Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Underneath the spreading
chestnut tree in Rathkeale
during an autumn afternoon

The large chestnut tree in the grounds of the Rathkeale House Hotel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Although I spent part of my childhood on my grandmother’s farm near Cappoquin in West Waterford, I grew up not knowing the names of trees, most flowers and birds.

I suppose it is a form of illiteracy, like some people not being able to read music or others not being able to appreciate poetry or learning to speak other languages. In my case, I might even add not being able to drive a car to that list.

However, I find I often have warm feelings for particular fields and trees. Every time I pass a house on Rathfarnham Road where I spent part of my childhood, I still gaze on the chestnut tree that still stands in the front garden and that continues to shed its chestnuts in Autumn on the footpath outside.

Other trees than linger in my mind’s eye include a large gnarled tree in the grounds of the Hedgehog Vintage Inn in Lichfield, the old maple tree in front of the Graduate Memorial Building in Trinity College Dublin that was felled in a high wind earlier this year and the chestnut trees on the drive leading up to Comberford Hall, between Lichfield and Tamworth.

Indeed, for years, a collection of chestnuts from Comberford lined one of the window ledges in my study in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

I suppose it was memories like this that were brought to mind as I went in and out of the Rathkeale House Hotel yesterday [24 September 2018], where I delighted in the sight of the large, spreading chestnut tree as I found a welcome working space over endless cups of coffee in the afternoon between one meeting and another.

The chestnut tree in the grounds of the hotel is such a part of Rathkeale’s identity that it gives its name to the Chestnut Tree Bar in the hotel.

The large chestnut tree gives its name to Chestnut Tree Bar in the Rathkeale House Hotel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, The Village Blacksmith, opens with the lines:

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.


Glenn Miller recorded Underneath the Chestnut Tree in 1939. Nat King Cole first recorded ‘The Christmas Song’ in 1946, with its opening line, ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.’ What has become a popular and classic Christmas song was written by Bob Wells and Mel Tormé, during a blistering hot summer in 1945.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping at your nose,
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.


It is still too early to be thinking of Christmas. But I did not taste roasted chestnuts until I was an adult, although I imagine few men of my age did not grew up playing ‘conkers’ in their childhood.

However, chestnut trees are a part of folklore on these islands, in both England and Ireland. Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree is a set of variations, with fugue, for orchestra composed in 1939 by the Czech-born American composer Jaromír Weinberger (1896-1967). It is based on an English popular song derived perhaps from a much older folk song:

Underneath the spreading chestnut tree,
There we sit both you and me,
Oh how happy we can be,
’Neath the spreading chestnut tree.


A version of the traditional song later appears in an episode of Dad’s Army in 1972.

The name chestnut is derived from an earlier English ‘chesten nut,’ which descends from the Old French word chastain (Modern French, châtaigne).

The name may be derived the Greek town of Kastania in Thessaly, although it is possible that the town took its name from the trees growing around it. Some say the tree takes its name from Sardis, the capital of Lydia in Asia Minor.

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, one of the three Witches or Wayward Sisters threatens to kill a woman’s husband over a chestnut. This is meant to show the impassivity and comic relief of their characters.

Around the same time, the name of the chestnut is used twice by the translators of the King James Version of the Bible. In the first instance, Jacob puts peeled twigs in the water troughs to promote healthy offspring of his livestock: ‘Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel and chestnut tree; and pilled white streaks in them, and made the white appear which was in the rods’ (Genesis 30: 37).

In the second instance, we are told ‘The cedars in the garden of God could not hide him: ‘the fir trees were not like his boughs, and the chestnut trees were not like his branches; nor any tree in the garden of God was like unto him in his beauty’ (Ezekiel 31: 8).

The first occurrence is now translated as almond in the New Revised Standard Version, and the second as plane trees. But the chestnut’s appearance in Macbeth and the King James Version of the Bible shows that in early 17th century England the fruit of the chestnut tree was regarded as a local staple food. By then, the great Tortworth Chestnut in Gloucestershire was centuries old and a well-known landmark and one of the largest trees in England.

The chestnut tree still stands in the garden of the house on Rathfarnham Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

For some reason, I imagine we are losing too many of our old trees on these islands. But one of the most ambitious environmental projects of the new millennium was a plan to quietly transform large tracts of Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire with a blend of new planting and ancient woodland that in future are going to form the largest new expanse of forest in England for 1,000 years.

The 200 square mile National Forest takes in a few large towns and several small villages, intermittently pretty countryside, surviving scraps of the ancient Needwood and Charnwood, and a landscape scarred by mineral extraction and spent coalfields.

This land now supports thickening stands of dogwood, sweet chestnut and hazel. eventually, a third of the land area, 13,500 hectares, will be under trees, mainly broad-leaved. Planting continues apace, and in centuries to come there may even be an unbroken canopy from Leicester to Lichfield.

An old gnarled tree in the grounds of the Hedgehog in Lichfield … in the future will there be an unbroken canopy from Leicester to Lichfield? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Two contrasting, colourful
shopfronts in Rathkeale

Rathkeale is a colourful town on a sunny autumn morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

On a bright, sunny autumn morning, Rathkeale in west Limerick is an attractive provincial town, with its colourfully-painted shopfronts, their Georgian doorways and their bright window displays.

Two contrasting buildings built around the same time about 200 years ago, in the first decades of the 19th century are the former hotel that is now O’Sullivan’s pharmacy on Main Street, and a tiny, one-bay house a few doors further east that now serves as a politician’s ‘constituency clinic.’

O’Sullivan’s Pharmacy is on a prominent site on Main Street, and the pair of matching front doors at each end of the building serve as an indicator that this four-bay, two-storey premises, now used as a shop and offices, is a former hotel.

Today there are two hotels in Rathkeale: the Rathkeale House Hotel and Davy Mann’s Hotel. But in the 19th century Rathkeale had many hotels, including: the Eagle Hotel on Main Street, owned by John B Moylan; the Saint Lawrence Hotel on the Square; the Duke of York Hotel, later the Piggott Arms Hotel on The Square, owned by Charles Hudson, last owned by the Healy family and now demolished; The King’s Arms Hotel, Main Street; Madigan’s Imperial Hotel; and Ward’s Hibernian Hotel.

O’Sullivan’s Pharmacy facing the junction of Thomas Street and Main Street was once one of the many hotels in Victorian Rathkeale (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

O’Sullivan’s Pharmacy was built as an hotel around 1800, and stood on a prominent site on the Main Street, closing the vista from Thomas Street, which was a main route into the town of Rathkeale, and despite the modern shopfront on the ground floor the building retains much of its early elegance.

The shopfront on the ground floor has a square-headed opening with arcaded windows and a fascia above. At each end bay there is a round-headed doorway, with timber panelled doors, cut limestone steps and thresholds, rendered flanking columns with Ionic-style capitals, friezes and cornices and cobweb fanlights.

On the first floor, the building has square-headed openings with render surrounds and nine-over-nine pane timber sliding sash windows. These are unusually tall windows and they indicate the early date and use of the building.

The rendered walls are roughcast on the first-floor level. Above, there is a pitched slate roof with render copings at the gables.

The doorcases and fanlights to the ground floor are further notable features and add artistic interest to the façade of this former hotel.

The Ionic-style capitals at the doorways in O’Sullivan’s Pharmacy once marked the entrance to the hotel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

By contrast, the small house a few doors to the east that now serves as a politician’s constituency ‘clinic’ is single-bay, two-storey house, yet it too tells part of the colourful history of 19th century Rathkeale.

