Sunday, 31 December 2017

A year that brought a change in
directions and new experiences

The harbour in Rethymnon on a summer evening this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I have been ringing out the old and ringing in the new this morning with my sermon at the New Year’s Eve Eucharist in Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry. But before 2017 is well and truly rung out later tonight, I am pausing for a few moments this afternoon to look back on the past year.

In Britain, this was a year in which Brexit was pursued with even greater vigour, despite the initial understanding that the referendum was merely a consultative process. It was the year of the Grenfell Tower disaster, which has been forgotten cruelly by the very people who are responsible for housing people in conditions such as this. It was a year in which the overwhelming majority of Britons refused to descend into fear-driven hatred following the attacks in Manchester and London Bridge.

I was in Lichfield on the day Theresa May called this year’s election, which saw UKIP wiped out, the SNP sorely wounded, and the Liberal Democrats pushed to the margins. Instead, the DUP holds the whip hand, and decides whether or not Theresa May is going to fall within the next 12 months.

But it is worth remembering too that Sinn Fein’s elected MPs are also propping up this Tory Government. If they took their seats, this government would collapse sooner rather than later. They claim they have no mandate to take their seats in Westminster, but the Good Friday agreement and the subsequent referendums accepted the status quo and the present constitutional arrangements. So long as Sinn Fein MPs refuse to take their seats in Westminster, they are as responsible as the DUP for the way Brexit is being pursued.

The referendum was not a binding decision to leave the single market or the free-travel zone. But this is the agenda now being pushed by the right-wing press, by Sky News, and by many Tory backbenchers.

For the first time in my life, I find myself smiling in wry agreement with Michael Heseltine when I hear him saying he wants to send Boris Johnson to Mongolia and that a government led by Jeremy Corbyn would be better than a Tory government pursuing a hard Brexit. But even Jeremy Corbyn is failing to provide any moral or visionary role that might put help to put a brake on Britain being rushed like lemmings over the cliff edge.

The death this year of Christine Keller is a reminder of how much Britain has changed over the decades. Theresa May’s government is rocked by continuing sex scandals in Westminster and by shoddy dealing. Since the election, she has lost three key figures from her cabinet: Michael Fallon, who is a cousin of the Irish DJ BP Fallon, Priti Padel, and Damien Green.

This too was the year Donal Trump assumed office as President in the US. He did not win the majority of votes among the electorate, but won the votes in the electoral college. For excuses less gross than this, the US has invaded countries and deposed despots. Even Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Gadafy in Libya had a greater claim to electoral legitimacy … and may even have convinced themselves that they had a greater grasp on the meaning of truth.

The two clear, identifiable groups that are unwavering in their support for Trump’s bullying and uncouth style of government are the far-right, including neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, and the so-called ‘Conservative Evangelical’ leadership.

Even the murderous events in Charlottesville failed to wake up these so-called Christians. When business leaders and retired military figures showed they had some principles and moral backbone, the fundamentalists remained on White House advisory committees.

In recent days, Bishop Paul Bayes of Liverpool has called these people out. But it seems they are not for moving. He said ‘self-styled evangelicals’ risked bringing the word evangelical into disrepute, and added there was no justification for Christians contradicting God’s teaching to protect the poor and the weak.

He told the Guardian: ‘Some of the things that have been said by religious leaders seem to collude with a system that marginalises the poor, a system which builds walls instead of bridges, a system which says people on the margins of society should be excluded, a system which says we’re not welcoming people any more into our country.’

He regretted that ‘people who call themselves evangelical in the US seem to be uncritically accepting’ positions taken by Trump and his allies. ‘Some quite significant so-called evangelical leaders are uncritically supporting people in ways that imply they are colluding or playing down the seriousness of things which in other parts of their lives [they] would see as really important,’ Bishop Paul added.

I believe it is wrong to allow them to continue calling themselves ‘Conservative Evangelicals,’ for they are neither conservative nor evangelical: conservatives seek to conserve the traditions of the Church, but these people have no ecclesiology, have no respect for the Sacraments, Creeds, doctrine and ministry of the Church, or discipleship, and are neo-Arians in their understanding of the role of Christ and the nature of the Trinity; evangelicals seek to preach the Gospel, but these people show little or no evidence of bringing good news to the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger or freeing the prisoner.

Instead they are unquestioning in their support of a misogynistic, war-threatening, sexist, racist, lying, boorish, bragging, crude president.

When Trump met the Pope in the Vatican – indeed when Trump met Enda Kenny in the White House – morality triumphed over the brash and the crude. Unfortunately, no lessons seem to have been learned by a man who continues to be deaf to world opinion, to threaten nuclear war and to deny climate change.

His lying about climate change was exposed as a tissue of lies when he pleaded climate change as one of the reasons for needing to build a wall on the sand dunes in Doonbeg to protect his grubby golf course in Co Clare. The wall in Clare could yet be a stain on Ireland’s record in standing up to a recidivist bully.

This was the year of the ‘Paradise Papers,’ the year of the election of President Emmanuel Macron and the failure of the far-right in France, the year the far-right effectively threatened Angela Merkle’s continuing place not only as the leader of Germany but as the leader of Europe, the year Robert Mugabe left office in Zimbabwe without being able to leave with grace and dignity, and the year Cyril Ramaphosa promised to bring an end to corruption in South Africa.

This was also the year of genocide in Myanmar and the year Saudi Arabia created the greatest of humanitarian crises in Yemen, while Trump continued to kow-tow to the Saudis and Theresa May continued to sell them weapons of mass destruction.

This was the year the world seemed to forget that thousands of refugees are still arriving in Greece every month. They arrive to grim conditions on the islands, particularly Lesbos, and they are dumped on the edges of Europe, while Europe becomes increasingly obsessed with its own internal affairs.

It was the year when independence became the main point of debate in Catalunya, and so throughout Spain. But, as a consequence, Rajoy’s government was able to escape debate and questioning about public spending on health, education, housing and infrastructure.

It was the year Leo Varadkar said goodbye to Enda Kenny, the year that the cabinet said goodbye to Frances Fitzgerald, the year Fine Gael said goodbye to Liam Cosgrave, the year Sinn Fein said goodbye to Martin McGuinness and prepared to say a long goodbye to Gerry Adams, and the year that DUP and Sinn Fein politicians continued to draw their salaries despite failing to do the jobs they have been elected to work at. For Sinn Fein, it seems their concerns about the Irish language are more important than the NHS, education, social welfare, public spending or the impact of ‘Brexit’ not only on Northern Ireland but on all people on these islands; for the DUP, it seems protecting Arlene Foster from the continuing fallout of the ‘Cash for Ash’ crisis than to deal with a political vacuum in Northern Ireland.

With Bishop Kenneth Kearon and Dean Gary Paulsen at the installation as Canon Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick

I presided at the Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral for the last time as a chapter member on 7 January, and peached as a canon for the last time on 15 January. A few days later, I was appointed priest in charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of parishes 20 January, when Archbishop John Neill preached at my introduction in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

A few weeks later, Bishop Patrick Rooke of Tuam was the preacher in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, when I was installed as Precentor of the three cathedrals in the dioceses, Saint Mary’s, Limerick, Saint Flannan’s, Killlaloe, and Saint Brendan’s, Clonfert, on 19 February. From April, my roles in these dioceses, which stretch from Kerry to East Galway and Offaly, across three geographical provinces, include being Director of Education and Training, with training days for clergy and readers in Killarney and Askeaton and a new website providing liturgical and preaching resources.

