31 July 2017

Crowd-funding helps to explore
the spiritual journey of Ireland

Patrick Comerford

I have been invited to take part in an exciting new project exploring the spiritual history of Ireland and visiting the historic sites associated with Ireland’s spiritual past.

David Patton, who describes himself as a ‘passionate explorer of life, culture and Faith,’ has turned to crowd-funding as he plans a full-length video documentary that takes viewers around Ireland, visiting the sites that connect people in Ireland to a shared spiritual past.

David has been developing the concepts for this new documentary since 2002, when he first started investigating Ireland’s rich spiritual heritage. Since then, he has had a dream of researching the pivotal stories in the Irish spiritual journey and looking at their impact on our present and future.

He says: ‘The topic gripped me and has stayed with me and in the name of carpe diem, and recognising the need to drive forward to reach our potential and fulfil our dreams, I am taking life by the horns and stepping out to make this dream a reality.’

David describes himself as ‘a local church leader, passionate communicator and student of faith.’ As he begins to put together this new documentary, his team is planning a filming project that takes him to heritage sites across Ireland.

Already, he has commitments from people who have agreed to contribute to the documentary and to be interviewed for the project. They include Nick Park, executive director of the Evangelical Alliance Ireland and Dr John Scally, Professor of Ecclesiastical History in Trinity College Dublin, as well as me as a priest, writer and theologian.

He is now crowd-funding as he searches for financial support to make this documentary, with a target of raising €18,000. He says over 50% of the funds will be spent directly on the filming, production and post production. In addition, 30% of the budget will be spend on research, content creation and the writing of the script that will form the basis of the documentary. The remaining 20% will be used to make physical copies of the documentary as well as PR and advertising to get the film into as many hands as possible.

Once funded, the team plans to film the documentary in the spring and summer months next year, and to have the documentary finished by November 2018, giving backers a chance to receive their DVDs in time for Christmas. ‘We think the finished product will make a great Christmas gift for friends and family,’ he says.

For €8, funders are promised a personal thank you as well as a download link to watch and save the documentary on any device. For €12, they will receive a DVD of the documentary once it is released.

For €50, funders will be sent five copies of the DVD in time for Christmas 2018 to share with friends and family.

For €200, a donor and a guest will be invited for a first screening event ahead of the release, followed by an after-party, as well as a DVD copy of the documentary. For €500, donors will have their name or company name featured in the credits of the documentary as a special thank you.

For €700, the name or company name of subscribers will be featured in the credits of the documentary as a special thank, and receive two tickets to the first screening and after-party.

For €2,500, there is an opportunity to join the team on set during the filming of the documentary, along with all the other offers.

More details about how to join funding the project are available through this link.

Charmer or chancer?
Finding references
in three new books

Sidney Sussex College on a sunny morning earlier this month … Professor Eugenio F Biagini has contributed to two recent history collections (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

It is always a personal pleasure, and an academic affirmation, to find yourself referenced in books by colleagues you respect.

Recently I wrote about the pleasure of unexpectedly finding a reference to my own work in the scholarly, landmark edition of The Poems of TS Eliot poems edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue, and published by Faber & Faber in two volumes in 2015. These two volumes are defining contributions to our understanding of the work of TS Eliot, and I am referred to in their commentary on Eliot’s poem A Song for Simeon.

Earlier this month, during a fleeting visit to Cambridge, including the bookshops and Sidney Sussex College, I came across The Cambridge Social History of Modern Ireland, edited by Eugenio F Biagini and Mary E Daly, and published a few months ago by Cambridge University Press on 27 April 2017.

Eugenio F Biagini is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where, since 2008, I have been a regularly participant in the summer schools and conferences organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. Over the years, he has been a regular visitor to the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, where we have shared many meals and conversations together.

Mary E Daly is Professor Emerita of Modern History at University College Dublin and President of the Royal Irish Academy.

In this new textbook, the contributors they have brought together cover three centuries of unprecedented demographic and economic changes, providing an authoritative and comprehensive view of how Irish society was shaped, at home and abroad, from the famine of 1740 to the present day. This is the first major work on the history of modern Ireland to adopt a social history perspective, and it focuses on the experiences and agency of Irish men, women and children, Catholics and Protestants, and in the North, South and the diaspora.

In his chapter on ‘Minorities,’ Professor Biagini refers (p 455) to a feature I contributed to The Irish Times on 30 October 2000, and how I placed the Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘On Christianity’s margins’, on a spectrum that ranged from the (strictly Trinitarian and Evangelical) Plymouth Brethren, to the Mormons and Christian Scientists.

‘The Cambridge Social History of Modern Ireland’ is edited by Eugenio F Biagini and Mary E Daly

Earlier this year, Palgrave Macmillan and Springer published Representing Irish Religious Histories: Historiography, Ideology and Practice. This book, edited by Jacqueline Hill and Mary Ann Lyons, was published on 10 February 2017.

Jacqueline Hill is Professor Emerita at NUI Maynooth, with an interest in 18th and 19th century Irish history, especially religious and political history. She supervised my research in Maynooth in the 1990s on Irish Anglican missionaries in southern Africa. Her publications include From Patriots to Unionists: Dublin Civic Politics and Irish Protestant Patriotism, 1660-1840 (1997), and she has edited a volume in A New History of Ireland (2003/2010).

Mary Ann Lyons is Professor of History at NUI Maynooth, a former joint Editor of Irish Historical Studies and President and Conference Secretary of the Catholic Historical Society of Ireland. Her publications include France and Ireland, 1500–1610: politics, migration and trade (2003/2015) and Church and Society in County Kildare, c.1470–1547 (2000).

This collection begins on the premise that, until recently, religion has been particularly influential in Ireland in forming a sense of identity, and in creating certain versions of reality.

Professor Biagini has also contributed to this collection, with a chapter on ‘Patrick, the First Churchman’ in the Protestant Vision of Ernest Bateman of Booterstown (1886-1979)’ (pp 211-227).

Ian d’Alton, who contributes the previous chapter, ‘Religion as Identity: the Church of Ireland’s 1932 Patrician Celebrations’ (pp 197-210), also has connections with Sidney Sussex College: he has held visiting research fellowships at University of Liverpool and Trinity College Dublin as well as Sidney Sussex College.

In his chapter, Ian d’Alton refers to my paper on the Revd RM Gwynn at a seminar in Whitechurch parish, Rathfarnham, a few years ago. He points out (p 210):

‘Gwynn was the brother of Stephen Gwynn, the nationalist MP. Two years after graduating, in 1900, he founded – along with his other brother E.J. Gwynn; the Classicist Professor Louis Claude Purser, (1854-1932); William Thrift and John Joly – the Social Services (Tenements) Company to provide for Dublin’s poor. Motivated by a strong sense of social justice, Robin Gwynn was one of the original founders of the Irish Citizen Army in 1913. His life is detailed in Patrick Comerford, ‘The Rev. Professor R.M. Gwynn (1877-1962): priest’, at the R.M. Gwynn commemoration and seminar, Whitechurch Parish, Rathfarnham, Dublin, 19 Sept. 2013, at http://www.patrickcomerford.com/2013/09/the-revd-professor-rm-gwynn-1877-1962.html (accessed 20 Nov. 2015).’

The third reference I have come across in new book in recent days is in a book that is quite different in its approach. Hugh Oram is a prolific author, and his Charmers and Chancers was published late last year [16 September 2016] by Trafford Publishing, independent publishers based in Bloomington, Indiana.

Hugh Oram is an author, journalist and broadcaster living and working in Dublin. He has written many travel, historical and documentary books over the years, including The newspaper book, A history of newspapers in Ireland, 1649-1983.