This small house was built around 1820, and was once used as a shop on ground floor, with family accommodation above on the first floor. Despite the uPVC window, the shopfront still has timber pilasters flanking the openings, an architrave, fascia and cornice, as well as a timber panelled door with an overlight.

This small building presents an unusual façade and form on the Main Street of Rathkeale, and is an interesting and curious feature to this day, adding to the colour of Rathkeale on a sunny and bright autumn morning.

The colourful two-storey, single-bay former shop on the right seems squeezed between other buildings on the Main Street in Rathkeale (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Monday, 24 September 2018

In search of the well dedicated
to Saint James in Nantenan

Saint James’s Well, in the townland of Ardgoul in Nantenan is said to date back to a time before Saint Patrick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

On my way back and forth between Askeaton and Rathkeale, I have often noticed the site of the holy well at Nantenan, close to Saint James’s Church, the former Church of Ireland parish church and its surrounding churchyard.

Nantenan is about 5 km south of Askeaton on the road to Rathkeale, on the east bank of the River Deel. There was an old mediaeval church on this site, and its dedication to Saint James probably indicates that this church may have been a late Anglo-Norman church associated with an old pilgrim route.

According to the historian of this area, Westropp, there was a church here in 1500. According to another local historian, Harry Gillard, there were three different church buildings on the present site.

Saint James’s Church in Nantenan has been closed since 1972, but it is still structurally sound. In the past, it was linked with the Precentors of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, so it seems appropriate that this church is within my parochial boundaries.

Nantenan was united with Rathkeale parish in 1918, and they were both united with Ballingarry and Rathronan in 1958. The church was in use until it closed in 1972.

There was once a parochial school here too, with about 30 children, and it was supported mainly by Lord Southwell and the rector.

The graves in the churchyard include those of Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic families in the parish, as well as some of the original Palatine families. The sexton’s house is now in ruins, but it adds to the interest setting of this site.

At one time, fairs were held on a spacious green near the church on 10 July, 5 August and 12 November. Near the Green, a well dedicated to Saint James was enclosed by ancient stone walls.

I have often noticed this walled well, but had never visited it until the weekend, when I went walking through the trees and in the fields around behind the crumbling sexton’s house in search of the well.

Searching through the trees for the holy well in Nantenan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

This well, in the townland of Ardgoul, is supposed to date back to a time before Saint Patrick, and it is said it was originally dedicated to a holy man who was a follower of Saint Patrick.

It is believed that the Vikings or the later Anglo-Normans rededicated the well to Saint James.

In a paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland in 1955, Caoimhín Ó Danachair identified 163 holy wells in Co Limerick, including 23 to Saint Mary or Our Lady, 19 dedicated to Saint Patrick, 12 to Saint Bridget and four to Saint James– in Ballymacave, Nantenan and Tervoe, where there were patterns on 25 July, the Feast of Saint James the Great, and at Ballinlough, where there was no tradition of a pattern.

All four wells named after Saint James may owe their dedication to mediaeval devotions associated with Saint James and the pilgrimage to Compostela. The well at Nantenan is the oldest of only three in Co Limerick with inscriptions dated before 1800, The well at Nantenan is the oldest, dated 1750, and other two are at Sunday Well, Lislaeen (1760), and Saint Lachtain’s, Knocknagranshee (1791).

The carving on the wall of the well, dated 1750, with an image of a fish (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

A stone grotto was built over the well to protect it, with just enough room for one or two people to get in to reach the water. According to a plaque on the well, this is the work of Matt Flood in 1750:

S[ain]t J[ame]s [the] gr[e]at

This work was erected
By Mr Matt Flood in
honor of S[ain]t Jam[e]s Ap
ostle 1750


Initially, I thought the carving above represented a shell, an image associated with the pilgrimage to Compostela, but on closer inspection I realised it is a fish. A local legend says there was a large trout in the well, and if seen a cure followed.

It was also said that the well moved if vegetables were washed in it, that water from the well would not boil, and that a local landlord had filled in the well but it sprang up again in a new place close by.

The entrance to the well at Nantenan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The water of the well was recommended for the cure of all diseases, especially for the cure of sore eyes. Other people who wanted to be cured drank the water, a glass of which they bought from two old women who were in charge of the well. This water could not be bought at any time except on Saint James’s Day or on the following Sunday.

Local people visited the well on Saint James’s Day, 25 July, but by the early 20th century this had been changed to the following Sunday. The ‘rounds’ were done, with people circling around the well and saying prayers on the narrow circular path around the well.

A cross from Saint James’s Church, Cappagh, with a small shamrock in the centre, was placed above the well in May 1982. The pattern day was revived in 2016, but was not celebrated this year.

According to Caoimhín Ó Danachair’s paper in 1955, the 163 other holy wells in Co Limerick included two holy wells in the parish of Askeaton and a well near Rathkeale, in Ballyallinan South, known as Saint Bernard’s Well and Saint Beinid’s Well, and close to a ruin called Saint Templebeinid.

Earlier this year, I visited Saint Patrick’s Well in Singland, Limerick. Obviously, I have to go in search of the other wells in this group of parishes.

Saint James’s Well is the oldest of only three wells in Co Limerick with inscriptions dated before 1800, and is one of the four wells dedicated to Saint James (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

A vision to bring three
world faiths together
under one roof in Berlin

The House of One is the vision Pastor Gregor Hohberg, Rabbi Tovia Ben-Chorin and Imam Kadir Sanci … with the hope of bringing Christians, Jew and Muslims together in one house in Berlin

Patrick Comerford

We have all heard jokes that begin with an opening line like, ‘A priest, a rabbi and an imam walked into a bar …’

But there is no joking about the way a priest, a rabbi and an imam in Germany are planning an interfaith miracle in the heart of Berlin, creating a sacred space for the three Abrahamic faiths under one roof.

The House of One is planned as a shared place of prayer and learning for the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities, celebrating the three main monotheistic faiths and what they share and hold in common.

The House of One is the product of a grassroots group. The initial idea came the parish community of St Petri-St Marien, which is working closely with the Jewish community of Berlin, along with the rabbinical seminary, Abraham-Geiger-Kolleg, and the Muslim initiative for dialogue, Forum Dialog e.V.

When it is completed, Berlin’s House of One will bring together a church, a synagogue and a mosque under one roof, in a house of worship shared by Jews, Christians and Muslims. The sponsors hope the House of One will help to tear down the walls between religions just as the fall of the Berlin Wall removed the barriers between East and West Berlin almost three decades ago.

The House of One will be located at the Petriplatz (Petri Square) in the historical birthplace of Berlin, between Breite Straße and Gertraudenstraße.

The Revd Gregor Hohberg, the Lutheran priest at the Marienkirche or Saint Mary’s Church, first conceived of the idea of an interfaith house of worship in 2009, when archaeologists excavating a section of ground on Museum Island unearthed the remains of Berlin’s earliest church, the Petrikirche or Saint Peter’s Church, and the city’s Latin school, dating back to 1350.

The church was destroyed and rebuilt several times when the East German communist government decided to demolish the church in the 1960s, and more recently the site has been used as a parking lot.

When the archaeologists excavated the area, they ‘quickly agreed that something visionary and forward looking should be built on what is the founding site of Berlin,’ says Pastor Hohberg.

The House of One will be 40 meters tall, with a shared inter-religious space for 380 people at its heart, and a mosque, synagogue and church branching off in different directions.

