Friday, 30 June 2017

The Greeks have a word
for it: (3) bread

A selection of morning bread in the bakery next door in Platanes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

One of the delights in trying to engage with another language is realising the reasons things have different names. I try to – but usually struggle very badly – to read menus in restaurants here in Greek, but sometimes I can get it wrong, often with humorous consequences.

Last night, the menu in Marem where I was eating opened with ψωμί με Συνοδευτικά (psomí me sinodeftiká). Why would I be interested in bread with a covering letter? But starters are also ‘little things brought together.’

And there are different names in different places for the same food. Κουκουβαγια (koukouvagia) on the menu is not owl, but the name in many parts of Crete for ντάκος (dákos) – a starter of dry rusk bread topped with tomatoes, crumbled feta and oregano. In eastern Crete it is known as κουλουκοψωμο (kouloukopsomo, supposedly because this is the bread that is fed to the puppy dogs under the table.

When I thought about this last night, I wondered whether Christ was discussing dakos with the Syrophoenician woman when he spoke about taking the children’s food and throwing it to the dogs (Mark 7: 27).

Even here, Greek can be confusing, for there not only do the Greeks have a word for bread, but they have two words for bread, and here Christ uses the word ἄρτον or ἄρτος (artos), and not ψωμί (psomi).

In classical Greek, artos meant ‘cake,’ a ‘loaf of wheat-bread,’ or collectively ‘bread.’ But in modern Greek it is now more commonly used in the context of Communion bread in Church, having been replaced in the broader context by the word ψωμί (psomi), although artos is also found in common compound words such as αρτοποιός (artopoiós), baker, and αρτοποιείο (artopoieío), bakery.

The word for bakery is a reminder of the word artos for bread (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Greek often has two words where English may only have one. The Greek word for red is Κόκκινος, κόκκινη, κόκκινο (Kokkinos, kokkini, kokkino), and refers to a ruby red.

Some ‘colorful’ expressions in Greek include Κοκκινίζω από το θυμό μου (kokkinizo apo to thimo mou), ‘I turn red from (because of) anger,’ and Κοκκινίζω από ντροπή (kokkinizo apo dropi) I turn red from shyness, embarrassment.

But in formal settings, you find another word, as in Ερυθρός Σταυρός (Eritrhos Stavros), Red Cross.

Last night’s menu included a salad with apple and ρόδι (rodi). The English word for a pomegranate indicates an apple with seeds, while the Greek word speaks of its colour.

The roots of the English name were soon confused and forgotten, so that the pomegranate was known in early English as the ‘apple of Grenada,’ confusing the Latin granatus with the name of the Spanish city of Granada, which derives from Arabic.

The colour garnet derives its name from the Old French grenat, and in turn from the mediaeval Latin granatum meaning ‘of a dark red colour.’ This derivation may have come from pomum granatum, describing the colour of pomegranate pulp, or from granum, referring to red dye.

In Greek, the pomegranate is ρόδι (ródi), from the same root that gives us words such as rose, rhododendron and perhaps even the name of the island of Rhodes. In Greece, ρόδι or pomegranate is also used to make koliva, a mixture of wheat, pomegranate seeds, sugar, almonds, and other seeds served at memorial services.

My experiments in learning the names of foods last night were not as embarrassing as those of a journalist I met in Rhodes 20 years ago who saw παϊδάκια (spare ribs) on the menu and for a moment was stricken with horror as she though the reference was to παιδιάκιά (small children). That would have shocked the Syrophoenician woman and her daughter too.

Rodi or pomegranate in a salad in Marem last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

A new challenge facing
the new Primus in Scotland

With Bishop Mark Strange at a recent conference in Edinburgh

Patrick Comerford

Bishop Mark Jeremy Strange, the Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness, became the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church this week. He was elected at an Episcopal Synod in Edinburgh on Tuesday [27 June 2017] in succession to the Most Revd David Chillingworth, who was born in Dublin and who stepped down this month after eight years in office.

Bishop Strange was born in 1961, and studied theology at the University of Aberdeen and Lincoln Theological College. He was ordained deacon in 1989 and priest in 1990. After serving as a curate and a vicar in the Diocese of Worcester, he returned to Scotland in 1998 and was elected Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness in 2007.

After his election as Primus this week, Bishop Strange said: ‘I am humbled by the confidence shown in me by my colleagues and I will seek to serve the church as Primus with love and strength.’

Bishop Mark is married to Jane – a teacher in Inverness – and they have a son and two daughters.

His election comes immediately after the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church voted to permit same-sex marriage. The vote earlier this month amended canon law on marriage, removing the stipulation that it is between a man and a woman.

His election also came days before today’s planned consecration by a group of objectors of Canon Andy Lines as a ‘missionary bishop’ for Europe. Andy Lines is the chief executive of the mission agency Crosslinks, which fundraises using images of poverty in Africa yet uses funds raised in Ireland to organise and support conferences on debates that are internal to the Anglican Communion, including sexuality.

Gafcon said the decision to appoint Andy Lines was a ‘missionary bishop’ came in response to the vote in the Scottish general synod. But the response and the decision had been prepared weeks in advance.

Gafcon said: ‘This consecration comes in the context of a global reformation that is happening in the Anglican Communion. While Anglican provinces such as the Episcopal Church (USA), Anglican Church of Canada, and Scottish Episcopal Church are rejecting the authority of the Bible, faithful Anglicans are uniting through Gafcon to proclaim and defend the unchanging truth in a changing world.’

Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury has written to all other Anglican Primates warning them about Andy Lines’s appointment. But Archbishop Glenn Davies of Sydney, Bishop Richard Condie of Tas¬mania, and other Gafcon bishops are expected to take part in today’s illicit consecration.

It must come as a surprise to some while they say Andy Lines is a ‘missionary bishop’ for Europe, the event is taking place in the Edman Chapel at Wheaton College in Illinois. It has echoes of the furtive consecrations of ‘wandering bishops’ or episcopi vagantes.

As for Wheaton College, it is not an Anglican foundation and it is not open to the normal standards of academic inquiry. It requires its teaching staff to affirm a belief in an historical Adam and Eve, although they can teach animal evolution. Two years ago, Wheaton disciplined Professor Larycia Hawkins, who agreed with Pope Francis Christians and Muslims worship the same God, and she subsequently resigned.

The people taking part in today’s consecration described themselves as ‘conservative evangelicals.’ But it is hard to see how they can be described as either when they neither want to conserve or value Anglican traditions, nor want to prioritise mission over confrontation.

The Greeks have a word
for it: (2) philoxenia

Welcome to my world ... a front door in a back street in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Irish people like to think of Ireland as the land of a hundred thousand welcomes. English people have always put a high value on hospitality – although I fear the ‘Brexit’ referendum a year ago and its aftermath raises doubts about whether hospitality is widely cherished as an English value today.

But our concepts of welcome and hospitality come nowhere close to the way these values are expressed by Greeks.

The baker beside my apartment welcomed me back as I was buying bread for breakfast yesterday morning, and wanted not only to assure me that he remembered me but to be assured that I remembered him. In the newsagent, I was asked how long I am here for ‘this time’ – it not only conveys the memory that I have been here before but contains the hope that I would be here many more times too.

The Greek concept of welcome implies that the stranger is becoming a friend. It is not a tourist marketing ploy. It is not a cheap expression of gratitude for return business. It is simply a part of the Greek nature and culture to welcome the stranger or the foreigner. And the Greeks have their own word for it – φιλοξενία (philoxenia).

In classical Greece, hospitality was a right, and a host was expected to see to the needs of the guests. The ancient Greek term xenia, or theoxenia, expressed this ritualised guest-friendship relation: welcoming the guest was welcoming a god. In classical Greece, someone’s ability to abide by the laws of hospitality determined nobility and social standing.

