Thursday, 30 June 2016

Join me in Crete again for
a few weeks in Rethymnon

Back in Rethymnon in Crete for another summer break (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am back in Crete for three weeks, and staying near Rethymnon, the Venetian and university town that I have known since the 1980s.

I arrived late last night [29 June 2016] on a Ryanair flight from Dublin to Chania Airport, and it was a 40 km journey to Julia Apartments in the village of Platanes, where I am staying once again for the next few weeks.

I stayed here for a week last September [2015], and I am delighted to be back again in Platanes, which is about 5 or 6 km east of Rethymnon and just 300 metres walking distance from the long sandy beach that stretches in lengths east of Rethymnon.

There is a bakery on the ground floor, offering fresh bread for breakfast each morning, supermarkets two or three minutes away with fresh locally-produced fruit and vegetables each morning, and a variety of shops, bars and tavernas right on my doorstep, some with Greek and Cretan dancing several times a week.

Two decades ago, Platanes was an unremarkable suburb of Rethymnon on the old road between Rethymnon and Iraklio. But it has grown and developed over the last 20 years, and there is a number of luxury hotels here too, including El Greco and Creta Palace, which were built in the area, along with the usual Greek rent rooms and pensions in the centre of the resort.

A fresco under the bridge on the road between Platanes and Tsesmés (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Behind Platanes is the pretty village of Tsesmés, with its quiet tavernas and a pretty village, which I resolved last year to visit when I returned this year. Nearby are other pretty, traditional villages such as Adele, or Maroulas, with its Venetian tower houses and churches, and Arkadi with its historically important monastery is 17 km to the south.

Julia Apartments is family-run complex, run by Vasilis Vogiatzis, his wife Brenda from Scotland, their daughters and his mother. There is a pool, a poolside bar and a restaurant, all set in a blossomed garden, along with a children’s playground. The apartments look out onto the garden or up to the mountains, and the studios have a kitchenette with dining area, fridge, cooking hobs and a flat-screen TV.

Last night, Vasilis was delighted with a rowing T-shirt from Cambridge that I brought with me, and this morning it is hanging proudly in the bar.

Once again, this is an interesting time to be back in Greece. The nation is still in a bleak economic and political crisis, and remains at the centre of the disturbing crisis involving refugees fleeing from Syria through Turkey to the Greek islands.

I hope over these coming weeks to visit one place in Rethymnon that is trying to make a difference and bring about change in the midst of these crises. In the back streets, away from the gaze of tourists, The Voluntary Welfare Clinic Rethymno (Εθελοντικό Ιατρείο Κοινωνικής Αλληλεγγύης Ρεθύμνου) works from a storefront crèche in Kastrinogiannaki Street, hidden in a dark street where there are no tourist shops, yet only a few steps away from the seafront, the restaurants and the bars.

The doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists and other volunteers who run this clinic are not part of any EU-funded or government-funded programme, and they believe in a free public system.

At the end of their busy working days, they provide free attention, advice and consultation for anyone who is without health insurance. That includes migrants without proper papers, but also includes many Greeks who have fallen on hard times.

They refuse to call themselves a charity, because they see health care as a human right. The clinic is open to all people without access to health care. It is a gesture of solidarity by experts and professionals who have already seen their own salaries and incomes cut in public spending cuts and in the decline in the Greek economy.

Some of the hidden work here also includes helping refugees and migrants trace missing family members.

I visited them twice last September to see some of the work of the clinic. But it is hard-pressed, the workload is heavy, and the numbers needing attention are growing.

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

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

During the coming weeks, I also hope to visit one or two monasteries or convents, see some archaeological sites I have not yet visited, go for walks on the beach, and perhaps swim in the warm waters of the Mediterranean. Despite the intermittent rain in Ireland and England this week, the temperatures here are in the low and mid 30s during the day.

There are good Wi-Fi connections here, so join me each day on my time in Crete over the next few weeks.

Julia Apartments, in the heart of Platanes, is run by Brenda and Vasilis Vogiatzis and their family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The underbelly of the establishment
unleashes ugly scenes on the streets

In Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Brideshead Revisited,’ Anthony Blanche recalls how the Bullingdon Club tried to ‘put him in Mercury,’ the fountain in the centre of Tom Quad at Christ Church, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I was recalling earlier this week how the English writer Evelyn Waugh once planned to buy Gormanston Castle and estate in Co Meath.

Waugh withdrew his bid when he read about Sir Billy Butlin’s plan to build a holiday camp at Mosney, on the coast near Gormanston, and I wondered how Waugh’s innate snobbery had changed my life: the Franciscans stepped it, bought Gormanston Castle from the young Lord Gormanston’s widowed mother, and set up the school that both my brother and I were sent to.

Gormanston Castle might have been the ideal setting for some pre-war Irish version of Brideshead Revivisited, and one of his novels – Decline and Fall (1928) – is set in a boarding school in a castle in north Wales.

Waugh was a social satirist but also an incurable snob. Yet in both these novels he is at his best when he describes the boorish behaviour of the Bullingdon Club in Oxford and its members.

In Decline and Fall, the Bullingdon Club is satirised by Waugh as the Bollinger Club – after the brand of champagne – where it plays a pivotal role in the plot, as the mild-mannered hero is blamed for the Bollinger Club’s destructive rampage through his college and is sent down.

Decline and Fall was Waugh’s first published novel and with characteristic black humour it lampoons many elements of British society in the 1920s.

The title alludes to both Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and the German philosopher Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West (1926), which argued that the rise of nations and cultures is inevitably followed by their eclipse.

The novel tells the story of Paul Pennyfeather, a modest and unassuming theology undergraduate at Oxford who falls victim to the drunken antics of the Bollinger Club and is then sent down for indecent exposure after running without his trousers through the grounds of Scone College, which may represent Balliol College.

As he leaves, the porter says: “I expect you'll be becoming a schoolmaster, sir ... that’s what most of the gentlemen does, sir, that gets sent down for indecent behaviour.”

The porter’s expectations are realised. Having lost his inheritance too, Pennyfeather is forced to take a job teaching at Llanabba Castle, a minor public school in Wales. There he becomes private tutor to one of the boys, Peter, and falls in love with Peter’s mother, the Hon Margot Beste-Chetwynde (pronounced ‘Beast Chained’).

But her income comes from high-class brothels, and he is arrested on the morning of their wedding, and is jailed for seven years for trafficking in prostitution. Pennyfeather fakes his own death, escapes and is later seen off to Corfu on Margot’s yacht, “to decide on things.”

He then returns to Scone and Oxford, where he studies theology under his own name, but posing as the distant cousin of Paul Pennyfeather who was sent down. The novel ends as it started, with Pennyfeather sitting in his room listening to the distant shouts on a night when the Bollinger Club is meeting. There, Peter Beste-Chetwynde, now Earl of Pastmaster, is a student at Scone and a member of the Club. He drinks himself to death, telling Pennyfeather he should never have gotten caught up with his family.

There are distasteful scenes of racism, running to four or five pages or more, where Waugh has fun at the expense of the racists, but uses language that is frightening when we hear it on the streets in recent days after last week’s British referendum.

The late Tom Driberg, who was at school in Lancing with Evelyn Waugh, claims Waugh’s description of the Bollinger Club is a “mild account of the night of any Bullingdon Club dinner in Christ Church. Such a profusion of glass I never saw until the height of the Blitz. On such nights, any undergraduate who was believed to have ‘artistic’ talents was an automatic target.”

Waugh names the Bullingdon Club in Brideshead Revisited. In talking to Charles Ryder, Anthony Blanche recalls how the Bullingdon tried to “put him in Mercury” in Tom Quad one evening. Mercury is a large fountain in the centre of the Quad at Christ Church.

Blanche describes the members in their tails as looking “like a lot of most disorderly footmen,” and goes on to say: "Do you know, I went round to call on Sebastian next day? I thought the tale of my evening’s adventures might amuse him.” This may indicate that Sebastian was not a member of the Bullingdon, although the 1981 television adaptation shows Lord Sebastian Flyte vomiting through the window of Charles Ryder’s college rooms while wearing the Bullingdon tails

The 2008 film adaptation also shows Sebastian in Bullingdon Club tails in this scene, as his friends behind him chant: “Buller, Buller, Buller!”

