Wednesday, 24 May 2017

A Jacobean Gothic hall built for
a Victorian charity in Limerick

The Protestant Orphan Society Hall … built by William Fogerty in an exuberant Jacobean Gothic revival style (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I spent this afternoon at the annual general meeting of the Limerick Protestant Orphan and Childcare Society. Today, this is very much a 21st century charity that has revised its statutes to meet the real demands and needs in the diocese and society.

But the former Protestant Orphan Society Hall at the north end of Pery Street is a solid reminder of the Victorian origins of this society and its 19th century benefactors.

The hall is close to some of the Limerick’s finest churches and bank, standing between Saint Michael’s Church of Ireland parish church and Saint Saviour’s Dominican church, and close to Baker Place and the People’s Park. It is one of the finest and most elegant buildings in this part of the city.

It was built in 1856 to designs by the Limerick-based architect William Fogerty (1833-1878). It was designed by Fogerty and built in limestone as a six-bay two-storey over basement hall in a Jacobean style, with a square-plan projecting tower to the north.

The Protestant Orphan Society Hall as looked when it was built in 1856

William Fogerty was born in 1833, the second son of the Limerick architect John Fogerty and a younger brother of the architect Joseph Fogerty. He was a student at Queen’s College, Cork, in 1850-1851, and began practice as an architect in Limerick with his father in the 1850s.

In 1855-1856, Fogerty built the Protestant Orphan Society Hall as a new collegiate Gothic Hall in an exuberant Jacobean Revival style. His other buildings in Limerick included the Episcopal Church or Holy Trinity Church (1858-1859) on Catherine Street, and the District Lunatic Asylum (1863) on Mulgrave Street, which included a Gothic chapel and Turkish baths.

Fogerty continued to work from 97 George’s Street, Limerick, until 1864, when he moved to Dublin. There he practised from 23 Harcourt Street, and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (FRIAI) that year. After making a tour of Italy in the autumn of 1869 with Thomas Henry Longfield, he moved around 1870 to London, where his brother Joseph was practising as an architect.

From London, he moved to New York, probably in 1872-1873, returning to Ireland in 1874 or 1875, when he resumed practice at 23 Harcourt Street, Dublin. He died at the early age of 44 in 1878, and was buried in the graveyard of Saint Munchin’s Church, Limerick. An obituary in the Irish Builder reported: ‘We regret to chronicle the death of Mr William Fogerty, FRIBA, a comparatively young and promising architect.’

His son, John Frederick Fogerty, also became an architect.

When the Protestant Orphan Society Hall was built, the surrounding area abounded in charitable foundations, including the Protestant Female Orphans’ Home, the Lansdowne Soldiers’ Home and the Asylum for Blind Females.

Although the interior of the hall appears to have been lost, as well as the original windows, when the building was converted into offices, and the original windows have been replaced with ugly uPVC versions. But this building remains an important landmark building in the heart of Limerick.

The former Protestant Orphan Society Hall remains an important landmark building in the heart of Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The former Bishop’s Palace, the oldest
complete domestic building in Limerick

The former Bishop’s Palace on Church Street is one of the most important houses in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

The oldest complete domestic building in Limerick is the Bishop’s Palace on Church Street, close to King John’s Castle, Saint Munchin’s Church and Villiers Almshouses. This is an important cluster of mediaeval sites at the northern end of Limerick’s mediaeval Englishtown.

This former bishop’s palace is among the earliest examples of a formal classical design in Limerick, and is one of the most important houses in Limerick City. It is the only example in Limerick of Palladian architecture in a domestic building, and it has been attributed to the architect and artist Francis Bindon (1690-1765).

A bishop’s palace has stood on this site since at least the 17th century and it is thought that parts of an earlier structure were incorporated, largely at basement level, in the classical 18th century building.

The Civil Survey in 1654-1656 describes the house on this site as a stone castle or house belonging to Alderman John Stritch, an ‘Irish Papist.’

Until then, the Bishops of Limerick had lived in a house on a site now occupied by Villiers Almshouses. But that house was confiscated by the Catholic Confederates in in the 1640s, and the See of Limerick remained vacant from 1649 until 1660. When Limerick was captured by the Cromwellians, the former palace was handed over to the Commissioners of Revenue.

The site for a new palace at Stritch’s former house was acquired by Bishop Edward Synge following the Restoration. He was nominated Bishop of Limerick on 6 August 1660 and with the unification of dioceses he was consecrated on 27 January 1661 as Bishop of Limerick and Ardfert and Aghadoe.

Synge probably did little work on his new residence, for he moved to Cork in 1663 when he was appointed Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, and he died holding that office on 22 December 1678.

Bindon probably built the new Bishop’s Palace around 1740 for William Burscough, who was Dean of Lismore when he became Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe in from 1725. Burcough, who was born in Surrey and educated at Oxford, remained Bishop of Limerick until he died on 3 April 1755.

The new place remained the residence of the Bishops of Limerick until 1784, when Bishop William Cecil Pery (1721-1794) moved to a new house on Henry Street provided by his brother, Edmond Sexton Pery (1719-1806), 1st Viscount Pery.

Today, relatively little is known about the architect Francis Bindon, despite the number of paintings and buildings that are his legacy.

Bindon was born in Clooney, Co Clare, ca 1690 to a wealthy land-owning family and, like many of his contemporaries, he was a ‘gentleman amateur.’ His father, David Bindon, was MP for Ennis. His mother, Dorothy Burton, came from a family that controlled the Ennis parliamentary borough for much of the 18th century. His brother, the Very Revd Henry Bindon, was Dean of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, while two other brothers, David and Samuel, were MPs for Ennis.

When he was in his 20s, Francis embarked on a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe and was at Padua University in 1716, when he was studying art and architecture.

He succeeded his brother David as MP for Ennis in 1761, when he also inherited more of the family property in Co Clare. He was made a Freeman of the City of Limerick in 1762. He died ‘suddenly in his chariot on his way to the country’ in 1765. He left much of his property and possessions to his lifelong friend the painter Francis Ryan. Faulkner’s Journal described him as ‘one of the best painters and architects this nation has ever produced.’

His portraits include Turlough Carolan, the blind harpist, Archbishop Hugh Boulter, Thomas Sheridan, Archbishop Charles Cobbe, Dean Patrick Delaney, and several of Dean Jonathan Swift. The great houses he designed include Woodstock, Co Kilkenny, Drewstown, Co Kildare and Newhall, Co Clare. He also designed Saint John’s Square in Limerick, the Market House, Mountrath, and he worked with Richard Cassels on the design of Russborough House, Co Wicklow.

Welcome to the former Bishop’s Palace in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The Bishop’s Palace in Limerick is a five-bay, three-storey limestone house, built about 1740. It is distinguished by a centrally-placed Venetian entrance to the symmetrical façade.

The limestone ashlar details include the doorcase and eaves cornice on the front and side elevation. The proportions of the window openings, which decrease at each storey, achieve a symmetrical classical façade.

There are rubble limestone side and rear elevations. The limestone ashlar cornice to the front elevation returns to the side elevation, terminating at the junction with the chimney-stacks. An eaves course continues around the rear elevation, carrying the rainwater goods.

There are square-headed window openings, limestone voussiors, reveals, and limestone ashlar sills, with six-over-six and three-over-six timber sash windows with exposed sash boxes, dating from the restoration completed in 1990.

The flat arches of the third-floor windows are incorporated in the limestone ashlar eaves cornice. The square-headed, segmental-headed and round-arch brick-arched window openings to the rear elevation with limestone reveals, limestone ashlar sills and the replacement six-over-six, three-over-six and fanlighted three-over-six timber sash windows to the rear elevation all date from1990. There is a blind brick-faced oculus to the rear elevation.

The limestone ashlar Venetian doorcase has plain pilasters that are joined by a simple entablature, which in turn is joined by an archivolt over the fanlight, which rises above. The panelled timber door is flanked by four-over-four timber sash sidelights.

The door is approached by three limestone steps with mild steel railings and slate-faced universal access to one side.

Limerick Civic Trust was responsible for restoring the building. The restoration work was completed in 1990, and the house was formally opened on 20 March 1990 by the Mayor of Limerick, Alderman Gus O’Driscoll. The house is now the offices of Limerick Civic Trust, and visitors are welcome.

