Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Saint Saviour’s continues
the 800-year Dominican
connection with Limerick

Saint Saviour’s Church stands on an important corner in the centre of Georgian Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

The Dominicans first came to Limerick almost 800 years ago in 1227. When the Dominican friars announced two years ago that they were leaving the city, a Dominican order of nuns based in Nashville, Tennessee, came to the rescue and agreed to keep the church open.

The Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia arrived in Limerick from Nashville last August [2016], and their presence keeps open an 800-year Dominican association with the city, while priests continue to celebrate Mass in the church every day.

Saint Saviour’s on the corner of Glentworth Street and Baker Place is a Gothic Revival Church that has been altered and added to over the past two centuries. But it brings together in one building the work of many of the most important church architects in Ireland, including James Pain, James Joseph McCarthy, William Wallace, George Goldie, and Ashlin and Coleman.

The church in Glentworth Street dates back to 1815-1816, when the Dominicans moved from their Penal-era chapel on Fish Lane under the leadership of the Dominican Prior, Father Joseph Harrigan.

Edmund Henry Pery (1758-1844), 1st Earl of Limerick, donated the land to the Dominicans. The corner site faces onto Baker Place and Dominick Street, and the east end of the church faces directly onto Griffith’s Row. It faces Saint Michael’s Church of Ireland parish church, and the two churches bookend Pery Street, giving these two Gothic-style churches an visible ecumenical impact and an important architectural role in the Georgian area around Pery Square.

The original church was a plain Gothic church designed by James Pain. The foundation stone was laid on 27 March 1815 in the presence of Dr Charles Tuohy, Bishop of Limerick, and the Provincial of the Dominicans, Father Patrick Gibbons, and the church was consecrated on 6 July 1816.

There is no Saint Saviour, needless to say, and the actual dedication is to the Most Holy Saviour Transfigured, a popular dedication for Dominican churches, with similar foundations in Dublin and Waterford, for example.

Father Joseph Harrigan, the main inspiration for building the church in 1816, died on 23 January 1838, and is buried in Saint Saviour’s.

This is probably the Gothic church William Makepeace Thackeray refers to dismissively during his visit to Limerick in 1842.

Inside Saint Saviour’s … the church brings together the work of many key 19th century church architects (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Some repairs and alterations designed by JJ McCarthy in 1860 were carried out by John Ryan. McCarthy's work in Limerick included Saint Mary’s Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, Saint Senanus Church, Foynes, and Cahermoyle House, the home of the family of William Smith O’Brien.

More extensive work was carried out immediately afterwards by the Limerick-born architect William Wallace, who renovated the church in 1861-1864. He added a clerestory, raising the height of the church by 20 ft, and added the rose window.

At the same time, George Goldie (1828-1887) of Goldie and Child designed a new chancel, high altar, reredos, tabernacle and east window in 1863-1666. In 1870 Goldie and Child remodelled the interior and exterior and the work was supervised by Maurice Alphonsus Hennessy of Limerick.

The altar is the work of the Cheltenham sculptor Richard Lockwood Bolton (1832-1905), the only example of his work that I know of in Ireland. The Gothic Revival marble and polished granite reredos, with a centrally-placed pinnacled tabernacle, is the work of the Cork sculptor Patrick Scannell. There is a large mural of the Transfiguration over the altar arch.

The East End stained glass window of the Transfiguration was by William Wailes of Newcastle, and dates from 1866. The communion rails and gates were designed by Ashlin and Coleman in 1927.

To the right of the high altar is the 17th century oak statue of Our Lady of Limerick, brought to Limerick from Flanders by Patrick Sarsfield in 1640 in reparation for the death sentence passed on Sir John Burke of Brittas by his uncle, Judge Dominic Sarsfield. For many years, the statue was buried in a box in the graveyard at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, along with the Sarsfield Chalice.

A three-sided canted choir and organ gallery at the west end of the nave is supported by marbelised cast-iron columns and an elaborate timber pier rising from a limestone base.

The Sacred Heart Chapel off the north aisle is the work of George Coppinger Ashlin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The Sacred Heart Chapel off the north aisle, also called the Carbery chapel, dates from 1896-1899 and is the work of George Coppinger Ashlin. It is enclosed by a wrought-iron and brass balustrade, with a raised tiled platform, mosaic tiled walls, and a plastered groin vaulted ceiling.

The chapel off the south aisle is dedicated to Saint Martin de Porres and dates from 1960.

The stained-glass windows in the south aisle show different religious figures: two Dominicans saints, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Albert; Saint Mary Magdalene and Saint Luke the Evangelist; Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Dominic; Saint William and Saint Margaret; and the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph.

The frescoes on both sides of the centre aisle of Dominicans saints are the work of Father Aengus Buckley, who also painted the fresco of ‘The Triumph of the Cross’ over the chancel arch in 1951.

An oratory in the church remembers Bishop Terence Albert O’Brien of Emly, a Dominican who was hanged in the abbey ruins in 1651 for his resistance to the Cromwellian siege of Limerick. he had received the statue and chalice from Patrick Sarsfield, and was buried with them in the churchyard at Saint Mary's Cathedral. This is yet another reminder of the long connection the Dominicans have had with Limerick over the generations and down through the centuries.

The choir and organ gallery at the west end is supported by columns and a timber pier (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

How Thackeray found ‘the fragrance
of the Congo on the Shannon shore’

Thackeray was taken aback by his first impressions when he arrived by boat at the quays in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

I was naturally drawn to the war poets Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon when I was writing about Limerick’s literary connections in recent days. Both poets were stationed in Limerick 100 years ago, were strongly critical in their work of modern warfare, and wrote affectionately of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.

Robert Graves was a grandson of Bishop Charles Graves of Limerick, and visited his grave in the cathedral churchyard; Siegfried Sassoon found that ‘by the time I had been at Limerick a week I had found something closely resembling peace of mind,’ and later recalled the ‘bells tolling from Limerick Cathedral; much nicer than sirens from Bryant and May’s factory.’

A very different writer who had a very different impression of Limerick and of Saint Mary’s Cathedral was the 19th century English novelist, William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863).

Thackeray was famous for his satirical works, particularly Vanity Fair, a panoramic portrait of English society. During the Victorian era, he was ranked second only to Charles Dickens, although he is much less widely read today.

In Thackeray’s day, some commentators including Anthony Trollope ranked his History of Henry Esmond as his greatest work, perhaps because it expressed Victorian values of duty and earnestness, as did some of his other later novels.

The Luck of Barry Lyndon (1844) tells of the exploits of a fictional 18th century Irish adventurer. It was filmed as Barry Lyndon by Stanley Kubrick in 1975, starring Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee and Hardy Krüger, with many of the scenes shot on location in Ireland.

In the 1840s, Thackeray had some success with two travel books, The Paris Sketch Book and The Irish Sketch Book (1843). His Irish travel book appealed to British prejudices of the day, and landed Thackeray the position of Punch’s Irish expert, often under the pseudonym Hibernis Hibernior. In this role, Thackeray was chiefly responsible for Punch’s hostile and condescending depictions of the Irish during the Great Famine.

Thackeray had spent four months travelling around Ireland in 1842 and wrote an account of his journey in The Irish Sketch Book, which remains one of the most detailed and colourful surveys of Irish hotels ever written.

In Limerick, he stayed at ‘one of the best inns in Ireland - the large, neat, and prosperous one kept by Mr Cruise.’ This was the Royal Mail Coach Hotel or Cruise’s Hotel. There He was delighted to meet the proprietor, which he claimed was a rare occurrence in Ireland where hoteliers ‘commonly (and very naturally) prefer riding with the hounds, or manly sports, to attendance on their guests.’

He arrived in Limerick by boat, and his first impressions seem to have taken him aback: ‘… you are, at first, half led to believe that you had arrived in a second Liverpool, so tall are the warehouses and broad the quays: so neat and trim a street of near a mile which stretches before you.’

He found the men handsome and the women pretty: ‘If the women of the place are pretty, indeed the vulgar are scarcely less so, I never saw a greater number of kind, pleasing, clever-looking faces among any sort of people.’