The Bullingdon Club was founded in 1780 as a sporting club, dedicated to cricket, hunting and horse-racing, but club dinners soon became its principal activity. The Wisden Cricketer says the Bullingdon is “ostensibly one of the two original Oxford University cricket teams, but it actually used cricket merely as a respectable front for the mischievous, destructive or self-indulgent tendencies of its members.” The future Poet Laureate John Betjeman wrote in 1938 that “quite often the Club is suspended for some years after each meeting.”

The Bullingdon Club is an unofficial and exclusive all-male dining club at Oxford, similar to the Pitt Club in Cambridge. It is known for privileged members, grand banquets and boisterous rituals, such as vandalising or trashing restaurants and college rooms, and a tradition of paying on-the-spot for damages.

The University of Oxford gives the club no official recognition, and many local restaurants refuse to host its events. But many former members have become part of the British political establishment, including David Cameron, Michael Gove, George Osborne and Boris Johnson.

David Cameron and Boris Johnson in a 1987 photograph at Brasenose College of the Bullingdon Club

A 1987 photograph of then members of the Bullingdon Club, including David Cameron and Boris Johnson, was revealed in 2007. Since then, the copyright owners have tried to block all use the picture.

The photograph was taken in 1987 at Brasenose College, where Cameron was an undergraduate. Included in the photograph are: 1, The Hon Edward Sebastian Grigg, the heir to Lord Altrincham of Tormarton and later chairman of Credit Suisse; 2, David Cameron; 3, Ralph Perry Robinson, a former child actor – at Oxford he paraded round dressed as a monk calling for virgins to be sacrificed; he now lives in Wiltshire, where he makes furniture; 4, Ewen Fergusson, son of Sir Ewen Fergusson, the British ambassador in France, and now at City law firm Herbert Smith; 5, Matthew Benson, heir to the Earl of Wemyss and March; 6, Sebastian James, the son of Lord Northbourne, a landowner in Kent; 7, Jonathan Ford of the Financial Times and Morgan Grenfell; 8, Boris Johnson; and 9, Harry Eastwood, investment fund consultant.

In an interview with Andrew Marr of the BBC, Cameron said the 1987 photograph was an embarrassment. It was withdrawn from circulation when the Oxford-based company Gillman and Soame, which owns the copyright, was persuaded to withhold further permission to use it.

A similar photograph taken in 1988, with Cameron in the centre of the group, was found by the student newspaper Versa among over a dozen or so photographs of the club from 1950 to 2010 hanging on the wall of the tailor said to have made the members’ suits. This find led to other past members being named.

George Osborne with seven other members of the Bullingdon Club in 1992

Another photograph from 1992 shows eight other famous figures: 1, the Chancellor George Osborne; 2, the journalist Harry Mount, a second cousin of David Cameron and author of The Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson; 3, Chris Coleridge, son of Lloyds’ chairman David Coleridge, and brother of Conde Nast managing director Nicholas Coleridge; 4, Baron Lupus von Maltzahn, a German aristocrat and managing consultant; 5, the late Hon Mark Petre; 6, the Sydney millionaire Peter Holmes à Court; 7, Nat Rothschild, who set up a racy student paper with Harry Mount; and 8, Jason Gissing, chairman of Ocado supermarkets.

In the Mail on Sunday, Peter Hitchens said the photograph had been doctored and that some people had been removed.

Two figures on the left of Peter Holmes à Court (6) and Nat Rothschild (7) were blacked out before the photograph was released, leading to allegations about two members of the Bullingdon Club whose identities were being protected.

The speculation included Michael Gove, the Education Secretary and the leading ‘Leave’ campaigner in Cameron’s cabinet; Cameron’s Arts Minister, Edward Vaizey; Cameron’s Skills Minister, Nicholas Boles; and Steven Hilton, godfather to Cameron’s children and his former strategy guru.

These photographs could have embarrassed Cameron, Johnson, Osborne and Gove during the run-up to last week’s referendum. But as I reflect on the events of the last few weeks, it looks like Johnson and Gove engineered a Bullingdon Club coup against former members, gambling their careers with the future of Europe used as part of their game of roulette. I can just see Cameron as Sebastian Flyte vomiting out the window while wearing the Bullingdon tails, as his fellow club members Johnson and Gove stand behind him and chant mockingly: “Buller, Buller, Buller!”

Looking again at these photographs that the Bullers do not want us to see, alongside a re-reading of Evelyn Waugh’s novels, they reveal the ugly underbelly of the British political and social establishment that is closing ranks this week rather than taking responsibility for the horrors they have unleashed and the consequent rise in ugly expressions of naked racism on the streets.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Villa fans find a moment of humour
that Parliament fails to appreciate

Petition: Get Aston Villa back in the Premier League as fans do not agree with relegation

Patrick Comerford

When an Irish team is not playing, I naturally support England. I was sorry to see England go out of the Euro championship last night, and it was cringing to see this second British exit from Europe in a matter of days, this time at the hands of tiny Iceland, which is not even a member of the EU.

It is probably the greatest English defeat in soccer. It was Brexit on Friday, followed by E-xit last night.

David Cameron announced his resignation on Friday, Roy Hodgson resigned last night. It’s back to the drawing board in politics. And it’s back to the drawing board in football.

It is difficult to find anything to smile at in the aftermath of the referendum on British membership of the EU. The racist attacks on people being reported in the wake of the referendum makes it all the more difficult.

But I did smile when I saw a Facebook posting headed:

Petition: Get Aston Villa back in the Premier League as fans do not agree with relegation.

And it added:

Cameron is a Villa fan so make it happen, we do not agree with this so change it back.

Although the posting remains on the wall of some of my Facebook friends, the link is broken and the original posting has been taken down. It seems that even the copyright minders in Parliament who protect images like this are finding it difficult to have a sense of humour these days too.

Yes, David Camron is a Villa fan. The Aston Villa website boasts a number of very public fans, including Prince William, Tom Hanks, Redd Pepper, Nigel Kennedy, Pauline McLynn (‘Mrs Doyle’ of Father Ted), Oliver Phelps ... and David Cameron.

Early in the 2011-2012 season, he took his young son to watch Aston Villa as they faced QPR at Loftus Road. He once said: “The first game I ever went to was an Aston Villa game and so I am an Aston Villa fan.”

It’s easy for him to have a proprietorial attitude towards Villa … after all, his uncle, Sir William Dugdale, who lived near Tamworth until he died in 2014, chaired Villa from 1975 to 1982 and took the future Prime Minister to his first ever game as a 13-year-old.

But in a public blunder last year, Cameron gave a speech celebrating the diverse allegiances of British people in which he lauded Britain: “Where you can support Man United, the Windies and Team GB all at the same time. Of course, I’d rather you supported West Ham .. eh, hem.”

I wonder whether his decision to step down is going to give him more time to familiarise himself with the team he is supposed to be a fan, now that fallen out of Premier League … just like he has led Britain out of the European equivalent in political and economic terms.

Already, Aston Villa is treating its fans as cash cows, selling the new home, away and goalkeeping kits for the upcoming 2016/17 campaign online as they say they aim for promotion back to the Premier League.

But some fans are cynical in their online comments, saying they are going to wait until they see how Villa is performing before they buy.

Aston Villa and Newcastle will both be shown live on Sky Sports on the opening weekend of the 2016/2017 Championship season. Both teams were relegated from the Premier League. Newcastle get the Championship season underway on Friday 5 August with a trip to Fulham, and Aston Villa will then be in front of the cameras on Sunday 7 August at 4.30 p.m.

This will be Roberto Di Matteo’s first competitive game in charge, as they travel to last year's play-off finalists Sheffield Wednesday.

Three days later [10 August], Aston Villa travel to Luton to meet the League Two Hatters in the first round of the newly named EFL Cup.

Last season was the most miserable for Villa supporters since the Championship was rebranded in 1992. While history alone does not make you entitled to more glory, it is sad to see a team lose its way so badly after clear mismanagement at the top.

Recently, Metro.co.uk said it was in mourning over Villa’s collapse, and gave some reasons why.

Aston Villa has more league titles than Chelsea and more European Cup wins than Arsenal.

