31 October 2019

Cashel Town Hall,
a reminder of
a mediaeval city

The Town Hall in Cashel, Co Tipperary … designed by James Edward Rogers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The Town Hall in Cashel, Co Tipperary, is now the home of Cashel Heritage Centre and is also home to a local museum.

The town of Cashel owes its existence to the Rock of Cashel, which was the seat of the Kings of Munster from the fifth century until it was given to the church in 1101. A round tower, Cormac’s Chapel and the Anglo-Normans Gothic cathedral and tower house were built in the centuries that followed.

However, Cashel is not just the Rock, and the town has mediaeval walls, the ruins of 13th century Dominican abbey, a mediaeval tower house known as Kearney’s Castle that dates from the late 15th century, and many attractive Georgian buildings, including the Church of Ireland cathedral, the former Bishop’s Palace, and elegant Georgian townhouses that line John Street.

Local lore claims that Cashel first became a ‘borough by favour’ in 1216 at the favour Donnchad Ua Lonngargáin I, Archbishop of Cashel (1208-1216), who died that year either in Rome or at Cîteaux Abbey, or his successor, Archbishop Donnchad Ua Lonngargáin II (1216-1223), a Cistercian monk who resigned in 1223 and died in 1232.

Cashel received its first Charter in 1228, when King Henry III granted ‘that vill in frankalmoign to the Archbishop of Cashel and his successors’ with the right to hold an ‘annual fair at Cashel for eight days, namely, on the vigil and feast of the Holy Trinity and six following days.’

Frankalmoign is a tenure in which a religious corporation holds lands given to them and their successors forever, usually on condition of praying for the soul of the donor and his heirs. For a one-off payment of 300 marks to the Crown, the Archbishop of Cashel gained almost exclusive control of the town and its revenues.

Fourteen years later, in 1232, Archbishop Marianus or Mairin O Briain (1223-1237) transferred the borough of Cashel to the Provost (mayor) and burgesses, reserving only the shambles or meat market to his personal jurisdiction. He also granted free pastures and other privileges to the town’s residents.

The rent-paying burgesses of Cashel were entitled to rights and privileges according to their status, and many worked lands in the vicinity granted to them by the archbishops.

Cashel developed as a planned Norman town, with a grid-like street layout, off-set lanes, and a market place. Long narrow plots extend from the street front, and the continuity of many of these from probably the high medieval period is still evident in Cashel.

The new town probably reached the extent marked out by the town wall by about 1265. Despite its early elevation to borough status, Cashel did not receive a murage grant until 1303-1307. Edward Bruce halted his army and held a parliament at Cashel in 1316, making the borough, albeit ever so briefly, the capital of Ireland.

The town walls in Cashel were built in 1319-1324.

The borough privileges of Cashel were confirmed by Richard II in 1378, by Archbishop Roland Baron FitzGerald (1553-1561) in 1557, and by Queen Elizabeth I in 1584.

Cashel received city status in a charter granted by King Charles I in 1637, and a second charter from Charles I in 1639 set out the city system of government.

By the mid-17th century, the town walls were obsolete and were probably of little value after the invention of gun powder. The Rock of Cashel was burned by Murrough O’Brien, Earl of Inchiquin, at the Sack of Cashel in 1647.

At the end of the 17th century, before the Battle of the Boyne, King James II granted a new charter to Cashel, but later, while he was camped nearby at Golden, he issued an edict reverting to the charters of Charles I.

Under Charles I’s charters, Cashel was governed by a mayor, 17 aldermen, and bailiffs, along with the citizens and commons of Cashel. The elections of the Mayor, Recorder and Town Clerk were subject to the approval of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and the Privy Council.

The Corporation elected two MPs to the Irish House of Commons until the Act of Union, and Cashel continued to elect one member of the House of Commons in Westminster until the borough was disenfranchised in 1870.

Meanwhile, Cashel Corporation was dissolved by Act of Parliament in 1840, and the landed estates and property of the corporation were transferred to the 21 town commissioners elected on 5 October 1840, with James Heney as the first elected chair.

The Town Hall, built by the Cashel Town Commissioners in 1866, is a three-bay, two-storey building, built on a prominent site in the centre of what was the medieval market place of Cashel.

The town hall was designed by the architect and artist James Edward Rogers (1838-1896).

Rogers was born in Dublin in 1838, a son of James Rogers, QC, of 20 Upper Mount Street. He was educated at Guildford Grammar School and Trinity College Dublin (BA 1861). While he was at TCD, he became a pupil of the architect Benjamin Woodward (1815-1861) who was then was working on the Oxford Museum.

Rogers regularly visited Oxford, where he became friends of the Pre-Raphaelites William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who were then decorating Woodward’s debating hall at the Oxford Union with scenes from Arthurian legends. Together, they went ‘hunting in the parish churches on Sunday evenings to find a Guinevere.’

When Woodward was dying of tuberculosis, Rogers visited him in Algiers or the South of France in early 1860. He was later described by his lifelong friend, JP Mahaffy, as ‘Woodward’s favourite pupil.’

Woodward died in May 1861, Rogers graduated from TCD later that year, and probably set up his own practice in 1862, working first form his father’s address, and later from offices at Great Brunswick Street (Nos 205 and 179), now Pearse Street, Dublin.

He worked closely with both William Stirling and James Franklin Fuller, but most of his recorded work was with the Church of Ireland. He was architect to the Diocese of Meath until disestablishment in 1869 and also designed or worked on churches in the Diocese of Dublin and in the Diocese of Limerick.

His works include Saint Mary’s Church, Howth; Kenure Church and Kenure Rectory, Rush, Co Dublin; Holmpatrick Church, Skerries, Co Dublin; Saint Bartholomew’s Vicarage, Ballsbridge; Saint Paul’s Church, Kilfergus (Glin), Co Limerick; Kilkeedy Church, Clarina, Co Limerick; and Saint Patrick’s Church, Kilcock, Co Kildare; as well as No 31 Dame Street, Dublin; and the Carmichael School of Medicine, Brunswick Street, Dublin.

However, Rogers was best known for his drawings and watercolour paintings and as a book illustrator. He moved London in 1876 and does not appear to have practised as an architect in England, although he continued to exhibit his paintings at the Royal Hibernian Academy and at the Royal Academy and at the exhibitions of the Dublin Sketching Club and the Dublin Art Club. He died in London on 18 February 1896.

The Town Hall designed by Rogers in Cashel has a regular form that is enlivened by the varied openings and the gable-fronted addition. The three elevations incorporate myriad classical elements such as arcading, cornices, niches and pilasters, displaying evidence of fine stone-crafting.

Further interest and context are provided by the clock and an armorial date plaque. There is a striking contrast between the ornate limestone front and gable façades and the plain rendered rear façade is striking.

The Town Hall is now used as a tourist information office.

In front of the Town Hall, the Croke Cross was erected in 1895 to mark the jubilee of Thomas Croke (1824-1902), Archbishop of Cashel (1875-1902) and first patron of the Gaelic Athletic Association, which was founded in neighbouring Thurles.

This limestone cross, with echoes of the Celtic Revival, has figurative scenes and interlace in high relief, including a scene at the base of the east side of Saint Patrick baptising King Aengus of Munster on the Rock of Cashel.