The Berlin architect Wilfried Kuehn of Kuehn Malvezzi GmbH has designed an interfaith prayer house that has three separate sections, each in a different in style but with certain repeating motifs to emphasise the similarities and the differences between the Abrahamic faiths.

The communal room in the heart of the building linking the three areas and seating 380 people. Each of the worship areas will be the same in size but of different shape, allowing each faith to keep its own identity.

Architect Wilfried Kuehn’s model for the House of One (© Michel Koczy / The House of One)

The first three faith leaders heading the House of One project were the Revd Gregor Hohberg, Rabbi Tovia Ben Chorin, and Imam Kadir Sanci.

‘Berlin is the city of the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall and the peaceful coexistence of believers from different faiths – they yearn to understand each other,’ Pastor Gregor says. ‘We have noticed, as a community here in the middle of the city, that a lot of people want to meet people from different backgrounds and religions and that there is a strong desire to show that people from different religions can get along.’

He says the square earmarked for the building has already started to attract worshippers from different religions for side-by-side prayers. ‘This house will be home to equality, peace, and reconciliation.’

‘Berlin is the city of wounds and miracles,’ said Rabbi Tovia Ben-Chorin of the Pestalozzistraße Synagogue. He has since left Berlin but was one of the three religious leaders behind the project. ‘It is the city in which the extermination of the Jews was planned. Now, the first house in the world for three religions is to be built here.’

‘A place that has darkness in its past has the potential for peace in its future. As a Jew, I associate Berlin with memories of pain and deep wounds – but that is not the end of the story,’ he points out.

‘The city has also been a place of alternative paths, a place of enlightenment and of the development of Jewish life. When the Jews were expelled from Spain, they did not return to the country for 500 years. But in Berlin, when the Second World War ended in 1945, the Jews who had been in hiding and those who had fled to the country immediately began rebuilding a new Jewish life in the city. For me, Berlin is all about remembrance and rebirth.’

‘I believe in the power of dialogue. In the world we live in we have two possibilities: war or peace. Peace is a process and in order to achieve it, you have to talk to each other,’ Rabbi Ben-Chorin said.

Imam Kadir Sanci, the House of One’s Muslim leader, said he wanted the project to encourage a conscious dialogue between different faiths and cultures, which would help prejudices against Muslims to evaporate. ‘We want our children to have a future in which diversity is the norm,’ he insists.

‘It is very important for us to overcome all the negative news in the world,’ says Imam Kadir Sanci. ‘I have the wish, for my children, my family, for myself and for everyone, that diversity becomes a reality and that people will accept each other in their otherness.’

He hopes the project will normalise relations between people of diverse backgrounds. ‘We want our children to have a future in which diversity is the norm,’ he says.

The project is trying to make its dream a reality through a crowd-funding campaign for building the House of One. The goal is to raise €43 million and to finance the project entirely through crowdfunding, by selling bricks for €10 each.

By donating €10 for one brick, you can become a part of the House of One. With every brick, every bit of support and with every person sharing the idea of the House of One, the dream comes one step closer to reality.

As of today, €8,605,695 has been raised for 860.569 bricks, and building is to begin in earnest once the first €10 million has been raised.

You can donate directly HERE.



Sunday, 23 September 2018

Why there is no such being
as a guilty child – there are
only innocent children

‘Then he took a little child and put it among them’ (Mark 9: 36) … a window in Saint Mary’s Church, Nenagh, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 23 September 2018,

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XVII)


11.30 a.m., The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Readings: Proverbs 31: 10-31; Psalm 1; James 3: 13 to 4: 3, 7-8a; Mark 9: 30-37.

‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’ (Mark 9: 37) … Children of the Kindertransport seen in Frank Meisler’s bronze sculpture at Liverpool Street Station in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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

Does anyone remember Sophie’s Choice. It is a disturbing American movie (1982) based on a best-selling novel by William Styron (1979). Meryl Streep plays the title role of Sophie Zawistowski, a Polish immigrant who shares a boarding house in Brooklyn with Nathan Landau (Kevin Kline) and a young writer, Stingo (Peter MacNicol).

One evening, Stingo learns from Sophie that she was married, but her husband and her father were killed in a Nazi work camp, and that she was sent as a prisoner to Auschwitz with her two children.

When Sophie arrives at Auschwitz, a camp doctor forces her to choose which one of her two children would be gassed and which one he would send to the labour camp. To avoid having both children killed, she chooses to have her son Jan sent to the children’s camp, and her daughter Eva sent to her death. It is a heart-wrenching decision that leaves her in mourning and filled with a guilt that she never overcomes.

The name Sophie means wisdom, but the choice Sophie faces is not between what is wise and what is foolish, between good and evil, nor even between the lesser of two evils, but between evil and evil.

This morning’s readings introduce a number of similar themes, including comparisons between the Wisdom of God and a wise wife and mother, the choices we face between good and evil, and the innocence of children in the face of competition for power and status.

Our short set of readings from the Book of Proverbs ends this morning where the book ends, with a poem that gives a detailed description of the roles and qualities of ‘a capable wife.’

Before this reading begins, we are told that the words in this closing section are ‘the words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him’ (Proverbs 31: 1).

But who is the good wife?

A good wife is mentioned earlier in this book, and several of her qualities are those of Wisdom, Sophia (Σοφία). So, is the good wife Wisdom herself?

Then our psalm (Psalm 1) compares the ways of the wicked and the ways of the godly.

In our New Testament reading (James 3: 13 to 4: 3, 7-8a), Saint James reminds his readers of the qualities of wisdom. Godly wisdom is pure, peace-loving, merciful and bears good fruits, and seeks to make peace.

In our Gospel reading (Mark 9: 30-37), Christ tells the disciples he is going to be betrayed and killed, and that he will rise again.

They do not understand what he is saying – how could they, they cannot yet expect the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Both these future events are beyond their understanding and they are afraid to ask Jesus what he is talking about, either because they do not want to show their ignorance or because they are afraid that they too may become innocent victims and suffer the consequences of being followers of Christ.

By the time they arrive in Capernaum, the disciples have been arguing over who among them is the greatest (verse 34). The disciples are shamed into silence when they realise Jesus overhears what they say. He chides them, telling them being a disciple is not about rank or power, position or prestige, but is about service. He tells them: ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all’ (verse 35).

To illustrate his point, he takes a little child and places him or her among them. The word here (παιδίον, paidíon) means a little child, but it could mean a young servant or even a child slave (verse 36).

He takes the child in his arms and says to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me’ (verse 37).

We are not told whether this child is a boy or girl, free or slave, Jew or Samaritan, Greek or Roman, a street urchin or the child of one the Disciples.

Perhaps the Disciples never even noticed, because at that time a child was of no economic value and a burden on families until the child could earn his or her own way, or until the child had the potential of being the equivalent of a pension scheme for parents.

But when someone welcomed a child slave or servant sent on an errand or with a message, they welcomed or received the master. Jesus reminds the disciples that whoever receives the servant receives the master, whoever receives a child receives Christ, whoever receives Christ receives God the Father, who sent him.

How can we relate the first part of our Gospel reading (verses 30-32), when Jesus talks about his own impending betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection, with the second part of the Gospel reading (verses 33-37), when Jesus takes an innocent, small child and makes him or her an example of how we should behave with Kingdom values?

Sometimes, I fear, we make it too difficult to talk about the Crucifixion, and so we make it too difficult to talk about the Resurrection, unless we are talking about them in the context of Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter.

But sometimes too, I fear, we make it too easy to talk about children because we romanticise childhood in our comfortable settings. Quite often, even in stained-glass windows in our churches, we romanticise this little child, thinking of a well-dressed, well-fed, well-loved child from our own family or own parish.

