Saturday, 30 April 2016

Old Bawn House: a lost link
between Beaumaris and Dublin

Old Bawn House: a lost link between Beaumaris and Dublin

Patrick Comerford

I am staying in Beaumaris, the former county town of Anglesey, this weekend, at the eastern entrance to the Menai Strait, the waterway that separates Anglesey from the coast of North Wales, with plans to visit nearby Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, which has a longer place name that is supposed to be the longest place name on these islands, the site of the former prison camp at Frongoch, and Portmeirion, the coastal village designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975 in the style of an Italian village.

But there is an interesting connection between Beaumaris and the Diocese of Dublin and the part of Dublin I live in.

Sir Richard Bulkeley (1533-1621) of Beaumaris was once one a powerful figure in Welsh politics. He was appointed Constable of Beaumaris Castle in 1561 and elected the first Mayor of Beaumaris in 1562. In 1563, he was elected MP for Anglesey, and he became High Sheriff of Anglesey in 1570.

Bulkeley was knighted at Whitehall, in 1577, and became embroiled in the many power struggles in Wales. Owen Wood accused him of oppressing the townspeople of Beaumaris, and of being involved in the Babington plot in 1586. Bulkeley was cleared and became one of Queen Elizabeth’s courtiers.

Bulkeley was elected MP for Anglesey once again in 1604, and was re-elected in 1614. When he died in 1621 at the age of 88 he was buried in Beaumaris.

Bulkeley’s younger half-brother was Lancelot Bulkeley (1568-1650), later Archbishop of Dublin. Lancelot Bulkeley was educated at Brasenose College, Oxford, and Saint Edmund Hall. He was ordained deacon and priest in 1593 and 1594 by Hugh Bellot, Bishop of Bangor. He continued as Rector of two parishes in the Diocese of Bangor when he was appointed Archdeacon of Dublin in 1613.

In 1619, he succeeded Thomas Jones as Archbishop of Dublin. As Archbishop, Bulkeley revived the controversy over the Primacy of Ireland. The debate was brought before the Lord Deputy, Thomas Wentworth, who ruled in favour of the precedence of the Archbishop of Armagh.

At Christmas 1628, he was involved in an unsuccessful attempt to prohibit the public Roman Catholic celebration of the Mass. The move provoked a large-scale riot in Dublin, the mob stoned Bulkeley, and he was forced to seek refuge in a private house. Dublin Corporation refused to come to his aid and blocked troops sent to quell the riot.

In 1635, Archbishop Bulkeley built Old Bawn House, south of Tallaght. This fortified house was of a late Tudor style, designed in an H shape with high pointed gables. It had many windows and 12 chimneys. The features included a chimneypiece and a carved oak staircase that were moved to the National Museum. The chimneypiece reached to the ceiling and depicted the building of the walls of Jerusalem.

Old Bawn House was enclosed by a wide fosse and probably had a drawbridge. To the south of the house there was a large pleasure garden laid out with walks, ponds and tree-lined avenues. Old Bawn House was damaged in the rebellion of 1641, but it was restored immediately at a cost of £3,000.

Throughout the Cromwellian wars, Bulkeley remained a loyal Anglican. In 1646, he signed a proclamation confirming a peace treaty between Lord Ormonde and the Roman Catholics. He resisted the act prohibiting the use of the Book of Common Prayer and was imprisoned in 1647.

Shortly after the execution of Charles I, a decree on 8 March 1649 confiscated all Bulkeley’s honours, privileges, castles and estates, and vested them in General Henry Ireton.

Archbishop Bulkeley died in Tallaght on 8 September 1650. He was then 81, and he was buried in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

His sons included William Bulkeley, who was a canon of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin (1626-1636), Rector of Rathfarnham (1636), Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (1630-1671), and Archdeacon of Dublin (1640-1671).

Another son, Sir Richard Bulkeley (1634-1685), was High Sheriff of Wicklow (1660) and MP for Baltinglass, Co Wicklow (1665-1666).

After the Bulkeleys, Old Bawn House passed to Lady Tynte who leased it. In 1830, the house was bought by the McDonnell family who established a paper mill behind the house. This was one of many mills along the banks of the River Dodder in the 19th century.

The house fell into disrepair during the early 1900s it was used as a storehouse when the lands in the area were being developed for new housing in the 1960s. I still remember the storm 40 years ago when what remained of Old Bawn House was demolished in 1976, and a connection between Beaumaris, Dublin and a former archbishop were levelled to the ground.

The Bulkeley family is remembered today in Beaumaris (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 weekend with the prisoner in Frongoch
and ‘The Prisoner’ in Portmeirion

Portmeirion … a view of the central plaza (Photograph: Michael Maggs, Wikimedia Commons)

Patrick Comerford

I am in Wales for the weekend, staying at the Castle Court Hotel in Beaumaris, a former royal borough and once the county town of Anglesey.

It is some time since I have stayed in Wales. I stayed in Saint Michaels’s College in Llandaff, near Cardiff in south Wales, in 2007, when I was visiting theological colleges in England and Wales, and I was in north Wales in 2004 when I led a retreat in Loreto House.

But I have to be honest and admit that while I have travelled through Wales quite often since my teens, I seem to have treated as a corridor between Dublin and the English Midlands, never giving myself a real opportunity to know this country.

I have arrived here this morning on the ferry between Dublin and Holyhead, and Beaumaris is still on the island of Anglesey, at the eastern entrance to the Menai Strait, the waterway that separates Anglesey from the coast of North Wales.

Castle Court, on Castle Square, where I am staying is a 19th-century hotel facing mediaeval Beaumaris Castle and a two-minute walk from the beach and Beaumaris Pier.

Beaumaris is a small town with a population of about 2,000. This was originally a Viking settlement known as Porth y Wygyr, or Port of the Vikings. To the north, the village of Llanfaes was occupied by Anglo-Saxons in 818 but was later retaken by Merfyn Frych, King of Gwynedd.

But the town only began to develop in 1295. After Edward I of England conquered Wales, he commissioned the building of Beaumaris Castle as part of a chain of fortifications along the coast of North Wales. The other castles include Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech.

Beaumaris Castle was built on a marsh from which it takes its name – the French builders called it beaux marais or “beautiful marshes.” French and English masons were brought in to build the castle and a walled town. The castle was designed by James of St George, a master mason from Savoy, and is considered a perfect example of a concentric castle.

The Welsh residents of Llanfaes were moved forcibly as one group to Rhosyr in the west of Anglesey, and a new settlement grew up around the castle. This new town was named “Newborough” by King Edward. In the royal charter, only the English and Norman-French residents were given full civic rights, while any remaining Welsh residents were largely disqualified from any civic office, carrying any weapon, and holding assemblies. The charter also prohibited Jews from living in Beaumaris.

Beaumaris became the main commercial centre of Anglesey and the port of registration for all vessels in north-west Wales.

As well as the castle, the town’s notable buildings include Saint Mary’s, the 14th century parish church, the 14th-century Tudor Rose, one of the oldest, original timber-framed buildings in Britain, and the Bull’s Head Inn, which was built in 1472.

During the Siege of Beaumaris in 1648, during the second English Civil War, General Thomas Mytton had his headquarters at the Bull’s Head Inn. The hill leading north from the town is named Red Hill from the blood spilled in that conflict.

Two of us are using Beaumaris as a base this weekend. Among the places we hope to visit this weekend include nearby Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, which is just 10 km away and is known as the place on these islands with the longest place name:

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

We may also get to see the cathedral at Bangor, the sea at Lladudno, the mountains of Snowdonia, and the castles at Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech.

But the first place to see is the former prison camp at Frongoch, which is about 60 km from here. Barbara’s grandfather, Sergeant Joe Doyle of the Irish Citizen Army, was held in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Rising in 1916. It seems appropriate to visit this site 100 years after he was a prisoner there.

Then tomorrow, we plan to visit Portmeirion, which is about 50 km from Beaumaris. This coastal village was designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975 in the style of an Italian village, and is now owned by a charitable trust. Portmeirion has been the location for many films and television shows, and was ‘The Village’ in the 1960s television series The Prisoner.

