31 December 2019

The sun sets on a year
dominated by Trump,
Johnson and ‘Brexit’

Sunset at Pavlos Beach in Platanias, near Rethymnon, earlier this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The sun is setting on a year that seems to have been dominated by Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, a year in which the future course of these islands, politically, economically and socially, may have been changed indelibly by the ‘Brexit’ debate.

The political landscape has been altered so miserably that the only light political commentary that may be permissible at the end of this year is to recall that 2019 was also the 50th anniversary of the screening of the first Monty Python programme on the BBC.

The rise of anti-Semitism across the United States and Britain, and the rise of right-wing authoritarianism across Europe make me fretful and fearful at the one time.

On the other hand, this may be remembered as the year that we woke up to the dangers of climate change, thanks to the protests by Extinction Rebellion, and the inspiration of Greta Thunberg.

For me, this has also been a good year personally.

In parish ministry in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes, it has been a joy to be present for and to take part in the regular weekly round of Sunday services, along with baptisms, weddings and funerals, school visits and assemblies, and engaging with the local community on behalf of the Church.

The funerals this year included the funeral in Christ Church Cathedral of Freddie McKeown, who was the Dean’s Verger in the cathedral for many years.

As Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, I took part in many cathedral services, and I also preached in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare, as the Canon Precentor [17 February 2019].

The parish activities included Lenten study groups this year on the Creeds and the 39 Articles. Each morning throughout Lent, I posted on blog reflections drawing on the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and my daily blogs throughout Advent 2019 involved reading a chapter of Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning.

My role in continuing ministerial education in the diocese involved preparing liturgical and preaching resources that are made available online each Monday morning, and resourcing ministry in the diocese by organising regular training days throughout the year for priests and readers.

I was also involved in bring a group from the Compass Rose Society, an international Anglican society, around church sites in Co Clare.

I preached in the chapel at Saint Columba’s House in Woking, Surrey, during a residential meeting of USPG trustees, and was invited to take part in the Saint Laurence O’Toole festal evensong in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

My interfaith work included consultations with the Muslim community and the Jewish community at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, commemorating a key Sikh literary figure in Templeglantine in West Limerick, and reviewing a book on religious minorities in the Middle East for the journal Search. As I continued to seek to disentangle various branches of the Comerford family tree, it was interesting to come across one branch of the family with roots that spread into the family trees of many interesting Sephardic families across Europe.

I visited synagogues in Dublin, Bratislava, Cordoba, Corfu, Malaga, Porto, Prague, and Vienna, searched for the sites of synagogue in Waterford, Derry, London, Peterborough and Siranda in Albania, took part in the Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations in Mansion House Dublin, and blogged a series on the synagogues of Dublin.

My international travel brought me to Albania for a second time (Siranda and Butrint), to Austria on a day-trip (Vienna), to Greece twice (Crete and Corfu), to Portugal for a second time (Porto), to the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and the two capitals of the countries that once made up Czechoslovakia (Bratislava and Prague) and to Spain twice (Malaga, Santiago and Cordoba), as well as visits to many parts of Britain.

The differences between the Orthodox and Western calendars meant that once again I was able to celebrate Easter twice this year, and I spent Greek Orthodox Easter in Platanias, on the eastern edges of Rethymnon in Crete.

I was back in Greece later in the summer and spent two weeks in Corfu. From there I visited Igoumenitsa on the mainland, and for the first time visited the monasteries of Meteora and the first islands of Paxos and Antipaxos.

There were numerous visits to Britain, including return visits to Lichfield and Cambridge and seemingly-countless visits to London.

In Lichfield, I stayed once again at the Hedgehog Vintage Inn on Stafford Road, just a short stroll into the cathedral. In Tamworth, I stayed at the ‘Bottom House’ or the Tamworth Arms on Lichfield Street, opposite the Moat House. I stayed in the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon, in Hertfordshire, during the annual conference of USPG, listening to ‘the Prophetic Voice of the Church,’ and this allowed return visits to Cambridge.

