Sunday, 30 December 2018

Ten places I visited
in Ireland in 2018

Sunset on an early summer evening on the River Deel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on images for full-screen views)

Patrick Comerford

Moving to Askeaton and the Rathkeale Group of Parishes two years ago has opened up a new part of Ireland to me, and has brought me closer to parts of Ireland that might have more difficult to visit otherwise.

In previous years, in my end-of-year reviews at the end of December, I have often summarised the year’s events in my life, as well providing my own commentary on the year in news, sport, and church life.

However, newspapers and television stations provide substantial summaries of the past year at this time of the year, and the consequences of ‘Brexit’ and the Trump presidency have been devastating and depressing at one and the same time throughout 2018.

Instead, I have decided to end the year on note of celebration over the next few days, looking back at ten countries I have visited this year, ten cathedrals I have visited in Ireland, ten synagogues I have visited across Europe, and ten places I have visited in Ireland this year.

Earlier today, I was looking back at ten countries I have visited this year. But this evening I want to look back at ten places I have visited in Ireland this years.

Walking the long sandy beach at Ballinskelligs in April (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on images for full-screen views)

1, Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry:

When the Easter Vestry meetings were over, I took a day or two off in Ballinskelligs (Baile ’n Sceilg) in south-west Kerry and returned to the small village of Dungeagan, where I stayed in Tig an Rince.

Over half a century ago, when I was in my teens in 1966, I had spent a month in Ballinskelligs at the Irish College, in a desperate attempt by my parents to ensure I did not fail Irish in my school exams. In April this year, I found the house I had stayed in over 50 years, walked the long sandy beach, and rekindled many happy memories.

Valentia Island seen from Renard Point, the seaport in Valentia Harbour (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

2, Valentia Island, Co Kerry:

That visit to Ballinkelligs also brought me to Glenbeagh, Caherciveen, Waterville and Killroglin, around the Ring of Kerry, allowed me to see the Skelligs Rocks, invited me to visit a chocolate factory for the first time, and brought me back to Valentia Island.

The Church of Ireland parish church in Knighstown, the Church Saint John the Baptist, is one of the last churches designed by Joseph Welland (1798-1860). A sign claims that this church is the ‘most westerly Protestant church in Europe.’

Evening lights by the shores of the River Shannon and Lough Ree at Wineport Lodge near Athlone, Co Westmeath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

3, Wineport Lodge, Co Westmeath:

A retirement gift from colleagues at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute allowed two of to stay at the Wineport Lodge in Co Westmeath.

It was a culinary experience, and opportunity to enjoy being by the shores of Lough Ree and on the banks of the River Shannon. During that stay we also visited Athlone, Mullingar and Ardagh.

The former Binchy shop on Main Street, Charleville … the birthplace of Irish diplomat Daniel Binchy (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2018)

4, Charleville, Co Cork:

Because I passed a certain age earlier this year, I now have free use of public transport in Ireland. Occasionally, on a day off in the middle of Ireland, I have decided to hop on a train or a bus and visit a town that I might not otherwise have visited, and explore its streets, its architecture and its history.

An example of one of those short day-trips is Charleville, Co Cork. But the surprising and unexpected story was the story of Daniel A Binchy, the first Irish Minister or ambassador to Germany from 1929 to 1932. His reports to Dublin were sharp and prescient. He predicted the consequences of the failure of the democratic parties to work together and had no illusions about the brutality, cynicism, anti-Semitism and murderous racism of Hitler’s new regime.

In his assessment of Hitler, Binchy refers to his ‘fanatical belief’ and writes, ‘there are only two barriers to megalomania in public life: intelligence and a sense of humour. Either of these qualities would suffice to prevent it, but I believe Hitler to be lacking in both.’

Perhaps today we need someone with his perceptive insights to warn us of the dangers of born natural orators, who rehearse their gestures and gesticulations before speaking, who seek to blame all their nation’s woes on identifiable but marginalised groups, and who promise to make their nation great again. As Binchy’s friend warned him almost a century ago, ‘No lunatic with the gift of oratory is harmless.’

Inside Comerford’s Bar in Doobeg, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

5, Doonbeg, Co Clare:

I got to see not just one but two Saint Patrick’s Day parades this year: one on Saint Patrick’s Day itself, when I was invited onto the reviewing platform in Askeaton, and the second in Doonbeg, Co Clare, the next afternoon.

Two of us had crossed the Shannon Estuary on the ferry from Tarbert, Co Kerry, to Kilimer, Co Clare, and drove out on to Doonbeg on the west coast of Co Clare. Doonbeg has beautiful beaches and is known for its surfing.

Initially, we thought we might look for the Trump Golf resort, hoping against hope that he would never visit the area and that we would not need to familiarise ourselves with the Trump properties in preparation for any future protests. But, if Trump delivers on his commitment to Leo Varadkar in the White House to visit his property in Doonbeg next year, then it is important to know where the Trump International Golf Links and Hotel are.

