16 June 2017

Celebrating and sharing in this
ministry of Word and Sacrament

Sharing in Christ’s ministry of Word and Sacrament … an icon from Thessaloniki in the Chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I am on my way back to Askeaton on the bus through Limerick following two working days in Dublin.

There were three viva voce exams in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute on Thursday [15 June 2017] for students whose MTh dissertations I supervised during this academic year, and a court of examiners for the MTh course and Trinity College Dublin this afternoon.

Since January, I have been in a long-drawn-out process of leaving CITI and TCD, as I settled into my new roles in Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes and in the Diocese of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert.

It was good to join CITI colleagues and others for dinner last night, and over the past few days there have been some warm farewells and exchanges with former students and former colleagues.

I first started lecturing occasionally in what was then the Church of Ireland Theological College in the early 1990s, and was appointed a part-time or visiting lecturer in 2002, teaching on modules on Church History and what was then called ‘Church and Society’ and might today be called Contextual Theology.

I joined the staff full-time four years later in 2006, as Director of Spiritual Formation, chaplain and Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, and then in 2011 was appointed Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in Trinity College.

I began my working life after leaving school training as a Chartered Surveyor and studying for a BSc in Estate Management through Reading University. But the joys of freelance journalism with the Lichfield Mercury not only offered more fun, but also offered a much more interesting career.

I went on to work with the Wexford People group of newspapers, which also included the Enniscorthy Guardian, the New Ross Standard, the Wicklow People and the Bray People.

In the mid-1970s, I moved to Dublin to work in The Irish Times, and remained there until 2002, spending my last eight years there as Foreign Desk Editor. Those years in The Irish Times also offered me the opportunity to study in Japan in 1979, and then to return and complete my degrees in philosophy and in theology and to study for ordination.

But these 15 years at CITC and CITI have been some of the best working years of my life – so far.

A few weeks ago, as the semester and the academic year came to a close, there was an exchange of presents at the closing Eucharist.

I presented an icon to the chapel in CITI that is a print of a photograph I took some years ago of an icon I saw in Thessaloniki. It shows Christ holding his right hand in blessing, and in the other hand the Bible. Before him are the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist. It is an icon of the Christ as the Great High Priest, presiding at the Eucharist and proclaiming the Gospel, and is a reminder to ordinands that as priests we share our priesthood with Christ, and that we are ordained to ministry of both Word and Sacrament.

‘The Quill’ … sculpted in in bog oak that is 5,600 years old (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Later, the staff and students presented me with ‘The Quill’ from Celtic Roots Studio in Ballinahown Craft Village. This is a work in bog oak that is 5,600 years old and from Boora Bog in Co Offaly.

The Celtic Roots Studio, based in the craft village of Ballinahown, Co Westmeath, combines a workshop and gallery space with an interpretative centre and display of historic artefacts made from bogwood. This natural material was formed from trees that became engulfed in Irish bogs thousands of years ago and preserved in the low oxygen atmosphere of the peat.

Now, discarded bogwood is reclaimed by Celtic Roots Studio and slowly dried out over two years before it is carved and polished into contemporary sculpture and jewellery designed by Helen Conneely.

The artists of the Celtic Roots Studio use bog oak, yew and pine that are five millennia old.

Buried trees and forests are common and widespread in Irish bogs. In extensive areas of the west of Ireland entire forests of pine lie preserved underneath the blanket bog. In raised bogs, pine forest is part of the natural vegetation succession from lake to bog. The three important types of wood found preserved in bogs today are Scots pine, oak and yew, and they can be from 4,000 to 7,000 years old.

The Celtic Roots Studio sent samples of bog oak and bog yew to the Queen’s University Belfast to get the samples of wood carbon dated.

The scientists at the Radiocarbon Research Unit in QUB confirmed: ‘In providing dates along with sculptured wood, you can safely say, in the case of bog yew, that the date of the growth of the wood is between 2,000 and 2,200 BC and for the bog oak, the date of growth of the wood is between 3,300 and 3,600 BC.’

I return to Askeaton and the Diocese of Limerick this evening with memories that may not go back so far in time but that are treasured immensely. Some of the other presents in my bag on the bus this evening include books, coffee and chocolate.

Tomorrow I try to put into practice some of what I have teaching about the ministry of Word and Sacrament over the past 15 years with a ‘ministry day’ in Glenstal Abbey for priests and readers from the Diocese of Limerick, Killlaloe and Ardfert, and who are being joined by colleagues from the Diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry.

Next weekend I celebrated the anniversaries of my ordination as Deacon on 25 June 2000 and Priest on 24 June 2001.

Two schools tell the story of
educational reform in Limerick

The Model School, O’Connell Avenue, Limerick … designed in the Tudor-Jacobean style by Frederick Darley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

On my way into Limerick on the bus from Askeaton earlier this week, I stopped to look at two neighbouring school buildings that tell the story of how an increasing variety of architectural styles was introduced to civic buildings in Limerick as the 19th century unfolded.

The Model School on O’Connell Avenue opened in 1855, as one of many model schools built by the Board of National Education.