This is a far-flung diocese, and the parish is far-flung too, with four churches, stretching from mid-Limerick across West Limerick and north Kerry. There is the normal cycle of Sunday service, vestry meetings, pastoral visits, hospital chaplaincy, baptisms, confirmations, funerals, and, hopefully in the future, weddings. I chair the board of management of the National School in the parish, I am involved in a local committee working with Travellers in Rathkeale, Cohesion Group, I am member of the Diocesan Synod, the European Affairs Working Group, and a number of diocesan committees, including the diocesan council, the board of education and Limerick Protestant Orphan Society.

I spoke at the General Synod in Limerick [4 to 6 May], about my work with Travellers in Rathkeale, and since then I was re-elected to the General Synod, but this time for the Diocese of Limerick. I took part in the Chrism Eucharist on Maundy Thursday in Saint Mary’s Church, Nenagh, Co Tipperary, spoke at the Ministry Day in Glenstal Abbey [17 June], and enjoyed the diocesan clergy conference in Galway [11 to 13 October].

An autumn sunset seen from the tower of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

It has been exciting to get to know new cathedrals in new dioceses, and one of the more unusual aspects to these experiences was climbing the Tower of Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Limerick at the invitation of Kieran Brislane, enjoying the sunset across the city and the Shannon estuary, and joining the bell-ringers at their rehearsal.

As Precentor, I was invited by Limerick Civic Trust to chair the public lecture and debate [28 September] with Jodie Ginsberg, Chief Executive of Index on Censorship as part of Banned Books Week, and I had dinner with Stephen Green [14 September], the former chair of HSBC, who opened the Autumn Lecture Series, discussing ‘The European Identity – Historical and Cultural Realities We Cannot Deny.’

The Very Revd Niall Sloane was installed as the new Dean of Limerick the following month [21 October]. He is working at making the cathedral chapter a working body, and next year promises to be an interesting one as Saint Mary’s celebrates the 850th anniversary of its foundation.

I lectured on Thomas Southwell at the annual conference of the Irish Palatine Association [26 August] in Rathkeale, lectured at Tarbert Historical Society [14 October] on one of my predecessors in the these parishes, the Revd Sir William Augustus Woseley, spoke to members of the Thomond Archaeological and Historical Society when they visited Castletown Church [31 May], and lectured at the Irish Hellenic Society on ‘Sir Edward Law (1846-1910): the Irish Philhellene who revived the Greek economy in the 1890s’ [22 November].

Rowing on the River Deel in Askeaton

I am living in the Rectory in Askeaton, which provides ample opportunities for walks by River Deel, River Maigue, River Arra and River Shannon, and I have enjoyed rowing on the River Deel, joined the Desmond Rowing Club and had fun at Askeaton Regatta. There have been new beaches to walk on at Ballybunion, Beagh, Camp, Castlegregory, Dingle, Inch and Kilkee, and walks by the shore at Tarbert, Glin, Foynes, Ventry and Blennerville.

I have regularly caught the ferry between Tarbert and Killimer, enjoying the sight of the dolphins in the estuary, and spent an afternoon sailing out of Tarbert. There have been visits to places as diverse as ‘World’s End’ in Castleconnell, Sixmilebridge, and Bunratty Castle.

There are historic, archaeological and religious sites to explore, from the cloisters of the Franciscan Friary and the ruined Desmond Castle in Askeaton, and the restored Desmond Castle in Newcastle West to the former synagogues and Jewish cemetery in Limerick. I am enjoying the architecture, street art, coffee shops, bookshops and restaurants of Limerick, and the stucco work and art of Pat McAuliffe in Listowel and Abbeyfeale.

I have been at three weddings this year, in Ashford, Co Wicklow, Crinken near Bray, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, and Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. During one of those weddings, I stayed over at Tinakilly House near Wicklow. The weddings also provided opportunities for a return visit to Wexford and a meal by the estuary of the River Slaney at the Ferrycarrig Hotel.

A return visit to Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

There were return visits too to Lichfield, earlier in the year, in the week after Easter from 17 to 19 April, and at the end of the year, from 23 to 24 November, staying at both the Hedgehog Vintage Inn and Saint John’s House. I paid my usual visits to Lichfield Cathedral and the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, there were walks in the countryside beyond Cross in Hand Lane, and there were visits to the Roman site at Wall and to Weeford for continuing research on the Wyatt family.

I was in London in February, May, and November for meetings of the Trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). There was a trustees’ meeting too during the USPG conference in High Leigh, near Hoddesdon [17 to 19 July]. During the conference, I chaired the session addressed by Bishop David Hamid of the Diocese of Europe. I also took part in a USPG volunteers meeting for dioceses in the Midlands at the Church of England offices near Saint Philip’s Cathedral in Birmingham [24 November].

The conference in High Leigh also provided the opportunity for walks in the countryside in Essex and Hertfordshire, and lunch at the Fish and Eels on the waterfront at Dobb’s Weir, near Hoddesdon, and a walk along the Lea Valley, crossing the Greenwich Mean Line.

Although this is the first year in many that the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies has not organised a Summer School at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, I was back in Cambridge during the summer months [17 July] for a short visit, that included a walk along the Backs, a visit to some bookshops, and a quick visit to Sidney Sussex College.

I continued to travel regularly during the year, with two visits to Greece, two to Italy, visits too to two microstates within the boundaries of Italy, the Vatican City and San Marino.

I was in Rome from 3 to 5 January, staying in the Hotel Franklin on Via Rodi, close to the Vatican, with visits to the usual tourist sights, including the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Vatican, and long lingering meals in Trastevere.

Two of us returned to Crete in the summer months [28 June to 12 July], staying again at Julia Apartments in Platanes on the east fringes of Rethymnon, visited the studios of the icon writer Alexandra Kaouki in Rethymnon, and also visited Panormos, the monastery at Arkadi with its new museum, Iraklion and the Museum of Christian Art with its icons and Byzantine treasures, Giorgioupouli. I also stayed in Ariadne in Koutouloufari, which offered an opportunity to revisit old friends in Piskopiano.

I returned to Athens later in the summer [18 to 20 August], when two of us stayed in Monastiraki. We visited the Acropolis, and this was my first time to visit the New Acropolis Museum.

As the year was coming to an end, two of us spent five days in Bologna [14 to 18 November], which also provided an opportunity to visit the Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna, the Roman remains in Rimini and the unusual, independent and somewhat eccentric Republic of San Marino.

Visiting an old ancestral home in Millstreet, Co Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Back in Ireland, I returned in August to Millstreet, my mother’s home town in north Co Cork. I had not been there for some years, but a cousin helped me to recover many childhood memories and stories, and we visited many of the old houses associated with this side of the family.

I continue to write a monthly column in two diocesan magazine, the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel Ferns and Ossory).

This year’s topics were: Auschwitz (January); the Jewish Quarter of Krakow (February); some Irish connections with Rome and the Vatican (March); the Augustinians at Saint John’s Hospital and the Franciscans at the Friary in Lichfield (April); the stucco art of Pat McAuliffe in Listowel and Abbeyfeale (May); the Wyatt family of Weeford and its lasting influence on architecture in England and Ireland (June); the story of Limerick’s Jewish community (July); the Museum of Christian Art in Iraklion (September); how Grenfell Tower exposed a deeply divided Post-Brexit England (October); the Acropolis in Athens and the Parthenon Marbles (November); and Saint Nicholas of Myra, the real Santa Claus (December).