Villa has a great history. Although it has not won the league since 1981, Villa has almost always been a top-half club with big ambition to relive the glory years. As well as seven league titles, Villa has won the FA Cup seven times, the League Cup five times, and the 1982 European Cup.

Yes, I thought, when I read that, Britain was better in Europe when Villa was in Europe.

Villa’s glory years may not have come in the Premier League era, but Villa has provided some of England’s top players down the years.

Those big names include Dwight Yorke, who scored 97 goals for Aston Villa and later won the treble with Manchester United, as well as Gareth Barry, James Milner, Ashley Young and Christian Benteke, who all launched their careers at Villa Park before going on to play for bigger clubs. Although Villa has often been forced to sell top players, Villa fans have got used to seeing more quality and commitment than was on display from the pitiful squad last season.

Villa Park has been Aston Villa’s home since 1897 and is truly one of the great English football grounds. Flashy modern stadiums are becoming the norm in an increasingly soulless Premier League, but that was never the case at Villa Park. As well as hosting Villa games, it has also been the venue for many FA Cup semi-finals down the years, and also hosted three matches during England’s victorious 1966 World Cup campaign.

Villa Park is a ground deeply forged into English football history, and it feels wrong that it will only be hosting Championship football next season.

The chairman Randy Lerner is hugely unpopular with fans, and he has more than played his part in Villa’s downfall since he took over. After buying the club in 2006, Lerner enjoyed early success with Martin O’Neill as his manager, but big spending on too many average players on long-term contracts left the club in a poor financial state.

Since then, one bizarre managerial appointment after another made last season’s relegation almost inevitable, with little effort to listen to supporters or to show respect for the club’s traditions.

Villa’s loyal fans have not had a lot to cheer about in the last few years, but they are some of the most loyal and vocal. Their travelling support in particular is excellent, and they deserve better after years of protesting against those at the top, who have not listened to them.

Villa fans will continue to cheer on their side with great gusto even in the unfamiliar territory of English football’s second tier. I’ll be cheering for them too … even if David Cameron finds it easy to forget who they are, and even if there is no petition to Parliament to reverse their relegation from the Premier League.

Who is going to be first to organise a petition to Parliament asking for a replay against Iceland?

Monday, 27 June 2016

Richard FitzRalph, the saintly Dean
of Lichfield and Archbishop of Armagh

Lichfield Cathedral … Richard FitzRalph was Dean of Lichfield from 1335 to 1346 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

During the intercessions at the Choral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, yesterday [26 June 2016] the saints who were commemorated included Richard FitzRalph (1300-1360), who is commemorated in the Calendar in the Book of Common Prayer in the Church of Ireland and in Exciting Holiness in the Church of England on this day [27 June].

Richard FitzRalph, who Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Dean of Lichfield, and Archbishop of Armagh, was one of the leading theologians of the 14th century. Although he is often remembered for his conflict with the Franciscan friars in his diocese, he was a leading philosopher in his day.

This Dundalk-born theologian played an important role in dialogue with the Armenian Church and was one of the first Western scholars to seek to understand the Quran. In the aftermath of the Crusades, he one of the early pioneers of Muslim-Christian dialogue.

Richard FitzRalph was born ca 1299 or 1300 into a prosperous Anglo-Norman burgess family in Dundalk, Co Louth, then the northern-most outpost of the Pale. His contemporaries referred to him to as Hibernicus.

Balliol College, Oxford … Richard FitzRalph was a Fellow of Balliol College when he received his MA in 1325 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When he was about 15, he went to Oxford to study arts and theology, and he was a Fellow of Balliol College when he received his MA in 1325.

At Oxford, FitzRalph acquired skills in logic and metaphysics, impressive knowledge of the Bible, and a high level of competence as a theologian and preacher. From this period date his Quaestio biblica and his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, which survives in revised form. He was the most important secular theologian to lecture on the Sentences in the later 1320s and was prepared to present both sides of an argument without taking a personal decision.

In 1326, he was presented as Rector of Athboy in the Diocese of Meath, by King Edward II. But he seems to have remained in Oxford, and he was at University College (then University Hall), Oxford, where he received a doctorate in theology in 1331. Soon after, he became Vice-Chancellor of the University – an almost unparalleled achievement for someone still in his early 30s and for an Irishman.

Around this time, Richard gained the patronage of John Grandisson, Bishop of Exeter (1327-1369), and spent a year at the University of Paris as mentor of Grandisson’s nephew, John de Northwode. Richard owed his early Church appointments to Grandisson’s support and acquired a number of benefices in the Diocese of Exeter, and, possibly, also a canonry in Armagh.

While he was Chancellor of Oxford University, Richard FitzRalph became involved in a major conflict between ‘town and gown’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In 1332, Richard was appointed Chancellor of the University of Oxford by the Bishop of Lincoln. However, his time in office was overshadowed by strife between town and gown or the students and the people of Oxford, as well as between the northern and southern nations within the university community.

These conflicts resulted in the ‘Stamford Schism’ and the brief establishment of an alternative university at Stamford in Lincolnshire. The dispute was brought before the Pope in Avignon, where Richard represented the university. This was the first of his four lengthy visits to Avignon, where papal patronage and contacts in the Curia would play an important part in his later career.

On his first visit to Avignon, only five years after concluding his lectures on the Sentences, Richard was consulted as one of the 18 leading theologians of Europe by Pope Benedict XII to correct the views of his predecessor, John XXII, on the beatific vision.

The Cathedral Close, Lichfield …Richard FitzRalph was installed as dean in 1336 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

While he was at Avignon, Richard earned his reputation as a preacher, and on 17 December 1335 he was appointed Dean of Lichfield on the nomination of Pope Benedict XII.

Richard was appointed Dean of Lichfield – “notwithstanding that he has canonries and prebends [in the collegiate churches] of Crediton [in Devon] and Bosham [in Sussex], and has had provision made for him of the Chancellorship of Lincoln and the canonries and prebends of Armagh and Exeter, all of which he is to resign.” One position that is often ascribed to him but that he did not hold was Archdeacon of Chester.

Richard’s first step as Dean of Lichfield was to present himself to the Bishop of Lichfield, who received him as a guest in Brewood Manor on 12 April 1336. The bishop instituted him to the deanery on the following day, and he was installed in Lichfield Cathedral on 20 April 1336.

At his installation, he pledged: ‘I, Richard, Dean of the Church of Lichfield, will keep the continuous residence that is required in the said Church, according to the manner and custom of the same.’

Lichfield Cathedral … in 1337, Richard FitzRalph engaged William de Ramessey in a new project of rebuilding and restoration (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

At first, he was an active and engaging Dean of Lichfield. Two days after his installation, Richard presided at a special meeting of the chapter of Lichfield Cathedral. On 26 June 1336, Dean Richard was asked by the chapter to investigate irregularities in the church in Cannock. In May 1337, he engaged William de Ramessey in a new project of rebuilding and restoration of the cathedral.

However, Richard left Lichfield for the Papal Court in 1337. The chapter members seem to have expected that this would be short visit and that the dean would soon return to Lichfield, for they agreed to pay his expenses while he was away and forwarded regular payments. Instead, this became his second and longest visit to Avignon, and he remained there until 1344.

The dean was not a good correspondent, and his prolonged absence seriously hampered the business of the Chapter in Lichfield, including a case involving the Prior and the monks of Coventry.

On the other hand, a long drawn-out suit in the Papal Court between the Cathedrals of Lichfield and Coventry was decided in favour of Lichfield Cathedral in the winter of 1339-1340, presumably due to the dean’s intervention in Avignon.

During this visit to Avignon, Richard wrote the work that earned his reputation as a theologian. His Summa de Quaestionibus Armenorum arose from lengthy debates with representatives of the Orthodox Churches, who were seeking papal support against a Turkish threat.

In Avignon, Richard also discussed the questions of papal primacy and ecclesiastical authority that were later debated at the councils of Basle (1431-1438) and Ferrara-Florence (1439-1440). His Summa documents Richard’s approach to the Bible and his emphasis on scriptural proof, sola scriptura. It also reveals the beginning of his preoccupation with dominion and its dependency on grace, which was further developed by John Wyclif.

Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield … Dean Richard FitzRalph preached three sermons here in 1345-1346 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Eventually, Richard returned to Lichfield, although there is no notice of this in the Chapter Acts Book, as Henry Savage (1854-1939), Dean of Lichfield (1909-1939), noted in a public lecture on Saint Chad’s Day 1928.