Later in the year, I visited Cornwall for the first time ever. I flew into Newquay, and stayed in Truro, but also visited Marazion, Penzance, Porthleven, Saint Agnes, Saint Ives and Saint Michael’s Mount.

Towards the end of the year, I also stayed in Woking in Surrey, during a residential meeting of the trustees of USPG, and visited the first purpose-built mosque in Britain.

I travelled throughout Ireland, staying overnight in all four provinces, and travelled through most counties in Ireland.

I was in Derry for the General Synod of the Church of Ireland. I spent two days ‘island-hopping’ in the Aran Islands, visiting Inishmore and Inisheer, and staying on Inishmore.

There was a family visit to Galway, a family wedding in Sligo Cathedral, when I stayed in Markree Castle, Co Sligo, and the wedding of friends in Martinstown House, Co Kildare, when I stayed on the Curragh.

I also stayed overnight in Waterford, when I visited the Hook Peninsula and the Hook Lighthouse, New Ross, Fethard-on-Sea and Dunbrody House, Co Wexford, and stayed overnight in the Ferrycarrig Hotel, Wexford, which provided an opportunity to have dinner with two old friends former journalist colleagues from the Wexford People, Hilary Murphy and Nicky Furlong.

I was invited to give a number of public lectures this year, including:

● Thomond Archaeological and Historical Society, ‘AWN Pugin and the Gothic Revival in Ireland’ in Mary Immaculate College, Limerick (28 January 2019).

● Tamworth and District Civic Society on ‘The Comberfords of Comberford and the Moat House, Tamworth’ in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (9 May 2019). The reception afterwards was held, appropriately, in the Comberford Chapel, and it was good to meet the present owners of both Comberford Hall and the Moat House that evening.

● Charleville Heritage Society, Charleville, Co Cork, on Charleville’s architectural heritage (23 May 2019).

● Saint Kieran’s Heritage Association, Ardagh, Co Limerick, on Mother Harriet Monsell (13 September 2019).

● Lichfield Civic Society on the Comberford family’s connections with Lichfield, in Wade Street Church (17 September 2019).

● Saint Kieran’s Heritage Association, Ardagh, Co Limerick, on William Smith O’Brien (22 September 2019).

● Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, on the Limerick-born Cambridge philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe (15 October 2019).

It was also a good year for ‘church crawling.’ I visited this year included Truro Cathedral, Peterborough Cathedral, Lichfield Cathedral, the two cathedral in Southwark, and Westminster Abbey this year.

In Ireland, I visited the two cathedrals in Sligo, the two cathedrals in Waterford and the two cathedrals in Tuam; the ruins of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Elphin, Co Roscommon; Kilfenora Cathedral, Killaloe Cathedral and Ennis Cathedral, the three cathedrals of Co Clare; Saint Columb’s Cathedral, Derry; Saint John’s Cathedral and the cathedral ruins on Cashel Rock; Saint Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare; the Stephensdom and the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Vienna; Saint Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava, Saint Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Sé do Porto or the cathedral in Porto, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella, the Cathedral of Panagia Spilaiotissa in Corfu, the cathedrals in Rethymnon, and the ruins of the basilica in Butrint.

The churches I visited in Ireland included the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Kilmallock, Co Limerick, and Saint Flannan’s Church, Killaloe, Co Clare, with their Harry Clarke windows; Christ Church, Fermoy, Co Cork; the ruins of Malahide Abbey, Co Dublin, the ruins of the Franciscan abbey in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, and the ruins of Quin Abbey, Co Clare; Saint Mary’s Church, Tipperary; the churches and church sites on the Hook Peninsula; Saint Stephen Walbrook in London, and Saint George’s Church – Little Dorrit’s parish church in Southwark.