I also wrote a feature for City Life in Lichfield on ‘Philip Larkin’s place in Poets’ Corner and in the life of Lichfield’ (March), contributed a three-part feature in Newslink on Martin Luther and the Reformation, wrote a feature for Newslink on the meaning of Easter, and wrote an Easter feature for Koinonia: ‘In the Harrowing of Hell, Christ reaches down and lifts us up with him in his Risen Glory’ (April).

I was invited to contribute two papers for Ruach, an online journal promoting spiritual growth and healing, that is edited by the Revd Dr Jason Phillips the parish priest of Whittington, Weeford and Hints, in the Diocese of Lichfield, and Lynne Mills: on the spirituality of cinema, ‘Going to the movies with Harry Potter and Noah’ (Trinity 2017), and ‘To praise eternity in time and place … searching for a a spirituality of place’ (Michaelmas 2017).

I also wrote a book review for Search, the Church of Ireland journal, and features for the Redemptorist magazine Reality on ‘Thomas Cranmer: the Cambridge Reformer who shaped the Reformation’ (May) and the Methodist Newsletter on ‘Marking the Reformation: 500 years on – an Anglican Perspective’ (June).

There were occasional contributions to The Irish Times and the Church of Ireland Gazette, and interviews with the Limerick Leader, Limerick Life, and ABC News, the local community magazine in Askeaton. I finished off chapters for books to be published in the coming months, but I am not going to see these in print until 2018.

Opening Adrienne Lord’s summer exhibition of icons in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

In June, I was invited back to Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, to open Adrienne Long’s summer icon exhibition.

I remain President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND), although parish Sunday commitments mean I missed this year’s Hiroshima Day commemorations in Dublin.

It was a major change of direction this year to move on from being a Lecturer at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Trinity College Dublin, but I returned to TCD in November for the graduation of many of my MTh students, including two whose dissertations I had supervised.

This year also had its sorrows: deaths this year included old friends like Charlie Comerford, Johnny Blennerhassett, Sean O’Boyle of Columba Press and the Revd David Hoare of Gibraltar, Archbishop Donald Caird, who had commissioned me as a reader in 1994, and Bishop Samuel Poyntz, who was an early advocate of the ordination of women – I had stayed in his house when he was living in retirement in Lisburn.

This is a comfortable time to live in Ireland: the economy is improving, civil rights are being respected increasingly, and liberties and diversity are social values despite some racism and prejudice that lingers in dark corners. The government has proved itself well-able to negotiate its way through the thorny path of Brexit, and stood up to Trump’s bullying on the status of Jerusalem. But I fear this generation may yet be judged harshly for the way we have failed to get to grips with the crisis surrounding housing and homelessness, our failure to deal with the crisis in our public health system, and the way we have treated asylum seekers and refugees in our so-called direct provision centres.

I am looking forward to 2018 and the New Year, including the celebration of the 850th anniversary of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick. In my column in the Church Review and the Diocesan Magazine next year I write about the benefits of learning a new language. I might think about swimming regularly at the pool in Askeaton. But perhaps my New Year’s resolution ought to be to increase my daily walking average this year of 3.7 km up to 4 km in 2018.

I continue to blog daily, to walk daily, to read Holy Scripture daily, and to pray daily. There have been hospital appointments throughout the year connected with monitoring my Sarcoidosis and my Vitamin B12 deficiency. But, while I have Sarcoidosis, I am still determined that Sarcoidosis shall not have me.

Happy New Year!

A winter sunset at the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph; Patrick Comerford, 2017)

‘When the fullness of time
had come, God sent his Son’

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple … a stained-glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 31 December 2017,

New Year’s Eve, the First Sunday of Christmas.

11 a.m., Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry,

The Parish Eucharist.

Readings:
Isaiah 61: 10 to 62: 3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4: 4-7; Luke 2: 22-40 or Luke 2: 15-21.

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

As we ring out the old and ring in the new, today and tomorrow are days to recall old memories, look forward to new beginnings, renew relationships, seek closures and set out on new ventures.

‘In my beginning is my end ...In my end is my beginning’ ... a sign for the old year and the new year in Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This morning’s Gospel reading recalls another beginning with the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus.

In the Epistle reading, we are reminded that in Christ each of us becomes a Child of the Covenant. In our Gospel, the Child Jesus becomes a Child of the Covenant. This is a Festival that marks three events:

1, firstly, the naming of the Christ Child;

2, secondly, the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham ‘and his children for ever,’ thus Christ’s keeping of the Law;

3, thirdly, traditionally, the first shedding of Christ’s blood.

The most significant of these events in the Gospels is the name itself. The name Jesus means ‘Yahweh saves’ and so is linked to the question asked by Moses of God: ‘What is your name?’ ‘I am who I am,’ was the reply, thus the significance of Christ’s words: ‘Before Abraham was, I am,’ and the significance of the ‘I AM’ sayings in the Fourth Gospel.

In our Gospel reading, Saint Luke recalls the Circumcision and Naming of Christ in a short, terse summary account in one, single verse: ‘After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb’ (Luke 2: 21).

A popular 14th century work, the Golden Legend, explains the Circumcision as the first time the Blood of Christ is shed, and thus the beginning of the process of the redemption, and a demonstration too that Christ is fully human.

Saint Luke does not say where the Christ Child was circumcised, although the great artists – Rembrandt in particular –often place the ritual in the Temple, linking the Circumcision and the Presentation, so that Christ’s suffering begins and ends in Jerusalem.

This may seem to be a simple story about the thankful piety of the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph bringing their firstborn to the Temple for dedication, where they are met by the patient piety of the priest Simeon and the prophet Anna.

But this reading says a great deal more than this. The Christ Child is to become the fulfilment of the hope of the priests (the Law) and the hope of the prophets. This reading links the Incarnation with the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, Christmas with Good Friday and Easter.

The Christ Child who is brought to the Temple in dedication is the Christ who later visits the Temple in the days before his crucifixion. The sacrifice of the doves hints at the future sacrifice of Christ.

There is poetic quality to the contrast between the young parents, Mary and Joseph, and the elderly couple in the Temple, Simeon and Anna. Once again, we are challenged to think about the meaning of beginnings and endings.

We may concentrate on the small picture, the simple image of this poor family arriving in humility at the Temple.

However, it takes the old and the blind Simeon to see the big picture. It is not that the parents have come to purify the child or themselves, but that Christ has come to purify the world.

This old man takes this little infant in his arms, and in this action finds he is holding in his hands the promise of the world. Towards the end of his life, new life comes to vindicate his life lived in hope and in faith. Hope is not the sole preserve of the young.

The words Simeon speaks are not easy, and remind us that the Incarnation is without meaning without the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.

In Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis (verses 29-32), we have beginning and ending, welcoming and departing, falling and rising.