The Stoics regarded hospitality as a duty inspired by Zeus himself. The word φιλοξενία (philoxenia), from φῐ́λος (phílos), a loved one who is more than a ‘friend,’ and ξένος (xénos), a ‘stranger’ of ‘outsider,’ is used by Plato, Polybius, Philo of Alexandria and others to express the warmth properly shown to strangers, and the readiness to share hospitality or generosity by entertaining in one’s home.

It is a word that is used constantly in the epistles in the New Testament.

Saint Paul speaks of κοινωνοῦντες τὴν φιλοξενίαν διώκοντες (Romans 12: 13), or the importance of contributing to the needs of the saints (those inside the Church) and extending hospitality to strangers (those from outside who must be welcomed).

In Hebrews 13: 2, the author uses the phrase τῆς φιλοξενίας μὴ ἐπιλανθάνεσθε when saying: ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.’

To be hospitable (Φιλόξεον, philoxeon or φιλόξενος philoxenos) or to show hospitality (ξενοδοχέω, xenodocheo) occur too in I Timothy 3: 2; Titus 1: 8, I Peter 4: 9, and I Timothy 5: 10. For example: ‘she must be well attested for her good works, as one who has brought up children, shown hospitality (ἐξενοδόχησεν), washed the saints’ feet, helped the afflicted, and devoted herself to doing good in every way’ (I Timothy 5: 10).

One of the requirements of a bishop in the New Testament Church is to be ‘hospitable,’ to be welcoming to strangers (I Timothy 3: 2; Titus 1: 8).

But the NRSV translation shows its weaknesses in these passages. It is not enough to translate the words as hospitality or welcome; it is hospitality towards the stranger, it is welcoming the outsider, the stranger, the foreigner, the person who is different who comes among us. And in the list of priorities, care for others, for children and hospitality to the stranger come before looking after the needs of church members, described here are washing the saints’ feet.

The concept and the duty of philoxenia is in contrast to φιλία (philia), for it is easy to love those who are like us, from the same family or locality, and is in contrast to xenophobia, the fear of the stranger or the other, which is both unfounded and obsessive – and which has grown in Greece in recent decades and found expression in disgusting far-right groups.

The Christian virtue of philoxenia has its roots in the injunctions to hospitality in Leviticus 19: 18 and 34. We are not just to love our neighbours as ourselves, but: ‘The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.’

Despite what is being said in the current debate dividing Anglicanism and many other Christian traditions, the sin of Sodom (see Genesis 19) was to refuse to welcome the stranger. The Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 109, makes it clear. For 1,700 years after the destruction of Sodom, ancient Jews linked the destruction of Sodom to the refusal of hospitality, not to homosexuality.

What we often call ‘hospitality’ is really entertaining, and typically we offer it to friends who will reciprocate by inviting us back. Hospitality to strangers is not entertaining friends or neighbours. Philoxenia is much more than that. Philoxenia turns on its head xenophobia and any other irrational attitude to those who are different, those who are strangers, those who come from the outside.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Even the Greeks have a
word for it: (1) neologism

Struggling to find the Greek word for cherries in the supermarket this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I grew up often hearing the phrase ‘the Greeks have a word for it.’

But I have sometimes wondered whether the Greeks invented this phrase, or English-speakers invented it to cover the inadequacies of our language, and the way it sometimes leaves us without simple words to express complex or passionate thoughts.

This morning, as I went shopping in my local supermarket in Platanes for fruit for breakfast, I struggled to find the words for every-day fruits, although there was no need to – every Greek is resorts and shops like this speak fluent English, and speak it perfectly.

So, where did the phrase come from?

And what words do the Greeks have that leave us English-speakers feeling verbally inadequate?

Each time I return to Greece, I feel I have lost more of my fluency, but still I persist in trying to recover my ability to use this beautiful and expressive language that has shaped our ideas and the ways we express concepts, emotions, values and beliefs.

Last night, having arrived in Rethymnon almost at midnight, and I struggled in English and weak Greek in the one restaurant nearby that was still open to order a late-night meal. I need to improve both my vocabulary and my confidence in using it.

But it was not the Greeks who invented the phrase ‘the Greeks have a word for it.’

Instead, as far as I can discover, the phrase may have been used first in 1930 when a play called The Greeks Had a Word for It opened on Broadway on 25 September. The play was written by Zoe Akins (1886-1958), who is generally credited with coining the phrase. Perhaps she is better known for winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play The Old Maid in 1935.

The Greeks Had a Word for It is a comedy about three young women who might have been called ‘gold diggers’ and their hunt for wealthy men as suitable prospective husbands. But the ‘It’ referred to something that could not be mentioned on stage in those days of censorship.

When Twentieth Century Fox made a film version of the play in 1932, starring Joan Blondell, Madge Evans and Ina Claire, the original title of the film was The Greeks Had a Word for Them. The producers worried that the word ‘It’ would be deemed too blatantly salacious by the censors and so changed ‘It’ to ‘Them.’

But even the revised title caused worried, and the film was finally released with the title Three Broadway Girls.

In 1953, Zoe Akins’s play The Greeks Had a Word for It was used as the basis for a film starring Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall, How to Marry a Millionaire, and it helped to launch Marilyn Monroe’s career as a top movie star.

Over a decade later, Barry Unsworth, a Booker-prize winning author, had his second novel, The Greeks Have a Word For It published by Hutchinson in 1967. It is set in Athens in the aftermath of the Greek Civil War and draws on the writer’s own experiences teaching English as a foreign language in Greece.

In the book, two men arrive in Athens on the same boat. Kennedy is an Englishman intends to make a living teaching English and devises a scam to make money fast; Mitsos is returning to Greece after many years away but finds it impossible to escape the memories of the brutal deaths of his parents at the hands of fellow Greeks during the civil war and seeks an early an opportunity for revenge. The two men meet briefly as they disembark the boat but their stories then diverge only to come together at the end of the book with fatal results.

Today, the phrase provides journalists with easy, cheap and quick headlines about Greek politics or scandals involving Greek-born people. For example, when Vicky Pryce was found guilty of perverting the course of justice in 2013, the Daily Telegraph inevitably placed the headline over a comment piece by Allison Pearson: ‘Vicky Pryce trial: The Greeks have a word for it...’

Vicky Price was born Vasiliki Courmouzis. The columnist must have thought herself very well-educated as she mused: ‘The English, public school-educated [Chris] Huhne probably realised that he would be no match in open court for his Greek wife, whom blind fury had turned from respected senior civil servant and Companion of the Order of the Bath into Clapham’s answer to Clytemnestra.’

But I am losing the plot. It is a myth(μῦθος, mythos) to think that the in every case the Greeks have a word for it.

Greek does not have a word for it, well not everything, and modern Greek has fallen behind on new words, especially needed for technology and new trends. As a consequence, the Greek Academy spends time at its meetings each month deliberating on, inventing and approving new Greek words so as to convey new foreign meanings into Greek.

Even the Greeks have a need for a neologism – they call it νεολογισμός (neologismós).

Back in Crete for a two-week
holiday in Rethymnon

Blue skies and the long sandy beach at Platanes, east of Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am back in Crete for two weeks, and I am staying on the fringes of Rethymnon, the walled Venetian and university town that I have known since the 1980s.

I arrived late last night [28 June 2017] on a Ryanair flight from Dublin to Chania Airport, and it was a 40 km journey to Julia Apartments in the village of Platanes, where I am staying once again for the next few weeks.