In Charmers and Chancers, he tells the about many famous and infamous people he has met and often interviewed during his 50-year media career. His latest book also includes a lot of personal and family history.

After a charming mini-biography of my friend and colleague the Revd Stephen Hilliard, the former Irish Times journalist who became Rector of Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, and who was murdered in January 1990 in his Rectory in Rathdrum (which he mistakes for Rathnew), Hugh Oram goes on to write:

‘Someone else at The Irish Times also became a Church of Ireland cleric, creating something of a tradition at the paper. Patrick Comerford became a journalist at the paper in 1974 and after toiling there for 19 years, was made foreign desk editor in 1994, a job he held for eight years. He then became a Church of Ireland priest and has remained so ever since, all the while producing some notable writings on people and places both in Ireland and internationally.’

I am not sure whether Hugh Oram regards me as famous or infamous, as a charmer or a chancer. But when I came across his reference to me, I was charmed, to say the least.

30 July 2017

‘Westward Ho!’ takes me
from Mungret to Kilcoole
and childhood reading

‘Westward Ho!’ in Mungret, Co Limerick … on the road back to memories of early childhood reading (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

On the road from Limerick to Askeaton, Mungret is an attractive village that is quickly being absorbed into the city as a suburb. Mungret, Co Limerick, has a large, historic monastic site, and is also known for the former Jesuit college that still dominates the skyline.

But for some years Mungret has had only one pub, known as Westward Ho!, and this is now on the market to lease as ‘a substantial pub/restaurant.’ It includes a large lounge area, bar area, four rooms on the first floor and large afrea suitable for a beer garden.

But it was not the pub or its location that first caught my imagination.

For many people on their way from Limerick heading west to the port at Foynes or the beach at Ballybunion, the name may seem appropriate. But the name is also a reminder of Westward Ho!, the historical novel by Charles Kingsley published in 1855.

I still remember first reading Westward Ho! when I was a boy of 8. We were spending the summer in a house in Kilcoole, Co Wicklow, and I remember the year because it was the year of the Rome Olympics.

It was a house with a sunny veranda, close to the coast, filled with books and the only house my parents ever found that also had a piano. Nearby were the ruins of an old house with bats that provided interesting watching as those summer days came to a close.

I have often tried to locate that house as an adult, but I have never managed to find it. Perhaps it has been rebuilt beyond recognition, or is hidden behind high walls.

The house was close enough to Dublin so that it allowed my father to commute into work during the day, while he seemed to spend the summer evenings and the weekends playing golf. The beach was close by, and we had no fear of crossing the Dublin-Wexford railway line on our way to the shore. On those sunny days, we also enjoyed picking blackberries on the way to and from the beach, so it must have been about this time of the year.

I can still recall playing in the gardens in front of this house, with a small brook running by a tall stone wall. And I still have a clear memory of the books in the house I read that summer as an eight-year-old: Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley, Kidnapped and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, which was attractive to someone of my age not because of its religious fervour but because its ghoulish illustrations had a certain hold over a boy’s imagination, as had the adventures described by Charles Kingsley in Westward Ho!.

As my sisters and cousins were reading Little Women and The Water Babies, or learning to pick out ‘Chopsticks’ on the piano, I was enthralled by the books in the house, and even ventured into my first reading of the King James Version of the Bible.

Westward Ho! was written by Charles Kingsley eight years before The Water-Babies (1863), a tale about a chimney sweep, and ten years before Hereward the Wake (1865), which was regularly serialised in boys’ comics during my childhood.

If my parents were ever aware of Kingsley’s alleged racism in his descriptions of Irish people, they never alluded to it, and they never stopped us reading his books. Perhaps they had little care about what we read, just as they cared little whether we had any musical education yet never stopped us playing on the piano in the house in Kilcoole.

Kingsley wrote in a letter to his wife from Ireland in 1860, telling her: ‘I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country ... to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black one would not see it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours.’

The vile anti-Irish images continue in The Water-Babies. There is the fisherman Dennis, who always tells his masters pleasant lies, ‘but, instead of being angry with him, you must remember that he is a poor Paddy, and knows no better.’ There are the ‘wild Irish’ who ‘would not learn to be peaceable Christians,’ but prefer to ‘brew potheen ... and knock each other over the head with shillelaghs, and shoot each other from behind turf-dykes.’

There are the simian-like Doasyoulikes, an indolent and lazy people who ‘lived very much such a life as those jolly old Greeks in Sicily, who you may see painted on the ancient vases.’ But they may be an offensive, thinly-veiled metaphor for the Irish, whose ugliness is explained by their diet, for ‘when people live on poor vegetables instead of roast beef and plum-pudding, their jaws grow large, and their lips grow coarse, like the poor Paddies who eat potatoes.’

In Hereward the Wake, the hero finds refuge in Ireland among the Vikings, who are civilised and live in cities like Dublin, Waterford and Limerick, while the native Irish are deceitful, dishonest and treacherous.

It was only later in life that I realised Westward Ho! was also a lesson in what Kingsley saw as the faults and failings of Roman Catholicism in the Reformation period. Kingsley was also highly critical of Cardinal John Henry Newman, accusing him of untruthfulness and deceit, which prompted Newman to write his Apologia Pro Vita Sua.

And so, given a strong Irish perception of Kingsley as a writer who was prejudiced against Irish people and against Roman Catholics, it surprised me that a popular pub in Ireland could be called ‘Westward Ho!’ It is even more surprising as the pub is so close to a former Jesuit college and the novel repeatedly attacks the worst excesses of the Spanish Jesuits and the Inquisition.

But my childhood excitement at reading Kingsley’s Westward Ho! over half a century ago still returned with joy to my memory when I noticed the name of the pub in Mungret, and I have had a life-long affection and respect for many of the political and theological values of the Revd Charles Kingsley (1819-1875).

Kingsley was an Anglican priest, university professor, social reformer, historian and novelist. He is particularly associated with Christian Socialism, the working men’s college, and labour co-operatives that led to the working reforms of the progressive era.

Kingsley was born in Holne, Devon, the elder son of the Revd Charles Kingsley, and he spent his early childhood in Clovelly, Devon, where his father was the curate (1826-1832) and later the rector (1832-1836). He entered Magdalene College, Cambridge, in 1838 and graduated in 1842.

From 1844, he was Rector of Eversley, Hampshire. In 1860, he became Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge. Kingsley resigned from Cambridge in 1869 and from 1870 to 1873 he was a canon of Chester Cathedral. In 1873, he was made a canon of Westminster Abbey. When he died in 1875, he was buried in Saint Mary’s Churchyard, Eversley.

Kinglsey was a friend of prominent Victorians such as Charles Darwin, John Ruskin, Thomas Carlyle, Charles Dickens and Alfred Lord Tennyson. He was one of the first public figures to welcome Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859, and had a lengthy correspondence with Thomas Huxley about Huxley’s early ideas on agnosticism. Darwin added an edited version of Kingsley’s remarks to the next edition of On the Origin of Species, and when a heated dispute developed over human evolution, Kingsley gently satirised the debate, known as the Great Hippocampus Question, as the ‘Great Hippopotamus Question.’

His books include The Heroes (1856), a children’s book about Greek mythology, and several historical novels, including Hypatia (1853), Hereward the Wake (1865) and Westward Ho! (1855).

The Water-Babies (1863), a tale about a chimney sweep, illustrates Kingsley’s concern for social reform. Kingsley’s social and political values were influenced by Frederick Denison Maurice.

Westward Ho! is based on the adventures of an Elizabethan corsair Amyas Preston, who becomes Amyas Leigh in the novel. The book celebrates England’s victories over Spain in the Elizabethan era and is based on the real-life Preston Somers Expedition in 1595. This was a daring raid in which the Spanish inland colonial city of Caracas in South America was captured and plundered by English privateers led by Amyas Preston and George Somers.