So from the prisoner in Frongoch to the The Prisoner in Portmeirion, this should be an interesting weekend in Wales.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Bright flowers and blue waters in
Marlay Park before the thunderstorm

Marlay House reflected in the lake waters in Marlay Park this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

At the end of a long working week, that included a working day in London, two of us went for double espressos in the gardens of Marlay House, Rathfarnham, this afternoon [29 April 2016], and then for a walk in the grounds.

The Regency Walled Garden was closing but the park was still open and sky was still blue as we set out along the tree-lined avenues, with shafts of sunlight streaming through the trees.

The small lake at the heart of the park was reflecting the bright sunlight of the early afternoon, ducks and mallards were enjoying the Spring weather, and the Georgian house built by the La Touche family in the 18th century was mirrored on the surface of the water.

Enjoying late April sunshine in Marlay Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

As we criss-crossed the small lake and the rivers in the park with their tiny waterfalls and stepping stones, we came across a pair of nesting swans, unperturbed by the attention they were drawing from stollers taking advantage of an early start to this bank holiday weekend.

By the time we were leaving Marlay Park, dark clouds that had been in distance were menacingly closer. Those clouds soon opened, heavy sleet and hail began to fall, and bright bursts of lighting were followed by loud claps of thunder.

“In like a lion, out like a lamb” is a well-known aphorism about the month of March. It seems however that April, described by TS Eliot in ‘The Waste Land’ as “the cruellest month,” is going out like both a lamb and a lion.

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.


‘Stirring dull roots with spring rain’ … bright April tulips in Marlay Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Why strolling through London is
better than using the Underground

Saint Mary-le-Bow … the sound of Bow Bells determines who is a true Cockney (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

I have learned in recent years that it is probably easier and certainly more healthy and much more interesting to walk through London instead of trying to use the London Underground.

Many writers, including Bill Bryson, point out that the standard tube map distorts geography so that it is not clear most times whether a tube trip is necessary at all. There is high density of stations in the city around Bank, Cannon Street, Mansion House and Saint Paul’s, when a walk between the stations is shorter, fitter and healthier than using public transport.

I have long learned that for meetings at the USPG offices in Southwark, I am better off when I arrive at Liverpool Street station to start walking instead of taking the tube. And I repeat this exercise at the end of the day, walking back to Liverpool Street for the Stanstead Express.

This walk allows me to enjoy the views of magisterial London architecture in buildings such as the Bank of England, the Royal Exchange, the Mansion House and Saint Paul’s Cathedral, to stroll through the side-streets by the Tate Modern, with their cafés, buskers and book shops, to enjoy the vista from the south side of the Millennium Bridge or the clutter of tourists around the Globe Theatre, to discover parts of London I have not known before, including Old Jewry and Lothbury, and to see some of the many surviving Wren Churches that are such an integral part of the heritage of London.

On Thursday morning I walked from Liverpool Street down Old Broad Street, Threadneedle Street, Poultry, Cheapside, the main east-west axis in the City, New Change and Saint Paul’s Churchyard, Sermon Lane and Peter’s Hill, before crossing the river on the Millennium Bridge. And then, after yesterday’s meeting, I retraced my steps.

On previous occasions, I have extended my stroll, taking opportunities to see Dr Johnson’s House in Gough Square, Saint Martin’s Church on Ludgate Hill, Saint Bride’s Church off Fleet Street, and Saint Dunstan-in-the West on Fleet Street, or stroll through Paternoster Square and the network of sidestreets that are clustered around Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

On Thursday afternoon, I stopped to see both the Church of Saint Mary-le-Bow and to stroll through the former ghetto that gives its name to Old Jewry.

A plaque from All Hallows in the churchyard of Saint Mary-le-Bow recalls the baptism of the poet John Milton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Saint Mary-le-Bow with its steeple and bells is a London landmark. Tradition says that a true Cockney is someone born within the sound of Bow Bells, which could be heard as far away as Hackney Marshes. The story goes that when he heard the sound of the bells of Saint Mary’s, Dick Whittington turned back from Highgate with his cat, returned to London and later became Lord Mayor.

Saint Mary-le-Bow is one of the old London churches rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London in 1666. But there is archaeological evidence that there was a church on this site from Saxon times.

The church known as Sancta Maria de Arcubus was rebuilt in the later Norman period, and was known for its two arches or “bows” of stone. From the 13th century, the church was one of the 13 “peculiars” of the Diocese of Canterbury, so that it came within the ambit of the Archbishops of Canterbury rather than the Bishops of London.

These 13 parishes were: All Hallows’, Bread Street; All Hallows’, Lombard Street; Sait Dionis Backchurch, Lime Street; Saint Dunstan in the East; Saint John the Evangelist, Watling Street; Saint Leonard, Eastcheap; Saint Mary, Aldermary; Saint Mary Bothaw; Saint Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside; Saint Michael, Crooked Lane; Saint Michael Royal; Saint Pancras, Soper Lane; and Saint Vedast, Foster Lane.

Because of this connection with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Saint Mary-le-Bow became the seat of the Court of Arches, which took its name from the two arches or bows of stone.

The Court of Arches is the provincial court for the Province of Canterbury in the Church of England. The equivalent in the Province of York is the Chancery Court. The Court of Arches is presided over by the Dean of the Arches, who is appointed by the two archbishops. The dean must be a barrister of 10 years’ High Court standing or the holder or former holder of high judicial office.

Saint Mary-le-Bow remains the permanent home of the Court of Arches and the regular sittings include those to confirm the election of each new diocesan bishop in the Province of Canterbury.

In the past, the “bow bells” were used to order a curfew in the City of London, until the church burned down in the Great Fire of London of 1666.

In all, 88 parish churches were burned during the Great Fire. Sir Christopher Wren and his office rebuilt Saint Paul’s Cathedral and 51 parish churches.

Because Saint Mary-le-Bow was the second most important church in the City of London after Saint Paul’s Cathedral, it was one of the first churches to be rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the fire. The present church was built to Wren’s designs in 1671-1673, and the 68 metre steeple was completed in 1680.

Most distances from London are measured from Charing Cross but, before the late 18th century, distances on the road from London to Lewes were calculated from the church door at Saint Mary-le-Bow, and the mileposts along the route were marked with a cast-iron depiction of a bow and four bells. Since the early 1940s, a recording of the Bow Bells made in 1926 has been used by the BBC World Service as an interval signal for some English-language broadcasts.

Like many Wren and City churches, much of Saint Mary-le-Bow was destroyed by a German bomb during the Blitz in 1941, and the famous Bow Bells crashed to the ground during the fire on 10 May.

Restoration work began in 1956. New Bow Bells were cast in 1956 and they were eventually installed to resume ringing in 1961. The church was re-consecrated in 1964, and is now a Grade I listed building. Today, the church, like many City churches, ministers to the financial industry and livery companies.

The paved churchyard has a statue of Captain John Smith of Jamestown, founder of Virginia and a former parishioner of Saint Mary-le-Bow. Inside, the church there is a memorial to the first Governor in Australia, Admiral Arthur Phillip, who was born in the parish. Beneath the church in the crypt is the appropriately-named Café Below.

Another Canterbury ‘peculiar,’ All Hallows’ in Bread Street, was pulled down in 1876, and the parish was amalgamated with Saint Mary-le-Bow. But a memorial from All Hallows, recalling that the poet John Milton was baptised there, has been re-erected on the walls of Saint Mary’s.

Two plaques recall Saint Thomas Becket was born in Cheapside (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Further east along Cheapside, two plaques on a street corner marks the birthplace of Saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury (1162-1170). He was born in Cheapside on the Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle, 21 December, in 1119 or 1120.

Old Jewry stands in the heart of the original Jewish ghetto in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

A little further on, I stopped at Old Jewry, a one-way street in the City that runs from Poultry to Gresham Street, close to Bank underground station and Cannon Street mainline station. The street now houses mainly offices for banks and financial companies but was once at the heart of the original Jewish ghetto in London.

A plaque on a wall marks where the Great Synagogue of London stood until 1271. In 2001, archaeologists discovered a mikveh or ritual bath near to Old Jewry, on the corner of Gresham Street and Milk Street, under what is now the State Bank of India. It would have fallen into disuse after 1290, when the Jews were expelled from England.