The former Bishop’s Palace was restored and reopened in 1990 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

O pray for the peace of Jerusalem
and for a new Anglican Primate

With Archbishop Suheil Dawani of Jerusalem in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Patrick Comerford

The visit of Donald Trump to Jerusalem and Bethlehem today, and the potential for a frightening fallout from last night’s horrific attack in Manchester has caused me to pray all day for the peace of Jerusalem and for the good people of all faith for whom Jerusalem is a sacred and holy city – Muslims, Christians and Jews.

Anglicans in the Middle East have been in my prayers in a special way since last week, when Archbishop Suheil Dawani of the Diocese of Jerusalem was elected as the next Primate of the Episcopal Church of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East. He succeeds Archbishop Mouneer Hanna Anis, who has held this post since 2007.

In referring to the importance of Jerusalem, Archbishop Suheil emphasises that he sees it as his duty, and that of all Christians, to make Jerusalem a model for peace between the three Abrahamic faiths. He says, ‘It is our task to give hope to the hopeless. In our daily lives, may we be guided by the star of God’s love.’

Archbishop Dawani will serve as Primate for a period of 2½ years, to be followed by Bishop Michael Lewis of the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf. Bishop Michael, who will serve for the same length of time, ending in May 2022, was one of the speakers at the USPG conference in High Leigh three years ago [2014].

The changes were agreed last week at a two-day meeting of the Synod of the Church of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, in Amman, Jordan. In a statement issued last week, the Synod said: ‘We congratulate both Archbishop Suheil and Bishop Michael on their appointments, and we give thanks for Archbishop Mouneer’s service as our Primate since 2007 … Please uphold the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East in your prayers.’

I met Archbishop Suheil Dawani and his wife Shafeeqa most recently when they visited Dublin at the end of last year [1-7 December 2016]. Their visit was part of the Jerusalem Link partnership between the dioceses and the programme has been put together by the Diocesan Council for Mission. During that visit, Archbishop Suheil gave a reflection at an ecumenical service in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

The Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem has 27 parishes spread through the five political regions of Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The new Primate is a strong advocate of peace and reconciliation and is engaged in many ecumenical and interfaith projects, and he works closely with the Archbishop of Canterbury on Anglican and interfaith issues. He is one of the 13 recognised Heads of Churches in Israel.

The Most Revd Bishop Suheil Salman Dawani was consecrated as Bishop Coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem in 2006, and he was installed as the diocesan bishop and the 14th Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem in 2007.

Dr Dawani was born in Nablus on the West Bank in 1951, studied at the Near East School of Theology in Beirut, and was ordained deacon in 1976 and priest in 1977. He served at Saint George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem, Saint Andrew’s, Ramallah, and Saint Peter’s, Bir Zeit, in the West Bank. He then studied at Virginia Theological Seminary in the US, and in 1987 he was appointed the priest-in-charge of Saint John’s Church, Haifa.

He then served again in Ramallah and Bir-Zeit until 1997, when he was elected the General Secretary of the Diocese of Jerusalem and returned to Saint George's Cathedral, Jerusalem, as the canon pastor of the Arabic-speaking congregation. There he was engaged in ecumenical and interfaith work, organised summer camps for Muslim and Christian children, and led a visit by a Jewish-Arab group to the US under the name ‘Kids for Peace.’ He returned to Ramallah, until 2007, when he became diocesan bishop.

At that service in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, last December, the Introit sung by the cathedral choir was a setting of an Armenian vesting hymn by the late Theo Saunders (1957-2016), and concluded:

Heavenly King, preserve thy Church unshaken,
and keep the worshippers of Thy name in peace.


The theme of peace in Jerusalem returned in the anthem by Herbert Howells (1892-1983) drawing on words in Psalm 122: 6-7:

O pray for the peace of Jerusalem, they shall prosper that love thee.
Peace be within thy walls, and plenteousness within thy palaces.


Patrick Comerford with Archishop Mouneer Anis of Cairo at the USPG conference in in High Leigh in 2011

Summer sunshine comes
to the rails at Rathkeale
church and the countryside

Putting the finishing touches to a brighter look at the churchyard at Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

It was a busy day in Rathkeale yesterday, which included a school visit, a committee meeting, and meetings with parishioners.

Outside Holy Trinity Church and the churchyard on Church Street, a workforce sponsored by Rathkeale Community Council is painting the railings and the churchyard boundary wall beside the school, and planting flower boxes along the footpath.

This work shows how the church is owned by the local community, and as we stood talking the workers involved took personal pride in the state of the churchyard and its associations with local history and heritage.

As Spring turns to Summer this week in this part of West Limerick, the brighter colours on the railings and the wall add to the sparkle in the town in the bright sunshine.

Summer colours in the fields south of Rathkeale (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

In between meetings, I walked out into the countryside south of Rathkeale, where the fields have long turned from the brown of winter to the green and gold of summer.

On my way back into Rathkeale, I stopped to talk on the corner of Church Street with Gerald Fennell, who welcomed me into An Seabhac. I wrote about his former wine bar and restaurant last week, describing it as ‘a picture postcard corner of Rathkeale.’

He had many stories about the house, which has been in his family for four or five generations, and which has a history that may go back 400 years. ‘Six degrees of separation’ is too relaxed a description of connections in Ireland … it turned out I have known his brother for yours.

Later, by River Deel, the waters were clear blue under the bright summer sun. But there was work to be done, and I headed off to Bloomers for a management of the Rathkeale Pre-Cohesion Social Project.

Walking by the banks of the River Deel in Rathkeale on Monday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Elias Ashmole, a celebrated
son of Lichfield, was born 400
years ago on 23 May 1617

Elias Ashmole was born 400 years ago on 23 May 2017 … a statue on the side of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Today marks the fourth centenary of the birth of an amazing and at times enigmatic son of Lichfield. Elias Ashmole (1617-1672), the founder of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, was born at 5 Breadmarket Street in Lichfield 400 years ago on this day, 23 May 1617.

Elias Ashmole was a celebrated English antiquary, politician, herald, genealogist, astrologer and alchemist. Ashmole supported the royalist side during the English Civil War, and at the restoration of Charles II he was rewarded with several lucrative offices.

His library reflected his wide range of interests, including history, law, numismatics, chorography, alchemy, astrology, astronomy, and botany. He was one of the founding Fellows of the Royal Society and an early freemason, and his interests ranged from the antiquarian and the mystical to the scientific. An avid collector of curiosities and artefacts, he donated most of his collection, his library and his manuscripts to the University of Oxford to create the Ashmolean Museum.

Throughout his life, he returned constantly to Lichfield, and twice he stood without success in parliamentary elections, hoping to become MP for Lichfield.

Elias Ashmole’s birthplace at No 5 Breadmarket Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Ashmole was born in Breadmarket Street, Lichfield. His mother, Anne, was the daughter of a wealthy Coventry draper, Anthony Bowyer. His father, Simon Ashmole (1589-1634) was a saddler and been a soldier in Ireland during the Earl of Essex’s campaign. His grandfather Thomas Ashmole had been Mayor or senior bailiff of Lichfield in 1604 and 1612, and sheriff of Lichfield in 1593, and his uncle, also Thomas Ashmole, was Mayor in 1651 and Sheriff in 1638 and 1660.

He was given the name Elias, the Latin form of the name of the prophet Elijah, by his godfather Thomas Otley, the sacrist of Lichfield Cathedral.

The young Elias Ashmole attended Lichfield Grammar School (now King Edward VI School) and was a chorister in Lichfield Cathedral, where he was taught singing by the composer Michael East, who was the master of the choristers, and keyboard music by Henry Hinde, the cathedral organist.

Ashmole left Lichfield in 1633 to live in London. He qualified as a solicitor in 1638, and that year he married Eleanor Mainwaring (1603-1641) from Cheshire. Eleanor died while pregnant three years later on 6 December 1641, and Ashmole threw himself into the political and military conflicts of the day.

He supported Charles I throughout the Civil War. At the outbreak of fighting in 1642, he moved to Cheshire, and in 1644 he was appointed the King’s Commissioner of Excise at Lichfield.