There were first-time visits to Wade Street Church, Lichfield, the new library at Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield, the church at Dublin Airport, Emo Church in Co Laois, and first-time visits to a number of churches in Co Limerick, including the churches in Ballysteen, Broadford, Dromkeen, Dromcollogher and Nicker, as well as the church ruins and church sites at Castletown Conyers, Co Limerick, and the church ruins at Kilnaughtin, Co Kerry.

There were day trips from Askeaton to Tipperary, Nenagh and Charleville, and cricket matches in Malahide.

There were walks on the beach or by the coast in Ireland at Dalkey, Dun Laoghaire, Howth, and Skerries in Co Dublin; Bray, Co Wicklow; Bettystown and Laytown in Co Meath; Ballybunion and Beagh in Co Kerry; on the Aran Islands in Galway Bay, and along the Cliffs of Moher.

There were walks in Curragh Chase in Co Limerick and the Curragh in Co Kildare; by the shores of Lough Gur; by Minster Pool and Stowe Pool in Lichfield; by the banks of the Deel in Askeaton and Rathkeale, by the Shannon, from Carrick on Shannon to the estuary in Co Clare and Co Limerick; by the Slaney in Wexford, the Suir in Waterford and at Golden in Co Tipperary, the Corrib in Galway, the Barrow in Portarlington, the Liffey in Dublin, the Tame in Tamworth, the Thames in London and the Danube in Bratislava; and boat trips on the Vltava in Prague and the Douro in Porto.

There were first-time visits to Emo Court, Co Laois, Kilduff Castle and Springfield Castle in Co Limerick, and a first-time trip on the Lartigue monorail in Listowel, Co Kerry. There were visits to Malahide Castle, and a visit to Tamworth Castle for the first time in almost half a century; and there were country walks in Nenagh, where I visited Brooke Watson, the childhood home of the scientist John Desmond Bernal.

I contributed to a new book, Marriage and the Irish: a Miscellany, which was launched in June at the Royal Irish Academy on Dawson Street, Dublin. This book is published by Wordwell and is edited by my friend and colleague, Dr Salvador Ryan, who is Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

The contributors included Professor Raymond Gillespie of Maynooth, Miriam Moffitt of Maynooth, and Dom Colmán Ó Clabaigh, a monk of Glenstal Abbey and a mediaeval historian. This new book follows the success of Death and the Irish: a Miscellany (2016), and is the second volume in a series, ‘Birth, Marriage and Death among the Irish,’ exploring the institution of marriage in Ireland from the seventh century to the present day.

My two contributions are:

15 – John Leslie, the ‘oldest bishop in Christendom’, and his eighteen-year-old wife (pp 50-52); and

47 – Four Victorian weddings and a funeral (pp 163-165).

The publishers promise this anthology may yet become an indispensable resource for everyone interested in the social, cultural, religious and legal history of Ireland. They even say that perhaps we may never think of Irish marriage in the same way again.

The Furrow is a ‘Journal for the Contemporary Church’, published in Maynooth and edited by the Revd Dr Pádraig Corkery, Head of the Department of Moral Theology and Acting Director of Pastoral Theology. In the March 2019 edition, Dom Henry O’Shea of Glenstal reviewed The Cultural Reception of the Bible, a Festschrift honouring Professor Brendan McConvery and edited by Professor Salvador Ryan and Professor Liam Tracey of Maynooth.

Dom Henry O’Shea says the ‘sheer breadth of the book is a joy’ and he singles out my essay on the Dublin-born Cambridge theologian, FJA Hort, for special consideration, describing it as ‘only one gem among many.’

I continued to write a monthly column in the Church Review, the diocesan magazine in Dublin and Glendalough, although my monthly column in the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory) came to an end after 30 years.

These monthly columns this year included a visit to Gorizia, a town once split by the cold war Iron Curtain that divided Italy and Yugoslavia; a look at the way climate change threatened to drown Venice; the transition of Prague from Marx to Marks and Spencer; the Camino route to Santiago; the bridges of Porto; the destruction of the Jews of Crete during the Holocaust; the stained-glass windows of Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth; Southwark’s two cathedrals; the monasteries of Meteora in northern Greece; the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen, outside Berlin; and Truro Cathedral in Cornwall, the home of the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols.