‘The great street of Limerick is altogether a very brilliant and animated sight’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

He was overcome by the sight of King George’s Street (now O’Connell Street): ‘The houses are bright red – the street is full and gay, carriages and cars in plenty go jingling by – dragoons in red are every now and then clattering up the street, and as upon every car which passes with ladies in it you are sure (I don’t know how it is) to see a pretty one, the great street of Limerick is altogether a very brilliant and animated sight.’

However, his first impressions soon faded: ‘But even this mile-long street does not, in a few minutes, appear to be so wealthy and prosperous as it shows at first glance: for of the population that throngs the streets, two-fifths are bare-footed women, and two-fifths more ragged men: and the most part of the shops which have a grand show with them, appear when looked into, to be no better than they should be, being empty make-shift looking places, with their best goods outside.’

He contrasted the lives he saw on the streets of Limerick: ‘Here, in this handsome street too, is a handsome club-house, with plenty of idlers you may be sure, lolling at the portico; likewise you see numerous young officers, with very tight waists and absurd brass shell-epaulettes to their little absurd brass shell epaulettes to their little absurd frock coats, walking the pavement – the dandies of the street. Then you behold troops of pear, apple and plum women, selling very raw, green looking fruit, which indeed, it is a wonder that anyone should eat and live.’

Thackeray wrote disparagingly of ‘the nasty streets’ and ‘the still more nasty back lanes’ of Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In Irishtown, Thackeray witnessed a different side of Limerick, and wrote of ‘a labyrinth of busy swarming poverty and squalid commerce as never was seen … Here every house almost was half a ruin and swarming with people.’

He wrote: ‘Look out of the nasty streets into the still more nasty back lanes; there they are, sprawling at every door and court, paddling in every puddle; and in about a fair proportion to every six children an old woman – a very old, blear-eyed, ragged woman – who makes believe to sell something out of a basket, and is perpetually calling upon the name of the Lord … In these crowded streets, where all are beggars, the beggary is but small: only the very old and hideous venture to ask for a penny, otherwise the competition would be too great.’

As he crossed the river, he noticed Barrington’s Hospital, which he described as ‘a handsome hospital.’ But he was not at all impressed by Saint Mary’s Cathedral nearby. He described it as ‘the old cathedral, a barbarous old turreted edifice – of the fourteenth century it is said: how different to the sumptuous elegance which characterises the English and continental churches of the same period.’

Some years after visiting Limerick, Thackeray caused offence with his comic song ‘The Battle of Limerick,’ which trivialises the Young Ireland movement and mocks and mimics Irish accents – although William Carleton remarked that he ‘writes very well about Ireland, for an Englishman.’

At the height of Young Ireland activities in 1848, the Confederate leaders, William Smith O’Brien and Thomas Francis Meagher, proposed to make a tour of the main towns of Munster to review the local Repealers. The tour began at Limerick, where a soirée was held on 29 April. But the presence among the guests of John Mitchel, who had recently given offence by an attack on the memory of Daniel O’Connell, inflamed the mob, and in the fray which ensued O’Brien was struck by a man who had failed to recognise him.

The Battle of Limerick, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Ye Genii of the nation,
Who look with veneration,
And Ireland’s desolation onsaysingly deplore;
Ye sons of General Jackson,
Who thrample on the Saxon,
Attend to the thransaction upon Shannon shore.

When William, Duke of Schumbug,
A tyrant and a humbug,
With cannon and with thunder on our city bore,
Our fortitude and valliance
Insthructed his battalions
To rispict the galliant Irish upon Shannon shore.

Since that capitulation,
No city in this nation
So grand a reputation could boast before,
As Limerick prodigious,
That stands with quays and bridges,
And the ships up to the windies of the Shannon shore.

A chief of ancient line,
’Tis William Smith O’Brine,
Reprisints this darling Limerick, this ten years or more:
O the Saxons can’t endure
To see him on the flure,
And thrimble at the Cicero from Shannon shore!

This valiant son of Mars
Had been to visit Par’s
That land of Revolution, that grows the tricolor;
And to welcome his returrn
From pilgrimages furren,
We invited him to tay on the Shannon shore!

Then we summoned to our board
Young Meagher of the Sword;
’Tis he will sheathe that battle-axe in Saxon gore:
And Mitchil of Belfast
We bade to our repast,
To dthrink a dish of coffee on the Shannon shore.

Convaniently to hould
These patriots so bould,
We tuck the opportunity of Tim Doolan’s store;
And with ornamints and banners
(As becomes gintale good manners)
We made the lovliest tay-room upon Shannon shore.

’Twould binifit your sowls,
To see the butthered rowls,
The sugar-tongs and sangwidges and craim galyore,
And the muffins and the crumpets,
And the band of harps and thrumpets,
To celebrate the sworry upon Shannon shore.

Sure the Imperor of Bohay
Would be proud to dthrink the tay
That Misthress Biddy Rooney for O’Brine did pour,
And, since the days of Strongbow,
There never was such Congo –
Mitchil dthrank six quarts of it – by Shannon shore.

But Clarndon and Corry
Connellan beheld this sworry
With rage and imulation in their black heart’s core;
And they hired a gang of ruffins
To interrupt the muffins
And the fragrance of the Congo on the Shannon shore.

When full of tay and cake,
O’Brine began to spake;
But juice a one could hear him, for a sudden roar
Of a ragamuffin rout
Began to yell and shout,
And frighten the propriety of Shannon shore.

As Smith O’Brine harangued,
They batthered and they banged;
Tim Doolan’s doors and windies down they tore;
They smashed the lovely windies
(Hung with muslin from the Indies),
Purshuing of their shindies upon Shannon shore.

With throwing of brickbats,
Drowned puppies and dead rats,
These ruffin democrats themselves did lower;
Tin kettles, rotten eggs,
Cabbage-stalks, and wooden legs,
They flung among the patriots of Shannon Shore.

O the girls began to scrame
And upset the milk and crame;
And the honourable gintlemen, they cursed and swore:
And Mitchil of Belfast,
’Twas he that looked aghast,
When they roasted him in effigy by Shannon shore.

O the lovely tay was spilt
On that day of Ireland’s guilt;
Says Jack Mitchil, “I am kilt! Boys, where’s the back door?
’Tis a national disgrace:
Let me go and veil me face;”
And he boulted with quick pace from the Shannon shore.

“Cut down the bloody horde!”
Says Meagher of the Sword,
“This conduct would disgrace any blackamore;”
But the best use Tommy made
Of his famous battle blade
Was to cut his own stick from the Shannon shore.

Immortal Smith O’Brine
Was raging like a line;
’Twould have done your sowl good to have heard him roar;
In his glory he arose,
And he rush’d upon his foes,
But they hit him on the nose by the Shannon shore.

Then the Futt and the Dthragoons
In squadthrons and platoons,
With their music playing chunes, down upon us bore;
And they bate the rattatoo,
But the Peelers came in view,
And ended the shaloo on the Shannon shore.


Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Two examples of 19th century
stucco on Limerick’s streets

The Olio e Farina Bottega on Little Catherine Street… an example of Limerick’s collection of stucco façades (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I was writing yesterday about the way the streets of Limerick are richly laden with fine example of 19th and early 20th century stucco work, and I wrote how one exuberant example of this stucco work is found at the Mechanics Institute on Hartstonge Street.

Two further examples of this stucco work can be seen in the O&F Bottega at Nos 2 and 3 Little Catherine Street, on the corner with Limerick Lane, and the Athenaeum on Cecil Street.

Olio e Farina, where I had lunch last week, is housed in a substantial pair of buildings on a narrow street in the heart of Limerick. These two buildings, with a unique classically-inspired stucco composition, are unified by the elaborate yet curious façade treatment and a large gable and decorative shopfront, so that these premises add to the architectural interest of this part of the city centre.

The building incorporates neighbouring three-storey and four-storey buildings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

This four-bay, three-storey building was built ca 1810, and is made up of a three-storey building on the south side and a four-storey building on the north side. A shopfront was inserted to the ground floor and both structures were given stucco façades in 1827, according to two plaques that declare: ‘Established 1827.’