I stayed here for three weeks last year in June and July [2016] and spent a week here the previous September [2015], and I am delighted to be back again in Platanes, which is about 5 or 6 km east of Rethymnon and just 300 metres walking distance from the long sandy beach that stretches in lengths east of Rethymnon.

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

Just two decades ago, Platanes was an unremarkable suburb of Rethymnon on the old road between Rethymnon and Iraklio. But it has grown and developed over the last 20 years, and there is a number of luxury hotels here too, along with the usual Greek rent rooms and pensions.

Fresh fruit for breakfast at Julia Apartments in Platanes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Behind Platanes is the pretty village of Tsesmés, with its quiet tavernas and a pretty village, which I visited a few times last year. Restaurants like Pagona’s have a unique cuisine, brought here almost a century ago by the ancestors of the families living here today as they fled the persecution of Greek-speaking people in Cesmes in Anatolia. Nearby are other pretty, traditional villages such as Adele, or Maroulas, with its Venetian tower houses and churches, and Arkadi with its historically important monastery is 17 km to the south.

I have plans next week to visit friends in Piskopiano, and to stay a night or two in Koutoulafari, two pretty villages in the mountains above Chersonnisos, east of Iraklion. Perhaps too there may be a day in Iraklion, an afternoon in Panormos, or I might visit Knossos.

A table for two in Koutoulafari (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Last year, Vasilis was delighted with a rowing T-shirt I brought from Cambridge , and it was soon hanging proudly in the bar.

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

Shopping in the narrow streets of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

During this fortnight, I plan to visit once again a place in Rethymnon that is trying to make a difference and bring about change in the midst of these crises. In the back streets, away from the gaze of tourists, the Voluntary Welfare Clinic Rethymno (Εθελοντικό Ιατρείο Κοινωνικής Αλληλεγγύης Ρεθύμνου) works in a narrow sidestreet where there are no tourist shops, yet only a few steps away from the seafront, the restaurants and the bars.

The doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists and other volunteers at this clinic are not part of any EU-funded or government-funded programme, and they believe in a free public system. At the end of their busy working days, they provide free attention, advice and consultation for anyone who is without health insurance. That includes migrants without proper papers, but also includes many Greeks who have fallen on hard times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Visiting Nantenan Glebe,
a regency-era rectory,
in the summer rain

Nantenan Glebe … a regency-era rectory between Rathkeale and Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I was writing at the end of last week about the church at Nantenan, which may date back to the late mediaeval period or even later, and the surrounding churchyard, half-way between Askeaton and Rathkeale in west Co Limerick.

Earlier this week I also visited Nantenan Glebe, the former glebe house or rectory for the parish that was built by the Board of First Fruits and which, retains much of its modest form, despite later additions.

Many of the features of this house, including the slate roof and sash windows, help to conserve the original appearance of the house.

This detached, three-bay, two-storey over basement former rectory was built around 1819. Although I can find no records of the architect, I wondered whether it was designed by James Pain, who designed the former rectory in Askeaton at the same time.

The house has a porch to the front or west elevation, a single-bay single-storey extension to the south, a two-bay three-storey block to the rear or east elevation, and a single-bay, single-storey extension to south elevation.

The house has roughcast rendered walls. There is a hipped slate sprocketed roof with rendered chimneystacks, a hipped slate roof on the rear block, flat roofs on the extensions, and a half-hipped slate roof on the porch.

There are square-headed openings with six-over-six pane timber sliding sash windows that have painted stone sills. There are square-headed openings to the extensions, some with timber casement windows, and a square-headed opening at the porch with double-leaf timber panelled doors.

A flight of concrete steps with metal railings leads up to the porch and front door.

Much of the original glebe land still surrounds Nantenan Glebe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Outside, it is possible to trace the former walled garden, the kitchen garden and the stables.

A two-bay single-storey outbuilding at the east courtyard has a pitched slate roof. There are rubble boundary walls to the courtyard with an elliptical-headed carriage arch to the north wall with red brick voussoirs.

There is a pair of square-profile rubble limestone piers to the west with double-leaf cast-iron gates and rubble limestone boundary walls.

The Board of First Fruits contributed a gift of £450 towards building the glebehouse in 1819, and a further loan of £50. Samuel Lewis described the house in the 1830s as a handsome residence. At that time, the glebe comprised six acres, which had been bought by the Board of First Fruits.

Until the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, Nantenan union of parishes was part of the corps of the Precentorship of Saint Mary’s Cathedral. Nantenan parish was united with Rathkeale from 1918, and also with Ballingarry and Rathronan from 1958. So, my predecessors as precentors and as the priests in this this parish had a particular interest in the glebehouse at Nantenan.

After almost 200 years, much of this glebe land still surrounds the house, and in this week’s summer rain it reinforced my claim last year after the ‘Brexit’ referendum in Britain that Ireland too is ‘a green and pleasant land.’

The drive at Nantenan Glebe in the summer rain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Tracing the stucco art
of Pat McAuliffe on the
streets of Abbeyfeale

The former O’Connor’s on Main Street is Pat McAuliffe’s most extravagant work in Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Some months ago, I wrote about Pat McAuliffe (1846-1921), the stucco and architectural artist who lived and worked in Listowel, Co Kerry, and his decorative stucco work in Listowel. I had walked through the streets of Listowel, and had been enthralled by his hotel façades, detailed shopfronts and pub decorations.

His work is a wonderful and eclectic mixture of classical, art nouveau, Celtic and Byzantine influences. They are important examples of the late 19th century pan-European quest for a national style, and they remind me of the style of stucco work by my great-grandfather, James Comerford (1817-1902), at the Irish House on Wood Quay and the Oarsman in Ringsend, Dublin.

But there are significant examples of Pat McAuliffe’s work too in Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick, and recently I spent a rainy but enthusiastic afternoon there exploring the surviving parts of his work.

From the early 19th century, Abbeyfeale – like Listowel – grew in importance and expanded as a market town and commercial centre. A new Market Square was laid out, with new streets leading off it, and the building trades found a new demand for their skills.

In Abbeyfeale, Pat McAuliffe plastered and roofed many of the new buildings in New Street, and he renovated shopfronts and pub-fronts, embellishing them with his decorative stucco work.

McAuliffe’s most extravagant and best-known work in Abbeyfeale was at O’Connor’s on Main Street. This building was an example of how Abbeyfeale grow as a business town in the 19th century. The original building was probably erected in the 1850s, and originally housed the family townhouse, with a drapery shop and a branch bank at ground-floor level. In time, it came to accommodate a drapery, public house, grocery, hardware, builders’ suppliers.

Large-scale renovations were carried out in 1905-1910, and McAuliffe probably did not work on the ground floor, where there was already a large shopfront, an entrance to the family residence and a pub-front.

Instead, McAuliffe worked on the two upper floors, where his stucco decorations are eye-catching and riotous.

The first floor has nine pilaster-style strips with inter-lacing Celtic designs that are mainly interspaced by the windows, while the second floor has ten large imposts that, along with the window keystones, are decorated with animals, Biblical allegories, including a mammoth, a wolf, a frog, a peacock, Eve in the Garden of Eden, a dove elephants and lions’ heads.

A Latin aphorism and an Anglo-Saxon blessing on O’Connor’s on Main Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The focal point of McAuliffe’s work is found at the corner of the top floor, which he decorated with a segmented curved mass. In bold clear lettering, a Latin citation stands out: Vita Brevis Ars Longa – ‘Life is short, art is long.’ This is a Latin version of an aphorism originally in Greek, quoting the first two lines of the Aphorismi by the classical Greek physician Hippocrates:

Ὁ βίος βραχύς,
ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρή,
ὁ δὲ καιρὸς ὀξύς,
ἡ δὲ πεῖρα σφαλερή,
ἡ δὲ κρίσις χαλεπή.

