Henry Comerford (1936-2016) … Galway solicitor and actor

Patrick Comerford

The death has taken place of Henry Comerford, a leading Galway solicitor and a former Fine Gael candidate in the general election in 1981. He was a helpful and encouraging source when I was compiling a history of the Comerford family in Galway.

Henry Comerford (1936-2016) was born in Dublin in 1936, the second son of the Galway solicitor, William James Valentine Comerford, of Tuam, Co Galway, and his wife Elizabeth (Meagher). William was also a well-known local historian in Co Galway, and he believed his branch of the Comerford family was descended from the Comerford family of Inchiholohan, Co Kilkenny.

William’s historical papers included: “Some notes on the Borough of Tuam and its records, 1817–1822,” in the Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, vol 15, Nos 3 and 4 (No 19), pp 97-120 (no date, ca 1932-1933), and he was a founding member of the Old Tuam Society in 1942. He was the author also of an unpublished autobiography, “Harp sheds Crown.”

William moved to Comerford House, beside the Spanish Arch in Galway, in the 1950s, but when he retired in the 1970s he moved to Dublin, where he died.

Henry Comerford was educated at Castleknock College, Dublin (1954), and at University College Dublin and University College Galway. When he qualified as a solicitor in 1963, he joined the family practice in Galway.

In 1963, he also married Deirdre Donovan, from Tralee, Co Kerry, in Castlebar, Co Mayo, and they are the parents of a son and a daughter.

Henry was the author of the standard reference books on fisheries legislation in Ireland. In the 1950s, he was a member of the Radio Éireann Players, and featured in many broadcast plays, including Denis Johnston’s The Moon on the Yellow River. Later he acted with the Gate and the Gas Company Theatre, Dun Laoghaire, and he had two plays produced in the Peacock Theatre.

Henry Comerford continued in partnership in Galway following his father’s retirement in the early 1970s. He later amalgamated the then firm of Henry Concanon & Co with Sean Ford or Sean MacGiollarnath and Albert L O’Dea under the practice name of Concanon & Co as the new firm’s name.

In the 1981 General Election, Henry stood unsuccessfully for the Dail as a Fine Gael candidate.

The partnership Concanon & Co was dissolved amicably in 1982, and Henry Comerford began a new practice as a sole practitioner that year as Henry Comerford & Co at Sea Road, Galway.

He retired when John Dillon-Leetch and Robert Potter-Cogan acquired the practice in 1995, and they continue to practice with the name of Henry Comerford & Co. “Traditionally we stand for unyielding adherence to the principles of trust, fair play and independence in pursuit of justice,” they say. “Our clients are individuals who seek professional and independent legal expertise. Truth and experience constitute our foundations.”

Henry was in his 80th year when he died peacefully at his home in Luimnagh West, Corrandulla, Galway, last Friday [26 February 2016]. He is survived by his wife Deirdre and their son and daughter, Stephen and Emma, his sisters Deirdre and Denise, son-in-law Patsy, Vera, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, grandchildren Paddy and Rian, extended family and a wide circle of friends.

His funeral Mass took place this morning [29 February 2016] in Saint Brendan’s Church, Corrandulla, and was followed by a committal service at Mount Jerome Crematorium, Dublin, this afternoon.

A journey through Lent 2016
with Samuel Johnson (20)

‘This is the occasion of the bissextile or ‘leap-year’

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

This is a leap year, but the legislation reforming a Leap Year and introducing the Gregorian Calendar was not passed until 1751, and came into force in 1752. Confusion reigned in England in September 1752, and Ireland did not follow until 1780.

On 29 February, in this leap year, it is worth noting that in the 1775 edition of his Dictionary, Johnson provides an up-to-date definition of a Leap Year and a way of calculating a Leap Year that explained the new legislation:

Leap-year or bissextile is every fourth year, and so called from its leaping a day more that year than in a common year: so that the common year hath 365 days, but the leap-year 366; and then February hath 29 days, which in common years hath but 28. To find the leap-year you have this rule:

Divide by 4; what’s left shall be
For leap-year 0, for past 1, 2, 3. Harris.

That the sun consisteth of 365 days and almost six hours, wanting eleven minutes; which six hours omitted will, in process of time, largely deprave the compute; and this is the occasion of the bissextile or leap-year. Brown’s Vulg. Err.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.

28 February 2016

Exploring myths about Shakespeare’s
Irish links by the shore in Dalkey

The view from the peak of Sorrento Park across the Dalkey Islands, Sorrento Terrace, Killiney Bay and the Wicklow Mountains (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016; click on image for a full-size view)

Patrick Comerford

I am working on a paper for publication in April to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare on Saint George’s Day, 23 April 1616.

There is a persistent legend that the Bard’s description of Elsinore in Hamlet is based on a description of by the composer John Dowland (1563-1626). One of Dowland’s better known works is the lute song Flow my tears. The first verse is:

Flow my tears, fall from your springs,
Exil’d for ever let me mourn;
Where night’s black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.

His best known instrumental work is Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares, Figured in Seaven Passionate Pavans, a set of seven pavanes for five viols and lute, each based on the theme derived from the lute song Flow my tears.

The legend about Shakespeare and was embellished – without any supporting historical evidence – by the Irish composer, William Henry Grattan Flood, who spent much of his working life as the organist of Saint Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.

Grattan Flood claimed that Dowland was born in Dalkey, Co Dublin, and suggested that Dowland’s description of Elsinore was nothing less than a description of Coliemore Harbour in Dalkey. The story has continued to grow and grow, like Topsy, to the absurd point that it is even said that Shakespeare visited Dowland at Dalkey, arriving in Ireland at Coliemore Harbour.

In mediaeval times, Dalkey was the port for Dublin, with large ships anchoring and unloading their cargoes in the deep, sheltered waters of Dalkey Sound, and the “seven castles” of Dalkey were built to store the goods.

I could hardly resist the temptation to visit Dalkey this afternoon, to see the plaque in Sorrento Park celebrating the supposed connection with Dowland and to visit Coliemore Harbour.

Sarah Purser’s mosaic of John Dowland in Sorrento Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Sorrento Park is just across the road from both Sorrento Terrace and Coliemore Harbour, and I found the Dowland memorial near the south-east corner of the park, close to the entrance opposite Sorrento Terrace.

The Irish artist Sarah Purser (1848-1943) designed the memorial to John Dowland in 1937. The work was carried out by HV McGoldrick, and it is a rectangle of mosaic work set in granite outcrop near the south-east corner of the park.

It was restored in 1996 by Dalkey Community Council but has since been defaced – the face of Shakespeare’s friend has been gouged out crudely by uncultured vandals. Although you can still see Dowland’s hands plucking at the lute, it is impossible to know whether Sarah Purser portrayed him with seven flowing tears.

From the summit of the park I looked out to the Dalkey Islands, down onto Sorrento Terrace, and out across Killiney Bay towards Bray Head, the Sugar Loaf the Wicklow Mountains.

Although the roof has been removed from the once-fine Victorian bandstand, Sorrento Park is a typical Victorian park and was gift to the people of Dalkey from Lady MacDonnell, whose family built Sorrento Terrace.

The MacDonnell family handed over Sorrento Park to trustees who opened it to the public in 1894, although it had been used for many public events before that date.

Lady MacDonnell was born Blanche Ann, daughter of Francis Skurray of Beckington, Somerset, and in 1847 she married Sir Richard Graves MacDonnell (1814-1881) of Sorrento House. He was a lawyer, judge and colonial governor, and his colonial posts included Governor of the British Settlements in West Africa, Governor of Saint Vincent, Governor of South Australia, Governor of Nova Scotia and finally Governor of Hong Kong (1865-1872).

During his time in Hong Kong, MacDonnell developed Victoria Peak, and built a hospital for the local Chinese population. But he ran up such a huge budget deficit the government had to ask HSBC for a financial aid package. Several places around the world are named after him, including MacDonnell Road in Hong Kong, and the MacDonnell Ranges and Sir Richard Peninsula in Australia.

Sir Richard was a son of the Revd Richard MacDonnell (1787-1867), 29th Provost of Trinity College Dublin, and Jane Graves (1793–1882), second daughter of the Very Revd Richard Graves, Dean of Ardagh.