There is a pitched natural slate roof to the four-storey section, with a large dormer inserted to the front and the rear. There is a heavy parapet entablature to the four-storey elevation with a pair of console brackets to both side elevations and a substantial rendered chimney-stack with a cornice.

The roof of the three-storey section is hidden behind the parapet wall with a cast-iron railing and a stringcourse below. The painted rendered walls to the front elevation have quoins at either end, and plain render to the side and rear.

‘Established’ … ‘1827’ … stucco lettering on the building (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The rendered panel on the second floor between both structures has the word ‘Established,’ which relates to the plaque with the date ‘1827’ above the shopfront.

The square-headed window openings have decorative stuccoed surrounds, moulded sills and a profiled rendered sill course to the second floor of the three-bay section, with replacement aluminium windows throughout.

The painted rendered elaborate shopfront of both sections comprises five pilasters on plinth bases with composite capitals and cornice above. Between the second central pilasters is the recessed panel with the elaborate date plaque above the cornice. There is an arched fixed-pane window with an architrave surround and a scrolled keystone and a pair of polished granite colonnettes with capitals.

The round-headed door opening has a pyramidal keystone architrave surround and a double-leaf timber-panelled door. This arrangement was presumably repeated on the three-storey section but has since been removed and replaced by a modern timber shopfront.

The Athenaeum Building is a classical pedimented stuccoed building dating from the 1830s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

On Cecil Street, the Athenaeum Building is a classical pedimented stuccoed building, built to the designs of John Fogerty, county engineer, as the headquarters of Saint Michael’s Parish Commissioners.

The building designed by John Fogarty in 1833-1834 as the offices of Saint Michael’s Parish Commissioners and served as the town hall for Newtown Pery for 20 years until 1854. It is designed in a restrained manner, without excessive detailing to distract from its pleasant classical proportions.

The name Athenaeum, also spelled Athenæum or Atheneum, is used for many institutions of literary, scientific, or artistic study, and is derived from Athena, the Greek goddess of arts and wisdom.

John Wilson Croker founded the Athenaeum Club in London in 1823, beginning an international movement for the promotion of literary and scientific learning. Croker came from a family with strong connections with Co Limerick, and other founder members of his club included William Blake, Robert Peel, Lord John Russell, Sir Walter Scott, Michael Faraday, William M. Turner, and others. The club published a literary and scientific journal, The Athenaeum, which continued until 1921.

The Athenaeum movement spread throughout the world. In England, similarly named clubs were founded in Bristol, Leeds, London, and Manchester. In Ireland, the Cork Athenaeum was built by public subscription in 1853, and later became the Cork Opera House. Dublin had an Athenaeum at 43 Grafton Street in 1856, and there is still an Athenaeum in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.

The founder of the Limerick Athenaeum was William Lane Joynt, who was unique in being elected Mayor of Limerick in 1862 and Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1867. Lane Joynt had been apprenticed as a solicitor to Matthew Barrington. In 1853, as president of the Limerick Literary and Scientific Society, Lane Joynt proposed establishing a Limerick Athenaeum.

One of the first subscribers to the Limerick Athenaeum was Sir Richard Bourke, Governor of New South Wales in Australia. The building at No 2 Upper Cecil Street was bought from Limerick Corporation in February 1855, and work began on its conversion to a public lecture theatre, school of art and library.

It reopened on 3 December 1855 with classes provided by the School of Ornamental Art. The new Athenaeum Hall, which was built beside the original building, opened to the public on 3 January 1856, with the first Annual General Meeting of the Athenaeum Society. It was described as the ‘finest hall for its special purposes, in Ireland.’ Natural light came from three domes in the high roof, and it had an orchestra gallery and seating for up to 600 people.

The building was both a lecture hall and a theatre, intended for both entertainment and education. The first show = in January 1856, was a multimedia panorama show of the Crimean War. Many of the leading international theatrical figures performed in the Athenaeum in the years that followed, including: Catherine Hayes, the Limerick-born diva, who gave a benefit performance of Handel’s Messiah; General Tom Thumb and PT Barnum; Percy French; and Count John McCormack.

The Athenaeum also hosted lectures and debates, and the speakers included Oscar Wilde as well as Irish political figures William Smith O’Brien, Charles Stewart Parnell, Michael Davitt, Isaac Butt, John Redmond, Sir Roger Casement, Patrick Pearse and Maud Gonne; and also John Bright, the English orator, abolitionist and statesman; Christabel Pankhurst, suffragette and daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst; and Michael Cusack, co-founder of the GAA.

Many of Limerick’s leading sporting clubs were founded in the rooms of the Athenaeum, including Limerick Boat Club (1870), Garryowen Football Club (1884) and Limerick Golf Club (1891).

Meanwhile, William Lane Joynt died in Dublin in 1895, and is buried in Saint John’s Churchyard, Limerick. A year later, control of the Athenaeum passed to Limerick Corporation and the Technical Education Committee (later the Vocational Education Committee) in 1896. In 1912, the Technical Education classes and part of the Limerick School of Art moved from the Athenaeum to new premises on O’Connell Avenue.

The lecture hall was then leased out by the Technical Education Committee and the Athenaeum Hall began to double as a theatre and cinema in the early 1900s, reopening as the Athenaeum Permanent Picturedrome.

When Juno and the Paycock an Alfred Hitchcock adaption of Seán O’Casey’s play, was shown in October 1930, it had only one showing when members of the Limerick Confraternity raided the projection box and stole two reels of the film which were later burnt outside the cinema by a mob of at least 20 men in Cecil Street.

With the outbreak of World War II, the tenants surrendered the lease in 1941, and despite sporadic openings over the next few years, the last films were shown in the Athenaeum Cinema in November 1946.

The new Royal Cinema opened on 17 November 1947. The last film was screened at the cinema in 1985. The dereliction of the old Athenaeum continued until 1989, when it was bought by a local businessman who had hopes of opening a new theatre.

Many of the architectural features of the original hall were carefully restored, including the three ceiling domes. Performers included Mary Black, and – after a fire and further renovations – the Cranberries, the Corrs, Boyzone, Dolores Keane, Sharon Shannon, Don Baker, Paul Brady, Davy Spillane, Liam Ó Maonlaí, Julian Lloyd Webber and the Saw Doctors. A sequence of Father Ted was filmed in the theatre in 1995. Despite the relative success of the venue, however, the Theatre Royal closed for the last time in 1998.

The original Athenaeum Building was used as a school from the 1940s to the 1960s and was known in Limerick as the ‘One Day’ Boys School. In 1973, the City VEC moved from O’Connell Street to the Athenaeum, and a refurbishment programme was completed in 2003.

Today, the Athenaeum still stands as the focal point of Cecil Street, and with the theatre it has an important place in this part of Georgian Limerick.

Stucco detailing on the building at 2-3 Little Catherine Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

‘Bells tolling from Limerick
Cathedral; much nicer than
sirens from Bryant and May’s’

Exploring the area around of Adare, Siegfried Sassoon wrote: ‘Quite unexpectedly I came in sight of a wide river, washing and hastening past the ivied stones of a ruined castle among some ancient trees’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Recently, I stopped for at the Locke Bar on George’s Quay in Limerick and I wrote last week about the associations of the Locke Bar with the poet and writer Robert Graves (1895-1985), who had many family connections with Limerick, and who was stationed with the Royal Welch Regiment in Limerick in 1918.

Another war poet who was stationed in Limerick at the same time in World War I was Siegfried Sassoon, a friend of Robert Graves and who found in Limerick the Ireland he had imagined.

Siegfried Loraine Sassoon (1886-1967) was grew up in Weirleigh, a neo-gothic mansion in Kent. His Jewish father, Alfred Ezra Sassoon (1861-1895), was a member of a wealthy merchant family that had moved a generation earlier from Baghdad. His mother Theresa Thornycroft was an Anglo-Catholic, and she named him Siegfried because of her love of Wagner’s operas and Loraine after a priest friend.