Life is short,
and art long,
opportunity fleeting,
experimentations perilous,
and judgment difficult.


The familiar Latin translation quoted by McAuliffe reverses the order of the original Greek lines. In plainer language, Hippocrates is saying: ‘It takes a long time to acquire and perfect one’s expertise and one has but a short time in which to do it.’

Below this, McAuliffe has a three-lined scrolled text that reads:

Hal, wes bu, folde, fira modor Beo, bu, growende on Godes ferfine Fodre grefylled, firum to nytte

This is said to be a 10th century Anglo-Saxon agricultural charm, and has been translated:

Hail to thee, Earth, Mother of men!
Be fruitful in God’s embrace
Filled with food for the use of men.


McAuliffe placed an angel on the corner above the texts, but this has been removed in recent decades. The upper floors now show signs of neglect, with layers of paint peeling away from the façade, although much repainting and repair work was carried out on this majestic building in 2004.

McAuliffe turned the former Georgian shopfront at JD Daly’s into a typical expression of his tastes in decoration (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

JD Daly’s is a three-storey, two bay building on Main Street, Abbeyfeale, that was a public house, grocery shop and guesthouse, first built in 1853 on Georgian architectural principles.

McAuliffe’s expressive work on this building dares from about 1890 and included Corinthian capitals, Egyptian gorge moulding, arabesque features, Latin scrolls, Hiberno-Romanesque bearded men, lions’ heads, and Italian diamond-pointed quoins.

When the gable end was replastered in the 1960s, it meant the destruction of an embellished text on a curved scroll that quoted the motto on the great seal of the United States: E Pluribus Unum.

Two, large Byzantine urns that once crowned the façade – one at each side of a large bracketed cornice – were removed in the1970s, supposedly for insurance reasons. In more recent years, Daly’s former pub has become a drapery shop, and then a private residence, resulting in the loss of McAuliffe’s fascia board.

Tangle’s was once a pub and retains much of McAuliffe’s work (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Tangle’s Hair Salon on Main Street is a former pub that has retained its render quoins, a decorative sill band, window surrounds and pilasters. The elaborately decorated shopfront demonstrates the influence of classical design ideas on McAuliffe’s work, and he used the pilaster as an economic substitute for cut stone.

McAuliffe’s work can be seen on Fuchsia Hair Design on Main Street, (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

McAuliffe was possibly also the stucco artist who decorated the premises now known as Fuchsia Hair Design on Main Street, with its large amount of render decoration to the façade. There are heavily-rusticated quoins coupled with a dentilated cornice and interlacing motifs that create a striking composition.

McAuliffe’s work at Cryle’s is an eclectic mixture (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Cryle’s Dry Cleaners and Laundrette on New Street was built as O’Mara’s public house. This is a two-storey, three-bay building, and McAuliffe’s work on the façade was an eclectic mixture of exaggerated classical detailing, combined with Celtic, Byzantine and Middle Eastern influences.

The Byzantine influences are seen in the eight urns, each topped with a cross. The first storey is framed by pilaster strips of Celtic tracery, each topped with foliated capitals designed by McAuliffe himself. The three windows on this floor are linked with large moulded bands, and above these bands is a pair of radiating starbursts, flanked on the outside by interlaced Stars of David.

When the building was replastered in 1990s, the fascia detailing was lost along with the ground-floor pilasters with their interlacing strapwork.

At MJ Moloney’s, McAuliffe was influenced by Classical Revival styles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

At the former MJ Moloney’s pub on Church Street, now a takeaway food shop, McAuliffe’s work was influenced by Classical Revival styles, and the designs for the shopfront includes plants and circular motifs enlivening the frieze.

There are more premises throughout Abbeyfeale that seem to be McAuliffe’s work, or that were influenced by his stucco art. I may need to return on a sunny afternoon this summer to see if I can identify them.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Glebe Castle, once a clerical
residence in Rathkeale

Glebe Castle, Rathkeale, seen from the banks of the River Deel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I was in Rathkeale this morning for an end-of-school-year service in Holy Trinity Church, a flag-raising ceremony in the school, and a committee meeting in the afternoon.

The former rectory is across the street from both the school and the church, all located on the appropriately-named Church Street. But a little further west along Church Street is the interestingly-named Glebe Castle.

This castle is in the townland of Castlematrix, and about 300 metres from Castle Matrix itself, but should not be confused with its more lofty neighbour, which was once the seat of the Southwell family.

The name of Glebe Castle makes we wonder whether this was once the residence of the rectors and clergy of Rathkeale parish.

This 40 ft, four-storey tower dwarfs the modern house that it stands behind, but is easier to see from the opposite bank of the River Deel during my regular walks along the riverside. Like Ballybur Castle, the Comerford ancestral home near Callan, Co Kilkenny, Glebe Castle is more like a watch tower than a castle.

The castle once had three complete storeys, and in 1840 the walls were about 13 metres high in 1840 and three metres thick. There are parapets on the east and west walls, with chimney stacks flush with the gables rising from the north and south end walls.

Samuel Lewis noted in the 1830s that Rathkeale Glebe amounted to 10 acres, and was divided into two portions, one near the church on which Glebe Castle stood, and the other a mile distant on which the glebe house stood. The Revd CT Coghlan, rector of the neighbouring parish of Kilscannel, lived in Glebe Castle, while Glebe House was the residence of Archdeacon Charles Warburton (1781-1854), who was Rector of Rathkeale (1813-1855) and Chancellor of Limerick throughout the first half of the 19th century.

By 1846, the Revd James Boucher was living in what was described as Castle Glebe. An interesting contemporary of his was the Revd John Boucher (1819-1878), from Moneyrea near Belfast. He had been a Unitarian minister in Southport, Lancashire, and then in Glasgow (1844-1846) and at the New Gravel Pit Chapel, Hackney (1847-1852). But he changed his views, resigned his pulpit and entered Saint John’s College, Cambridge, in 1853 to prepare for ordination in the Church of England. He graduated with a BA in philosophy in Cambridge in 1857, but owing to ill-health, retired to Chesterton, Cambridge. He died in Chesterton in 1878.

Today, Glebe Castle is the home of the Coleman family, and as I looked across at it from the church this morning I wondered when it ceased to be the residence of local clergy.

Glebe Castle stands on the banks of the River Deel, close to Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The Chinaman is missing
and no-one in Rathkeale
knows where he has gone

A mark on the wall shows where the Chinaman stood on Fitzgibbon’s pub for about 200 years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

The Chinaman is missing in Rathkeale.

I have looked for him in vain. He is gone, and people in Rathkeale worry that he may be lost forever.

All that remains of the Chinaman is a large mark on the first floor of the façade of what was once Fitzgibbon’s pub at the east end of the Main Street.

For almost 200 years, the Chinaman had been one of the most celebrated residents of Rathkeale, and was a listed artefact.

His story is one of piracy, drama and adventure on the high seas. According to one version of the legend, a cargo of tea arrived from China in Foynes – or in Tarbert – in the early 19th century – some versions of legend proffer a much earlier date of 1736, although the pub was built 90 years later in 1826.

The Mikado was in port for about a fortnight as the cargo was being unloaded. Meanwhile, the captain, Wongyil, and his crew spent their time in Fitzgibbon’s public house in Rathkeale.

However, word came from Tarbert that a pirate ship had arrived and that the pirates were plundering the town and district.

Captain Wongyil hastily gathered about 100 men from Rathkeale and Foynes and marched on Tarbert where they captured the pirate ship. In the battle, they killed most of the pirate crew, including the captain, known throughout Europe as ‘The Serpent.’