There were papers in ABC News 2019, and occasional contributions to The Irish Times.

I continue on the board of trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG, I am still President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND), and I spoke again at the Hiroshima Day commemoration on 6 August in Merrion Square, Dublin.

My blog postings passed 4 million readers in mid-November. My media invitations included taking part in a discussion on married priest with Ivan Yates on Newstalk.

Although I was unable to get to the launch of The Spiritual Journey of Ireland in Drogheda, much of this DVD was filmed with me in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, and it was very satisfying to see the final product.

There were regular meals in favourite restaurants. I enjoyed lunch in a new branch of Damascus Gate in Terenure, was sorry to see Daroka closing in Ballybunion, and towards the end of the year the delightful discovery of Da Mimmo, an authentic Italian restaurant on Dublin’s North Strand.

Towards the end of the year, there was a school reunion too with the class of 1969 from Gormanston College, Co Meath. It is 50 years since we left school, and if we are representative of the Ireland of the past half century then this country was in good hands.

Happy New Year.

Sunset at Agios Georgios in Corfu earlier this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

High tides and darkness
foil walks on the beach at
Laytown and Bettystown

Linda Brunker’s ‘Voyager’ looks out to sea above the beach at Laytown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

For one of our last walks on a beach this year, two of us decided to go to Laytown and Bettystown on the Co Meath coast yesterday afternoon [30 December 2019].

However, a full tide was in, it was getting dark, and walking along the beach below the car park at Laytown and north to Bettystown proved impossible at full tide.

I had stopped to photograph Linda Brunker’s Voyager above the beach at Laytown when we bumped into an old friend and colleague, and three of us decided to head on to Relish in Bettystown for a late lunch.

I could hardly believe that it is a year and a half since all three of us had been there for lunch, and it was time to catch up on the past year and on old times.

Linda Brunker’s Voyager was commissioned by Meath County Council and was unveiled in 2004. The stunning, 6-ft bronze figure matches Jarlath Daly’s sculpture, Flying a Kite, in Bettystown, and was inspired by the ocean and all that is in it, according to the artist.

A detail of Linda Brunker’s ‘Voyager’ above the beach at Laytown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Linda Brunker has designed pieces for the public park at Laguna Beach, California. The ocean has inspired her all her life and she was delighted to when she was commissioned by Meath County Council to design the Voyager. She told the Drogheda Independent some years ago, ‘I have always come to the beach at Laytown to collect elements to incorporate into these works. These include shells, seaweed and other items.’

Her beautiful sculpture on the seafront at Laytown led to much debate locally about the inspiration behind the work and the name it should be given. The suggested names for the work ranged from ‘The Lady of the Sea’ to ‘Inse’. Some residents said the 6 ft bronze lady reminds them of the ‘Little Mermaid’ at the entrance to Copenhagen Harbour.

The sculptor Linda Brunker was then based in Rathoath, Co Meath. She has exhibited around the world and designed pieces for the public park at Laguna Beach, overlooking the Pacific Ocean in California.

At time the Voyager was unveiled, she said it ‘is inspired by the sea and the myriad of life that is contained within it. ‘It reflects the draw that people feel toward the ocean and the healing effect it has on us.’

‘She is in a lively and uplifting pose and should be easily recognisable from a distance,’ she told the Drogheda Independent. ‘The closer the viewer gets the more they will see the details like fish, seaweed, starfish and shells.’

She revealed that moulds of sea creatures found on Laytown beach were used to decorate the Voyager. Colours of blue and green ordain the statute with details picked out in orange and white and black. All colouration was achieved using traditional chemical patination, and some areas are highlighted to accentuate the detail.

Several coats of lacquer were added to finish and protect he work from the elements. The figure stands on a base clad with rounded stones from Laytown, to echo the beach, and there are some bronze elements in the base, including namely fish and starfish.