In Westward Ho!, Amyas sets sail with Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh and other privateers to the New World, where they battle with the Spanish. Amyas is an unruly child and as a young man he follows Sir Francis Drake to sea. Amyas loves local beauty Rose Salterne, as does almost everyone else, and much of the novel involves the kidnap of Rose by a Spaniard.

Amyas spends time in the Caribbean coasts of Venezuela seeking gold, and eventually returns to England at the time of the Spanish Armada, finding his true love, the beautiful Indian maiden Ayacanora, in the process. Yet fate had blundered and brought misfortune into Amyas’s life, for not only had he been blinded by a freak bolt of lightning at sea, but he also loses his brother Frank Leigh and Rose Salterne, who were caught by the Spaniards and burned at the stake by the Inquisition.

The title of Charles Kingsley’s ‘Westward Ho!’ recalls from the traditional calls of boat taxis on the River Thames (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A prominent theme of the novel is the 16th-century fear of Roman Catholics, and it repeatedly shows the Protestant English correcting the worst excesses of the Spanish Jesuits and the Inquisition.

The full title of the book is Westward Ho! Or The Voyages and Adventures of Sir Amyas Leigh, Knight of Burrough, in the County of Devon, in the reign of Her Most Glorious Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, Rendered into Modern English by Charles Kingsley. It is an elaborate title intended to reflect the mock-Elizabethan style of the novel.

But the title also recalls from the traditional call of boat taxis on the River Thames, which would call ‘Eastward Ho!’ and ‘Westward Ho!’ to show their destination and to attract passengers. The title is also recalls the play Westward Ho! (1604) by John Webster and Thomas Dekker, who satirised the perils of the westward expansion of London.

The tomb of Bishop George Augustus Selwyn in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Kingsley dedicated the novel to Sir James Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak, and Bishop George Selwyn, two leading Victorians he saw as representatives of English heroic values that harkened back to the Elizabethan era.

George Augustus Selwyn (1809-1878) was the first Anglican Bishop of New Zealand. He was Bishop of New Zealand (including Melanesia) from 1841 to 1858, and then Primate of New Zealand from 1858 to 1868. After returning to England, Selwyn was Bishop of Lichfield from 1868 until he died in 1878. He gave his name to Selwyn College in Cambridge. Sir James Brooke (1803-1868), was a born under the British Raj in India, who became the first White Rajah of Sarawak in Borneo.

Westward Ho! is set in Bideford in North Devon during the reign of Elizabeth I, and so became the inspiration for the unusual name of Westward Ho!, a seaside village near Bideford and the only place name in Britain to include an exclamation mark.

Because of the success and popularity of Kingsley’s novel and a growing Victorian fashion for seaside holidays, entrepreneurs in Bideford realised the opportunity to develop tourism in the area. The Northam Burrows Hotel and Villa Building Company was formed in 1863, and was chaired by Isaac Newton Wallop (1825-1891), 5th Earl of Portsmouth and the landlord of Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.

The company prospectus admitted ‘the recent publication of Professor Kingsley’s Westward Ho!’ had ‘excited increased public attention to the western part, more especially, of this romantic and beautiful coast. Nothing but a want of accommodation for visitors has hitherto prevented its being the resort of families seeking the advantages of sea bathing, combined with the invigorating breezes of the Atlantic …’

The hotel built by the company was named the Westward Ho! Hotel, and the adjacent villas were also named after the book. As the development expanded, the settlement also became known as Westward Ho! … with the exclamation mark.

The United Services College was founded in the village in 1874. Rudyard Kipling spent several of his childhood years at Westward Ho!, attending the United Services College, which has since been absorbed by Haileybury College, now in Hertfordshire. His collection of stories, Stalky & Co (1899), is based on his school days there.

The village has become more residential as holiday camps closed and houses and flats were built. Today, Westward Ho! is known for its surfing seas and the long expanse of clean sand. The seaward part of the village lies within the North Devon Coast, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

So, in some remote way, Westward Ho! not only brings me back to my childhood and early reading, but also has connections with Enniscorthy, Lichfield and Cambridge.

The Westward Ho! pub in Mungret first opened in 1896, and there was widespread concern when it closed its doors two years ago.

However, the management insisted at the time that it was ‘business as usual’ at the bar and that the premises had closed only to carry out renovations. It is the last remaining pub in Mungret village. The only bar facility in Mungret is the local GAA club, but it is often booked out for private events.

Catching glimpses of what
the Kingdom of Heaven is like

Evening lights at Stowe Pool and Lichfield Cathedral ... ‘a little snatch of heaven’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Saint Mary’s Rectory,
Askeatron, Co Limerick

30 July 2017

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity

11 a.m.:
The United Parish Eucharist

Readings: Genesis 29: 15-28; Psalm 105: 1-11, 45b or Psalm 128; Romans 8: 26-39; Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52.

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

Have you ever found yourself lost for words when it comes to describing a beautiful place you have visited?

If you have ever been to the Bay of Naples or Sorrento, how would you describe what you have seen to someone who has never travelled beyond Limerick and Kerry?

You might try comparing the first glimpse of Vesuvius with looking at the Galtymore Mountain or even Carrauntoohil … but even Carrauntoohil is not as high as Vesuvius, and it would hardly describe the experience of climbing the rocky path, looking into the caldera, or the overpowering whiffs of that sulphuric smell.

For someone who has been as far as Dublin, and been on the DART, you might want to compare the Bay of Naples with the vista in Dalkey or Killiney … but that hardly catches the majestic scope of the view.

You might want to compare the church domes with the great copper dome in Rathmines … but that goes nowhere near describing the intricate artwork on those Italian domes.

You might compare the inside of the duomo in Amalfi with the inside of your favourite parish church … but you know you are getting nowhere near what you want to say.

And as for Capri … you are hardly going to write a romantic song about Tarbert or Aughunish Island, or even the stacks off Kilkee.

Comparisons never match the beauty of any place that offers us a snatch or a glimpse of heaven.

And yet, we know that the photographs on our phones, no matter how good they seem to be when we are taking them, never do justice to the places we have been once we get home.

We risk becoming bores either by trying to use inadequate words or inadequate images to describe experiences that we can never truly share with people unless they go there, unless they have been there too.

I suppose that helps to a degree to understand why Jesus keeps on trying to grasp at images that might help the Disciples and help us to understand what the Kingdom of God is like.

He tries to offer us a taste of the kingdom with a number of parables in this morning’s Gospel reading:

● The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed … (verse 31).

● The kingdom of heaven is like yeast … (verse 33).

● The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field … (verse 44).

● The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls … (verse 45).

● The kingdom of heaven is like a net in the sea … (verse 47).

‘Do they understand?’ They answer, ‘Yes.’ But how can they really understand, fully understand?

Some years ago, after a late Sunday lunch at the café in Mount Usher in Co Wicklow, I posted some photographs of the gardens on my website. An American reader I have never met commented: ‘A little piece of heaven.’

We have a romantic imagination that confuses gardens with Paradise, and Paradise with the Kingdom of Heaven. But perhaps that is a good starting point, because I have a number of places where I find myself saying constantly: ‘This is a little snatch of heaven.’ They include:

● The road from Cappoquin out to my grandmother’s farm in West Waterford.

● The journey along the banks of the River Slaney between Ferns and Wexford.

● The view from the east end of Stowe Pool across to Lichfield Cathedral at sunset on a Spring evening.

● The Backs in Cambridge.

● Sunset behind at the Fortezza in Rethymnon on the Greek island of Crete.