From Lichfield he moved to Oxford, where he became an ordnance officer in the King’s forces. While he was in Oxford, he studied mathematics and physics at Brasenose College, where he had lodgings.

He seems never to have taken part in any actual fighting during the Civil War, and after the surrender of Worcester in July 1646, he retired to Cheshire. On his way, he returned to Lichfield, where his mother had died three weeks earlier from the plague.

His first wife, Mary Lady Mainwaring, was a daughter of Sir William Forster of Aldermaston. When they married in 1649, she was 20 years older than him, had been widowed three times, and she was wealthy. The marriage was not a happy one, but when Lady Mainwaring sued separation and alimony, her case was dismissed by the courts in 1657. Ashmole was now wealthy enough to pursue his interests, including botany and alchemy.

The former Lichfield Grammar School, where Ashmole was a schoolboy, now houses the chamber of Lichfield District Council (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At the restoration of Charles II in 1660, Ashmole was rewarded richly for his loyalty and was appointed Secretary and Clerk of the Courts of Surinam and Comptroller of the White Office, Commissioner and then Comptroller for the Excise in London, and later Accountant-General of the Excise. He was also involved in organising the coronation.

He was appointed to the College of Arms in 1660 as Windsor Herald. Ashmole performed his heraldic and genealogical duties scrupulously, and in 1663 he was back in Lichfield when he was involved in the Visitation of Staffordshire, which was carried out by the antiquarian and the Norroy King of Arms, Sir William Dugdale (1605-1686).

Dugdale was assisted by two heralds who were born in Lichfield and educated at Lichfield Grammar School – his clerk, Gregory King (1648-1712), who later became Lancaster Herald and a pioneering statistician, and Dugdale’s future son-in-law, Elias Ashmole.

Dugdale and Ashmole, undoubtedly, were familiar with the career of William Comberford: Dugdale had been commissioned in 1641 to make a copy of all the monuments in the main English cathedrals and churches, including Lichfield Cathedral and Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, and received his MA at Oxford with William Comberford in November 1642; William Comberford was ialso nvolved in the Civil War in Lichfield while Ashmole was the King’s Commissioner of Excise at Lichfield.

At the time of the Visitation of Staffordshire, William Comberford’s brother, Robert Comberford was 69 and living at Comberford Hall. On the first day of the Visitation in Lichfield, on 30 March 1663, Robert certified the pedigree for the Comberford family of Comberford, and furnished Ashmole with many of the details of the family.

However, Sydney Grazebrook, who edited the Visitation for publication by the Harleian Society, insightfully asks why Robert Comberford failed to furnish a number of pertinent particulars, including the full name of his father-in-law. In addition, it might be asked why he failed to provide dates of death for his brothers and sisters, or particulars of their marriages and children, some of which ought to have been known to both Ashmole and Dugdale, and all of which would have helped avoid confusion to later generations tracing the family tree.

Ashmole presented the magnificent Ashmole Cup to Lichfield in 1666, and it remains in the civic collection of plate and insignia.

The former Lady Mainwaring died on 1 April 1668, and seven months later, on 3 November, Ashmole married Elizabeth Dugdale (1632-1701), the much younger daughter of his friend and fellow herald Sir William Dugdale. In 1675, he resigned as Windsor Herald, perhaps because of factional strife within the College of Arms. He was offered the post of Garter Principal King of Arms, but turned down this offer in favour of Dugdale.

Ashmole stood as a candidate in the 1678 by-election caused by the death of Richard Dyott. During the campaign, Ashmole’s cousin, Thomas Smalridge, who was his campaign manager, fell ill and died. Ashmole did not visit the constituency, and he lost the election to Sir Henry Lyttelton.

After the Restoration, Ashmole had presented new prayer books to Lichfield Cathedral. In 1684, Dugdale wrote to his son-in-law that ‘the vulgar sort of people’ were not ‘yet weaned from the Presbyterian practises, which was long prayers of their own devising, and senseless sermons.’

Ashmole still appears to have had an urge to return to Lichfield, and once again in 1685 he stood as an election candidate. But he stood aside at the request of James II. On election day, all votes cast for Ashmole were declared as votes for the King’s candidate, and through this ruse Richard Leveson was elected MP for Lichfield.

Elizabeth’s pregnancies all ended in stillbirth or miscarriage, and Ashmole never had any children. He died at his house in Lambeth on 18 May 1692, and was buried at Saint Mary’s Church, Lambeth, on 26 May. He bequeathed the remainder of his collection and library to Oxford for the Ashmolean Museum, which is considered by some to be the first truly public museum in Europe.

Lichfield Grammar School in Saint John Street, where Ashmole went to school is now the Chamber of the Lichfield District Council Chamber, and Ashmole’s birthplace in Breadmarket Street is now a solicitor's office, marked by a stone plaque.

Later this year, to mark the 400the anniversary of his birth, Lichfield Cathedral is hosting an exhibition, ‘Discovering Elias Ashmole.’ The exhibition, from 19 October 2017 to 18 February 2018, offers an opportunity to find out more about the life and times of this celebrated son of Lichfield.

Elias Ashmole’s statue at the south-east corner of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Monday, 22 May 2017

A stroll along Nicholas Street in
the heart of mediaeval Limerick

Nicholas Street was once the High Street of mediaeval Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Last week I walked along Nicholas Street, once the main street or High Street in mediaeval Limerick, linking King John’s Castle and Saint Mary’s Cathedral, and today linking the main artery through the mediaeval city, leading King John’s Castle with the modern city centre.

Thousands of tourists visit the castle each month, and Nicholas Street, despite its apparent neglect, has obvious tourist potential, for this was once the historic and cultural centre of Limerick.

Nicholas Street was the principal street in the heart of the walled city and it dates back to the foundations of Limerick. The street, with its proximity to the quays, King John’s Castle and Saint Mary’s Cathedral made it the centre of civic life in mediaeval Limerick.

Nicholas Street runs from the northern end of Nicholas Street, near the Parade at the north end, just south of King John’s Castle, to Mary Street at the southern end, near Baal’s Bridge.

The former Thomond Cinema, now Stix, stands on the site of Saint Nicholas’s Church in the heart of mediaeval Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The street was named after Saint Nicholas of Myra, better known to children today as Santa Claus. In the mediaeval era, Saint Nicholas was revered as the proctor and patron saint of sailors and seafarers. Here, as in many mediaeval ports, his name was given to a church close to the quays and berthing facilities.

Nicholas Street and the streets off it fell into a progressive decline in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Much of Nicholas Street was rebuilt in the mid-20th century, but it still follows the lines of the mediaeval terrace plots, so that the houses with their modest scale fit perfectly with the mediaeval urban grain of Englishtown.

Limerick City and County Council has plans to invest more than €700,000 in the street this year, with the hope of bring back to life several derelict units on the street. Other mediaeval cities, such as Kilkenny and Waterford, have realised the positive tourist potential of such sites.

Waterford has its Viking Triangle, while Kilkenny has its Mediaeval Mile. But similar plans for Limerick have been delayed in the past because of the discovery of several mediaeval remains along Nicholas Street.

During demolition work in the 1990s, a significant mediaeval fireplace feature and stone corbels were found on the site of Nos 36-39 Nicholas Street. This site stands at the corner of Nicholas Street and Peter Street, and is now known locally as ‘The Fireplace Site.’ A protective canopy was placed around the entire structure to shield it from the weather as expert stonemasons engaged in the intricate and delicate work of restoring the fireplace and the surrounding structure.

The wall is situated between what were probably two stone mediaeval houses dating back to the late 15th century. In addition, the site retains remnants of the long narrow properties of mediaeval burgage plots, with an average width of five metres. Test trenching on the site has revealed further underlying archaeological deposits and a cellar feature.

Human bones, two sherds of mediaeval pottery and one piece of post-mediaeval pottery were also found on Nicholas Street at the entrance to the Widows’ Almshouses. Archaeologists believe the bones may have come from the graveyard attached to Saint Nicholas’s Church, the mediaeval parish church that stood on the south side of the castle.

Mediaeval Limerick had two distinct parishes, Saint Nicholas’s and Saint Mary’s, until they were amalgamated.