In the end, the family returns home to Nazareth – Saint Luke has no flight into Egypt – as an ordinary family going back to their ordinary family life. The time of expectancy has come to end. The time of God’s salvation is now here, in our ordinary lives.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day make a good time to look back and to look forward with eyes of faith in company with one another and with God. The beginning of redemption, the beginning of the New Covenant, the beginning of the New Year. As TS Eliot opens and closes ‘East Coker’:

In my beginning is my end
... In my end is my beginning


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

‘Candlemas 2012’ (York Minster) by Susan Hufton … Simeon’s ‘Nunc Dimittis’ in a painting at a recent exhibition on the Bible, ‘Holy Writ,’ in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for 31 December 2017.

The Methodist Covenant Prayer:

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Use me as you choose;
rank me alongside whoever you chose;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
raised up for you or brought down low for you.

Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
With my whole heart I freely choose to yield
all things to your ordering and approval.

So now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you art mine, and I am yours.
So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Collect:

Almighty God,
who wonderfully created us in your own image
and yet more wonderfully restored us
through your Son Jesus Christ:
Grant that, as he came to share in our humanity,
so we may share the life of his divinity;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,
and his name shall be called the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 6)

Preface:

You have given Jesus Christ your only Son
to be born of the Virgin Mary,
and through him you have given us power
to become the children of God:

Post Communion Prayer:

Heavenly Father,
you have refreshed us with this heavenly sacrament.
As your Son came to live among us,
grant us grace to live our lives,
united in love and obedience,
as those who long to live with him in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one
all things earthly and heavenly,
fill you with his joy and peace:

The Naming and Circumcision of Christ … a stained-glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying at Christmas with USPG
and Lichfield Cathedral
(7): 31 December 2017

This week, the USPG Prayer Diary offers prayers and reflections from Pakistan (Photograph: USPG)

Patrick Comerford

We have arrived at the end of the year, and today [31 December 2017] is New Year’s Eve.

For the past week, I have continued a practice I began at the beginning of Advent. I am spending a short time of prayer and reflection each morning, using the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar from Lichfield Cathedral.

USPG, founded in 1701, is an Anglican mission agency supporting churches around the world in their mission to bring fullness of life to the communities they serve.

Under the title Pray with the World Church, the current prayer diary (22 October 2017 to 10 February 2018), offers prayers and reflections from the Anglican Communion.

This week, the Prayer Diary offers reflections from Pakistan. This theme is introduced this morning in an article prepared by a woman from the Church of Pakistan. USPG has decided to withhold her name for her own safety. She writes:

Pakistan’s 3.8 million Christians feel increasingly under threat in their daily lives. The laws applicable to religious minorities have shifted from neutral to blatant discrimination.

The persecution of religious minorities is in fact enabled rather than deterred by the state, and the alarming lack of condemnation of cases of persecution by government officials, combined with a weak judiciary and constabulary, has seen an increase in the number of those seeking asylum abroad.

The persecution of Christians is getting worse in every region where the Church of Pakistan is working. Christian girls are particularly affected. The list of abuses they face is shocking. The have been kidnapped, compelled to convert to Islam, and forced into marriage. There have been honour killings of girls who converted from Islam to Christianity. Rape is sometimes used to take the virginity of young Christian women, who are then forced to convert and marry their Muslim attackers. Christian girls have been physically abused for not covering their heads or otherwise dressing ‘provocatively’ in mixed neighbourhoods – a common form of attack is to have acid thrown in their unveiled faces. Please pray for us.

The USPG Prayer Diary:

Sunday 31 December 2017, the First Sunday of Christmas:


Holy God, your only Son was born homeless and laid in a manger.
Fill us with compassion for all in need today.
Bless your Church as it works for dignity, healing and peace,
and provoke us to respond to him, your most precious gift.

Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar:


The Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar suggests lighting a candle each day as you read the Bible and pray.

Today, the calendar suggests reading Revelation 21: 22 to 22: 5.

The reflection for today offers this challenge:

At the end of the year / brink of a New Year, pray that God may lead us into his future, that faith may give us vision and hope, that we can be confident in his love.

Yesterday’s reflection

Series concluded.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Former dispensary is
an unusual religious
building in Limerick

The Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Limerick is the former City Dispensary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

The Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses on the corner of Lower Gerald Griffin Street and James’s Street, may be one of the more unusual looking religious buildings in the heart of Limerick’s city centre. But this is because it was built originally as a dispensary around 1890.

As the old name suggests, the City Dispensary was the focal point of dispensed prescriptions and medical care in Limerick for much of the 20th century. There were dentists and doctors here, and people who gave coal and food vouchers to the cold and the hungry.

In the 1940s and 1950s, this was a place too for food parcels for impoverished people in Limerick City.

The City Dispensary was made famous by Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes. It was here that the writer came with his mother Angela to beg for shoes and grocery vouchers.

This is a detached building on the corner of Lower Gerald Griffin Street and James’s Street, and it is a seven-bay, two-storey, red-brick, east-facing late Victorian building.

The central, raised, single-bay, gabled breakfront has a large pediment with a natural slate covering and a terracotta dentil cornice supported by a pair of red brick pilasters flanking a recessed frame with an egg-and-dart frame and a modern inscribed panel.

This breakfront has a single round-headed window opening with red brick voussoirs and a terracotta fluted keystone and a uPVC window on a nosed limestone sill course to the entire breakfront.

There is a similar round-headed door opening with a terracotta rosette to either side and a modern hardwood double-leaf timber-panelled door opening onto three limestone steps.

The building is flanked by a low rendered wall with a red-brick plinth course and a moulded limestone coping supporting wrought-iron railings and a pair of wrought-iron gates.

The red brick walls are laid in stretcher bond with a red brick pilaster flanking each bay.

The camber-headed window openings have a fluted terracotta keystone and a terracotta cyma reversal stringcourse. There are nosed limestone sills and the original windows have been replaced with uPVC windows.

At the north side, on the front facing James’s Street, there is a second, round-headed door opening with a keystone and a timber-panelled door. This is flanked by a pair of round-headed window openings with one-over-one timber sash windows on limestone nosed sills.

After the establishment of the Limerick Health Authority in 1960, the building fell into dilapidation. It was restored in recent years by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have a congregation here of about 70 people. The Witnesses do not use altars, and their Kingdom Halls are devoid of religious symbols or decorations.

The former dispensary remains a pleasant building with its slender, yet dramatic, pedimented breakfront. The sober red brick façade is enlivened by the double-height pilasters, and the string and sill courses add a decorative element to this narrow street in the city centre.

Praying at Christmas with USPG
and Lichfield Cathedral
(6): 30 December 2017

‘Pray that the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem might be strengthened in its witness to the reconciling and healing power of Christ’ … with Archbishop Suheil Dawani of Jerusalem during his visit to Dublin last December

Patrick Comerford

We are coming towards the end of the year today [30 December 2017], and tomorrow is New Year’s Eve.

Until the end of this month, I am continuing a practice I began at the beginning of Advent this year. I am spending a short time of prayer and reflection each morning, using the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar from Lichfield Cathedral.

USPG, founded in 1701, is an Anglican mission agency supporting churches around the world in their mission to bring fullness of life to the communities they serve.

Under the title Pray with the World Church, the current prayer diary (22 October 2017 to 10 February 2018), offers prayers and reflections from the Anglican Communion.

This week, the Prayer Diary visits the Holy Land, and this theme was introduced on Sunday by Salwa Khoury, who is based at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Nablus on the West Bank.