Yet, it is a paradox that we also find it too difficult to talk about children because so often we have to turn away, mentally and emotionally, when we see the suffering of children in the world today.

All of us have been disturbed for some years now about the terrors that are rained down on children in the world today.

I say ‘children’ and not ‘innocent children,’ because there is no such being as a guilty child – there are only innocent children.

And the suffering and plight of children is all the more distressing when it is caused by the calculations of adults who dismiss this suffering as merely collateral damage brought about by political decisions or by war.

For Christians, this distress must always be acute, must always demand our compassion, must always call for our response.

In Saint Matthew’s version of this story (Matthew 18: 1-14), Christ tells us: ‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven … it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost’ (verses 10-14).

It cannot matter to us what label is placed on these children:

● whether the suffering Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip are Christians or Muslim;

● whether the frightened child fleeing Syria in her mother’s arms, cramped into a tiny boat in the Mediterranean, is a Christian or a Muslim;

● whether the children targeted by Saudi fighter bombers in Yemen are Shia or Sunni, going to a school or a wedding;

● whether the sobbing and distressed child separated forcibly from his parents on the border between Texas and Mexico speaks Spanish or English;

● whether the homeless children who sleep in cramped hotel rooms with their mothers tonight, not knowing where they are going to sleep tomorrow night, are travellers or settled children.

It seems these are last in the world’s priorities today. Yet Christ says ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last … Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’ (Mark 9: 35, 37).

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

‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’ (Mark 9: 37) … ‘Spectral Child’ on Thomas Street, Limerick, by Dermot McConaghy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 9: 30-37:

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’ (Mark 9: 37) … a window in the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

Almighty God,
you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you:
Teach us to offer ourselves to your service,
that here we may have your peace,
and in the world to come may see you face to face;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God our guide,
you feed us with bread from heaven
as you fed your people Israel.
May we who have been inwardly nourished
be ready to follow you
all the days of our pilgrimage on earth,
until we come to your kingdom in heaven.
This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The loss of innocence and the destruction of wisdom … the railway tracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

10, All my hope in God is founded (CD 1);

145, Ye servant of the Lord (CD 8);

231, My song is love unknown (CD 14).

‘… and three days after being killed he will rise again’ (Mark 9: 31) … the resurrection window in Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

‘Whoever welcomes
one such child in my
name welcomes me’

‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’ (Mark 9: 37) … ‘Spectral Child’ on Thomas Street, Limerick, by Dermot McConaghy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 23 September 2018,

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XVII)


9.30 a.m., Morning Prayer, Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick.

Readings: Proverbs 31: 10-31; Psalm 1; James 3: 13 to 4: 3, 7-8a; Mark 9: 30-37.

‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’ (Mark 9: 37) … Children of the Kindertransport seen in Frank Meisler’s bronze sculpture at Liverpool Street Station in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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

Does anyone remember Sophie’s Choice. It is a disturbing American movie (1982) based on a best-selling novel by William Styron (1979). Meryl Streep plays the title role of Sophie Zawistowski, a Polish immigrant who shares a boarding house in Brooklyn with Nathan Landau (Kevin Kline) and a young writer, Stingo (Peter MacNicol).

One evening, Stingo learns from Sophie that she was married, but her husband and her father were killed in a Nazi work camp, and that she was sent as a prisoner to Auschwitz with her two children.

When Sophie arrives at Auschwitz, a camp doctor forces her to choose which one of her two children would be gassed and which one he would send to the labour camp. To avoid having both children killed, she chooses to have her son Jan sent to the children’s camp, and her daughter Eva sent to her death. It is a heart-wrenching decision that leaves her in mourning and filled with a guilt that she never overcomes.

The name Sophie means wisdom, but the choice Sophie faces is not between what is wise and what is foolish, between good and evil, nor even between the lesser of two evils, but between evil and evil.

This morning’s readings introduce a number of similar themes, including comparisons between the Wisdom of God and a wise wife and mother, the choices we face between good and evil, and the innocence of children in the face of competition for power and status.

Our short set of readings from the Book of Proverbs ends this morning where the book ends, with a poem that gives a detailed description of the roles and qualities of ‘a capable wife.’

Before this reading begins, we are told that the words in this closing section are ‘the words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him’ (Proverbs 31: 1).

But who is the good wife?

A good wife is mentioned earlier in this book, and several of her qualities are those of Wisdom, Sophia (Σοφία). So, is the good wife Wisdom herself?

Then our psalm (Psalm 1) compares the ways of the wicked and the ways of the godly.

In our New Testament reading (James 3: 13 to 4: 3, 7-8a), Saint James reminds his readers of the qualities of wisdom. Godly wisdom is pure, peace-loving, merciful and bears good fruits, and seeks to make peace.

In our Gospel reading (Mark 9: 30-37), Christ tells the disciples he is going to be betrayed and killed, and that he will rise again.

They do not understand what he is saying – how could they, they cannot yet expect the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Both these future events are beyond their understanding and they are afraid to ask Jesus what he is talking about, either because they do not want to show their ignorance or because they are afraid that they too may become innocent victims and suffer the consequences of being followers of Christ.

By the time they arrive in Capernaum, the disciples have been arguing over who among them is the greatest (verse 34). The disciples are shamed into silence when they realise Jesus overhears what they say. He chides them, telling them being a disciple is not about rank or power, position or prestige, but is about service. He tells them: ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all’ (verse 35).

To illustrate his point, he takes a little child and places him or her among them. The word here (παιδίον, paidíon) means a little child, but it could mean a young servant or even a child slave (verse 36).

He takes the child in his arms and says to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me’ (verse 37).

We are not told whether this child is a boy or girl, free or slave, Jew or Samaritan, Greek or Roman, a street urchin or the child of one the Disciples.

Perhaps the Disciples never even noticed, because at that time a child was of no economic value and a burden on families until the child could earn his or her own way, or until the child had the potential of being the equivalent of a pension scheme for parents.

But when someone welcomed a child slave or servant sent on an errand or with a message, they welcomed or received the master. Jesus reminds the disciples that whoever receives the servant receives the master, whoever receives a child receives Christ, whoever receives Christ receives God the Father, who sent him.

How can we relate the first part of our Gospel reading (verses 30-32), when Jesus talks about his own impending betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection, with the second part of the Gospel reading (verses 33-37), when Jesus takes an innocent, small child and makes him or her an example of how we should behave with Kingdom values?

Sometimes, I fear, we make it too difficult to talk about the Crucifixion, and so we make it too difficult to talk about the Resurrection, unless we are talking about them in the context of Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter.

But sometimes too, I fear, we make it too easy to talk about children because we romanticise childhood in our comfortable settings. Quite often, even in stained-glass windows in our churches, we romanticise this little child, thinking of a well-dressed, well-fed, well-loved child from our own family or own parish.

Yet, it is a paradox that we also find it too difficult to talk about children because so often we have to turn away, mentally and emotionally, when we see the suffering of children in the world today.

All of us have been disturbed for some years now about the terrors that are rained down on children in the world today.

I say ‘children’ and not ‘innocent children,’ because there is no such being as a guilty child – there are only innocent children.

And the suffering and plight of children is all the more distressing when it is caused by the calculations of adults who dismiss this suffering as merely collateral damage brought about by political decisions or by war.

For Christians, this distress must always be acute, must always demand our compassion, must always call for our response.

In Saint Matthew’s version of this story (Matthew 18: 1-14), Christ tells us: ‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven … it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost’ (verses 10-14).