The cross was first erected at the junction of Main Street and Friar Street. But it was demolished in a traffic accident. A replica was commissioned and was erected in its present position on Main Street in front of the Town Hall.

The Archbishop Croke Cross in front of the Town Hall in Cashel, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Kearney’s Castle, the oldest
surviving tower house and
domestic building in Cashel

Kearney’s Castle is the only known survivor of a group of fortified urban houses in Cashel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Kearney’s Castle Hotel in Cashel, Co Tipperary, closed almost three years ago [December 2016], but the castle or former tower house, with it battlements and gargoyles, remains a landmark mediaeval building on the Main Street of the heritage town.

The Kearney family lived in the castle for many generations and it has had a chequered past.

The O Cearnaigh or Kearney family were the hereditary keepers of Saint Patrick’s Crozier, and there are Kearney family tombs in the ruins of the cathedral on the Rock of Cashel.

Saint Patrick’s Crozier, or the ‘Staff of Jesus’ (Bacall Íosa), is said to have been used by Saint Patrick to banish the snakes from Ireland. For centuries, it was venerated in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. But at the Reformation it was burned in 1538 along with other relics on the orders of Archbishop George Browne.

Kearney’s Castle, on the east side of the Main Street, is a late 15th century tower house, built ca 1480 and was modified ca 1600. It is a six-storey building with two cap-houses, running from west to east.

A member of this family, David Kearney (1568-1625), was Archbishop of Cashel fro 1603 to 1624. In 1611, he was one of only two Roman Catholic bishops in Ireland; the other was Conor O’Devaney a Franciscan and Bishop of Down and Conor, who was arrested that year and executed in 1612.

Archbishop David Kearney died in Rome on 14 August 1624.

Another family member, Thomas Kearney, was an Alderman of Cashel in 1640.

During the Confederate wars in the mid-17th century, the Irish Parliamentarian commander, Murrough O’Brien, Lord Inchiquin, is believed to have used the castle as a garrison in 1647 when he sacked the town and slaughtered 3,000 inhabitants on the Rock of Cashel.

Father John Kearney, a member of the family, is said by some sources to have been hanged inside the castle in 1652, although it is more likely that he was hanged in Clonmel in 1653.

Father John Kearney (1619-1653), son of John Kearney and Elizabeth Creagh was born in Cashel, County Tipperary and joined the Franciscans in Kilkenny. He studied in Leuven and was ordained in Brussels in 1642.

On his way back to Ireland in 1644, he was arrested in London, tortured and condemned to death. But He escaped and made his way to France, finally travelling from Calais to Wexford. He returned to Ireland, taught philosophy in Cashel and preached in Cashel and Waterford. He was appointed the Franciscan novice master in Waterford and the porter or guardian at Carrick-on-Suir.

Kearney lived as a wanted man for nine years until he was arrested in Tipperary by the Parliamentarians in 1653 and was hanged in Clonmel. He was buried in the chapter hall of the suppressed Franciscan friary in Cashel. He was among the Irish martyrs beatified by Pope John Paul II on 27 September 1992.

A later member of the family was John Kearney (1742-1813), Church of Ireland Bishop of Ossory (1806-1813), was a nephew of Joseph Kearney of Moneygall, Co Offaly, was a direct ancestor of President Barack Obama.

Kearney’s Castle may be the oldest standing domestic building in Cashel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Kearney’s Castle may be the oldest standing domestic building in Cashel, and it is the only known survivor of a group of fortified urban houses in the town. It displays variety in form, style, texture and materials and has fine stone crafting, especially in the parapet coping.

The castle has rubble limestone walls and crenellated parapet walls, with cut-stone coping and quoins and dressed gutter stones.

There are carved stone gargoyles on the upper front wall. The castle has arrow slit openings with cut limestone surrounds. The round-headed window on the top floor has a limestone sill, a moulded limestone surround, and replacement windows.

A square-headed, two-light window dating from ca 1600 has carved limestone label-moulding and a fixed timber lattice window with coloured glass.

High on the west and south walls is a number of drainage spouts, and the three on the west wall, above the arched window, are gargoyles.

There is a pronounced batter at the base of the castle, seen in the alleyway on the south side of the tower house. The ‘Jostle Stones’ were placed on the corners of building in the 19th century to protect them from the jostling wheels of carts and traps.

The round-headed entrance on the ground dates from ca 1990, when the hotel and bar were being modified or modernised. It has a dressed limestone surround and voussoirs, replacement timber doors and windows and a cast-iron portcullis feature.

Until it closed three years ago, Kearney’s Castle, also known locally as Quirke’s Castle and Grants, has been a favourite venue for locals and disco goers.

Kearney’s Castle Hotel closed three years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

30 October 2019

Saint Dominic’s Friary,
an early Dominican
foundation in Cashel

Saint Dominic’s Friary or Abbey, 300 metres south-east of the Rock of Cashel, was founded in 1243 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Cashel is mainly known for the Rock of Cashel and Hore Abbey, founded for the Cistercians, and as visitors walk back into the town, many miss Saint Dominic’s Friary or Abbey in a housing estate 300 metres south-east of the Rock of Cashel.

Saint Dominic’s Abbey was founded in 1243, during the reign of Henry III, by the Archbishop of Cashel, David mac Cellaig Ó Gila Pátraic, probably a member of the MacGillapatrick (FitzPatrick) dynasty of Ossory and a key figure in building the cathedral on the Rock of Cashel.

Cashel Priory was the third foundation of the Dominican order in a borough in Ireland, following Mullingar, Co Westmeath (1237), and Athenry, Co Galway (1241).

Bishop David mac Cellaig is thought to have joined the Order of Preachers or Dominicans at their priory of Cork. He later became Dean of Cashel before 1237, and Bishop of Cloyne soon after the friars came to Ireland.

He became Archbishop of Cashel in 1238, and supported the candidature of another Dominican friar, Ailim O’Sullivan, as Bishop of Cloyne in 1240. He founded the Dominican friary in Cashel in 1243, and the Dominican community in Cork supplied the friars for the new priory in Cashel, which was dedicated to Saint Dominic.

As Primate of Munster, the archbishop ordered the Bishop of Limerick to resign, accusing him of simony, illegitimacy and ignorance, a decision eventually enforced by the Pope.

King Henry III wrote to the Archbishops of Dublin and Cashel in 1250, asking that the Crusades be preached in Ireland and to allow royal officials to collect money for the Crusades. He also told the Archbishop of Cashel that after the publication of the Pope’s letters, which Walter Maunsel is bringing to the archbishop, it is placed in the custody of the Friars Preachers of Cashel.

The archbishop died on 2 March 1253 and was buried in a chapel in the cathedral on the Rock of Cashel. Some sources suggest that the carving of the bishop now on Miler McGrath’s tomb was originally on the tomb of Archbishop McKelly.

Cashel Abbey was rebuilt by Archbishop John Cantwell of Cashel at his own expense in 1480 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Irish Dominicans held their provincial chapter in Cashel on 30 June 1256. The monastery church was expanded around 1270, and provincial chapters were held there again in 1289 and 1307.

John O’Grady, Archbishop of Cashel, was buried in the abbey on 15 July 1394.