The USPG Prayer Diary:

Saturday 30 December 2017:


Pray that the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem might be strengthened in its witness to the reconciling and healing power of Christ.

Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar:

The BBC World Service has broadcast a 30-minute documentary on the Bethlehem Icon Centre which can now be listened to on iPlayer. The Bethlehem Icon Centre trains Palestinian Christians to be iconographers, and reconnect with a nearly lost part of their spiritual heritage.

Students from the Bethlehem Icon Centre are coming to Lichfield Cathedral next year [2018] to work on a new commission, the Icon of Christ Crucified. The icon will complete the ‘triptych’ of icons, including the icons of the Virgin Mary, and the Archangel Gabriel that were completed last year.

The Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar suggests lighting a candle each day as you read the Bible and pray.

Today, the calendar suggests reading Matthew 2: 13-15 and 19-23.

The reflection for today offers this challenge:

Pray for the homeless, the refugee and the migrant – all seeking a home, security and stability.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow.

Friday, 29 December 2017

The survival of one small kiosk
in Limerick has been secured

The Park Kiosk in Limerick is a nostalgic feature on city’s streetscape (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

The local kiosk or periptero has been a thriving, lively part of economic life in cities and town throughout Greece for generations. In recent years, the kioks have gone into decline, and although I know many surviving kiosks throughout Crete and Athens, their future is in doubt and many people fear that they may became a lost feature of social and daily life in Greece.

There were some kiosks in the Dublin area until recently too. A handful of kiosks survive along the seafront in Bray, Co Wicklow. But I also remember a kiosk at a busy traffic junction in Ballsbridge and another at the corner of Adelaide Road and Leeson Street, as well as a small kiosk that operated in the summer months in Bushy Park in Terenure.

I did not realise, however, that in Limerick too kiosks were part of street life for many generations. While kiosks in Greece were originally licensed to support the families of war veterans and war widows, it is said in Limerick that the kiosks sprang up close to the location of shops where the proprietors and their families had been evicted in the 19th century.

A busy kiosk in the centre of Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The last surviving example of these kiosks seems to be one on the Boherbuoy side of the People’s Park.

The People’s Park in Pery Square, Limerick, opened in 1877 in memory of Richard Russell, a prominent business figure in Victorian Limerick. The Barrington Map of the People’s Park that year shows a public pump on the site of the later kiosk, on Boherbuoy, then known as Nelson Street.

The kiosk, therefore, postdates this map, and was built sometime after the 1877.

For many generations, this kiosk was run by the O’Sullivan family. The first proprietor was William O’Sullivan and it then passed to his daughter Norah.

The kiosk was a well-known landmark in Limerick, and part of its trading success owed to its prominent and eye-catching location close to the railway station and bus station. Like other kiosks in Limerick – indeed, likes its counterparts througohut Greece – from early morning until late at night, it sold newspapers, soft drinks, cigarettes, tobacco, matches, toys, children’s comics, chewing gum, books and ice creams, and a good place to find small change for a pay phone.

The kiosk remained in the hands of the O’Sullivan family for generations. Tommy O’Sullivan was a prominent member of the Limerick Coty Club in Barrington Street. It continued to be run by his sons and daughters, Fonsie, Maureen, Eileen and Robert (Bob).

Bob O’Sullivan was the last member of his family to run the kiosk. After it closed in the late 1980s or early 1990s, the kiosk then fell into disrepair and was vandalised. There was a fear that many of the tobacco signs and name signs were being claimed by trophy hunters, and over the years the original signs were removed.

However, the signs were repaired and the kiosk was painstakingly refurbished and restored in 2007 by Limerick Civic Trust. In co-operation with Bob O’Sullivan, FÁS and Limerick City Council, it was brought back nostalgically to its original appearance, complete with the original signs, including old enamel signs for Will’s Cigarettes.

Since then, the kiosk has been a unique venue for the arts. For example, in January 2015, as part of a project by artist Mary Conroy, it became a green building promoting Limerick as an environmentally friendly and ecologically rich city.

The kiosk was a starting point to engage with Limerick’s parks and green spaces, and housed native plants, local information, imagery and a specially designed map to introduce people to the wide range of ecological habitats and special areas of conservation in Limerick.

The Park Kiosk has also been offered to artists as a venue for multidisciplinary residencies, with a new experience each month as artists presented work made specifically for this building. Some artists saw it as a studio, others as a theatre, a community centre or a shop.

Last year, it hosted a puppet and installation theatre, and been a location for producing short films incorporating shadow puppetry, music and song and children’s theatre.

The kiosk at the People’s Park remains a nostalgic feature on Limerick’s streetscape. But it seems to be the only surviving example of a Limerick kiosk.

I still wonder, though, what the future holds for kiosks throughout Greece.

The Park Kiosk, carefully restored by Limerick Civic Trust and is now available as an arts venue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Praying at Christmas with USPG
and Lichfield Cathedral
(5): 29 December 2017

Snow at Lichfield Cathedral and in the Cathedral Close earlier this month (Photograph: Steve Johnson, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the feast of Saint Thomas Beckett [29 December 2017].

Until the end of December 2017, I am continuing a practice I began at the beginning of Advent this year. I am spending a short time of prayer and reflection each morning, using the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar from Lichfield Cathedral.

USPG, founded in 1701, is an Anglican mission agency supporting churches around the world in their mission to bring fullness of life to the communities they serve.

Under the title Pray with the World Church, the current prayer diary (22 October 2017 to 10 February 2018), offers prayers and reflections from the Anglican Communion.

This week, the Prayer Diary visits the Holy Land, and this theme was introduced on Sunday by Salwa Khoury, who is based at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Nablus on the West Bank.

The USPG Prayer Diary:

Friday 29 December 2017:


Give thanks for the work of the USPG supported Saint Luke’s Anglican Hospital in Nablus in the West Bank (see article), as it reaches out to people of all faiths.

Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar:

The calendar suggests lighting a candle each day as you read the Bible and pray.

Today, the calendar suggests reading Luke 2: 22-35.

The reflection for today offers this challenge:

Give thanks for the new-born, for all we do to nurture them. Pray for new parents that they may provide love, care and wisdom.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Winter reflections on
the beach in Laytown
and Bettystown

Looking across the dunes and the beach at Relish in Berttystown this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

It is almost a year since I moved to Askeaton. Since that move in January, I have got to know many beaches in West Limerick, North Kerry and in neighbouring Co Clare.

But I have missed my regular walks on the beaches close to Dublin.

Although harsh winter weather is threatening, the forecasts are for nothing like the heavy snows that are blanketing most of England these days. Instead, today was a bright winter day, and although the temperature fell to as low as 2, there was bright sunshine and clear blue skies.

I had gone for a walk by the harbour and the sea, along the East Pier in Dún Laoghaire, on Tuesday afternoon, and for a walk along the seafront in Bray, Co Wicklow, two weeks ago [14 December 2017].

So, today’s choice, during these few days off in Dublin, was between an afternoon walk on the beaches and by the harbour in Skerries, followed by coffee in Olive, or a walk along the beach in Laytown and Bettystown, on the ‘Gold Coast’ of east Co Meath, combined with lunch in Relish in Bettystown.