Sassoon read history at Clare College, Cambridge, from 1905 to 1907. But he went down from Cambridge without a degree and spent the next few years hunting, playing cricket and writing poetry. On the outbreak of World War I, he joined the army in 1914, but was not sent to the front until the following year.

On 1 November 1915, his younger brother Hamo was killed in the Gallipoli Campaign. In the same month, Siegfried, now an officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, was sent to France, where he met Robert Graves. They became close friends, united by their poetic vocation, and they often read and discussed each other’s work.

Sassoon's periods of duty on the Western Front were marked by exceptionally brave actions, including the single-handed capture of a German trench in the Hindenburg Line. Armed with grenades, he scattered sixty German soldiers. On 27 July 1916, he was awarded the Military Cross for ‘conspicuous gallantry during a raid on the enemy’s trenches. He remained for 1½ hours under rifle and bomb fire collecting and bringing in our wounded. Owing to his courage and determination all the killed and wounded were brought in.’

On 16 April 1917, Sassoon was wounded by a German sniper while he was leading his company in an attack at Fontaine-les-Croisilles. While he was recovering from his wounds back in England, Sassoon’s growing anger at the political mismanagement of the war compelled him to write a scathing attack, that earned him public notoriety after it was read aloud in the House of Commons.

He wrote: ‘I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.’

At this point, Robert Graves intervened and persuaded the authorities that Sassoon was too mentally and physically unwell to face punishment. He also persuaded Sassoon himself to ‘drop this anti-war business’ on the grounds that his protest was in vain. Whatever he did the war would go on ‘until one side or the other cracked,’ meanwhile he would simply be accused of cowardice and his pacifism dismissed as lunacy.

A panel of army doctors quickly decreed that Sassoon was ‘suffering from a nervous breakdown and not responsible for his actions.’ Unwilling to risk the adverse publicity that would accompany the court martial of a man decorated for celebrated acts of bravery, the under-secretary for war declared that Sassoon was suffering from shell shock and had him sent to a military psychiatric hospital at Craiglockhart, near Edinburgh.

In hospital, Sassoon wrote his poem, Survivors, showing his contempt for the authorities who patched-up shattered soldiers only to return them to the front. It also reveals much about the tortured state of his own mind:

No doubt they’ll soon get well; the shock and strain
Have caused their stammering, disconnected talk.
Of course they’re ‘longing to go out again,’ —
These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk.
They’ll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed
Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died, —
Their dreams that drip with murder; and they’ll be proud
Of glorious war that shatter’d all their pride ...
Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;
Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.


Without changing his views, Sassoon finally accepted the futility of continuing his protest and persuaded the Review Board at Craiglockhart that he should be passed for General Service and returned to the war on the Western Front.

On 26 December 1917, Sassoon left Edinburgh for the Royal Welch Fusiliers regimental depot at Litherland, near Liverpool. On arriving, however, he discovered that the 3rd Battalion had been sent to Limerick, to replace an Irish battalion, and that he was to join them there in the New Year.

After a train journey to Holyhead in north Wales, Sassoon sailed to Dublin and arrived in Limerick on 7 January 1918. He was stationed in the New Barracks, now Sarsfield Barracks, and his first impressions of the city, as noted in his diary, appear quite favourable.

Almost immediately, Sassoon began to fall under the spell of the Irish countryside and to forget the horrors he had witnessed in France. ‘By the time I had been at Limerick a week I had found something closely resembling peace of mind.’

‘Bells tolling from Limerick Cathedral; much nicer than sirens from Bryant and May’s factory’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

He seems to have appreciated the sound of the bells of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and wrote: ‘Bells tolling from Limerick Cathedral; much nicer than sirens from Bryant and May’s factory’ in Litherland.

Exploring the area around of Adare, Sassoon wrote: ‘Quite unexpectedly I came in sight of a wide river, washing and hastening past the ivied stones of a ruined castle among some ancient trees. The evening light touched it all into romance, and I indulged in ruminations appropriate to the scene.’

With few duties to keep him busy at the barracks, Sassoon saw the opportunity to indulge in his favourite pre-war pastime of fox-hunting, and he began to make inquiries with the local hunt: ‘Never had I galloped over such richly verdant fields or seen such depth of blue in distant hill. It was difficult to believe that such a thing as `trouble' existed in Ireland.’

During the following month, Sassoon ranged far and wide across some of the finest horse riding country in Ireland, losing himself in the fields and hedgerows around Croom and Fedamore, near Adare, Friarstown, south of Limerick, and Castle Hewson, 4 km east of Askeaton, and being wined and dined in the grand houses of the fox-hunting gentry.

During an anti-gas training course in Cork, Sassoon went Absent Without Leave (AWOL) so he could ride with the Muskerry Hounds.

Yet despite the apparent tranquillity, Sassoon was disturbed: ‘It was difficult to believe that such a thing as ‘trouble’ existed in Ireland, or that our majors were talking in apprehensive undertones about being sent out with mobile columns – the mere idea of our mellow majors going out with mobile columns seemed slightly ludicrous. But there it was. The Irish were being troublesome – extremely troublesome – and no one knew much more than that, except that our mobile columns would probably make them worse.’

Later still, the threat became more personal when Sassoon and a fellow officer broke their journey in a village pub and the owner, a man named Finnegan, prophetically warned, ‘There’ll be houses burnt and lives lost before the year’s ended, and you officers ... had better be out of Ireland than in it, if you set value on your skins.’

However, Siegfried Sassoon did not remain in Ireland long enough to experience the looking violence. On his last morning in Limerick, 8 February 1918, he rode with a hunt to Ballingarry, south of Rathkeale, and said farewell to the land he had grown to love and that had provided an escape from the nightmare of trench warfare.

He would recall: ‘I felt a bit mournful as my eyes took in the country with its distant villages and gleams of water, its green fields and white cottages, and the hazy transparent hills on the horizon – sometimes silver-grey and sometimes that deep azure which I’d seen nowhere but in Ireland.’

Back in France, he once again ‘became part of the war machine which needed so much flesh and blood to keep it working.’ But Sassoon’s military career was soon over. He was shot in the head by ‘friendly fire’ and was invalided home.

After World War I, Sassoon was instrumental in bringing Wilfrid Owen’s war poems to the attention of a wider audience. Sassoon’s social conscience pushed him toward involvement with Labour politics. He became literary editor for Britain’s first socialist daily newspaper, the Daily Herald, and he played an active role in the Miners’ Strike in 1921 and the General Strike in 1926.

After the success of his War Poems, Sassoon received critical acclaim for his slightly fictional autobiography Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, for which he was awarded the Hawthornden Prize in 1929.

Having had a succession of homosexual relationships, Sassoon surprised his friends when married Hester Gatty in 1933, and they had a son, George Sassoon (1936-2006). By late 1944, however, the marriage had failed and Sassoon began to live a reclusive life at Heytesbury House in Wiltshire.

His literary work continued to display a deep spirituality and search for inner peace. His search was satisfied by his conversion to Roman Catholicism, and Father Sebastian Moore admitted him to the Roman Catholic Church at Downside Abbey in Somerset in 1957.

He remained a sponsor of the Peace Pledge Union until he died 50 years ago on 1 September 1967, at the age of 80.

Thatched cottages in Adare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Monday, 29 May 2017

The Mechanics’ Institute and
Limerick’s stucco façades

The Mechanics’ Institute … fills the rear of the site of No 6 Pery Street, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

The streets of Limerick are richly laden with fine example of 19th and early 20th century stucco work.

One of the exuberant examples of this stucco work is found at the Mechanics Institute, is a substantial stucco-fronted building on Hartstonge Street that fills the entire site at the rear of No 6 Pery Square.

Despite the sad-looking replacement windows, this is an interesting example of an early 20th century, classically-styled clubhouse. This seven-bay single-storey building was built ca 1920.

It has a pitched natural slate roof with black clay ridge tiles and cast-iron rainwater goods. There is cement coping to the parapet wall, with a shaped gable flanked by a pair of console brackets to the first and last bays, and these form shallow breakfronts.