It cannot matter to us what label is placed on these children:

● whether the suffering Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip are Christians or Muslim;

● whether the frightened child fleeing Syria in her mother’s arms, cramped into a tiny boat in the Mediterranean, is a Christian or a Muslim;

● whether the children targeted by Saudi fighter bombers in Yemen are Shia or Sunni, going to a school or a wedding;

● whether the sobbing and distressed child separated forcibly from his parents on the border between Texas and Mexico speaks Spanish or English;

● whether the homeless children who sleep in cramped hotel rooms with their mothers tonight, not knowing where they are going to sleep tomorrow night, are travellers or settled children.

It seems these are last in the world’s priorities today. Yet Christ says ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last … Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’ (Mark 9: 35, 37).

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

‘Then he took a little child and put it among them’ (Mark 9: 36) … a window in Saint Mary’s Church, Nenagh, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 9: 30-37:

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’ (Mark 9: 37) … a window in the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

Almighty God,
you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you:
Teach us to offer ourselves to your service,
that here we may have your peace,
and in the world to come may see you face to face;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The loss of innocence and the destruction of wisdom … the railway tracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

10, All my hope in God is founded (CD 1);

145, Ye servant of the Lord (CD 8);

231, My song is love unknown (CD 14).

‘… and three days after being killed he will rise again’ (Mark 9: 31) … the resurrection window in Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Lifting the Sam Maguire Cup
at celebrations in Co Limerick

Lifting the Sam Maguire Cup in Saint Molua’s Church, Ardagh, Co Limerick

Patrick Comerford

The Liam MacCarthy Cup came to Limerick last month when Limerick won the All-Ireland Hurling Final on 16 August, defeating Galway 3-16 to 2-18. But the Sam Maguire Cup came to Co Limerick last night [21 September 2018] to open the celebrations in Ardagh marking the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the Ardagh Chalice.

The Sam Maguire Cup – the cup for the All-Ireland Football Championship – is a copy of the Ardagh Chalice. The original silver Sam Maguire Cup was crafted, on behalf of Hopkins and Hopkins, by the silversmith Matthew J Staunton of D’Olier Street, Dublin, 90 years ago in 1928, and was modelled on the Ardagh Chalice.

Kildare was the first county to win the Sam Maguire Cup in 1928 by defeating Cavan 2-6 to 2-5. The original trophy was retired 30 years ago in 1988 because it had received some damage over the years. The GAA commissioned a replica from the Kilkenny-based silversmith Desmond A. Byrne and the replica trophy has been used ever since.
udi
The original Sam Maguire Cup is permanently on display in the GAA’s museum at Croke Park.

Although Limerick won the All-Ireland Football Final in 1896, Limerick has never won the Sam Maguire Cup. But the Sam Maguire Cup was in Ardagh, Co Limerick, for Culture Night and the opening of the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the Ardagh Hoard, including the Ardagh Chalice, in 1868.

The Sam Maguire Cup, and other replicas of the Ardagh Chalice – including one in the Hunt Museum and one in the family of the Earls of Dunraven – were in Saint Molua’s Church, Ardagh, for a concelebrated Mass last night, and at a history seminar in Ardagh Community Centre.

The Ardagh Chalice and the Ardagh Hoard, which were found in West Limerick 150 years ago, make up one of the most significant archaeological finds in Ireland in the 19th century.

As Dr Raghnall O Floinn, former director of the National Museum of Ireland, and Dr Cathy Swift of Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, told last night’s seminar, the Ardagh Chalice is one of the greatest treasures of the early Irish Church. It represents a high point in early mediaeval craftsmanship and its craftsmanship can be compared with the Tara Brooch and the Derrynaflan Paten.

The chalice is part of a hoard of objects discovered in Rearasta Fort on the edges of Ardagh in late September 1868 and was probably concealed during the tenth century.

The hoard was discovered by Paddy Flanagan and Jim Quinn while they were digging potatoes in the fort. One spade stuck a metal object – the chalice – and when the pair investigated the soil they found a hoard of valuables that had been partly covered by a flagstone.

The hoard consisted of two chalices and four brooches. Each brooch was up to 30 cm in length and three had elaborate Celtic designs; the fourth was called a thistle brooch.

The Ardagh Chalice is 17.8 cm high and is 19.5 cm in diameter. The bowl and foot of the chalice are made of beaten, lathe polished silver, and the stem is made of gilt-copper alloy. The outer side of the bowl is decorated with gold filigree granulation, stamped and openwork metal ornaments and multi-coloured enamels and a large, polished rock crystal at the centre.

The bowl is attached to the stem and foot by a bronze pin. The stem is elaborately decorated with La Tene designs, animal ornamentation, fret patterns and a honeycomb-like interlace.

The names of eleven apostles and Saint Paul are inscribed below the band of gold filigree and studs encircling the bowl. The letters are seen against a stippled background. Incised animal decorations can also be seen below two handle escutcheons, which are decorated with elaborate glass studs and filigree panels.

The chalice is a calix ministerialis, that is one made to administer the Eucharistic wine to the congregation. It was made around the year 725, perhaps in the Shanagolden area. Some 250 elements went into its creation, making it the most famous chalice in the world and certainly the most beautiful.

The lands were owned by Saint Mary’s Convent, Limerick, and the tenant at the time was Mrs Mary Quinn. She received £50 from George Butler (1815-1886), the Roman Catholic Bishop of Limerick (1864-1886).

The Royal Hibernian Academy acquired the items in 1878, paying the bishop £100 in compensation. The Ardagh Hoard is on permanent display in the National Museum in Dublin.

The festival was opened last night by Minister Pat O’Donovan continues in Ardagh throughout this weekend, with a second round of celebrations next Saturday (29 September 2018).

The Ardagh Chalice on display in the National Museum in Kildare Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The disturbing Irish links
with the war memorial
at Liverpool Street station

Sir Henry Wilson’s memorial plaque, beneath the World War I memorial in Liverpool Street Station, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

On way back to Stansted Airport earlier this week, I changed trains at Liverpool Street station, and stopped for a moment to photograph once again Frank Meisler’s bronze sculpture of the Children of the Kindertransport.

It is a monument I have stopped at many times in the past, and it resonated particularly at this time as I reflect on my visit to Berlin the previous week.

Then I was reminded of the impressive World War I Memorial in Liverpool Street Station, and thought it was worth visiting once again as we approach the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

I pass through Liverpool Street Station regularly throughout the year, but as I stopped for a moment at this memorial, with a row of poppy wreaths at its base, I notice a smaller plaque with an image and the inscription:

To the memory of
Field Marshall Sir Henry Wilson Bart
GCB DSO MP
whose death occurred on Thursday 22nd June 1922
within two hours of his unveiling
the adjoining memorial


In the immediate aftermath of World War I, war memorials were erected to employees in many public places throughout the islands, particularly in railway stations. The war memorial in Kingsbridge/Heuston station in Dublin, for example, is in particularly good condition.

As I stood silently in Liverpool Street Station on Wednesday evening, I realised, of course, that Henry Wilson was one of the leading Irish-born generals during World War I.

When he unveiled the memorial, dedicated to employees of the Great Eastern Railway Company, Wilson had recently retired from the army as chief of the imperial general staff (CIGS) and had been elected to the House of Commons as the Unionist MP for North Down.

At Liverpool Street station, he spoke of the fallen, saying that ‘in doing what they thought right, they paid the penalty.’ Within hours of unveiling the memorial, he was assassinated on his own doorstep in Eaton Square by two English-born war veterans who had fought in World War I but who had become Irish republicans.

