Sunday, 1 January 2017

Beginning the new year and ending
the old year by the sea and the waves

The high tide in Dun Laoghaire this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

These cold, crisp bright winter days continue with clear skies and clear blue colours on the sea. The sharp cold weather is an invitation to brisk walks, and because we are so close to the mid-winter new moon the waves were high and choppy today along the East Coast of Ireland.

Naturally, I took advantage of this weather on both New Year’s Eve yesterday [31 December 2016] and New Year’s Day today [1 January 2017] and time on both days by the sea and the waves.

On Saturday afternoon, two of us spent a few hours by the sea in Donabate and Portrane. Apart from the long beach at Balcarrick, there is a number of small coves and beaches along this stretch of the peninsula.

But there were surprisingly few people there on Saturday afternoon, and as we walked north along the cliff walk from the Waterside Hotel in Donabate towards Portrane, the pathway was closed off at Saint Ita’s Hospital, blocking our way.

But this gave us extra time on the small beach below the hospital as the sun was setting behind us.

Winter reflections on a small cove between Portrane and Donabate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Today, I was in Christ Church Cathedral for the Cathedral New Year Eucharist, at this the Dean, the Very Revd Dermot Dunne, presided, and Canon Mark Gardner preached. Later, five of went for lunch in the city centre, and then two of went for a walk along the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire.

The tide was in, the waves were choppy, and no-one was out sailing. Out in the distance, there ships plying their way through Dublin Bay, but a Lifeboat was the only vessel in the harbour.

Of course, I thought of the carol I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In.

I find it curious that this 17th century English carol probably has its origins in Derbyshire, an inland country and a most unlikely place to see three ships, and that it refers to Bethlehem, which is nowhere near the sea. The lyrics mention three ships sailing into Bethlehem, but the nearest body of water is the Dead Sea, about 32 km away.

The reference to three ships is thought to originate in the three ships that bore the supposed relics of the Three Magi to Cologne Cathedral in the 12th century. Another possible reference is to the coat of arms of Good King Wenceslaus or King Wenceslaus II of Bohemia, Azure three galleys argent (a blue shield showing three silver sailing ships).

Another suggestion is that the ships are the camels on which the Magi travelled, for camels are often called the ‘ships of the desert.’

Evening lights on a small beach between Portane and Donabate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas Day in the morning.

And what was in those ships all three,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day?
And what was in those ships all three,
On Christmas Day in the morning?

The Virgin Mary and Christ were there,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
The Virgin Mary and Christ were there,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

Pray, wither sailed those ships all three,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
Pray, wither sailed those ships all three,
On Christmas Day in the morning?

O they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
O they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

And all the Angels in Heaven shall sing,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
And all the Angels in Heaven shall sing,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

And all the souls on earth shall sing,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
And all the souls on earth shall sing,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

Then let us all rejoice again,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
Then let us all rejoice again,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

By the sea in Dun Laoghaire this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

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