After a fire destroyed the abbey, perhaps during an armed conflict, it was rebuilt and refurbished by John Cantwell, Archbishop of Cashel, at his own expense in 1480. Archbishop Cantwell was named both patron and co-founder of the abbey in a document signed at a chapter meeting in Limerick ca 1480. The chapter also declared that Cantwell and all assisting his work would be beneficiaries of all the prayers of the Dominicans in Ireland.

At the Dissolution of the monastic houses at the Reformation, Edward Brown, the last Prior of Cashel, surrendered Cashel Priory on the Vigil of Easter, 8 April 1540. Cashel Priory was then leased to Peter Kelly and Walter Fleming. It included a church and belfry, a dormitory, a chamber with two cellars, a cemetery, two orchards, and two parks or gardens containing two acres.

A court sitting in 1541 found that the priory buildings had been sold, and that other possessions of the priory included an orchard, three gardens and a cemetery, as well as nine tenements or cottages with six gardens within the precinct, and two messuages with four gardens outside of it. The convent precinct or the walled site and surrounding gardens extended to two acres. By comparison, Trim Priory in Co Meath had four acres, while Waterford Priory had only half an acre.

Saint Dominic’s was granted to Walter Fleming, a merchant of Cashel, in 1543-1544 for £46 and an annual rent of half a crown (2/6) in Irish money.

Cashel Priory was once regarded as the most beautiful Dominican building in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

In its day, Cashel Priory was regarded as the most beautiful Dominican building in Ireland. What remains today are the massive central tower and the main walls with traceried windows in the east and west gables and in the south transept. These windows were probably inserted in the 15th century, during the rebuilding.

The priory church, was dedicated to Saint Dominic, survives in its entirety, including the south transept and side aisle. The south transept was built in 1270.

The abbey is quasi-cruciform in plan with a high tower over the crossing. It has only one aisle and transept.

In the mid-13th century, a ‘Cashel School’ of masons was active, with a single mason’s mark identified in five of the most important buildings built in the mid-13th century: Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, Cashel Cathedral, Athassel Priory, Youghal and Cashel Priories. Cashel Cathedral and Dominican priory share similar design features, suggesting the same work force was employed on both.

The priory was rebuilt by John Cantwell in 1480, when the central tower was added. During the 15th century renovations, the great east window was replaced. Notable features include the nine lancet windows in the choir, and the 15th-century windows that were inserted in place of 13th-century lancets in the choir, transept and west wall of the nave. These are four- and five-light windows with curvilinear tracery in the choir and the transept, and a four-light window with modified switch-line tracery and round-headed sub-arches in the west wall of the nave.

The south wall of the east section had nine lancet windows, but today only their pillars remain. The north wall in this section shows traces of niche tombs.

A niche in the north wall of the nave has two carved figures. One shows an infant standing, with his arms bent and his hands on his stomach; the slab is broken and the feet are missing. His eyes are closed. The other figure is a head that may have a crown; no face features survive.

Some corbels on the outer side of the north wall may be the remains of the former cloister.

The original 13th century windows were replaced in the late 15th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

After the Reformation, distinguished members of the Dominican community in Cashel included a Father Hackett, who was theologian to Cardinal Emilio Bonaventura Altieri (1590-1676), later Pope Clement X (1670-1676). Hackett is said to have been ‘so humble and poor in spirit’ that he refused to accept a bishopric.

Patrick Hackett, of the same community, studied at Louvain and was later Prior of Cashel.

Dominic Kent from Cashel became Lecturer in Philosophy in Louvain later became a chaplain in the French army. He returned to Louvain, where he died in 1703.

William O’Dwyer studied theology in Portugal and also taught philosophy in Louvain. Back in Ireland, he became Prior of Waterford and was later an army chaplain. He then went to Rome and to Portugal and died at Civita Vecchia.

Mark Boyton studied in Louvain and Cremona, and became a distinguished preacher in Italy, where he was the confessor of the Princess de Vaudimont. He died in Milan in 1704.

Peter Butler studied in Louvain and then became a parish priest in the diocese of Poitou in France. When his father died, he received permission to join the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine.

Peter O’Mulyran from Cashel studied at Louvain and in Spain, and became Prior of Waterford. He later lived in exile at Rouen in France. Anthony Kent studied at Louvain and Tours and spent two years as a French army chaplain. James Stapleton studied in Louvain and became an army chaplain.

Thomas de Burgo, in his Hibernia Dominicana in 1755, described the Dominican houses in Cashel and Ballindoon as the best preserved of all Dominican monasteries in Ireland.

Five Dominican priests were still attached to the convent in Cashel in 1756. But there was only one remaining friar by 1800. The last Dominican in Cashel, Father John Conway, was still there in 1850, without a priory. He was first recorded in Cashel in 1829, later recorded as ‘Prior of Cashel’ in 1844 and 1848, and Prior of Thurles in 1846-1847, although there was no Dominican house in Thurles. He died in Cashel sometime between 1863 and 1866.

John Conway, the last titular Prior of Cashel, died in the 1860s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Cashel Cathedral, the
Georgian replacement
for the Rock of Cashel

The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Patrick’s Rock in Cashel … one of just two Anglican cathedrals built in Ireland and Britain in the 18th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

After visiting the Rock of Cashel on Monday afternoon [28 October 2019], I walked through the centre of Cashel and visited the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Patrick’s Rock, the Church of Ireland cathedral in Cashel and one of the six cathedrals in the United Dioceses of Cashel Ferns and Ossory.

The cathedral forms a nationally important campus with the library, gates and gate lodge. The tall spire makes the cathedral visible from afar and is an imposing part of the townscape of Cashel.

The Church of Ireland continued to use the mediaeval Gothic cathedral on the Rock of Cashel until 1749, when the site was finally abandoned by Archbishop Arthur Price (1744-1752) and the cathedral roof was removed.

The Privy Council by order on 10 June 1749 made the parish church of Saint John the Baptist the new cathedral of the Diocese of Cashel and renaming it the Cathedral and Parochial Church of Saint Patrick’s Rock and Saint John the Baptist.

However, Price’s successor, Archbishop John Whitcomb (1752-1753), was enthroned in both cathedrals in 1752. Nevertheless, the old parish church was razed, the foundation stone of a new cathedral was laid in 1763, and the present Gregorian Cathedral was opened on Christmas Day 1783. It was finally completed in 1788, largely due to the efforts of Archbishop Charles Agar (1779-1801), later Archbishop of Dublin (1801-1809) and 1st Earl of Normanton.

This is one of just two Anglican cathedrals built in Ireland and Britain in the 18th century, the other being Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford. It is said to have been designed by Sir Richard Morrison (1767-1849), but the names of the architects of the main building remain unknown.

The spire was added by William Vitruvius Morrison in 1812 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Georgian style of the cathedral is seen in the regular form, the hipped roof and the round-headed openings, as well as the incorporation of Classical elements such as the aedicule, pediment and pilasters. Indeed, its Classical elegance makes no concessions to the mediaeval past.

The cathedral is built of grey stone, and it has arched windows and a cushioned frieze supported by Ionic pilasters which, however, are omitted on the opposite, less conspicuous, south side.