Records from the 1400 say the vicarage of the parish church of Saint Nicholas belonged to the vicars choral of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, giving them the right to nominate the vicar.

According to the local historian and antiquarian, Thomas Johnson Westropp (1860-1922), Saint Nicholas’s Church ‘was in good repair in 1615.’ The church was apparently ‘destroyed’ during the sieges of Limerick, in either 1642 or 1651.

No traces of this church exist, although local lore says it stood on the site of the former Thomond Cinema, now housing a business known as Stix – I wondered whether this was an abbreviation of Saint Nick’s or Saint Nicholas.

The churchyard extended as far as the site of the Widows’ Almshouses, which add significantly to the architectural and historical importance of King’s Island. The almshouses were built after the Siege of Limerick in 1691, probably in the early 1700s. By then, the graveyard was no longer in use, and its presence may have been forgotten.

The Widows’ Almshouses were originally built to house the widows and families of soldiers once garrisoned in the castle. The exterior of the almshouses is 19th century in character. This terrace of five, three-bay, two-storey limestone almshouses, was restored in 1970 and renovated by Limerick Corporation in 1993. They remain an intact terrace of houses and are part of the history of King John’s Castle.

From Nicholas Street, I walked on further past King John’s Castle to see the Bishop’s Palace, Saint Munchin’s Church and Villiers Almshouses. But these are stories for other days.

The former Widows’ Almshouses date from the late 1600s or early 1700s, and stand on part of the churchyards attached to Saint Nicholas’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Discovering Limerick’s links
with the poet Robert Graves

The Locke Bar … a river-side setting with many associations with the war poet Robert Graves (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Last week, on my way between Askeaton and Dublin, I stopped for lunch in Limerick at the Locke Bar on George’s Quay. This is one of Limerick’s oldest pubs, dating back to 1724, and it is close to Saint Mary’s Cathedral and other historical and architectural landmarks in the city, including King John’s Castle, the Hunt Museum, the courthouse and Barrington’s Hospital.

This award-winning pub sits in an attractive setting on a tree-lined quay overlooking the Abbey River. The old wood panelling and open fires make it is welcoming in winter; the sunny riverside setting is a delight in summer.

The Locke Bar has won many awards, including Black and White pub of the year, Irish Music pub of the year and Dining pub of the year, and it is also listed in Georgina Cambell’s best places to eat. In the sunshine last week, as I sat outside at lunchtime, I could have been in London, Paris or Rome.

I was first tempted to stop here not to drink or to eat, but because of the Locke Bar’s association with the poet and writer Robert Graves (1895-1985), who had many family connections with Limerick.

The Locke Bar … has many associations with the war poet Robert Graves (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Towards the end of World War I, while he was recovering from life-threatening war wounds, Graves and other officers and soldiers from the Royal Welch Fusiliers were sent to Limerick in 1918, as the War of Independence intensified. Graves frequented the Locke Bar while he was stationed in Limerick in 1919-1921, and his friend the war poet Siegfried Sassoon was stationed in Limerick at the same time.

It was an interesting posting, for Graves’s grandfather had been the Bishop of Limerick two decades earlier and is buried in the churchyard at Saint Mary’s Cathedral.

Charles Graves (1812-1899) was Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe, President of the Royal Irish Academy, and Dean of the Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle, and a grandson of Thomas Graves, Dean of Ardfert (1785) and Dean of Connor (1803).

As an undergraduate, he played cricket for Trinity and later he was a fellow of TCD (1836-1843) and Professor of Mathematics until 1862.

In 1860, he was appointed Dean of the Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle, and in 1864 he became Dean of Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert (1864-1866), succeeding Robert Mitchell Kennedy, grandfather of another war poet ‘Woodbine Willie,’ the Revd Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929).

Charles Graves became Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe, in 1866, and held this position until his death in 1899. As bishop, his official residence was the Palace in Limerick, but from the 1850s he lived mainly at Parknasilla House, Co Kerry, which he sold in in 1894. Bishop Graves died in 1899 and is buried in the grounds of Saint Mary’s Cathedral.

The grave of Bishop Charles Graves at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

His sons included the poet Alfred Perceval Graves (1846-1931), and Arnold Felix Graves (1847-1930), the founder of Kevin Street Technical College, now part of the Dublin Institute of Technology.

Alfred Graves was a poet and Gaelic scholar who played an important part in the Irish literary revival. His first wife, Jane Cooper (1874-1886), was from Cooper’s Hill, Co Limerick. He is best remembered as the author of Father O’Flynn, a comic ballad eulogising a fictional Donegal priest. Perhaps it is no coincidence then that his son Robert Graves in his war memoir also wrote admiringly of Roman Catholic chaplains, at the expense of their Anglican counterparts.

The poet, novelist, critic and classicist Robert von Ranke Graves (1895-1985) was the author of more than 140 works, including poems, translations and interpretations of the Greek myths.

Graves was born in Wimbledon, the third of five children of Alfred Perceval Graves (1846-1931) and his second wife Amalie von Ranke (1857-1951), and was educated at Charterhouse and Saint John’s College, Oxford.

At the outbreak of World War I, he enlisted immediately, and took a commission in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He developed an early reputation as a war poet and was one of the first to write realistic poems about experience of frontline conflict. Through Siegfried Sassoon, Graves also became a friend of another war poet Wilfred Owen.

At the Battle of the Somme, Graves was so badly wounded by a shell-fragment through the lung that he was expected to die and he was officially reported in 1916 as having died of his wounds.

Graves was moved to Limerick in December 1918, and was stationed at Castle Barrack. He was struck by the horrendous poverty he saw in the city that winter, and he said Limerick looked like a ‘war-ravaged town’ even in peace, with ‘holes like shell-craters’ in the main street and many of the buildings seemingly ‘on point of collapse.’

An old antique shop at Thomond Bridge in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

He added: ‘Old Reilly at the antique shop who remembered my grandfather well, told me nobody in Limerick built new houses: the birth rate was declining and when one fell down the survivors moved into another. Everyone died of drink in Limerick except the Plymouth Brethren, who died of religious melancholia. Life did not start in the town before nine in the morning.’

He recalled later: ‘Once, at about that time, I walked down O’Connell Street, formerly King George Street, and found it deserted. When the hour chimed, the door of a magnificent Georgian house flew open and out came, first a shower of slops, which just missed me, and then a dog, which lifted up its leg against a lamp-post, then a nearly-naked girl-child who sat down in the gutter and rummaged in a heap of refuse for filthy pieces of bread; finally, a donkey began to bray. I had pictured Ireland exactly so, and felt its charm as dangerous.’

That January, Graves played his last game of rugby in Limerick as fullback for his battalion against a local team that included many Sinn Féin supporters: ‘We were all crocks and our opponents seemed bent on showing what fine fighting material England had lost by withholding Home Rule. How jovially they jumped on me, and rubbed my face in the mud!’

During this time in Limerick, Graves frequented the Locke Bar on George’s Quay and also visited his father’s brother-in-law, Robert Cooper of Cooper’s Hill, Limerick, a retired naval officer.

Robert Graves frequented the Locke Bar while he was stationed in Limerick almost a century ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Shortly after Graves arrived in Limerick, demobilisation began, but it had been deferred for the troops in Ireland because of the War of Independence. This became a more acute problem when Graves caught Spanish ’flu. This compounded his injuries and lung problems and it became a bigger threat than Limerick’s republican rugby players.

Unwilling to trust his lungs to a local hospital, he caught the last train out of the city before the demobilisation period ended. Officially, he a deserter. However, a chance meeting in a London taxi with the Cork District Demobilisation Officer gave him the documentation he needed. Safely back in England, he recovered from the ’flu, unlike millions of others.

After the war, Graves took up the place he had been offered at Oxford, where his post-war friends included TE Lawrence, then a Fellow of All Souls’ College.

Perhaps it was his memories of Limerick and his Irish ancestry that inspired Graves to use an Irish pseudonym, John Doyle, when he published The Marmosites Miscellany (London: Hogarth Press) in 1925.

In 1926, Graves took up a post at Cairo University. A year later, he published Lawrence and the Arabs (1927), a commercially successful biography of TE Lawrence.