One story says Wongyil was so grateful he donated money to the people of Rathkeale for helping him fight off pirates. Another version says the people of Rathkeale, Tarbert and Foynes were so grateful to him for fending off the raiding pirates that they had a wooden image made of Wongyil made and erected it over the door of Fitzgibbon’s pub.

The pub retained the date 1826 on the facia until it was repainted recently, and a gap on the first floor indicates where the Chinaman once stood (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Until the pub was repainted in recent weeks, the facia of the pub retained the date 1826, and a large mark on the the first floor indicates where the Chinaman stood for almost 200 years. He was a protected statue, although at one time he was missing an arm and his hat was badly weathered. But he stood the test of time – and weather – for the best part of two centuries.

During the Tostal celebrations in 1953, a postcard was issued by the Chinaman Bar.

In 1992, when the pub was known as Foley’s, a ceremony celebrated Rathkeale’s links with China. The First Secretary at the Chinese Embassy in Dublin, Wang Jiashou, unveiled the restored statue of the Chinaman at Foley’s Bar watched by Joe Dunleavy, chairman of Rathkeale Community Council. Outside, Rathkeale Brass Band entertained everybody; inside, Theresa Foley and her family entertained a large number of guests. Later, Wang Jiashou and his wife were entertained to lunch in Castlematrix Castle before visiting Desmond Creations Jewellery Factory and the Shannon Meats factory.

In a limited-edition print in 2010, Austin Bovenizer celebrated the ‘Rathkeale Streetscape’ bringing together images from the streetscape and buildings of Main Street, Rathkeale. With artistic licence, he reintroduced old landmarks, including the People’s Bakery, Sparling’s shop and the Chinaman, to his digital montage and collage.

But by then, the Chinaman had disappeared from the Main Street. My first photograph shows the fading Fitzgibbon name on the fascia of the former pub this month [June 2017]. Despite being repainted in recent weeks, the mark on the façade continues to indicate where the statue of the Chinaman once stood facing the street.

Some people in Rathkeale believe the Chinaman had been moved to the back of the premises, either to save him from the weather while he awaited conservation, or to prevent him from being stolen.

Two years ago, in February 2015, Joe Dunleavy asked in the Rathkeale Newsletter: ‘Where is the statue of the Chinaman at the present time?’ It would be an occasion to celebrate in Rathkeale if the statue was put back in the place that had been his home for such a long time.

The Chinaman seen on the façade of Fitzgibbon’s in the early 20th century in a photograph in the Laurence Collection

Monday, 26 June 2017

A missing plaque linked
Newcastle West with
leading Irish Philhellene

The estate cottages on Bishop Street, Newcastle West, were built by Charles Edward Napier Curling in 1872 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Some weeks ago, I wrote about an interesting connection between Newcastle West and the Irish Philhellenes – those Irish men and women who were involved in the Greek War of Independence in the 19th century and who engaged in the political aftermath in Greece.

Now I am wondering what has happened to a missing plaque on a row of estate cottages in Newcastle West that link this part of West Limerick with one of the most prominent Irish Philhellenes.

Sir Charles James Napier (1782-1853), an Irish general who was Governor of Kephalonia. He was a first cousin of the 1798 leader Lord Edward FitzGerald, and his childhood home was in Celbridge House, now known as Oakley Park, in Celbridge, Co Kildare.

Napier was the British Resident or colonial governor of the Ionian island of Kephallonia, and there he lived with a young, beautiful, patriotic Greek woman, Anastasia. Although they never married, they had two daughters, Susan Sarah, born in 1824, and Emily Cephalonia, named after Lord Edward FitzGerald’s mother and Napier’s beloved Greek island.

In a sad twist to this love story, Anastasia obstinately refused to marry Charles, and refused to accompany him to England in 1824. Two years later, as he was leaving for London for his mother’s funeral, he tried to leave their two small daughters with Anastasia, but she put the girls in a small boat, pushing them out to sea after him.

The two girls were rescued by a local fisherman, and eventually, after being reunited with their father, were entrusted once again to the care of an Irish-born member of Napier’s staff, John Pitt Kennedy (1796–1879), from Co Donegal.

Anastasia’s identity has never been established with certainty, and she died at a young age. To the surprise of his family and friends, Charles Napier subsequently married the poor and invalided Elizabeth Kelly in April 1827. She was a widow of over 60 with grown-up children and grandchildren.

Napier left Kephallonia with his gravely ill wife Elizabeth in 1830, and while he was on leave in London his appointment to Kephallonia was annulled, his papers were seized and he was forbidden to return to Kephallonia.

Some time later, Edward Curling left Kephallonia, taking Napier’s two daughters with him and bringing them to their father in England. Until Napier’s elderly wife Elizabeth died on 31 July 1833, she treated the girls as her own children. When she knew she was dying, wrote a book, the Nursery Governess, to help Napier find someone to care for them after her death. Napier took an active interest in their education, teaching them geography and maths as well as languages.

Edward Curling (1807-1874), who was born in St Nicholas-at-Wade, Ken, was a great nephew of Elizabeth Napier. He had worked for Napier on Kephallonia from 1828 to 1831. In recent weeks, a member of his family contacted me with further family details that link this episode in the story of the Irish Philhellenes with Newcastle West.

When Edward Curling left Kephallonia, he brought his Maltese-born wife Rosalina (Rosa) Vittoria Curling (nee Mallia), to England with him and was appointed the Land Agent for Sir Henry Bunbury’s estate near Bury in Suffolk. Sir Henry Bunbury had married Charles Napier’s sister, Emily Louisa Napier, and Lady Sarah Lennox, mother of Emily and Charles, had been first married to Sir Henry’s uncle.

Edward worked on the Bunbury estate for 16 years before moving to Newcastle West, Co Limerick, in 1848 as the land agent for the Devon estate, centred on the castle in Newcastle West.

Edward Curling, who died on 28 October 1874, named his son after Sir Charles Napier. Charles Edward Napier Curling (1835-1895) lived at the Castle in Newcastle West, and married Alice Raymond from Monkstown, Co Dublin.

Charles Edward Napier Curling seems to have succeeded his father sometime before 1874 as agent for the Devon Estate in Newcastle West, for two years earlier a pretty row of estate workers’ cottages was built in Bishop Street, Newcastle West in 1872.

An inscription that once decorated these cottages, but that has long disappeared, read: ‘Erected by public subscription as a token for his service to Charles Edward Napier Curling Esq JP.’

These pretty cottages, with their steep overhanging roofs, flamboyant bargeboards, their decorative use of brick for the window surrounds, and their pitched-roof porches, make them look more like cottages in a rural setting in England than in provincial west Limerick.

Charles Edward Napier Curling was succeeded by his son Richbell Curling as the land agent for the Devon estate. The Curling family eventually bought the castle and the Devon estate in 1920, and remained in Newcastle until the 1940s.

But it would still be interesting to discover what happened to the plaque on these cottages that link Newcastle West, the Curling family and the Irish Philhellene Sir Charles Napier.

The cottages built by Charles Edward Napier Curling in Newcastle West (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Two Victorian villas at the heart
of the campus at Villiers School

Tivoli, built by William Henshaw Owen in 1838 for Sir Croker Barrington (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I spent most of Saturday at the Diocesan Synod for Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert in Villiers School on the North Circular Road, Limerick. I was writing on Saturday morning about the original Villiers School buildings in Henry Street, and later on Saturday about the Villiers Almshouses, which were endowed too by Hannah Villiers.