Wilson was born in Co Longford in 1864 into an Irish landed family. The Wilson family traced its family tree back to an ancestor who landed at Carrickfergus with William III in 1690 and settled at Rashee, Co Antrim. The family fortune was made a century later by his great-grandfather, Hugh Wilson, through a shipping business in Belfast. When Hugh Wilson died, the inheritance was used to buy landed estates in Dublin, Westmeath and Longford, and Henry Wilson was born at Currygrane, near Edgeworthstown, Co Longford.

Henry Wilson was unsuccessful in trying to get into Sandhurst and Woolwich, but he finally began a military in 1882 by joining the Longford Militia and training with the 5th Munster Fusliers.

His time in the Boer War forged a life-time friendship with Field-Marshal Earl Roberts (1832-1914), whose family was from Co Waterford. Roberts became Wilson’s patron, and recommended him for the post of commandant of the staff college at Camberley in 1907.

Wilson moved to the War Office in 1910 as director of military operations (DMO), where he developed a political alliance with the Conservative leader, Andrew Bonar Law at a time when Irish Home Rule was a major political issue in Westminster. Wilson advised Law ‘that there was much talk in the army, and that if we were ordered to coerce Ulster there would be wholesale defections.’

The Curragh mutiny in March 1914 brought Wilson to the fore politically. Brigadier-General Hubert Gough (1870-1963), who also came from a Co Waterford landed family, and the officers under his command at the Curragh Camp in Co Kildare, warned they would not obey orders they believed would coerce Ulster into a united Ireland and they threatened to resign.

Wilson was one of the first to hear the news when General John Gough (1871-1915), younger brother of Hubert Gough, called to him at the War Office. The government, anxious to quash the crisis, provided a written guarantee that it would only order troops to assist the civil power in keeping law and order. Sir John French (1852-1925), later Earl of Ypres and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and also from an Irish family, agreed that troops would not be used to force Ulster to accept the Home Rule Bill.

Asquith considered taking disciplinary action against Wilson, but Wilson was now lionised as the ‘man who saved the Empire’ and became a popular figure on the political right.

Later, Wilson showed his military skills by securing the Anglo-French alliance and in planning the British expeditionary force sent to France after the outbreak of World War I. On a visit to the Western Front in 1915, Asquith dined with the officers, and over dinner remarked to French, ‘It is a curious thing, Field-Marshal, that this war has produced no great generals.’ Wilson quickly retorted, ‘No, Prime Minister, nor has it produced a statesman.’

Wilson was turned down for several promotions until Asquith’s resignation in 1916. As Prime Minister, Lloyd George brought Wilson back into the centre of events and appointed him Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) or professional head of the army in 1918, praising him as ‘the greatest strategist we possess.’

The War Memorial at Liverpool Street Station, unveiled by Henry Wilson in 1922 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

After the war, in June 1919, Wilson accepted promotion to field marshal, after Churchill had offered him a choice of promotion or a peerage. At 55, he was the youngest non-royal field marshal since Wellington. Wilson was also given the title of baronet, with the territorial designation ‘of Currygrane in the County of Longford.’ Over the next few years, he received honorary degrees from Oxford, Cambridge, Trinity College Dublin and Queen’s University Belfast.

Wilson remained CIGS until February 1922. As the Irish War of Independence unfolded, he disapproved of the use of the Black and Tans but advocated the declaration of martial law. But Lloyd George’s negotiations with Sinn Féin and the worsening Irish situation led to the disintegration of relations between the Prime Minister and Wilson. In Wilson’s last eight months as CIGS, the two men barely spoke. Wilson thought the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed on 6 December 1921, a ‘shameful & cowardly surrender to the pistol’ by a ‘Cabinet of Cowards.’

With his resignation, Wilson turned his attention to party politics Westminster, and in 1922 he was elected unopposed as the Unionist MP for North Down. He was then 57 and had spent 40 years in the army.

Wilson’s contributions in the House of Commons were few, but were well received, even by his opponents. Asquith noted that on his maiden speech Wilson ‘spoke very well, and shortly, which is a real merit.’

He became the chief security adviser to the new Northern Ireland government, and Irish nationalists identified him with security policies in Northern Ireland, but wrongly linked him to Protestant sectarian attacks on Catholics. Wilson was a devout member of the Church of Ireland, and on occasion attend Roman Catholic services, but disliked ritual, especially among Anglican clergy.

Wilson was in full uniform when he was murdered on the steps of his home at 36 Eaton Place, London, on 22 June 1922 by two IRA members, Reginald Dunne and Joe O’Sullivan. One report says Wilson turned on his attackers with the word, ‘You cowardly swine!’ The assassination came five months after the Anglo-Irish treaty was signed, ending the War of Independence and just a few months after he was elected an MP.

Wilson’s assassination shocked the nation. It was the first assassination of an MP since the Prime Minister Spencer Perceval in 1812 and the last until Airey Neave’s assassination by the INLA in 1979.

Wilson was given a state funeral, the streets were thronged with mourners as the gun-carriage bearing his coffin body moved through the streets, and was buried in the crypt in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, beside his patron, Earl Roberts.

His murder led directly to the Civil War in Ireland, but to this day no historian has determined with satisfaction who ordered the murder.

The British government blamed the anti-treaty rebels, then occupying the Four Courts in Dublin. The British told the provisional government in Dublin to deal with the Four Court rebels or they would deal with them.

Arthur Griffith called Wilson’s shooting an ‘anarchic deed.’ The Defence Minister, Richard Mulcahy, threatened to resign. The leader of the anti-Treaty side, Eamon de Valera, said: ‘The killing of a human being is an awful act, but as awful when the victim is the humble worker or peasant, unknown outside his own immediate neighbourhood, as when the victim is placed in the seats of the mighty and his name known in every corner of the earth ... I do not know who they were who shot Sir Henry Wilson, or why they shot him ... I do not approve but I must not pretend to misunderstand.’

Under pressure from the British, Michael Collins borrowed two 18-pounder guns from the British army and shelled the Four Courts, leading to the Civil War.

Some historians have speculated that Collins ordered the assassination of Wilson before the treaty and forgot to rescind it. Some suggest it was a provocative act to give Collins the carte blanche to attack the Four Courts garrison. Scotland Yard investigations centred around the involvement of Sam Maguire, Collins’s chief intelligence officer in London.

Others suggest Dunne and O’Sullivan acted on their own, believing it would provoke a British retaliation and unite nationalists who had been bitterly divided by the treaty. Dunne had been in Dublin visiting Collins and Rory O’Connor in the Four Courts a week earlier.

Dunne and O’Sullivan were caught by an angry mob shortly after the shooting. Both were born and reared in London, and were army veterans. O’Sullivan had lost a leg at Ypres, but both men went on to join the IRA after World War I.

At their trial, the two were prevented from making a speech from the dock. They were hanged on 10 August 1922. Twelve days later, Michael Collins was killed in the Irish civil war.

The Wilson memorial in Liverpool Street, erected in 1922-1923, is the work of Charles Leonard Hartwell (1873-1951). It includes a bronze portrait mounted on marble tablet, and is signed in the bottom left corner of the relief panel, ‘C Hartwell ARA.’ Later Asquith would say Wilson was ‘not a man whom I would trust,’ while Lloyd George considered him ‘an intense and intriguing politician all the days of his life’. Wilson’s reputation was ruined in 1927 with the publication of an official biography that quoted extensively and injudiciously from his entertaining, indiscreet, and wildly opinionated diaries.

