30 September 2017

A walk along ‘Poor Man’s Kilkee’
instead of a walk on the beach

The jetty on Harvey’s Quay is known as ‘Poor Man’s Kilkee’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

The rain throughout the week and this weekend means I never gout for a walk on the beach.

But even though I never managed to get to Ballybunion in Co Kerry or Kilkee in Co Clare, the two beach resorts beloved of people in Limerick, I managed to take time in Limerick on Thursday [28 September 2017] to take a walk in the rain by what is known affectionately to people in Limerick as ‘Poor-Man’s Kilkee.’

Each summer, as thousands of people left Limerick City for their annual holidays in Kilkee, an area jutting into the River Shannon become known as ‘Poor-Man’s Kilkee’ because of its popularity among families who for could not afford the train fare to go to Kilkee and so would go on to the mudflats at low tide and swim in the Shannon.

This jetty, jutting out of Harvey’s Quay, was built as part of Wellesley Pier on Harvey’s Quay, below Sarsfield Bridge.

This jetty and pier were built around 1820, forming a lock at Sarsfield Bridge. They were built with rough-hewn large limestone blocks, with a rounded outer edge extending to the deck of the pier at different lengths, and lawn grass to the remainder of the decks.

The jetty, completely enclosed by steel railings around 2000, contains a circular arrangement of eight cut limestones that form part of the former swivel bridge.

The Limerick Boat Club building occupies most of the main pier, with two iron canons at the south end of main section, while the jetty is now a public outdoor space with benches. The area is a landmark on the riverscape of Limerick, and provides a recreational use along the River Shannon.

Walking along the boardwalk by the River Shannoln in Limerick o(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Harvey’s Quay began as two separate Quays named after the men who built and developed this part of Limerick in the 1820s. Reuben Harvey and James Fisher were both Quakers or members of the Society of Friends.

The original Harvey’s Quay was located between Bedford Row and Lower Cecil Street. Harvey’s Quay is named after Reuben Harvey, who built that portion of the quay on a section of land leased to his father, Joseph Massey Harvey, by Lord Pery in 1791.

The additional section from Bedford Row to Sarsfield Bridge was then known as Fisher’s Quay, originally built by James Fisher in 1791. The two quays were eventually merged and by the mid-20th century, and this stretch is now known only as Harvey’s Quay. It continues on into Howley’s Quay and Bishop’s Quay.

Joseph Massey Harvey (1764-1834), was a prominent Cork Quaker who moved to Limerick with his wife and children in 1786 to work at the Fisher Flour Mills, owned by James Fisher. Joseph and his wife built Summerville on a section of land that was later known as ‘Quaker Fields.’

The Quaker burial ground at Ballinacurra (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Joseph Massey donated a portion of his lands at the ‘Quaker Fields’ on the Ballinacurra side for use as a Quaker burial ground, and he and his wife were buried there with many of their children.

Their son, Rueben Harvey (1789-1866), lived on Pery Square. His youngest brother was the Irish botanist William Henry Harvey (1811-1866), Colonial Treasurer in Cape Town. He became an Anglican and Charles Darwin praised his work as a botanist.

Further along the quays, Bishop’s Quay is named after William Cecil Pery, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Limerick, whose garden backed onto the quay.

Howley’s Quay is named after William Howley (1790-1867), Steamboat Quay was the mooring point for steam powered ships, Honan’s Quay named after Matthew Honan, a Limerick merchant, and Arthur’s Quay was built by the Arthur family , whose members also gave their names to Patrick Street, Francis Street and Ellen Street.

The new boardwalk takes advantage of the views of the River Shannon, and there are a number of sculptures along the boardwalk. But there are for talking about another day.

the garden of Bishop William Cecil Pery’s house (left) backed onto Bishop’s Quay (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Ministry embracing social media
with launch of a new website

Today’s edition of the ‘Limerick Leader’ [Saturday 30 September 2017] publishes this quarter-page news report by Norma Prendiville [p 4]:

Ministry embracing social media with launch of a new website

Bishop Kenneth Kearon with Canon Patrick Comerford at the launch of the website

Norma Prendiville

Patrick Comerford is determined to bring the Church of Ireland in Limerick up to speed in terms of news media.

And he is spearheading a first in diocesan terms with a new website designed to help priests and lay ministers, the first such diocesan [initiative.]

The new website, in a blog format, was launched by the Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe, the Right Revd Kenneth Kearon and the first posting suggests readings and hymns that could be used at Harvest Festival ceremonies in different parishes.

Already, Canon Comerford says, he has received a couple of hundred hits since the website went up and he is very pleased with the response.

“It is not just a website out there in the ether. It is helpful,” says the priest in charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin group of parishes.

The website, he explains, is part of his work as director of continuing education in this diocese.

And he would be happy if other dioceses were to copy the template and example set by Limerick and Killaloe. There is resource material on the general Church of Ireland website, Canon Comerford explains, but it comes along with a lot of other material on other matters and can be difficult to access. This is straight to the point and even includes photographs that can be used by other ministers to illustrate their own newsletters.

However, for the former journalist and confirmed blogger, this is only the beginning. He plans to hold a training day for ministers and readers next month where the focus will be on using social media as well as traditional media. The topics, he explains, will include working with local radio stations, newspapers and the diocesan magazine as well as how to use social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and websites, in the parish. Producing parish newsletters and handouts will also be part of the agenda.

“I am bringing my social media interest and skills into helping and enabling the priests and readers of the diocese,” he says simply.

For him the day of the crumpled A4 newsletter to be picked up at the back of the church is gone. Using new media is about “finding people where they are rather than where we want to be,” he believes.

It reaches out beyond the congregations attending services to a wider congregation and keeps them in touch with the church, he argues.

Age is not a barrier. “I am 65 and I am finding my age group, which is the average of most people attending services, are all using social media, whether texting or Facebook.”

He puts his own sermons online on his personal patrickcomerford.com blog and also uses social media to remind people about services and the response he gets come from a wider number of people than those attending Sunday service.

Moreover, the majority are using their mobile phones for this. So for example, a text can alert them to a sermon by Patrick and they can then read it for themselves.

The new website is https://cmelimerick.blogspot.ie/ and for more information Canon Comerford can be contacted at cme@limerick.anglican.org

His own blog, which contains a lot of material on local Limerick is at www.patrickcomerford.com

29 September 2017

‘You crown the year with your
goodness and give us the fruits
of the earth in their season’

As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him … they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ (Luke 17: 12-13)

Patrick Comerford

Saint Nicholas Church, Adare, Co Limerick,

Friday 29 September 2017,

Harvest Thanksgiving Service

II Corinthians 9: 6-15; Luke 17: 11-19.

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

I like to think of this time of the year as in-between time.

We are between summer and winter.

The days are getting colder, the mornings and the evenings are getting darker, and I don’t know how much I need to wrap myself up when I go out for a walk: is it going to be sunny or is it going to be raining and cold?

In days gone-by, today’s date marked exactly how this is the in-between time of the year. Today [29 September] is Saint Michael’s Day.

It was known in the past as Michaelmas. This was a day for paying rents and fines, for settling deals and signing contracts, for winding up all the business that was left over from the summer and that needed to be settled before winter settled in.

It was a good day to think too about that in-between place between what is right and what is wrong, between good and evil.

And as children, we were reminded of this in-between time in some interesting ways. For example, this was the last day we could go picking blackberries.

There are lots of blackberries, a rich harvest of blackberries, ripening at the moment along the garden walls at the Rectory in Askeaton. They are fresh, and they are beautiful fruit for breakfast these mornings; they make good jam and pies too.