His autobiographical Good-bye to All That (1929) was a success but cost him many of his friends, including Siegfried Sassoon. The book’s critics included his Dublin-born father, Percival Graves. His own autobiography – To Return to All That – was a response to his son, castigating him for ‘his bitter and hasty criticism of people who never wished him harm.’

In 1934, he published his most successful work, I, Claudius. Later, from 1961 to 1966, Graves was Professor of Poetry at Oxford. During that period, Graves was on a shortlist of writers considered for the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature, along with Lawrence Durrell, Jean Anouilh and Karen Blixen, but the prize was awarded to John Steinbeck.

Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick … Robert Graves paid a return visit in May 1975 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

More most of his life, Graves lived in Majorca. In May 1975, he returned to Limerick to visit his grandfather’s grave at Saint Mary’s Cathedral. His visit was arranged by the poet John Montague and Garech Browne of Claddagh Records, and he was guest of the Knight of Glin at Glin Castle. In Saint Mary’s Cathedral, he was welcomed by Dean Walton Empey, later Archbishop of Dublin, who told him of his grandfather’s contribution to the restoration of the cathedral.

Graves was among 16 Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled by Ted Hughes in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey on 11 November 1985. The inscription on the stone was written by Wilfred Owen: ‘My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.’ Of the 16 poets, Graves was the only one still living at the time. The other war poets honoured included Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, but not ‘Woodbine Willie.’

Graves died within a month, in Majorca on 7 December 1985, at the age of 90.

The Locke Bar has hosted celebrations of Robert Graves organised by the Limerick Writers’ Centre, and in 2014 the centre unveiled a commemorative plaque to Graves at the Locke Bar … he would have been amused that the name of his regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, is misspelled.

The plaque unveiled by the Limerick Writers’ Centre in 2014 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Notes for a visit to the church
and glebehouse in Castletown

Castletown Church was built in 1831 by James Pain and the Waller family for Kilcornan Parish, Co Limerick, in (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Castletown Church, which is being visited this afternoon [21 May 2017] by members of the Thomond Archaeological and Historical Society, is one of the many churches designed by the Limerick-based architect James Pain (1779-1877). The church was commissioned by the Board of First Fruits, which gave grants and loans for building churches and glebe houses and offered financial aid to needy clergy.

The work of the Board of First Fruits led to a period of intensive church building in the Church of Ireland in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Between 1779 and 1829, the Board of First Fruits built, rebuilt or enlarged 697 churches and 829 glebe houses. Among these are Castletown Church.

However, the most significant benefactor in the building of Castletown Church was John Waller (1763-1836), the owner of Castetown Manor.

John Waller was the son of John T Waller and Elizabeth Maunsell, and he later became an MP for Limerick. He married Isabella Oliver of Castle Oliver and was a captain in the Kerry Cavalry, one of regiments raised during the era of Grattan’s Parliament.

Waller was an MP for Co Limerick in the Irish House of Commons from 1790, and was MP for Kilmallock when he voted against the Act of Union. After the Union, he was elected MP for Co Limerick in 1801, but he had not taken his seat at Westminster by 25 March 1801, there is no evidence that he engaged in post-Union parliamentary activity, and he stood down in 1802.

He was one of Napoleon’s détenus at Verdun, and in 1805 he declined an unexpected offer of liberation instigated by his former fellow scholar, Arthur O’Connor, informing Napoleon that although private and family considerations made him extremely anxious to return to Ireland, he would rather die a prisoner than owe his liberty to a man who had proved himself a traitor to his King and an enemy to his country.

When John Waller died on 14 November 1836, he was buried in the Waller Vault in Castletown cemetery, and was succeeded by his brother, Bolton Waller.

Castletown Church, which was built for the Parish of Kilcornan, cost a total of £1,500. Of this, £700, together with the site, was an outright gift from John Waller. Moreover, Waller undertook to pay off the balance of £800, which had been obtained as a loan from the Board of First Fruits.

James Pain (1779-1877), the architect of Castletown Church, was a son of James Pain, a surveyor and builder. He was born in Isleworth, Middlesex, in 1779, and he and his younger brother, George Pain (1792-1838), were apprenticed to John Nash (1752-1835), the architect responsible for much of the layout of Regency London under the patronage of the Prince Regent.

The Pain brothers came to Ireland in 1811 to supervise building Lough Cultra Castle in Gort, Co Limerick, which John Nash had designed for Charles Vereker. Both brothers settled in Ireland and they built up a considerable practice. James Pain settled in Limerick, while George lived in Cork.

The buildings they designed or worked on include Dromoland Castle, Co Clare; Saint Columba’s Church, Drumcliffe, Ennis, Co Clare; Saint Mary’s Church, Shandon, Cork; Saint Patrick’s Church, Cork; Holy Trinity Church, Cork; Blackrock Castle, Cork; Baal’s Bridge, Thomond Bridge, and Athlunkard Bridge, all in Limerick City; Limerick Gaol; and part of Adare Manor, where James Pain was replaced as architect by AWN Pugin.

In 1824, James Pain was appointed architect for the Board of First Fruits in Munster. He designed and built a great number of the Church of Ireland churches and glebehouses in Co Limerick, including the glebehouse or old rectory in Askeaton, which stands beside the Rectory where I am now living, and perhaps Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, one of the churches in this group of parishes.

Inside Castletown Church, near Pallaskenry, Co Limerick, which was built in 1831 for Kilcornan Parish (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Castletown Church has an unusual orientation: must churches are built on an east-west axis, but this church is on a north-side axis. It has a three-bay, gable-fronted nave, with a square-profile three-stage tower to the south elevation (the liturgical west end), with square-profile, multiple-gabled, single-storey vestries to the geographical east and west elevations of the tower.

There is a pitched slate roof, with cast-iron rainwater goods, cut limestone eaves course and limestone copings to the gables.

There are pitched slate roofs to the porches, with cut limestone eaves courses and copings and finials to the gables.

There is a terracotta chimney-pot to the west-facing gable of the west porch. There are cut limestone eaves course and crenellations to the top of tower, and the square-profile cut limestone finials have pointed caps.

The walls are of random coursed rubble limestone with cut limestone quoins. There is a cut limestone plinth course to the south elevation of the tower and the side porches. There is a square-headed plaque recess to the south elevation of the tower, with cut limestone surround.

The pointed arch openings to the north, east and west elevations of the nave have cut tooled limestone surrounds, sill and hood-moulding, with a timber-traceried window. The pointed arch openings to the south elevation of the porches have cut and tooled limestone surrounds and sills, cut limestone hood moulding and timber sliding sash windows.

The pointed arch opening to second stage of the tower on the south elevation has a cut tooled limestone surround, sill, hood moulding and timber-framed window.

There are paired lancet openings to each elevation of third stage of tower, with cut tooled limestone surrounds, sills, cut limestone hood-moulding and timber louvered vents. There are four-centred arch openings to south elevation of tower and east and west elevations of east and west porches, with tooled cut limestone surrounds and double-leaf timber battened doors, with cut limestone hood-moulding to those to the east and west porches and cut limestone label moulding to the south elevation of tower. The entrances have limestone steps.

This church displays a high level of architectural design and detailing, most notably in its imposing square-profile crenellated tower and flanking porches. Its cut limestone finials, crenellations and eaves courses, as well as the hood-mouldings to the doors and window openings, add an element of contrast to the rubble stone walls, while the variety of timber tracery to the windows add artistic interest.

The setting of Castletown Church within a graveyard adds context to the site, and the church makes a notable addition to the surrounding landscape.

The former glebe house in Castletown is the second on the site … was James Pain the architect (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The former glebehouse in Castletown, which was the traditional residence of the Rectors of Kilcornan, was built in 1810. However, there is no information about the architect of the building. This was the second glebehouse on the site, replacing a house that was burned down in 1735, when the Revd Roger Throp was the rector.

Throp blamed Colonel John Waller for the fire and for shooting dead his ‘valuable’ saddle horse, describing Waller as his ‘bitter and vindictive enemy.’ Throp died a year after the fire in 1736. Later, Dean Jonathan Swift lampooned Waller in a well-known balled, ‘The Legion Club’, including the lines:

See the scowling visage drop,
just as when he murdered Throp.