The school moved in 1952 from Henry Street to the North Circular Road, and today Villiers School stands on a campus with two large, former Victorian villas that are part of the social and architectural history of Limerick, Tivoli House, which was originally built as Woodville House, and Derravoher, previously known as Riverview and Lansdowne Cottage, and originally built as Glendower.

The origins of this Limerick suburb can be traced back to the early 19th century, when building Wellesley Bridge (1824-1835), later renamed Sarsfield Bridge, opened up tracts of land that had previously undeveloped on the northern banks of the River Shannon, and the new bridge enhanced the value of the Barrington families property along what became the North Circular Road.

The key figures in the development of suburban housing along what opened up as the North Circular Road were Sir Matthew Barrington (1788-1861) of Glenstal Castle, his son, Sir Croker Barrington (1817-1890), and Lord Lansdowne.

Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice (1780-1863), 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne, was the son of a former Prime Minister, and had inherited the family titles along with extensive estates in Wiltshire and in Ireland, including over 1,500 acres in Co Limerick. His father, William Petty-FitzMaurice (1737-1805), 2nd Earl of Shelbourne and Marquis of Lansdowne, built Shelbourne House on the North Circular Road around 1790. The Greek Revival house is now part of Ardscoil Rís on Lower Shelbourne Road. The Lansdowne names and titles are remembered in a number of street-names in this part of Limerick, including Lansdowne Park, Lansdowne Gardens, Shelbourne Road, Shelbourne Park and Shelbourne Avenue. The 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne was a Liberal politician who had a successful political career over half a century, and was Chancellor of the Exchequer (1806-1807), Home Secretary (1827-1828), and on three occasions between 1830 and 1852 was Lord President of the Council.

Alongside Lansdowne and Barrington, a key figure in the early development of this Limerick suburb was William Henshaw Owen (1813-1853). He was one of the 17 children of the architect and engineer Jacob Owen (1778-1870). The younger Owen joined his father at the Board of Public Works and was sent to work in Limerick in 1836. He oversaw the building of Thomond Bridge (1836-1840) to designs by James Pain and his brother George Richard Pain, and designed Mathew Bridge (1844-1846). His other architectural works in Limerick include the Savings Bank (1839), to designs by Thomas Deane, on the corner of Glentworth Street and Catherine Street.

The site of Villiers School is one of the first plots of land recorded on the new North Circular Road. In 1838, Sir Croker Barrington commissioned Owen to design a house to be named Woodville House.

Two years later, in 1840, Croker Barrington married Margaret Lewen of Fort Fergus, Co Clare. The house was known as Tivoli by the time it appeared on the first edition of the Ordnance Survey, which was surveyed in 1840 and published in 1844.

Later, Tivoli Cottage was the home of Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Hugh Massey Wheeler (1791-1871), a retired officer of the Indian army, who was leasing it from Sir Matthew Barrington at the time of Griffith's Valuation. Wheeler was a retired colonel in the Indian Army. His first wife, Maryann, died in 1860, and in 1861, he married his second wife, Emily Delmerge (1837-1909), from Gort, Co Galway in Saint Munchin’s Church, Limerick. Colonel Wheeler died at Tivoli House on 15 March 1871. His two daughters, Constance (1865-1947) and Eveline Wybrants (1866-1953), later lived at 72 Grosvenor Road, Rathmines, Dublin, where they died.

From the 1930s, Tivoli was the home of the Daly family, prominent Republican family in Limerick associated with the events during the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War. Since 1952, the house has been the centre of Villiers School.

This is a detached, three-bay two-storey over basement house, with a five-bay side elevation and a four-bay, two-storey wing built on to the south east around 1955, and a further three-bay two-storey annexe to the west built in 1985.

Derreavoher was built in 1839 by WH Owen, who wanted to name it Glendower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The neighbouring house on the school campus, Derravoher, dates from 1839, when a 999-year lease was signed on 17 February 1839 by Croker Barrington’s father, Sir Matthew Barrington, and WH Owen. In a romantic assertion of his Welsh ancestry, Owen wanted to name his new home ‘Glendower,’ recalling Owain Glyndwr, the 14th-15th century Welsh prince who became a hero figure in 19th century Welsh nationalism. However, his chosen name did not survive, and the house has since been known by many other names.

Barrington’s terms in the 1839 lease were strict. He insisted that only one house could be built on the site, and he allowed no ‘noisome noisy or offensive trade or business whatsoever.’

Owen’s design for his own house is picturesque and has been described as showing ‘a flair for Welsh Gothic detail.’ This is a detached, three-bay, two-storey house, designed on an L-shaped plan with single-bay two-storey gabled projecting breakfront abutting a single-bay two-storey gabled projecting end bay.

The principal front boasts has as its centrepiece a projecting breakfront with a Tudor-headed arcaded open porch.

A drawing room in the south-west corner opens out onto a Tudor-headed arcaded loggia allowing sheltered views overlooking the terraced lawns. The dining room on the south-east corner includes an unusual triangular-plan bay window. The rooms on the first floor are partly accommodated within the roof space with a small number lit by jettied oriel dormer windows. The roof itself is an interesting ornamental feature in the house, with scalloped and sinuous open work bargeboards decorating each and every gable and gablet.

Owen later emigrated to the US and died suddenly in San Francisco on 1 June 1853. Meanwhile, the picturesque suburban villa he built for himself on the North Circular Road, went through many names over the course of its history, from Glendower to Lansdowne Cottage, Riverview and, finally Derravoher.

The house is named as Lansdowne Cottage on the first edition of the Ordnance Survey. In 1843, a marriage report in The Gentleman’s Magazine notes that Hugh Fennessy had been living at Lansdowne Cottage. In 1846, it was the home of William Smyth, described as a Constitutional Court Proctor.

Griffith’s Valuation names the house as Lansdowne Cottage in 1853, when it was the home of Richard Goff, Manager of the National Bank, who leased the house from William Charles Burgess.

The house was leased in 1863 to Francis Cherry Sikes, a Quaker who had a grocery shop at 112 George’s Street, Limerick. Sikes renamed the house ‘Riverview’ because of its commanding vistas overlooking the River Shannon. He died in 1865, and his widow Eliza continued to live in the house until she died in 1892.

By 1911, Sir Alexander William Shaw (1847-1923), the owner of Shaw and Sons of Mulgrave Street, was living at Riverview. Shaw was a bacon manufacturer, one of the founding members of Limerick Boat Club and the founder of Limerick and Lahinch golf clubs. He turned the family firm, WJ Shaw and Sons, into one of the largest bacon curing businesses in Europe. He became one of the most prominent business figures in Limerick, was High Sheriff of Co Limerick in 1898-1899, and was knighted for his services to Irish industry.

Shaw was a keen sportsman and took part in rowing, rugby, athletics and hurling, but golf became his main interest as a result of his many business trips to Scotland. He seems to have been responsible for changing the name of the house to Derravoher: an obituary of his son, Captain Gordon Thompson Shaw, in 1918, refers to him the ‘youngest son of Sir Alex. and Lady Shaw, Derravoher, Limerick.’

The Ray family, who had returned from Santa Barbara in California, leased the house in 1928, and lived there until 1943. James Ray (1885-1950) was the director of O’Mara’s Bacon Company. In 1943, when George Edward ‘Ted’ Russell (1912-2004) moved into the house. He was elected to the Senate in 1969 and bought the house outright in 1979. His widow continued to live at Derravoher until 2011.

Derravoher, set in mature landscaped grounds, was bought by Villiers School in 2012. The house was restored in 2014-2016 for Villiers School under the supervision of Gráinne McMahon, who was project architect and project planner. This restoration work included reinstating the natural slate roof and repairing its decorative timber work.