And when we picked them as children, our hands were smeared in red and black blackberry stains too. So too our mouths and tongues, because I could not resist eating as many blackberries as I put in the bucket I was collecting them in. Smeared – is that why the Irish name for blackberry is sméar dhubh?

But we were told this day is the last day to pick blackberries. There was some story in folklore that when Saint Michael defeated the Devil, the devil fell in a bush of brambles. He was caught in his own in-between place when he fell among the brambles, I suppose.

In this evening’s Gospel reading, Jesus is on his journey to Jerusalem, and finds himself between Galilee and Samaria in a village in one of those in-between places, what might have been called a ‘No-Man’s Land.’

There are some interesting shockers, what we might call miracles, in this story.

First of all, Jesus allows himself to stray into this in-between land. It is bandit territory. This was the area that was the setting for the story of the Good Samaritan. This was the area people making their way to the Temple in Jerusalem feared they were going to be set upon by bandits, beaten up, robbed and left by the side of the road.

Perhaps those fears were unfounded. Perhaps they were fears founded on prejudice against Samaritans at the time. But fearful they were, and by going this route rather than taking a safer road, Jesus challenges all our fears and prejudices.

But it is worth noting that it is not Christ, but other people who show their fears and misgivings in this story. It is the ten men, not Christ, who keep their distance on the outskirts of the village, because they are forced to behave this way, to be marginalised and to live on the margins, with their skin and limbs smeared, marked and stained.

Christ keeps his distance, as might be expected. Yet, from that distance, he sees. We often translate verse 14 to say that ‘he saw them.’ But the Greek says simply καὶ ἰδὼν, ‘and he saw’ – there is no object, there is no ‘them.’

For in Christ there is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’

Second of all, there is the miracle of healing. Let’s forget how we have read this story in the past. Perhaps we should remember that nine of these lepers did exactly as they were told, went and showed themselves to the priests, received a clean bill of health and were restored to their rightful place in the community of faith. Their healing, their obedience and their restoration are all miracles in themselves; 3 X 9 = 27 miracles.

And so that includes the third miracle, the third set of miracles: the promise that these ten men can be restored to their rightful places in the community of faith, in society.

This is a story about trusting in God’s plans for the future, rather than living in the past, living with the fears of the present, living without hope for the future.

But I continue to foil those plans, to quench those hopes, when I continue to limit Christ’s saving powers with my own limitations, continue to look at him with my own limited vision.

We should not forget that not one but ten people were healed. Christ does good – even for those we think are not thankful.

And even then, we do not know why the other nine did not return to say thanks. It took an eight-day waiting process for a person with leprosy to be declared clean by the priests.

After those eight days, did they then go and give thanks to God in their local synagogue?

Did they first breathe sighs of relief and return to the families they loved but had been isolated from for so long?

Did they return to that unnamed village, and find that ten days later Jesus had moved on … the next named place we find him in is Jericho (see Luke 19: 1)?

Surely Christ does good without expecting a thanks that comes straight from some Victorian book on good manners for polite children who know when and how to write thank you notes.

How often when we give a gift to someone do we want to control how they use it?

I give a Christmas or birthday gift, and then I am upset when they don’t like it, when they trade it in for something else, or pass it on to someone else, or simply just never say thank you or acknowledge what I have done for them.

But who was the gift supposed to benefit: me as the giver, or you as the receiver? What was it a token of: my love for you, or my need to tell you how important I am to you?

A begrudging attitude to how others receive and use the gifts I give them, or my taking offence when I feel they have not thanked me profusely enough amounts to a passive aggressive attitude on my part, a desire to control. If we give gifts only to be thanked, are we truly generous?

And if I only say thank you so I remain in someone else’s esteem, perhaps even to be rewarded again, to be kept on their invitation list, am I truly grateful?

In this story, Christ is not seeking to control. He sends the ten on their way … and they go. If he had expected them to return, he would not have been surprised that one returned; he would have waited around in that unnamed village for the other nine until they had time to make their humble way back to him.

No, it is more important what Christ frees them for, and where he frees them.

He frees them, in the in-between time and place, to regain their place in the community, in the social, economic and religious community that is their rightful place.

He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan (Luke 17: 16-17)

That land between Samaria and Galilee is where we find Christ today. The in-between place, the nowhere land, the place where people need to be saved, rescued, ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.

We all find ourselves, at times, in the in-between place, the nowhere land ... to borrow a phrase from TS Eliot, wandering in the Waste Land.

This evening, perhaps, just for one moment perhaps, it is possible to imagine that Christ has arrived in that particular in-between place for a reason.

And the in-between place is a place where I might find myself unsure of who belongs and who does not, where I might be uncertain, untrusting, even frightened and afraid. It is a place where the usual rules may not apply, where I do not know my place, where I do not fit in, where I appear not as the person God truly sees me as, but as others want to see me.

This is the place where Christ is travelling through this evening. Perhaps then this is where you and I are travelling every day, today.

These lepers in today’s Gospel were cut off from all they knew and loved, all the certainties they once enjoyed or even took for granted.

There are many times when we are called to travel ‘between Samaria and Galilee’ as Christ does. Yet, Christ is to be found deliberately in these places.

The Samaritan leper is an outcast among the outcasts, despised among the despised. But God sees him within his perfect plan, and he offers perfect worship.

In our epistle reading, Saint Paul reminds us that when God sows and reaps, he provides abundantly. ‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever’ (II Corinthians 9: 9).

I’m enjoying the harvest of blackberries at the moment. We are all enjoying the traditional harvest decorations here this evening. Even though fewer and fewer of us are living directly from the harvest of the fields in these days, we realise that there is more than one harvest.

There is the rich harvest of what we sow and reap in our fields and farms, but also in our factories and shops, our offices and businesses.

And there is the harvest of calling in those who are counted in by Christ but have been counted out, pushed to the margins in our society, seen as being stained and smeared.

Who lives in my in-between land today? Who lives in the ‘in-between land’ I am afraid to venture into?

If we step into that in-between territory, and open ourselves to the marginalised in our society, in our own locality, then, Saint Paul reminds us, there is a harvest of righteousness (II Corinthians 9: 10). We will be blessed by the generosity of our sharing ‘with all others’ (II Corinthians 9: 13).

‘Thanks go to God for his incredible gift’ (II Corinthians 9: 15).

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 the Harvest Thanksgiving Service in Saint Nicholas’s Church, Adare, Co Limerick, on 28 October 2017.


Eternal God,
you crown the year with your goodness
and give us the fruits of the earth in their season:
Grant that we may use them to your glory,
for the relief of those in need
and for our own well-being;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Luke 17: 11-19

11 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ πορεύεσθαι εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ καὶ αὐτὸς διήρχετο διὰ μέσον Σαμαρείας καὶ Γαλιλαίας. 12 καὶ εἰσερχομένου αὐτοῦ εἴς τινα κώμην ἀπήντησαν [αὐτῷ] δέκα λεπροὶ ἄνδρες, οἳ ἔστησαν πόρρωθεν, 13 καὶ αὐτοὶ ἦραν φωνὴν λέγοντες, Ἰησοῦ ἐπιστάτα, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς. 14 καὶ ἰδὼν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Πορευθέντες ἐπιδείξατε ἑαυτοὺς τοῖς ἱερεῦσιν. καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ ὑπάγειν αὐτοὺς ἐκαθαρίσθησαν. 15 εἷς δὲ ἐξ αὐτῶν, ἰδὼν ὅτι ἰάθη, ὑπέστρεψεν μετὰ φωνῆς μεγάλης δοξάζων τὸν θεόν, 16 καὶ ἔπεσεν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον παρὰ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ εὐχαριστῶν αὐτῷ: καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν Σαμαρίτης. 17 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, Οὐχὶ οἱ δέκα ἐκαθαρίσθησαν; οἱ δὲ ἐννέα ποῦ; 18 οὐχ εὑρέθησαν ὑποστρέψαντες δοῦναι δόξαν τῷ θεῷ εἰ μὴ ὁ ἀλλογενὴς οὗτος; 19 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἀναστὰς πορεύου: ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε.