This school was designed by Frederick Darley (1798-1872) in what we could describe as an under-stated late Tudor or Jacobean style. By the mid-19th century, this style had already been established throughout Britain as an appropriate style for school buildings, perhaps because it linked 19th century reforms in education with the expansion of education in England in the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

This Tudor-Jacobean style was noted for details such as the four-centred arch, finials and label mouldings to some of the openings. Of course, it was a vernacular style when it was developed in England at the time. But in Victorian Ireland it stood out as an innovation.

The architect Frederick Darley may be best known in Dublin for his work on the King’s Inns in Henrietta Street and the Royal Hibernian Military School in the Phoenix Park. But he also designed a number of churches in Dublin in a variety of architectural styles, including Trinity Church in Gardiner Street, Saint George’s Church in Balbriggan, the Bethesda Chapel on Granby Row, Saint Laurence’s Church in Chapelizod, Saint Canice’s Church, Finglas, Saint John’s Church, Sandymount, and Saint Stephen’s Church, Mount Street.

His main energies, however, appear to have been devoted to designing model schools and model agricultural schools throughout Ireland for the Commissioners of National Education. His schools in Co Limerick included Mount Trenchard, Newcastle West and Tervoe. But he appears to have designed schools in almost every county in Ireland, from Dunmanway in Co Cork to Ballymena and Dundrod, Co Antrim, from Loughrea and Galway City to Drogheda, Co Louth and the Model Schools in Marlborough Street, Dublin.

Darley’s Model School in Limerick is important because of its architecture and because of its contribution to the cultural life of the city. Model Schools were established in Ireland by the Commissioners for National Education as the basis for a teacher training programme. The first model schools were established in Dublin in 1834. The schools admitted both Roman Catholic and Protestant children. But in 1863, the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church called for a withdrawal of Roman Catholic pupils, saying they were dissatisfied with the religious instruction provided in the schools.

Darley’s Model School in Limerick is a detached multiple-bay two-storey limestone ashlar school, built in 1853-55 around a central courtyard. The street-facing block is an eight-bay two-storey elevation with single-bay breakfront end bays, prolonged to the north and south by two-bay recessed wings. A plaque over the front door reads: ‘Limerick Model National School 1853.’

In 1861, James Higgins Owen carried out additions and alterations. Darley’s original wings forming courtyard to the rear were demolished and replaced around 1990, and his original windows have been replaced in recent years with the uPVC windows. But his building retains a strong character and contributes to the architectural story of this part of Limerick.

Frederick Darley was born in Dublin in 1798, the second surviving son of Frederick Darley, senior, and was known as Frederick Darley junior until his father died in 1841.

He was a pupil of the great Francis Johnston. From 1833 until 1843 he was the Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ architect for the Archdiocese of Dublin. From the 1830s into the 1850s, he was also architect to Trinity College, Dublin. He was also architect to the Royal Dublin Society, the Board of National Education and with the Board of Works. He was one of four architects appointed in 1860 to inspect and report on the restoration of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Darley married Penelope Andrews (1790-1886), daughter of Alderman Thomas Andrews of Dublin, in 1824. He died in 1872.

The Municipal Technical Institute on the corner of O’Connell Avenue, built as the Technical Institute, is in the Dutch Baroque Queen Anne style but dates from 1909-1911 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Close to Darley’s Model School, the Municipal Technical Institute or Vocational Educational College stands on the corner of O’Connell Avenue and Roden Street. This impressive building is unusual in Limerick, embodying the Dutch Baroque of the Queen Anne style from the late 17th century, which saw a revival in the second half of the 19th century.

It is noticeable for its exuberant Baroque pedimented window that breaks the roofline. It has vertically treated façades, arched windows, a flamboyant doorway and a broken roofline pediment. The scale, proportions and palette of materials are immediately juxtaposed by the sombre limestone façade of the Model School further south.

This building, built in 1909-1911, was designed by William Patrick Ryan (1852-1921), and is an example of the fine limestone work and brickwork jointing that can be seen in buildings of this period in Limerick City. Tenders were invited in October 1909 and the first sod was turned by the Mayor of Limerick on 21 January 1910. The building was ready for occupation in August 1911.

The architect William Patrick Ryan (1852-1921) was the son of John Ryan, a Dublin architect. He was articled to his father and also studied civil engineering at Trinity College Dublin.

However, he did not graduate, and instead he went to Rome, where he fought with the Papal Zouaves on the side of the Papal States against Garibaldi during the Italian War of Unification until 1870. He then enlisted in the French army during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871.

Later, Ryan joined the civil branch of the Royal Engineers, becoming surveyor in the Limerick district, working as a clerk of works in the Royal Engineers’ office and as an architect, based in Pery Street and later in Glentworth Street.

The architect John Warrington Morris persuaded Ryan to move to London around 1890, and he took on Morris’s practice in Richmond under the name of Morris & Ryan. According to a family tradition, he had some links with the architect John Francis Bentley and spent some time in Italy procuring marble for Bentley's Westminster Cathedral, begun in 1895.

But Ryan had not forgotten his time in Limerick, and in 1906, as Morris & Ryan, he entered and won the competition for the design of the Limerick Technical Institute. His other buildings included Roman Catholic churches, convents and schools, in Kilrush, Kilkee and Ballymahon. He died on 31 May 1921 at his home in Hampstead and was buried in Hampstead Cemetery.