● The sights and sounds on some of the many beaches I like to walk on regularly … here, I have introduced myself to Ballybunion, Beal and Kilkee, and there are the beaches along the east coast that I still return to, beaches in Achill, Crete … I could go on.

Sunset on the beach in Rethymnon earlier this month (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Already this year, I have managed to get back to many of these places.

At times, I imagine the Kingdom of Heaven must be so like so many of these places where I find myself constantly praising God and thanking God for creation and for re-creation.

But … but it’s not just that. And I start thinking that Christ does more than just paint a scene when he describes the kingdom of heaven. Looking at this morning’s Gospel reading again, I realise he is doing more than offering holiday snapshots or painting the scenery.

He tries to describe the Kingdom of Heaven in terms of doing, and not just in terms of being:

● Sowing a seed (verse 31);

● Giving a nest to the birds of the air (verse 32);

● Mixing yeast (verse 33);

● Turning small amounts of flour into generous portions of bread (verse 34);

● Finding hidden treasure (verse 44);

● Rushing out in joy (verse 44);

● Selling all that I have because something I have found is worth more – much, much more, again and again (verse 44, 46);

● Searching for pearls (verse 45);

● Finding just one pearl (verse 46);

● Casting a net into the sea (verse 47);

● Catching an abundance of fish (verse 47);

● Drawing the abundance of fish ashore, and realising there is too much there for personal needs (verse 48);

● Writing about it so that others can enjoy the benefit and rewards of treasures new and old (verse 52).

So there are, perhaps, four or five times as many active images of the kingdom than there are passive images.

Are our images of the kingdom passive or active? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

One of my favourite T-shirts, one I saw in the Plaka in Athens some years ago, says: ‘To do is to be, Socrates. To be is to do, Plato. Do-be-do-be-do, Sinatra.’

The kingdom is more about doing than being.

At the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG the week before last I heard about a number of activities that, for me, offer snatches of what the kingdom is like:

1, Bishop David Hamid spoke about the work of Saint Paul’s Church, the Anglican Church in Athens, in partnership with USPG, working with refugees and asylum seekers who continue to arrive in desperate and heart-breaking circumstances on the Greek islands.

2, Bishop Margaret Vertue, from the Diocese of False Bay in the Western Cape, who spoke in her Bible studies each morning of how the Bible relates to the work of the Anglican Church in South Africa with victims of gender-based violence and people trafficking.

3, Rachel Parry, a USPG staff member, who spoke of Bishop Carlo Morales, Bishop of Ozamis in the Philippines who was arrested at gunpoint in May and is still languishing in jail, simply because of his commitment to working with the peace process in his own country.

4, Jo Musker-Sherwood, Director of Hope for the Future, who shared how her experience in mission with USPG has led her to work at lobbying politicians and empowering churches in the whole are of climate change.

5, Carlton Turner, who has moved from the Bahamas and the West Indies to Bloxwich in the Diocese of Lichfield as a vicar, and who talked about how God creates out of chaos, how God’s pattern for growing the Church is about entering chaos and bringing about something creative, something new.

Throughout that week, we were offered fresh and engaging signs of the ministry of Christ as he invites us to the banquet, as he invites us into the Kingdom – works that are little glimpses or snatches of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.

This morning’s Eucharist, and the barbecue we are sharing afterwards, should, in their own ways, be glimpses of, snatches, of the heavenly banquet.

And this afternoon, this evening, whenever you go home after the barbecue, I challenge you to think of three places, three gifts in God’s creation, that offer you glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven, and to think of three actions that for you symbolise Christ’s invitation into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Give thanks for these pearls beyond price, and share them with someone you love and cherish.

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

On the Backs in Cambridge at Sidney Sussex College Boathouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


Lord of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things:
Graft in our hearts the love of your name,
increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness,
and of your great mercy keep us in the same;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord God,
whose Son is the true vine and the source of life,
ever giving himself that the world may live:
May we so receive within ourselves
the power of his death and passion
that, in his saving cup,
we may share his glory and be made perfect in his love;
for he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.

Christ ‘is the true vine and the source of life, ever giving himself that the world may live’ … an icon of Christ the True Vine in the parish church in Piskopianó in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes in the Diocese of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert. This sermon was prepared for the United Parish Eucharist in Askeaton on Sunday 30 July 2017.

29 July 2017

No 96 O’Connell Street,
Georgian house not to
be passed by in Limerick

No 96 O’Connell Street, a fine example of Limerick’s early 19th century architecture (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I am sure many people walk by No 96 O’Connell Street every day without noticing this architecturally beautiful building, and without ever gaining a hint of the splendid plaster work, fireplaces and interior fittings.

This is the offices of Limerick Chamber of Commerce, one of the five oldest Chambers of Commerce in Ireland and Britain. It was established as a Chamber of Commerce in 1805, but its roots go back to the Society of Merchants of the Staple, whose origins can be traced to the Guild of Merchants in the early 17th Century.

The Chamber of Commerce had its first headquarters at the former Commercial Buildings on Patrick Street, built in 1805. It was formally constituted by Royal Charter from King George III on 2 June 1815, and it moved to No 96 O’Connell Street in 1829 or 1833.

During the first half of the 19th century, the chamber played a key role in the development of Limerick Harbour and also assumed control over pilotage in the River Shannon and made payments to individuals who salvaged vessels and marked hazards in the estuary.

No 96 O’Connell Street was built about a decade earlier, ca 1815-1820 on what was then George’s Street. The house remains a fine building, with much of its early 19th-century interior still intact, in sharp contrast to the later 19th-century stucco façade.

Because the building still has many of its original fine architectural and decorative details, which are all well-maintained, when I visited No 96 on Thursday afternoon I was able to appreciate the fine Georgian interiors and details that add to the restrained effect intended by the architect who designed this townhouse.

This terraced, three-bay, four-storey over basement former townhouse was built ca 1815-1820 as part of the development of Newtown Pery. It was refaced in stucco ca 1880 and it is distinguished by the channel rusticated ground floor elevation, foliate frieze to the parapet entablature and the cast-iron balconette that emphasises the entablature enriched window openings of the piano nobile.

The cast-iron balconette brings emphasis to the windows on the piano nobile (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The roof is concealed behind the parapet wall to the front and rear, with a red-brick chimney-stack to the party wall.

The tooled limestone ashlar basement elevation ends at the ground floor level with a smooth limestone ashlar course.

The building has a stucco rendered façade, with a channel rusticated ground floor that ends with a running mould sill cornice at the first-floor level, and above this the façade is plainly rendered.

A sill course delineates the second-floor level and the façade terminates with a dentil enriched parapet entablature.

The segmental-arched window openings at ground floor level have painted profiled sills and painted stucco architraves with vermiculated keystone and foliate brackets that add emphasis to the frame. There are one-over-one timber sash windows with segmental horns.

The square-headed window openings of the piano nobile have a continuous painted stucco sill course, a lugged architrave and outer pilaster uprights with an entablature that has guilloche mouldings to the frieze, supported by a parapet entablature. The continental-style casement windows have fixed horizontal over-lights and date from ca 1880.

There are square-headed window openings on the second and third floor, with a continuous sill course at the second-floor level, and a profiled sill course at the third-floor level with consoles beneath.

The architrave surround at that second-floor level has an entablature and is enriched by a Greek key frieze that terminates with rosettes. There is a lugged and kneed architrave at the second and third floor level. There are two-over-two timber sash windows at the second-floor level and replacement uPVC windows at the third-floor level.

The front door … evidence of the brick arch of the original door opening to the right (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The segmental-arched door opening has a surround treatment that echoes the window openings at ground level. The inset timber doorframe has a profiled timber lintel separating the plain glass over-light from the flat-panelled timber door. The remains of part of the brick arch of the original door opening can be traced on the neighbouring late Georgian façade to the right.