He was in Lichfield in 1345-1346, and during those years he preached a series of sermons in Lichfield and the neighbourhood, between Lady Day, 25 March 1345, and Advent Sunday, 3 December 1346.

These include sermons in Cannock on 21 May 1346 and in the Chapel of Saint Nicholas in Lichfield the next day, 22 May 1346. Dean Savage asks whether this was a chapel in the cathedral or in the Franciscan Friary in Lichfield, but points out that “there is no evidence on this point.”

His other 15 local sermons include nine preached in Lichfield Cathedral, one in the chapel and two in the graveyard of Saint John’s Hospital, two at Brewood, and one at Burton on Palm Sunday 1346. All were preached ‘in the vulgar tongue.’

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh … Richard FitzRaph was appointed Archbishop of Armagh in 1346 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

With the death of Archbishop David Mag Oireachtaigh in 1346, the cathedral chapter of Armagh immediately elected Richard FitzRalph as his successor, and he received papal confirmation on 31 July 1346. In this appointment he was following in the steps of Stephen de Segrave, who was Dean of Lichfield when he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh in 1324 by Pope John XXII.

Richard remained in England, possibly in Lichfield, for a year. Early in 1347, he did homage to King Edward III and received the temporalities of his see before being consecrated bishop by his former patron, Bishop John Grandisson, in Exeter Cathedral on 8 July 1347.

He travelled to Ireland early in 1348, where his first recorded sermon was preached in Dundalk on 24 April 1348.

Back in Ireland, his early sermons invited comparison between Christ’s coming to the Jews and the archbishop’s return to his own people in Dundalk and Drogheda.

Richard kept a careful account of his sermons. The shorter sermons were summarised, while the longer, more theological sermons were written in full. He also sent many of his priests to study at Oxford to further their learning.

The texts show he was preoccupied with social problems in Ireland – 29 sermons were preached in Dundalk, Drogheda, Dublin and various places in the Diocese of Meath to the clergy, whom he criticised for their laxity of vocation, merchants, whom he attacked for wasteful extravagances and underhanded trading practises, and the general population, among whom he was very popular as a preacher.

At a time of often hostile racial relations between the colonists and natives, he took an honourable stand in denouncing discrimination against the Gaelic Irish. At times severe, this was balanced by his very fair and serious approach as pastor of his people, whether they were English, Anglo-Irish or Gaelic.

He was pastorally minded, concerned with reform and visitation, and vigorously defended his rights as Primate of All Ireland against the claims of the Archbishop of Dublin. He promoted interest in the cult of Saint Patrick, above all by promoting the pilgrimage of the Hungarian knight, George Grissaphan, to Saint Patrick’s Purgatory in Lough Derg.

Inside Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

However, he spent much of his episcopate outside Ireland. He was on a third visit to Avignon from 1349 to 1351, having been sent there by King Edward III as his representative in 1349. When he preached in Avignon in August 1349, he painted a dramatic picture of Irish society, maintaining that violence was conditioned by the cultural clash between the two nations and lamenting the Irish reputation for theft and dishonesty.

Richard’s attitude to the friars, whom he had initially respected, altered radically when he became Archbishop of Armagh. He identified the cause of tension between the two nations with the presence of the friars in confessional and pulpit, and he accused them of disrupting parochial authority. In Avignon, he also took part in the negotiations between the Armenian Apostolic Church and Pope Clement VI.

He began to examine the biblical and legal foundations, and consequent justification, of their profession and made the first clear statement of his criticism while preaching before Pope Clement VI on 5 July 1350.

He returned to his diocese in 1351, and his report on the Black Death is the earliest evidence of its arrival in Ireland. On his return, he threw himself into his work with vigour. In Dundalk, he became involved in a personal and bitter attack on the orders of mendicant friars. He sought to withdraw their privileges in regard to confession, preaching and other acts as they were undermining his secular clergy in their parishes.

He preached in several places, including Dundalk and Louth in the Diocese of Armagh and Athboy, Kells and Trim in the Diocese of Meath, and in 1355 he carried out an archiepiscopal visitation of the Diocese of Meath.

Later, he developed his arguments on the poverty question in his treatise De Pauperie Salvatoris (On the Poverty of the Saviour). When he was in London on routine business in 1356, he circulated this next, and so made the mendicant controversy more acute.

Richard’s friend, Richard Kilvington, Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, allowed the archbishop to defend himself in a series of sermons preached during the winter and spring of 1356-1357 at Saint Paul’s Cross, the most prominent pulpit in London. The sermons led to a case being brought against Richard to Pope Innocent VI in Avignon on 8 November 1357. There he also dealt with his critics in the eighth book of De Pauperie Salvatoris.

Richard paid a fourth visit to Avignon in 1357 to discuss his dispute with the friars with Pope Innocent VI. He died at the papal court in Avignon around 10 to 20 November 1360.

The dispute between Richard and the friars had dragged on inconclusively, and the case passed into oblivion after his death.

Ten years after his death, his body was recovered in 1370 by Stephen de Valle, Bishop of Meath, and was brought back to Dundalk. He was buried in the Church of Saint Nicholas. It is said that pilgrims who visited his tomb in Dundalk

Many a mile did walk
but had never seen so good a man
as Richard of Dundalk.


Saint Nicholas Church, Dundalk … Richard FitzRalph was buried here in 1370, and was soon venerated as a saint (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The local cult of Saint Richard of Dundalk led to calls for his canonisation, and with the support of several Irish bishops, a commission was convened in Rome at the end of the 14th century to examine the matter.

Richard’s papers were preserved, presumably initially by Dean Kilvington. Along with William Ockham, Thomas Bradwardine, and Adam Wodeham, Richard FitzRalph became one of the four most frequently cited theologians from these islands.

However, his writings were reflected in some of the teachings of John Wyclif on dominion and scriptural proof. The friars pointed to their enemy as the source of Wyclif’s thinking, while Lollard sources referred to him as noster sanctus Armachanus (our Armagh saint). These reactions damaged Richard’s posthumous reputation at the Papal Curia.

His memory was venerated in Dundalk for several centuries and miracles were reported in connection to him. His Defensio Curatorum was printed several times in the late 15th century, and through the works of Archbishop James Ussher, Luke Wadding and other Irish theologians, the memory of Richard FitzRalph was kept alive in the first half of the 17th century.

One topic in which he had an influence is his teaching on dominium or lordship. In his treatise De pauperie Salvatoris (1356), Richard argued that grace alone entitled a person to lordship over temporal things. Some centuries later Lutheran thinkers held that rights, and hence the authority of secular rulers, were dependent on God’s grace. So, if a ruler was a heretic or a sinner, his laws could not be binding in conscience – only a righteous ruler could be a just legislator. An unrighteous ruler could be deposed, and the ‘unrighteous’ included unbelievers.

In his On the Civil Power, Francisco de Vitoria (ca 1485-1546) asked whether non-Christians have legitimate sovereigns in view of the Spanish discovery of the ‘New World’. He states: ‘Richard FitzRalph, Archbishop of Armagh, a man of otherwise blameless character and intelligence, certainly argues in his De pauperitate Saluatoris that not merely unbelief but any mortal sin impedes any kind of power or dominion (dominium or jurisdiction, either public or private; in the mistaken belief that the true title and foundation of all power is grace.’

Vitoria fought against the notion of dominium through grace since, as a consequence, Christians would be entitled to take the lands, wealth and property from the native Americans, because Christians could and should exercise dominium over all unbelievers and over the whole world. This, of course, would render natural rights, or those which belong to human beings precisely because they are human, null and void. It was natural law theory that enabled de Vitoria to mount an impressive argument against this position.

His study of the Quran was marked by scholarly care and scrupulous attention to the text, and he formed an idea of the Islamic Christ as “a pure and blessed one” - a concept that must compel Christians to accept Muslims as partners in dialogue rather than enemies in the world.