The building has painted rendered walls with a cornice spanning the entire façade and that are stepped at breakfronts with a dentilated course, and with a plinth course at the ground level.

The breakfronts are framed by pilasters, each with a moulded foliate oval wreath. There are four square-headed window openings, each with a large keystone, concrete sill, uPVC window and modern mild steel railings.

The east breakfront has a round-arched door opening with a spoked timber fanlight over double-leaf timber doors. A similar arch to the west breakfront is blind and has a shield with a coat of arms. There is a further round-arched door opening with a fanlight and double-leaf doors.

A plaque with an arm and hammer carries the motto: ‘Labor Omnia Vincit Mechanics’ Institute Limerick founded 1810.’ The Latin phrase Labor Omnia Vincit (‘Work Conquers All’). This Latin phrase, which became a popular trade union slogan across the world in the 19th century, is adapted from Virgil’s Georgics, Book I, lines 145-146: Labor omnia vicit / improbus (‘Steady work overcame all things’). The poem was written in support of Augustus Caesar’s ‘Back to the land’ policy, aimed at encouraging more Romans to become farmers.

The Plasterers’ Arms on the façade of the Mechanics Institute in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The coat-of-arms on the façade is that of the plasterers’ union and the text reads: ‘AD1670 Regular Operative Plasterers Society Brotherly Love Continued.’

The Operatives’ Plasterers is the oldest trade union in Ireland, with a history stretching back to 1670. On 13 December 1893, the Regular Stucco Plasterers’ Trade Union of the City of Dublin registered as a trade union. Since then, it has grown from a small Dublin-based society of around 250 plasterers to a national union, with around 1,000 members in the Operative Plasterers and Allied Trades Society of Ireland.

My great-grandfather, James Comerford (1817-1902) from Newtownbarry (Bunclody), Co Wexford, and many members of his extended family played key roles in the forming the new union at the end of Victorian era, and I was elected an honorary life member when the union celebrated its centenary. But the union has always claimed direct continuity with the city of Dublin Guild of Bricklayers and Carpenters, and the guild’s coat-of-arms, which the union continues to use, is displayed in stucco on the façade of the Mechanics’ Institute in Limerick.

A Dublin Plasterer, William D’Arcy, who was secretary of the Plasterers’ Society with 220 members, told a government inquiry in 1838 that his society was 175 or 167 years old, tracing it back to the foundation of the Guild of Saint Bartholomew of Plasterers and Bricklayers in 1670.

The Royal Charter granted by King Charles II in 1670 to the combined craft of Plasterers and Bricklayers gave legal authority to the working rules established between handicraft masters (employers), journeymen (day workers) and apprentices within the city of Dublin. Although the guild was not a trade union, it could fix prices, wages and hours, regulate apprenticeships, provide charity and maintain the standards of arts and mysteries of the trade.

The old guilds were dominated by the masters and the members exercised political and commercial power as freemen of Dublin, giving them direct representation on the city council and the right to vote in parliamentary elections. Anyone who was not a member of the Established Church of Ireland was excluded from membership.

As the Operative Plasterers’ Society expanded, branches were formed in Cork, Carlow, Leix, Mullingar, Mallow, Wexford and Clonmel among many others.

The members of the Limerick branch also have a long history of militant defence of the craft and workers’ rights, and many of the journeymen of the day were involved in the Limerick Soviet. The Limerick branch works out of the Mechanics’ Institute, which is the only working Mechanics Institute left on these isles.

Although the lettering on the façade on the Mechanics’ Institute in Hartstonge Street appears to claim a history dating back to 1810, the first such institute, the London Mechanics’ Institute, opened on 2 December 1823, and the first Mechanics’ Institute in Ireland opened in Dublin in 1824.

In the following year, similar institutes opened in 1825 in Limerick, as well as Armagh, Belfast, Cork, Galway and Waterford. These were followed by Carrick-on-Suir, Cashel, Coleraine and Tipperary. By the time the Mechanics’ Institute was established in Clonmel in 1842, there were 200 such institutions on these islands.

When I worked in the Wexford People in the 1970s, the shop front and the editorial offices were housed in the former Mechanics’ Institute on North Main Street.

The institutes were primarily facilities for members of the traditional crafts and the craft unions, and in hard times the rent on the Limerick premises was often paid by the Bakers’ Union. Due to a chronic shortage of money, the Limerick institute never reached its full potential. It was unable to provide lectures for the members, had no apparatus or equipment, and its main activities were confined to a reading room and library with books and newspaper.

Despite its early foundation date in 1825, a lecture in the Athenaeum in Cecil Street by William Smith O’Brien on 19 December 1857 was described as the ‘inaugural lecture.’

In the 19th century, the institute building was in Bank Place before moving to No 5 Glentworth Street, a building once owned by the Roches, one of the great merchant families in Limerick.

Later, the Mechanics’ Institute moved to No 6 Pery Square, a large Georgian Housed on the corner of Pery Square and Hartstonge Street. The composer Franz Liszt was a guest in this house when he visited Limerick in 1841.

The institute was known popularly as ‘the Bars,’ probably because unemployed members gathered at the railings outside No 6. The records of many Limerick craft unions, including the bakers, were kept in the cellar until a misguided caretaker decided to use them for fuel in the furnace.

The Mechanics’ Institute sold the house on Pery Square in the 1960s to pay off accumulated debts, but held onto the Assembly Hall in Hartstonge Street. The date 1810 outside refers not to the date of the formation of the Mechanics’ Institute, or the Operative Plasterers’ union, but to the Limerick Council of Trade Unions, which was formed in 1810 and still has offices in this interesting building.

Stucco decoration on the façade of the Mechanics’ Institute (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Curraghchase and the search for
the elusive Lady Clara Vere de Vere

The house at Curraghchase was the home of the Hunt and de Vere family for almost three centuries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

During the weekend, I went for a walk at Curraghchase Forest Park, through the woods and around the lake, stopping for coffee in the De Vere Café and to see the once great-stately home which has inspired poets and writers through the generations.

Curraghchase is just 6 km east of the Rectory in Askeaton, but this was my first time to visit it since I moved here four months ago. It lies half-way between Askeaton and Adare and about 20 km west of Limerick City. The forest park covers about 3 sq km (774 acres) and includes a number of interesting archaeological remain as well as tourist trails and a popular camping and caravan park.

For almost 300 years, this was the family estate of the Hunt and de Vere families. Many generations of the family are buried in the churchyard at Saint Mary’s, Askeaton, and the family including the de Vere baronets and the poet Aubrey Thomas de Vere.

The house was probably built on the site of Curragh Castle, which is mentioned in the late mediaeval Desmond Roll and was originally owned by John FitzGerald. In 1657, the estate became the property of Vere Hunt, who acquired vast tracts of land in Co Limerick and Co Tipperary in the mid-17th century. He was an officer in Cromwell’s army in Ireland and claimed indirect descent from the Earls of Oxford, who traced their ancestry back to Aubrey de Vere in the reign of William the Conqueror.

The estate continued in the hands of the Hunt and de Vere family for almost 300 years. In 1703, John Hunt expanded the family estates with further land acquisitions and purchases in Co Limerick.

A descendant of this family, Sir Vere Hunt (1761-1818), was given the title of baronet in 1784, the year he married Elinor Pery, a sister of the 1st Earl of Limerick. At the Act of Union, he was the last sitting MP for the Borough of Askeaton.

His son, Sir Aubrey Hunt, who succeeded as the second baronet, changed his surname to de Vere in 1832, becoming Sir Aubrey de Vere. When he changed his surname by royal licence to reflect his descent from the de Veres of Oxford, he also changed the name of the family house and estate from Curragh to Curraghchase.

The house at Curraghchase was rebuilt for Sir Aubrey de Vere by the Regency architect Amon Henry Wilds in 1829 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The existing house dates from the early 19th century, when it was rebuilt by Sir Aubrey de Vere. The new house was designed in 1829 by the fashionable Regency architect Amon Henry Wilds (1784-1857).