At the front, the basement area is enclosed by a limestone ashlar plinth wall that ends with limestone piers with stop-chamferred corners and pyramidal capping stones. There is canted coping to plinth wall supporting distinctive arched cresting.

The flight of limestone steps leads up to the limestone flagged front door area, where there is still an original cast-iron boot-scraper.

Inside, No 96 retains much of the spatial arrangement and architectural detailing dating from ca 1815-1820.

The entrance hall has a glazed inner porch screen that dates from the late 19th or early 20th century in origins.

The door separating the entrance hall and the stair hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Separating the stair hall is an arched opening with an inner door-case comprising slender composite columns and responding quarter pilasters joined by an entablature with an enriched frieze that has a webbed fanlight above. There are plain sidelights and a replacement panelled timber door leaf.

The door opening to the ground floor front room has a fine architrave of flanking pilasters with rosettes that link with the lintel architrave.

The ceiling stucco work survives from the early 19th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The ceiling in the entrance hall has low relief compartments with wheat husk swags tied with ribbon flanking an acanthus ceiling boss with scrollwork enriched by floral motifs. There is a low-relief modillion cornice running along the flat ceiling.

A round-arch window on a half-landing on the stairs (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The original primary staircase rises to the second-floor level. This has two half landings and a slender turned timber balustrade with an elaborate ground floor level curtail step. This staircase is open string with scrolled tread ends, which are either carved timber or composite.

At the second-floor level, an arched opening with a running mould archivolt springs from pilaster uprights and gives access to the private accommodation corridor.

The stair hall ceiling is enriched by low relief decorative plasterwork, typical of its period, forming an acanthus ceiling boss and outer floral and foliate oval tied by ribbon. A low relief frieze that runs along the ceiling is made up of a foliate frieze and an egg-and-dart course.

The half landings receive natural light from round-arched window openings with shutter box architraves comprising slender pilasters and archivolt, and having a panelled window back, flat-panelled shutters with applied bead mouldings, and a flat-panelled arch soffit. There are original six-over-six timber sash windows with segmental horns and a fanlight to the upper sash.

Because of meetings in the building, I did not get into the rooms upstairs this week. But I understand the three-bay piano nobile room has an arched inter-communicating opening to the rear room, with door leaves sliding into cavities in the dividing wall.

I am told this room has a flush chimney-breast with marble chimney-piece that has carved figurative panels, an Adam-inspired fire grate and a Victorian cast-iron fender. The window openings retain their original shutter boxes and flat-panelled timber shutters with applied bead mouldings. The ceiling is decorated with a sprayed feather boss with an elaborate low relief surround of scrolled foliations and an outer grape vine garland.

The first-floor rear room is similarly decorated with further enrichments to the ceiling. The chimney-piece is equally fine with a centrally-placed plaque depicting a Roman gladiator. There is a brass Regency fender with lion’s head masks that enrich the chimney-piece.

I did not get to the back of the building, but I understand the rear site still has the original coach house with a triangular pediment and an unusual triangular-shaped red-brick dovecote with oval windows set in brick surrounds.

No 96 O’Connell Street … how many people pass by each day without imagining its architectural riches? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Finding more O’Brien
windows and monuments
in Saint Mary’s Cathedral

The three-light East Window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, is a memorial to Augustus Stafford O’Brien Stafford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Earlier this week, I was discussing Archbishop Michael Ramsey and his visit to Limerick in 1961 to dedicate the Ascension Window in the Jebb Chapel in Saint Mary’s Cathedral memory of Horace Stafford-O’Brien (1842-1929).

The window was commissioned by Horace Stafford-O’Brien’s son, Major Egerton Augustus Stafford-O’Brien (1872-1963), of Cratloe, Co Clare, who was an uncle by marriage of Archbishop Ramsey’s wife, Joan.

I returned to Saint Mary’s Cathedral at the end of this week to see some other windows and memorials that are associated with the Stafford-O’Brien and O’Brien families.

Horace’s uncle, Augustus Stafford O'Brien-Stafford (1811-1857), was perhaps the best-known member of the family. He was the MP for Northamptonshire North from 1841 until his early death in Dublin in 1857, and was Secretary to the Admiralty in Lord Derby’s short-lived government from February to December 1852. In 1847, he assumed by royal licence the additional name of Stafford by royal licence in 1847 to distinguish himself from his kinsman William Smith O’Brien.

During the Crimean War, Augustus Stafford went to Scutari in 1857 to assist Florence Nightingale’s work with the sick and wounded. It was said at the time that Florence Nightingale had paid for the large, three-light stained-glass East Window in his memory in Saint Mary’s Cathedral.

This East Window was erected in 1857-1860 in the early English style and replaced an earlier perpendicular window designed by James Pain and installed in 1843. Pain’s East Window was considered out of keeping with the west windows and the transept windows, and was moved by Saint Michael’s Church in Pery Square, which was designed by the brothers James and George Pain in 1836-1844.

The new window was designed by the English architect William Slater (1819-1872), who was restoring the East End or Chancel of Saint Mary’s Cathedral at the time, and was filled with stained glass as a memorial to Augustus Stafford.

Augustus Stafford was the eldest son of Stafford O’Brien of Blatherwick Park, Northampton, and Cratloe Woods, Co Clare, and his wife Emma, sister of Lord Gainsborough and daughter of Sir Gerald Noel MP.

Augustus Stafford was born in 1811, was educated at Trinity College Cambridge, and as the MP for Northamptonshire, he sat as a Conservative Protectionist.

He was a distinguished scholar and statesman, and was regarded as an eloquent speaker in Parliament. But he was also highly regarded for his philanthropic work. Following the Battle of Balaklava in the Crimean War, Augustus Stafford visited Crimea, and helped to administer medical aid and comfort to the wounded and dying soldiers.

Not every Irish observer was impressed by his work in Crimea, however. Colonel John Bourke, a former MP for Kildare, wrote to his brother, Lord Naas, claiming Augustus lived away from Scutari and only came to the hospitals for a few hours each day in an act of self-publicity.

On the other hand, Florence Nightingale hailed him as a hero, and Chichester Fortescue, the Liberal MP for Louth, recalled how Augustus had ‘behaved so well’ at Scutari.

The poet Aubrey de Vere, who lived at Curragh Chase near Askeaton and who was a friend of Augustus Stafford, recounted years later that when cholera raged fiercely on ships, Augustus attended the sick crew members ‘at imminent risk of his own life.’

When he returned to Westminster, he spoke in the Commons about the needs of the invalid veterans and their families, and on the death toll. He returned to Crimea again in 1855.

He died suddenly in a Dublin hotel on 18 November 1857, while he was on his way back to Limerick from England. A committee was formed to raise funds for the window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral as a public memorial to him in Limerick. The committee members included the Marquis of Drogheda, the Earl of Powis, five senior clergy and two MPs.

They raised over £1,500, and the rumour soon spread that the principal if not sole donor was Florence Nightingale – although her contribution amounted to three guineas, while the tenants and labourers of the Cratloe Estate contributed almost £50.

The glass, by Clayton and Bell of London, one of the most prolific and proficient English workshops of stained glass during the late 19th and early 20th century. Clayton and Bell also designed the five-light window in the north transept of the cathedral in memory of Samuel Caswell. Windows by Clayton and Bell can be seen in churches throughout Ireland, including Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin, Lurgan Parish Church, Virginia, Co Cavan, and Saint Mary’s Church, Julianstown, Co Meath.