The curiously unfinished south side of the entrance front, and the different elevations to the long north and south walls, are all of particular interest and perhaps reflect a desire to lavish attention on the parts of the building immediately visible on the approach from John Street.

A monument on the front wall of building is a composite of a mediaeval crucifixion plaque and an heraldic plaque (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A monument on the front wall of building is a composite of a mediaeval crucifixion plaque and an heraldic plaque with later details.

The spire was added in 1812 by Sir Richard Morrison’s son, William Vitruvius Morrison (1794-1838), who was born in Clonmel, Co Tipperary. The chancel was remodelled in a gilded elaborate Italian Romanesque style by William Atkins.

Although the building is plain outside, it has a pleasant Georgian-style interior, and there is fine stone crafting throughout the building, and the organ was built by Samuel Green in 1786. However, the original interior was remodelled in 1867, and little of it remains apart from the west gallery with its stalls. An unusual legacy of the Victorian reordering is that is one of the few cathedrals with two sets of chapter stalls.

The cathedral stands in a graveyard and on the site of the mediaeval parish church with a variety of mediaeval effigies and grave-slabs, and a fine collection of elaborate limestone tombs.

The Chapter House beside the cathedral once housed the Bolton Library (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Until February 2016, the 19th century Chapter House beside the cathedral was home to the GPA Bolton Library, with a rare collection of books and manuscripts.

The library was founded by Archbishop Theophilus Bolton (1730-1744). The library’s greatest treasures came from the collection of Archbishop William King of Dublin, who had been Bolton’s mentor and who was said to have been the most learned and widely read man of his time.

King had been Bishop of Derry from 1690 to 1703 when he became Archbishop of Dublin. His best-known publication, De Origine Mali (1702) is said to have inspired Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man. Soon after King’s death in 1729, Bolton acquired the bulk of his benefactor’s extensive library.

The library was originally housed in the Long Room, beside the Archbishops’ Palace, built by Archbishop Bolton in 1830. It suffered some damage from soldiers quartered there during the 1798 rebellion, but it survived this and other crises without further incident.

The remains of a mediaeval monument in front of the former Bolton Library (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Henry Cotton, who became Archdeacon of Cashel in 1824, had been the sub-librarians of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, for nine years, and published his Typographical Gazetteer in the year his came to Cashel. Until he died in 1879, he devoted much of the rest of his life to writing and to working in the library in Cashel.

Cotton was alarmed by government plans in the 1830s to suppress the Archbishopric of Cashel. He encouraged the clergy of the diocese to build a new library and chapter house in the grounds of the cathedral. The library moved to its new home in 1837.

Sadly, the books in the library were suffering from the effects of being in a building never designed to provide them with the right conditions. In order to restore and conserve the collection, the Bolton Library was transferred to the University of Limerick in 2016.

The cathedral perimeter walls and Agar’s Lane, leading to the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Saint John the Baptist (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The cathedral perimeter walls date from the 13th century and part of the limestone boundary wall incorporates part of the mediaeval town wall.

Agar’s Lane was built by Archbishop Agar in 1795 to provide access between the cathedral and the new Roman Catholic Parish Church of Saint John the Baptist, built in 1772-1804 on the site of the former Franciscan Friary on Friar Street and re-fronted in 1850.

Archaeological excavations in 1999-2000 uncovered the original cobbled surface of the laneway.

The Cashel Palace Hotel is being refurbished and rebuilt (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The cathedral looks down John Street towards the centre of the town and the Cashel Palace Hotel, built as his episcopal palace by Archbishop Bolton in 1730. It was designed by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce (1699-1733) and was once the home of the Archbishops of Cashel.

Two Mulberry trees in the gardens are said to date from the reign of Queen Mary.

The palace was once one of the finest houses in Ireland. The palace and its gardens were sold in 1959 and it became the Cashel Palace Hotel in 1962. The hotel is now being refurbished and rebuilt and it was not possible to visit it this week.

The Very Revd Gerald Field has been the Dean of Cashel since 2014, the Precentor is the Dean of Waterford, the Very Revd Maria Jansson, the Chancellor is the Dean of Lismore, the Very Revd Paul Draper, and the Treasurer is Canon Patrick Harvey.

The Cashel Group of Parishes also includes the Church of the Holy Spirit, Mogorban, Saint Mary’s Church, Tipperary, Saint Sedna’s Church, Clonbeg, and Saint Mary’s Church, Ballintemple (Dundrum).

The Roman Catholic Cathedral for the diocese is the Cathedral of the Assumption, Thurles, Co Tipperary, designed by JJ McCarthy and built in 1865-1879.

The cathedral was completed in 1788, largely due to the efforts of Archbishop Charles Agar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

29 October 2019

An afternoon in the cathedral
and Cormac’s Chapel on
top of the Rock of Cashel

The Rock of Cashel, including the cathedral Cormac’s Chapel and the Hall of the Vicars Choral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

One the journey from Askeaton to Dublin earlier this week [28 October 2019], two of us stopped to visit the Rock of Cashel, also known as Cashel of the Kings and as Saint Patrick’s Rock.

At one time, Cashel was regarded as the jewel among Irish church buildings. As a child, this was one of the favourite places to bring us to break the long journey between Cappoquin and Dublin, and those childhood visits to Cashel fostered an early appreciation of church history, archaeology and architecture.

The Rock of Cashel is one of Ireland’s most spectacular archaeological sites, a prominent green hill, banded with limestone outcrops, rising from a grassy plain and bristling with ancient fortifications. It is a five-minute stroll from the centre of Cashel up to the Rock, which offers dramatic views that stretch out across the countryside of the Golden Vale, the Suir Valley and much of Co Tipperary.

Although little remains of the early structures, Cashel still is one of the most remarkable collections of Celtic art and mediaeval architecture anywhere in Europe, and in their architecture the buildings display both Hiberno-Romanseque and Germanic influences.

The Cathedral, Tower and Saint Patrick’s Cross on the Rock of Cashel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

According to myth and lore, the Rock of Cashel was formed in the Devil’s Bit, a mountain 30 km north of Cashel, when Saint Patrick is said to have banished Satan from a cave, with the Rock landing in Cashel. Saint Patrick is said to have converted the King of Munster at Cashel in the fifth century.

According to these traditions, Saint Patrick baptised King Aengus at Cashel. During this Baptism, supposedly on the site of Saint Patrick’s Cross, it is said, the sharp point of Saint Patrick’s crozier pieced the foot of Aengus, but the young King of Munster believed this was an essential part of the ceremony and suffered in silence throughout the service.

However, the Rock of Cashel was probably a centre of power from the fourth century, and by the fifth century the Eóganacht dynasty, descended from Eógan Mór, had come to prominence in the region. For several hundred years, the Rock of Cashel was the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster.

Over time, the Eóganacht dynasties spread throughout Munster, and until the tenth century, Eóganacht kings alone were eligible to be chosen as Kings of Munster. A number of these Kings of Cashel also held senior Church posts simultaneously.

However, the Eóganacht rulers were ousted from Cashel in the tenth century by the Kings of Dál Cais, then based in Killaloe, Co Clare. Brian Boru succeeded his brother King of Cashel in 978, and he later became the first King of Munster to be acclaimed as High King of Ireland when he became king at Tara in 1002. He was killed at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.