High tide on the beach at Laytown, Co Meath, as darkness begins to fall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Linda Brunker’s other works include ‘The Children of Lir,’ a bronze sculpture overlooking Lough Owel, outside Mullingar, Co Westmeath. It was commissioned by Westmeath County Council in 1993.

Linda Brunker now lives in Toulouse in France. She was born in Dublin in 1966, and studied at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin (1983-1988), where she received a Diploma in Sculpture (1987) and her degree in fine art (1988).

She has received many public commissions through Ireland and in Brussels, London and the US, and her work is also in private collections in Ireland, Europe, Japan and the US.

Her other public works include the ‘Pact Woodland Sculpture Project’ (2006) in Tymon Park, Dublin; ‘The Healing Tree’ (2002), Virginia, Co Cavan; and ‘The Wishing Hand’ (2001), Department of Education, Marlborough Square, Dublin.

High tide after darkness falls on the beach at Bettystown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

30 December 2019

Services in January 2020 in
Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin
Group of Parishes

The Adoration of the Magi … a stained glass window in the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Kilmallock, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Sunday 5 January 2020 (Christmas 2):

9.30 a.m., Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, the Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)

11.30 a.m., Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), the Epiphany Communion

Readings: Askeaton: Jeremiah 31: 7-14; Wisdom 10: 15-21; Ephesians 1: 3-14; John 1: 1-18; Tarbert: Isaiah 60: 1-6; Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3: 1-12; Matthew 2: 1-12

Hymns: Askeaton: 652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us (CD 37); 166, Joy to the world, the Lord is come! (CD 166); 425, Jesu thou joy of loving hearts (CD 25). Tarbert: 202, What child is this, who laid to rest (CD 13); 201, We three kings of Orient are (CD 13); 189, As with gladness men of old (CD 12)

Monday 6 January 2020 (The Epiphany):

11 a.m., Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, the Epiphany Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), followed by tea/coffee at the Rectory

Readings: Isaiah 60: 1-6; Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3: 1-12; Matthew 2: 1-12

Hymns: 202, What child is this, who laid to rest (CD 13); 201, We three kings of Orient are (CD 13); 189, As with gladness men of old (CD 12)

Sunday 12 January (Epiphany 1, the Baptism of our Lord):

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

11.30 a.m., Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Morning Prayer

Readings: Isaiah 42: 1-9; Palm 29; Acts 10: 34-43; Matthew 3: 13-17

Hymns: 134, Make way, make way, for Christ the King (CD 8); 136, On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry (CD 8); 204, When Jesus came to Jordan (CD 13)

Sunday 19 January (Epiphany 2):

9.30 a.m., Saint Mary’s, Askeaton, Morning Prayer

11.30 a.m., Saint Brendan’s, Kilnaughtin, The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)

Readings: Isaiah 49: 1-7; Psalm 40: 1-12; I Corinthians 1: 1-9; John 1: 29-42

Hymns: 691, Faithful vigil ended (CD 39); 584, Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult (CD 33); 332, Come let us join our cheerful songs (CD 20)

Sunday 26 January (Epiphany 3):

9.30 a.m., Castletown Church, Morning Prayer

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

Readings: Isaiah 9: 1-4; Psalm 27: 1, 4-12; I Corinthians 1: 10-18; Matthew 4: 12-23

Hymns: 52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies (CD 4); 584, Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult (CD 33); 593, O Jesus, I have promised (CD 34)

Magi at the Living Crib in Astee, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Kilnaughtin Church,
west of Tarbert, may
stand on a Druidic site

Kilnaughtin Church takes its name from a fifth or sixth century saint but is said to stand on the site of a druids’ sanctuary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

During my Christmas rounds of the parish this week and last week, I also visited the ruined, mediaeval church at Kilnaughtin that is said locally to stand on the site of an earlier sanctuary used by Druids that was converted into a church in the decades immediately after Saint Patrick.