11 On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ 14 When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19 Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

Westward Ho! and an
Irish theologian’s plans
to visit the Kerry coast

Fenton Hort … enjoyed ‘Westward Ho!’ but never realised his hopes to visit his ancestral Kerry

Patrick Comerford

Recently I have been putting the finishing touches to a chapter on Fenton Hort for a book to be published next month.

Fenton Hort (1828-1892) was one of the three members of the ‘Cambridge Triumvirate,’ a group of Biblical scholars who worked tirelessly to produce a definitive version of the Greek New Testament that has influenced all subsequent English translations of the Bible.

The other two members of the Cambridge Triumvirate were BF Westcott and JB Lightfoot, but it is often forgotten that Hort was born in Dublin, grew up in Leopardstown, and had strong family connections in Dublin, Kildare and Kerry.

His close friends in Cambridge included the Christian socialists FD Maurice and Charles Kingsley, who strongly influenced his views on working class politics, the hymn writer John Ellerton, who was born to Irish parents and librarian Henry Bradshaw, whose father was from Milecross, Co Down.

Fenton Hort lived at Saint Peter’s Terrace, Cambridge, where his neighbours included Charles Kingsley and FD Maurice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On my way into Limerick for last night’s debate in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, once again I passed Westward Ho!, the landmark pub in Mungret that sadly has been closed for some time and is now surrounded by fencing. Once again, I was reminded of Hort’s friend, Charles Kingsley, who was the author of Westward Ho! (1855), a novel that I found exciting as a schoolboy, although it had been published almost a century before I was born.

Hort and Kingsley were close friends and neighbours in Cambridge, and when Westward Ho! was about to be published Kingsley sent the printer’s proofs to Hort, perhaps seeking not just a second opinion but approval too.

Hort was particularly engaged by Chapter 5, with its descriptions of the Desmond rebellion in Limerick and Kerry, including references to Hort’s ancestors in the FitzMaurice family and the destruction of Carrigafoyle Castle.

Others would later accuse Kingsley of anti-Irish racism, in this book and in The Water Babies. But Hort could hardly suppress his excitement at this pre-publication reading, and wrote eagerly about the new book to his friend the bibliophile Henry Bradshaw (1831-1886), who had moved to Dublin the previous year and had been appointed a master at Saint Columba’s College, Rathfarnham (1854-1856).

Writing to Bradshaw in Rathfarnham from Cambridge in February 1855, Hort said he had ‘just been reading in the sheets of Kingsley’s Westward Ho!, a capital description of the attempt of the Spaniards to effect a lodgement in Munster in 1580, and have been so much interested by it that I daresay I shall some day make an effort to discover what your books may contain about it. Kingsley’s novel is the very thing to come out now, — judging by so much of it as I have read; and I think you will enjoy it thoroughly. The only fault I have to find with it is that he will not leave those poor Stuarts alone.’

Another of Hort’s close friends in Cambridge was the Revd Gerald Blunt (1827-1902), later Rector of Chelsea. In March 1855, Hort wrote to Blunt telling him he was reading ‘a large number of books.’ But the one he was most engrossed in was ‘Kingsley’s Westward Ho! which is published tomorrow.’

He could hardly restrain himself in his praise for the book, believing Kingsley ‘has quite surpassed himself; all his old energy and geniality, tempered with thorough self-restraint and real Christian wisdom. The suffering and anxiety he has endured now for some time have obviously much purified and chastened him, and rather increased than lessened his strength and elasticity.’

He was brimming in his praise for the book: ‘I hardly know a more wholesome book for anyone to read. Personally, I feel deeply indebted to it, though I suppose its lessons, like most others, will prove transitory enough. Don’t smile; but my first impulse, after reading it, was to wish myself chaplain of the Dauntless.’

However, despite his personal enjoyment of the book, Hort had his doubts. He told Blunt: ‘I ought to say that Westward Ho! will very possibly not be popular. Some will say that it is too like a book of travels; others, like a common novel, etc. etc. Its great fault is its dearness, so that I must wait for the cheap edition.’

Soon after these letters and the publication of Westward Ho!, Bradshaw returned to Cambridge to work in the library and as Dean of King’s College (1857-1858 and 1863-1865), and he was appointed the Cambridge University Librarian in 1867.

Many years later, in 1884, Blunt’s daughter Else married the Revd Joseph Newenham Hoare, a son of Archdeacon Edward Hoare (1802-1877) of Trinity Chapel, Limerick. At the time, Joseph Hoare was the curate of Holy Trinity Church, Muckross, a new church in Killarney, Co Kerry.

Hort was her godfather and when he visited Dublin four years later to accept an honorary doctorate in Trinity College Dublin, he was eager to visit Kerry and the Atlantic coast, perhaps because he was descended through Lady Elizabeth FitzMaurice, his great-grandmother, from the Earls of Kerry, perhaps because he wanted to visit Else Hoare in Killarney.

But the weather was inclement that June, and Hort never got out of Dublin beyond Glendalough and the Wicklow Mountains. Last night, as I returned through to Askeaton through Mungret, I wondered whether Hort’s planned journey to Killarney would have brought him out of Limerick on the same road, past Westward Ho!, and whether it would have brought back memories of his first reading of Kingsley’s swashbuckling novel, with its ‘capital description of the attempt of the Spaniards to effect a lodgement in Munster.’

‘Westward Ho!’ in Mungret, Co Limerick … now fenced off but still a landmark heading west from from Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

28 September 2017

A Victorian terrace close
to the centre of Limerick

Wellington Terrace … a fine example of Victorian terraced houses in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 20170

Patrick Comerford

I was recalling earlier this morning how on my way into Limerick I often hop off the bus so that I can walk into the city centre and appreciate the Victorian and Edwardian architecture of the houses that line each side of Ballinacurra Road and O’Connell Avenue.

Wellington Terrace is an interesting example of these Victorian terraces. The houses here, built by Edward Cruise in 1864, were designed by the Limerick architect William Fogerty (1833/1834-1878), who also worked in Dublin, London, and New York during a short but intensive and creative career.

William Fogerty was a born in 1833 or 1834 into a well-known Limerick family of architects. His father was the architect John Fogerty, and an elder brother was the architect Joseph Fogerty.

He studied at Queen’s College, Cork (now UCC), before joining his father’s practice in Limerick with his father in the 1850s. He was working from 97 George’s Street, Limerick, in 1861-1863.

His work during his time in Limerick included the Protestant Orphan Society Hall (1855-1856), the addition of an apse in Holy Trinity Episcopal Church on Upper Catherine Street (1858-1859), new Church of Ireland parish churches in Athea (1858-1859) and Killeedy (1862-1863), the Goold Memorial Cross in Athea (1863), a new courthouse in Adare commissioned by the Earl of Dunraven (1863).

He moved to Dublin in 1863, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (FRIAI, 1863) and a council member (1867-1868). Following a tour of Italy in 1869 with Thomas Henry Longfield, he moved to London, where his brother was already in practice as an architect, and practised from Westminster Chambers, Victoria, and 8 Buckingham Street.