The Biblical subjects represented in the East Window are:

In the centre: Christ enthroned; overhead, the Charity of Dorcas; below, the Good Samaritan. On the left (north side): Burying the dead. A stranger and ye took me in. In prison and ye came unto me. Thirsty and ye gave me to drink. On the right (south side light), Guiding the mind. Naked and ye clothed Me. Sick and ye visited Me. Hungry and ye gave Me to eat. (Matthew 25: 31-35).

The window was renovated, re-leaded and cleaned in 1923 by the Dublin Co-operative Stained Glass works, under the supervision of Sarah Purser RHA.

The window on the south side of the chancel in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, is a memorial to Robert O’Brien (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

To the right of the East Window, there are two interesting memorial windows on the south side of the chancel. The larger of these two windows is another memorial to a member of the O’Brien family. The two-light window represents the Biblical subject, ‘The Building of the Temple.’

The inscription at the foot of the window reads: ‘The Hon Robert O’Brien, of Dromoland Castle. Born 1809. Died 1870.’

Robert O’Brien was the fourth son of Sir Edward O’Brien of Dromoland Castle, Co Clare, and a brother of then Lord Inchiquin. He married Eleanor Jane Alice Lucy, daughter of Sir Aubrey de Vere of Curragh Chase, and formerly MP for Limerick City.

Robert O’Brien took a deep and practical interest in all matters concerning the cathedral and he helped liberally in carrying out many important renovations. During his lifetime, he lived at Old Church in the neighbourhood of Limerick, and he was buried in the family vault in Newmarket-on-Fergus.

The Agnus Dei window is a memorial to Charles Maunsell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Below this window, a small circular Agnus Dei window is a memorial to Charles Maunsell, and was presented by his sister, Mrs Robinson. The window shows Christ as the Lamb of God, with a nimbus or a halo and a white banner with a red cross as a symbol of the Resurrection.

On the north side of the chancel, the O’Brien family is also commemorated in the majestic, Renaissance-style O’Brien monument.

This memorial is built at three levels. At the base is the lid of the sarcophagus of Dónal Mór O Brien, the founder of the cathedral, who died in 1194. At the next level is an effigy of Donough O’Brien, 4th Earl of Thomond, who died in 1624. Above this, at the third and highest level is an effigy of his wife, Elizabeth Fitzgerald.

The effigies of Donough and Elizabeth were badly damaged by Cromwellian soldiers. But the memorial survives as part of a collection of tributes to the O’Brien family at the east end of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.

The O’Brien monument on the north side of the chancel in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

28 July 2017

Preparing for the Liturgy and
the ‘Liturgy after the Liturgy’
in the Rectory on Sunday

Welcome to the Rectory Garden in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I have spent much of the afternoon in the rectory garden, cleaning up the driveway, getting rid of weeds on the patio that seem to return faster than I can deal with them, and tidying up the garden in preparation for Sunday next [30 July 2017].

This is the Seventh Sunday after Trinity, but it is also the Fifth Sunday in the month, which means we are having a united service for the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes.

Because the fifth Sunday falls in a summer month, we are celebrating the Parish Eucharist in the Rectory Gardens in Askeaton, and we are following this with a parish barbecue.

The Orthodox talk about the ‘Liturgy after the Liturgy.’ This normally refers to going out into the world to serve God. At the end of the Liturgy, before the final blessing, the priest says, ‘Let us go forth in peace,’ and the congregation responds, ‘In the Name of the Lord.’ Then comes a final prayer, summing up all the prayers and wishes and re-affirming the faith, establishing the bridge between the Liturgy at the altar and the Liturgy in the world, where we are all celebrants.

When there are two or more priests serving, this prayer is offered by ‘the junior priest,’ the priest most recently ordained, the one who has most recently left the lay believers to become one who serves at the altar, because he is best suited for this the one who should remember the lay condition more vividly.

These words are an instruction, a command, to go out into the world in peace and go about our lives in the name of the Lord rather than following our own whims and desires.

The Romanian Orthodox theologian Father Ion Bria wrote, ‘The “liturgy after the liturgy” is thus a way of expressing how Christian worship is inseparable from committed engagement in society and culture.’ We are called to be in deed every day, not just on Sunday, and in every place, not just within the confines of the church walls.

But there is also another, cultural understanding, of the ‘Liturgy after the Liturgy.’ After the Sunday Liturgy, many people in Greece will adjourn to a nearby taverna or café, and continue to build up the Body of Christ, in fellowship and friendship.

The barbecue in Askeaton on Sunday afternoon is an important way of building up the friendship, fellowship and family feeling that should be at the heart of a parish.

But the ‘Liturgy after the Liturgy’ is only meaningful when we actually celebrate the Liturgy first together. And this afternoon’s few hours in the garden have given me time to think again about my sermon for Sunday, which I have almost finished writing.

Behind and beside the Rectory gardens, the fields have been mowed in recent days and in the fields of green and gold, the yellow bales are waiting to be collected beneath the blue skies and white clouds in the summer sunshine.

In the Gospel reading for Sunday (Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52), Christ compares the kingdom of heaven with a seed that has been sown in a field (verse 31) or like treasure hidden in a field (verse 41).

Unlike any of the unnamed figures in these parables, I am not going to go out and sell all that I have and buy one of these fields (see verse 44). But as I dropped my gardening implements this afternoon and spent time walking through these fields, I realised how they provide an appropriate backdrop for Sunday’s Liturgy and the ‘Liturgy after the Liturgy.’

Fields of green and gold behind the Rectory Garden in Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Christ Church Cathedral launches
summer icon exhibition

The ‘Church of Ireland Gazette’ published the following half-page report on the back page last week [Friday 21 July 2017]:

Christ Church Cathedral launches
summer icon exhibition

Dean Dermot Dunne, iconographer Adrienne Long and Canon Patrick Comerford are pictured at the launch of Christ Church Cathedral’s Icon Exhibition (Photo: Lynn Glanville)

By Lynn Glanville

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, is offering visitors the opportunity to engage with their spirituality on a different level through its Summer Exhibition of Icons. The exhibition, which features the work of iconographer Adrienne Lord, opened towards the end of June and will continue until the end of September. The icons are for sale and the proceeds will be donated to charity.

The exhibition was launched by Canon Patrick Comerford, Precentor of St Mary’s Cathedral in Limerick and priest-in-charge of Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes in Limerick. Canon Comerford has a keen interest in icons.

He said that the word ‘icon’ had been demeaned in recent years – we have icons on our computers and we talk about people, such as film stars, in terms of being icons. However, he said Christ is the icon of God and the first icon is Christ.

He pointed out that we do not worship icons but can be drawn into a spiritual experience by an icon. He said there was a temptation to look at icons as idolatry but this was not the case and neither is sufficient to look at an icon as a work of art without regard for its spiritual dimension.

Canon Comerford paid tribute to Ms Lord’s interpretation of the icons, which have mainly been inspired by Greek as well as some Russian icon writers. ‘These icons all give you the idea that we do not have a static relationship with God but rather a dynamic relationship with God … What you are looking at is an interpretation of art, beauty, dynamism and spirituality,’ he said, adding that icon writers are among the first and last theologians because they allow us to speak about God but also to enter into a relationship with God.

The cathedral’s Dean, the Very Revd Dermot Dunne, described Adrienne Lord as a prolific icon writer and said that her work had emanated from a spiritual heart of prayer. He commended her for her generosity in donating the proceeds of the sale of her icons, over and above the cost of writing them, to charity.

A Triptych Deesis altarpiece, worth €1,000, will be raffled with the proceeds from the sale of raffle tickets going to SSPD, in Tamil Nadu, India, a non-profit, non-governmental organisation that works to improve the conditions of communities living in poverty in Tamil Nadu. The Dean encouraged everyone to buy tickets which are available at the welcome desk.