Kilnaughtin is the ancient name of the parish of Tarbert and the name is derived from the Irish, meaning the Church of Saint Naughtin or Neachtain. The name Kilnaughtin is now attached to Saint Brendan’s Church on Steeple Road, at the east end of Tarbert, off the road to Glin and Foynes.

However, the original church at Kilnaughtin stands about 4 or 5 km west of Tarbert (52.571200, -9.422000), at Cockhill, Carrowdotia, a little south of the coast road (L1010) to Ballylongford.

A replica of the fifth century Ogham stone found at Kilnaughtin and now in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The regular discovery of the roots and stumps of ancient yew and holm oak trees during burials and the survival of an ancient Ogham stone bearing the inscription ‘Mac I Broc’ (‘son of Broc’ or ‘son of the Badger’), that once stood about four feet to the south east of the church, suggest to some that this site may once have been a Druidic sanctuary.

The present mediaeval structure stands on the site of an earlier cillín (small church) or oratory that may have been built originally by the saint who gives his name to this place. Saint Naughtin is said to have been a nephew of Saint Patrick and a disciple of Saint Senan (ca 488-544), an important early church leader in this region.

Saint Senan established his monastery and cathedral ca 534 on Scattery Island in the mouth of the Shannon estuary, to the north-west of this site. From there, he and his monks brought Christianity to the northern and southern shorelines of the Shannon, in areas that are now north Co Kerry and south Co Clare.

The original church at Kilnaughtin is west of Tarbert off the coast road to Ballylongford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

In reality, little is known about Saint Naughtin, although he was venerated alongside Saint Senan, Saint Erc, Saint Lughach, Saint Ita, Saint Eithne, Saint Eiltín and Saint Brendan, among the early saints of north Kerry and west Limerick.

A holy well nearby, known as Tobernaughtin, is dedicated to Saint Naughtin. It is said the well dries up during the Summer, but some water comes in during Winter.

From the late sixth century until the early twelfth century, Kilnaughtin was one of the termons or sanctuary lands of the monastic Diocese of Scattery.

After the reorganisation of the Irish Church at the Synod of Rath Breasail in 1111-1112, Kilnaughtin was transferred to the Diocese of Ardfert and Aghadoe, although it retained its links with Scattery.

Following the death of the last Abbot-Bishop of Scattery, the monastery on Scattery Island was reconstituted as a college of the Augustinian Canons Regular of the Lateran, and the former cathedral on the island became a collegiate church with a chapter of 24 canons, of whom 12 were appointed by the Bishop of Limerick and 12 by the Bishop of Killaloe. The 12 canons appointed by the Bishop of Limerick were supported by the income from the termon or sanctuary lands at Kilnaughtin, and they served the churches and oratories in the district.

Inside the church at Kilnaughtin, facing east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The list of rectors of the parish dates back to at least 1347, when a priest named Maurice FitzPeter was presented by the Crown on 4 September to the Church of Kylnathyn in Mynnour in the Diocese of Ardfert.

After that, there is a long gap in the records until 1418, when Donald O’Kynnelyoe is appointed Rector of Killreachtayn. The parish seems to have been vacant for a long time, and it is noted that Killreachtayn is commonly called the Church of Dunchacha and Dryseach and Tearmundscanayn. There were objections to his appointment too, and he needed a dispensation in those pre-Reformation days because he was the son of a priest.

Inside the church at Kilnaughtin, facing west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

During the 15th century, John O’Connor Kerry, Lord of Carrigafoyle and Tarbert and the founder of the Franciscan Friary at nearby Lislaughtin, oversaw extensive rebuilding of the church at Kilnaughtin.

This rebuilding included the elegant pointed gothic arched doorways, ogee lancet windows, a cinquefoil piscina and an interior architrave. The traces of a porch can also be seen over the south door.

On the exterior wall, over the east window, there is a carved head wearing a chapeau de seigneur, which may represent the local lord, John O’Connor Kerry, whose patronage financed the present structure.