Richard MacDonnell was the visionary behind Sorrento Terrace, famous today as the most expensive row of houses in Ireland. His home originally sat on five acres of lands that included the lands now known as Sorrento Park.

He was a man of broad vision and liberal views and an early advocate of Catholic Emancipation when such views were unpopular in TCD.

The story is told that on one occasion he was showing a lady around the library in TCD. Clasping her hands together, she exclaimed: “Oh Mr Provost, pray Mr Provost, have you read all these books?” To this he replied: “In time my dear lady, in time.”

His house, Sorrento Cottage, is now owned by The Edge of U2. MacDonnell named the house after Sorrento on the Bay of Naples, and he compared Killiney Bay with the Bay of Naples and the Great Sugar Loaf with Mount Vesuvius.

In 1845, the family built Sorrento House, the first and largest of the houses on Sorrento Terrace. The family stipulated that each house had to adhere strictly to the design of architects Frederick Darley and Nathaniel Montgomery.

Coliemore Harbour this afternoon … like a small village in Cinque Terre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Down at Coliemore Harbour this afternoon, the scene with colourful upturned boats was more like one of the small villages in Cinque Terre than Sorrento. There were views out to the Dalkey Islands, and we took further advantage of the views from the park above the harbour.

Queenstown Castle … one of the many Victorian Houses on Coliemore Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Coliemore Road is lined with an interesting collection of Victorian Houses, including Queenstown Castle and Springfield House.

Behind a more modern block of apartments known as Berwick House, is the site of Scotch Rath. Here I found a fading memorial to Walter Berwick, son of the Revd Edward Berwick of Leixlip, Co Kildare, who was the second President of the Queen’s College, Galway (now NUI Galway) from 1850 until he died in office in 1877. The memorial was erected by his wife Harriette Berwick and also remembers their only child Harriette Mary Berwick.

The memorial to Walter Berwick on the site of Scotch Rath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

From Dalkey we continued on to Bray, for a late lunch in Carpe Diem and a walk along the beach and the promenade. It was a fitting end to a busy weekend.

When compassion is the victim of my hidden
values, others become the true victims

‘I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree’ … fresh figs in a supermarket in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford,

Sunday 28 February 2016,

The Third Sunday in Lent,

Saint John’s Church, Sandymount,

11 a.m., The Solemn Eucharist

Isaiah 55: 1-9; Psalm 63: 1-9; I Corinthians 10: 1-13; Luke 13: 1-9.

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

The story is told of a well-known priest in this diocese who was once asked what he had given up for Lent. He replied: “I have given up the slice of lemon in my gin and tonic. But do not fear, I remain as bitter and tested as ever.”

This morning we have reached the Third Sunday in Lent. We are half-way through Lent, but already, I’m sure, for many of us, our Lenten resolutions have faded, and we are probably as resolute about them as we were about our New Year’s resolutions three weeks into January.

We hungered or thirsted so much for the little food or the little drink that we gave up for Lent that we soon succumbed. But instead of being made feel guilty, instead of being chided, what most of us need is encouragement and affirmation. Both are found in our readings this morning, but those readings also urge us to hunger and thirst for the real food and drink that God offers us.

Our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 55: 1-9) concludes the section known as Second Isaiah, which begins in Chapter 40. It was written during the Exile, after Babylon had fallen to the Persians. The key themes are: the way of the Lord, calling the people to enjoy God’s gifts, a new deliverance, the word of the Lord, the king, heaven and earth, God’s relationship with Israel, forgiveness, and the participation of other nations.

All who thirst for God, especially those who are impoverished and have no money, are invited to eat freely at the heavenly banquet, the meal that symbolises God’s loving generosity and abundance (verse 1).

We are told that God’s “everlasting covenant,” first with one person, David, has been extended to his successors, then to his people, and is now offered all nations, all people (verses 4-5), even those who have done evil in the past but who now forsake those ways (verse 7). God is not only to be found in the Temple, but among all who seek him:

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near …
(verse 6).

In our Psalm too (Psalm 63: 1-8), we hear what it is to thirst for the Lord (verse 1). But the same mouths that thirst for God in the wilderness, also praise him with joyful lips (verse 5).

That thirsting in the wilderness helps the Apostle Paul to illustrate our Epistle reading (I Corinthians 10: 1-13), where he urges the Christians in Corinth to thirst for the true “spiritual food” (verse 3), for the true “spiritual drink” (verse 4).

These are interesting preludes to our Gospel reading (Luke 13: 1-9), where we hear of the chilling and horrific deaths of two groups of people that made headline news at the time.

In those days, it was commonly believed that pain and premature death were signs of God’s adverse judgment. We think like that today: how often do people think those who are sick, suffer infirmities, have injuries, die because they cannot afford health care? They don’t die because they cannot afford healthcare – they die because governments prefer to spend money on weapons and wars or in giving tax breaks to the rich, rather than spending money on health care for those who need it.

Looking across the countryside in Crete from an old Venetian tower … why were the workers killed accidentally in the Tower of Siloam? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The first group in this Gospel reading, a group of Galileans, from Christ’s own home province, believed they were doing God’s will as they worshipped in the Temple. But they were killed intentionally as they sacrificed to God in the Temple. Even in death, they were degraded further when, on Pilate’s orders, their blood was mixed with the blood of the Temple sacrifices.

In a single act of capricious violence, Pilate humiliated the nation, its religion, its culture, and the very presence of God. In a single act, he violated: the altar in the Temple; the ritual practices held there; the sacred place reserved for priests; the animals made holy by prayers; and the murdered Galileans who had been standing at that altar.

Think of our horror today at people who are murdered at worship: the people in the Gospel Hall in Darkley (1983); Oscar Romero saying Mass in San Salvador (1980); or children murdered in Dunblane (1996) or in recent school shootings and drive-by shootings in the United States.

The second group in our Gospel reading, numbering 18 in all, were building workers who were killed accidentally as they were building the Tower of Siloam.

Think of our horror today at people who die accidently, not because of their own mistakes or sinfulness; people who die daily of hunger and poverty; children born to die because they are HIV +, because their parents live in poverty, because of circumstances not of their choosing; children who die in dangerous and treacherous sea crossing in the Aegean between the coast of Turkey and the Greek islands ...

How easy it is for us, for example, to talk about “innocent victims” – of wars, of AIDS, of gangland killings – as though some people deserve to die like that.

But in both cases in our Gospel reading – in all these cases – Christ says no, there is no link between an early and an unjust death and the sins of the past or the sins of past generations.

In those days, it was commonly believed that pain and premature death were signs of God’s adverse judgment. At the time, it was commonly believed that severe physical disabilities or an early death were natural and just consequences for the sins of the past, even the sins of past generations.

We think like that today: how often do people think those who are sick, suffer infirmities, have injuries die because they cannot afford health care? How often do we shift our focus so that we blame people traffickers rather than asking why people are fleeing war? How often do we forget or deny their humanity and instead listen to politicians talking of “hordes” and “swarms” of people threatening “Fortress Europe”?

In both stories, we could explain away what we might otherwise see as the inexplicable way God allows other people to suffer and die by saying they brought it on themselves by their sins, or the sins of their ancestors … or, in today’s language, by saying they cannot afford to pay for health care, or they bring it on themselves by their lifestyle, or they need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or they ought to stay in their own countries.

My compassion is the victim of my hidden values, and so others become the victims.

Siloam provides an interesting place for Christ to challenge this “received wisdom” when he meets the man born blind and heals him at the Pool of Siloam, one of the seven “signs” in Saint John’s Gospel (see John 9: 1-7).

Now, we have another story about Siloam, as Christ links the execution of Galilean rebels with the tragedy surrounding the collapse of the Tower of Siloam.

Many may have expected him to say that their deaths were in punishment for their rebellious behaviour, in the case of the Galilean rebels, or collaborative behaviour, in the case of the workers who were building a water supply system for the Roman occupiers.

Is Christ indifferent to political and environmental disasters?

Instead of meeting those expectations, Christ teaches that death comes to everyone, regardless of how sinful I am, regardless of my birth, politics or social background, or – even more certainly – my smug sense of religious pride and righteousness. And he goes on to teach how we each need to repent – even when, in the eyes of others, we do not appear to need repentance.