Collect (Among the Cloud of Irish Witnesses, George Otto Simms and Brian Mayne, 1994):

Holy and merciful God,
you gave Richard FitzRalph not only gifts of piety and learning
but also such compassion for those were suffering and in need
that he strove to care for them:
Enable the members of your church after his example
to seek holiness in life and integrity of intellect
with a like concern for the helpless;
for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

The Deanery in the Cathedral Close, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The story of the Dublin-born prince
who never became King of England

Dublin Castle … George, Duke of Clarence, was born here in 1449 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

As calm begins to settle after the storm created by the Brexit results on Friday morning, and as all of us begin to consider the practical implications for political relationship on these islands, I spent some of the weekend reading a book that illustrates how intertwined relations between Ireland and England were 500 or 600years ago.

I picked up John Ashdown-Hill’s book, The Third Plantagenet: George, Duke of Clarence, Richard III’s Brother, during a visit to Lichfield earlier this month.

John Ashdown Hill is the author of The Last Days of Richard III, and this is the first full biography of George, Duke of Clarence, the middle brother of Kings Richard III and Edward IV.

John Ashdown-Hill is the author of a number of books on late mediaeval English history, with a focus on the House of York and Richard III, and he played a key role in identifying the bones of Richard III when they were discovered in a car park in Leicester on 25 August 2012. Subsequent DNA research proved that the mtDNA of the bones matched the sequence from Richard III’s descendants that John had identified in 2004.

John Ashdown-Hill is also the author of The Dublin King, The True Story of Edward Earl of Warwick, Lambert Simnel and the Princes in the Tower. This book explores the background to key events in Dublin a year after Richard III’s death.

A boy claiming to be the son of the Duke of Clarence and the rightful King of England was crowned in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, in 1487 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

A boy claiming to be Richard III’s heir and the rightful King of England was crowned in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, in 1487. The Tudor government insisted his real name was Lambert Simnel and that he was a pretender to the throne. In The Dublin King, John Ashdown-Hill questioned that official view and explored the 500-year-old story of the boy-king crowned in Dublin. He also looked at links between the story of the boy known as Lambert Simnel and the story of George, Duke of Clarence, the brother of Richard III, and the story of the ‘Princes in the Tower.’

Until now, little has been written about George, Duke of Clarence, who is less well-known than his brothers Edward IV and Richard III. In The Third Plantagenet, John Ashdown-Hill sets out to write the biography of an English prince who was born in Dublin Castle.

George Plantagenet (1449-1478), Duke of Clarence, was the son of Richard Plantagenet (1411-1460), Duke of York and grandson of Edward III. This is the Richard of York who is the subject of the popular mnemonic, ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain,’ to remember the order of the colours of the rainbow: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.

Evening lights seen from the end of the West Pier in Howth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Richard had begun to challenge Henry VI for the crown when he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1449. He arrived at Howth on 6 July 1449, and his son George was born in Dublin Castle on 21 October 1449. He was baptised in Saint Saviour’s Priory or Blackfriars in Dublin and his godfathers were James Butler, 4th Earl of Ormonde, and James FitzGerald, 6th Earl of Desmond.

George was the middle brother of King Edward IV and King Richard III, and played a key role in the dynastic struggle known as the Wars of the Roses. Although he was a member of the House of York, he switched his loyalty to the House of Lancaster, and then reverted to the House of York. He was later convicted of treason against his brother, Edward IV, and was executed – the myth is that he was drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine. He appears as a character in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, part 3 and Richard III, in which his death is attributed to the machinations of Richard III.

George had spent part of his early childhood in Dublin Castle and in Trim Castle, Co Meath. Despite his youth, he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1462. In 1469, he married Lady Isabel Neville, the elder daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known as the ‘Kingmaker.’

Clarence actively supported his elder brother’s claim to the throne. But when Neville deserted Edward IV to ally with Margaret of Anjou, consort of the deposed King Henry, Clarence supported him and was deprived of his office a Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

Henry VI rewarded Clarence by making him next in line to the throne after his own son, justifying the exclusion of Edward IV. After a short time, however, Clarence was secretly reconciled with Edward. When Warwick was killed in battle in 1471, the re-instated Edward IV restored his brother Clarence to royal favour.

Although most historians now believe Isabel died of consumption or after childbirth, Clarence was convinced she had been poisoned by one of her ladies-in-waiting. Clarence’s mental health deteriorated and he was entrapped in another rebellion against his brother Edward.

Eventually, Clarence became a prisoner in the Tower of London and was tried for treason against his brother Edward IV. He was privately executed at the Tower on 18 February 1478, and a rumour soon gained ground that he had been drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine. Shakespeare portrays Clarence as weak-willed and changeable, and several lines refer to his penchant for wine.

In this book, John Ashdown-Hill asks whether Clarence was for York or for Lancaster. Who was really responsible for his execution? Did he drown in a barrel of wine? And did “false, fleeting, perjur’d Clarence” provide the role model for the later defamation in the 16th century of Richard III?

Where was Clarence buried and what became of his body? Can the DNA used by Ashdown-Hill to test the remains of Richard III reveal the truth about the supposed “Clarence bones” in Tewkesbury Abbey?

John Ashdown-Hill seeks to expose many of the the myths surrounding this central Plantagenet figure. For example, is his death by drowning in a butt of Malmsey wine a story with a unique mythology of its own? Ashdown-Hill suggests that in this era, this form of drowning was considered a kinder means of execution than hanging or beheading.

Perhaps Ashdown-Hill is at his weakest when he relies on Wikipedia as a source, and there are idiosyncrasies such as his irritating references to Ireland as ‘Eire’ or his insistence on using quotation marks every time he refers to the ‘Tudor’ dynasty.

Buried in this book is his speculation about the parentage of Edmund and Jasper Tudor. They were the sons of Henry VI’s widowed mother, Catherine of Valois, but the author claims there is no evidence that Owen Tudor was their father, and speculates instead that they were the illegitimate sons of her lover Edmund Beaufort (1406-1455), Duke of Somerset.

Perhaps Ashdown-Hill is at his most fascinating when the book deals with the descendants of Clarence and his posterity. George and his wife Isabel Neville were the parents of four children:

1, Anne of York (1470-1470), who was born and died in a ship off Calais.

2, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (1473-1541), ‘Blessed Margaret Pole,’ who married Sir Richard Pole and was executed by Henry VIII.

3, Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick (1475-1499), the last legitimate Plantagenet heir of the direct male line. He was executed by Henry VII for attempting to escape from the Tower of London.

4, Richard of York (1476-1477), born at Tewkesbury Abbey, Gloucestershire, and died at Warwick Castle.

White roses of the House of York in tiles in the sanctuary in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Ashdown-Hill speculates strongly that the boy who was crowned king as Edward VI in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on 24 May 1487 and who is known in history as Lambert Simnel, was the this third child, Edward, Earl of Warwick, and no imposter. He argues for the possibility that Edward’s father had managed to send this child abroad in 1477.

This is the case he develops in his subsequent book, The Dublin King. Could the boy have been sent to Ireland for protection in the household of Gerald Mór FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare? Od did he remain in England until 1485?

Whatever happened to this boy, Ashdown-Hill traces the descendants of Clarence through his second and only surviving daughter, Margaret Pole, who was beatified as a martyr by Pope Leo XIII in 1886.

One of sons, Cardinal Reginald Pole (), the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury (1500-1558).

Through her eldest son, Henry Pole (1492-1539), 1st Baron Montagu, who was executed for treason by Henry VIII, he traces the descendants of Clarence to a number of interesting people, including Simon Abney-Hastings, 15th Earl of Loudon, who he hails as the senior living representative of the ‘Third Plantagenet’; the journalist Petronella Wyatt, daughter of Woodrow Wyatt and also a descendant of the Wyatt family of architects who originated in Weeford outside Lichfield; and Carole Latimer, who is also descended from Bishop Hugh Latimer (1485-1555), one of the Anglican martyrs of the Reformation executed at Oxford by Mary I.

Through her daughter, Ursula Pole (1504-1570), who married Henry Stafford (1501-1563), 1st Baron Stafford, he traces the Clarence descent to King Albert I of Belgium and to the Roe family of Co Wexford and Co Tipperary. If my friend the late Terry Roe, one of Ireland's most colourful and delightful genealogists, knew of this connection, I can only imagine the fun she would have had tracing further links with the Roe family in Ireland.