‘We are very grateful that you have chosen the cathedral as a space for this exhibition,’ he told Adrienne. ‘One of the cathedral’s biggest tasks is to transform the visitor into a pilgrim, to enable them to experience the transcendent and the divine God. It is noticeable that when visitors to the cathedral saw the exhibition last year, automatically a silence fell and a prayerful mood was created.’

The proceeds of sales made during the exhibition will go to a registered charity nominated by the purchaser. Sales of the icons on the opening night will be donated to one of four charities nominated by the artist.

Throughout the exhibition’s run there will be demonstrations by the iconographer on the last Friday of each month between 11.00 am and 1.00 pm and 2.00 pm and 4.00 pm.

27 July 2017

Being tribal about
being in Wexford

Wexford Quays, seen from Wexford Bridge in the rain late on Wednesday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

Before moving to Asketon six months ago, I was back in Wexford regularly, for walks along the beaches like Kilmuckridge, Ballymoney and Courtown, walks by the banks of the River Slaney, rambles around Bunclody, Ferns, Enniscorthy and Wexford town, or strolls along the Quays of Wexford.

Although I was born in Rathfarnham, spent part of my childhood near Cappoquin in west Waterford and went to school at Gormanston, near Drogheda, the important, decisive years of growing up and maturing were spent in Lichfield and Wexford, and I still feel very much at home in both Wexford and Lichfield.

When Wexford and Waterford were playing a recent hurling match, I was told I was being very tribal about Wexford. Ancestral roots go very deep indeed, and for the past six months I have missed the way Wexford is so easily accessible from Dublin.

If you can imagine Wexford, Dublin and Limerick as three corners of a triangle, then for me the most difficult side of the triangle when it comes to travel by public transport is the one linking Limerick and Wexford.

On Wednesday [26 July 2017], I was invited to two parts of the wedding of a former student – the wedding service in Saint James’s Church, Crinken, near Bray, and a reception in an hotel in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow. What was I to do with the six hours in between?

Fresh fruit at Green’s Berry Farm in Tinnock, near Gorey, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

From Bray, it is only an hour to North Wexford, and soon two of us were stopping to buy fresh Wexford fruits – strawberries and raspberries – at Green’s Berry Farm in Tinnock. Those plump fresh ripe strawberries are unique to the sunny south-east, and there is no comparison with the forced, limp imports found on many supermarket shelves. What happy memories I have of the Strawberry Fair, which marked its 50th anniversary in Enniscorthy this year.

A few minutes later we were in Gorey, wondering whether we might stop there for lunch, and whether Gorey still had a Greek restaurant. But I had forgotten how busy this part of north Co Wexford can be at this time of the year. Summer brings a large number of people from south Dublin to the beaches of north Wexford, and Gorey becomes a thronged shopping town.

We found no immediate parking, and decided to continue on, remembering that there was once a Greek restaurant in the old creamery in Ballycanew called Papa Rhodes.

The restaurant took its name not from the Greek island of Rhodes, but from its former chef and proprietor, Ormond Rhodes (‘Roddy’) Hickson, who once ran the place with his wife Maureen. But it seems to have been closed for a years now now, since about 2013 or 2014, and we continued on the road, through Castlebridge, to Wexford.

Wexford is always a beautiful sight to behold, even under grey skies and in a light rain that were more appropriate to mid-autumn than to mid-summer. The water was sparkling along the Quays, and from the bridge along the skyline I could pick out the Opera House, the spires of the Twin Churches in Rowe Street and Bride Street, the Friary and Saint Iberius’s Church. Tucked in the there somewhere is the house I once lived in on High Street.

I was last in Bunclody in January and the previous November. But I think I was last back in Wexford Town during the Wexford Festival in October for a lecture by John Julius Norwich. When you have experienced so much growing up in one place, every detail is etched on your memory, and every change is noted and catalogued in the recesses of memories and emotions.

By the estuary of the River Slaney at Ferrycarrig, on the outskirts of Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

We drove through the town for a while, and then headed out to Ferrycarrig for a late lunch by the banks of the river at the Ferrycarrig Hotel. I had planned a short stay here in January, but those plans changed with the move to Limerick.

On the decking outside, a clown was entertaining children and small family groups. The estuary of the River Slaney, which looks like a lake at this point, was placid and soothing, and as our meal came to a close, the grey skies turned to blue.

We lingered here a little longer, enjoying the peaceful setting by the Slaney. We had talked about going back into Wexford for a walk around the narrow streets, but instead we drove along the banks of the Slaney, through Enniscorthy, Ferns and Camolin to the sandy beach at Ballymoney.

The day was beginning to close in, there was a light rain, and only one person was swimming in the sea. I went for a walk alone in the rain, and felt I hand the beach and the sea to myself, to think, to reflect, to pray.

But time had caught up with us. Within an hour, we were back in Enniskerry for the wedding reception. I am back in Askeaton, Co Limerick, this evening.

On the beach at Ballymoney, Co Wexford, in the rain on Wednesday evevning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Remembering Brooke Westcott
among the saints on 27 July

Westcott House, Cambridge … founded as the Clergy Training School by Bishop Brooke Foss Westcott (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Calendar of the Church of Ireland is often very limited and narrow, and so it is difficult at times to find opportunities to proclaim how we are maintaining the living tradition of the Church, that continues long after the apostles and early Irish saints who dominate this calendar.

The Church of England, in the calendar in Common Worship, has much broader and more inclusive approach. Today [27 July], for example, Common Worship provides for a commemoration of Brooke Foss Westcott, Bishop of Durham, Teacher of the Faith, who died on 27 July 1901.

Westcott was born near Birmingham on 12 January 1825. He was a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, BA in 1848, was elected a Fellow of Trinity College in 1849, and was ordained deacon in 1849 and priest in 1851.

He left Cambridge in 1852 to become an assistant master at Harrow. There he earned a reputation as a lecturer and scholar, and published a series of scholarly works on the Bible. He wrote commentaries on the gospel and epistles of Saint John, and his History of the New Testament Canon (1855) was for many years a standard work in biblical scholarship.

His reputation led eventually in 1870 to his election as Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge, a position he retained even after being named bishop of Durham in 1890.

At Cambridge, he worked with the Dublin-born theologian and Biblical scholar, Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828-1892), and his friend from schooldays in Birmingham, Joseph Barber Lightfoot (1828-1889), in leading a revival in biblical studies and theology.

Westcott and Hort collaborated on an influential critical edition of the Greek text of the New Testament. The Westcott-Hort New Testament appeared in 1881 after nearly 30 years of work and became a major source for the English Revised Version of the Bible published the same year.

Westcott was influential too in the field of Anglican social thought. In 1889, he convened a conference of Christians from all over Europe to consider the arms race. From this conference emerged the Christian Social Union, with Westcott as its president.

Westcott also played a significant role founding the Clergy Training School in Cambridge, later renamed Westcott House in his honour.

In 1890, he was consecrated Bishop of Durham in succession to Lightfoot. His social concerns found other outlets in the promotion of missionary work, which he supported enthusiastically as bishop, and in the mediation of the Durham coal strike in 1892.

He died at Auckland Castle in Durham on this day in 1901.

The Collect:

Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you in all things and above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Bishop Brooke Foss Westcott, who gave his name to Westcott House, Cambridge, died on 27 July 1901 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

26 July 2017

In search of Archbishop
Michael Ramsey’s family
connections with Limerick

The Ascension Window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick … dedicated by Archbishop Michael Ramsey on 28 February 1961 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, has a wealth of stained–glass, mostly dating from the 19th century.