His descendant, Muirchertach Ua Briain, King of Munster, donated his fortress on the Rock of Cashel to the Church in 1101. At one and the same time, he advanced his credibility as a promoter of Church reforms and deprived his rivals in the Eóganacht dynasty of their ancient royal seat as Kings of Munster.

By then, Cashel had a large cathedral. Its status was enhanced at the Synod of Ráith Breasaill in 1111, when Ireland was divided into territorial dioceses, Cashel become the seat of the Archbishops of Cashel and the centre of one of the southern ecclesiastical provinces. At the Synod of Kells in 1152, Cashel became the primatial see of the Province of Munster.

The majority of buildings on the plateau date from the 12th and 13th centuries or later (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Although the Rock of Cashel was the seat of the High Kings of Munster, there is little structural evidence of their presence here, and the majority of the buildings on the plateau date from the 12th and 13th centuries or later.

This spectacular group of mediaeval buildings on top of the outcrop of limestone include: the 12th century Round Tower; the Romanesque Cormac’s Chapel; the 13th century Gothic cathedral; the 15th century castle; and the restored Hall of the Vicars Choral.

The site also includes a High Cross and graves of historical interest.

The Round Tower is complete right up to its conical roof (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

1, The Round Tower:

The Round Tower is the oldest and tallest of the buildings on the Rock and dates from ca 1101. It is well preserved, is 28 metres high, and is complete right up to its conical roof.

The entrance is 3.7 metre above the ground because of the shallow foundation that is typical of round towers.

The tower was built using the dry stone method. Modern conservationists have filled in some of the tower with mortar for safety reasons.

King Cormac Mac Carthaigh began building Cormac’s Chapel in 1127, and it was consecrated in 1134 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

2, Cormac’s Chapel:

Cormac’s Chapel is one of the earliest and finest churches in Ireland built in the Romanesque style. The story of this church is rooted in the disputes between the dynasties competing for political control of Munster in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Despite the political strength of the family of Brian Boru, a branch of the Eóganacht dynasty, the Mac Cárthaigh or MacCarthy family, based in Desmond or South Munster, regain some power in the early 12th century, and Cormac Mac Cárthaigh made Cashel his new power base.

King Cormac Mac Carthaigh began building Cormac’s Chapel in 1127, and the chapel was consecrated in 1134. It is a sophisticated structure, with vaulted ceilings and wide arches, drawing on contemporary European architecture and infusing unique native elements.

The chancel and altar recess in Cormac’s Chapel, which was built in 1127-1134 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Irish Abbot of Regensburg, Dirmicius of Regensburg, sent two of his carpenters to help in the building project, and the twin towers on either side of the junction of its nave and chancel are strongly suggestive of their Germanic influence.

The chapel consists of a nave and chancel, with projecting towers on the north and south walls of the nave. There are doors in the north and south walls of the nave, and the nave and chancel have connecting attic chambers or crofts above their vaulted ceilings.

The chapel has many unusual features that find parallels in England and on Continental Europe. These include the string courses and blind arcades on the internal and external walls, which are seen mist clearly on the south-facing sandstone façade.

The south door with its carved tympanum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Another Romanesque feature is the arched doorway of three orders, with an animal carved on the tympanum.

The south door is not as impressive as the larger, more ornate original main entrance doorway on the north side. The carved tympanum above the north door shows a large lion being hunted by small centaur with a bow and arrow and wearing a Norman-style helmet. This entrance originally faced onto an open space, but it was later hemmed in by the cathedral.

Inside, above the blind arcading in the nave, there is a plain barrel-vaulted roof with ribs. Towards the east end of the nave, openings in north and south walls lead into the towers. The spiral stairs in the south wall leads up to the crofts above. The larger and more ornate opening on the north side leads into the ground floor room of the north tower, which may have served as a side chapel.

Light originally poured into the chapel from three windows at the west end, but they were later blocked partly by the south transept of the cathedral.

The chancel is almost square in plan, with an externally projecting altar recess at the east end. The chancel arch, of four orders, has finely carved pillars and capitals.

Cormac’s Chapel has some of the earliest and best-preserved Irish frescoes from their time (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The chapel has some of the earliest and best-preserved Irish frescoes from their time. These include a possible depiction of the Visit of the Magi, and another of the Baptism of Christ. Much of the colour was obscured for centuries and only became visible after painstaking cleaning and conservation work in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Scandinavian-style sarcophagus was moved to the chapel from the cathedral in 1875 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The ornate but damaged sarcophagus at the west end of the chapel is decorated with inter-twined beasts and snakes in a Scandinavian style. It dates from the same period as the chapel, but it was moved from the cathedral to the chapel in 1875.

Cormac’s Chapel was built primarily of sandstone. This became water-logged over the centuries, damaging the interior frescoes. Restoration and preservation required the chapel be completely enclosed in a rain-proof structure with interior dehumidifiers to dry out the stone.

Inside the early 13th century cathedral, built between 1230 and 1270 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

3, The Cathedral:

The first cathedral may have been built on the site in the early 12th century and rebuilt by Domnall Mór O Brien in 1169. But no remains of this cathedral survive: it was demolished in the early 13th century to make way for a new cathedral, built between 1230 and 1270. This is a large, cruciform, Gothic church without aisles but with a central tower and terminating at the west in a massive residential castle.

The cathedral was fitted in crudely between three earlier features: the Round Tower, Cormac’s Chapel, and a rock-cut well. There are no surviving records of the building of the cathedral in the 13th century, and the evidence for its dating comes from its architectural details.

Archbishop Marianus Ua Briain (1224-1238), or his successor, Archbishop David mac Cellaig Ó Gilla Pátraic (1238-1253) probably began building the choir, which may have been completed by Archbishop David Mac Carwill (1253-1289).

Archbishop Richard O Hedian (1406-1440) was probably responsible for major alterations to the cathedral in the first half of the 15th century, when parapets were added as well as the tower at the west end of the nave. An extensive collection of stone heads was used on capitals, label stops and corbels both inside and outside the building.

The High Altar was placed at the east end of the Choir. The lower section of the of the three-light east window is all that survives at the East End. The style of the tall lancet windows on the north and south walls help to date this part of the building to the 1230s. Between the tops of these windows are small quatrefoil windows.

The original carved stone in the choir is of sandstone, in contrast to the limestone used for the fine carving in the later, remaining part of the cathedral.

The wall tomb of Archbishop Miler Magrath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The south wall of the choir has a piscina, the remains of a damaged sedilia, and the wall tomb of the notorious pluralist Miler Magrath, Roman Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor (1565-1680), and Church of Ireland Archbishop of Cashel (1570-1622), Bishop of Clogher (1570-1571), Bishop of Waterford and Lismore (1582-1589, 1592-1608), and Bishop of Killala and Achonry (1613-1622), as well as holding 77 livings or parishes.

The east walls in both the North Transept and South Transept have large, three-light windows, which were lowered in height in the 15th century. There are two chapels off the east side of the North Transept, each with an east gable and a two-light window. The chapels on the east side of South Transept are shallower, restricted in size because of the Cormac’s Chapel to the east of this transept.