A limestone flagged path now links Derravoher to the classrooms in Villiers School and Tivoli, the neighbouring Victorian villa. Many modern additions mean Tivoli has lost its original appearance as a detached country house, but this house too has retained many of its important, original features.

A mug of coffee in the sunshine at Villiers School at the weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Taking the ‘scenic route’ to
ordination after visiting
Saint John the Baptist

An icon of Saint John the Baptist by Adrienne Lord in the current icon exhibition in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford,

Sunday 25 June 2017,

The Second Sunday after Trinity,

The Festival of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist (24 June, transferred)


11.30 a.m.: Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, the Parish Eucharist.

Readings: Isaiah 40: 1-11, Psalm 85: 7-13, Galatians 3: 23-29, Luke 1: 57-66, 80.

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

It is good for a priest to be present at the Eucharist and to preach on the anniversary of ordination. I was ordained priest 16 years ago yesterday (24 June 2001), and ordained deacon 17 years ago today (25 June 2000). These anniversaries coincide with the Festival of the Birth of Saint John Baptist (24 June), one of the few birthdays of a saint commemorated in the Book of Common Prayer (see pp 20-21), which suggests that festivals like this ‘may be observed on the Sunday.’

I have just completed 15 years teaching and preparing students at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute for ordination. But my own path to ordination began when I was a 19-year-old, 46 years ago, back in the summer of 1971, in a chapel dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.

I was a young, budding freelance journalist at the time, contributing features to the Lichfield Mercury. Late one sunny Thursday afternoon that summer, after a few days traipsing along Wenlock Edge and through Shropshire, I had returned to Lichfield. I was walking from Birmingham Road into the centre of Lichfield.

Frankly, I was more interested in an evening’s entertainment when I stumbled in that chapel out of curiosity. Not because I wanted to see the inside of an old church building chapel, but because I was attracted by the architectural curiosity of the outside of the building facing onto the street.

I still remember lifting the latch, and stepping down into the chapel. It was late afternoon, so there was no light streaming through the East Window. But as I turned towards the lectern, I was filled in one rush with the sensation of the light and the love of God.

This is not a normal experience for a young 19-year-old … certainly not for one who is focussing on an active social night later on, or on rugby and cricket in the weekend ahead.

But it was – still is – a real and gripping moment. I have talked about this as my ‘self-defining moment in life.’ It still remains as a lived, living moment.

How was I to respond?

I could go for psychiatric assessment.

I could walk away dismissively, asking: ‘So what? God loves me, but so what?’

But my first reaction was to make my way on down John Street, up Bird Street and Beacon Street and Lichfield the Cathedral. There I slipped into the choir stalls, just in time for Choral Evensong.

It was a tranquil and an exhilarating experience, all at once. But as I was leaving, a residentiary canon shook my hand. I think it was Canon John Yates (1925-1980), then Principal of Lichfield Theological College (1966-1972). He amusingly asked me whether a young man like me had decided to start going back to church because I was thinking of ordination.

All that in one day, in one summer afternoon.

Saint John’s Hospital, Saint John Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

However, I took the scenic route to ordination. I was inspired by the story of Gonville ffrench-Beytagh (1912-1991), which was beginning to unfold at the time. He was then then Dean of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Johannesburg, and facing trial when he opened his doors to black protesters who were being rhino-whipped by South African apartheid police on the steps of his cathedral.

My new-found faith led me to a path of social activism, campaigning on human rights, apartheid, the arms race, and issues of war and peace. Meanwhile, I moved on in journalism, first to the Wexford People and eventually becoming Foreign Desk Editor of The Irish Times.

While I was working as a journalist, I also completed my degrees in theology. In the back of my mind, that startling choice I was confronted with after evensong in that cathedral was gnawing away in the back of my mind.

Of course, I was on the scenic route to ordination. A long and scenic route, from the age of 19 to the age of 48 … almost 30 years: I was ordained deacon on 25 June 2000 and priest on 24 June 2001, the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist.

I return regularly, two, three or more times a year, and slip into that chapel quietly when I get off the train. That chapel has remained my spiritual home. I had started coming to Lichfield as a teenager because of family connections with the area. But the traditions of that chapel subtly grew on me and became my own personal form of Anglicanism; and the liturgical traditions of the cathedral nurtured my own liturgical spirituality.

I now know that the evening sun does not fill that chapel with light. That Thursday evening was many years before a famous window by John Piper was installed. But there is no West Window, and that chapel is never filled with evening light, even on summer evenings.

Yet that moment is a lived and living moment … not only in my memory but in my every day, all through my life.

Was this a moment I was looking for? Not really.

Was this a moment I was being prepared for? Perhaps.

Sometimes we find ourselves called out into the wilderness, like those called to hear the voice in the wilderness in our reading from Isaiah this morning (see Isaiah 40: 3), or like the crowd who come to see Saint John the Baptist in the river, and find instead we are called to repentance and the new life poured out on us in the light and the love of God that Christ offers us.

In our New Testament reading this morning (Galatians 3: 23-29), the Apostle Paul reminds us what we were like ‘before faith came … imprisoned and guarded.’

That bright summer evening certainly freed me and left me open to the world, with all its beauty and all its problems.

So, you might say, that is all well and good for you. But has this anything to do with this parish, our lives here in this place?

I appreciate that in Anglicanism at the moment – not only in the Church of England and the Church of Ireland, but throughout the world – we are exploring what mission theologians call a ‘mixed economy.’

But Alison Milbank and Andrew Davison, in their study For the Parish: A Critique of Fresh Expressions (London: SCM, 2010), point out that a major flaw in this ‘mixed-economy ecclesiology’ is the danger of separating form and content, practices and belief.

There is a danger of giving priority to fashion and to individualism, and of losing sight of communion and community. There is a danger that what is fashionable today will be forgotten tomorrow. ‘The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of God will stand for ever’ (Isaiah 40: 9).

But the traditional witness, faithful life and quiet, stable and steady presence of parishes and churches like this must never be under-estimated or under-valued.

Our churches in this group of parishes stand as a constant witness, across the centuries and down the generations. Like Elizabeth and Zechariah, into their old age, these places have been faithful, steady, constant witnesses … in maintaining liturgical worship, in steady attention to the word of God, in working at loving care and hospitality.

Elizabeth and Zechariah could never see what their steady, faithful witness would lead to, and their neighbours’ response is marked by doubts and scepticism. They would never live to see the consequences of their faithfulness. Saint John the Baptist goes off into the wilderness, and is lost sight of for a while. And even when he begins his ministry, that is not what is important.

We may never fully realise what you are achieving today. But we are inviting countless, unseen generations into the light and love of God – and to see the connection between the love of God and the love of our neighbour.

As Alison Milbank and Andrew Davison point out, ‘to become a Christian is to cease to be an atomized individual but to enter the life of communion. To know God … is to love one another’ (p 133).

Like Saint John the Baptist, the presence of our four churches in this group of parishes is not to be dismissed as a presence in some sort of wilderness, is not to be dismissed because of the numbers who come or do not come here, but is a presence that constantly points to the light and love of God, and is a challenge to all around us to realise that to know God means that we must love one another.

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

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for Sunday 25 June 2017.

Inside the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collect:

Almighty God,
by whose providence your servant John the Baptist
was wonderfully born,
and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Saviour
by the preaching of repentance:
lead us to repent according to his preaching
and, after his example,
constantly to speak the truth, boldly to rebuke vice,
and patiently to suffer for the truth’s sake;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

We are fellow-citizens with the saints
and the household of God,
through Christ our Lord,
who came and preached peace to those who were far off
and those who are near: (Ephesians 2: 19, 17).