Wilds was an English architect who also worked on Pery Square in Limerick. Wilds was part of a team of three architects and builders who are better known for developing Brighton in the early 19th century, with the houses, hotels, churches and social venues that give Brighton its distinctive Regency character.

This was a detached, 11-bay two-storey over half-basement house, built ca 1750, with two adjoining fronts, the shorter one dating to the 18th century, the longer front dating from ca 1829.

Walking through the woods at Curraghchase at the weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Sir Aubrey was a poet and a friend of the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), who was a regular guest at Curraghchase and wrote the poem ‘Lady Clara Vere de Vere,’ still famed for the lines:

Kind hearts are more than coronets,
and simple faith than Norman blood.


It is said that Tennyson wrote the poem to show his close friendship with the family. But the poem shows disdain for the fictitious Lady Clara, her aloof airs and her snobbery – indeed, no baronet would have claimed a coronet and no baronet’s daughter would have called herself ‘Lady Clara.’ Tennyson shows his contempt for these pretensions by dropping her assumed title in the last two stanzas.

Of course, there never was a Lady Clara Vere de Vere. But earlier maps show a ‘Lady’s Island’ on the lake below the house at Curraghchase. During one visit, Tennyson told of seeing the mystic arm of the ‘Lady of the Lake’ thrust above the waters. A century and a half later, it still said that on Christmas Eve each year, the burning figure of a woman can be seen floating along the waters of the lake.

Lines from Sir Aubrey de Vere in the De Vere Café at Curraghchade (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Sir Aubrey married Mary Rice of Mount Trenchard, Co Limerick, and they had five sons. When his eldest son and successor, the third baronet, Sir Vere Edmond de Vere (1808-1880), died without a male heir, the tile passed to his next brother, Sir Stephen Edward de Vere (1812-1904), the fourth and last baronet.

As a student, Stephen de Vere was influenced by the Oxford Movement, and in 1847 he became a Roman Catholic. That year, at the height of the famine, the future Sir Stephen sailed on a ‘coffin ship’ with emigrants to North America to see the conditions that were causing the deaths of so many passengers.

In the 1850s, Stephen built a smaller house on Foynes Island in the River Shannon, adjacent to the port town of Foynes, about 20 km (12 miles) east of Curraghchase. There he wrote poems, political pamphlets and translated several editions of the works of Horace, considered by some as the best English translation of Horace's verses.

He was a Liberal MP for Co Limerick (1854-1859), and was High Sheriff of Co Limerick in 1870. He built Saint Senanus Church, a Gothic church in Foynes designed by JJ McCarthy, and is buried beside it. On his death in 1904 the family title of baronet died out too.

His younger brother, the poet Aubrey Thomas de Vere (1814-1902), was a poet and critic too. The younger Aubrey recalled that in his youth the lake at the bottom of the house was a rich meadow when he was in his youth. A slender stream divided this meadow. Across the lake, a monument to the de Vere family stands on a small hill. Near the house, there is a small cemetery for the de Vere family pets.

Aubrey de Vere’s work was influenced by his decision to follow his brother and to leave the Church of Ireland for the Roman Catholic Church in 1851. He was a prolific writer, and his Poetical Works were published in six volumes in 1884. He is best known for A Lyrical Chronicle of Ireland (1862) and his Famine relief tract, English Misrule and Irish Misdeeds (1848).

‘Little Heaven’ ... where Aubrey de Vere meditated (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The younger Aubrey recalled that the lake at the bottom of the house was a rich meadow when he was in his youth. A stone seat behind the house is marked as the place where he sat for hours and meditated. He died at Curraghchase on 21 January 1902, at the age of 88, and was buried in Saint Mary’s Churchyard, Askeaton.

Neither Sir Stephen Edward de Vere nor his younger brother Aubrey Thomas de Vere had children, and so when they died the family title died out too. Meanwhile, the family estates had passed to their nephews Aubrey Vere O’Brien, who inherited Curragh Chase in 1898 and assumed the name de Vere in 1899, and Robert Vere O’Brien, who inherited the farm on Foynes Island.

In 1906, the house at Curraghchase was home to Henrietta L de Vere. By the 1930s, it was the home of Robert Stephen Vere de Vere (1872-1936). He was born Robert Stephen Vere O’Brien but 1899 his name was legally changed by royal licence to Robert Stephen Vere de Vere, so that the de Vere name would continue at Curraghchase. He was a son-in-law of Bishop Handley Moule of Durham, Chief Justice of Seychelles (1928-1931) and Chief Justice of Grenada (1931-1935).

The main entrance to the estate at Curraghchase (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The house at Curraghchase was accidentally destroyed by fire in December 1941. The house has been derelict ever since, and in 1957 the grounds were bought by the State in 1957. The property is now used for commercial timber, with tourist trails, and a popular camping and caravan park.

Although the fire severely damaged Curraghchase, the house retains much of its original fabric, such as its limestone sills and decorative window surrounds. Its imposing size and austere appearance make a notable impression on the surrounding landscape. The surviving outbuildings and yard at the rear of the house add context to the site.

From the house, we walked down to the artificial lake, on the east side of the house. But there was no sign of the Lady of the Lake or of Lady Clara de Vere. Instead, a pair of swans were carefully tending their signets on the lake, while ducks were nestling in the warm early summer sunshine on the edge of the lake.

‘The lion on your old stone gates / Is not more cold to you than I’ … a side entrance to Curraghchase (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Lady Clara Vere de Vere, by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
Of me you shall not win renown:
You thought to break a country heart
For pastime, ere you went to town.
At me you smiled, but unbeguiled
I saw the snare, and I retired:
The daughter of a hundred Earls,
You are not one to be desired.

Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
I know you proud to bear your name,
Your pride is yet no mate for mine,
Too proud to care from whence I came.
Nor would I break for your sweet sake
A heart that dotes on truer charms.
A simple maiden in her flower
Is worth a hundred coats-of-arms.

Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
Some meeker pupil you must find,
For were you queen of all that is,
I could not stoop to such a mind.
You sought to prove how I could love,
And my disdain is my reply.
The lion on your old stone gates
Is not more cold to you than I.

Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
You put strange memories in my head.
Not thrice your branching limes have blown
Since I beheld young Laurence dead.
Oh your sweet eyes, your low replies:
A great enchantress you may be;
But there was that across his throat
Which you had hardly cared to see.

Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
When thus he met his mother’s view,
She had the passions of her kind,
She spake some certain truths of you.
Indeed I heard one bitter word
That scarce is fit for you to hear;
Her manners had not that repose
Which stamps the caste of Vere de Vere.

Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
There stands a spectre in your hall:
The guilt of blood is at your door:
You changed a wholesome heart to gall.
You held your course without remorse,
To make him trust his modest worth,
And, last, you fixed a vacant stare,
And slew him with your noble birth.

Trust me, Clara Vere de Vere,
From yon blue heavens above us bent,
The gardener Adam and his wife
Smile at the claims of long descent.
Howe’er it be, it seems to me,
’Tis only noble to be good.
Kind hearts are more than coronets,
And simple faith than Norman blood.

I know you, Clara Vere de Vere;
You pine among your halls and towers:
The languid light of your proud eyes
Is wearied of the rolling hours.
In glowing health, with boundless wealth,
But sickening of a vague disease,
You know so ill to deal with time,
You needs must play such pranks as these.

Clara, Clara Vere de Vere,
If Time be heavy on your hands,
Are there no beggars at your gate,
Nor any poor about your lands?
Oh! teach the orphan-boy to read,
Or teach the orphan-girl to sew,
Pray Heaven for a human heart,
And let the foolish yeoman go.

The house at Curraghchase seen from the lake (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Prayers for Manchester in
Castletown and Rathkeale

Candles lit for a vigil for Manchester in Lichfield Cathedral last week

Patrick Comerford

In my sermons this morning [28 May 2017] at Morning Prayer in Castletown Church, Kilcornan, and in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, I tried to discuss the questions that last week’s suicide bombing in Manchester raise for Christian hope and love as come to end of Easter-tide and live in the ‘in-between time’ between the Day of Ascension and the Day of Pentecost.