The original inhabitants are also remembered in the name of nearby church, Saint Lawrence Jewry, on Gresham Street, next to the Guildhall. This is another Wren church rebuilt after the Great Fire in 1666.

Saint Lawrence Jewry was described by Sir John Betjeman as “very municipal, very splendid.” It is yet another one on my list of Wren and City churches to visit instead of traveling underground.

Looking back at Saint Paul’s and the City of London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

A taste of ‘South Bank Religion’, of
love, and of mission in Southwark

Saint Paul’s Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge seen from the South Bank (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

While Mervyn Stockwood (1913-1995) was Bishop of Southwark (1959-1980), the term ‘South Bank Religion’ came into vogue in the 1960s and was associated with the Bishop and the Diocese and those in his theological circle.

Mervyn Stockwood was known for making unusual, radical, but successful appointments, including John Robinson, David Sheppard and Michael Marshall as his suffragan Bishops of Woolwich, Hugh Montefiore and Keith Sutton as Bishops of Kingston.

Bishop Stockwood memorably appeared with Malcolm Muggeridge on the BBC’s Friday Night, Saturday Morning in 1979, arguing that the film Monty Python’s Life of Brian was blasphemous and telling John Cleese and Michael Palin they would “get [their] thirty pieces of silver.”

Bishop Stockwood was born in Wales, which I am about to visit this weekend. He became an Anglo-Catholic at All Saints’ Church, Clifton, and studied theology at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and Westcott House, where he became a socialist. As the Vicar of Great Saint Mary’s, Cambridge, his sermons drew large numbers of undergraduates and earned him a national reputation.

The term ‘South Bank Religion’ was particularly associated with John Robinson’s Honest to God and Layman’s Church, a collection of essays introduced by Timothy (later Lord) Beaumont, and including essays from several of the figures associated with ‘South Bank Religion’, including John Robinson. Its cover features Epstein’s ‘Christ in Majesty’, made for Llandaff Cathedral in 1954-1955 by Jacob Epstein, who also sculpted ‘Saint Michael and the Devil’ (1956-1958) for the exterior of Coventry Cathedral.

I had a taste of another brand of ‘South Bank Religion’ yesterday (28 April 2016) when I took part in a day-long meeting of the Trustees of the Anglican mission agency Us (USPG) in the offices in Southwark.

The offices in Great Suffolk Street are just a short walk from the Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre on the South Bank. Having caught a flight to Stansted from Dublin, it was just a short walk from Liverpool Street station to Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and there I crossed Thames over the Millennium Bridge that links the City of London with South Bank and Southwark.

As the meeting opened, we were led in a Bible study of John 15: 9-11:

9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

I was then invited to introduce a reading about the life of Peter Chanel (1803-1841), a 19th century French missionary and martyr in the South Pacific, who was clubbed to death on 28 April 1841.

One of his catechumens said of him: “He loves us; he does what he teaches; he forgives his enemies. His teaching is good.”

And that seems a perfect summary of what Christianity is about – whether it is branded as ‘South Bank Religion’ or anything else. And it seems a perfect summary of what mission is about too.

Buskers in the sunshine on South Bank (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Remembering Shakespeare
in Southwark Cathedral

The Shakespeare window in Southwark Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am in London today, at a meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency Us, previously USPG (the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.

On my way to the Us offices at Harling House in Great Suffolk Street, I walked from Liverpool Street Station to Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and walked across the the London Millennium Footbridge over the Thames to the Globe Theatre on the Southwark side of the river, just 10 minutes walk from here.

For the past week, the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare has been celebrated throughout this part of London, and the offices in Great Suffolk Street are just a short walk from Southwark Cathedral, where Shakespeare is commemorated by a window and a statue in the South Aisle.

Every year a birthday celebration is held in Southwark Cathedral in honour of England’s greatest playwright. Last Saturday [23 April], the special Shakespeare service in Southwark Cathedral blended liturgical worship, music and performance. The celebration drew on extracts of four plays – Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest – all currently playing in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe.

It was a fitting celebration of Shakespeare’s life and legacy in his workplace parish. Although he was never a regular worshipper in London, many members of his acting company were on the parish register of Saint Saviour’s Church.

The church was first known as Saint Mary and later as Saint Mary Overy (‘over the river’), and Southwark was part of the Diocese of Winchester. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, the church was renamed Saint Saviour’s, and only became a cathedral in 1905 with the formation of the new Diocese of Southwark.

The famous first folio of Shakespeare’s plays, produced after his death by two members of his acting company – John Hemings and Henry Cordell – lists all the company’s members. Over half (but not William Shakespeare) also appear on the parish register of Saint Saviour’s.

The window, showing characters from some of Shakespeare’s plays, was designed by Christopher Webb to replace one that was destroyed during World War II. The window was unveiled in 1954 by Dame Sybil Thorndike, who made her stage debut half a century earlier in 1904 in a regional production of The Merry Wives of Windsor and went on to perform in hundreds off Shakespearean productions.

Beneath the window is a recumbent alabaster figure of Shakespeare, carved by Henry McCarthy in 1912. The Bard is show resting and reading outside the Globe Theatre. The background depicts 17th century Southwark in relief, including the Globe Theatre, Winchester Palace and the tower of Saint Saviour’s.

Shakespeare’s brother Edmund was buried in Saint Saviour’s in 1607, and although the position of Edmund’s grave is not known today, he is commemorated by an inscribed stone in the paving of the Choir.

A Kempe window in the cathedral commemorates Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield-born author, lexicographer, critic and conversationalist. He was a friend of the Thrale family who were local brewers, and often stayed with them. His friends James Boswell and David Garrick were responsible for reviving English national interest in Shakespeare as a poet and playwright.

The Samuek Johnson window in Southwark Cathedral (Photograph: Tony Hisgett/Wikipedia)

Remembering ‘Dungarvan in
the rain’ on Poetry Day Ireland

‘Gone —  the overgrown demesne’ … the gate to Dromana House, between Cappoquin and Dungarvan (Photograph: Corey Taratuta)

Patrick Comerford

Poetry Ireland is promoting today Poetry Day Ireland [28 April 2016], and with this year’s theme of Revolution, Poetry Ireland is inviting everyone to rebel, revolutionise and organise to make poetry inescapable and irrepressible for a day.

The theme of Revolution includes artistic, political, social or personal revolution. Poetry Ireland wants to bring that aspect of the written and spoken word to the forefront in every school, venue, café and street corner in Ireland.

This morning, I have chosen a poem by John Betjeman, the British poet laureate who was once the British attaché in Dublin. He lived in Ireland from 1941 to 1943, and could never be described as a revolutionary poet. But his near-murder at the hands of the IRA makes him worth remembering this morning.

Betjeman, who was born 110 years ago in 1906, ten years before the Easter Rising, had a long if oft-hidden association with a family who lived near Cappoquin in Co Waterford. His poem, ‘The Irish Unionist’s Farewell to Greta Hellstrom in 1922,’ is also revolutionary in the way Betjeman challenges many of the accepted mores in Ireland in the 1940s. It opens with the lines:

Golden haired and golden hearted
I would ever have you be,
As you were when last we parted
Smiling slow and sad to me.


The poem is set in west Co Waterford, with each stanza closing with the line “Dungarvan in the rain.” For me, its descriptions too of Grattan Square in Dungarvan and the Comeragh Mountains, recall my childhood days on my grandmother’s farm near Cappoquin in west Waterford.

The woman in the poem has since been identified as Emily Sears, who later married Ion Villiers-Stuarts of Dromana House, near Cappoquin. She and Betjeman met in the Yellow House in Helvick Head, a fishing lodge then owned by the Villiers-Stuart family, and he visited her both in Galway and in Co Waterford.

The final lines of the poem show the poet’s respect and his final acceptance of Emily’s decision to remain friends and never to be lovers:

You were right to keep us parted:
Bound and parted we remain,
Aching, if unbroken hearted—
Oh! Dungarvan in the rain.