The ‘Gold Coast’ of Co Meath seen from the terrace at Relish in Berttystown this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Two of us headed north, decided to continue on through Gormanston and Julianstown, and eventually plumped for Laytown and Bettystown, hoping the afternoon sun and the blue skies and seas would add to the beauty of a walk along the beach.

We parked in Laytown, the tide was out, and we walked the 2 km to Bettystown before having lunch in Relish.

It is a full year since I had been here, and it was good to be back. The menu has changed in the intervening 12 months, but the food is wonderful and despite it being a packed restaurant today we were given a table by one of the windows, with enviable views out over the sand dunes, across the long sandy beach, and out to the blue waters of the Irish Sea.

It was an idyllic scene through the window as we had lunch, and had the restaurant not been so busy we might have lingered a little longer this afternoon.

We walked back along the same 2 km stretch of beach, enjoying the dimming lights of dusk, and the patterns in the sky created behind the houses and the sand dunes by the setting sun.

This has been one of my favourite stretches of beach since my schooldays nearby in Gormanston and family holidays in Bettystown in the 1960s, and it was good to return to this beach this afternoon.

Reflections in Laytown at sunset this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Celebrating my grandfather and
his life on his 150th birthday

Stephen Edward Comerford (1867-1921) ... he was born 150 years ago on 28 December 2017 (Photograph: Comerford Family Collection)

Patrick Comerford

Today marks the 150th birthday of my grandfather, Stephen Edward Comerford (1867-1921), who was born on 28 December 1867.

Although I have often shared the tragic story of his lonely death in 1921, it is worth celebrating his birthday on this day.

Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row, Dublin ... Stephen Comerford was baptised and married in this church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Stephen Edward Comerford (1867-1921) was born at 7 Redmond’s Hill, between Wexford Street and Aungier Street, Dublin, on 28 December 1867. He was the fourth son and fifth and youngest child of James Comerford (ca 1817-1902) and his wife Anne (Doyle).

His father James Comerford was an arts-and-crafts stuccodore and architect from Bunclody, Co Wexford, whose works included the design of the Irish House on the corner of Wood Quay and Winetavern Street, and the Oarsman in Ringsend. Later James worked with the Board of Works as an architect and a year before he died described himself as a Civil Servant, Retired.

A few days after his birth, Stephen was baptised in Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row. The church records do not record the date of his baptism, but name his sponsors or godparents as Thomas Roche and Margaret Dowdall.

As he was growing up, Stephen’s father and brothers lived mainly in the area around Lower Clanbrassil Street, a part of the Dublin that became known as ‘Little Jerusalem.’ Stephen seems to have been brought up in his teens at 62 Lower Clanbrassil Street, and at one stage it could be said it would have been impossible to walk along Clanbrassil without every other person you met being either a member of the Comerford family or a member of the Jewish community.

The presence of the Comerford family in Clanbrassil Street is celebrated by James Joyce in Ulysses, and John Henry Raleigh suggests in The Chronicle of Leopold and Molly Bloom: Ulysses as Narrative (University California Press, 1977): ‘This Anglo, somewhat toffish name, is meant to suggest, I believe, that the Blooms had some friends rather higher on the social scale than previous or subsequent to their Lombard Street West days.’

The indenture dated 23 June 1888 records Stephen’s apprenticing to his father in 1884 (Photograph: Comerford Family Collection)

At the age of 16, Stephen Comerford was apprenticed to his father, James Comerford, Operative Plasterer of the City of Dublin, ‘to learn his Art’ from 1 June 1884 for seven years, according to an indenture signed by James Comerford and Stephen Comerford and witnessed by John Hartigan and Isaac Hill.

An error in the document later gives the date 23 June 1888, but Stephen’s signature at the back of the document confirms the date 1884.

Stephen Comerford’s signature when he was apprenticed to his father (Comerford family collection)

Stephen soon became involved with his father in turning the plasterers’ guild into a trade union.

As a stucco plasterer, he worked on many of George Ashlin’s Dublin churches and on Ashlin’s hospital in Portrane. He was a member of the Society of Stucco Plasterers of Dublin and a founding member and member of the council of the Regular Stucco Plasterers’ Trade Union of the City of Dublin in 1893.

He was the Dublin branch secretary of the union in 1899, when the union organised a Parnell commemoration demonstration, and in 1902, when he took part in an Irish-language demonstration. In 1903, the union changed its name to the Operative Plasterers’ Trade Society of Dublin.

The census returns for both 1901 and 1911 show that Stephen could read, write and speak both Irish and English.

Stephen Comerford was first married in Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row, Dublin, on 29 November 1899, to Anne Cullen (1871-1903), of 11 Merrion Square, Dublin (the home of Sir Edward Hudson Hudson-Kinahan), daughter of Thomas Cullen, of 79 Lower Clanbrassil Street, salesman.

No 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh (right) ... Stephen Comerford was living here at the beginning of the 20th century, and his father and his first wife Anne died here (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Stephen and Anne lived at lived at 2 Mountpleasant Villas, Ranelagh (1899) and 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh, where his father, James Comerford, died in 1902 at 85.

Stephen and Anne had three children.

Their eldest child, Edmond Joseph Comerford (1900-1905), was born at 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, on 30 October 1900, and was baptised a few days later in Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row (sponsors: Michael Heffernan and Elizabeth Carey). He died on 24 August 1905 in Clonskeagh Hospital, Dublin, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, with his mother Anne, who had died in 1903, and his grandfather Thomas Cullen, who died in 1871. Neither Edmond’s name, nor that of his mother are included on the headstone.

Their second child, Mary (May) Josephine (1902-1973), was born in 1902 at 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh, and was also baptised in Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row. She later married John Leonard (Sean O Lionnain) (1876-1959).

Their third child, Arthur James Comerford (1903-1987), was born on 26 October 1903, and later married Kathleen Miller.

Anne (Cullen) Comerford died at the age of 32 on 16 November 1903 at 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue. She was buried with her father, Thomas Cullen, in Glasnevin Cemetery.

The hospital in Portrane, where Stephen Comerford worked on George Ashlin’s new chapel and hospital in the early 1900s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

As a widower with three small children under the age of three, Stephen commuted between Ranelagh in suburban south Dublin and Portrane, in rural north-east Co Dublin, and there he stayed with the Lynders family while working on the interior design and decoration of George Ashlin’s new hospital and chapel in Portrane and the new church being built in Donabate in the opening years of the 20th century.

Stephen and Bridget (Lynders) Comerford on their wedding day in Donabate in 1905 (Comerford family collection)

While staying with the Lynders family at the Quay House in Portrane, Stephen fell in love again. On 7 February 1905, he married my grandmother, Bridget Lynders (1875-1948), in Saint Patrick’s Church, the newly-built parish church in Donabate. Bridget Lynders, who was born on 18 April 1875, was a daughter of Patrick and Margaret (McMahon) Lynders of The Quay House, Portrane, Co Dublin.

No 2 Old Mountpleasant, Ranelagh ... Stephen Comerford lived here in the first two decades of the 20th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Eight months after the marriage, Stephen’s eldest son, Edmond, died on 24 August 1905 in Clonskeagh Hospital, Dublin. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, with his mother Anne, who had died in 1903, and his grandfather Thomas Cullen.