The exterior east wall of Kilnaughtin church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

As the FitzGeralds, Earls of Desmond, extended their power in this area, Dermot O’Connor, Lord of Tarbert and kinsman of John O’Connor Kerry of Carrigafoyle Castle, forfeited his lands in Tarbert to James FitzGerald, 6th Earl of Desmond, the ‘Usurper’ Earl, in 1450. Within a decade, the Earl of Desmond built a castle or tower house in Tarbert, probably located on the north side of the present-day Square.

Following the Tudor Reformations, the church became an Anglican parish church. However, Roman Catholics continued to use the churchyard for burials, and maintained a clandestine chapel nearby.

For almost 200 years, the 15th century church at Kilnaughtin served as the Church of Ireland parish church, with some occasional interruptions. In 1587, following the defeat of the Earl of Desmond, the Manor and Castle of Tarbert and the adjoining lands were granted to Sir William Herbert (1554-1593), a Welsh colonist, religious writer and politician.

Herbert became an ‘undertaker’ for the plantation of Munster in 1586, and he applied for three ‘seignories’ in Kerry. In 1587, he was allotted many of the lands confiscated the Earl of Desmond. These included Castleisland and its neighbourhood, and covered 13,276 acres. He wished to see Kerry colonised by English settlers, he had the articles of the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments translated into Irish, and he directed the clergy on his estate to read the services in Irish.

After almost two years at Castleisland, Herbert acted as vice-president of Munster. But his work was severely attacked by Sir Edward Denny, High Sheriff of Kerry and owner of Tralee and the neighbourhood, who complained of Herbert’s self-conceit, and who said his constables were rogues.

Herbert finally returned to England in 1589, and died in 1593. His only daughter and heir, Mary, married her cousin, Edward Herbert (1583-1648), 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury, when he was 15 and she was 21; his brother was the priest-poet George Herbert (1593-1633).

The south door show traces of a Gothic porch (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Herbert family lost its estate in Tarbert soon after, and in 1607, the Lord Deputy, Sir Arthur Chichester, asked the Privy Council to grant Tarbert to Patrick Crosbie of Leix. The grant was made subject to families from the ‘Seven Septs’ of Leix being settled there.

Local lore says that monks who fled Kilnaughtin Church were the monks whose earns were shorn of their ears by Cromwellian soldiers in Glouncloosagh in the mid-17th century.

The Crosbie family sold Tarbert to the Roche family of Limerick in 1653. The lands were eventually bought by Daniel O’Brien, Lord Clare, who held them until the Battle of the Boyne and the Treaty of Limerick in 1690. As a Jacobite, he was obliged to flee to France, and in 1697 John Leslie, a supporter of King William III, was granted the confiscated Tarbert estate of Lord Clare.

The Leslie family began building Tarbert House in 1700, and John Leslie was the Church of Ireland Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe in 1755-1770. Sir Edward Leslie laid out the village of Tarbert in 1775. Around this time, the first Palatine settler, Peter Fitzell moved from Rathkeale to Tarbert as a tenant farmer on the Sandes estate at Sallowglen.

Kilnaughtin Church was ‘in ruins’ by 1778 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

By 1778, Kilnaughtin Church was ‘in ruins’ and the Vestry Minutes record a discussion in Kilnaughtin that year on the need to move the church from Kilnaughtin to Tieraclea or Steeple Road, which was closer to the town and port of Tarbert. From 1779 on, the Vestry Minutes for Kilnaughtin are written from the ‘church of Tieraclea,’ so the new church probably dates from 1778.

But the new church was destroyed in a ‘violent hurricane’ in 1789, and an enlarged church was built on Steeple Road. The Vestry Minutes from Kilnaughtin for 1812 and later show that the present church, Saint Brendan’s Church, which has the date 1814 inscribed above the porch, is a rebuilding and extension of the existing church at Tieraclea.