These thoughts were also reflected in the prayers I read in both church this morning, drawing on prayers that came to my attention through USPG and through Manchester Cathedral.

These were among the prayers this morning:

Prayers for Manchester:

A prayer written by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, for those affected by the bombing in Manchester, and shared by the Anglican mission agency, USPG:

‘In the midst of life we are in death.’
Lord, in a place of pleasure, terror struck,
in a place of life, death came,
Hold us in our shock and grief,
comfort the distressed,
heal the injured,
calm the anxious,
reunite the separated,
console the bereaved,
and give rest and everlasting peace
to those who have died,
for your love never fails
and through the darkness
your light always shines.
Amen.

The Revd Rachel Mann is an Anglican priest and poet. She is the Priest-in-Charge at the Church of Saint Nicholas, Burnage, in Manchester, Resident Poet at Manchester Cathedral, and a regular contributor to The Church Times and the BBC Radio 2’s ‘Pause For Thought.’ Her prayers for Manchester have been shared on her blog and by the Anglican Communion:

Compassionate God,
whose Love dares to dwell in the midst of us.
Be with the people of Manchester today.
Grieve with us in our grief,
search with us as we seek out lost loved ones,
wait with us in the anxiety of unknowing.

Help us to give thanks for the people of Manchester –
warm, open, generous and resilient;
Help us to draw on the spirit of solidarity
and the defiance in loss of this great city.
Be with our emergency services
in this time of trial.

In the midst of our fears,
and the fierce pain of loss;
when our commitment to justice
and mercy and kindness
is tested by death and terror,
be with us, O Lord.

Today let us mourn, let us weep;
meet us in our anger,
fear and disbelief.

Finding hope and love despite
a week of fear in Manchester

Fear, hope and love in Manchester in the past week

Patrick Comerford,

Sunday, 28 May 2017,

The Seventh Sunday of Easter,

The Sunday after Ascension Day.


11.15 a.m.: Holy Communion, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Readings: Acts 1: 6-14; Psalm 68: 1-10, 33-36; I Peter 4: 12-14, 5: 6-11; John 17: 1-11.

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

We are in a strange in-between time in the calendar of the Church this weekend.

On Thursday evening [25 May 2017], we celebrated the Day of the Ascension. Next Sunday [4 June 2017], we are celebrating the Day of Pentecost.

In the meantime, we are in what we might call ‘in-between time.’

In the reading from the Acts of the Apostle on Thursday evening [Acts 1: 1-11] and today [Acts 1: 6-14], two angels in white robes ask the disciples after the Ascension why they are standing around looking up into heaven. In the Gospel reading [Luke 24: 44-53], they return to ‘Jerusalem with great joy,’ and seem to spend the following days in the Temple.

As the story unfolds in the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples, as well as Mary and other women (see verse 14), spend their time in prayer, choosing a successor to Judas, as we are told in this morning’s first reading [Acts 1: 6-14].

Ten days after the Ascension, they are going to be filled with Holy Spirit, who comes as a gift not only to the 12 but to all who are gathered with them, including Mary and the other women, the brothers of Jesus (verse 14), and other followers in Jerusalem – in all, about 120 people (see verse 15).

But for these few days, they and we are in that in-between time, between the Ascension and Pentecost.

It is still the season of Easter, which lasts for 50 days from Easter Day until the Day of Pentecost. But this morning we are still in the Easter season, in that ‘in-between time,’ between the Ascension and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Church on the Day of Pentecost.

Their faith persists, but the promise has not yet been fulfilled.

They wait in hope. But until that promise is fulfilled they are, if you like, transfixed, believing with doing, unable to move from Jerusalem out into the wider word.

Is this the same upper room where they had gathered after the Crucifixion, behind locked doors, filled with fear, until the Risen Christ arrives and, as Saint John’s Gospel tells us, says to them: ‘Peace be with you … Peace be with you … Receive the Holy Spirit … forgive’ (see John 20: 19-23).

Fear can transfix, can immobilise us. It leaves us without peace, without the ability to forgive, without the power to move out into, to engage with the wider world out there.

Sometimes, our own fears leave us without peace, unwilling to forgive, unwilling to move out into the wider world.

And that is what could have happened in Manchester last week.

Fear paralyses, it leaves us without peace, and as we protect ourselves against what we most fear, we decide to define those we are unwilling to forgive so that we can protect ourselves against the unknow, so that we can blame someone for the wrong for which we know we are not guilty.

The Risen Christ tells us: ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28: 20).

But too often we are caught between Ascension Day and Pentecost, waiting but not sure that the kingdom is to come, frightened in the terror and the pain of the present moment.

What happened in Manchester on Monday night has created unspeakable sadness and outrage that has been easier to express.

It is the sort of horror that is experienced day-by-day and week-by-week in Iraq, as we hard on the news this morning, in Egypt, where a large number of Coptic Christians were attacked in recent days, in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan … and so many other parts of the world.

Why does Manchester shock us?

Because we know it so well, because it is so near. It has brought the horrors of the world not just to our screens but to our doorstep. And we feel powerless, we do not know what to do.

Feeling powerless and fearful and not knowing what to do combine to make a deadly cocktail that not only immobilises us but robs us of hope.

Seeing parents frantically waiting and running at the entrance to the arena reminded so many of times we have been waiting for our own children.

The people who were killed on Monday night could be our daughters or grand-daughters. There were parents and grandparents killed too who were the same age as me – even younger.

Many of us remember an IRA bomb in almost the same location in Manchester in 1996 that could have been as devastating.

But hopefully we can also see ourselves in the nurses, the doctors, the police, the emergency responders, who responded immediately, without considering that they might be putting themselves in further danger … the taxi drivers who gave free lifts, the people who opened their doors to strangers late at night to offer comfort and shelter.

We can see ourselves in them. And hopefully we can see the face of God in those who were the victims and those who responded.

For me, the face of Christ was shown in the face of Chris Palmer, a homeless man who was in the foyer begging when the bomb went off. He told the Guardian: ‘It knocked me to the floor and then I got up and instead of running away my gut instinct was to run back and try to help.’ He described how one women with serious leg and head injuries ‘passed away in my arms. She said she had been with her family. I haven’t stopped crying.’

Or in the face of Steve, another homeless man who told ITV he had pulled nails from the arms and faces of screaming children. ‘It had to be done,’ he said. ‘You had to help, if I didn’t help I wouldn’t be able to live with myself for walking away.’

The Mail Online columnist Katie Hopkins in a despicable tweet said there was a ‘need for a final solution.’ She later deleted it, claiming it was a ‘typo.’ Well, she had misspelled Manchester. But the ‘Final Solution,’ as the Nazis called the Holocaust, was no ‘typo’ and cannot be withdrawn.

One stupid candidate in the election even called for the death penalty for suicide bombers. As I thought about that, I just wondered where do people like that draw their inspiration from.

But talk about a ‘Final Solution’ cannot even be contemplated in a civilised Europe. Indeed, it is also beyond the comprehension of people like this that, when you had up the figures, the vast majority of the victims of Isis are actually Muslims.

Instead, however, I was heartened by the Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, who lit a candle that he said symbolised an unquenchable light that no darkness could ever destroy.

Immediately after the attack, he said: ‘Today is a day … to reaffirm our determination that those who murder and maim will never defeat us.’

In what the Manchester Evening News described as ‘an inspirational speech in the aftermath of the tragedy,’ Bishop David told the vigil in Albert Square: ‘You cannot defeat us because love, in the end, is always stronger than hate,’ to rapturous applause. ‘We will pull together because we stand together. Whatever our background, whatever our religion, our beliefs, our politics we will stand together because this city is greater than the forces that align itself against it.’

As Bishop David so wisely noted, ‘Many lives will be lived out, impacted by this tragedy for long years to come. Others have had decades of life ripped away from them … But today is also a day to begin our response. A response that will crush terrorism not by violence but by the power of love. A love which Christians celebrate especially now in Eastertide.’

And this is the Easter hope.