From there he moved to New York, but he soon returned to Ireland and in 1875 he announced in the Irish Builder that he had resumed practice at 23 Harcourt Street, Dublin.

He continued to practise in Dublin until he died from smallpox at the age of 44 on 22 May 1878. He was buried in the churchyard at Saint Munchin’s Church, Limerick.

Three Edwardian houses
in a terrace in Limerick

No 8 to 10 O’Connell Avenue … an elegant Edwardian Terrace close to the inner city in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 20170

Patrick Comerford

On my way into Limerick, usually about once a week, I often hop off the bus before it reaches the city centre so that I can walk in and have time on my way to appreciate the Victorian and Edwardian architecture of the houses that line each side of Ballinacurra Road and O’Connell Avenue.

Three houses on O’Connell Avenue, numbers 8, 9 and 10, form one elegant Edwardian terrace built in the early decades of the last century. This terrace of three elaborately composed Edwardian houses is an eye-catching example of large-scale domestic terraced architecture in the inner suburbs of Limerick dating back to the early 20th century. The houses and the terrace add to the architectural variety and heritage of the Edwardian and Victorian terraces on O’Connell Avenue.

Each of these three houses is individually named: No 8 is Naomh Iosaf, presumably after the nearby Saint Joseph’s Church; No 9 is Mayfair; and No 10 is Glenade. All three were built around 1900.

No 8, Naomh Iosaf, on the left in the photograph, is an end-of-terrace two-bay three-storey red brick and pebbledash-rendered house, with an advancing two-storey three-sided canted bay window surmounted by balustraded balcony accessed by gabled half-dormer window bay.

The pitched natural slate roof has terracotta ridge tiles, an intersecting secondary dormer gable roof with an elaborately detailed timber bargeboard that has a timber finial at the apex.

There is a redbrick chimneystack with a stringcourse and cornice beneath the concrete flaunching to the north gable wall and the south party wall, with moulded clay pots.

The façade at the ground-floor and first-floor levels is faced in redbrick that is laid in English garden wall bond with a limestone plinth course, and there is redbrick wrapping around the bay window aprons.

A moulded rendered stringcourse delineates the second-floor level, which is finished in a pebbledash render. There is timber strutwork to the dormer gable. The house has a plain rendered rear elevation.

The square-headed window opening over the front door has redbrick reveals, there is a flush chamfered limestone lintel and a sill and two-leaf timber casement window with over-lights and curvilinear glazing bars. The oculus above has a smooth rendered surround and a fixed multiple-paned coloured glass light.

The three-sided canted bay window has limestone ashlar surround that includes piers, flush chamfered sills and a lintel. The single and two-leaf timber casement window has over-lights and curvilinear glazing bars.

A cast-iron panelled balustrade encloses the bay balcony. The square-headed balcony opening is for a door flanked by sidelights, with the curvilinear glazing casement echoed by a glazed door panel.

There is a covered front-door porch with a timber frame rising from a red brick plinth base, and with closed brackets and an open tripartite light.

The encaustic tiled entrance platform has a limestone step. The segmental-arched door opening has a plain timber doorframe, a glazed and timber-panelled door, leaf and leaded coloured glass and a segmental over-light.

The front site of this house is enclosed by a snecked and coursed limestone plinth wall with limestone ashlar coping that supports wrought-iron railings. There are cast-iron gateposts and a wrought-iron gate leaf.

The central house in this terrace of these three is No 9, known as Mayfair. This mid-terrace house is similar to its neighbours on each side.

The third house in the terrace, Glenade, or No 10, is an end-of-terrace two-bay three-storey red brick and pebbledash rendered house. The principal difference with its neighbours is the replacement uPVC door and frame, but the house retains many of its original Edwardian features.

This terrace and these houses were designed by John Horan (1853-1919), who was the Limerick county surveyor. Horan, who was the son of an engineer, was born in Co Tipperary in 1853, attended Cookstown Academy, Co Tyrone, and then studied civil engineering at Queen’s College, Belfast (1871-1874), where he graduated BE (1874) and ME (1882).

During his college holidays, he worked with his father, who was the contractor’s agent superintending work on the Woodburn Reservoirs of the Belfast Waterworks. He worked alongside John Frederick La Trobe Bateman and Charles Lanyon.

After graduating, he worked at Rosslare Harbour, Co Wexford, in 1875, on the Upper Inny drainage scheme (1876-1877), on railway and private projects (1878), and in Rosslare again (1879-1881), when he lived at Bushville, Tagoat, Co Wexford, before going to England to work on building the Alexandra Dock.

Horan returned to Ireland when he was appointed county surveyor for the western district of Co Limerick in 1884, working from the County Surveyor’s Office in Rathkeale. In 1893, he was given responsibility for the whole county and also began to practise privately in Limerick. His private work include involvement in repairing the spire at Saint Mary’s Church, Rathkeale, in 1899;

He also had offices at 50 George Street, Limerick (1894-1900), 82, George Streeet (1901-1911) and 4 Pery Square (1911-1913). He was also the engineer for the Rathkeale and Newcastle Junction Railway Company (1896-1900).

He lived at Churchtown, Newcastle West, Co. Limerick, and Templemungret, Limerick, before He died on 31 July 1919.

27 September 2017

Is Omega Avenue at
the end of the road?

Omega Avenue … is this the end or the beginning? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

There was once a nursing home in a town in Cavan that was known as Omega Nursing Home.

It seemed like an unfortunate name for a nursing home. Was someone telling the residents that they had reached the end of the line? If Omega was at the exit from the town, was there another place at the entrance to the town known as Alpha? Perhaps a playschool for children, even for boys who might be inspired to grow up as ‘Alpha Males’?

The old name Omega has gone and has been replaced. Obviously the former name had reached its natural end.

I was reminded of it recently as I walked along Ballinacurra Road into Limerick, and noticed the sign for Omega Avenue. Was I at the start of this street? Or at the end?

It is interesting how some letters in the Greek alphabet for names of places and other names in the English language. We can talk about ‘Alpha Males’ and, in these cases, about Omega Home and Omega Avenue. We talk too of Gamma Rays, river deltas, and use other Greek initials.

Perhaps it’s just as well that those charged with choosing these names resist the temptation to select letters in the Greek alphabet that have no equivalent single initial in initial and that are difficult to pronounce for tongues that are used to Anglo-Saxon sounds.

Most people are probably familiar since school days with the value of Π or π. The number π is a mathematical constant, originally defined as the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, it now has various equivalent definitions and appears in many formulas in all areas of mathematics and physics. It is approximately equal to 3.14159 … although I could go on … and on.

And we probably pronounce it ‘Pie’ rather than ‘Pee’ ... perhaps not to confuse it with the letter P, which in Greece, confusingly, is the equivalent of the letter R.

But no-one is going to name a street or a nursing home Psi (Ψ or ψ) Avenue or Ksi (Ξ or ξ) Home. Pronouncing them is difficult enough for people in Ireland and England, without also trying to find the proper keystrokes on your laptop as you try to send an email or a text from your phone.

But the Greek alphabet has some other interesting differences from the alphabet used by English speakers. If Omega (Ω or ω), comes at the end, then Z (Ζ or ζ) is sixth, and as I was trying to learn to read and write Greek I kept on confusing ζ and ξ – probably the Greek equivalent of failing to mind your Ps and Qs … because the Greek alphabet has no Q.

After Z, there are so many other letters. The next immediate letter is H (or η), but this is not the English H. This is the letter known as eta, and pronounced ee as in the English word meet.

But meeting the capital H on roadsigns around here is confusing too.