The arches of the crossing date from the 13th century. The ribbed vault in the centre was rebuilt in 1875. The upper part of the tower and the parapets at the top of the tower walls date from the period when the cathedral was remodelled in the 15th century.

The cathedral nave is unusually short, compared with the lengthy choir, although a longer nave may have been planned, with north and south doors midway along the nave.

The castle or residential tower built in the 15th or 16th century occupies the space of the whole west end of the original nave (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

4, The Castle:

The castle or residential tower was built in the 15th or 16th century, and involved almost the total rebuilding of the walls. This structure occupies the space of the whole west end of the original nave.

The porch on the south side provides the main entrance to the cathedral, and has a groin-vaulted ceiling.

There may have been a corresponding porch on the north side, but it has not survived.

The Hall of the Vicars Choral seen from the south door of the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

5, The Hall of the Vicars Choral:

Archbishop Richard O Hedian (1406-1440), who carried out major alterations to the cathedral in the 15th century, also endowed the Vicars Choral with lands and built their hall on the south side of the cathedral in first half of the 15th century.

The vicars choral were minor canons and sometimes laymen who assisted in singing the liturgies in the cathedral. Originally the cathedral in Cashel had eight vicars choral. They were later reduced in number to five honorary vicars choral who appointed singing-men as their deputies, a system that continued until 1836.

Inside the Hall of the Vicars Choral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The upper level of the hall comprised the main living toom of the vicars choral, with a large fireplace in the south wall.

The Hall was restored by the Office of Public Works in 1975 as part of the European Architectural Heritage Year, and is now used as the visitors’ entrance. The vaulted undercroft beneath the hall contains a collection of stone sculpture from the Rock, and the original, 12th century, Saint Patrick’s Cross to protect it from the weather.

The original Saint Patrick’s Cross is in the Vicars’ Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

6, The Crosses:

Although the original Saint Patrick’s Cross is in the Vicars’ Hall, a replica stands between the Hall of the Vicars Choral and the cathedral. This cross is unusual as an Irish High Cross because it does not have a ring around the cross and because it has subsidiary supports at each side of the cross.

On one side is a figure of the Crucified Christ, clad in a full-length robe. On the other side is a bishop or an abbot. It was once believed that the base of the cross was used as the inauguration stone of the Kings of Cashel, but the base was quarried and worked along the cross.

Scully’s Cross, one of the largest and most famous high crosses on the Rock, was originally eretced in 1867 to commemorate the Scully family. It was destroyed in 1976 when lightning struck a metal rod that ran the length of the cross. The remains of the top of the cross now lie at the base, beside the rock wall.

The cathedral was sacked in 1647 and unroofed in 1749 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Later History:

During the Irish Confederate Wars in the mid-17th century, Cashel was sacked by Parliamentarian troops under Murrough O'Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin, in 1647 The Irish Confederate troops there were massacred, as were the Catholic clergy, including Theobald Stapleton. Inchiquin’s troops looted or destroyed many important religious artefacts.

The chancel was repaired in 1667, and the tower was reroofed in 1674. Cormac’s Chapel was used as the Chapter House, and its upper floors were used as a school.

Archbishop Theophilus Bolton (1733-1744) attempted some restoration work, and the cathedral continued to be used by the Church of Ireland until 1749. However, the site was abandoned and the main roof of the cathedral was removed by Arthur Price, Archbishop of Cashel (1744-1752) in 1749. His decision to remove the roof has been criticised ever since.

Saint John’s Church in Cashel town then became the cathedral of the Diocese of Cashel and is now known as the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Patrick’s Rock, although Price’s successor, Archbishop John Whitcomb (1752-1753) was enthroned in both cathedrals.

At the reorganisation of the Church of Ireland in the early 19th century, the Archbishops of Cashel became the Bishops of Cashel, and the its metropolitan status was transferred to Dublin.

The old cathedral gradually fell into decay in the 18th and 19th centuries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The old cathedral on the Rock remained party roofed for a time, but it gradually fell into decay. By 1848, the roof and residential tower had collapsed, and most of the gable of the choir had fallen.

At the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869, Cashel, like many other disused church ruins and sites, became state property, and the first conservation work was carried out in 1875.

The Hall of the Vicars Choral was excavated, reroofed and restored in 1975, and the dormitory was restored in the 1980s. Conservation work, including the wall paintings in the chancel, continues in Cormac’s Chapel.

The entire plateau on which the buildings and graveyard lie is walled. In the grounds around the buildings an extensive graveyard includes a number of high crosses. Today, what remains of the Rock of Cashel has become a tourist attraction, with an audiovisual show and exhibitions. Queen Elizabeth II visited the Rock of Cashel during her visit to Ireland in 2011.

The Rock of Cashel looks out across the Golden Vale of Co Tipperary and Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Services in November 2019 in
Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin
Group of Parishes

Christ the King depicted in the World War I memorial window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Friday 1 November (All Saints’ Day):

11 a.m.: Holy Communion, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, followed by coffee

Readings: Daniel 7: 1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1: 11-23; Luke 6: 20-31

459: ‘For all the saints, who from their labours rest’ (CD 27)
468: ‘How shall I sing that majesty’ (CD 2, Church Hymnal discs)

Sunday 3 November (IV before Advent):

9.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton
11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tarbert

Readings: Habakkuk 1: 1-4, 2: 1-4; Psalm 119: 137-144; II Thessalonians 1: 1-4, 11-12; Luke 19: 1-10

421, I come with joy, a child of God (CD 25)
509, Your kingdom come, O God (CD 29)
639, O thou who camest from above (CD 36)

Sunday 10 November (III before Advent, Remembrance Sunday):

9.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Castletown Church

Readings: Haggai 1: 15b to 2: 9; Psalm 145: 1-5, 18-22; II Thessalonians 2: 1-5, 13-17; Luke 20: 27-38

226, It is a thing most wonderful (CD 14)
358, King of glory, King of peace (CD 21)
494, Beauty for brokenness (CD 29)

11.30 a.m.: Remembrance Sunday Commemoration, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale

Readings: Revelation 1: 1-7; John 15: 9-17

62: Abide with me (CD 4)
647: Guide me, O thou great Jehovah (CD 37)
537: O God, our help in ages past (CD 31)
494, Beauty for brokenness (CD 29)

During the visit of the Bishops of the Church of Ireland to the Dioceses of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert, and Tuam, Killala and Achonry, parishioners are invited to meet the bishops as they visit groups of parishes, and in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick:

Saturday 16 November:

5 p.m.: Choral Evensong, Saint Mary’s Cathedral, with bishops, clergy, readers and parishioners. Followed by buffet meal in Cathedral for all.

Sunday 17 November (II before Advent):

9.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Nicholas Church, Adare, Co Limerick (with Bishop John McDowell of Clogher)
9.45 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Ballyseedy Church.
10.45 a.m.: Holy Communion, Saint John’s, Tralee.
12 noon: Morning Prayer, Ballymacelligott Church (Bishop Ferran Glenfield of Kilmore is visiting the Tralee and Kilcolman groups of parishes).