Death comes to everyone. But that death need not be physical at all – spiritual death is the most deadening, for it brings with it not only loss of Communion with God, but it brings with it the loss of hope, the loss of trust, the loss of love for others and for ourselves, the loss of true compassion. And sometimes that sort of death comes suddenly and without warning.

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near …

It is so tempting to excuse or dismiss the sufferings of others. To say they brought it on themselves offers us an opt-out: we can claim to have compassion, but need not respond to it, nor need to do anything to challenge the injustice that is the underlying cause of this suffering.

Yet, in the parable of the fig tree, we are called on to wait, we are urged not to be too hasty in our judgment on those who seem in our eyes to do nothing to improve their lot.

It makes logical, economic and financial sense for the owner to want to chop down the fig tree – after all, not only is it taking up space, but it also costs in terms of time, tending, feeding, caring and nurturing. The owner knows what it is to make a quick profit, and if the quick profit is not coming soon enough he wants to cut his losses.

It takes much tender care and many years – at least three years – for a fig tree to bear fruit. And even then, in a vineyard, the figs are not a profit – they are a bonus.

Even if a fig tree bears early fruit, the Mosaic Law said it could not be harvested for three years, and the fruit gathered in the fourth year was going to offered as the first fruits. Only in the fifth year, then, could the fruit be eaten.

So, if this tree was chopped down, and another put its place, it would take longer still to get fruit that could be eaten or sold. In his quest for the quick buck, the owner of the vineyard shows little knowledge about the reality of economics.

The gardener, who has nothing at stake, turns out to be the one not only has compassion, but has deep-seated wisdom too. The gardener, who is never going to benefit from the owner’s profits, can see the tree’s potential, is willing to let be and wait, knowing what the fig tree is today and what it can do in the future.

I once saw a T-short on sale in the Plaka in Athens with the slogan: “To do is to be, Socrates. To be is to do, Plato. Do-be-do-be-do, Sinatra.”

Of course there are different types of people: there are the “do-ers” and there are the “be-ers.”

But whichever you are, we need the balance of the other. Emphasising the spiritual without understanding the world we live in leads to us being irrelevant. On the other hand, actively doing good, without any deep and truly spiritual foundations, leads to burn-out and disillusion.

We are called to hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5: 6), but wishing is not enough. Christ reminds us in our Gospel reading this morning that we are called to bear fruit too … and he is patient in waiting for faith to produce fruit.

Last week, the Greek Prime Minister accused other European leaders of failing to put compassion into action, and warned of the danger of Greece becoming “a warehouse of souls.”

Saint Paul reminds the Corinthians – and so reminds us too this morning – that we are called to be both “do-ers” and “be-ers.” In that way, all may know that they are invited to the heavenly banquet, where there will be eating and drinking for the hungry and the thirsty, and for all.

But we can decide where we place our trust – in the values that I think serve me but serve the rich, the powerful and the oppressor, or in the God who sees our plight, who hears our cry, and who comes in Christ to deliver us.

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

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford lectures in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached at the Solemn Eucharist in Saint John’s Church, Sandymount, Dublin, on the Third Sunday in Lent, Sunday 28 February 2016.

Luke 13: 1-9:

1 Παρῆσαν δέ τινες ἐν αὐτῷ τῷ καιρῷ ἀπαγγέλλοντες αὐτῷ περὶ τῶν Γαλιλαίωνὧν τὸ αἷμα Πιλᾶτος ἔμιξεν μετὰ τῶν θυσιῶν αὐτῶν. 2 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Δοκεῖτε ὅτι οἱ Γαλιλαῖοι οὗτοι ἁμαρτωλοὶ παρὰ πάντας τοὺς Γαλιλαίους ἐγένοντο, ὅτι ταῦτα πεπόνθασιν; 3 οὐχί, λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀλλ' ἐὰν μὴ μετανοῆτε πάντες ὁμοίως ἀπολεῖσθε. 4 ἢ ἐκεῖνοι οἱ δεκαοκτὼ ἐφ' οὓς ἔπεσεν ὁ πύργος ἐν τῷ Σιλωὰμ καὶ ἀπέκτεινεν αὐτούς, δοκεῖτε ὅτι αὐτοὶ ὀφειλέται ἐγένοντο παρὰ πάντας τοὺς ἀνθρώπους τοὺς κατοικοῦντας Ἰερουσαλήμ; 5 οὐχί, λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀλλ' ἐὰν μὴ μετανοῆτε πάντες ὡσαύτως ἀπολεῖσθε.

6 Ἔλεγεν δὲ ταύτην τὴν παραβολήν: Συκῆν εἶχέν τις πεφυτευμένην ἐν τῷ ἀμπελῶνι αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἦλθεν ζητῶν καρπὸν ἐν αὐτῇ καὶ οὐχ εὗρεν. 7 εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς τὸν ἀμπελουργόν, Ἰδοὺ τρία ἔτη ἀφ' οὗ ἔρχομαι ζητῶν καρπὸν ἐν τῇ συκῇ ταύτῃ καὶ οὐχ εὑρίσκω. ἔκκοψον [οὖν] αὐτήν: ἱνατί καὶ τὴν γῆν καταργεῖ; 8 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς λέγει αὐτῷ, Κύριε, ἄφες αὐτὴν καὶ τοῦτο τὸ ἔτος, ἕως ὅτου σκάψω περὶ αὐτὴν καὶ βάλω κόπρια: 9 κἂν μὲν ποιήσῃ καρπὸν εἰς τὸ μέλλον. εἰ δὲ μή γε, ἐκκόψεις αὐτήν.

1 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them – do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’

6 Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” 8 He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down”.’


Merciful Lord, Grant your people grace to withstand the temptations
of the world, the flesh and the devil
and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord our God,
you feed us in this life with bread from heaven,
the pledge and foreshadowing of future glory.
Grant that the working of this sacrament within us
may bear fruit in our daily lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

A journey through Lent 2016
with Samuel Johnson (19)

The monument to Hodge the Cat facing Samuel Johnson’s house in Gough Square, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Third Sunday in Lent [25 February 2016], and I am presiding and preaching at the Eucharist this morning in Saint John’s Church, Sandymount, Dublin.

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

Hodge was one of Dr Johnson’s cats, and is remembered in a whimsical passage in James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson (1799). In this passage, Johnson is claimed to have an affection for animals in general, or at least the ones that he kept:

I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature. I am, unluckily, one of those who have an antipathy to a cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I frequently suffered a good deal from the presence of this same Hodge. I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, “Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;” and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, “but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.”

This reminds me of the ludicrous account which he gave [the writer] Mr [Bennet] Langton, of the despicable state of a young Gentleman of good family. “Sir, when I heard of him last, he was running about town shooting cats.” And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his own favourite cat, and said, “But Hodge shan’t be shot; no, no, Hodge shall not be shot.”

Johnson was known to go out of his way to buy oysters to feed Hodge, even to the point of annoying his servants by pampering his pets.

After Hodge’s death, the poet Percival Stockdale wrote ‘An Elegy on the Death of Dr Johnson’s Favourite Cat’:

Who, by his master when caressed
Warmly his gratitude expressed;
And never failed his thanks to purr
Whene’er he stroked his sable fur.

Not much is known about Johnson’s other cats, except that in a letter written in 1738 he mentions a white kitten named Lily, describing her as ‘very well behaved.’

A bronze statue to Hodge by the sculptor Jon Bickley stands facing Dr Johnson’s house in Gough Square, off Fleet Street, London. It was unveiled in 1997 and shows Hodge sitting on top of Johnson’s Dictionary, alongside some empty oyster shells. The monument is inscribed with the words “a very fine cat indeed.”

Continued tomorrow.

Yesterday’s reflection.

‘Beware of the Cats’ … a sign on a front door in Beacon Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

27 February 2016

Us conference returns to Swanwick
with the theme ‘Just One World’

Patrick Comerford

The Anglican mission agency, Us (USPG), of which I am a trustee, has announced details of this year’s residential conference, which returns to The Hayes Conference Centre at Swanwick in Derbyshire, for the first time since 2010. From 2011 until 2015, the conference has taken place each year at the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire.