Captain John Waller, a son of the man lampooned by Dean Swift, gave the site and paid for building Castletown Church.

The main part of the glebe house consists of a three-bay, two-storey house, with a recessed four-bay, two-storey addition on the east side. There is a hipped slate roof with rendered chimney stacks and terra cotta ridge tiles.

Before recent renovations, there were large nine-over-six pane windows to the south and six-over-six pane windows to the north. However, this arrangement was changed in recent times.

There is a round-headed opening to the south elevation, flanked by timber pilasters, with fluted consoles. There is a fanlight over the front door. To the south of the house are the remains of a walled garden. The restraint in ornamentation adds symmetry to the building and focuses on the front entrance.

Originally, 60 acres of land were attached to the glebe house. In 1850, Griffith’s Valuation lists only 57 acres, and this was gradually reduced over the years. The Church of Ireland sold the glebe house some years ago and it is now in private ownership.

Meanwhile, James Pain lived on in Limerick to the great age of 98. Although he continued in practice, he appears to have received very few substantial commissions after the early 1840s. His last large commission appears to have been the addition of a west wing and other alterations to Knoppogue Castle, Co Clare, begun in 1856, while he continued as architect to the Board of Superintendence of Co Limerick Gaol until 1863.

Pain died on 13 December 1877, at the age of 97, and was buried in the Vereker family vault in the churchyard of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, on 17 December 1877.

The monument to Bolton Waller in Castletown Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

John Waller (1763-1836) of Castletown Manor and estate, who initiated the building of Castletown Church, was the son of John T Waller and Elizabeth Maunsell, and he later became an MP for Limerick. He married Isabella Oliver of Castle Oliver and was buried in the Waller vault in Castletown cemetery.

John Waller was succeeded by his brother, Bolton Waller. Bolton Waller died in 1854 and his son and heir, the Revd William Waller, held a large estate in the early 1850s, mainly in the parish of Kilcornan. His son, the Revd John Thomas Waller of Castletown, was Rector of Kilcornan and still owned 6,636 acres in Co Limerick in the 1870s. He died in 1911.

His grandson, John Thomas Waller, sold the Waller family’s Castletown estate in 1936.

The monument to the Revd William Waller in Castletown Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The last Rector of Kilcornan to live in Castletown Rectory was the Revd George McCann (1899-1974). George McCann was born in Lurgan, Co Armagh, the son of James McCann, Principal of Queen’s Place School, Lurgan. He moved to Dublin and was educated at Marlborough Street School and Trinity College Dublin (BA 1930, MA 1935), where he was Bedell Scholar (1928) and winner of the Kyle Irish Prize in 1929. He was ordained deacon in 1930 and priest in 1931.

His was as a curate in Saint Peter’s, Dublin (1930-1934), curate in Oldcastle, Co Meath (1934-1938), and curate-in-charge at Kilmacshalgan, Co Sligo (1938-1944), before coming to this diocese as Rector of Dingle (1944-1954) and then Rector of Askeaton and Kilcornan (1954-1973). He married Sarah Maude, daughter of Robert Stephens, and they had a daughter, Gráinne. He died in February 1974, just as he was retiring as rector. He is buried in the churchyard, where is gravestone has an inscription in the Irish languahe.

Some years ago, the Church of Ireland sold the glebe house, and it is now in private ownership. But this former glebehouse retains much of its original form and is characteristic of glebe houses of that period.

The monument to the Revd John Thomas Waller in Castletown Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. These notes were prepared for a visit to Castletown Church by members of the Thomond Archaeological and Historical Society on 21 May 2017.

‘Whoever saves a life
has saved the entire world’

‘Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world’ … the Oskar Schindler factory in Kraków (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 24 May 2017: The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tarbert, Co Kerry,


11.30 a.m.: The Eucharist.

Readings: Acts 17: 22-31; Psalm 66: 7-18; 1 Peter 3: 13-22; John 14: 15-21.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen

If the truth were to be told, many Christians find it difficult to live a life that is truly Trinitarian.

We may think we understand our relationship with God the Father, the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

We may think we have an even clearer understanding of our relationship with God the Son … after all, we know every last detail of his biography; his CV has been the subject of every Sunday School and Confirmation class we attended; his CV fills and shapes our Church Calendar and the stained glass windows in many of our parish churches.

But what about the Holy Spirit?

If we were to ask most people, they probably think of the Holy Spirit as some invisible appendix of God the Father and God the Son, ‘something’ or ‘someone’ that comes down at Pentecost. Perhaps, ‘something’ or ‘someone’ that gave us gifts at Confirmation. But that ‘something’ or ‘someone’ is best not talked about too much in case someone thinks we are too enthusiastic about Christianity, too enthusiastic about religion.

We become uncomfortable about the Holy Spirit when we think about enthusiastic and uncontrolled expressions of charismatic Pentecostalism.

Our access to thinking about God the Holy Spirit is made more difficult when we think about the images of the Holy Spirit provided in the traditions of Christian art: a dove that is shown in paintings and stained-glass windows that looks a lot like a homing pigeon; or tongues of fire dancing around the meekly-bowed heads of people cowering together as they hide in an upstairs room.

We think, perhaps, that it is best to leave sermons about the Holy Spirit to the Day of Pentecost – which is two weeks from today [4 June 2017] – or to a once-a-year Confirmation service, and we are having three confirmations in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, two weeks after Pentecost [18 June 2017], four weeks from today.

But we might be in danger of slipping into the idea that it is best to let the rest of us get on for the rest of the year with God being God the Father or God the Son.

However, the Holy Spirit is not something added on as an extra course, as an after-thought after the Resurrection and Ascension.

We find it difficult to think of the pre-existence of Christ. What was he doing before the Annunciation? Sunday after Sunday, we confess in the Nicene Creed that ‘Through him all things were made.’ But we still find it difficult in our prayer and inner spirituality to think of the Eternal Christ.

And when it comes to saying, ‘We believe in the Holy Spirit,’ do we really believe in the Holy Spirit as ‘the Lord, the giver of life,’ in the Holy Spirit as the way in which God ‘has spoken through the prophets’?

I am a regular blogger. My sons worry that my friends may think I’m a bit of a ‘Geek.’

I post on the internet almost every day. But I really am not a geek. All I post is my lecture notes, my sermons, and some rambling thoughts about walking on the beach, or about travelling and local history, or about my love of music and poetry.

It takes very little extra work. I still need to write up my notes for these sermons or for those lectures. And I have very little way of knowing whether these notes and ramblings have any impact once they go out into cyberspace.

Some years ago, when I faced up to some personal difficulties and wrestled with them, I posted on my blog some reflections on how my mind kept returning to those reassuring words from Dame Julian of Norwich: ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.’

I wrote how Julian’s positive outlook does not come from ignoring suffering or being blind to it, but arises from the clarity she attained as she struggled with her own questions. This struggle gave her the ability to see beyond her own pain and suffering, and to look into the compassionate face of God. Only this gazing could reassure her that – despite pain, and sorrow – in God’s own time, ‘all shall be well.’

Almost immediately, a former work colleague rang to know if I was all right. He offered a friendly ear, and his response was comforting and consoling.

Over the years, there have been some other responses to this posting. Then, some years after it was first posted, an anonymous reader posted, saying: ‘Thank you for this gift. [I r]eceived very difficult news this past week and kept looking for a silver lining – some way to give thanks to God for what has happened in my life …

‘In reading the words “All shall be well . . .” was a great reminder of the hope that Christ gives us and as well, that Christ is with us each second of the day. Thank you again for the reminder of “God with us” no matter what.’

It was a response out of the blue, and it put my own difficulties then in perspective. Years later, someone else had found comfort in my own reflections on my own sorrows.

I do not know who this person is, or where she lives. All I know is that she is a chaplain.

But if this was the only blog-post that I had a response to, if this was the only reader I had all these years, then all the other blog-posts have been worth it. We cannot control, quantify or restrict the way in which the Holy Spirit uses or values our work, or uses us to work with others. And for most of the time, we are better off not knowing.