Sunday 24 November (The Kingship of Christ):

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Castletown Church
11.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale

Readings: Jeremiah 23: 1-6; The Canticle Benedictus; Colossians 1: 11-20; Luke 23: 33-43

20, The King of Love my shepherd is (CD 1)
431, Lord enthroned in heavenly splendour (CD 26)
259, Christ triumphant, ever reigning (CD 16, Castletown only)
429, Lord Jesus Christ, you have come to us (CD 25, Rathkeale only)

Sunday 1 December (Advent Sunday):

9.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton (with Bishop Kenneth Kearon).
11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert (with Bishop Kenneth Kearon).

28 October 2019

When Greece said ‘No’
to fascism and oppression

The Greek flag flies on boat off the island of Paxos in the Ionian Islands (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Ohi Day or Oxi Day (Επέτειος του «'Οχι»), celebrated throughout Greece and Cyprus and by Greek communities around the world on 28 October each year.

Ohi Day commemorates the day the Greek Prime Minister, Ioannis Metaxas, rejected the ultimatum from the Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini on 28 October 1940. This day also recalls the Greek counter-attack against invading Italian forces in the mountains of Pindus during World War II, and the Greek Resistance during the war to occupying Italians and Germans.

Mussolini’s ultimatum was presented to Metaxas by the Italian ambassador to Greece, Emanuele Grazzi, around 3 a.m. on the morning of 28 October 1940.

Mussolini demanded Greece would allow Axis forces to enter Greek territory and occupy strategic locations – or face war. It is said Metaxas replied with a one-word laconic response: Όχι (No!).

Putting popular myth aside, the actual reply was in French: ‘Alors, c’est la guerre!’ (‘Then it is war!’).

The moment provides the background for a dramatic but humorous scene in the movie Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, set on the Ionian island of Kephallonia, making Ohi Day well-known around the world.

In an immediate response to Metaxas’s ‘No’, Italian troops based in Albania attacked the Greek border two hours later at 5.30 a.m. That ‘No!’ brought Greece into World War II on the side of the Allies. Indeed, for a period, Greece was Britain’s only ally against Hitler.

Without that ‘No,’ some historians argue, World War II could have lasted much longer. One theory is that had Greece surrendered without any resistance, Hitler could have invaded Russia the following spring, rather than his disastrous attempt to capture it during winter.

On this morning 79 years ago, 28 October 1940, Greek people of all political persuasions took to the streets in masses, shouting «'Οχι», ‘No!’ From 1942, this day was celebrated as Ohi Day, first within the resistance and then after the war by all Greeks.

The Battle of Crete and the extra resources required to subdue Greece drained and distracted Nazi Germany from its efforts on other war fronts.

The Greek flag flying with the Byzantine flag at a monastery in Meteora (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Today, Ohi Day is a public holiday in Greece and Cyprus. The events of 1940 are commemorated with military and student parades, public buildings are decorated with Greek flags, there folk dances, and Greek Orthodox churches hold special services. Coastal towns may have naval parades or other celebrations on the seafront. In Thessaloniki, reverence is also paid to the city’s patron, Saint Dimitrios, and the city celebrates its freedom from Turkey.

There are traffic delays, especially near parade routes, some streets are blocked off, and most archaeological sites are closed for the day, along with most businesses and services.

In Dublin, Ochi Day and the fallen were marked at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning [27 October 2019], during the Divine Liturgy in the Greek Orthodox Church in Dublin, and in the afternoon at a holiday dinner in the Mykonos Restaurant on Dame Street.

In the West, politicians are always happy to credit ancient Greece with the development of democracy. But in the present crises in Europe, when Greece is often seen as a burden rather than a partner, it may be worth remembering that Europe owes modern Greece an unacknowledged debt for helping to preserve democracy against the Nazis and Fascists during World War II.

The Greek flag with Church flags at a church in Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A report on Lichfield
lecture on the Comberfords
of Lichfield and Tamworth

With Mike Pearson (right) of Lichfield Civic Society and Dr David Biggs, chair of Tamworth and District Civic Society in Lichfield last month

Patrick Comerford

I was in Lichfield last month [17 September 2019], at the invitation of Lichfield Civic Society, to speak to speak about the Comberford family and its roots in the Lichfield and Tamworth area.

The website of Lichfield Civic Society in recent days has posted this report by Roger Hockney of that meeting and lecture:

Many of us have dabbled in ancestry research. Perhaps skeletons have emerged from the cupboard? Patrick Comerford had no skeletons to reveal when he made a return visit for our September meeting to talk about his family history but, nonetheless, he gave us a fascinating insight into the lives of a well-established local Staffordshire family. Comberford Hall, close to the Tamworth-Elford road and the River Tame is a Grade II listed Georgian house. The Moat House in Lichfield Street, Tamworth is much older; its roots may go back as far as the thirteenth century. Both properties were closely associated with the history of the Comberfords (not Comerfords – read on for an explanation!).

The Comberfords can trace their roots back to Alan de Comberford who was in possession of the Moat House around the mid-1300s. A family of growing influence, they diligently assembled land and property to become significant landowners in the area. Their wealth was reflected in bequests at this time to St Editha’s Church in Tamworth and to the Franciscan Friary in Lichfield. Land and property was also acquired in nearby Chesterfield and Wiggington. So, by the sixteenth century, the family were sufficiently influential for John Comberford to be elected both as an MP and as a member of the Guild in Lichfield. The Guild, Patrick explained, comprised the wealthy city merchants and was effectively the ‘local government’ of the City of Lichfield. In 1530 Humphrey Comberford was the Master of the Guild – in effect the City Mayor.

The Comberfords were also involved with Lichfield Cathedral. Henry Comberford was a precentor there in 1555. His Catholic views never left him and as a ‘recusant’ (a secret Roman Catholic) he was eventually dismissed for ‘lewd preaching’. For ‘lewd’, we need to understand that his sermons were seen to incline too much towards the Catholic faith. During the Civil War the Comberfords sided with the Royalists; and Col William Comberford and his nephew, another William, were present during the siege of Lichfield Cathedral. Indeed, Col William was very active in skirmishes around both Lichfield and Tamworth. Patrick told us that, cannily, William transferred his properties to a Trust to ensure that they were not forfeit upon the defeat of the Royalist cause. A member of the Trust was John Dyott; a name familiar to us all.

The family continued to live quietly with their lands and property during the Restoration period but, by the eighteenth century, their fortunes declined and their properties (including Comberford Hall and The Moat House) were sold. So, how does Patrick relate to this history? He comes from Ireland, not from Staffordshire. Why did he become interested in a Lichfield family? Perhaps the ‘skeleton in the cupboard’ is that his Irish branch of the family (without the ‘b’ in the name) is distantly related through the connections that Patrick is only now uncovering. From his work so far there is certainly a crossover in heraldic history between both sides of the family; and members of both sides of the family view themselves as related. Perhaps Patrick will uncover yet more information to corroborate his theories.

Patrick’s research adds another piece to the interlocking jigsaw of relationships between Lichfield families, many of whom we have learned about from previous presentations.

27 October 2019

‘So, Lord, reserve for me a crown,
And do not let my shares go down’

‘In Westminster Abbey’ by John Betjeman is a dramatic monologue that retells one part of the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 27 October 2019

The Fifth Sunday before Advent

11.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Readings: Joel 2: 23-32; Psalm 65; II Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18; Luke 18: 9-14.

The Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18: 9-14) … a stained glass window in Saint Michael’s Church, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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

The readings this morning are reminders that the call to pray is a call that embraces all, and that freedom brings with it freedom to give praise to God, and to pray to God.

In the Old Testament reading (Joel 2: 23-32), we are reminded that ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (Joel 2: 32).

In the Psalm (Psalm 65), God is described as the one who answers prayer and who forgives all. Even those who live at the farthest ends of the earth (Psalm 65: 7), the most marginalised and isolated of people, are invited to give praise to God and can know his blessings.

In the New Testament reading (II Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18), Saint Paul reminds his readers that ‘the crown of righteousness’ he looks forward to receiving is accessible ‘to all who have longed for his appearing’ (II Timothy 4: 8) and the good news of the Gospel should be brought to ‘all the Gentiles’ (II Timothy 4: 17).

But down through time, it has been difficult to get this message across within communities of faith. When Christ tells the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, his listeners are amazed that the publican’s prayer could be respected and heard. In turning the tables, we now find it difficult to listen to the prayer of the Pharisee.

In allowing ourselves to be dismissive of the prayers of one group of people, are we trying to compensate for the inadequacies of our own prayer lives? Yet, our readings ask us to consider once again that all are invited into a prayer life that sets the foundation for a relationship with God. And entering into that prayer life is less about its quality and more about accepting the invitation.

This parable and the prayers of the Pharisee and the Publican (or the tax collector) are interesting ways to examine our own approaches to prayer. In this parable, Christ teaches the disciples to pray not by giving words but by giving examples of how others pray. But perhaps we can we be too quick to say that we are presented with one good example and one bad example.

As the story unfolds, they would have identified with the Pharisee – they would want to pray like him, they may even have prayed with him. And as the story unfolds, who would they prefer to head off with after the morning prayers for coffee – undoubtedly the Pharisee.

The Pharisee and the Publican each prays for himself, each bares himself before God. The Pharisee gives thanks to God. He prays. In fact, by all the current standards of and means of measuring Jewish piety, he is a good man. Look at what he tells God and us about himself.

First of all, he thanks God that he is not like other people. The Morning Prayer for Orthodox Jewish men, to this day, includes a prayer with these words: ‘Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast not made me a gentile, … a slave, … a woman.’

Thanking God that I am not like others is not an expression of disdain for others; it is merely another, humble way of thanking God for being made the way we are, in God’s image and likeness. The Pharisee’s prayer is not unusual.

The Pharisee then goes on to tell God that he obeys all the commandments: he prays, he fasts and he tithes – in fact, he tithes more than he has to, and perhaps also fasts more often than he has to – and he gives generously to the poor. He more than meets all the requirements laid on him by the Mosaic law, and he goes beyond that. He is a charitable, kind and faithful man.

Anyone who saw him in the Temple and heard him pray would have gone away saying he was a good man, and a spiritual man.

But, despite attending to his responsibilities towards others, the Pharisee in this parable does not pray for the needs of others, in so far as we are allowed to eavesdrop on his prayers.

But then, neither does the publican pray for the needs of others.

So neither man is condemned for not being heard to pray for the needs of the other.

What marks the prayers of the Pharisee out from the prayers of the publican is that, in his prayers, the Pharisee expresses his disdain for the needs of others.

The parable of the Pharisee and the Publican is also a reminder that at times people may think that because they have sinned they should not pray.

But the story of the Pharisee (apparently good) and the Publican (apparently bad), tells us that the Pharisee prayed easily, while the publican could not even lift his eyes to heaven. Instead, the publican smote his breast and prayed: ‘Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.’

Jesus tells us it was the publican who ‘returned home justified’ not the Pharisee.

The publican wants to pray even when he feels guilty of sin.

We do not have to wait until we feel righteous, like a Pharisee, so that we can pray. Such prayer is almost useless. I know I can all too easily pray the Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner,’ more readily when I am feeling righteous than when I realise I am a sinner.

The error of the Pharisee is to confuse the means with the end. Acts of virtue or piety are meant to dispose our hearts towards communion with God, not turn us in on ourselves.

Religious feelings can be deceptive in the extreme. When I think I feel like praying, I may in fact be feeling ‘pious,’ and I may not be ready to pray at this stage. Instead, I may be preparing to be self-consumed and self-congratulatory about being a pious person of prayer.

A poem might help us to reflect on this Gospel reading.

‘In Westminster Abbey’ is one of John Betjeman’s most savage satires. This poem is a dramatic monologue, set during the early days of World War II, in which a woman enters Westminster Abbey to pray for a moment before hurrying off to ‘a luncheon date.’

She is not merely a chauvinistic nationalist, but also a racist, a snob and a hypocrite who is concerned more with how the war will affect her share portfolio than anything else. Her chauvinistic nationalism leads her to pray to God ‘to bomb the Germans’ … but ‘Don’t let anyone bomb me.’ But her social and ethical lapses are a product of her spiritual state, which is a direct result of her nation’s spiritual sickness.

She lets God know prayer and her relationship with God are low down her list of priorities:

Let me take this other glove off
As the vox humana swells,
And the beauteous fields of Eden
Bask beneath the Abbey bells.
Here, where England’s statesmen lie,
Listen to a lady’s cry.

Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans,
Spare their women for Thy Sake,
And if that is not too easy
We will pardon Thy Mistake.
But, gracious Lord, whate’er shall be,
Don’t let anyone bomb me.

Keep our Empire undismembered
Guide our Forces by Thy Hand,
Gallant blacks from far Jamaica,
Honduras and Togoland;
Protect them Lord in all their fights,
And, even more, protect the whites.

Think of what our Nation stands for,
Books from Boots’ and country lanes,
Free speech, free passes, class distinction,
Democracy and proper drains.
Lord, put beneath Thy special care
One-eighty-nine Cadogan Square.

Although dear Lord I am a sinner,
I have done no major crime;
Now I’ll come to Evening Service
Whensoever I have the time.
So, Lord, reserve for me a crown,
And do not let my shares go down.

I will labour for Thy Kingdom,
Help our lads to win the war,
Send white feathers to the cowards
Join the Women’s Army Corps,
Then wash the steps around Thy Throne
In the Eternal Safety Zone.

Now I feel a little better,
What a treat to hear Thy Word,
Where the bones of leading statesmen
Have so often been interr’d.
And now, dear Lord, I cannot wait
Because I have a luncheon date.

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

A contemporary icon of the Pharisee and the Publican praying in the Temple … who was good at praying, and who was a model for praying?

Luke 18: 9-14 (NRSVA):

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” 13 But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

‘I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth’ (Joel 2: 30) … sunset in Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical Colour: Green (Ordinary Time)

The Collect of the Day:

Blessed Lord,
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
Help us to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the blessed hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God of all grace,
your Son Jesus Christ fed the hungry
with the bread of his life and the word of his kingdom.
Renew your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness
sustain us by your true and living bread,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

A modern icon of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector


366, Praise, my soul, the King of heaven (CD 22)
712, Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord (CD 40)
630, Blessed are the pure in heart (CD 36)

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

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

The Pharisee and the Publican … who would you prefer to have coffee with this morning? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)