The conference theme this year is Just One World, and the conference takes place from Monday 6 June to Wednesday 8 June 2016.

This year’s conference is being challenged to look at issues of justice through the eyes of the world Church, inspired by Micah 6:8: ‘What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’

The conference plans to explore issues such as climate change, migration, globalisation, the poverty gap and gender equality, and to ask how the Church can best respond. The programme includes talks, workshops, ideas to take back to parishes, and a chance to meet some of the world church partners Us/USPG is working with.

Canon Malcolm Bradshaw, the Senior Anglican Chaplain in Athens

The international speakers who have been invited to share insights from the world church include:

Father Malcolm Bradshaw MBE, Senior Anglican Chaplain in Greece, who will speak about the refugee crisis in Europe.

● Ruth De Barros, the Us-supported programme co-ordinator in the Diocese of the Amazon, Brazil, who will speak about human trafficking.

● Nadine Daniel, a co-ordinator of the ‘Hope+ Foodbank’ scheme run by the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool.

More speakers are expected to be added in the weeks to come.

The programme for the Day Conference on Tuesday also includes:

● Inspiring bible studies;

● Interactive workshops;

● An informal reception.

The Trustees may meet informally for a brief time on the Tuesday afternoon of Conference, and the formal meeting of the council will take place on the Tuesday evening.

There is much to look forward to and the conference booking forms are available on the Us/USPG website here. There is a discount for bookings made before 30 April, and the conference is free for students, ordinands, Us diocesan representatives, and volunteers on the Journey with Us placement programme.

The Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, the venue for this year’s Us/USPG conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A journey through Lent 2016
with Samuel Johnson (18)

Johnson’s opinion of English pubs … a sign outside the Queen’s Head in Queen Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

Many of us may have given up drinking during Lent on many occasions. But, despite his regular observance of Lent, Johnson was known for his fondness of inns and taverns, and I recalled yesterday how ‘Ye Olde Talbot’ in Uttoxeter is one of many English pubs that claim he was a frequent visitor.

Perhaps you have given up drinking alcohol during Lent. But Johnson’s remarks about public houses are popular on notice boards and chalkboards in pubs in his home town, Lichfield, including the Hedgehog Vintage Inn and the the Queen’s Head in Queen Street.

This quotation outside the Queen’s Head dates back to a visit to a pub by Johnson and his biographer, James Boswell. In his biography, Boswell records a visit to Blenheim Palace with Johnson, after which they adjourned to “an excellent inn” at Chapel House, either the George or the White Horse.

Chapel House, in Over Norton, is 12 miles beyond Shipston, on the Oxford Road, close to its junction with the road from Worcester.

In this “excellent inn,” the conversation between Johnson and Boswell turned to a comparison of taverns in England and France. Johnson declared:

There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man by which so much happiness has been produced as by a good tavern or inn.

Continued tomorrow.

Yesterday’s reflection.

26 February 2016

Sally Park: part of the architectural
heritage of Firhouse and Knocklyon

Sally Park … a once-elegant Georgian country house off Ballycullen Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

As I walked down to the polling station on Ballycullen Avenue late this afternoon, I stopped to look at Sally Park, once a fine country house in the Firhouse and Knocklyon area and in the townland of Tymon South. Sally Park is now a nursing home at the end of Sally Park Close, off Ballycullen Road, but at one time the entrance was at the junction of Knocklyon Road and Ballycullen Road, close to Knocklyon Castle.

Sally Park is a detached four-bay three-storey Georgian country house, built ca 1770 by Sir John Meade (1744-1800), 1st Viscount Clanwilliam, who became the Earl of Clanwilliam in 1776. It probably incorporates the structures of an earlier fortified house.

For three or four generations, Sally Park was associated with the Hancock family, although the house also has associations with the 20th century architect Thomas Joseph Cullen.

The house has a granite Doric entrance portico with an offset double-leaf glazed timber door. The two-storey wing to the west has a single Wyatt window on each floor.

When Lord Clanwilliam, built Sally Park, he had a Dublin townhouse on Saint Stephen’s Green that is now part of Newman House. His lavish lifestyle and his gambling debts forced him to sell extensive estates in Co Kilkenny, Co Tipperary and Co Cork, and in 1796 he sold Sally Park to Mathew Handcock (1758-1824), the first of the Handcock family to live in Sally Park. He was descended from a William Handcock who came to Ireland with Cromwell’s army and settled in Twyford, Co Westmeath.

In 1772, Mathew had been appointed Deputy Muster Master General to His Majesty’s Forces in Ireland, and he held this a post for 50 years. His office in the lower yard of Dublin Castle was broken into in 1794 and debentures to the value of £1,790 and £550 in cash were stolen. Handcock personally lost over £1,000 in the robbery.

During an investigation, in 1795, into a robbery at Cyprus Grove House, the thief, identified from sword cuts received during the robbery, confessed to both crimes and led to the recovery of some of the debentures.

In 1797, Mathew Handcock was appointed Church Warden in Saint Maelruain’s Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Tallaght.

Mathew Handcock extended Sally Park, made improvements to the grounds and planted over 7,000 trees of various species, including a large number of beech trees, which earned him praise from the Royal Dublin Society in 1801. He also provided trout ponds, gardens and conservatories.

‘The Primrose Walk’ … part of the legacy of Handcock’s tree planting near Sally Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Sally Park was a considerable estate with stables, a coach house and a dairy, and it provided employment for many local people. Some of Mathew Handcock’s trees still remain, a reminder of bygone days, but many have been cleared to make way for the surrounding housing estates, roads and the new motorway. Some of the trees survive behind Homeville, near the original entrance to Sally Park. The line of trees at the entrance to Monalea Park Estate was known as “The Primrose Walk” and the two fields near the house were known as “The Nine Acres.”

When Mathew Handcock died on 2 August 1824, he was buried in Donnybrook old churchyard, as was his widow, Margaret (Butler), who died in 1827. They were married in 1778 and had 14 children. Their children erected a monument to them in Saint Maelruain’s Church, Tallaght.

Sally Park was inherited by Mathew’s son, William Elias Handcock. His eldest son, William Domville Handcock (1830-1887), was the author of the History and Antiquities of Tallaght, first published in 1876, with important source material on the history of Tallaght.

William Domville Handcock was educated at Nutgrove School, Rathfarnham, and at Trinity College Dublin, graduating in 1852. He studied law for some years and became a solicitor. Later, he became the Dublin agent of the Scottish Union Life Insurance Company and the London and Lancashire Fire Insurance Company, and the Foreign Passport Office at 52 Dame Street.

In 1862, Handcock married Eleanor Olivier Rooke, daughter of Major Thomas Slator Rooke of the 12th Madras Light Infantry, a descendant of Thomas Slator, who ran a paper mill in Templeogue.

Large trees surrounded Sally Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Handcock describes his home at Sally Park as follows:

The house is very old. Apparently about half of it was first built and occupied, as the walls of this part are thicker and of a different style of building. The other half was subsequently added, thus making it square … it was very well wooded, many of the trees being very large. There are trout ponds, gardens, conservatories and everything to make a place comfortable, many thousands of pounds having from time to time been laid out here.

Handcock was a magistrate for Co Dublin, presided at Tallaght Petty Sessions, and was also a guardian of the South Dublin Union. There is a memorial to him in Saint Maelruain’s Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Tallaght.

The stone spheres at the entrance to Sally Park came from ‘Carthy’s Castlw’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The stone spheres, which stand on the piers of the gateway into Sally Park, were bought by Handcock from a Mr Carthy in 1880. They had been on the piers to Dollymount, also known as Carthy’s Castle.

Carthy’s Castle neither a castle nor a home to a Carthy family. What remains on the slopes of Montpelier Hill is the West Tower and some outbuildings of the once remarkable but long-ruined Dollymount House or ‘The Long House.’

Dollymount House was built in the late 18th century as a hunting lodge for Henry Loftus, Lord Ely, who lived at Rathfarnham Castle. It was named after the society beauty, Dorothea ‘Dolly’ Monroe, an aunt of Lord Ely’s first wife Frances Monroe.
The large stone balls that adorned the arched gates were sold to Handcock for decorative use at Sally Park by a man named Carthy in 1880. The remaining tower is now isolated partially covered in ivy.