Sunday, 26 June 2016

Doing good to neighbours, or
being strangers to the Lord

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons: ‘As long as anyone has the means of doing good to his neighbours, and does not do so, he shall be reckoned a stranger to the Lord’

Patrick Comerford

The saints who were named in the intercessions at the Choral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this morning [26 June 2016]. Included Saint Irenaeus of Lyon, whose feast day in the Anglican calendar is commemorated on Tuesday [28 June].

Many people realised the humorous coincidence that Saint Irenaeus was Bishop of Lugdunum or Lyon in Gaul, and that later in the afternoon the Republic of Ireland was playing in the European Championship in Lyon against the host nation, France.

Saint Irenaeus was an early Church Father or Patristic writer who came from Smyrna, on the west coast of Anatolia, known today as Izmir on the Aegean coast of Turkey.

He was a disciple of Saint Polycarp, who in turn was a disciple of Saint John the Evangelist. In his writings, he emphasised Scripture, the episcopate, and tradition. He set out the foundations for the orthodoxies of Christian faith and the Church.

Among my favourite quotes, Saint Irenaeus says: “As long as anyone has the means of doing good to his neighbours, and does not do so, he shall be reckoned a stranger to the Lord” (Against Heresies, IV).

Saint Irenaeus is a saint in both the Western and Eastern traditions of the Church. His life story, embracing East and West and traversing the European continent from west to east, makes him an interesting saint from the past to consider in a week when Europe is facing into a future of great uncertainty.

Our lectionary readings and our hymns this morning were comforting as I sought consolation for my soul amid the disturbing events that are unfolding in Britain at the moment.

In the New Testament reading (Galatians 5: 1, 13-25), the Apostle Paul writes:

1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

It struck me this morning how much the racist rhetoric of those who directed the ‘Leave’ campaign stirred up “enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy …,” instead of showing “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

The whole ‘Leave’ campaign depended on hated of immigrants, yet Saint Paul reminds us the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’

The Gospel reading (Luke 9: 51-62) was even more direct. When the disciples visit a Samaritan village, James and John suggest burning down the town. It is an horrific attitude to those we see as different, as other, because of their social, religious or ethnic background. Replace the name ‘Samaritan’ with labels such as ‘immigrant,’ ‘Muslim’ or ‘Syrian refugee’ and Christ’s rebuke to two of his closest and most trusted friends in the Gospel this morning becomes a rebuke to all who sow the seeds of hatred and bigotry in our society today.

And there was comfort too in some of our hymns, including our processional hymn:

Through all the changing scenes of life,
In trouble and in joy,
The praises of my God shall still
My heart and tongue employ.

O magnify the Lord with me,
With me exalt his name;
When in distress to him I called,
He to my rescue came.

The hosts of God encamp around
The dwellings of the just;
Deliverance he affords to all
Who on his succour trust.

O make but trial of his love,
Experience will decide
How blest are they, and only they
Who in his truth confide.

Fear him, ye saints, and you will then
Have nothing else to fear;
Make you his service your delight;
Your wants shall be his care.

To Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
The God whom we adore,
Be glory as it was, is now,
And shall be evermore. Amen.



And then, at the Offertory, we sang Horatio Bonar’s hymn set to the tune Kingsfold adapted by Ralph Vaughan Williams from an English folk tune:

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘Come unto me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
Thy head upon my breast.’
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary, and worn, and sad;
I found him in a resting-place,
And he has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘Behold, I freely give
The living water, thirsty one,
Stoop down, and drink, and live.’
I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life-giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘I am this dark world’s Light:
Look unto me; your morn shall rise,
And all your day be bright.’
I looked to Jesus, and I found
In him my Star, my Sun;
And in that light of life I’ll walk
Till traveling days are done.

The tune ‘Kingsfold’ is also associated with the ballad, ‘The Star of the County Down.’ But some scholars believe the tune dates back to the Middle Ages. This folk tune is set to many texts in England, Scotland and Ireland, including ‘Divers and Lazarus,’ ‘The Murder of Maria Martin,’ and ‘Claudy Banks.’

The oldest copy of the tune is ‘Gilderoy,’ which appears in Musick for Allan Ramsay’s Collection of Scots Songs (Tea Table Miscellany) by Alexander Stuart (ca 1726). Gilderoy appeared earlier in Thomas D’Urfey’s Pills to Purge the Melancholy III (1707), although that version is less recognisable as this tune.

The tune was published with the words for ‘Dives and Lazarus’ in English Country Songs, an anthology co-edited by Lucy Broadwood (1858-1929) and J Alec Fuller Maitland, in 1893. The tune had been submitted to Lucy Broadwood by Alfred James Hipkins (1826-1903), who worked for John Broadwood and Sons, the piano-making company run by Lucy’s family. Hipkins heard the tune being sung on the streets of Westminster, but was familiar with it for many years under the name of ‘Lazarus.’

The words published with it were found by Lucy Broadwood in Notes and Queries, although she comments in English County Songs that the last verse was published by William Hone in The Every-Day Book, and was sung in Warwickshire in the late 1820s. At this point, then, the song and the tune were not a complete entity, but the marriage of two individual parts.

Vaughan Williams would have been familiar with this tune and the words associated with it in English County Songs, as he used many of the tunes in the book as illustrations in his talks on English folk songs around 1902.

However, he first noted the tune on 23 December 1904, when he heard it in the Wheatsheaf, a pub in the village of Kingsfold in Sussex, where a man named Booker was singing the broadside murder-ballad ‘Maria Martin’ to this tune. Booker’s variant of the tune was published in the Journal of the Folk Song Society (Vol 2, No 7) in 1905, along with other versions found both with that song and with ‘Come all ye Worthy Christian Men,’ ‘Dives and Lazarus,’ and so on.

After he heard the tune in Kingsfold, Vaughan Williams used it as a hymn tune in the English Hymnal (1906), where it is his setting for Horatius Bonar’s ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say.’

According to Colm O Lochlainn, ‘The Star of the County Down’ was written by Cathal McGarvey, in the early 20th century, before he died in 1927. Sometimes, a similar piece, ‘Flower of the County Down,’ is put forward as the “original” form of ‘Star.’ But this may be a bit of an urban myth based on sleeve-notes for modern recordings.

Later, Vaughan Williams composed Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus, a work for harp and string orchestra and based on ‘Dives and Lazarus,’ one of the folk songs quoted in Vaughan Williams’s English Folk Song Suite. The others are ‘The Star of the County Down’ (Ireland), ‘Gilderoy’ (Scotland), ‘The Thresher,’ ‘Cold blows the wind’ and ‘The Murder of Maria Marten’ (Norfolk).

He composed the work on commission from the British Council to be played at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. The first performance was by the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall on 10 June 1939, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, who also conducted the first British performance that November in Bristol.

The author of this morning’s hymn, the Revd Dr Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), was born in Edinburgh, and this is his best-known song. Its focus is on the call of Christ to come to him, look to him, drink, and rest, and the simple call to obey and to find in him all that he has promised.

In one tune and one hymn, the folk and religious traditions of Scotland, England and Ireland are brought together. There is more that unites on these islands than divides us, there is more in our shared Europe that should unite us than divide us.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘I am this dark world’s Light:
Look unto me; your morn shall rise,
And all your day be bright.’
I looked to Jesus, and I found
In him my Star, my Sun;
And in that light of life I’ll walk
Till traveling days are done.


Evelyn Waugh’s snobbery about Butlin’s
decided where I was sent to school

Gormanston Castle, Co Meath … snobbery stopped Evelyn Waugh from buying it in 1946, and the Franciscans bought it a year later (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I was writing recently about Evelyn Waugh’s brief plans to buy Gormanston Castle in the 1940s, and wondered where I would have been sent to school instead had he completed the sale.

After World War II, many former officers and members of British landed families tried to flee Attlee’s new taxes and settled in droves. Late in 1946, Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) began looking at houses in Ireland in the hope of finding “Liberty, Diversity, Privacy.”

The writer Arthur Evelyn St John Waugh is best known for Decline and Fall (1928), A Handful of Dust (1934), Scoop (1938), Brideshead Revisited (1945) and his World War II trilogy Sword of Honour (1952-1961).