Stephen and Bridget went on to have four more children, a daughter Margaret and three sons. Patrick, Robert and Stephen. They lived at 2 Mountpleasant Villas (1905-post 1907), 102 South Lotts Road, Ringsend (ca 1909), 2 Old Mountpleasant (ca 1909-ca 1913, this house is now incorporated in ‘The Hill,’ Ranelagh), and 7 Swanville Place, Rathmines, Dublin, from 1913.

A year after the outbreak of World War I, Stephen Comerford joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers – ‘the Toffs and the Toughs’ – on 14 July 1915. Within days, as a private in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, he was sent to the Greek island of Lemnos and on to Gallipoli and Suvla Bay. He was among the few survivors evacuated to Thessaloniki. In the severe Greek winter, many of them suffered frostbite, dysentery and other sicknesses.

In the summer’s heat of 1916, more came down with malaria and were evacuated from Thessaloniki. Stephen was discharged on 3 May 1916, three days after the Easter Rising ended, and sent back to Dublin.

The medals Stephen Comerford was decorated with during World War I

His records give his regimental number as 9062, and the theatre of war is which he first served as (2B) Balkans. His medals were:

● Victory, Roll B/101 B2, p. 131;

● British, Roll B/101 B2, p. 131;

● 1914-1915 Star, Roll B/10B, p. B81.

[For Stephen Comerford’s wartime story see: Wearing a poppy so my grandfather’s story might not be lost]

No 7 Swanville Place, Rathmines ... Stephen Edward Comerford (1918-2004) was born here in 1918 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Malaria was life-threatening but life-saving – for a few months at least. The war ended on 11 November 1918 and a month later, on 14 December 1918, his youngest child – my father Stephen Edward Comerford – was born in Rathmines. But his health continued to deteriorate, no more children were born, and he died alone in hospital at the age of 53.

No 11 Merrion Square, Dublin ... Anne Cullen was living here in 1899 when she married Stephen Comerford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Stephen and Anne (Cullen) Comerford had three children:

1, Edmond Joseph Comerford (1900-1905). He was born at 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh, Dublin on 30 October 1900, and was baptised a few days later in Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row (sponsors: Michael Heffernan and Elizabeth Carey). He died on 24 August 1905 in Clonskeagh Hospital, Dublin, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, with his mother Anne (Cullen) Comerford, who had died in 1903, and his grandfather Thomas Cullen, who died in 1871. Neither Edmond’s name, nor that of his mother are included on the headstone.
2, Mary (May) Josephine (1902-1973). She was born in 1902 at 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh, and was baptised in Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row. She married in Saint Joseph’s Church, Terenure, on 11 October 1939 John Leonard (Sean O Lionnain) (1876-1959), civil servant, of 52 Orwell Road, Rathgar. He was born John Leonard in 1876, son of Michael Leonard and Mary Anne McCarthy of Ballyellis, Mallow Co Cork. His family owned Leonard’s Bar in Ballyhooly (now Grindels). He had moved to London by 1901, and he married his first wife, Mary J Ward (Máire Nic a Báird), in Fulham in 1911. She died in 1934. He married May Comerford in 1939. May and Sean later lived at Convabeg, Ballyhooley, Mallow, Co Cork. He died on 25 December 1959. They had no children, and May later lived at 5 Ashdale Park, Terenure, with her half-brother Patrick and half-sister Margaret. She died on 24 September 1973 and is buried in Dean’s Grange Cemetery, Dublin.
3, Arthur James Comerford (1903-1987). He was born on 26 October 1903. In 1911, he was living at The Quay, Portrane, with his stepmother’s mother, Margaret Lynders, who described him as her grandson. He first worked for Arthur Guinness and Son. From 1926, he was the clerk of the Church of the Three Patrons, Rathgar. He was awarded the Papal Medal Bene Merenti in 1973. He lived at 38 Rathgar Road, Dublin 6. In 1931, he married Kathleen Miller. Kathleen died on 27 November 1975, and Arthur died on 12 December 1987. They had no children and are buried in Dean’s Grange Cemetery, Dublin.

Saint Patrick’s Church, Donabate ... Stephen Comerford and Bridget Lynders were married here on 7 February 1905 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Stephen and Bridget (Lynders) Comerford had three sons and a daughter:

4, Patrick Thomas Comerford (1907-1971), born at 2 Mountpleasant Villas, Ranelagh, on 24 November 1907. He lived at 5 Ashdale Park, Terenure, Dublin 6. He died unmarried on 22 April 1971, and is buried with his parents in Portrane, Co Dublin.
5, Robert Anthony (‘Bob’) Comerford (1909-1953), born at 102 South Lotts Road, Ringsend, Dublin, on 28 December 1909. A civil servant, he lived at 5 Ashdale Park, Terenure. He was unmarried. He died in the Meath Hospital, Dublin, three hours after a motor accident in Leinster Road, Rathmines, on 10 August 1953. He is buried with his parents in Portrane.
6, Margaret (1912-1995), born at 2 Old Mountpleasant on 22 April 1912. She lived at 5 Ashdale Park, Terenure, Dublin 6W. She died unmarried on 14 February 1995 and is buried with her half-sister Mary in Dean’s Grange Cemetery.
7, Stephen Edward Comerford (1918-2004), my father. He lived at 83 Rathfarnham Wood, Dublin 14, and had six children (five of whom are surviving), and ten grandchildren (nine surviving).

Stephen Comerford died in hospital on 21 January 1921. He was buried in Saint Catherine’s Churchyard, the old Church of Ireland churchyard in Portrane, close to other members of the Lynders family. His gravestone incorrectly gives his age at death as 49.

No 5 Ashdale Park, Terenure ... Bridget (Lynders) Comerford moved here in the mid-1930s, and it remained the Comerford family home for 60 years until Margaret Comerford died in 1995 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Stephen Comerford’s widow, my grandmother, Bridget (Lynders) Comerford, continued to live at 7 Swanville Place until ca 1935. She then moved to 5 Ashdale Park, Terenure. In the 1940s, she worked as private secretary to William Norton (1900-1963), leader of the Irish Labour Party (1932-1960) and secretary of the Post Office Workers’ Union (1924-1948). She died at her home in Terenure on 25 March 1948, seven weeks after Norton became Tanaiste in the first Inter-Party Government. She was buried with her husband in Saint Catherine’s Churchyard, Portrane.

My father was the only one of Stephen Comerford’s seven children to have children himself. So, malaria saved my grandfather’s life, however briefly, and ensured that he had grandchildren. His only reward was those three war medals – but even these were lost in the various family moves between Rathmines, Terenure and Rathfarnham. His lonely hospital death was filled with sadness, typifying how those soldiers were forgotten by those who sent them to war and their stories not handed on in their families.

I have worked and travelled throughout Greece and Turkey. But I never realised that my father might never been born – and I might never have been born – had my grandfather not been there, contracted malaria and been sent home from Thessaloniki in 1916.

It is worth remembering him today, a century and a half after he was born on 28 December 1867.

Stephen and Bridget (Lynders) Comerford are buried in Saint Catherine’s Churchyard, Portrane; behind is the grave of her parents, Patrick and Margaret (McMahon) Lynders (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying at Christmas with USPG
and Lichfield Cathedral
(4): 28 December 2017

Snow at the Garden of Remembrance and Lichfield Cathedral the earlier this month (Photograph: Steve Johnson, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents [28 December 2017].

Until the end of December 2017, I am continuing a practice I began at the beginning of Advent this year. I am spending a short time of prayer and reflection each morning, using the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar from Lichfield Cathedral.