William Domville Handcock died on 5 June 1887, and there is a memorial to him in Saint Maelruain’s Church in Tallaght. He and his wife Eleanor had no children, and the widowed Eleanor Handcock continued to live at Sally Park with his niece, Mary Butler White, who revised and republished her uncle’s History in 1899.

Eventually, when Eleanor Handcock died in 1920, Sally Park was inherited by Gussie Hargrave, a companion and house keeper. It is said that Ellen Handcock wanted Gussie to marry her nephew, the Revd Charles Vaughan Rooke (1869-1946), who played international rugby for Ireland from 1891 to 1897. His test debut was against England 125 years ago at Lansdowne Road on 7 February 1891 and he was on the first Irish team to win The Triple Crown in 1894. However, this hoped-for marriage never transpired, Charles emigrated to New Zealand, where he died in Wellington, and Gussie married a Major Medicott.

Sally Park was bought by the Dublin architect Thomas Joseph Cullen in 1936/1938 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The house was later sold to the Knox family, who were descended from Major Lawrence Knox, who was the founding editor of The Irish Times in 1859. A daughter of the Knox family, Raby White sold Sally Park in 1936.

By 1938, Sally Park was the home of a leading Dublin architect, Thomas Joseph Cullen (1879-1947), probably a cousin of Anne Cullen, the first wife of my grandfather, Stephen Edward Comerford (1867-1921).

Thomas Cullen was born on 9 December 1879, the eldest of the three sons of William Cullen of 10 Mountpleasant Square, Rathmines, who ran a grocery shop in Upper Leeson Street, and his wife Elizabeth (Chambers).

He spent his last school years at Clongowes Wood College (1896-1897). After a three-year apprenticeship with John Leslie O’Hanlon, Cullen spent three further years as a pupil in the offices of Ashlin and Coleman (1904-1907), and then worked there as an assistant.

He set up his own practice in 1908, working from his office at 25 Suffolk Street for the rest of his career. In 1908, he was proposed for membership of the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland in 1908 by George Coppinger Ashlin, and was seconded by Charles James McCarthy and Thomas Aloysius Coleman. He was elected a fellow (FRIAI) in 1922.

As a young man, he was active in nationalist causes as a member of the National Volunteers and the Irish Volunteers, and he stood as a nationalist candidate for Rathmines East Ward in the local elections in 1914 and 1920. He also served on the governing body of University College Dublin. His wife, Dr Mary Kathleen (Delany) was a medical doctor by profession and the daughter of a Cork building contractor.

After much of O’Connell Street had been destroyed in the 1916 Rising, Cullen was commissioned in 1917 to design a unified façade for No 29-34 O’Connell Street in the destroyed area. Later, after independence, the new Irish government appointed Cullen and Patrick Hartnett McCarthy in 1922 as the architects for rebuilding of Cork City.

But Cullen’s main work tended to come mainly from public and religious bodies, for schools, hospitals and convents, and he also worked on factories and shops.

Through his association with Ashlin and Coleman, Cullen must have absorbed a keen appreciation for the work and legacy of AWN Pugin. This is reflected in his work on Gothic additions to Loreto Abbey, Rathfarnham, work on Saint Peter’s College, Wexford, Saint Michael’s Church, Gorey, and Saint Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, where he designed a new nave roof (1936).

He also built a new mortuary chapel for Bride Street Church, Wexford, and worked on the Saint John of God Convent in Wexford.

His other works included the Hope Memorial Chapel in Coole, Co Westmeath, New grandstand for Old Wesley and Bective Rangers rugby clubs in Donnybrook – he was an enthusiastic rugby player – and Landore, an interesting house on Orwell Road, Rathgar.

He also converted the Tivoli Theatre on Burgh Quay, Dublin, to offices and printing works for the new Irish Press.

Cullen lived at 10 Mountpleasant Square (1901-1914), Castlewood Park, Rathmines (1921-1927), and 14 Herbert Park, Ballsbridge (1927-1938), before moving to Sally Park, Templeogue, where lived until he died on 22 January 1947. His practice, now named Cullen Payne Architects, continued at his original premises at 25 Suffolk Street until a recent move to nearby Drury Street.

The O’Moore family turned Sally Park into a nursing home in 1975 later it was sold to the Brady family in 1988, who continue to run the nursing home. They added a one floor extension in 1997 and added a second floor extension and one storey building to the rear in 2005.

The former elegrance of Sally Park is remembered in the names of the surrounding housing estates (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

For other postings on the architectural heritage of South Dublin see:

Berwick Hall.
The Bottle Tower, Churchtown.
Brookvale House, Rathfarnham.
Camberley House, Churchtown.
Dartry House, Orwell Park, Rathfarnham.
Ely Arch, Rathfarnham.
Ely House, Nutgrove Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Fernhurst, 14 Orwell Road, Rathgar.
Fortfield House, Hyde Park, Terenure.
No 201 Harold’s Cross Road, the birthplace of Richard Allen.
Homestead, Sandyford Road, Dundrum.
Kilvare House, also known as Cheeverstown House, Templeogue Road.
Knocklyon Castle.
Laurelmere Lodge, Marlay Park.
Marlay Park.
Mountain View House, Beaumont Avenue, Churchtown.
Newbrook House, Taylor’s Lane, Rathfarnham.
Old Bawn House, Tallaght.
Rathfarnham Castle.
Sally Park, Fihouse.
Scholarstown House, Knocklyon.
Silveracre House, off Sarah Curran Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Synge House, Newtwon Villas, Churchtown, and No 4 Orwell Park, Rathgar.
Templeogue House.
Washington House, Butterfield Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Westbourne House, off Rathfarnham Road.

A journey through Lent 2016
with Samuel Johnson (17)

The Johnson Memorial in the Market Place in Uttoxeter (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

In 1780, when he was in his 60s, Samuel Johnson did public penance in the Market Square in Uttoxter, standing in the rain for a number of hours, bareheaded and without a hat.

The story is recalled in one of the panels at the base of Johnson’s statue in the Market Square in Lichfield. The architectural historian Sir Niklaus Pevsner has compared these bas-relief panels on the plinth with the work of Donatello.

Why did Johnson do this public act of penance?

Once, as a boy, he had refused to go and look after the bookstall his father ran in Uttoxeter. Later, on his last return visit to Lichfield, he left his friends and family early one morning and went back to Uttoxeter. When he got back to Lichfield late in the day, he apologised for his absence and told his host:

Madam, I beg your pardon for the abruptness of my departure from your house this morning, but I was constrained to it by my conscience. Fifty years ago, Madam, on this day, I committed a breach of filial piety, which has ever since lain heavy on my mind, and has not till this day been expiated. My father, you recollect, was a bookseller, and had long been in the habit of attending Uttoxeter market, and opening a stall for the sale of his books during that day. Confined to his bed by indisposition, he requested me, this time fifty years ago, to visit the market, and attend the stall in his place. But Madam, my pride prevented me from doing my duty, and I gave my father a refusal. To do away with this sin of disobedience, I this day went in a postchaise to Uttoxeter, and going into the market at the time of high business, uncovered my head, and stood with it bare an hour before the stall which my father had formerly used, exposed to the sneers of the standers-by and the inclemency of the weather, a penance by which I trust I have propitiated heaven for this only instance, I believe of contumacy towards my father.

‘Johnson’s Penance’ is remembered in a monument in the Market Square in Uttoxeter. It is so large, that inside accommodates a newspaper and ice cream kiosk. The act is also remembered every year in Uttoxeter as ‘Johnson’s Penance’ with a special ceremony. Nearby, Ye Olde Talbot boasts that Johnson must have been a regular visitor.

Ye Olde Talbot in Uttoxeter boasts that Johnson must have been a regular visitor (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.

25 February 2016

Exploring the history and legends of
Saint Flannans’ Cathedral, Killaloe

Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare, stands near the River Shannon on the southern end of Lough Derg (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

I stayed on in Killaloe on Sunday afternoon, after preaching at the Cathedral Eucharist in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral earlier in the day and accepted an invitation from Dean Gary Paulsen and an enthusiastic Bryan Brislane to tour the cathedral and to climb the tower for spectacular views along the River Shannon and across the surrounding countryside.