During World War II he was an officer in the Royal Marines, when he took part in the Battle of Crete in 1941, and then in the Royal Horse Guards. After his first marriage to Evelyn Gardner broke down, he became a Roman Catholic in 1930. Father Martin D'Arcy (1888-1976), a Jesuit who had Irish parents and who was a lifelong friend of TS Eliot, persuaded Waugh “on firm intellectual convictions but little emotion" that “the Christian revelation was genuine.”

Waugh claimed his great-grandmother, Theodosia Mahon, was from Strokestown, Co Roscommon, but did little work on exploring his Irish ancestry.

He considered Ireland “beautiful” and “Christian,” while England showed more and more “ugliness of mind.” Buoyed by the success of Brideshead Revisited (1945), he first considered buying Gormanston Castle, the ancestral home of the Preston family and of Jenico Nicholas Dudley Preston, the 17th Viscount Gormanston and 4th Baron Gormanston, who was then just a boy of six and whose father, Jenico William Preston, 16th Viscount Gormanston (1914–1940), had been killed at Dunkirk in 1940 during World War II.

Young Lord Gormanston was a great-grandson of the celebrated Victorian artist Elizabeth Thompson (1846-1933), aka Lady Elizabeth Butler. She specialised in painting battle scenes, including the Crimean War and the Battle of Waterloo. Her better-known works include The Roll Call, bought by Queen Victoria, The Defence of Rorke's Drift, and Scotland Forever!, showing the Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo and now in Leeds Art Gallery. During the Irish Civil War, many of her paintings, including a set of water-colours painted in Palestine, were transferred to her daughter in Gormanston Castle for safe keeping. She died at Gormanston Castle in 1933, shortly before her 87th birthday.

Waugh did not feel “entirely at ease in the role of nouveau riche invader of an historic property.” But the Irish aristocracy still had a few surprises for this English writer. When he visited Gormanston Castle, he said: “It’s sad to think of this place changing hands after so many centuries.” He claims a worker replied: “Ach, his lordship never came to this place but to kill somebody.”

Waugh described Gormanston as “a fine, solid, grim, square, half-finished block with tower and turrets.” In his diaries, Waugh continues:

“The ground floor rooms were large and had fine traces of Regency decoration. Pictures by Lady Butler were everywhere. There were countless bedrooms, many uninhabitable, squalid plumbing, vast attics. On the whole I liked the house; the grounds were dreary with no features except some fine box alleys. The chapel unlicensed and Mrs O’Connor evasive about getting it put to use again.” Pamela O’Connor was the widowed Lady Gormanston, and had married Maurice O’Connor after her first husband was killed in the war.

The centuries-old Yew Walks in Gormanston … Evelyn Waugh describes them as fine box alleys (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The castle was valued at £13,000, with another £5,000 needed for repairs. Waugh authorised his agent to put in a bid.

However, on learning that Sir Billy Butlin (1899-1980) was planning to open a holiday camp at Mosney on the beach beside Gormanston, he promptly changed his mind. He explains in his Diaries: “On boarding the ship [for England] I bought a local evening paper and read that Butlin had acquired a stretch of property at Gormanston and was planning a holiday camp there. This announcement made us change all our intentions. It came just in time for us, disastrously for Mrs O’Connor.”

Nevertheless, Ireland still seemed attractive, and Waugh also considered buying Lisnavagh, Lord Rathdonnell’s “early Victorian baronial pile” near Rathvilly, Co Carlow. Eventually, he decided that the Roman Catholic Church in England needed him more than Ireland did.

Waugh was premature in predicting the outcome for Mrs O’Connor. There was at least one other bidder, and Gormanston Castle and the surrounding estate were bought by the Franciscans in 1947, just after Waugh’s visit.

The school buildings at Gormanston were built in the 1950s after the Franciscans bought Gormanston Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Franciscans have been there ever since. A preparatory school for the college in Multyfarnham was opened in the castle in 1954, and new plans resulted in building a new college and the transfer of the Multyfarnham College to Gormanston.

My brother arrived at Gormanston as a schoolboy in 1959, and I followed in the 1960s.

As for Lord Gormanston, when he went to school he was sent to the Benedictines at Downside School in Somerset, which had provided the Franciscans with one of the models for running Gormanston. As schoolboys, we revelled in his every escapade as it was chronicled in the English press.

Despite Waugh’s snobbery, Butlin’s holiday camp opened in Mosney in July 1948 by the Labour leader, William Norton, and it finally closed in the early 1980s.

Evelyn Waugh set one of his novels – Decline and Fall (1928) – in a boarding school. It is based in part on his schooldays at Lancing College, his undergraduate years at Hertford College, Oxford, and his experience as a teacher at Arnold House in north Wales.

In 1949, he explained that his decision to become a Roman Catholic followed his realisation that life was “unintelligible and unendurable without God.” But his traditionalist stance led him to strongly oppose Church reforms, especially the changes introduced by Vatican II, including the vernacular Mass. He disliked the welfare state, the culture of the post-war world and the decline of the country house.

Fifty years ago, on Easter Day, 10 April 1966, after attending a Latin Mass in a neighbouring village with members of his family, Waugh died of heart failure at his home in Combe Florey, Somerset. He was 62. He was buried at the Anglican churchyard in Combe Florey. A Requiem Mass in Latin was celebrated in Westminster Cathedral on 21 April 1966.

I sometimes wonder to this day where my brother and I would have been sent to school if Evelyn Waugh had not been such a snob about Butlin’s and had bought Gormanston Castle 70 years ago.

Inside the chapel at Gormanston (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Sailing in Dublin Bay and in
a unique biosphere in a city

Sailing by the ‘Lord Nelson’ in Dublin Port (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

I spent most of the day on Dublin Bay. I was on the Saint Bridget, a 26 meter steel hull vessel run by the Garrihy family at Dublin Bay Cruises and Doolin2Aran Ferries.

The full-day cruise began at Sir John Rogerson’s Quay in the centre of Dublin, beside the aptly-named Ferryman and opposite the Convention Centre.

The East Link Bridge opened for us as we sailed alongside the Lord Nelson out of Dublin Port Docklands, passing the Poolbeg Lighthouse, the Pigeon House and the South Wall out into Dublin Bay and on to Dun Laoghaire. There we found ourselves in the middle of the Dun Laoghaire Regatta, involving all the sailing clubs and yacht clubs in Dun Laoghaire.

Watching Dun Laoghaire Regatta in Dublin Bay (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

After coffees and ice cream at Teddy’s on the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire Harbour, we sailed back across the mouth of the port and across Dublin Bay to Howth, coming around Heath Head, and sailing between the land and Ireland’s Eye into Howth Harbour.

During the day, there were views of the Dublin Mountains, Dalkey Island, Joyce’s Martello Tower, Clontarf and the world wildlife reserve at Bull Island, the Baily and Kish Lighthouses, Lambay Island, and Ireland’s Eye.

Arriving in Howth Harbour this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

After lunch a walk along the West Pier and lunch in Howth, we caught the DART back into the city centre.

The cruise is part of the educational programme to raise awareness of the Biosphere that now covers Dublin Bay.

Unesco recognised the importance of Dublin Bay in 1981 by designating the North Bull Island as a Biosphere because of its rare and internationally important habitats and species of wildlife.

To support sustainable development, Unesco’s concept of a Biosphere has evolved to include not just areas of ecological value but also the areas around them and the communities that live and work within these areas. Since then, there have been additional international and national designations, covering much of Dublin Bay, to ensure the protection of its water quality and biodiversity.

To fulfil these broader management aims for the ecosystem, the Biosphere was expanded in 2015. The Biosphere now covers Dublin Bay, reflecting its significant environmental, economic, cultural and tourism importance, and extends to over 300 sq km. Over 300,000 people live within the newly enlarged Biosphere.

Dublin Bay Biosphere now contains three different zones that are managed in different ways.

The core zone of Dublin Bay Biosphere comprises 50 sq km of areas of high natural value. The key areas include the Tolka and Baldoyle estuaries, Booterstown Marsh, Howth Head, North Bull Island, Dalkey Island and Ireland’s Eye.

The buffer zone comprises 82 sq km of public and private green spaces such as parks, greenbelts and golf courses that surround and adjoin the core zones.

The transition zone comprises 173 sq km and forms the outer part of the Biosphere. It includes residential areas, harbours, ports and industrial and commercial areas.


The Dublin Bay cruise is a unique opportunity to explore what I believe is the only designated biosphere in a European capital.

Later this evening, I went up into the Wicklow Mountains for a walk and to look across Dublin Bay in dimming lights before dusk turned to dark, and across the valleys and lakes of the mountains. This is a green and pleasant land too.

In the Wicklow mountains this evening … this is a green and pleasant land too (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016; click on photograph for full-screen view)

Reflecting on an ordination anniversary
and the role of deacons in the Church

An icon of Saint Philip the Deacon with the Ethiopian Eunuch, by Ann Chapin (2008)

Patrick Comerford

I was ordained deacon 16 years ago today [25 June 2000], and yesterday I celebrated my ordination as priest 15 years ago on the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist [24 June 2001].

As I was reflecting on these anniversaries yesterday, I recalled too how my path to ordination began 45 years ago when I was a 19-year-old in Lichfield, following very personal and special experiences in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, and in Lichfield Cathedral in 1971.

As priests, we normally celebrate the anniversary of our ordination to the priesthood, and reflect on it sacramentally. But I wonder whether we reflect on the same way on the significance of our ordination as deacons, despite all the token assents we give to the notion that we remain deacons after our ordination to the priesthood?

When candidates are presented to the bishop for ordination in the Church of Ireland as deacons, the bishop declares:

Deacons in the Church of God serve in the name of Christ, and so remind the whole Church that serving others is at the heart of all ministry. Deacons have a special responsibility to ensure that those in need are cared for with compassion and humility. They are to strengthen the faithful, search out the careless and the indifferent, and minister to the sick, the needy, the poor and those in trouble.

When called upon to do so, they may baptize, preach and give instruction in the faith.

Deacons assist the bishop and priest under whom they serve. When the people are gathered for worship, deacons are authorized to read the Gospel, lead the people in intercession, and distribute the bread and wine of Holy Communion.


The bishop asks those who are being ordained deacon a number of questions, including:

Will you be faithful in visiting the sick, in caring for the poor and needy, and in helping the oppressed?

Will you promote unity, peace, and love among all Christian people, and especially among those whom you serve?

Will you then, in the strength of the Holy Spirit, continually stir up the gift of God that is in you, to make Christ known to all people?


Over the past week or two, I have been celebrating with one of my students, the Revd Kevin Conroy, who has celebrated completing his MTh dissertation examining the diaconate and our understanding of it in the Church of Ireland.

An added pleasure in supervising Kevin’s research is his achievement in being awarded the Weir Prize at the end of this academic year.

Kevin lives in Wicklow and has served his internship as a deacon in Saint Brigid’s, Stillorgan, and All Saints’, Blackrock, with the Revd Ian Gallagher.

In his dissertation, he asks: “In the light of recent discussions among the Porvoo member Churches, is the permanent diaconate a distinctive ministry for implementation within the Church of Ireland, and what are the consequences for understanding the three-fold ministry?”

An interesting aspect of Kevin’s dissertation comes when he turns to the Preamble and Declaration to the Constitution of the Church of Ireland, which declared in 1870: “The Church of Ireland will … maintain inviolate the three orders of bishops, priests or presbyters, and deacons in the sacred ministry.”

It would be unimaginable to have a diocese without a bishop and priests, but many dioceses are without deacons, and those dioceses with deacons see them as deacons in transition to the priesthood.

I have taken part in some of these Porvoo Consultations, and it has been a real pleasure to journey with Kevin during this research.

I travelled a similar journey with the Revd Suzanne Cousins, whose dissertation topic is: “Generous Love in Multi-faith Ireland: towards mature citizenship and positive pedagogy for the Church of Ireland in local Christian-Muslim mission and engagement.”

She describes the aim of this research as identifying “hindrances to Christian engagement in Church of Ireland parishes and dioceses, with a view to stimulating the future development of a contextualised teaching resource on Christian-Muslim engagement for use by clergy and laity in the Church’s changing mission context.”

Once again, this is a subject area that I have worked on in a number of contexts, and it is a particular pleasure that the external examiner has considered this work to have been carried out at doctoral standard and has recommended it for publication. We celebrated together over lunch on Thursday [23 June 2016].

Suzanne lives in Newcastle, Co Down, and has served her internship as a deacon in Saint Mark’s, Newownards, with the Revd Chris Matchett. She is to be ordained priest in September to serve in the parish of Saint Columba’s, Moville, Co Donegal, in the Diocese of Raphoe, and Kevin is to be ordained priest to serve in the parish of Saint Patrick’s, Dublin, in the Diocese of Dublin.

As I reflect on the anniversary of my ordination to the diaconate, I have a special prayer for these two deacons in particular as they prepare to move on the priesthood.

Friday, 24 June 2016

‘Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight
Where ignorant armies clash by night’

‘… you hear the grating roar / Of pebbles which the waves draw back’ … on the shore at Bray, Co Wicklow, this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

If I were to take the temperature of Ireland this evening, I would say the overwhelming majority of us are in a state of shock, if not disbelief, after the result of yesterday’s referendum on British membership of the European Union.

Our nearest neighbour and best friend has decided to walk away.

Of course, I accept democracy and I cannot say that the majority of British voters who voted for a Brexit are racists. But when I look at who is happy – Marine Le Pen in France, Gert Wilders in the Netherlands, Donald Trump who is now in Scotland, and smug Nigel Farage in London – I fear the rise of the far right who smugly widen their voter base on the evils of racism and nationalism.

I fear a land border been created between Ireland and the UK, running from Derry to Newry. Imagine replicating the razor-wire border that runs the northern border of Greece, separating it from its non-EU neighbours in the Balkans, and think of the faces of those desperate refugees that Farage abused in his racist poster last week.

The young generation, the future of Britain and the future of Europe has been sacrificed on the altar of political ambition where the high priests are Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.

Nigel Farage has a German wife who can help him to find safety in the EU if he ever needs to in the future. Boris Johnson is never going to give up his US passport. But the next generation of promising young British citizens will find that these middle aged politicians, in their smug ambitions, have sold their birthright for a mess of pottage.

Europe has guaranteed a minimum wage, health care rights for travelling Europeans, workers’ rights, women’s rights … the future seems dismal this evening.

New border controls may mean Irish business travellers each having to queue for an extra half hour each morning on landing at Stansted, Heathrow and Birmingham, and repeating the same exercise before they catch the last flight back in the evening.

I fly on one of these routes at least once a month on average. The corridor between Dublin and London is the second busiest international air route, following closely behind the air corridor between Taipei and Hong Kong. Consolidate and quantify these waiting half-hours and we can only imagine how much this exercise alone is going to cost business.

Now why should the French bother spending French taxes on stopping refugees at Calais making their way to Dover. Unwittingly, Farage and Johnson may find they have brought upon themselves the one problem they do not want to face.

I tried to clear my head this evening by taking a walk before dinner along the pebble-strewn shoreline at Bray, Co Wicklow. And I found that in my head I was going over and over again the words of Matthew Arnold’s poem Dover Beach first published almost 150 years ago in 1867 in his collection New Poems.

Matthew Arnold was the godson of John Keble, and his father was the headmaster of Rugby.

In Dover Beach, Arnold is on the shore at Dover, facing the Strait of Dover, the narrowest part of the Channel across to Calais. Arnold sees in the retreat of the tide a metaphor for the loss of religious and faith values in Victorian England. But he could be reflecting on the loss of social and political values in England today and the way that this may end in a bloody conflict in which people slay not their feared enemies but their own friends, neighbours and colleagues.

The beach at Dover is bare, with only a hint of humanity in a light that “gleams and is gone.” He hears the sound of the sea as “the eternal note of sadness.” The Greek tragic playwright Sophocles also heard this sound as he stood on Aegean shores.

The final stanza begins with an appeal to love, then moves on to the famous ending metaphor. This is an allusion to a passage in Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War (Book 7, 44), in which he describes a battle at night on a beach in Sicily during the Athenian invasion.

In the battle, the attacking army became disoriented while fighting in the dark and in their fear many of these soldiers inadvertently killed each other.

On this sun-filled evening, I fear so much that in the last 48 hours we have unleashed too many dark forces.

‘But now I only hear / Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, / Retreating, to the breath / Of the night-wind’ … on Bray beach this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Dover Beach, by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay
. Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight
Where ignorant armies clash by night.