USPG, founded in 1701, is an Anglican mission agency supporting churches around the world in their mission to bring fullness of life to the communities they serve.

Under the title Pray with the World Church, the current prayer diary (22 October 2017 to 10 February 2018), offers prayers and reflections from the Anglican Communion.

This week, the Prayer Diary visits the Holy Land, and this theme was introduced on Sunday by Salwa Khoury, who is based at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Nablus on the West Bank.

The USPG Prayer Diary:

Thursday 28 December 2017, The Holy Innocents:


Pray for mothers and babies in Palestine who have little access to healthcare or who lack the funds to be able to pay medical fees.

Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar:

The calendar suggests lighting a candle each day as you read the Bible and pray.

Today, the calendar suggests reading Matthew 2: 13-18.

The reflection for today offers this challenge:

Pray for all who suffer as a result of genocide, ethnic cleansing and the evil intent of others. Pray for the world’s children.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Island House has a unique
setting in Castleconnell

The Island House on Cloon Island in Castleconnell, Co Limerick, has an imposing Doric portico and a unique location i(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

The Island House on Cloon Island must be the most unusual house in Castleconnell, Co Limerick, with its imposing Doric portico, and with its most unusual location and setting.

Half-hidden behind a cluster of mature trees, this striking house actually stands on an island on the River Shannon, opposite the terrace of Georgian houses known as the Tontines, and it plays a significant role in both the landscape and the riverscape of Castleconnell.

Island House also has archaeological significance, standing close to the site of a mediaeval chapel said to have been founded by Reginald de Burgh in 1291, when he allowed a group of Franciscan friars to use Cloon Island or Inis Cluain to set up a small monastery.

Cloon Island was completely separated from the rest of Castleconnell and was surrounded by deep fast flowing water, and the only access was by boat. The monastery survived until the 16th century when the monks were driven off the island and the church destroyed, leaving only the ruins that are visible today.

Sir Richard Burke of Castleconnell, son of John Bourke and his second wife Mary Donellan, was High Sheriff of Co Limerick in 1758. In previous generations, another branch of the Burke family had owned the castle that gave its name to Castleconnell. The title of Baron Bourke of Castleconnell was given to Sir William Bourke in 1580. The last holder of the title was the eighth baron, William Bourke, who lost his titles and estates as a Jacobite in 1691.

Within a century, Richard Burke was involved in the early development of the spas in Castleconnell. He assumed the name de Burgho when he was given the title of baronet in 1785. A year later, in 1786, Wilson refers to Park, situated on an island created by a canal and the River Shannon, as the seat of Sir Richard de Burgho.

Sir Richard Burke and his second wife, Elizabeth Dwyer of Cabinteely, Co Dublin, were the parents of two sons, Richard de Burgo and John Allan de Burgo, who succeeded as the second and third baronets.

When Sir Richard died in 1790, the title passed to his elder son, Sir Richard de Burgho (1783-1808). He was succeeded in turn by his brother, Sir John Allen de Burgho (1785-1839), who married Anne Matilda Waller, daughter of Richard Waller of Castle Waller, Co Tipperary.

According to Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary, the Island House was built in 1815 by Sir John Allen de Burgho (Burke). Cloon Island and Island House are reached by a single-arch sandstone road bridge or causeway across the River Shannon, built at the same time with crenellated rubble parapet walls with render copings. Lewis refers to a ‘handsome newly erected cottage on the island’ in his description of Castleconnell in 1837.

When Sir John de Burgho died in 1839, Island House and the family title passed to his only son, Sir Richard Donellan de Burgho, as fourth baronet. At the time of Griffith’s Valuation, Island House was valued at £17 and was the residence of Sir Richard de Burgho and it was surrounded by nine acres.

At the time, the de Burgho family owned at least 10 townlands in the parish of Stradbally including most of the town of Castleconnell. The family also held land in the parish of Tuogh, Barony of Owneybeg, including Dromsallagh, where the Bourke family had lived in the early 18th century.

In 1840, the Clare Journal and Ennis Advertiser advertised: ‘The celebrated Chalybeate Spa of Castle-Connell will be open to the visitors this season gratis, by order of Sir Richard de Bourgho, Bart, the youthful proprietor of that beautiful resort.’

In 1844, Sir Richard de Burgho married Catherine Brasier of Rivers, Co Limerick, and Ballyellis, Co Cork. He was a major in the Limerick Militia and Sheriff of Limerick in 1855.

In the 1850s, he also donated a site in the centre of the village for building Saint Joseph’s Church, a new Roman Catholic parish church in Castleconnell, and he made an initial donation of £40 towards the building costs.

Sir Richard barely escaped with his life when he was attacked by his servants after returning from a visit to Limerick on 14 August 1862. He was severely wounded and would certainly have died but for the intervention of his wife and their guest, Sir Thomas Fitzgerald.

A few days after falling from a horse while hunting, Sir Richard died at Ballyellis, Co Cork, on 26 January 1873, and the title of baronet became extinct.

The widowed Lady de Burgho, the former Catherine Brazier, continued to live at Island House, and in the 1870s she owned 3,844 acres in Co Limerick and 372 acres in Co Wexford. In his Directory, Slater refers to ‘The Island’ as the property of Lady de Burgho in 1894.

Island House is a detached three-bay, two-storey over basement villa-style house. It is distinguished by the pedimented fluted Doric portico at the front, supporting rendered entablature with triglyphs and metopes. A flight of limestone steps leads up to the entrance. At the rear of the house, there is gable-fronted breakfront, and the house has flanking, full-height conservatories.

Although the house is small in scale, it is highly decorative, and the imposing fluted Doric portico gives the façade an air of grandeur.

A room in Island House is available on AirBnB, where it is described as a ‘Grecian revival regency period house on an island on river Shannon, accessible by car by bridge. The island comprises 9 acres of garden and woodland. The house is in a charming village, featuring traditional pubs and riverside walks.’

Island House is surrounded by nine acres of garden and woodland with mature trees (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Praying at Christmas with USPG
and Lichfield Cathedral
(3): 27 December 2017

‘Our Lady who Brings Down Walls’ … a display at the Elias Icon Exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral in 2014 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the feast of Saint John the Evangelist, or Saint John the Divine [27 December 2017].

Until the end of December 2017, I am continuing a practice I began at the beginning of Advent this year. I am spending a short time of prayer and reflection each morning, using the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar from Lichfield Cathedral.

USPG, founded in 1701, is an Anglican mission agency supporting churches around the world in their mission to bring fullness of life to the communities they serve.

Under the title Pray with the World Church, the current prayer diary (22 October 2017 to 10 February 2018), offers prayers and reflections from the Anglican Communion.

This week, the Prayer Diary visits the Holy Land, and this theme was introduced on Sunday by Salwa Khoury, who is based at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Nablus on the West Bank.

The USPG Prayer Diary:

Wednesday 27 December 2017, Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist:


Pray for Palestinians whose homes are being seized, bulldozed and destroyed.

Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar:

The calendar suggests lighting a candle each day as you read the Bible and pray.

Today, the calendar suggests reading John 20: 1-8.

The reflection for today offers this challenge:

As we reflect on Christmas, pray for the way we may follow Christ: for grace to believe, to follow, to serve and to understand.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow.