12 February 2016

Looking for the site of the castle in
Little Bray and finding a little more

A walk on the beach in Bray this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

I found a little gap this afternoon between the end of a long working week and the beginning of a busy working weekend. There is an old hackneyed cliché that describes a gap such as this as a “window of opportunity,” and so two of us took the opportunity this afternoon to go for a walk on the beach in Bray and to have a late lunch in Carpe Diem on Albert Avenue in Bray.

On the way into Bray on the north side of the town, I have wondered about the castle that must have given its name to Castle Street. There is a castellated row of shops in Castle Street. This hardly looks like the site of a mediaeval castle, yet it is obvious that a castle must have stood near this site, and its memory is perpetuated in the names of the Castle Garage and Castle Furniture.

A castellated row of modern shops in Bray .... could this be the site of a mediaeval castle? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Bray has a history that dates back, perhaps, to Roman times. In 1835, while work was being carried out on Esplanade Terrace at the Seafront, a number of skeletons were discovered by George Putland of Bray Head, who also owned extensive properties in Co Cork. Putland later gave his name to Putland Road, where my parents lived immediately after they married.

These remains were placed side by side with small flag stones acting as partitions. But once they were exposed to air, it is said, the bones supposedly crumbled to dust. But several coins were found placed on or beside the breast of one of these skeletons indicated their Roman origins.

Some of the coins bore the image of the Roman emperors Trajan and Hadrian. Trajan ruled from AD 97 to 117, and Hadrian ruled from 117 to 138. So these coins give an indication of when these people were buried. They may have been a shipwrecked Roman crew. Perhaps they were Roman traders. Dalkey island, which has produced Many Roman finds, including coins, glass fragments and pottery, have been found on nearby Dalkey Island, which could have been a Roman emporium or trading site. Perhaps Bray was another centre of Roman trade.

The street sign for Castle Street ... but there is no sign of a mediaeval castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

An early settlement probably grew up around the ford on the River Dartry, near the Church of Derdach, later the site of Saint Paul’s Church. However, there is no definitive evidence that there was a village in Bray before the Anglo-Normans arrived.

The first Anglo-Norman settlement in Bray was led by Walter de Riddlesford. In 1173, he built a castle in Bray. This castle, which is no longer standing, was built on a rocky promontory at the rear of a house named ‘Clonmore’ on the Herbert Road. Walter de Riddlesford was granted lands in this area by Richard de Clare, better known as ‘Strongbow,’ after the Battle of the Strand where he fought valiantly. He built his castle on this site on a promontory overlooking the River Dargle. An irregular curve in a boundary wall on Church Terrace might be the only remnant of the site.

The original castle would have been a standard motte and bailey, consisting of a wooden rectangular keep, surrounded by a moat. It was rebuilt later as a stone castle, and a new village grew up around its walls, including a church and a mill. The first bridge crossing the River Dartry near this site was built in 1666 and the present bridge was built in 1856.

I understand the site of this castle can be seen on Church Terrace, to the west of Saint Paul’s Church and Churchyard.However, this was not the castle that gave its name to Castle Street on the north side of the River Dartry.

This afternoon I learned that, in all, four castles were built in the Bray area. The other three were:

● Oldcourt Castle, built by the Earl of Ormond in 1433;
● Fassaroe Castle, built by Master Tresover in 1536; and
● Little Bray Castle, which gives its name to Castle Street.

An image of the ruins of Little Bray Castle before it was demolished in 1937

Little Bray Castle was built in 1459, but it is no longer standing. The castle was built in 1459 with a grant of £10. Like Knocklyon Castle, it was a “£10 castle,” built as part of the defences rimming The Pale.

It was in use as a Police Barracks in 1836 and then converted to a private residence in 1905. The castle on Castle Street is marked on a map at the corner of what was Castle Street and Back Street. The castle was demolished in 1937, and the whole area was demolished in the early 1970s to build Superquinn. The site is now part of the Supervalu supermarket car park.

If I want to find the ruins of a castle in Bray, I must start looking beyond Castle Street.

The supermarket car park marks the site of Little Bray Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

‘Love bade me welcome.
Yet my soul drew back’

George Herbert (left) with two other Cambridge theologians, Bishop Brooke Foss Westcott (centre) and Henry Martyn (right), in a window in All Saints’ Church, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

The part-time MTh students are back for a residential weekend this weekend. As this weekend also includes Saint Valentine’s Day, some of us are going as a tutorial group to visit Whitefriar Street Church in inner-city Dublin tomorrow morning [13 February 2016], to see the shrine of Saint Valentine.

As a tutorial group, we have been looking at great Anglican poets, and have already discussed TS Eliot (7 November 2015), John Betjeman (5 December 2015) and John Milton (16 January 2016). This weekend visit interrupts that theme, but we return to that theme next month, when we look at the poetry of George Herbert (1593-1622).

However, the themes of love and poetry come together in the poem ‘Love bade me welcome’ by George Herbert, which the tutorial group has asked me to read at Evening Prayer in the chapel this evening.

This also the third of the Five Mystical Songs set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1948) between 1906 and 1911, and that received their first performance at the Three Choirs’ Festival in Worcester in 1911.

This love poem recalls a dialogue between Love and the poet. At this level, Love is but a human lover or a friend. In the first stanza Love welcomes the poet to his or her house for an intimate dinner party for two. The poet hesitates, feeling unclean. Love senses this and proceeds slowly with the courtship, asking if he needs anything.

In the middle stanza, Love tries to reassure the poet that he is worthy to be a guest in the house. The poet calls himself “unkind, ungrateful,” almost trying to prove his unworthiness.

The last stanza is the turning point when Love overrides the poets augments. Love stresses to the poet that regardless of his faults he is always welcome at this table. The dinner invitation is extended once again and the poet accepts.

Herbert’s true genius shows through in his complex metaphor: Love is God. By taking love and giving it a body, Herbert helps us to relate to the known, albeit partially understood truth of love to the more complex idea of God. This relationship is further strengthened through the use of the common place dinner setting for two.

The poet is a lost soul who God is courting and trying to reassure. In the last stanza God tells the poet to “sit down… and taste my meat,” inviting him to take Communion. The house is Heaven and the host or God is not serving food but love, acceptance, and understanding, God himself. The poet sees himself as too unclean to sit at God’s table and partake of his love.

Finally the poet accepts God’s sovereignty as well as his own faults, “So I did sit and eat.” This last line again alludes to the Eucharist, as the poet takes God/Love into himself.

‘Love bade me welcome’ by George Herbert

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked any thing.

‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’

‘Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.

A journey through Lent 2016
with Samuel Johnson (3)

Trinity College, Cambridge … Samuel Johnson stayed here in February 1765 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

After the meeting yesterday [11 February 2016] of the Trustees of the Anglican mission agency previously known as USPG (the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, or Us, the United Society), I spent a little time in the late afternoon visiting the places off Fleet Street where Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) lived in the 18th century.

On my way back through Stansted Airport late last night, I winsomely thought of how near I was to Cambridge, and wondered whether I should have stayed there last night and caught an early flight this morning. As I waited late into the night for a delayed flight, I also recalled the many pleasant times I have spent in Cambridge in recent years staying at Sidney Sussex College during summer schools and conferences organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

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

I am reminded this morning [12 February 2016] how in February 1765, Samuel Johnson visited Cambridge and stayed at Trinity College, where he had lengthy discussions about John Milton, who had been an undergraduate at Christ’s College in the previous century, and Isaac Newton, who was a Fellow of Trinity College although he had never been ordained.

Shortly after that visit to Cambridge, in a Lenten meditation looking forward to Good Friday and Easter Day, Johnson wrote:

I purpose again to partake of the Blessed Sacrament; yet when I consider how vainly I have hitherto resolved at this annual commemoration of my Saviour’s death, to regulate my life by his laws, I am almost afraid to renew my resolutions.

Since the last Easter I have reformed no evil habit; my time has been unprofitably spent and seems as a dream that has left nothing behind. My memory grows confused, and I know not how the days pass over me. Good Lord, deliver me!

Continued tomorrow.

Yesterday’s reflection.