H is for Hospital (whether you aspirate it or not). It should mean you are well. And on this road sign in Limerick it means Patrick’s well too. Well, the Hospital is not in Patrickswell. Although there is also a small town in Limerick called Hospital … there is no hospital there either, it takes its name from the Knights Hospitaller who had a priory here in the 13th century.

It is just as well that Patrick is well.

H is not for Patrick … and yes, he is well (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Cathedral lecture and debate
on freedom and censorship

Jodie Ginsberg of Index on Censorship … speaking in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, on Thursday evening

Patrick Comerford

The Autumn Lecture Series organised by Limerick Civic Trust continues in Saint Mary’s Cathedral tomorrow evening [28 September 2017], when the guest speaker is Jodie Ginsberg of Index on Censorship.

I have been invited by Limerick Civic Trust to facilitate the discussion that follows this lecture, the third in this year’s series. As Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral and as a former journalist I find it doubly interesting to be involved in this event.

This week is Banned Books Week, with a global series of events celebrating the freedom to read. So, it seems appropriate that the free speech advocate Jodie Ginsberg is speaking at the Autumn Lecture Series tomorrow.

Jodie Ginsberg, who is the chief executive of Index on Censorship, will speak about how censorship stifles debate and undermines the tenets of free and democratic societies. She is also expected to comment on press freedom particularly in relation to President Trump’s smearing of the media.

Index on Censorship is an international non-profit organisation that publishes work by censored writers and artists and campaigns for free expression worldwide.

Jodie Ginsberg is a former foreign correspondent and business journalist. She worked for more than a decade for Reuters news agency in South Africa and Ireland and as the Reuters Bureau Chief in London.

In 2012, she set up the Reuters ‘press gang’ initiative – a journalism workshop for young people in the communities around Canary Wharf in London. She has also worked as Head of Communications for Camfed, an education charity that supports girls and young women in Africa through education and at think tank Demos.

This is the third lecture in a six-part series of public lectures by internationally renowned commentators and thought-leaders in their field. The event is organised by Limerick Civic Trust in conjunction with the Kemmy Business School, Limerick Institute of Technology, Limerick City and County Council and The Irish Examiner.

This lecture tomorrow evening [Thursday 28 September 2017] takes place from 8 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.

In the weeks that follow, the speakers include Simon Carswell of The Irish Times [5 October], Ian Ritchie, international architect [12 October], and Roger Madelin of International Regeneration [19 October].

26 September 2017

Richard Harris celebrated
in Kilkee and Limerick, from
MacArthur Park to King Arthur

Richard Harris, ‘Peace Not War’ … Jim Connolly’s bronze statue in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Richard Harris is Limerick’s most acclaimed actor. And there are two statues honouring him in this area, both by the sculptor Jim Connolly.

In the centre of Limerick, the bronze statue of Richard Harris on Bedford Row shows the actor as King Arthur in Camelot and was unveiled ten years ago in September 2007. His statue of the young Richard Harris in Kilkee, Co Clare, was unveiled by the actor Russell Crowe a year earlier in September 2006.

Jim Connolly is one of Ireland’s leading bronze sculptors, best known for his highly acclaimed life-size portraits. He lives and works in Kilbaha, on Loop Head in West Clare, where he runs his own art foundry. His other acclaimed works include his sculpture of the Kerry GAA legend, Páidí Ó Sé unveiled in Ventry in May 2015, and his life-size sculpture of the writer John B Keane, in Listowel, Co Kerry, erected in 2007.

Richard Harris(1930-2002) is one of Ireland’s greatest movie stars. He is known today by a younger generation as Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films, but he died on 25 October 2002 at the age of 72 before filming began the third film in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Richard St John Harris was born in Limerick City on 1 October 1930, the sixth of nine children of Ivan John Harris and Mildred Josephine (Harty) Harris.

He went to the Jesuit-run Crescent College, where he played rugby on several Munster Junior and Senior Cup Teams for Crescent and played for Garryowen.

His sporting career was cut short after a bout of tuberculosis. During his illness, he read extensively and nurtured an ambition for a life in the arts.

After recovering, he moved to England to become a director but then decided to study acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. After roles on the stage in the West End Theatre, he made his first film appearance in 1958 in Alive and Kicking. A year later, he played the lead role in The Ginger Man in the West End in 1959.

Harris starred with Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn in The Guns of Navarone in 1961. But his most impressive performance came the following year in This Sporting Life. For this, he was Best Actor at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival and received an Academy Award nomination.

After playing the role of King Arthur in the film version of the musical Camelot (1967), Harris took a break from acting and recorded several albums, including the song MacArthur Park, which was a million selling hit. At the same time, he published a collection of poetry.

However, he returned to acting in 1990 to play the lead role of the ‘Bull’ McCabe in The Field, a film version of John B Keane’s play, which brought him his second Academy Award nomination.

Harris was highly commended for his role as the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator (2000), when he starred alongside Russell Crowe.

At the end of his career, Harris played Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Before filming started on the third Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harris was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease in August 2002. He died in London on 25 October 2002, shortly before the premiere of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

In 1957, he married Elizabeth Rees-Williams and they had three children: actor Jared Harris, actor Jamie Harris and director Damian Harris. They were divorced in 1969. His second marriage to Ann Turkel also ended in divorce.

‘Peace Not War’ … the main theme of Jim Connolly’s bronze statue of Richard Harris in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Jim Connolly’s statue of Richard Harris on Bedford Row in Limerick was unveiled ten years ago, in September 2007, by the Mayor of Limerick, Councillor Ger Fahy.

Critics say Jim Connolly’s bronze statue is too small and that Harris was larger than life. But Connolly has pointed out that his statue is, in fact, larger than life. He is reported as saying: ‘Richard Harris was six foot and not six foot three.’ He verified this with Noel Harris, Richard’s brother. ‘The statue measures six feet and two inches.’

Jim Connolly’s statue is entitled ‘Peace Not War’ and is based on Harris’s role in Camelot. The statue has four plaques on the base giving brief biographical details and information on some of his movies.

A life in words … one of the four plaques encircling Jim Connolly’s sculpture of Richard Harris in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The Inscriptions at the main frontage of the state read:

Richard Harris

Richard Harris playing King Arthur in Camelot (1967).

Holding aloft a reversed sword, he proclaims: ‘Peace not War.’

The Harris Family

The Harris family business included flour milling, a huge bakery in Henry Street and a chain of confectionery shops. They employed as many as 500 people and a fleet of Harris cargo boats plied the Shannon. Also, keenly interested in sports they founded the Limerick County Lawn Tennis Club.

Richard, one of six boys and two girls was born to Ivan and Mildred Harris on 1st October 1930. The brothers starred as rugby players. Educated by the Jesuits in Crescent College, which the Harris family helped to establish, Richard excelled at rugby, poetry and the performing Arts.

In 1956 he studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He was discovered by Joan Littlewood, Producer/Director. He starred in over 80 international films and on stage.

Richard St John Frances Harris died in London on 25th October 2002.

Extract from Richard Harris’s Poem: ‘There Are Too Many Saviours On My Cross’ (1972):

I hear your daily cries
in the far-off byways in your mouth
north and south
and my calvary looms again
in rebirth
your earth is partitioned
but in contrition
it is the partition in your hearts
that you must abolish

The erection of this bronze statue, in memory and celebration of the life of Richard Harris, Actor, was unanimously approved by Limerick City Council.

It was unveiled by Mayor Ger Fahy on 7th September 2007.