Saint Flannan’s Cathedral stands on Royal Parade in the centre of Killaloe, Co Clare, near the banks of the River Shannon and on the southern end of Lough Derg. This is one of the three cathedrals in the United Dioceses of Limerick and Killaloe. The Dean of Killaloe, the Very Revd Gary Paulsen, is also Dean of Kilfenora and both Dean and Provost of Kilmacduagh.

Saint Flannan’s Cathedral has been in continuous use since the 12th century, and the cathedral dates from the transition between the Romanesque and Gothic periods ca 1200.

A Romanesque cathedral was built in the 1180s by Donal Mór O’Brien, who also built Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick. However, this first cathedral was destroyed soon afterwards by forces under Cathal Carrach of Connaught in a revenge attack in 1185.

A new cathedral in the Gothic style was completed on the same site, and the nave was completed ca 1225. The Romanesque doorway of the original cathedral is preserved in the south wall of its successor.

The bridge over the Shannon, linking Ballina in Co Tipperary and Killaloe in Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

However, the story of the Diocese of Killaloe predates the cathedral, and the story of Christianity in this area dates from a time long before modern diocesan boundaries were shaped.

Killaloe takes its name from Saint Molua (554-609), who is said to have founded a monastery here in the 6th century. But the cathedral is dedicated to Saint Flannan, a member of the same family as Donal Mor O’Brien, and reputedly the first Bishop of Killaloe in 639 AD.

The earlier monastic settlement founded by Saint Molua stood on a small island in the Shannon, about a half-mile downstream from the Killaloe-Ballina bridge. Later the monks moved to more spacious ground on the mainland. This monastic centre was called Cill Dálua (Killaloe), or the Church of Saint Lua.

Saint Molua was born in Ardagh, Co Limerick, where the parish church is called after him. On a visit to Munster, Saint Comhghall, Abbot of Bangor, found him asleep in a field where he was tending his father’s flocks. Recognising the boy’s holiness, he took him with him to Bangor. There he studied for the religious life and was ordained a priest.

Saint Molua is said to have founded monasteries in Ardagh, Co Limerick, at Killaloe, at Friars’ Island near Ardnacrusha, which was covered in 1930 by damming for the hydroelectric scheme, and at Cluain Fearta Molua (Kyle), north of Borris-in-Ossory, Co Laois, on the border of Leinster and Munster.

His successor, Saint Flannan, is said to have been the son of Turlough, King of Thomond. He was also Saint Molua’s nephew and his first disciple.

There is a story that one day, after he had been baking continuously for 36 hours, a heavenly light shone through the fingers of his left hand. It lit up the darkness to allow him to continue baking. On learning of this, Saint Molua decided to retire and appointed Saint Flannan as abbot in his place.

Saint Flannan was noted for his hospitality and the people of Thomond agreed that he should become their bishop. He is said to have visited Rome where he was consecrated bishop by Pope John IV (640-642).

The view of the River Shannon and the bridge from the tower of the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

However, a former diocesan historian, Father Ignatius Murphy, who died in 1993, discussed the abundance of legends about Saint Flannan. He dismissed the mediaeval life as historically valueless and said we have very little hard information about him. He argued that Saint Flannan lived in the eighth century, possibly in West Clare, and that the prominence given to him was due to family pride and propaganda on the part of the kings of the Dal gCais in the 11th and 12th centuries.

There is no mention of Killaloe in the Irish annals until an ambitious Brian Boru made it the capital of his kingdom in Co Clare. Whatever the historical truth, the new kingdom needed its own patron saint, and Saint Flannan emerged to fill this need.

The royal patronage of the O’Brien family ensured recognition of the new diocese at the Synod of Rath Breasail in 1111, with Máel Muire Ua Dúnáin as the first Bishop of Killaloe. To make the diocese viable it incorporated at least three, earlier separate dioceses that had been founded around three abbeys: Killaloe, under Saint Molua and Saint Flannan, Roscrea, founded by Saint Crónán, who died in 665, and Scattery Island (Inis Cathaigh), founded by Saint Senan.

Portraits of former Bishops of Killaloe line the walls of the cathedral vestry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The cathedral was restored in the early 17th century by Bishop John Rider (1613-1632), and further restoration works were carried out in 1676 and 1707-1711. Bishop William Knox (1794-1803) continued these restoration projects.

The central tower was raised in the 18th and 19th centuries when the belfry and castellations were added. The turrets and battlements were added in the 1790s and a further elevation to create the belfry was made in the 1890s.

Inside Saint Flannan’s Cathedral on Sunday morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Killaloe Cathedral is a cruciform-shaped building, with an aisleless nave, transepts, chancel, and central tower. It is 47.7 metres long, 9.15 metres wide and 11.7 metres high.

The 11 metre high three-light East Window contains stained glass by Warrington of London and shows Christ surrounded by his 12 disciples. The window dates from 1865 and commemorates Ludlow Tonson, 3rd Lord Riversdale, a Victorian Bishop of Killaloe (1839-1861).

The chancel and the nave are divided by an elaborate Gothic oak screen, with a rose window, erected in 1885. The north transept is now used as the cathedral vestry on the ground floor, with the chapter house in the room above, and stairs that lead to the tower.

Until the 19th century, the South Transept was used as the Bishop’s Court, where pleas for marriage licences were heard and penalties for many offences were pronounced. The South Transept is screened off and is now used as a side chapel and on Sunday morning for coffee after the Cathedral Eucharist.

The features in the nave of the cathedral include the Romanesque doorway, the Kilfenora High Cross, a Rune Stone and a beautifully decorated stone font.

The Romanesque doorway in the south-west corner of the nave in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The 12th century Romanesque doorway, with its richly decorated carvings, has been inserted in the south-west corner of the nave. The arch has four richly-carved orders decorated in a typical Romanesque style, with chevrons, beads, an array of animals with their tails wrapped around the hair of human heads, and fine honeysuckle ornaments. It has over 130 patterns of plants and animals, with two two alike.

There are two grave slabs at the base of this decorated doorway, reputedly marking the grave of Muircheartach O’Brien, King of Munster and self-declared High King of Ireland, who died on a pilgrimage to Killaloe in 1119. He was the great-grandson of Brian Boru, and the last of his descendants to be High King of Ireland.

The Kilfenora High Cross in the nave in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The imposing 12 ft-high 12th century High Cross was moved from Kilfenora in north-west Co Clare to Killaloe in 1821 by Bishop Richard Mant (1820-1823), an amateur archaeologist. The cross was embedded in the walls of the Gothic cathedral in the 1930s. It is free-standing once again and stands in the nave of the cathedral.

The small stone with inscriptions in Runes, a Scandinavian script, and Ogham, an old Gaelic form of lettering, was discovered 100 years ago in 1916 and dates from ca 1000. This is the only example in Ireland of a stone with both Runic and Ogham inscriptions. It may have been carved by a Viking who converted to Christianity. The Viking Runic inscription reads: Thorgrim carved this cross; the Ogham, which is on the side of the stone, reads: A blessing on Thorgrim.

The carved mediaeval stone font in the nave in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The rectangular stone font is elaborately decorated and dates from the 13th century. It is decorated with arabesque-style ornaments and on one side atypical cross and foliage design.

The font was originally a ‘table’ or ‘polypod’ font, and would have been mounted on five legs and a plinth. These are now lost, and the font was set on its present base in 1821 by Bishop Mant, at the same time as he brought Kilfenora High Cross to Killaloe.

Saint Flannan’s Oratory, seen from the top of the tower in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

On the north side of the cathedral is a small 11th century oratory or chapel that predates the cathedral. Saint Flannan’s may have been the original sanctuary of the holy abbot. Its roof is very steep, and made entirely of stone. It has a belfry, and two doorways to the east and west.

The oratory is one of a small number of Irish churches with a stone roof and is possibly the oldest surviving church in Ireland built in the Romanesque style.

The ‘No Surrender’ bell in the cathedral tower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The cathedral tower, which I climbed on Sunday afternoon with Bryan Brislane and Dean Paulsen, houses a chime of eight bells which are rung every Sunday and regularly throughoutthe week. The chime of bells was installed in 1869 and was cast by M. Byrne of Saint James’s Street, Dublin.