We were in search of lunch, but nothing could entice me to explore the possibility of lunch in a Trump Hotel … no matter what the food is like, or how enticing the menu might be, nothing could entice me to add to that man’s wealth or boost his profits, no matter how meagre my contribution might be.

Instead, we visited Comerford’s Bar in Doonbeg, which dates from 1848, according to signs in the pub, although it has its origins from earlier in the previous decade. This branch of the Comerford family of Doonbeg is said to have originated at Clare Cottage, once known as Comerford Lodge, a pre-famine thatched cottage in Spanish Point. In 1839, George Comerford, originally from Spanish Point, married Lucy Burns, whose family owned the pub in Doonbeg.

It was easier to indulge in a little but of family history with the Comerfords than to think about the end of history brought about by Trump. The irony is that despite continuing to deny climate change, that man wants the Irish taxpayers to fund shoring up the sand-dunes that have been damaged by climate change and to protect his golf links from coastal erosion.

The fading front of a once-colourful pub is a reminder of days gone by in Thurles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

6, Thurles, Co Tipperary:

I hopped a train in Limerick early one morning for a day-trip to Thurles, Co Tipperary, which had once been a stopover in my childhood days during journeys between Dublin and Cappoquin, Co Waterford.

In Thurles, I visited the Cathedral of the Assumption, which is JJ McCarthy’s only Romanesque-style cathedral, Saint Mary’s, the Church of Ireland parish church, Saint Patrick’s College, which Newman had visions of turning into the Oxford of Ireland but which is now part of Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, and searched for castle ruins.

Two sides of the cloisters survive in the ruins of the Franciscan Friary in Ennis, Co Clare, (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

7, Ennis, Co Clare:

Ennis, which has been voted the ‘Friendliest Town in Ireland,’ is another town I visited on one of these short, one-day journeys from Askeaton by bus and train. It was a rainy day, but I visited the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Saint Columba’s Church, Drumcliffe, said to be the last church in the Church of Ireland built before disestablishment, and the ruins of the Franciscan Friary with its restored royal MacMahon tomb.

As teenagers in Ballinskelligs, two of the Irish dances they tried to teach us were the known as the Walls of Limerick and the Siege of Ennis. The Walls of Limerick have all but disappeared as a site in Limerick, but there was never an incident in history known as the Siege of Ennis, and so it is known – in jest – as the ‘Siege of Venice’ … or even, at times, as the ‘Sea of Guinness.’

The Morris House on Great George’s Street housed the offices of the Waterford Chamber of Commerce and the Port of Waterford Company for the best part of two centuries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

8, Waterford City:

One of my longer journeys from Limerick was by train to Waterford City. This took a little more planning, as I have learned to dread the prospect of either missing a train connection at Limerick Junction, or being stuck in the wilderness at Limerick Junction for too long, without any chance to buy a coffee.

When I was a child in Cappoquin, Waterford was a big city, and the large towns we tended to find ourselves in included Thurles and Dungarvan. Waterford was an excursion, and it an exciting place to visit, with Reginald’s Tower and the Clock Tower as the two most noticeable landmarks on the Quays.

I had breakfast before visiting the two cathedrals, strolling through the narrow streets that September day, and noticing the passing of some familiar landmarks, including Doolan’s on Great George’s Street, once a picture postcard image of Waterford.

The Romanesque doorway at Saint Cronan’s Church, Roscrea, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

9, Roscrea, Co Tipperary:

Roscrea, Co Tipperary, is another town in this region that is accessible on a day-trip from Askeaton by public transport. In September I visited the town with its ancient monastic site, round tower, Romanesque doorway and high cross beside Saint Cronan’s, the Church of Ireland parish church, Roscrea Castle and Damer House, the ruins of the Franciscan Friary and Saint Cronan’s Roman Catholic parish church, the Methodist Church on the Mall, and Mount Saint Joseph Abbey, the Cistercian abbey and school on the edges of the town.

Autumn colours in Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

10, Adare, Co Limerick:

Although I am now living in Askeaton, I have stayed overnight in two other places in Co Limerick this year: the Dunraven Arms Hotel in Adare, which was the venue for this year’s clergy conference for the Diocese of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert and the Diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry; Glenstal Abbey, where I stayed for a 24-hour retreat in July.

I also spent time in Limerick city itself and time exploring neighbouring towns and villages in the country, including finding the ruined church in Ballycahane – although Ballycahane is in the Adare group of parishes, as Precentor of Limerick I am also (nominally) the Prebendary of Ballycahane.

My choice of ten places in Ireland has been random. I could have chosen ten beach walks, ten river-side walks, or ten boat trips: on the Lakes of Killarney; from Tarbert to Killimer; along the River Deel from Askeaton to the mouth of the River Shannon; from Tarifa to Tangier through the Pillars of Hercules; along the Grand Canal in Venice; from Venice to Torcello; from Venice to Murano and Burano …

But, whatever my choices might have been, it has been a good year this year.

The gate leading from the Lady Garden to the Monastic Graveyard at Glenstal Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Tomorrow: Ten cathedrals.

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