Sculptor: Jim Connolly

Around the base of the statue there are three further inscriptions recalling his work as an actor in three other movies:

Richard Harris, This Sporting Life (1963)

This film, a recognised classic, tells the story of the harsh life and realities of a professional rugby footballer in England. His powerful performance in the leading role as Frank Machen launched a remarkable debut and won for Richard Harris international acclaim and a Best Actor Oscar Nomination.

Richard Harris, The Field (1990):

This film, a rural Irish masterpiece, was adapted by Jim Sheridan from a stage play written by John B. Keane. It tells the story of an Irish farmer willing to go to any lengths, to keep a field his family had cultivated for generations. His powerful performance as the doomed farmer, Bull McCabe, was to re-invigorate Richard Harris’s acting career and win for him his second Oscar Nomination.

Richard Harris in ‘Gladiator’ on Jim Connolly’s sculpture Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Richard Harris, Gladiator (2000)

This epic film is a ferocious re-enactment of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, at the time of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius and subsequent disastrous rule of his son Commodus. This Academy Award winning film, has a star studded cast and his performance as the Emperor won for Richard Harris high acclaim.

Jim Connolly’s sculpture of Richard Harris in Kilkee, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Jim Connolly’s bronze statue of Richard Harris in Kilkee honours the actor in the West Clare resort where he spent many summer holidays. In this life-size statue, Connolly depicts Harris playing racquet ball, a game played against the sea wall in Kilkee, where he won the men’s open racquet championship a number of times.

The ‘Tivoli Cup’ was the prize in of a long-running racquets competition played against the plastered white walls on Kilkee beach – a game unique to the seaside town. Richard Harris won the trophy four times in a row (1948-1951), a record that still stands. The was revived in 2009.

The statue was unveiled in September 2006 by Russell Crowe, who became friends with Richard Harris in 1999 while they were filming Gladiator.

An appeal against planning permission for the statue on Wellington Square in Kilkee means it remains standing on a temporary site beside the Diamond Rocks café at the Pollock Holes.

Ballybunion Castle stands valiant
against the wind and the weather

‘No foes shall stay his might; though he with giants fight’ … Ballybunion Castle, Co Kerry, stands on a tall spit of land between the ‘Men’s Beach’ and the ‘Ladies’ Beach’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

He who would valiant be ’gainst all disaster,
let him in constancy
follow the Master.
There’s no discouragement
shall make him once relent
his first avowed intent
to be a pilgrim.

Who so beset him round
with dismal stories,
do but themselves confound –
his strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might;
though he with giants fight:
he will make good his right
to be a pilgrim.

Since, Lord, thou dost defend
us with thy Spirit,
we know we at the end
shall life inherit.
Then fancies flee away!
I’ll fear not what men say,
I’ll labour night and day
to be a pilgrim.

I thought of John Bunyan and his Pilgrim’s Progress as a group of us visited Ballybunion Castle last week. The castle, which once stood ‘valiant be ’gainst all disaster,’ but has since been ‘beset … round with dismal stories,’ takes its name from a Bunion or Bunyon family who also gave their name to the Kerry seaside resort.

Although I cannot trace any link between John Bunyan and the Bunion or Bunyon family of Ballybunion, the castle ruins standing on the cliffs above the sandy beaches are a reminder of dismal stories and those who fought like giants.

John Bunyan’s words were adapted by Percy Dearmer for this hymn so many of us remember at school assemblies, and set to the tune Monk’s Gate by the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. But Bunyan’s original words were more mediaeval and redolent of stories associated with decaying fortresses such as this, with references to hobgoblins and foul fiends.

The ruins of Ballybunion Castle … the east wall is all that stands today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The ruins of Ballybunion Castle belie a rich history going back centuries, and bear testament to the workers who built it and to the Bunyan family who gave the town its name. This is one of 15 cliff forts on the North Kerry coast.

Ballybunion Castle was built by the FitzMaurice family, a branch of the FitzGerald family of West Limerick, in the 14th century on the site of an old promontory coastal fort built by the Clann Conaire.

The Irish peerage title of Baron Kerry was created around 1223 for Thomas Fitzmaurice. In 1325, Maurice FitzMaurice, 4th Baron of Kerry, murdered Diarmaid Óg MacCarthy, son of Cormac Mór MacCarthy, in the court in Tralee. Maurice was tried and attainted by the parliament in Dublin and his lands forfeited, but after his death they were restored to his brother John FitzMaurice, 5th Baron of Kerry.

The present castle that now stands in ruins on this site was built with black coursed masonry and cut quern stones in the early 1500s for Edmond FitzMaurice, 10th Lord Kerry. The FitzMaurice family lived at Lixnaw and placed the Bonzon or Bunyan family in the castle as caretakers. The castle was destroyed by Lord Kerry in 1582, and in 1583 the lands of William Og Bunyan were confiscated because of his active role in the Desmond rebellion.

Thomas FitzMaurice (1574-1630), 18th Lord of Kerry and Lixnaw, eventually submitted to the authority of King James I in 1604, and he was confirmed in his possession of the castle and lands of Ballybunion in 1612.

The FitzMaurices continued to hold Ballybunion Castle until the mid-18th century. The last FitzMaurice to own the castle was probably Francis FitzMaurice (1740-1818), 3rd Earl of Kerry, whose extravagance led to the loss of all his Irish estates. Lady Kerry died in 1799, her husband died in 1818, and they were buried in the same tomb in Westminster Abbey. He had no children and the title became an additional title of the Marquesses of Lansdowne, descendants of his uncle John Petty, 1st Earl of Shelburne, who give there names to many streets and places in Dublin, Cork, Bristol and Calne.

When the FitzMaurice family sold their estates in Co Kerry, Ballybunion Castle was bought in Richard Hare in 1783.

The Hare family came to Ireland after the Cromwellian settlement and acquired property initially in Dublin and later in Cork. Their influence extended to Co Kerry at the end of the 18th century when Richard Hare bought 20,000 acres around Listowel. His son William Hare (1751-1837) later became first Baron Ennismore in 1800 and Earl of Listowel (1816).

The ownership of Ballbunion Castle passed from the Hare family to the local improvements committee in the 1900s. The castle has been a national monument since 1923, under the care of the Office of Public Works.

In the 1960s, the castle was sold to Kerry County Council which is responsible for maintaining the ruin. A souterrain leading from the south cliff face towards the castle was discovered in 1987, but because of a cave-in it stops before reaching the castle.

During the winter of 1998, the castle was struck by lighting and the upper part of the tower was destroyed. The 12-metre-high east wall is all that remains of the castle today. In 2014, the Office of Public Works carried out some remedial work to stabilise the castle wall and the foundations on one side of the castle.

A plaque on the castle’s east wall says ‘it stands as a memorial to the Bonyons, a proud and powerful family from whom today’s beautiful town of Ballybunion takes its name.’

The castle ruins stand on an elevated point above the cliffs which extend below in both directions. It overlooks the mouth of the Shannon, and has magnificent views of the beaches, the cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean; on clear days, there are views as far as Loop Head and Dingle.

‘The Ladies’ Beach’ seen from the ruins of Ballbunion Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The beach on the south side of the castle is known as the ‘Men’s Beach’, while the one to the north is the ‘Ladies’ Beach.’ In the past, men would bathe on a separate beach from women and children, but this practice has not been observed for decades.

Meanwhile, ‘He who would valiant be,’ Percy Dearmer’s adaptation of John Bunyan’s words, remains John Bunyan’s only known hymn. The tune Monk’s Gate, arranged by Vaughan Williams, is named after a hamlet in West Sussex, on the A281, 4.3 km south-east of Horsham. It was there in December 1904 that Vaughan Williams first heard the tune when he heard Harriet Verrall of Monk’s Gate singing the English folksong ‘Our Captain Calls All Hands.’