There is also a single call bell by Fogarty of Limerick, bearing the inscription ‘No Surrender.’

The cathedral organ, with a staggering total of almost 1,500 pipes, is by Nicholson and Lord of Worcester and dates from 1900. It was restored 50 years ago in 1966, and again in 2001-2002.

A £200,000 restoration project including the repair of the Romanesque doorway and the reconstruction of the Kilfenora High Cross, was completed in 2001.

The cathedral is normally open from about 9 am until 6 pm, or until dusk in winter. There are Sunday services at 11.30 am every week. The Holy Communion is celebrated on the second and third Wednesday of each month at 10.30 am, and on saints’ days. The bells are rung every Sunday, and tours of the tower are available by prior arrangement.

The bells in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral are rung every Sunday morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

A journey through Lent 2016
with Samuel Johnson (16)

‘We soon must lie down in the grave with the forgotten multitudes of former ages’ … the Martyrs’ Plaque in Lichfield, dating from the 1740s and now in Beacon Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

On this day, 264 years ago, Johnson wrote in the Rambler (No 203) on 25 February 1752:

Every period of life is obliged to borrow its happiness from the time to come. In youth we have nothing to entertain us, and in age we derive little from retrospect but hopeless sorrow. Yet the future likewise has its limits, which the imagination dreads to approach, but which we see to be not far distant. The loss of our friends and companions impresses hourly upon the necessity of our own departure; we know that the schemes of man are quickly at an end, that we soon must lie down in the grave with the forgotten multitudes of former ages, and yield our place to others, who, like us, shall be driven awhile by hope and fear about the surface of the earth, and then like us be lost in the shades of death. Beyond this termination of our material existence, we are therefore obliged to extend our hopes ...

Continued tomorrow.

Yesterday’s reflection.

24 February 2016

Hymns and art for the Eucharist
after the Second Sunday in Lent

‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!’ James B Janknegt, ‘Man of Sorrows’, 1990 (oil on canvas, 36 X 28)

I am presiding at the Community Eucharist in the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute later this afternoon [24 February 2016], when the preacher is my colleague, the Revd Dr Patrick McGlinchey.

The readings this evening are those for last Sunday, the Second Sunday in Lent: Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3: 17 to 4: 1; Luke 13: 31-35.

These illustrations of paintings by James B Janknegt and Stanley Spencer are reproduced in the brochure for this evening’s Eucharist.

During this week in the chapel we have been exploring the theme of ‘Catholic Spirituality,’ and James B Janknegt is a Roman Catholic artist based in Texas who paints oil paintings portraying Christ or illustrating parables and Biblical stories.

Jim was born in Austin, Texas, and attended art school at the University of Texas in Austin and graduate school in Iowa City. In his teens, he was a part of The Well, a trans-denominational coffee house, where he painted murals on the walls and sang in the folk group. When he returned to Austin he became part of Saint David’s Episcopal Church, where he took part in the contemporary folk mass and illustrated several mass booklets. Jim and Melissa Janknegts moved from Austin to Elgin in 1998, and became Roman Catholics in 2005.

This introduction to the readings and hymns is also published in this evening’s brochure:

A note on this evening’s service and hymns:

This evening’s readings, collect, preface and post-Communion prayer are those for the Second Sunday in Lent. Two of our hymns are from the new supplemental hymnal, Thanks and Praise. This is Lent, so we are not singing Gloria this evening, but we are singing the Lenten Prose as our confession.

Processional Hymn: ‘Our Father, we have worshipped’ (Thanks and Praise, 116) by Monsignor Kevin Nichols (1926-2006), is a hymn of lament that is appropriate in Lent. Professor Nichols was a teacher for most of his working life and a member of the International Committee for English in the Liturgy (ICEL). His words are based on the story of the Prodigal Son (see Luke 15) and remind us of our unworthiness and the grace of God. The tune ‘Salley Gardens’ is an Irish folk melody originally known as ‘The Maids of Mourne Shore.’ The arrangement for Thanks and Praise is by the Revd Dr Peter Thompson, Succentor of Armagh Cathedral.

The Lenten Prose: (Church Hymnal, 208) dates back to the Brieviary of the Mozarabic rite in the Iberian Peninsula before the 11th century. This version was adapted by Dom Pothier, using additional material from the Paris Processional (1824) and was published by Solesmes Abbey in Variae Preces (1895). The plainsong tune was adapted by Martin White, former organist of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh.

Gradual: ‘O the deep, deep love of Jesus’ (Church Hymnal, 105) is by the hymnwriter Samuel T Francis (1834-1925). The tune ‘Ebenezer’ by Thomas John Williams (1869-1944) is named after Ebenezer Chapel in Wales. It was harmonised by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), who said it is ‘amongst the world’s one hundred finest tunes.’

Offertory: ‘We come as guests invited’ (Church Hymnal, 451) was written in 1975 by Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith (b. 1926). The tune ‘King’s Lynn’ was collected by Vaughan Williams in the Norfolk town in 1905, although he had heard it earlier in East Hordon, Essex, and he first paired it with GK Chesterton’s ‘O God of earth and altar.’

Communion Hymn: As we receive Holy Communion, we sing ‘Jesus, remember me’ (Church Hymnal, 617), by Jacques Berthier (1923-1994) and the Taizé Community. Berthier, working with Father Robert Giscard and Father Joseph Gelineau, developed the ‘songs of Taizé’ genre. He composed 284 songs and accompaniments for Taizé, including Laudate omnes gentes and Ubi Caritas.

Post Communion Hymn: ‘We shall go out with hope of resurrection’ (Thanks and Praise, 158) is by the Revd June Boyce-Tilman, Professor Applied Music at the University of Winchester. It sends us out with ‘tales of a love that will not let us go … including all within the circles of our love.’ The tune Isle of Innisfree is by the Irish composer Dick Farrelly (1916-1990), and was the principal musical theme of the film The Quiet Man (1952). It was arranged for Thanks and Praise by Jacqueline Mullen.

Patrick Comerford,
24 February 2016


Almighty God,
you show to those who are in error the light of your truth
that they may return to the way of righteousness:
Grant to all those who are admitted
into the fellowship of Christ’s religion,
that they may reject those things
that are contrary to their profession,
and follow all such things
as are agreeable to the same;
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Post Communion Prayer:

Creator of heaven and earth,
we thank you for these holy mysteries
given us by our Lord Jesus Christ,
by which we receive your grace
and are assured of your love,
which is through him now and for ever.

‘Christ in the Wilderness, The scorpion’ by Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)

A journey through Lent 2016
with Samuel Johnson (15)

‘And all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death’ … The Johnson family memorial, with the inscription commissioned by Samuel Johnson commemorating his father, mother and brother (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

So often, in Lent as in every other time of the year, we live in our yesterdays, rather than living in today and hoping for tomorrow.

Yesterday was defined by Johnson defined in his Dictionary in these words:

Day last past; day next before to-day.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.

23 February 2016

An afternoon exploring the history
of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick

Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Limerick stands on the site of the O’Brien palace and the Viking meeting Thingmote (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

Last weekend’s visit to Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Limerick for a lecture on the 1916 Rising and to take part in the installation of new canons, also offered the opportunity to soak in the history and heritage of the oldest building in Limerick that remains in continuous daily use.

Saint Mary’s Cathedral was founded almost 850 years ago in 1168, but the Diocese of Limerick predates the cathedral by more than half a century. Saint Mary’s Cathedral, which is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, is one of the three cathedrals in the United Dioceses of Limerick and Killaloe, alongside Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare, and Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert, Co Galway.

The cathedral stands on a hill on an island that is the oldest part of Limerick. This is the much older site of the former palace of the O’Brien Kings of Thomond. The palace, in turn, had been built on the site of the Viking meeting place, or Thingmote – the Vikings’ most westerly stronghold in Europe. The Thingmote had been the centre of government in the early mediaeval Viking city when it was captured by Brian Boru. The O’Briens moved their centre of power from Killaloe to Limerick.

A century later, Bishop Gilbert of Limerick (1107-1140), as the Papal Legate, presided at the Synod of Ráth Breasail in 1111. The Diocese of Limerick was formally recognised at that synod, and it was agreed that Saint Mary’s Church would become the cathedral.