The bodies of Dunne and O’Sullivan’s were brought to Ireland in 1967, and reburied in the Republican Plot in Deansgrange Cemetery, Dublin. Sean Mac Stiofain, who was to become the Chief of Staff of the IRA, delivered the main oration, and an IRA firing party emerged from the crowd and fired a volley of shots over the graves.

A row of poppy wreaths beneath the War Memorial at Liverpool Street Station (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Friday, 21 September 2018

Reaching a new landmark
makes me ask what
3.5 million people look like

Around 3.5 million people live in the Greater Athens region in Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I try not to worry about how many readers this blog attracts each day, or each month, still less about the number of hits this blog has had since I started blogging over eight years ago, in July 2010.

I want to write in this style because I think it is the right way to share my ideas, from my sense of humour to my deepest values. But I am determined not to write in a particular way in the hope of attracting a greater number of readers.

Do I know who I am writing for? Did Thomas Addison know who was going to read his essays in the Spectator or TS Eliot know who was going to buy and read and his poems?

On the other hand, I suppose, Shakespeare did worry how many people were going to pay to see his plays on the stage of the Globe.

But I am no Shakespeare, and certainly no Addison or Eliot, nor does my livelihood depend on my writing.

On the other hand, the occasional response from a reader can so positive that it makes it all worth the effort and the energy that it takes to keep a blog like this going.

And so, I have kept a tab on some landmarks for this blog, and there was a certain sense of satisfaction in noticing that earlier this day this blog had passed another landmark. By early this afternoon [21 September 2018], this blog had recorded a total of 3.5 million individual hits since I first began blogging over eight years ago.

Since I began blogging, it took two years to reach 0.5 million hits in July 2012. This rose to 1 million by September 2013, 1.5 million in June 2014, 2 million in June 2015, 2.5 million in November 2016, and 3 million by October 2016.

What do 3.5 million people look like?

Well, 3.5 million is the population of Puerto Rico, Bosnia and Uruguay, and the population of the Republic of Ireland was around 3.5 million people from the mid-1980s until the first half of the 1990s.

Today, 3.5 million people live in Berlin, Aleppo, Dakar, Casablanca and the Greater Athens area, the Attica region in Greece.

The Attica region, with a population of around 3.5 million people, includes greater Athens, a number of suburban towns and the port of Piraeus, one of the world’s largest passenger ports.

Today’s metropolis of Athens, with its 3.5 million people, is the political, social, cultural and economic capital of Greece. Greater Athens is a metropolitan area that extends over 583 sq km.

Surprisingly, the Athens suburbs are among the most thinly populated outlying city districts anywhere. The municipality of Athens has an area of 39 sq km, with a population of 665,000 people living inside city limits in 2016.

Tourists at the harbour in Rethymnon this summer … Crete welcomes 3.5 million visitors a year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Crete welcomes more than 3.5 million visitors annually; mammoths first found themselves on the island of Crete as early as 3.5 million years ago.

Both the Greek Orthodox Church of Constantinople and the Georgian Orthodox Church have 3.5 million members. The Church of Greece pays about €3.5 million in taxes a year.

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa has about 3.5 million members, and so too has the National Baptist Convention of America.

Around 3.5 million German tourists travelled to Turkey last year, over 3.5 million tourists visited Israel, and over 3.5 million tourists visited Cyprus.

About 8.7 million people visit Ireland each year, and the UK is the largest source of overseas visitors … with 3.5 million visitors.

More than 3.5 million visitors come to Cambridge every year. Which is totally unconnected with the fact that each year over 3.5 million people in 130 countries sit the Cambridge Assessment English exams, the world’s leading certificates for English language learners.

Licensed buskers have an audience of around 3.5 million Tube passengers on the London Underground every day, and it is said the number of vegans in the UK has reached an all-time high of 3.5 million.

About 3.5 million EU citizens living in the United Kingdom will have to apply for a new immigration status after Brexit and must prove their identity to gain ‘settled status,’ although large numbers will be unable to complete the whole process digitally.

In Ireland, over 3.5 million people are members of credit unions, making the credit union movement across Ireland is the most successful in the world with the highest membership per capita. On the other hand, there are 3.5 million members of the National Trust in the United Kingdom.

Although he won the election, Donald Trump continues to claim that 3.5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election in the US. The information he used was compiled from only 462 counties in 38 states, yet the entire US comprises over 3,000 counties in 50 states.

Many of those other countries might well have substantially fewer registered voters on their rolls than adult residents who are eligible to vote … which all goes to show that Trump is the biggest peddler of ‘fake news’ and lies, and knows nothing about how to count either the number of people at his inauguration or 3.5 million people.

For those who prefer real news, the New York Times has 3.5 million paid subscriptions, and in Europe the largest-circulating newspaper is the German Bild at 3.5 million.

In terms of spending power, Kythnos Island in Greece was up for sale recently for €3.5 million. The island in the west of Cyclades and surrounded by the Aegean Sea, covers 191,182 square metres, and is just an hour from Athens by boat. It already has 20 to 25 picturesque small houses, and the price had dropped from the original €5 million advertised price.

Aristotle Onassis bought the Greek island of Skorpios in 1962 for just 3.5 million drachmas, but that was then the equivalent of about £10,000.

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin … 3.5 million people live in Berlin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Fedamore House, Fedamore, Co Limerick, the home of Gerry McManus, younger brother of billionaire Limerick businessman JP McManus, is on the market with an asking price of €3.5 million.

Lough Rusheen House, a luxurious, five-bedroom, family home on the shores of Rusheeen Bay in Barna, is the most expensive property on sale in Co Galway, with a €3.5 million price tag.

Or you could buy the former Kenilworth Motors site in Harold’s Cross, Dublin, a high-profile site that is zoned for residential development.

The Clarion Hotel in Limerick, Ireland’s tallest hotel, was put on the market recently by the receivers for €3.5 million, just months after Limerick’s Radisson Blu Hotel was sold for €3.5 million. The Strand Hotel was given conditional planning permission in recent months to increase to over 200 rooms as part of a €3.5 million upgrade.

Ballymagarvey Village, a popular wedding venue in Co Meath, restored in recent years from a dilapidated property, has announced plans for a €3.5 million expansion to begin next year.

Irish Water, in partnership with Limerick City and County Council and supported by RPS and Roadbridge, recently completed a 12-month contract to find and fix leaks on the public water network. As a result, over 3.5 million litres of treated water which had been lost to leakage every day is now available to supply homes and businesses in Limerick City.

Bicycles outside Sidney Sussex College in the summer sunshine … more than 3.5 million visitors come to Cambridge every year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Would the real Sherlock Holmes
please tell me his real address?

The Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street … but is this the real 221B Baker Street? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

No 221B Baker Street is said to be the ‘most famous address in the world.’ It is elementary, my dear Watson, for it is here, according to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), that the detective Sherlock Holmes and his friend and colleague, Dr Watson, lived between 1881 and 1904 in a boarding house run by Mrs Hudson.

The character of Sherlock Holmes was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887, and since then he has featured in more films than any other character in literature, and he has caught the attention of readers and audiences all over the world. With four novels, 46 short stories, and 75 different actors playing the character of Holmes in more than 200 films, many fans want to see where Holmes and Watson lived.

But, while it may be the most famous address in the world, it takes a little detective work for any sleuth to find the real 221B Baker Street.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once had his medical practice at No 2 Devonshire Place, off Marylebone Street and close to Methodist Church House, where I was taking part in a meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) on Wednesday [19 September 2018].