Preface:

In the saints
you have given us an example of godly living,
that, rejoicing in their fellowship,
we may run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
and with them receive the unfading crown of glory.

Post Communion Prayer:

Merciful Lord,
whose prophet John the Baptist
proclaimed your Son as the Lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world:
grant that we who in this sacrament have known
your forgiveness and your life-giving love,
may ever tell of your mercy and your peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

God give you the grace
to share the inheritance of Saint John the Baptist and of his saints in glory:

The Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Saint John Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Celebrating Saint John the Baptist
and two important anniversaries

Saint John’s Hospital, Saint John Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford,

Sunday 25 June 2017,

The Second Sunday after Trinity,

The Festival of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist (24 June, transferred)


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

Readings: Isaiah 40: 1-11, Psalm 85: 7-13, Galatians 3: 23-29, Luke 1: 57-66, 80.

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

It is good for a priest to celebrate the anniversary of ordination. I was ordained priest 16 years ago yesterday (24 June 2001), and ordained deacon 17 years ago today (25 June 2000). These anniversaries coincide with the Festival of the Birth of Saint John Baptist (24 June), one of the few birthdays of a saint commemorated in the Book of Common Prayer (see pp 20-21), which suggests that festivals like this ‘may be observed on the Sunday.’

I have just completed 15 years teaching and preparing students at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute for ordination. But my own path to ordination began when I was a 19-year-old, 46 years ago, back in the summer of 1971, in a chapel dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.

I was a young, budding freelance journalist at the time, contributing features to the Lichfield Mercury. Late one sunny Thursday afternoon that summer, after a few days traipsing along Wenlock Edge and through Shropshire, I had returned to Lichfield. I was walking from Birmingham Road into the centre of Lichfield.

Frankly, I was more interested in an evening’s entertainment when I stumbled in that chapel out of curiosity. Not because I wanted to see the inside of an old church building chapel, but because I was attracted by the architectural curiosity of the outside of the building facing onto the street.

I still remember lifting the latch, and stepping down into the chapel. It was late afternoon, so there was no light streaming through the East Window. But as I turned towards the lectern, I was filled in one rush with the sensation of the light and the love of God.

This is not a normal experience for a young 19-year-old … certainly not for one who is focussing on an active social night later on, or on rugby and cricket in the weekend ahead.

But it was – still is – a real and gripping moment. I have talked about this as my ‘self-defining moment in life.’ It still remains as a lived, living moment.

How was I to respond?

I could go for psychiatric assessment.

I could walk away dismissively, asking: ‘So what? God loves me, but so what?’

But my first reaction was to make my way on down John Street, up Bird Street and Beacon Street and Lichfield the Cathedral. There I slipped into the choir stalls, just in time for Choral Evensong.

It was a tranquil and an exhilarating experience, all at once. But as I was leaving, a residentiary canon shook my hand. I think it was Canon John Yates (1925-1980), then Principal of Lichfield Theological College (1966-1972). He amusingly asked me whether a young man like me had decided to start going back to church because I was thinking of ordination.

All that in one day, in one summer afternoon.

Inside the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

However, I took the scenic route to ordination. I was inspired by the story of Gonville ffrench-Beytagh (1912-1991), which was beginning to unfold at the time. He was then then Dean of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Johannesburg, and facing trial when he opened his doors to black protesters who were being rhino-whipped by South African apartheid police on the steps of his cathedral.

My new-found faith led me to a path of social activism, campaigning on human rights, apartheid, the arms race, and issues of war and peace. Meanwhile, I moved on in journalism, first to the Wexford People and eventually becoming Foreign Desk Editor of The Irish Times.

While I was working as a journalist, I also completed my degrees in theology. In the back of my mind, that startling choice I was confronted with after evensong in that cathedral was gnawing away in the back of my mind.

Of course, I was on the scenic route to ordination. A long and scenic route, from the age of 19 to the age of 48 … almost 30 years: I was ordained deacon on 25 June 2000 and priest on 24 June 2001, the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist.

I return regularly, two, three or more times a year, and slip into that chapel quietly when I get off the train. That chapel has remained my spiritual home. I had started coming to Lichfield as a teenager because of family connections with the area. But the traditions of that chapel subtly grew on me and became my own personal form of Anglicanism; and the liturgical traditions of the cathedral nurtured my own liturgical spirituality.

I now know that the evening sun does not fill that chapel with light. That Thursday evening was many years before a famous window by John Piper was installed. But there is no West Window, and that chapel is never filled with evening light, even on summer evenings.

Yet that moment is a lived and living moment … not only in my memory but in my every day, all through my life.

Was this a moment I was looking for? Not really.

Was this a moment I was being prepared for? Perhaps.

Sometimes we find ourselves called out into the wilderness, like those called to hear the voice in the wilderness in our reading from Isaiah this morning (see Isaiah 40: 3), or like the crowd who come to see Saint John the Baptist in the river, and find instead we are called to repentance and the new life poured out on us in the light and the love of God that Christ offers us.

In our New Testament reading this morning (Galatians 3: 23-29), the Apostle Paul reminds us what we were like ‘before faith came … imprisoned and guarded.’

That bright summer evening certainly freed me and left me open to the world, with all its beauty and all its problems.

So, you might say, that is all well and good for you. But has this anything to do with this parish, our lives here in this place?

I appreciate that in Anglicanism at the moment – not only in the Church of England and the Church of Ireland, but throughout the world – we are exploring what mission theologians call a ‘mixed economy.’

But Alison Milbank and Andrew Davison, in their study For the Parish: A Critique of Fresh Expressions (London: SCM, 2010), point out that a major flaw in this ‘mixed-economy ecclesiology’ is the danger of separating form and content, practices and belief.

There is a danger of giving priority to fashion and to individualism, and of losing sight of communion and community. There is a danger that what is fashionable today will be forgotten tomorrow. ‘The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of God will stand for ever’ (Isaiah 40: 9).

But the traditional witness, faithful life and quiet, stable and steady presence of parishes and churches like this must never be under-estimated or under-valued.

Our churches in this group of parishes stand as a constant witness, across the centuries and down the generations. Like Elizabeth and Zechariah, into their old age, these places have been faithful, steady, constant witnesses … in maintaining liturgical worship, in steady attention to the word of God, in working at loving care and hospitality.

Elizabeth and Zechariah could never see what their steady, faithful witness would lead to, and their neighbours’ response is marked by doubts and scepticism. They would never live to see the consequences of their faithfulness. Saint John the Baptist goes off into the wilderness, and is lost sight of for a while. And even when he begins his ministry, that is not what is important.

We may never fully realise what you are achieving today. But we are inviting countless, unseen generations into the light and love of God – and to see the connection between the love of God and the love of our neighbour.

As Alison Milbank and Andrew Davison point out, ‘to become a Christian is to cease to be an atomized individual but to enter the life of communion. To know God … is to love one another’ (p 133).

Like Saint John the Baptist, the presence of our four churches in this group of parishes is not to be dismissed as a presence in some sort of wilderness, is not to be dismissed because of the numbers who come or do not come here, but is a presence that constantly points to the light and love of God, and is a challenge to all around us to realise that to know God means that we must love one another.

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

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for Sunday 25 June 2017.

An icon of Saint John the Baptist by Adrienne Lord in the current icon exhibition in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Collect:

Almighty God,
by whose providence your servant John the Baptist
was wonderfully born,
and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Saviour
by the preaching of repentance:
lead us to repent according to his preaching
and, after his example,
constantly to speak the truth, boldly to rebuke vice,
and patiently to suffer for the truth’s sake;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

Blessing:

God give you the grace
to share the inheritance of Saint John the Baptist and of his saints in glory:

The Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Saint John Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)