Harriet and Peter Verrall, who lived at Thrift Cottage, were also responsible for teaching Vaughan Williams the ‘Sussex Carol’ (‘On Christmas Night all Christians sing’) and the tune known as ‘Sussex’ (‘Father, hear the prayer we offer’). Vaughan Williams’s tune was published in the first edition of the English Hymnal in 1906.

Bunyan’s original was not commonly sung in churches, perhaps because of the references to ‘hobgoblin’ and ‘foul fiend.’ Some recent hymnbooks have returned to Bunyan’s original, including the Church of England’s Common Praise and the Church of Scotland’s Hymns of Glory, Songs of Praise, and it has been popular with English folk rock artists such as Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band.

‘To Be a Pilgrim’ is the school hymn for many schools throughout England, and is sung in several school films. In Lindsay Anderson’s film if.... (1968), it characterises the traditional religious education in English public schools in the 1960s. It is also sung again in a public school context in Clockwise (1986), starring John Cleese, who directs all of the members of the Headmasters’ Conference to stand and sing the hymn, as he often would to his own pupils.

This was one of the hymns chosen by Margaret Thatcher for her funeral in 2013. But the hymn was also one of Tony Benn’s choices on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.

The hymn’s refrain ‘to be a pilgrim’ has entered common usage in the English language and has been used in the title of many books about pilgrimage.

As I looked back on Ballybunion Castle last week, war-weary beaten by the winds, the waves, the weather and by lighting, I found myself humming once again John Bunyan’s or words:

one here will constant be,
come wind, come weather;
there’s no discouragement …

25 September 2017

The harbour and streets
of Dingle are colourful
even on a rainy day

Colourful boats in the harbour in Dingle, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Last week’s tour of the Dingle Peninsula came to an end in Dingle, the only town on the Dingle Peninsula. Dingle has a population of about 2,000 and sits on the Atlantic coast, about 50 km south-west of Tralee and 71 km north-west of Killarney.

Dingle is the largest Gaeltacht town in Ireland and it depends almost entirely on tourism.

But is it Dingle?

Or is it Daingean?

And would we find Fungie the Dingle dolphin?

The Irish Government officially abolished the name of Dingle in 20015, decreeing it could no longer be used officially in government papers, on road signs and or on street names. The town was the be known officially and on signposts only as An Daingean. The name Dingle was taped over and removed from all road signs throughout Co Kerry.

Dingle may be the capital of the Kerry Gaeltact, but the people of Dingle would have none of it and a lengthy dispute erupted between the people of Dingle and the government.
The people of Dingle rebelled, and in the Dingle Plebiscite in 2006, 93 per cent of them voted to restore the town’s historic names, Dingle in English and Daingean Uí Chúis in Irish.

Legislation was eventually introduced in in 2011 to recognise the mandate. Today the town’s traditional names, Dingle and Daingean, sit comfortably side-by-side in the one place.

The name Daingean or Daingean Uí Chúis is said to mean the Fortress of the Hussey family, recalling the Husseys, who were of Norman-Flemish origin and who lived in the Dingle area from the 13th century.

However, there is a second interpretation of the meaning of Daingean Uí Chúis. The Annals of the Four Masters, compiled by four Franciscan friars in 1632-1636, refer to a pre-Norman chieftain named O Cuis who ruled the area before the arrival of the Anglo-Normans. According to this version, he had his principle fortress in Dingle, and gave his name the name Daingean Uí Chúis.

Whatever the true meaning of the name, the earliest records show the two names of Dingle and Daingean Uí Chúis side-by-side from the mid-13th century. The story of the town dates back to its foundation by the FitzGerald and Rice families. They developed the town into the second largest port on the west coast of Ireland, second only to Galway.

Dingle prospered thanks to extensive trade with France and Spain, and by the 14th century importing wine was a major business. The 1st Earl of Desmond, who held Palatine powers in the area, imposed a tax on this activity around 1329.

Dingle was also a starting point for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostella to begin the Camino and set off on the pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint James. It is said that the mediaeval church in Dingle, dedicated to Saint James, was built by the Spanish.

By the 16th century, Dingle was one of Ireland’s main trading ports, exporting fish and hides and importing wines from Continental Europe. French and Spanish fishing fleets used the town as a base. The connections with Spain were particularly strong. In 1529, the 11th Earl of Desmond and Gonzalo Fernandes, the Spanish Ambassador of the Emperor Charles V, signed the Treaty of Dingle.

Commerce and trade Dingle were enhanced in 1569, when an Act of Parliament was limited to 15 the number of ports in Ireland through which wines could be imported. The Act named Dingle among those towns and refers to it as ‘Dingle Husey, otherwise called Dingle I Couch.’ That year, the merchants of Dingle also applied for a ‘murage grant’ to build walls to enclose the town, but their application was not successful on that occasion.

In 1579, James FitzMaurice FitzGerald brought a small fleet of ships into Dingle and launched the Second Desmond Rebellion. But he was killed soon after in a minor skirmish with the forces of a cousin. The fleet left Dingle after three days, anchoring at Dún an Óir on the western end of the peninsula, leading eventually to the Siege of Smerwick in 1580.

Colourful narrow streets in the old town in Dingle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Following the defeat of the Desmond Rebellion, Queen Elizabeth agreed in 1585 to a grant of a royal charter to Dingle, incorporating the town as a borough. This would allow building town walls, and traces of these town walls can still be seen, while the street layout preserves the pattern of burgage plots. The town was enclosed by a strong wall, with two gates in what is now Dykegate Lane, enclosing an area that included the present Main Street and parts of John Street and Goat Street.

Although Queen Elizabeth agreed to grant this charter to Dingle, the charter was only obtained in 1607. On 2 March 1607, King James I granted the charter, although the borough and the corporation were already in existence for 22 years.

The head of the corporation was the sovereign, who was the equivalent of mayor. The sovereign was elected annually on the Feast of Saint Michael, 29 September, and the corporation consisted of 12 burgesses.

The area of jurisdiction of the corporation was all the land and sea within two Irish miles of the parish church, and the borough had an admiralty jurisdiction over Dingle, Ventry, Smerwick and Ferriter’s Creek ‘as far as an arrow would fly.’

The charter also made Dingle a parliamentary borough, sending two MPs to the Irish House of Commons until the dissolution of the Irish Parliament at the Act of Union.

From the mid-17th century until the 1920s, the Dingle Peninsula was controlled by Lord Ventry and the Mullen or de Moleyns family, who lived on the Burnham Estate.

Dingle suffered greatly in the wars in 17th century, and the town was burnt or sacked on several occasions.

Dingle began to recover in the 18th century, due to the patronage of the FitzGerald family, Knights of Kerry. Robert FitzGerald (1717-1781) succeeded as the 17th Knight of Kerry in 1779. He was MP for Dingle from 1741 until he died. He imported flax seed and by 1755 a flourishing linen industry had been established, producing cloth worth £60,000 a year.

James Louis Rice, the son of Black Tom Rice, was a member of a family of prosperous wine traders and merchants with extensive links with France and Spain. Their ancestral home, the Rice House, stood on the corner of Goat Street and Green Street.

James Louis Rice was educated in Belgium and joined the Austrian army. He became an intimate friend of Emperor Joseph II of Austria, who made James Louis and his father Black Tom counts of the Holy Roman Empire.