This is the hope that we will never lose our capacity as Christians to live with the Risen Christ, listening to his desire that we should be not afraid, and that we should love one another.

This is the hope we wait for between the glory of the Ascension and the empowering gifts the Holy Spirit gives us and promises us at Pentecost.

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

Bishop David Hamilton lights a candle at the vigil in Albert Square, Manchester

The Collect:

O God the King of Glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ
with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
Mercifully give us faith to know
that, as he promised,
he abides with us on earth to the end of time;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Introduction to the Peace:

Jesus said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives. John 14: 27, 28

Preface:

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who after he had risen from the dead
ascended into heaven,
where he is seated at your right hand to intercede for us
and to prepare a place for us in glory:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Eternal Giver of love and power,
your Son Jesus Christ has sent us into all the world
to preach the gospel of his kingdom.
Confirm us in this mission,
and help us to live the good news we proclaim;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Blessing:

Christ our exalted King
pour on his abundant gifts
make you faithful and strong to do his will
that you may reign with him in glory:
and the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest in Charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for the Parish Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, on Sunday 28 May 2017.

Living in the ‘in-between time’,
without fear, with hope and love

Bishop David Hamilton lights a candle at the vigil in Albert Square, Manchester

Patrick Comerford,

Sunday, 28 May 2017,

The Seventh Sunday of Easter,

The Sunday after Ascension Day.


9.45 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick.

Readings: Acts 1: 6-14; Psalm 68: 1-10, 33-36; I Peter 4: 12-14, 5: 6-11; John 17: 1-11.

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

We are in a strange in-between time in the calendar of the Church this weekend.

On Thursday evening [25 May 2017], we celebrated the Day of the Ascension. Next Sunday [4 June 2017], we are celebrating the Day of Pentecost.

In the meantime, we are in what we might call ‘in-between time.’

In the reading from the Acts of the Apostle on Thursday evening [Acts 1: 1-11] and today [Acts 1: 6-14], two angels in white robes ask the disciples after the Ascension why they are standing around looking up into heaven. In the Gospel reading [Luke 24: 44-53], they return to ‘Jerusalem with great joy,’ and seem to spend the following days in the Temple.

As the story unfolds in the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples, as well as Mary and other women (see verse 14), spend their time in prayer, choosing a successor to Judas, as we are told in this morning’s first reading [Acts 1: 6-14].

Ten days after the Ascension, they are going to be filled with Holy Spirit, who comes as a gift not only to the 12 but to all who are gathered with them, including Mary and the other women, the brothers of Jesus (verse 14), and other followers in Jerusalem – in all, about 120 people (see verse 15).

But for these few days, they and we are in that in-between time, between the Ascension and Pentecost.

It is still the season of Easter, which lasts for 50 days from Easter Day until the Day of Pentecost. But this morning we are still in the Easter season, in that ‘in-between time,’ between the Ascension and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Church on the Day of Pentecost.

Their faith persists, but the promise has not yet been fulfilled.

They wait in hope. But until that promise is fulfilled they are, if you like, transfixed, believing with doing, unable to move from Jerusalem out into the wider word.

Is this the same upper room where they had gathered after the Crucifixion, behind locked doors, filled with fear, until the Risen Christ arrives and, as Saint John’s Gospel tells us, says to them: ‘Peace be with you … Peace be with you … Receive the Holy Spirit … forgive’ (see John 20: 19-23).

Fear can transfix, can immobilise us. It leaves us without peace, without the ability to forgive, without the power to move out into, to engage with the wider world out there.

Sometimes, our own fears leave us without peace, unwilling to forgive, unwilling to move out into the wider world.

And that is what could have happened in Manchester last week.

Fear paralyses, it leaves us without peace, and as we protect ourselves against what we most fear, we decide to define those we are unwilling to forgive so that we can protect ourselves against the unknown, so that we can blame someone for the wrong for which we know we are not guilty.

The Risen Christ tells us: ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28: 20).

But too often we are caught between Ascension Day and Pentecost, waiting but not sure that the kingdom is to come, frightened in the terror and the pain of the present moment.

What happened in Manchester on Monday night has created unspeakable sadness and outrage that has been easier to express.

It is the sort of horror that is experienced day-by-day and week-by-week in Iraq, as we hard on the news this morning, in Egypt, where a large number of Coptic Christians were attacked in recent days, in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan … and so many other parts of the world.

Why does Manchester shock us?

Because we know it so well, because it is so near. It has brought the horrors of the world not just to our screens but to our doorstep. And we feel powerless, we do not know what to do.

Feeling powerless and fearful and not knowing what to do combine to make a deadly cocktail that not only immobilises us but robs us of hope.

Seeing parents frantically waiting and running at the entrance to the arena reminded so many of times we have been waiting for our own children.

The people who were killed on Monday night could be our daughters or grand-daughters. There were parents and grandparents killed too who were the same age as me – even younger.

Many of us remember an IRA bomb in almost the same location in Manchester in 1996 that could have been as devastating.

But hopefully we can also see ourselves in the nurses, the doctors, the police, the emergency responders, who responded immediately, without considering that they might be putting themselves in further danger … the taxi drivers who gave free lifts, the people who opened their doors to strangers late at night to offer comfort and shelter.

We can see ourselves in them. And hopefully we can see the face of God in those who were the victims and those who responded.

For me, the face of Christ was shown in the face of Chris Palmer, a homeless man who was in the foyer begging when the bomb went off. He told the Guardian: ‘It knocked me to the floor and then I got up and instead of running away my gut instinct was to run back and try to help.’ He described how one women with serious leg and head injuries ‘passed away in my arms. She said she had been with her family. I haven’t stopped crying.’

Or in the face of Steve, another homeless man who told ITV he had pulled nails from the arms and faces of screaming children. ‘It had to be done,’ he said. ‘You had to help, if I didn’t help I wouldn’t be able to live with myself for walking away.’

The Mail Online columnist Katie Hopkins in a despicable tweet said there was a ‘need for a final solution.’ She later deleted it, claiming it was a ‘typo.’ Well, she had misspelled Manchester. But the ‘Final Solution,’ as the Nazis called the Holocaust, was no ‘typo’ and cannot be withdrawn.

One stupid candidate in the election even called for the death penalty for suicide bombers. As I thought about that, I just wondered where do people like that draw their inspiration from.

But talk about a ‘Final Solution’ cannot even be contemplated in a civilised Europe. Indeed, it is also beyond the comprehension of people like this that, when you had up the figures, the vast majority of the victims of Isis are actually Muslims.

Instead, however, I was heartened by the Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, who lit a candle that he said symbolised an unquenchable light that no darkness could ever destroy.

Immediately after the attack, he said: ‘Today is a day … to reaffirm our determination that those who murder and maim will never defeat us.’

In what the Manchester Evening News described as ‘an inspirational speech in the aftermath of the tragedy,’ Bishop David told the vigil in Albert Square: ‘You cannot defeat us because love, in the end, is always stronger than hate,’ to rapturous applause. ‘We will pull together because we stand together. Whatever our background, whatever our religion, our beliefs, our politics we will stand together because this city is greater than the forces that align itself against it.’

As Bishop David so wisely noted, ‘Many lives will be lived out, impacted by this tragedy for long years to come. Others have had decades of life ripped away from them … But today is also a day to begin our response. A response that will crush terrorism not by violence but by the power of love. A love which Christians celebrate especially now in Eastertide.’

And this is the Easter hope.

This is the hope that we will never lose our capacity as Christians to live with the Risen Christ, listening to his desire that we should be not afraid, and that we should love one another.

This is the hope we wait for between the glory of the Ascension and the empowering gifts the Holy Spirit gives us and promises us at Pentecost.

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

Fear, hope and love in Manchester in the past week

The Collect:

O God the King of Glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ
with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
Mercifully give us faith to know
that, as he promised,
he abides with us on earth to the end of time;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Introduction to the Peace:

The Blessing:

Christ our exalted King
pour on his abundant gifts
make you faithful and strong to do his will
that you may reign with him in glory:
and the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest in Charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for Morning Prayer in Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick, on Sunday 28 May 2017.