‘He himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things’ (Acts 17: 25) ... the steps up the Areopgaus in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I was sharing this experience with some colleagues some time ago. And I was reminded of a saying in the Talmud – one of the most sacred texts of ancient Judaism: ‘Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world’ [Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4: 1 (22a); Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a.]

It is a saying found throughout Rabbinic literature, that is repeated in the Quran, and, as I was reminded when I was in Kraków and Auschwitz six months ago, a saying that inspired Oskar Schindler, the hero of the movie Schindler’s List.

I was sharing this story over dinner one evening with some clerical colleagues and friends.

One colleague told me of a man who had turned up in his church for a quiet mid-day service. The man is now in his mid-40s, and was visiting Ireland on a business trip. He had often visited churches and cathedrals, but had never before been so moved as he was by this mid-day Eucharist. He approached my friend afterwards and asked for a quiet moment.

He wanted to be baptised ... there and then.

My colleague asked him to wait, to come back in an hour or two. And he did. Two parishioners stood as sponsors or godparents. The whole thing was over in 10 or 15 minutes. The man rang his wife full of joy. He felt he had arrived where he ought to be. Outwardly, he was full of joy. Inwardly, he had arrived, he was at home, he had found his peace with God.

What had happened? The Holy Spirit had moved, and he had responded.

‘Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.’

Acts 17: 22-31 ... the Apostle Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

God never leaves us alone.

This is what the Apostle Paul is saying at the Areopagus in Athens in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning (Acts 17: 22-31). The people who worshipped the unknown God on the slopes beneath the shadow of the Acropolis could be assured that God had heard their prayers, and they were now being invited to join in communion with this God through Saint Paul’s proclamation.

And, because the Resurrection breaks through all the barriers of time and space, the Apostle Peter tells us this morning that even in death Christ brought the good news to those who died before the Incarnation: ‘also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison’ (I Peter 3: 19).

God leaves no-one without the opportunity to be drawn into his infinite love, no-one, despite the barriers of time and space, the barriers of history or geography, the barriers of social or religious distinction.

And as a sign or a token of this, as a promise of this, Christ says in our Gospel reading this morning that he is asking ‘the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you’ (John 14: 16-17).

If you know the Spirit, and the Spirit abides in you, how would you let others know?

If the Holy Spirit is the Advocate and is living in you, then who are you an advocate for?

Who do you speak up for when there is no-one else to speak up for them?

Who are you, in your own small, quiet, undramatic way, a voice for, like Oskar Schindler?

I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit works in so many ways that we cannot understand. And that the Holy Spirit works best and works most often in the quiet small ways rather than in the big dramatic ways.

Let us never put down or dismiss the small efforts to make this a better world. ‘Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.’

Gandhi once said: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ And he also said: ‘Only he who is foolish enough to believe that he can change the world, really changes it.’

And sometimes, even when it seems foolish, sometimes, even when it seems extravagant, it is worth being led by the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit may be leading us to surprising places, and leading others to be there too.

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

The Holy Spirit descending as a dove ... part of a triptych in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collect:

God our redeemer,
you have delivered us from the power of darkness
and brought us into the kingdom of your Son:
Grant, that as by his death he has recalled us to life,
so by his continual presence in us he may raise us to eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer:

God our Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ gives the water of eternal life:
May we also thirst for you,
the spring of life and source of goodness,
through him who is alive and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

John 16: 5-16

<Ο Ιησούς είπε> 5 νῦν δὲ ὑπάγω πρὸς τὸν πέμψαντά με, καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐξ ὑμῶν ἐρωτᾷ με, Ποῦ ὑπάγεις; 6 ἀλλ' ὅτι ταῦτα λελάληκα ὑμῖν ἡ λύπη πεπλήρωκεν ὑμῶν τὴν καρδίαν. 7 ἀλλ' ἐγὼ τὴν ἀλήθειαν λέγω ὑμῖν, συμφέρει ὑμῖν ἵνα ἐγὼ ἀπέλθω. ἐὰν γὰρ μὴ ἀπέλθω, ὁ παράκλητος οὐκ ἐλεύσεται πρὸς ὑμᾶς: ἐὰν δὲ πορευθῶ, πέμψω αὐτὸν πρὸς ὑμᾶς. 8 καὶ ἐλθὼν ἐκεῖνος ἐλέγξει τὸν κόσμον περὶ ἁμαρτίας καὶ περὶ δικαιοσύνης καὶ περὶ κρίσεως: 9 περὶ ἁμαρτίας μέν, ὅτι οὐ πιστεύουσιν εἰς ἐμέ: 10 περὶ δικαιοσύνης δέ, ὅτι πρὸς τὸν πατέρα ὑπάγω καὶ οὐκέτι θεωρεῖτέ με: 11 περὶ δὲ κρίσεως, ὅτι ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτου κέκριται.

12 Ἔτι πολλὰ ἔχω ὑμῖν λέγειν, ἀλλ' οὐ δύνασθε βαστάζειν ἄρτι: 13 ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ ἐκεῖνος, τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας, ὁδηγήσει ὑμᾶς ἐν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ πάσῃ: οὐ γὰρ λαλήσει ἀφ' ἑαυτοῦ, ἀλλ' ὅσα ἀκούσει λαλήσει, καὶ τὰ ἐρχόμενα ἀναγγελεῖ ὑμῖν. 14 ἐκεῖνος ἐμὲ δοξάσει, ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ ἐμοῦ λήμψεται καὶ ἀναγγελεῖ ὑμῖν. 15 πάντα ὅσα ἔχει ὁ πατὴρ ἐμά ἐστιν: διὰ τοῦτο εἶπον ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ ἐμοῦ λαμβάνει καὶ ἀναγγελεῖ ὑμῖν.

16 Μικρὸν καὶ οὐκέτι θεωρεῖτέ με, καὶ πάλιν μικρὸν καὶ ὄψεσθέ με.

Translation (NRSV):

[Jesus said:] ‘5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

12 ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

16 ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.’

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is the Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was preapared for Sunday 21 May 2017.

‘He himself gives to all mortals
life and breath and all things’

‘He himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things’ (Acts 17: 25) ... the steps up the Areopgaus in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 24 May 2017: The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick,


9.45 a.m.: Morning Prayer.

Readings: Acts 17: 22-31; Psalm 66: 7-18; 1 Peter 3: 13-22; John 14: 15-21.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen

If the truth were to be told, many Christians find it difficult to live a life that is truly Trinitarian.

We may think we understand our relationship with God the Father, the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

We may think we have an even clearer understanding of our relationship with God the Son … after all, we know every last detail of his biography; his CV has been the subject of every Sunday School and Confirmation class we attended; his CV fills and shapes our Church Calendar and the stained glass windows in many of our parish churches.

But what about the Holy Spirit?

If we were to ask most people, they probably think of the Holy Spirit as some invisible appendix of God the Father and God the Son, ‘something’ or ‘someone’ that comes down at Pentecost. Perhaps, ‘something’ or ‘someone’ that gave us gifts at Confirmation. But that ‘something’ or ‘someone’ is best not talked about too much in case someone thinks we are too enthusiastic about Christianity, too enthusiastic about religion.

We become uncomfortable about the Holy Spirit when we think about enthusiastic and uncontrolled expressions of charismatic Pentecostalism.

Our access to thinking about God the Holy Spirit is made more difficult when we think about the images of the Holy Spirit provided in the traditions of Christian art: a dove that is shown in paintings and stained-glass windows that looks a lot like a homing pigeon; or tongues of fire dancing around the meekly-bowed heads of people cowering together as they hide in an upstairs room.

We think, perhaps, that it is best to leave sermons about the Holy Spirit to the Day of Pentecost – which is two weeks from today [4 June 2017] – or to a once-a-year Confirmation service, and we are having three confirmations in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, two weeks after Pentecost [18 June 2017], four weeks from today.

But we might be in danger of slipping into the idea that it is best to let the rest of us get on for the rest of the year with God being God the Father or God the Son.

However, the Holy Spirit is not something added on as an extra course, as an after-thought after the Resurrection and Ascension.