Queen Marie Antoinette of France was a sister of Emperor Joseph II. When the French Revolution began in 1789, she, the king and their two children were gaoled in Paris. Rice and his circle formed a plan for her escape. They bribed some gaolers and prepared relays of horses to take Marie Antoinette to the coast. There, Count James Louis had one of his father’s wine ships waiting to take her to Dingle, where rooms at Rice House were ready for her.

At the last moment, however, Marie Antoinette hesitated and refused to abandon her husband the king and her children, and so she remained.

The flax and linen trade in Dingle collapsed with the successful industrial production of cotton in Great Britain, and was virtually extinct by 1837.

During the Great Famine in the 1840s, up to 5,000 people died in the Dingle Poorhouse alone, and they are buried in the paupers’ burial ground that overlooks the town. The town also fell victim to a cholera plague in 1849.

Meanwhile, the family of Lord Ventry sold Burnham House in the 1920. The house is now an Irish-speaking boarding school for girls known as Coláiste Íde.

All we saw of Fungie last week was his statue in the harbour in Dingle, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Today, with mountains at its back, Dingle faces into a sheltered harbour. Three main streets rise from the level ground at Strand Street at the edge of the harbour and at the Mall beside the Dingle River: Green Street, John Street and Main Street.

About 1,200 people live in Dingle, but the number of residents increases dramatically at the height of the tourist season.

However, we missed one of the main attractions, Fungie the Dolphin. Fungie is a full-grown, middle aged, male bottlenose dolphin. He weighs about a quarter tonne (500 lb) and is about four metres (13 ft). long.

During the summer months, Fungie is often seen taking fish in the harbour mouth. During the winter months, he travels further afield for food.

Paddy Ferriter, the Dingle Harbour lighthouse keeper, first began watching a lone wild dolphin escort the town’s fishing boats in and out of the harbour in 1984. By that August, the dolphin was officially a permanent resident of the entrance channel and self-appointed pilot of Dingle’s fishing fleet.

Over the years, the dolphin moved from being a timid but inquisitive observer of human life into a playful, mischievous, companion. Everyone receives playful attention, from swimmers and divers, to canoeists, windsurfers and day-trippers and children paddling on the beach.

Boats from Dingle Boat Tours and the Dingle Boatmen’s Association leave Dingle Pier at regular intervals throughout the day, every day, all year round, weather permitting, on a one-hour trip to see Fungie wild and free in his natural habitat.

The boats also offer trips from the harbour along the coast of the Dingle Peninsula and to the islands, including the Blasket Islands.

Our stop-off in Dingle was too short to go in search of Fungie. After lunch in John Benny’s Pub on Strand Street we went for a walk along the Mall and the narrow streets that date back to the Middle Ages and the days of a walled borough.

Even on a rainy day, as summer was turning to autumn, the narrow streets of Dingle were packed with tourists and visitors and colourful with their brightly-painted shop fronts.

Dingle’s streets are colourful, even of a grey, rain-soaked day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

A fresh take on the Blasket Islands
despite memories of Peig Sayers

The Blasket Islands seen from Slea Head (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

As a schoolboy, Peig Sayers were the bane of my life.

Her books were part of the reading list on the Irish-language courses. And until I spent the summer of 1966 in Ballinskelligs in the Kerry Gaeltacht, I was on course to fail the ‘Inter Cert’ exams in Irish – and so I was on course too to failing the full exams and to finding myself on the way to school in England.

I cannot blame my negative teenage views of the Irish language on Peig Sayers … but she did nothing to leave me with a positive view of a language that was foreign to me, despite an increasing interest in the Irish language at the time of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1916 Rising.

Anyone of my age who was a schoolboy in Ireland in the 1950s and the 1960s has memories of Peig Sayers (1873-1958) and her autobiographical memoir Peig. It was only later in life that I learned that she never wrote the book, and that she dictated her reminiscences to others, who redacted and edited them.

Her book Peig depicts the declining years of a traditional, Irish-speaking way of life characterised by poverty, devout Roman Catholicism, and folk memories of gang violence, the Great Famine, and the Penal Laws.

The oft-bleak tone of the book begins with the very opening words: ‘I am an old woman now, with one foot in the grave and the other on its edge. I have experienced much ease and much hardship from the day I was born until this very day. Had I known in advance half, or even one-third, of what the future had in store for me, my heart wouldn’t have been as gay or as courageous it was in the beginning of my days.’

The other Blasket islanders we were expected to read, or to know about, included Muiris Ó Súilleabháin, author of the autobiographical Fiche Blian ag Fás (Twenty Years a-Growing), and Tomás Ó Criomhthain, who wrote An tOileánach (‘The Islandman,’ 1929), satirised by Flann O’Brien as An Béal Bocht (‘The Poor Mouth’).

But as we headed out the Dingle Peninsula last week, we were reminded that Peig was neither from the Blasket Islands, nor did she die there. She was born in Vicarstown, Dunquin, she was educated in English, she was illiterate in Irish, she spent her first working years in Dingle, and she was only in her mid-50s when the stories in Peig were recorded by Robin Flower, who gave her the voice of an old and dying woman.

I was surprised to realise that she was still alive when I was born. By the time she actually had ‘one foot in the grave and the other on its edge,’ she was living in a nursing home in Dingle, where she died at the end of 1958, when I was almost 7, and she was buried not on the Blasket Islands but on the mainland in Dunquin.

Freed from the myths about Peig Sayers and memories of her morose memoirs, I was able to have a fresh view of the Blasket Islands and Dunquin last week.

Indeed, the Blaskets have always been an intrinsic part of Dunquin. The Great Blasket was always known simply as the Island, or the Western Island, or the Great Island, while the other islands were the Lesser Blaskets.

From the end of the 13th century, the Ferriter family leased the islands from the Earls of Desmond, and from Sir Richard Boyle after the dispossession of the Desmond Geraldines at the end of the 16th century.

The last of the Ferriters on the Blasket Islands was the poet and rebel Captain Pierce Ferriter who hanged in Killarney in 1653. However, Charles Smith, author of The Ancient and the Present State of the County of Kerry (1756), claimed the Great Blasket was not inhabited, except by ancient monks, before 1710.

The population of the Island grew with the influx of tenants evicted from their holdings by Lord Ventry in the first half of the 19th century. By 1840, the population of the Island estimated at 150. The stones of the Ferriter castle were used to build a Church of Ireland school in 1840, but this school closed in 1852 when the population of the island fell dramatically after the Great Famine.

Another Famine hit the island in 1878-1879. At the time, the Earl of Cork was the landlord of the Islands and much of the mainland. Richard Edmund St Lawrence Boyle (1829–1904), 9th Earl of Cork, supplied Champion and Black seed potatoes free to all his tenants in 1880.

The Congested Districts Board bought the island in 1907, and the population is said to have reached its peak in 1916 at 176, although the maximum number of houses on the island was never more than 30.

Visitors to the island from the early 20th century included the playwright John Millington Synge, who first visited the Blaskets in 1905, the Norwegian linguist Carl Marstrander, who visited in 1907 and was called ‘the Viking’ by the islanders, and the Celtic scholar Robin Flower, who first visited in 1910. Others included George Derwent Thomson, the great Greek scholar, and Kenneth Jackson, the Celtic scholar.

Island life had been a constant struggle and the population began to decline in the early 1930s. Finally, in 1953-1954, the islanders abandoned the Blasket Islands.

The former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey bought Inishvickillane, one of the Blasket Islands, for £25,000 in 1974. His few guests there included President Francois Mitterrand, in whose honour a French flag was raised on the island in 1988.

Whatever happens to Inishvickillane may still be an open question. But, for me, Peig Sayers remains a closed book.

The sandy beaches at Dunquin on Slea Head (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)