It was just a 10-minute walk from Devonshire Place to Baker Street, which explains why Doyle was familiar with the streets in the area. But where exactly is 221B Baker Street?

When Doyle was writing, Baker Street was made up of a number of Georgian townhouses, but these did not run as far as No 221, and the number only became possible when Baker Street was extended north.

The statue of John Doubleday’s Sherlock Holmes outside Baker Street on Marylebone Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Walking in and out of Baker Street Station this week, it was difficult not to notice the larger-than-life statue of Sherlock Holmes outside the station, complete with his deerstalker hat, Inverness cape and pipe.

But this statue is at the Marylebone Street entrance of the station and not on Baker Street. I had to walk around the corner into Baker Street if I was going to find where Holmes and Watson are supposed to have lived.

Walking up Baker Street, I found what should have been the site of No 221B, but for many years it was just part of the headquarters of the Abbey National, then numbered 215−229 Baker Street. It was designed by the Scottish architect John James Joass (1868-1952).

When street numbers were reallocated in the 1930s, the block of odd numbers from 215 to 229 was assigned to the Art Deco building known as Abbey House, built in 1932 for the Abbey Road Building Society. Since the 1930s, the Royal Mail had delivered all letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes to the Abbey National at this building, and the bank employed a special staff member to deal with this correspondence.

The former Abbey National Building on Baker Street had all mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes delivered here (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

When the Sherlock Holmes Museum was established a few doors away, between No 237 and No 241, near the north end of Baker Street, close to Regent’s Park, it wanted to use the address 221B rather than No 239, and this became a protracted dispute between the museum and the Abbey National, a few doors away, whose premises were a few doors away at No 215-229.

The museum went through several appeals for this mail to be delivered to it, on the grounds that it was the most appropriate organisation to respond to the mail, rather than a bank.

All these efforts were in vain, and to reinforce its claims to the address and to mark the 150th anniversary of anniversary, Abbey National sponsored John Doubleday’s bronze statue of Sherlock Holmes outside the Baker Street station.

In the past, Doubleday had produced a statue of Holmes for Meiringen in Switzerland, below the Reichenbach Falls where the intrepid sleuth fell to his apparent death in the story The Final Problem.

The three-metre-high statue shows Holmes wearing an Inverness cape and a deerstalker and holding a pipe, attributes first bestowed on him by Sidney Paget, who illustrated Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories for The Strand Magazine.

GK Chesterton was the first person, back in 1927, to suggest a statue of Holmes for London, but his efforts came to nothing. A new campaign was begun in 1996 by the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, which wanted a statue in the middle of Baker Street, and the traffic be damned.’

The Sherlock Holmes Statue Company Limited was set up to manage the project, and in 1998, and the Abbey National agreed to fund the statue because of its connection with Holmes. John Doubleday was given the commission 20 years ago on 31 March 1998.

As no site was available on Baker Street, the statue was erected outside Baker Street tube station, on Marylebone Road. However, some local residents and the St Marylebone Society opposed the proposal, saying it was ‘not very appropriate. It should have been in Baker Street itself, which is much quieter.’

But the plans went ahead, and the statue was unveiled on 23 September 1999 by Lord Tugendhat, chairman of Abbey National and a former Vice-President of the European Commission.

Abbey National was rebranded as Abbey in 2003, and it became a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Spanish Santander Group in 2004, with further rebrandings and renamings in 2005 and 2010.

No 221B Baker Street … the number has moved to the museum, but it remains London’s best-known address (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The debate over who could use the famous address was finally resolved when Santander left the former Abbey National headquarters in 2005 after more than 70 years. Today, Abbey House is a mainly empty office block that has been refurbished with office space and apartments that are ready for letting.

The City of Westminster gave the privately-run Sherlock Holmes Museum permission to use the number 221B for the Georgian town house that once had been No 239 Baker Street. All mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes at this address is now delivered to the museum, even though to this day Baker Street is the only street in London that has a house number that appears out of sequence with the rest of the street.

The museum is run by the Sherlock Holmes Society of England, a non-profit organisation, and has been visited by more than 2 million Sherlock Holmes fans since it opened in 1990.

The Georgian townhouse on Baker Street was built in 1815, and had been a boarding house from 1860 to 1936, and covers the period of 1881 to 1904, when Doyle’s stories describe Holmes and Watson living in Baker Street as Mrs Hudson’s paying guests or tenants.

The museum features exhibits from several adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, and recreations of scenes from the 1984 Granada Television series Sherlock Holmes. Inside, the museum has been designed to look exactly s it was described in Doyle’s stories.

Sherlock Holmes’s housekeeper, Mrs Hudson, greets visitors and guides them through the Victorian rooms in the building arranged over four storeys. These rooms include Sherlock Holmes’s living room, study and bedroom, as well as rooms for Watson and Mrs Hudson, and a bathroom in a small loft.

Visitors can climb up the 17 steps, similar to those in A Scandal in Bohemia, up to Holmes’s crowded parlour, filled with artefacts and furniture from the Victorian era, including traditional wallpaper and gaslight lamps. The rooms are packed with memorabilia referred to in the books, including a magnifying glass, an old copy of The Times, a pipe, a chemistry kit, ink bottles, a violin and a deerstalker.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s daughter, Dame Jean Conan Doyle (1912-1997), also known as Lady Bromet, made clear her lack of enthusiasm for the museum. She feared the museum would reinforce the idea that Holmes was a real person, and she turned down an offer from the museum to create a room dedicated to her father. Since then, her father’s last remaining possessions have been sold off.

Deerstalkers and bowler hats among the exhibits in the window of the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)


But, as Holmes has endured, so have challenges over who owns the right to use his name and image, and who owns the copyright of Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary works.

Lady Bromet and her brothers, Denis Conan Doyle (1909–1955) and Adrian Conan Doyle (1910–1970), the children of Arthur Conan Doyle and his second wife, Jean Elizabeth Leckie (1874–1940), inherited the copyrights with the estate when their mother died in 1940. When Adrian Conan Doyle died in 1970, Dame Jean became her father’s literary executor and the legal copyright holder to some of the rights to the Sherlock Holmes character, as well as her father’s other works.

She once said that Sherlock Holmes was her family’s curse because of the legal battles over copyright. She and her brothers’ widows initially shared control of a literary trust, but they found it difficult to agree. Denis Conan Doyle had married a Georgian princess, Princess Nina Mdivani (1901-1987), and died in 1955.

With a loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1970, Princess Nina bought the estate and set up Baskervilles Investments Ltd in the Isle of Man. When Princess Nina defaulted on the loan, the RBS sold the rights to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works to Lady Etelka Duncan. Her former son-in-law, Sheldon Reynolds, had adapted Sherlock Holmes in two series in the 1950s and the 1990s, and his ex-wife, Andrea Plunket, Lady Duncan’s daughter, administered the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Literary Estate until 2014.

But there has been a long-running legal dispute between the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Literary Estate and Conan Doyle Estate Ltd, a privately-owned British company formed in 2005, and. For example, when Warner Brothers made Sherlock Holmes (2010), the studio was granted a license by the Arthur Conan Doyle Literary Estate but also ended up signing a ‘Covenant not to Sue’ with Conan Doyle Estate Ltd.

There are eight or nine surviving Doyle heirs, but none is a direct descendant of the author as neither Jean nor her brothers had any children.

As the New York Times wrote in 2010, the character of Sherlock Holmes has been caught in a web of copyright ownership issues ‘so tangled that Professor Moriarty would not have wished them upon him.’

Minding the shop at the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)