We find it difficult to think of the pre-existence of Christ. What was he doing before the Annunciation? Sunday after Sunday, we confess in the Nicene Creed that ‘Through him all things were made.’ But we still find it difficult in our prayer and inner spirituality to think of the Eternal Christ.

And when it comes to saying, ‘We believe in the Holy Spirit,’ do we really believe in the Holy Spirit as ‘the Lord, the giver of life,’ in the Holy Spirit as the way in which God ‘has spoken through the prophets’?

I am a regular blogger. My sons worry that my friends may think I’m a bit of a ‘Geek.’

I post on the internet almost every day. But I really am not a geek. All I post is my lecture notes, my sermons, and some rambling thoughts about walking on the beach, or about travelling and local history, or about my love of music and poetry.

It takes very little extra work. I still need to write up my notes for these sermons or for those lectures. And I have very little way of knowing whether these notes and ramblings have any impact once they go out into cyberspace.

Some years ago, when I faced up to some personal difficulties and wrestled with them, I posted on my blog some reflections on how my mind kept returning to those reassuring words from Dame Julian of Norwich: ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.’

I wrote how Julian’s positive outlook does not come from ignoring suffering or being blind to it, but arises from the clarity she attained as she struggled with her own questions. This struggle gave her the ability to see beyond her own pain and suffering, and to look into the compassionate face of God. Only this gazing could reassure her that – despite pain, and sorrow – in God’s own time, ‘all shall be well.’

Almost immediately, a former work colleague rang to know if I was all right. He offered a friendly ear, and his response was comforting and consoling.

Over the years, there have been some other responses to this posting. Then, some years after it was first posted, an anonymous reader posted, saying: ‘Thank you for this gift. [I r]eceived very difficult news this past week and kept looking for a silver lining – some way to give thanks to God for what has happened in my life …

‘In reading the words “All shall be well . . .” was a great reminder of the hope that Christ gives us and as well, that Christ is with us each second of the day. Thank you again for the reminder of “God with us” no matter what.’

It was a response out of the blue, and it put my own difficulties then in perspective. Years later, someone else had found comfort in my own reflections on my own sorrows.

I do not know who this person is, or where she lives. All I know is that she is a chaplain.

But if this was the only blog-post that I had a response to, if this was the only reader I had all these years, then all the other blog-posts have been worth it. We cannot control, quantify or restrict the way in which the Holy Spirit uses or values our work, or uses us to work with others. And for most of the time, we are better off not knowing.

‘Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world’ … the Oskar Schindler factory in Kraków (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

I was sharing this experience with some colleagues some time ago. And I was reminded of a saying in the Talmud – one of the most sacred texts of ancient Judaism: ‘Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world’ [Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4: 1 (22a); Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a.]

It is a saying found throughout Rabbinic literature, that is repeated in the Quran, and, as I was reminded when I was in Kraków and Auschwitz six months ago, a saying that inspired Oskar Schindler, the hero of the movie Schindler’s List.

I was sharing this story over dinner one evening with some clerical colleagues and friends.

One colleague told me of a man who had turned up in his church for a quiet mid-day service. The man is now in his mid-40s, and was visiting Ireland on a business trip. He had often visited churches and cathedrals, but had never before been so moved as he was by this mid-day Eucharist. He approached my friend afterwards and asked for a quiet moment.

He wanted to be baptised ... there and then.

My colleague asked him to wait, to come back in an hour or two. And he did. Two parishioners stood as sponsors or godparents. The whole thing was over in 10 or 15 minutes. The man rang his wife full of joy. He felt he had arrived where he ought to be. Outwardly, he was full of joy. Inwardly, he had arrived, he was at home, he had found his peace with God.

What had happened? The Holy Spirit had moved, and he had responded.

‘Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.’

Acts 17: 22-31 ... the Apostle Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

God never leaves us alone.

This is what the Apostle Paul is saying at the Areopagus in Athens in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning (Acts 17: 22-31). The people who worshipped the unknown God on the slopes beneath the shadow of the Acropolis could be assured that God had heard their prayers, and they were now being invited to join in communion with this God through Saint Paul’s proclamation.

And, because the Resurrection breaks through all the barriers of time and space, the Apostle Peter tells us this morning that even in death Christ brought the good news to those who died before the Incarnation: ‘also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison’ (I Peter 3: 19).

God leaves no-one without the opportunity to be drawn into his infinite love, no-one, despite the barriers of time and space, the barriers of history or geography, the barriers of social or religious distinction.

And as a sign or a token of this, as a promise of this, Christ says in our Gospel reading this morning that he is asking ‘the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you’ (John 14: 16-17).

If you know the Spirit, and the Spirit abides in you, how would you let others know?

If the Holy Spirit is the Advocate and is living in you, then who are you an advocate for?

Who do you speak up for when there is no-one else to speak up for them?

Who are you, in your own small, quiet, undramatic way, a voice for, like Oskar Schindler?

I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit works in so many ways that we cannot understand. And that the Holy Spirit works best and works most often in the quiet small ways rather than in the big dramatic ways.

Let us never put down or dismiss the small efforts to make this a better world. ‘Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.’

Gandhi once said: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ And he also said: ‘Only he who is foolish enough to believe that he can change the world, really changes it.’

And sometimes, even when it seems foolish, sometimes, even when it seems extravagant, it is worth being led by the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit may be leading us to surprising places, and leading others to be there too.

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

The Holy Spirit descending as a dove ... part of a triptych in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collect:

God our redeemer,
you have delivered us from the power of darkness
and brought us into the kingdom of your Son:
Grant, that as by his death he has recalled us to life,
so by his continual presence in us he may raise us to eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

John 16: 5-16

<Ο Ιησούς είπε> 5 νῦν δὲ ὑπάγω πρὸς τὸν πέμψαντά με, καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐξ ὑμῶν ἐρωτᾷ με, Ποῦ ὑπάγεις; 6 ἀλλ' ὅτι ταῦτα λελάληκα ὑμῖν ἡ λύπη πεπλήρωκεν ὑμῶν τὴν καρδίαν. 7 ἀλλ' ἐγὼ τὴν ἀλήθειαν λέγω ὑμῖν, συμφέρει ὑμῖν ἵνα ἐγὼ ἀπέλθω. ἐὰν γὰρ μὴ ἀπέλθω, ὁ παράκλητος οὐκ ἐλεύσεται πρὸς ὑμᾶς: ἐὰν δὲ πορευθῶ, πέμψω αὐτὸν πρὸς ὑμᾶς. 8 καὶ ἐλθὼν ἐκεῖνος ἐλέγξει τὸν κόσμον περὶ ἁμαρτίας καὶ περὶ δικαιοσύνης καὶ περὶ κρίσεως: 9 περὶ ἁμαρτίας μέν, ὅτι οὐ πιστεύουσιν εἰς ἐμέ: 10 περὶ δικαιοσύνης δέ, ὅτι πρὸς τὸν πατέρα ὑπάγω καὶ οὐκέτι θεωρεῖτέ με: 11 περὶ δὲ κρίσεως, ὅτι ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτου κέκριται.

12 Ἔτι πολλὰ ἔχω ὑμῖν λέγειν, ἀλλ' οὐ δύνασθε βαστάζειν ἄρτι: 13 ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ ἐκεῖνος, τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας, ὁδηγήσει ὑμᾶς ἐν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ πάσῃ: οὐ γὰρ λαλήσει ἀφ' ἑαυτοῦ, ἀλλ' ὅσα ἀκούσει λαλήσει, καὶ τὰ ἐρχόμενα ἀναγγελεῖ ὑμῖν. 14 ἐκεῖνος ἐμὲ δοξάσει, ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ ἐμοῦ λήμψεται καὶ ἀναγγελεῖ ὑμῖν. 15 πάντα ὅσα ἔχει ὁ πατὴρ ἐμά ἐστιν: διὰ τοῦτο εἶπον ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ ἐμοῦ λαμβάνει καὶ ἀναγγελεῖ ὑμῖν.

16 Μικρὸν καὶ οὐκέτι θεωρεῖτέ με, καὶ πάλιν μικρὸν καὶ ὄψεσθέ με.

Translation (NRSV):

[Jesus said:] ‘5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

12 ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

16 ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.’

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is the Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for Sunday 21 May 2017.