However, building work on a new cathedral did not begin until 1168, and Donal Mór O’Brien, who was fifth in descent from Brian Boru and the last King of Munster, founded the cathedral on the site of his palace on King’s Island. King Donal also built the cathedral on top of the Rock of Cashel in Co Tipperary, Saint Flannan’s Cathedral in Killaloe, and Holy Cross Abbey, Co Tipperary.

Parts of the O’Brien palace may have been incorporated into the new cathedral in Limerick, and tradition says the Romanesque great west door was the original main entrance to the O’Brien royal palace.

Most of the building work was carried out between 1180 and 1195. The cathedral was enlarged by Donat O’Brien about 1200, was completed about 1207, and was further adorned by Bishop Eustace de l’Eau (1312-1336) in the early 14th century.

Saint Mary’s Cathedral is 51.8 metres long from east to west and 27.4 metres wide from north to south (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Saint Mary’s is 51.8 metres long from east to west, and 27.4 metres wide from north to south, measuring through the transepts. The original plan of the church was in the form of a Latin cross. Additions were made two centuries later when Stephen Wall was Bishop of Limerick (1360-1369).

The tower and stepped battlements give the cathedral a castellated appearance (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The tower, which was added in the 14th century, rises to 36.58 meters. The tower and stepped battlements give the cathedral the appearance of a castle from some angles. The design has strong indications of both Romanesque and Gothic styles of architecture with Romanesque arches and doorways and Gothic windows. But the cathedral is not pure in any one style, and the plan and elevation give the impression that the design was altered during the course of building.

The interior of the cathedral, with its thick walls and piers supporting the wooden roof, retains many mediaeval features. The walls are relatively plain, with a rubble stone surface. Yet, despite the thickness of the walls, the cathedral is remarkably bright inside, mainly because of the larger windows inserted during various Victorian restorations.

The carved misericords are a unique feature in the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Perhaps the most famous features in Saint Mary’s are the carved misericords that were once in the choir. These misericords are unique in Ireland and are the only surviving pre-Elizabethan carvings. They probably date from 1480-1500, perhaps from the restoration work carried out by the last pre-Reformation Bishop of Limerick, John Folan (1489-1522).

In the early church, priests stood for most service, and sitting was prohibited. The lip on the edge of each of these seats allowed the clergy to rest while the seats were tipped up, so that they appeared to be standing but were allowed to sit in act of mercy – hence misericords.

Of the 21 carvings, 16 are different, with mediaeval emblems such as a two-legged one-horned goat, a griffin, a sphinx, a wild boar, an angel, a head resembling Henry IV, a dragon biting its tail, antelopes with inter-twined necks, a swan, an eagle, the Lion of Judah with a dragon, as well as a human head wearing a ‘chaperon’ under the stall reserved for the Dean, a cockatrice or two-headed lizard holding its tail the Archdeacon of Limerick, a wyvern or two-legged dragon biting its tail for the Canon-Precentor, another wyvern for the Canon-Chancellor – the seat for the Canon-Treasurer is broken.

The chapter once consisted of the Dean, Precentor, Chancellor, Treasurer, Archdeacon, and the 11 prebendaries of Sain Munchin, Donoghmore, Ballycahane, Kilpeacon, Tullabracky, Killeedy, Dysert, Ardcanny, Croagh, Athnett or Anhid, and Effin.

The Pery arms on the stall once reserved for the Earl of Limerick as Prior of Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

At the west end of the cathedral, beside the West Door, is another unusual stall, once reserved for the Earls of Limerick who also hold the anomalous and unusual title of Prior of Limerick.

The first member of the Pery family to settle in Ireland was William Pery, who died ca 1635. His descendants intermarried with the family of Edmond Sexten, Mayor of Limerick in 1535, one of the principal figures in the dissolution of the monasteries at the Reformation.

In 1543, Edmund Sexten secured a royal grant of Saint Mary’s Abbey or Priory in the Englishtown of Limerick. His grandson, also Edmund Sexten (died 1637), also a Mayor of Limerick, spent much of his life fighting battles with the city corporation. He claimed immunity from the lands of two dissolved abbeys from the jurisdiction of the mayor and corporation and claimed to two votes in elections for the mayor and councillors because he was the successor to the priors of Saint Mary’s. These grants were confirmed in a royal patent in 1609.

His only daughter, Susannah Sexten (died 1671), married Edmond Pery of Croom, Co Limerick (d.1655). Their son, Colonel Edmond Pery, successfully claimed the right as Prior of Saint Mary’s to have two votes in the common council of Limerick City.

His descendant, Edmund Sexten Pery, was Speaker in the Irish House of Commons (1771-1785) began to lay out Newtown Pery, which forms the nucleus of the modern city of Limerick. His brother, William Cecil Pery (1721-1794) was Dean of Killaloe (1772-1780), Dean of Derry (1780-1781), Bishop of Killala (1781-1784), and Bishop of Limerick (1784-1794), as well as receiving the title of Baron Glentworth (1790). His son, Edmund Pery (1758-1844), was given the additional titles of Viscount Limerick (1800), Earl of Limerick (1803), and Baron Foxford (1815).

The striking, large statue of Bishop John Jebb in the Jebb Chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The cathedral is entered through the south porch, with the Pery or Glentworth Chapel belonging to the family of the Earls of Limerick on the left side and on the right the Consistory Court, which was once laid out as a mediaeval hall.

In the nave and aisles are several recesses, formerly endowed as chapels by powerful local families. These include the O’Brien Chapel, the Jebb Chapel, the Holy Spirit Chapel, the Saint James and Saint Mary Magdalene Chapel, and the former Baptistery.

The Jebb Chapel has a striking, large statue of Bishop John Jebb (1823-1833), who is regarded as a forerunner of the Oxford Movement. The Chapel of the Holy Spirit in the North Transept, has a ‘Leper’s Squint’ in the north wall.

The reredos and original high altar in the Lady Chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

At the East End of the Cathedral, beyond the Glentworth Choir Screen, the Lady Chapel has a redredos carved in 1907 by James Pearse, father of the 1916 rebel Patrick Pearse.

The altar in Lady Chapel is 4 metres long (13 ft), weighs three tons and is the cathedral’s original, pre-Reformation High Altar from the cathedral. In 1651, after Oliver Cromwell captured Limerick, his parliamentary army used the cathedral as a stable – a fate suffered by other cathedrals during the Cromwellian campaign in Ireland. His troops also removed the altar and dumped it in the River Shannon. But it was recovered from the riverbed in the 1960s and was reinstated.

The altar is carved from a single block of limestone and is said to be the largest such altar in Ireland and Britain. The beautiful pale blue frontal was woven by Anglican nuns in Dublin who were inspired by motifs in the Book of Kells.

I was seated on Saturday afternoon on the south side of the Lady Chapel. Facing me, on the north side of the Lady Chapel, is a large monument with effigies of Donough O’Brien, 4th Earl of Thomond, and his wife, Elizabeth FitzGerald. This monument was also badly vandalised by Cromwell’s troops.

This splendid tomb is composed of three compartments, of marble of different colours, and is surrounded and supported by pillars of the Ionic, Corinthian, and Composite orders, and decorated with his arms and various trophies. Below it is the coffin lid of the founder of Saint Mary’s, Donal Mór O’Brien, who died in 1194.

The Glentworth Screen invites the visitor into the Lady Chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Like many mediaeval cathedrals and churches in Ireland, Saint Mary’s benefitted or suffered – depending on your point of view – from heavy restoration work in the Victorian era. In 1856-1863, the English architect William Slater restored the east end, adding a new east window as a memorial to Augustus O’Brien Stafford. One of the many subscribers to the window was Florence Nightingale.

The Romanesque doorway at the west side is an impressive carving of chevrons and patterns, but it was severely damaged in restoration work carried out in 1895, so that only the hood and the innermost of the four orders are original.

Local tradition says that during the many sieges of Limerick soldiers used the stones around the west door to sharpen their swords and arrows, and that they left the marks that can be seen in the stonework to this day. But looking down on the river from the West Door, I could understand the strategic position of this ancient building above the banks of the River Shannon.

The Romaneque doorway at the west end of the cathedral