01 May 2018

When the Precentor came
to Killlaloe Cathedral and
Jesus came to Birmingham

Inside Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

The ‘field-trip’ with clergy and readers of the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe yesterday [30 April 2018] brought us to the three functioning cathedrals in the diocese: Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare, and Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert, Co Galway.

Although I have visited the cathedrals in Killaloe and Clonfert in the past, and have preached in Saint Flannan’s at an ordination in 1999 and again in 2016, this was my first time to visit both these cathedrals since I was installed as Precentor in the joint chapter of the three cathedrals last year [19 February 2017], and my first opportunity to see the precentor’s stall in both Killaloe and Clonfert.

Saint Flannan’s Cathedral stands on Royal Parade in the centre of Killaloe, near the banks of the River Shannon and on the south end of Lough Derg. This cathedral has been in continuous use since the 12th century, and the cathedral dates from the transition between the Romanesque and Gothic periods ca 1200.

A Romanesque cathedral was built in the 1180s by Donal Mór O’Brien, who also built Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick. However, this first cathedral was destroyed soon afterwards by forces under Cathal Carrach of Connaught in a revenge attack in 1185.

A new cathedral in the Gothic style was completed on the same site, and the nave was completed ca 1225. The Romanesque doorway of the original cathedral is preserved in the south wall of its successor.

The cathedral was restored in the early 17th century by Bishop John Rider (1613-1632), and further restoration works were carried out in 1676 and 1707-1711. Bishop William Knox (1794-1803) continued these restoration projects.

The central tower was raised in the 18th and 19th centuries when the belfry and castellations were added. The turrets and battlements were added in the 1790s and a further elevation to create the belfry was made in the 1890s.

Until the 19th century, the chapter of Killaloe consisted of the Dean, the Precentor, the Chancellor, the Treasurer and the Archdeacon. In addition, there were seven prebendaries – Tomgrany, Lackeen, Clondagad, Dysert, Tulloh, Iniscattery and Rath – but they had no voice in the chapter.

Samuel Lewis in 1837 counted 108 parishes in the Diocese of Killaloe, divided into 41 unions and 19 single benefices, with 56 churches, five other places of worship, and 39 glebe houses.

In the early 19th century, the duties of the Precentor of Killaloe included preaching in the cathedral four times. The crops of the dignity – the parishes whose tithes provided the precentor’s stipend – included the parish of Latteragh, Co Clare, and part of the parish of Kilmore, four miles south of Nenagh, Co Tipperary. The parishes of Innisdadrom and Kilmurry, in Co Clare also belonged to the Precentor of Killaloe, but ‘are illegally withheld from him’ and although held by former Precentors were held in the early 19th century by another priest.

The Precentor’s stall in the choir in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Although the Precentor’s stall, at the west end of the stalls on the north side of the choir, is also labelled ‘Preb de Tomgrany’, it was easy to identify its place in the cathedral yesterday, opposite the Dean’s stall.

In his history of the Diocese of Killaloe published in 1878, Canon Philip Dwyer (1822-1905) described the chapter and choir stalls in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe: ‘Passing from the nave, you enter the choir under an organ loft, the Dean’s stall on your right, the Precentor’s on your left, and the three other dignitaries and the seven prebendaries having also their several stalls ranged respectively on either side.’

One of my predecessors as Precentor of Killaloe in the 19th century was Canon John Studdert (d. 1849), a grandson of Maurice Studdert (d. 1798) of Elm Hill, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, and a nephew of the Revd George Studdert, Rector of Kilpeacon, Co Limerick, who married Elizabeth Massy of Stoneville, near Rathkeale.

Canon John Studdert’s brother, Lancelot Studdert (1809-1873), was Chancellor of the Diocese of Killaloe, and in 1822 their sister, Anne Studdert, married the Very Revd Robert Mitchell Kennedy, who later became Dean of Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert (1850-1864).

Dean Kennedy of Clonfert was the father of William Studdert Kennedy, vicar of Saint Mary’s, Quarry Hill in Leeds, and grandfather of the Revd Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy, MC (1883-1929), the Anglican priest poet who was known as ‘Woodbine Willie’ for giving cigarettes along with spiritual pastoral care to injured and dying soldiers in the trenches in World War I.

‘Woodbine Willie’ always regarded himself as Irish. He studied theology and classics at Trinity College Dublin before training for ordination at Ripon College.

As a chaplain in World War I, he was decorated with the Military Cross at Messines Ridge after running into no-man’s-land in 1917 to help the wounded during an attack on the German frontline.

After the war, Kennedy was appointed to the Church of Saint Edmund, King and Martyr in Lombard Street, London. But he soon moved to work for the Industrial Christian Fellowship, travelling throughout Britain on speaking tours.

He addressed the Anglo-Catholic Congress in London in July 1923, when he said:

‘It is not enough to make the devotional life our main concern, and allow an occasional lecture or preachment on social matters to be added as a make-weight. The social life must be brought right into the heart of our devotion, and our devotion right into the heart of our social life. There is only one spiritual life, and that is the sacramental life – sacramental in its fullest, its widest, and its deepest sense, which means the consecration of the whole man and all his human relationships to God.

‘There must be free and open passage between the sanctuary and the street. We must destroy within ourselves our present feeling that we descend to a lower level when we leave the song of the angels and the archangels and begin to study economic conditions, questions of wages, hours and housing. It is hard, very hard, but it must be done. It must be done not only for the sake of the street, but for the sake of the sanctuary, too. If the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament obscures the Omnipresence of God in the world, then the Sacrament is idolatrous, and our worship is actual sin, for all sin at its roots is the denial of the Omnipresence of God.

‘I have been to Mass in churches where I felt it was sinful – sinful because there was no passion for social righteousness behind it. When ye spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make long prayers I will not hear you; your hands are full of blood ... Cease to do evil, learn to do well. Seek judgement. Relieve the oppressed. Judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

‘Remember that medieval ritual was a natural expression of medieval life, which, at any rate, tried to consecrate all things to God – tried to build the Kingdom of God on earth, and dedicated all arts and crafts, all human activities to him. In that setting it meant much; apart from that setting it means nothing, and worse than nothing – it is a hollow mockery. The way out is not to destroy ritual, but to restore righteousness, and make our flaming colours the banners of a Church militant here on earth ...’

Appropriate thoughts, indeed, to think about on May Day.

When he died in Liverpool in 1929, exhausted at the age of 45, it is said the Dean of Westminster refused his burial at Westminster Abbey because, he said, Studdert Kennedy was a socialist,’ although he had distrusted politicians and had never joined a political party. His funeral took place, instead in Worcester, where he had been a vicar before the war, and poor people flocked to pay him their respects.

Every time I pass through Birmingham on my way to and from Lichfield, I recall his poem ‘Indifference’, or ‘When Jesus came to Birmingham,’ written while he was a war chaplain. In this poem, he compares the behaviour of Christ’s contemporaries with our behaviour today towards the stranger and the outcast, and challenges us in Lent to consider whether we are following Christ to Golgotha.

Kennedy once wrote: ‘We have taught our people to use prayer too much as a means of comfort – not in the original and heroic sense of uplifting, inspiring, strengthening, but in the more modern and baser sense of soothing sorrow, dulling pain, and drying tears – the comfort of the cushion, not the comfort of the Cross.’

Saint Paul’s Chapel in the south transept in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Indifference, by GA Studdert Kennedy

When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do,’
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary.

The nave in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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