Meanwhile, it is romantically curious that all that remains of the Villiers-Stuart family home in Dromana near Cappoquin is the “Hindu Gothic” gate lodge at the end of a bridge over the River Finnisk, close to where it meets the River Blackwater, outside Villierstown.

The gate lodge was designed by Martin Day in 1849 and built in 1851. Day is said to have been inspired by the Brighton Pavilion, built for the Prince Regent and designed by John Nash. The gate lodge was erected by Henry Villiers-Stuart as a wedding gift for two newly-weds who had spent their honeymoon in Brighton.

The design is a bizarre combination of styles, from flamboyant gothic with ogee-style arched windows, to Brighton pavilion oriental, complete with an onion dome.

‘The Irish Unionist’s Farewell to Greta Hellstrom in 1922,’ by John Betjeman

Golden haired and golden hearted
I would ever have you be,
As you were when last we parted
Smiling slow and sad at me.
Oh! the fighting down of passion!
Oh! the century-seeming pain —
Parting in this off-hand fashion
In Dungarvan in the rain.

Slanting eyes of blue, unweeping
Stands my Swedish beauty where
Gusts of Irish rain are sweeping
Round the statue in the square;
Corner boys against the walling
Watch us furtively in vain,
And the Angelus is calling
Through Dungarvan in the rain.

Gales along the Commeragh Mountains,
Beating sleet on creaking signs,
Iron gutters turned to fountains,
And the windscreen laced with lines,
And the evening getting later,
And the ache —  increased again,
As the distance grows the greater
From Dungarvan in the rain.

There is no one now to wonder
What eccentric sits in state
While the beech trees rock and thunder
Round his gate-lodge and his gate.
Gone —  the ornamental plaster,
Gone —  the overgrown demesne
And the car goes fast, and faster,
From Dungarvan in the rain.

Had I kissed and drawn you to me
Had you yielded warm for cold,
What a power had pounded through me
As I stroked your streaming gold!
You were right to keep us parted:
Bound and parted we remain,
Aching, if unbroken hearted —
  Oh! Dungarvan in the rain!

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

New on-line collection shows how
three Comerfords responded in 1916

The tower and spire of Saint Peter’s Church, Phibsboro ... Father Edmond Comerford claimed for damage to the church during Easter Week 1916 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In recent weeks I have written about the role of members of the Comerford family in the events during the Easter Rising in 1916.

Newly released archives also show that three members of the Comerford family claimed for damage to their businesses and to church premises in the aftermath of the Easter Rising.

The National Archives of Ireland last week released a new on-line collection detailing more than 6,500 compensation claims that were submitted to the Property Losses (Ireland) Committee in the aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising. The collection has been fully indexed and is searchable by surname, location or business name.

The applications for compensation came from individuals and businesses and involve damage to buildings and property, including loss of personal property, due the fighting, or later as a result of fire and looting.

Most of the claims came from Dublin, but there was a substantial number of claims for damage in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford and a small number in Co Galway. The files include a huge range of small items, from jewellery that had been left for repair in a jewellery shop on Sackville Street (O’Connell Street), to personal effects belonging to chambermaids working in hotels in the city centre.

The majority of claims are from individuals who lost small amounts of personal property or whose homes were damaged in the fighting. There is also a large number of claims from businesses and property owners.

Launching the new collection in the Reading Room of the National Archives in Dublin last week, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys, said: “This new website provides a fascinating insight into the very personal cost of the Rising and the impact that the fighting had on both homes and businesses. As well as the lives lost during Easter Week 1916, many businesses were damaged or destroyed.”

One of the buildings completely destroyed in the Rising was the Royal Hibernian Academy on Abbey Street Lower. A number of artists lost works on display in the RHA, including Jack B Yeats and Sir John Lavery.

Three members of the Comerford family submitted compensation claims after the Rising.

John Comerford of 32 Parnell Street, Dublin, claimed for a total loss of £29 for household goods and damage to his building and the contents. He claimed his windows had been broken and his shop wrecked during Easter Week. The glass cases had been put in, and the furniture damaged included a mahogany table, six chairs, and a “chimney pier glass.”

He also sought compensation for repairs to the roof. However, a claim for £18.10.0 in cash taken from a box was not allowed, and he received a total of £14.

Nearby, at No 75A, at the junction of Parnell Street Lower and O’Connell Street, one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation, Tom Clarke, owned a tobacconists shop.

Miss Jane Ellen Comerford, of 76 King Street North, Dublin, was described as a spinster with income from a private source. She was the daughter of James Comerford, a well-known Dublin builder who built or designed a number of important late Victorian buildings in the North King Street area. She lived over a vacant shop with her aunts. She reported the damage this building was caused by bullets and military bombardment on Thursday 28 April in Easter Week. Her claims included damage to the building (£5.4.6) and to household furniture (£2.7.6).

The lease of the building was in the name of Patrick Brennan and had expired after a term of 31 years in March 1916. A new lease was prepared for his signature for a further 31 years, but he died on 9 May 1916.

Jane Ellen Comerford, who was his niece, applied for a new lease on 9 May in her own name. The owner of the building, a Miss Carolin, consented to this provided a small amount, exclusive of the damage done by the bullets, be laid out on the premises and that a yearly rent of 10 shillings was paid.

The inspector’s report found that the claimant had private means and was also a school attendance inspector with Dublin Corporation.

Her claims arose from damage to a shop plate glass window, replacing and painting windows, damage a pilaster at the shop front, upholstering a couch, replacing curtains, and repairing a wall damaged by bullet holes. However, the inspector who interviewed her niece believed “the amounts claimed are slightly exaggerated.”

The Revd Edmund Henry Comerford, CM, claimed for damage to the roof of the church building and the presbytery at Saint Peter’s Church, Phibsborough. Father Edmond Comerford, CM (1870-1940), a Vicentian priest priest, was born in Muckalee, Co Kilkenny, and educated at Castleknock College, Co Dublin. He joined the Vincentians in 1890 and was ordained priest in 1895.

Father Edmund worked with the Vincentian missions in Sheffield before returning to Dublin in the 1900s as Dean of Saint Vincent’s College, Castleknock. He later served in Saint Peter’s Church, Phibsboro, and was appointed Provincial Bursar in 1922. He was attached to Saint Peter’s, Phibsboro, when he died in 1940.

The chancel and transepts of Saint Peter’s were erected, together with a great central tower, by George Goldie in the early 1860s. But the construction of the tower was a controversial affair and resulted in a long and costly law-suit that began as a dispute between the architect and builder and ended with the involvement of their client. A Court Order meant the tower had to be dismantled, and the architects Ashlin and Coleman, who were heirs to the Pugin practice in Ireland, got involved in 1902. The design for the work was entrusted to the architect, George Coppinger Ashlin, and the contractor was James Kiernan of Talbot Street. They remodelled the nave and built the 200ft tower at the east end.

The damage to Saint Peter’s Church in 1916 was caused when the Railway Bridge at the North Circular Road was blown up and a large piece of stone or masonry fell on the church roof and on the presbytery on Tuesday 25 April 1916.

The damaged windows included the Rose Window, windows depicting the Sacred Heart, Saint Joseph, and a window of cathedral glass above the high altar. The church was insured for £25,000 and the windows for £5,000, and so the inspectors allowed for compensation in part only.

The Sacred Heart window in Saint Peter’s ... one of Harry Clarke’s early masterpieces (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

As a consequence of the damage the church windows suffered in 1916, Father Comerford commissioned the three-light window by Harry Clarke in Saint Peter’s Church in 1918, illustrated with the Sacred Heart, Saint Margaret and Saint John the Evangelist. At the time, Saint Peter’s was home to the Arch-Confraternity of the Sacred Heart in Dublin. In 1919, Harry Clarke spent almost the entire months of May, July and August working on Father Comerford’s commission, and he completed the window on 28 August 1919.

Sadly, the original tracery lights were destroyed in 1972. When the church was renovated in 1999 the window was incorporated into the design of the new Chapel of Adoration. The window is signed “H. Clarke Aug. 1919” in the third light, beside Saint Cecilia, above the lower panel.

According to John McDonough, the Director of the National Archives of Ireland, these compensation files offer “a unique window into the material damages caused in April 1916. Through these files we gain a real sense of the losses to individuals and businesses. The files will enable historians and family members to research the impact of the fighting on peoples’ lives and the claims they made in an attempt to rebuild them.”

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Finding a distant family link to
a battle during the 1916 Rising

Thomasina Lynders (right) from Donabate and her sister Julia Weston were members of Cumann na mBan and the Fingal Brigade in 1916

I have written recently on the different roles were played by many members of the Comerford family during the events in Easter Week 100 years ago. Although no member of my immediate family was directly involved in the Easter Rising, I was interested to learn recently that my grandmother had a second cousin whose wife played a key role in the events in north Co Dublin in 1916.

My grandmother Bridget (Lynders) Comerford (1875-1948) was living in Rathmines in Easter 1916, while her husband, Stephen Edward Comerford (1867-1921), was posted with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in Thessaloniki in northern Greece, about to be invalided home with malaria.

The Lynders family has lived in the Portrane and Donabate area since the early 18th century, and was closely related to an inter-married nexus of families on the peninsula.

Bridget was the daughter of Patrick Lynders (1843-1902) of Portrane and his wife Margaret McMahon (1847-1924), and the grand-daughter of John Lynders (b 1798), of the Burrow, Portrane, my great-great-grandfather.

Joseph and Elizabeth (Bates) Lynders remembered on a pew in Saint Patrick’s Church, Donabate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John Lynders, in turn, had a younger brother, Joseph Lynders (born 1803), of Corballis, Donabate, who was the father of Joseph Lynders (1847-1913), who lived at the Glass House, Ballisk, and later at Corbalis, Donabate.

This second Joseph Lynders and his wife Elizabeth Bates were the parents of a large family, including John Lynders, who was born in 1885 and who married Thomasina Weston (1887-1962) of Turvey Hill, Donabate.

In all, four members of the Weston family took part in the Easter Rising in 1916. Thomasina Lynders and her sister Julia Weston were members of Cumann na mBan, while their brothers Charles (Charlie) and Bartholomew (Bartle) Weston were members of the 5th Battalion, Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers, known as the Fingal Brigade in North County Dublin, and took part in the Battle of Ashbourne on 28 April 1916.

The sisters Thomasina Lynders and Julia Weston acted in intelligence liaison roles for Thomas Ashe, the commandant of the Fingal Brigade during Easter week. They carried messages between units, prepared food and helped to bury the dead.

The four Weston siblings were the children of Patrick and Kate Weston. They all survived the Rising, all were awarded medals and military pensions, and Charlie Weston later became one of the first officers of the Irish Free State Army.

Her bother, Charlie Weston was an early member of the Gaelic League and was a co-founder of the Black Raven Pipe Band. In 1913, he and his brother Bartle Weston joined the Irish Volunteers as members of the Lusk Company and the Swords Company. These were parts of the 5th Battalion, Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers, known as the Fingal Brigade in North County Dublin. They were under the command of Thomas Ashe from Kerry, a teacher in Corduff, near Lusk. His second-in-command was Richard Mulcahy.

On Monday morning, 24 April1916, Ashe received orders from James Connolly to send 40 of his battalion to the GPO. Ashe with his force of about 60 men, decided to send 20, and on Tuesday 25 April they marched under Captain Dick Coleman to Dublin City. Ashe believed a raid on a nearby police barracks would release some of the pressure on those fighting in Dublin City.

On Wednesday 26 April, the Fingal rebels raided the RIC stations in Swords and Donabate. In the raids, they took many weapons including 10 carbines, three revolvers and some ammunition. Later, they cut the rail links at Donabate, and the telegraph lines at Swords, and then moved on to Rogerstown. Charlie Weston led the unit that bombed bridges and attacked RIC stations around North County Dublin, including the RIC station in Donabate.

After night fell, the unit moved under the cover of darkness on the police barracks at Garristown but found it deserted. Ashe and Mulcahy then led their force to Baldwinstown, where they set up camp for the night.

The next morning, Thursday 27 April, the battalion was reorganised and those considered too old or too young were sent home. With about 50 men left, the Battalion moved on towards Ashbourne, and they set up a base camp in a deserted farmhouse between Garristown and Ashbourne.

On Friday 28 April, the day of the battle at Ashbourne, Ashe split the unit into four sections that acted like flying columns. They planned to destroy the Midland and Great Western Railway (MGWR) line that ran through Batterstown in a move to block troop reinforcements being sent from Athlone into Dublin.

At Ashbourne, they surrounded the police barracks, and the so-called Battle of Ashbourne marked the first time guerrilla warfare was used in Ireland. In a five-hour battle, eight RIC officers were shot dead, 18 wounded and 96 people were taken as prisoners.

Ashe and Mulcahy then set up camp at New Barn in Kilsallaghan and await further orders. But when the order came from Pearse, they were told to surrender. Mulcahy went to Dublin to verify the order, after which the 5th Battalion, Dublin Brigade, arranged a surrender to the cavalry, and were taken to Richmond jail. Ashe was sentenced to death for his role, but this was later commuted to penal servitude for life.

Mulcahy was released from Frongoch Internment Camp in Wales in December 1916. He went on to become Commander-in-Chief of the Irish Free State Army in 1921 and Minister for Defence during the Civil War.

Charlie’s sister, Thomasina Lynders, was born on 13 March 1887. She joined Cumann Na mBan in 1915, soon after it was founded. During Easter week 1916, she acted in an intelligence liaison role, under the command of Ashe.

On Easter Day, 23 April 1916, the day before the rising, she became involved in the mobilisation, and made her way to Rathbeale, where she remained all day. She returned on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, and contacted the volunteers who had not mobilised due to confusion over whether the Rising was going ahead.

Thomasina Lynders remained with the Fingal Brigade throughout Easter week, treating the wounded from the Battle of Ashbourne and helping with the removal and burial of two rebels who were kille. She also collected information on RIC and military movements, carried dispatches and directed people who wanted to join up to rebel camps.

When she applied for a military pension years later, Thomasina Lynders said her role during the Rising included “keeping in touch with Volunteer camps, taking orders from Comdt Thomas Ashe, and associated activity as a unit in battalion operations, in scouting, intelligence work, and in providing food and clothing, etc.”

When her neighbour Michael McAllister from Donabate refused to surrender after the rising, Thomasina hid him in her house for seven months.

After 1916, she remained an active member of Cumann na mBan, working in central office and continuing as an active member of the Fingal Brigade. When the rebels were released from prison in Britain, she organised a reception to welcome them home and collected funds for them. She also organised fund-raising dances and flag days and campaigned in elections.

Her sister Julia (Mary) Weston was another of the 250 women involved in the Rising. In her own words, Julia’s role involved “keeping in touch with volunteer camps and taking orders from Comdt Ashe,” along with scouting and intelligence work, and providing food. Her pension papers describe Julia as having the rank of Acting Confidential Intelligence Officer.

The signatures of four members of the Weston family, including Thomasina Lynders, are included in the Ashbourne garrison

The four Weston siblings all survived the Rising. All were awarded medals and military pensions, and they supported the pro-Treaty Cumann na nGaedheal.

Charlie Weston later become one of the first officers of the Irish Free State Army, and retired with the rank of captain in December 1923. Charlie Weston died on 21 December 1956. His brother Bartle Weston died on 3 February 1962.

After the formation of the Irish Free State, Thomasina and her husband John Lynders and they ran a shop on North Street, Swords, and she lived there until she died on 4 January 1962.

Meanwhile, Bridget Lynders’s husband, my grandfather Stephen Edward Comerford, was discharged from the army on 3 May 1916, three days after the Easter Rising ended, and invalided back to Dublin from Thessaloniki.

Malaria was life-threatening but life-saving – for a few months at least. World War ended on 11 November 1918 and a month later, on 14 December 1918, his youngest child – my father Stephen Edward Comerford – was born in Rathmines.

But my grandfather’s health continued to deteriorate, no more children were born, and he died alone in hospital at the age of 53. He is buried with my grandmother in Saint Catherine’s old Church of Ireland churchyard in Portrane, Co Dublin.

Monday, 25 April 2016

How Irish do I have to be before I
answer ‘Irish’ on the census form?

How Irish do I have to be before I complete last night’s census forms? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

Did you answer all the questions on the census form last night?

Did you continue through to the bitter end?

Did you get stuck in the middle and find you needed a cup of coffee before you continued?

I stumbled when I came to Question 11:

What is your ethnic or cultural background?

The form says: “Chose one section from A to D, then the appropriate – box.”

The options given are:

A White

1 Irish
2 Irish Traveller.
3 Any other White background.

B Black or Black Irish

4 African
5 Any other Black background

C Asian or Asian Irish

6 Chinese
7 Any other Asian background

D Other, including mixed background

8, Other, write in description.

I have problems with what appears to be an inherent presumption – that to be purely Irish one is white, and with no added ingredients.

How could there possibly be such a concept as pure Irish?

Who are the pure Irish?

Do you have to have a surname that begins with “O” or “Mac”?

How far back does one have to go?

Are you not purely Irish if your family arrived here with the Vikings? The Anglo-Normans? The English and Scots? The Huguenots? The Palatines? The 19th and 20th century Italian plasterers and the next waves that opened fish and chip shops?

When does Cassoni, Caffola, Macari, Fusco, Cinelli, Librero, Cervi or Borza become an Irish surname?

Why do some people have to be hyphenated?

Why do some families have to wait for generations when, for example, Pearse and de Valera never had to? Yet Pearse had an English father and de Valera, who was born in New York, had a Spanish or Cuban father – how would they have described themselves last night?

How could Constance Markievicz describe and qualify herself? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

As I walked through Saint Stephen’s Green yesterday afternoon, and looked at the monument to Countess Markievicz, I wondered how she would have answered: Polish or Ukrainian because of her husband? English because she was born in London?

She was already double-barrelled when she was born Constance Gore-Booth, and some of her detractors might have liked to compound that by labelling her Anglo-Irish.

Some years ago, during the 2011 presidential election campaign, Martin McGuinness tried to blame “West Brit elements” in the Dublin media for daring to ask questions about his past.

McGuinness later took the opportunity to try to explain his “West Brit” media conspiracy faux pas, saying: “No, no, I think there is a very tiny number of people who fit into that category, but there are undoubtedly a number of people out there who are very determined to try and undermine my campaign, but I’m not going to get fixated about any of that.”

Speaking to Newstalk’s Chris Donoghue he said “there are West Brit elements, in and around Dublin – some of them are attached to some sections of the media, others are attached to political parties and were formerly involved in political parties,” he said.

Note how he blamed “West Brit elements” in the media and in political parties for the past, and not the IRA.

However, as Miriam Lord asked in The Irish Times afterwards, how could McGuinness reconcile his statements about wanting to be a President for all the people of Ireland when he also used a derogatory term like “West Brit”?

Wikipedia defines the term this way: “West Brit, an abbreviation of West British, is a pejorative term for an Irish person, usually from Dublin, who is perceived by his or her countrymen as being too anglophilic in matters of culture or politics.”

Daniel O’Connell used the term positively in a debate in the House of Commons in 1832 when he said: “The people of Ireland are ready to become a portion of the Empire, provided they be made so in reality and not in name alone; they are ready to become a kind of West Briton if made so in benefits and justice; but if not, we are Irishmen again.”

The term “West Brit” gained prominent usage in the land struggle of the 1880s. By the 1900s, DP Moran, founder of The Leader was using the term frequently to describe people he did not consider to be sufficiently Irish. It was synonymous with those he described as “Sourfaces,” those who mourned the death of Queen Victoria, and It included virtually all members of the Church of Ireland and those Roman Catholics who did not measure up to his definition of “Irish Irelanders.”

A sense of how the term came to be used can be grasped from a reading of James Joyce’s Dubliners, published in 1914: “Perhaps he ought not to have answered her like that. But she had no right to call him a West Briton before people, even in joke.”

In the early years of the Irish Free State in the 1920s, the term “West Brit” was used to discriminate against those who had a friendly attitude towards the United Kingdom and who were loath to cut ties with the neighbouring island. It seems, though, that by then the term was applied mainly to Roman Catholics because Protestants were presumed to be Unionists by nature – despite the fact that Irish nationalists and republicans had included Charles Stewart Parnell, Sean O Casey, Bulmer Hobson, Douglas Hyde and Ernest Childers.

Similarly pejorative terms include “Castle Catholic” and – in this day and age – “Anglo-Irish.”

Someone I know has tried on more than one occasion to use the term “Anglo-Irish” when he has asked me about my background. But it implies that someone is only half Irish, or half English.

The Comerford family has lived in Ireland for many generations, for many centuries, but I am keenly aware, like many generations before me, of our family roots in Staffordshire and Wiltshire. Why not? It is as sensible as someone with the name O’Neill or O’Donnell being proud of ancient Irish roots – perhaps even more so, in that the link is closer and can be verified.

But I am hardly going to use the term “Anglo-Irish” or “West Brit” on the census form. I have no problem with English friends who think I may be English, but let no-one in Ireland imagine I am less Irish than they are – certainly not less Irish than Pearse or de Valera.

Those who have been keen on rewriting the history of 1916 during the present commemorations, appear to be keen to dismiss the authenticity of the Irish identity of one section of Irish society who disagree with them politically.

But they know they would be stooping to racism if they took the same attitude to “Black or Black Irish” or “Asian or Asian Irish” respondents to the census forms last night.

Perhaps since the failure of his presidential campaign, Martin McGuinness has decided to accept that Ireland is an authentic home for “West Brits,” the “Anglo-Irish,” those who speak Received Pronunciation English, those who enjoy cricket and rugby, those whose parents were born in Rathmines and Rathgar, those whose father or grandfather fought in the British Army in World War I or World War II, those who wear a poppy, those who received part of our education in England or worked there for a while, those who are proud of that part of our ancestry that is English (even if generations ago), or those who opposed 40 years of murderous violence on this island.

But no-one should have to qualify how Irish they are when it comes to filling out the census forms.

Finding a secluded and secret
garden in a former monastery

In Ranelagh Gardens … a secluded and secret garden in Dublin 6 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

On my way from Dundrum to the Greek Film Festival in the City Centre on Sunday morning, after preaching in Christ Church, Taney, and Saint Nahi’s Church, Dundrum, I found myself for the first time in the Ranelagh Gardens.

These secluded gardens are like a secret garden in the middle of the south-side Dublin suburb to which they gave their name. And, although I have often passed them by on foot or travelled by them on the Luas, I had never visited them.

I have known this part of Dublin for decades, and both a grandfather and great-grandfather lived nearby in Beechwood Avenue and Old Mountpleasant. But in my late teens and early 20s this secret garden was a secluded and private place, part of the grounds of a monastery of enclosed Carmelite nuns, and closed to the public for over a century.

The main entrance to the Ranelagh Gardens is through a stone arch beneath the Luas line (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The main entrance to the Ranelagh Gardens is through a spectacular stone and carved arch beneath the Luas or light rail line, but there are less well-known gates from the side streets and laneways around Ranelagh.

The gardens now cover about one hectare (almost 2.5 acres), but were originally part of five hectares of pleasure gardens developed in 1775 by a businessman who called them after the Ranelagh Gardens beside the River Thames in London, beside the site that hosts the Chelsea Flower Show each year.

A statue in the Ranelagh Gardens recalls Richard Crosbie’s pioneering hot-air balloon flight in 1785 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The first manned hot air balloon flight in Ireland was launched from the Ranelagh Gardens in 1785 by Richard Crosbie, two years after the first such flight in Versailles. Crosbie successfully flew his hot air balloon from Ranelagh Gardens to Clontarf.

In 1788, the Ranelagh Gardens were sold to a community of Carmelite nuns who moved into Willsbrook House, set up a new monastery and opened a school. But when the Carmelite convent became totally enclosed in 1840.

The gardens gave their name to the surrounding area, which was originally a small village on the edges of Dublin, surrounded by landed estates. Ranelagh was incorporated into the expanding city in the 19th century. But by then the Ranelagh Gardens were closed to the public, local people no longer had access to boating pond, and the Ranelagh Gardens were virtually forgotten for over a century.

The Carmelite nuns moved out of Ranelagh in 1975, and found a new home in Malahide. A lot of the land was sold off for housing developments in the mid-1980s.

Today, the Dublin 6 district has many open parks and green spaces, including Dartmouth Square, Mount Pleasant Square, Belgrave Square, Kenilworth Square and the park in Harold’s Cross. But none is as curious or as secluded as the Ranelagh Gardens.

But all was not lost. The present small park was designed, including an ornamental pool thereby that recalls the 200-year historical connection with the original Ranelagh Gardens.

A large, gated and carved stone arch beneath the Luas or light rail line leads into this “secret garden.” But in reality this is no secret garden – it is overlooked by surrounding apartment blocks, so that, like any city parks, this place feels both open and enclosed all at once.

Inside there is an ornamental pond with swans, ducks and large fish, benches to snatch some moments of tranquillity, weeping willows, a family of herons who are unperturbed by the human visitors, and a statue commemorating Richard Crosbie and his pioneering hot-air balloon flight.

A heron in the Ranelagh Gardens … undisturbed by human attention (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

But who was Lord Ranelagh who gave his name to the Ranelagh Gardens in Dublin and to the original Ranelagh Gardens in London?

The Ranelagh Gardens in London were named after Ranelagh House. The title of Viscount Ranelagh in the Irish Peerage was first given in 1628 for Sir Roger Jones, son of Archbishop Thomas Jones of Dublin. His grandson, Richard Jones (1641-1712), the 3rd Viscount, became Earl of Ranelagh in 1677.

While he was the Treasurer of Chelsea Hospital in London (1685-1702), this Lord Ranelagh built Ranelagh House in 1688-1689 immediately beside the Chelsea Hospital. The builder, Solomon Rieti, was an Italian Jewish immigrant whose niece, Rebecca Rieti, was the grandmother of Benjamin Disraeli.

The Earl of Ranelagh’s mother was Lady Katherine Boyle, a daughter of the Earl of Cork and a sister of the chemist Robert Boyle. But she became estranged from her husband, who appears to have been a drunkard, and Richard was brought up in his mother’s household in London.

After the Restoration of Charles II, Richard became MP in the Irish Parliament for Roscommon, and at first he was identified with the group that opposed the land settlement being proposed by Ormond. But, when he became the Irish Chancellor of the Exchequer he became one of Ormonde’s strongest supporters. For his role in clearing Crown debts, he also became the Earl of Ranelagh.

In England, he was also the MP for Plymouth and later for Newtown (Isle of Wight), Chichester, Marlborough and West Looe. He became Paymaster of the Forces. He remained in royal favour during the reign of James II, but he switched his loyalties when William and Mary came to the throne and became a senior figure in the new government.

Ranelagh was well known for enjoying life and for being a rake. Fall seemed inevitable, and he was expelled from the House of Commons in 1703 when discrepancies were found in his accounts and he was fund to have misappropriated more than £900,000 of public finds.

When he died in 1712 without a legitimate male heir, the title of Earl of Ranelagh became extinct and the title of Viscount Ranelagh became dormant. Eventually, Ranelagh House and the Ranelagh Gardens were sold in 1741 to a syndicate led by the proprietor of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and Sir Thomas Robinson MP, and the Gardens opened to the public the following year.

Ranelegh became more fashionable than the older Vauxhall Gardens. The entrance charge was 2/6 (half a crown), compared to a shilling at Vauxhall. Soon after the gardens opened, Horace Walpole wrote: “It has totally beat Vauxhall... You can’t set your foot without treading on a Prince, or Duke of Cumberland.”

The name Ranelagh Gardens inspired the Dublin counterpart and soon gave name to the new suburb in Dubin. But the success was short-lived, Ranelagh House was demolished in 1805, 35 years before the Ranelagh Gardens in Dublin were closed off to the general public.

Today, the original site in London is now a green pleasure ground with shaded walks, part of the grounds of Chelsea Hospital and the site of the annual Chelsea Flower Show.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

The joys of music in Crete and hope
for refugees on the Greek islands


Patrick Comerford

The Second Dublin Greek Film Festival came to an exciting conclusion this evening [24 April 2016] with a fundraiser in the Sugar Club on Leeson Street for refugees in Greece.

For the past few days, this festival has presented features, documentaries and short films along with special events in top cultural venues in Dublin, promoting Greek culture through a variety of films and events and showing the links between Ireland and Greece.

The evening’s fundraiser, which was well-supported by members of the Greek community in Dublin, included a showing of the documentary A Family Affair and a concert by Pakaw!



The film A Family Affair is an 82-minute documentary made in Greece and Australia last year (2015). It is directed by Angeliki Aristomenopoulou and is in Greek with English subtitles.

This movie is an intimate portrait of the Xylouris family and their sacred bonds with the musical tradition of Crete. It follows three generations of musicians in this family who uphold and pass on the vibrant tradition of Cretan music, performing ceaselessly to followers around the world.

From the legendary Antonis Xylouris – widely known as Psarantonis – to his son, the famous lute player and singer George Xylouris – nicknamed Psarogiorgis – and his three children Nikos, Antonis and Apollonia, who are studying in Australia, the film follows Greece’s most famous musical clan to discover the electrifying power of their music and the sacred ties that hold the family together.

We were brought on a musical odyssey from Archanes and Iraklion in Crete to Brussels and to Melbourne in Australia. There was an interesting interplay too with Irish music in Australia through connections with George’s wife Shelagh, and there was a cameo appearance by Ross Daly, who in a unique way bring together music from Crete, Ireland and the Middle East.

All profits from this evening’s event are going to Γιατροί Χωρίς Σύνορα (Doctors Without Borders), working with refugees in the Dodecanese, Lesbos, Athens and Idomeni.

Doctors Without Borders or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international medical humanitarian organisation formed by doctors and journalists in France in 1971. Today, MSF provides independent, impartial assistance in more than 60 countries to people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect or catastrophe, primarily due to armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition, exclusion from health care, or natural disasters.

Right now, MSF needs doctors, nurses, Interpreters and other professionals for their missions in the islands of the northern and south-east Aegean and in Idomeni.

Last year, 608,970 people arrived at the Greek Islands compared with a figure of 43,500 in 2014. MSF provides medical care and distribute relief items to refugees and migrants arriving in the Dodecanese and Lesbos or concentrate at the border with FYROM in order to leave the country.

Since March last year, MSF is providing medical care in mobile clinics on the island of Kos and on nearby islands, where the 20% of refugees and migrants arrive and where there is no organised reception service, and so no access to shelter, food, medical assistance and sanitation facilities.

Since June last year, MSF on Lesbos has been providing health services in mobile clinics, distributing hygiene kits and improving water and sanitation facilities in the camps at Kara Tepe and Moria. MSF also provides transport services with buses, so that people who arrive on the island – over half of the arrivals in Greece – do not have to walk 65 km to the registration centres.

In Idomeni in northern Greece, MSF provides medical care with mobile clinics to people trying to cross the border with FYROM. In collaboration with other organisations, MSF has set up a short-stay camp and installed water and sanitation facilities along the border.

In Athens, MSF provides medical care, psycho-social support and legal assistance to refugees who have been tortured.



After the movie, there was a concert by Pakaw! – an all-female combo based in Britain that pushes the boundaries of traditional music. With Greek music at their core, these five tangy, opinionated, international women excite with their sultry vocals and there versatile musicianship.

The members of Pakaw! are Katerina Clambaneva (vocals and defi), Paressa Daniilidou (accordion and vocals), Muzmee (violin), Olympia Tsarouchi (guitar and vocals) and Duygu Camurcuoglu (percussion and vocals).

Before this festival closed, the Embassy of Greece said it “is proud to be associated” with this “cultural event.”

In the Greek calendar this year, Sunday next [1 May 2016] is Easter Day. Hopefully fundraisers like this will bring some rays of hope and new life to an increasingly desperate situation that is an indictment of all of European society today.

Remembering 1916: ‘nation shall
not lift up sword against nation’

Saint Nahi’s Church on Upper Churchtown Road, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Saint Nahi’s Church, Dundrum,

Sunday 24 April 2016.

11. 45 a.m.:
A Service of Commemoration of the Easter Rising 1916.

Readings: Isaiah 2: 1-6; Psalm 48, Matthew 5: 43-48.

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

I imagine there is a mixture of feelings about the 1916 commemorations here this morning. Let me just identity four of those types of feelings that we might know are just below the surface:

1, Some of you may feel you are suffering from ‘1916 Fatigue.’ It’s been everywhere since the beginning of the year: on television, in newspapers, in the schools, on advertising hoardings … and may well wonder why you have to listen to more about it in this church this morning.

2, Some of you may feel a certain degree of national pride. Whether you agree or disagree with those we call ‘the men of 1916,’ you may feel thankful that we live in an open democracy and a free society, despite all its failures and weaknesses. Despite the many social, political and economic problems we have today, you may feel ‘we are where we are’ and want to be thankful about that.

3, Some of you, like me, may be very upset about the way the 1916 commemorations displaced our Easter celebrations last month, and wonder why the parades and marches and other events could not have been staged on the actual anniversary of the Rising, 24 April 2016, rather than Easter Day, which fell on 27 March 2016.

4, And some of you may feel alienated: that the whole thing has been staged and has been hijacked by a narrow, myopic vision of Irish identity that is Green, Gaelic and Catholic and that excludes members of the Church of Ireland.

None of these feelings are mutually exclusive. Over the last four weeks, or even over the last four months, you may have moved between these feelings, experiencing one and then another set of emotions at different times this year.

But there is real difficulty if we leave the narrative of 1916 to those who want to see the rebels as Green, Gaelic and Catholic working class heroes. We may both distort the truth and allow ourselves not to engage with the debate about the sort of Ireland we want for ourselves today and for our children and grandchildren in the future.

To distort the past does not allow us to own the present or to have vision for the future. I remember well the commemorations of 1966, and the horror it created within me. It is no coincidence that within three years Northern Ireland was being riven with violence and the Provisional IRA had emerged.

The truth, of course, is so often different from the pedalled myth. For example, despite what they would have us believe, neither Sinn Fein nor the IRA was involved in the events of Easter Week 1916. Sinn Fein was then a monarchist party, supporting Arthur Griffith’s concept of a dual monarchy shared by Britain and Ireland and modelled on the Austro-Hungarian empire. The party was also facing bankruptcy, unable to pay the rent on its premises in Harcourt Street.

Nor is the IRA one of the three armed groups named in the 1916 Proclamation, and it did not emerge until long after the Rising.

On the other hand, many members of the Church of Ireland were involved in the events that led up to the Rising and in 1916 itself.

Douglas Hyde, the son of a Cork-born rector, was a key figure in the revival of the Irish language. Lady Gregory, WB Yeats and ‘AE’ George Russell, all involved in the Abbey Theatre, were born in the Church of Ireland.

The Revd Professor Robert Malcolm Gwynn, who is buried in Whitechurch Churchyard, offered his rooms in Trinity College Dublin, for the meeting at which the Irish Citizen Army took its name in 1913. The Howth and Kilcoole gunrunnings in 1914 were organised mainly by members of the Church of Ireland.

Projecting images of the signatories of the 1916 proclamation as Green, Gaelic and Catholic working class heroes is false and manipulative. Pearse was the son a Birmingham Unitarian, two of the seven signatories were not born in Ireland, one was the son of an Englishman, one had served in the British army, one was the son of an RIC officer, one was born in a British army barracks, one was a titled aristocrat who went to an English public school, and at least three married women who were born into the Church of Ireland.

The key figures in the Rising also included Countess Markievicz, born Constance Gore-Booth, the trade unionist Harry Nicolls, and Dr Kathleen Lynn, a parishioner in Rathmines all her life. The historian Martin Maguire of Dundalk Institute of Technology has counted at least 45 Protestants – 21 women and 24 men – who were active in the Republican movement between 1916 and 1921, and the dramatist of that period, Sean O’Casey, was a member of the Church of Ireland too.

Of course they were not uncritical in their engagement with those events. Many were shocked and feared the worst, so that Yeats could write:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


Among the 1,200 graves in Saint Nahi’s Graveyard in this parish are the graves of the artists Susan Mary (‘Lily’) and Elizabeth Corbett (‘Lolly’), sisters of the poet WB Yeats and the artist Jack B Yeats.

The Yeats family lived on Lower Churchtown Road, opposite the ‘Bottle Tower.’ Lily and Lolly were involved in the Dun Emer Industries in Dundrum, and Lolly was the first woman to run a private printing press in Ireland.

Also remembered in the churchyard is Patrick Doyle from Milltown, who was killed at Clanwilliam House during Easter Week 1916. He was killed on 26 April 1916 and his body was never recovered as Clanwilliam House was engulfed in flames, almost completely destroying the building. A font at Milltown marks his role in the Rising, and he also gave his name to Patrick Doyle Road in the Windy Arbour and Milltown area.

Patrick Doyle was a foreman at the laundry in Milltown. He was a Roman Catholic but his mother was a member of the Church of Ireland. It is likely he inherited his nationalist views from his mother as her brother was a Fenian who had been transported to Australia.

He was only 36 when he died and he left a widow and five children aged from 14 down to 1. Poignantly he died on his youngest child’s first birthday. Although there was no body to bury, he is named on his wife’s grave in Saint Nahi’s.

His eldest son, also Patrick Doyle, was only 22 when he was killed in the Civil War at Crooksling, Co Dublin, on 7 July 1922. He too is buried at Saint Nahi’s.

James Burke, who is also buried in the churchyard, was one of the spectators shot dead in Croke Park on ‘Bloody Sunday,’ 21 November 1920.

Another grave from those troubled times is that of Lawrence Sweeney or Lorcan Mac Suibhne from Goatstown, who was killed in Castledermot during the Civil War on 5 July 1922.

When a memorial to Lorcan Mac Suibhne was unveiled in the churchyard three years later in 1925, it attracted one of the biggest gatherings ever in the churchyard and brought to this parish some of the key figures involved in 1916, including Eamon de Valera, who was still debating taking his seat in Dail Eireann, Sean MacEntee, and Count Plunkett, father of the poet and proclamation signatory Joseph Mary Plunkett.

It was one of the first such gatherings of key figures from the events of 1916, and it took place in this parish.

Perhaps we ought to give thanks this morning that those people beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2: 4), that they decided that in this nation that we should learn war no more, that they put aside the differences of the past, and allowed the future to be shaped not by the violence of the previous decade but by a new commitment to democracy.

The democratic handover in this society lacked the trauma of change seen on Continental Europe in the 1920s and the 1930s. They may not have loved their former enemies, but they certainly had put aside hatred (Matthew 5: 43-44).

Despite the presence of the Blueshirts, no credible fascist or racist party emerged in this society, unlike what happened in Italy, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Romania and many other European countries.

The 1937 Constitution made democracy the founding principle of Irish society. We can disagree with each other, but we do not need persecute each other any longer. They created a society in which the people have the final say in a referendum.

Whether you agree or disagree with recent referendum results, we can all agree that this is the best way to make decisions in our society.

And today, of course, I am so pleased that despite our nation being forged in the cauldron of violence, our armed forces are known internationally not for their engagements in wars and battles, but for their contributions to UN international peacekeeping missions around the world, that our naval service has engaged in so many humanitarian rescue missions in the Mediterranean while others have stood aside.

Of course, I have many worries for the future. I am worried, for example, that we have still not learned how to cherish all the children of the nation equally. I am worried that access to higher education, health care and the professions is baded on class and wealth rather than ability and need.

But what is your vision not for the next 10 or 20 years, but for the time when we are recalling the events of 1916 in 50 or 100 years from now, in 2066 or 2116?

Is it a society that reflects the values of the Kingdom of God, in which we love our enemies, pray for our persecutors, in which people have beaten their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks?

Is it a vision for a future in which nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and they shall learn war no more?

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

Saint Nahi’s Graveyard has over 1,200 graves, and the names of 800 of those buried here are known (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached in Saint Nahi’s Church, Dundrum, on 24 April 2016.