However, the best-known 20th century windows are two pairs of windows in the Jebb Chapel by Catherine O’Brien (1881-1963), commemorating the Revd James Dowd (1848-1909) and the Very Revd Lucius Henry O’Brien (1842-1913), a former Dean of Limerick (1905-1913), and above them the large Ascension window from the Harry Clarke studio.

The Ascension Window was dedicated on 28 February 1961 by the then Archbishop of York, Michael Ramey, who was about to become Archbishop of Canterbury.

The window was presented in memory of Horace Stafford-O’Brien (1842-1929) and his wife Eleanor Elizabeth (née Holmes), and was donated by their son, Major Egerton Augustus Stafford-O’Brien (1872-1963), who lived just outside Limerick at Cratloe, Co Clare.

The Ascension Window is the most modern of all the stained-glass windows in the cathedral. It immediately attracts attention because of its size and because of the amount of white antique glass in its execution, allowing light to filter into the Jebb Chapel below.

The glass in this window is known technically as antique glass. It is of English manufacture – this glass is not made in Ireland – and is made specifically for stained glass work alone. Unlike sheet glass, it is not made mechanically. This window contains many thousands of pieces that have been leaded together by hand.

The main image in the window depicts the Ascension as narrated in the Acts of the Apostles. The lower images depict, from left to right, Saint Catherine of Sinai (lower left) with her wheel; the Parable of the Prodigal Son; the Annunciation; the Parable of the Good Samaritan; and Saint Nicholas (lower right), shown as Santa Claus, distributing gifts to children.

The figure of the Ascending Christ is in pale gold and ruby. The Apostles, the Virgin Mary and Saint Mary Magdalene are depicted in a rich array of blues, reds and greens, preserving a rhythmic balance of tone and colour that is consistent with the best traditions of stained glass. A neutral tone of green binds the composition of figures in an harmonious whole and gives a sense of stability to the grouping of the figures.

The Ascension Window was donated by Egerton Augustus Stafford-O’Brien (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

But who was Horace Stafford-O’Brien?

Who was Egerton Augustus Stafford-O’Brien?

And why did Archbishop Michael Ramsey come to Limerick over half a century ago to dedicate this window?

Michael Ramsey (1904-1988) remains one of the most influential Archbishops of Canterbury. His short book The Christian Priest Today remains a classic on priestly ministry, and over the years I have given copies of this book to many ordinands and students.

He was born in Cambridge and his parents were Arthur Stanley Ramsey (1867-1954) and Mary Agnes (1875-1927) née Wilson. In Cambridge, he wis father was a Congregationalist and a mathematician and his mother was a socialist and a suffragette. As a child, he attended Emmanuel Church on Trumpinton Street, opposite Corpus Christi College, and went to school at King’s College School, Cambridge, and Repton School, before going on to Magdalene College, Cambridge, where his father was the President and where the present master is one of his successors, Archbishop Rowan Williams.

At Cambridge, he was influenced strongly by Edwyn Clement Hoskyns, the Anglo-Catholic dean of Corpus Christi College, and on the advice of Eric Milner-White, the Chaplain of King’s College, Cambridge, he trained for ordination at Cuddesdon, where he became friends with Austin Farrer and was introduced to Orthodox Christianity. In the late 1930s, he was briefly Vicar of Saint Bene’t’s Church, which i attend regularly when I am in Cambridge, and he returned to Cambridge later as Regius Professor of Divinity and a Fellow of Magdalene College in 1950.

When Archbishop Ramsey arrived in Limerick to dedicate the Ascension Window, it was a family event, but he was astonished to find so many Anglicans in Ireland, exclaiming: ‘The Church of Ireland boils up in the most unexpected places, doesn’t it?’ He had lunch with President Eamon de Valera, and was delighted to find that Dev was educated on his father’s mathematical textbooks.

Archbishop Michael Ramsey visited the Royal George Hotel during his visit to Limerick in 1961 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

During his visit to Limerick, Archbishop Ramsey was entertained at the Royal George Hotel on O’Connell Street, which was once visited by Queen Victoria and which was demolished in 1973 and rebuilt.

Later, Robert Wyse Jackson, who was Bishop of Limerick at the time, recalled that the Royal George Hotel, ‘in its original form … fitted handsomely into the Georgian façade of O’Connell Street. The last function before it was demolished and rebuilt was one which I organised for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Ramsey, when he came to Limerick to dedicate a window in St Mary’s Cathedral to the memory of his kinsman, Major Stafford-O’Brien of Cratloe.’

But how was Archbishop Ramsey related to the O’Brien family, and did he have Irish family connections?

Archbishop Ramsey had a little-known Irish background. His grandfather, the Revd Adam Averell Ramsey, was born in Downpatrick, Co Down, and was trained as a Congregationalist minister in Belfast, and later ministered in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, and in a Primitive Methodist Church in London. He returned to Ireland on at least one occasion to speak at the opening of the Protestant Hall and County and City of Cork Assembly Rooms in 1861.

But this does not explain the Irish family links that brought Michael Ramsey to Limerick over half a century ago. I had to look for clues elsewhere.

In 1942, the future archbishop married Joan Alice Chetwode Hamilton (1909-1995), and it was in her family story that I found the Ramseys’ family links with Limerick.

Joan Ramsey was a daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Alexander Chetwode Hamilton (1879-1956), and his wife, Ouida Mary Tryon (1875-1973). Colonel Hamilton had fought in the World War I and was decorated with the Military Cross. In 1908, he married Ouida Mary Tryon.

Joan Ramsey’s uncle, Eric Hamilton (1890-1962), was Suffragan Bishop of Shrewsbury (1940-1944) in the Diocese of Lichfield and later Dean of Windsor (1945-1962). Joan was a social worker, and she met Michael Ramsey while she was the secretary and driver for Leslie Owen, Bishop of Jarrow, who had been Michael Ramsey’s former warden at Lincoln.

As I searched through this family tree, I was still not finding any Irish ancestors. But then I came across Ouida Mary Hamilton’s younger sister, Violet Alice Grace Tryon. On 18 September 1912, she married Major Egerton Augustus Stafford-O’Brien.

So, it appears, the Ascension Window was presented to Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, by Joan Ramsey’s uncle, Major Egerton Stafford-O’Brien, the husband of her favourite aunt, in memory of her aunt’s father-in-law, Horace Stafford O’Brien (1842-1929).

Joan Ramsey’s uncle, Major Egerton Augustus Stafford-O’Brien (1872-1963), lived outside Limerick at Cratloe, Co Clare. He was descended from Henry O'Brien, second son of Sir Donough O’Brien of Dromoland Castle, Co Clare, who married Susanna Stafford in 1699. The family owned large estates in England as well as large tracts of land in Ireland, mainly in Co Clare, Co Limerick and Co Tipperary.

Horace’s uncle, Augustus Stafford O’Brien-Stafford (1811-1857), was perhaps the best-known member of the family. He was the MP for Northamptonshire North (1841-1857) until his early death in Dublin in 1857, and was Secretary to the Admiralty in Lord Derby’s government in 1852. He assumed the additional name of Stafford by royal licence in 1847 to distinguish himself from his kinsman William Smith O’Brien.

During the Crimean War, Augustus O’Brien-Stafford went to Scutari in 1857 to assist Florence Nightingale’s work with the sick and wounded. It is said Florence Nightingale paid for the large stained-glass window in his memory in Saint Mary’s Cathedral.

Until 1990, Joan Ramsey’s first cousin, Robert (‘Robin’) Guy Stafford-O’Brien (1915-1991), the only son of Egerton and Violet, lived at Cratloe Woods. When he died on 29 April 1991, he was buried in a simple grave in the grounds of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick. His cousins, the Brickenden family, moved to Cratloe Woods from Co Wicklow, and the house is open to the public during the summer months.

Robin Stafford-O’Brien’s grave at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)