Around the same time, Sir Edward Leslie established an Erasmus Smith School on the Glin Road in 1790. The school has 75 Roman Catholic pupils (56%) and 44 Protestant pupils (44%) on the roll book. When Sir Edward Leslie died at the age of 73 in Weymouth in 1818, the title of baronet he had received in 1787 died out and a considerable fortune of between £3,000 and £4,000 a year devolved on his first cousin, Robert Leslie of Leslie Lodge, Tieraclea.

Old tombs and graves at Kilnaughtin, where the churchyard is still used for burials (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Directory of Ireland (1837) notes that the Rectory of Kilnaughtin was impropriate in Anthony Raymond, who was receiving two-thirds of the tithes, while the vicar received only one-third.

The church was remodelled again in the 1850s and 1860s under the influence of the Oxford Movement, giving it the present unusual shape and structure. In 1867, the architects William John Welland (1832-1895) and William Gillespie (1818-1899) designed and laid out new pews for the T-plan church of 1814.

The Kerry-born architect James Franklin Fuller (1835-1924) prepared plans for additions to the church in 1876. The work was in progress in November 1877, and the chancel was completed by September 1878. The contractor was a Mr Crosbie of Tralee.

Fuller’s alterations and additions realigned the church, so that the original east-west church became the transepts, while the chancel area or top of the church is now at the south end of the building. The Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette, the forerunner of the Church of Ireland Gazette, reported during this renovation: ‘A correspondent tells us that a very handsome stone cross, which was to have been placed on the new porch, has been thrown aside, the incumbent objecting to its erection.’

The inscriptions on the church plate include ‘Tarbert Church 1857’ and ‘Kilnaughtin Church 1866.’ The plaques in the church commemorate many prominent local families, including the Fitzell, Leslie and Sandes families, and one plaque was moved from the former Methodist Church in Tarbert into the church.

The former chancel area at the east end of Kilnaughtin Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Meanwhile, when a new Roman Catholic parish church was built in Tarbert in 1833, a stone from the old church in Kilnaughtin was incorporated in the foundation of the sanctuary.

The Ogham stone found in the old churchyard at Kilnaughtin in 1836 was donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford in 1884, where it is on display. Known as the ‘Cockhill Stone,’ is dates from the early fifth century. The Ogham inscription ‘Maqi Broc’ commemorates someone who was the son of an important local man named Broc (‘Badger’).

The tradition of this ancient church at Kilnaughtin is kept alive in the two parish churches in Tarbert.

The tradition of this ancient church at Kilnaughtin is kept alive in the two parish churches in Tarbert (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

29 December 2019

‘If the sun would lose its light
And we lived an endless night’

A Hanukkah Menorah in a shopfront in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Tonight is the eighth and last night of Hanukkah, the Jewish eight-day ‘Festival of Lights,’ which ends tomorrow [Monday 30 December 2019].

Over the past eight nights, Hanukkah has been celebrated with lighting the menorah lights each night.

The Hanukkah Menorah holds nine flames, one of which is the shamash (‘attendant’) and is used to kindle the other eight lights. On the first night, just one flame is lit; on the second night, an additional flame is lit; and tonight, the eighth night of Hanukkah, all eight lights are kindled.

Last night’s attack in Monsey has drawn attention to the dramatic rise in the number of anti-Semitic attacks in the New York and New Jersey areas in the past week, coinciding with the week of Hanukkah.

The rise in racism has not only been stoked by has been encouraged by the attitudes and policies of President Trump, who has stoked intolerance during his time in the White House. Although Ivanka Trump has tweeted, it is telling that almost 24 hours after this latest attack, Donald Trump has not yet commented or tweeted on these attacks in Monsey.

Hanukkah is a reminder to never be afraid to stand up for what is right, to speak out against oppression and to speak up for religious and political rights and freedoms.

Hanukkah is a reminder that the light of God always shines, even in the darkest of times.

And Hanukkah is a reminder that a little light goes a long way. The Hanukkah candles are lit when dusk is falling. Perched in the doorway or in the front window, they serve as a beacon for the darkening streets. No matter how dark it is outside, a candle of Godly goodness can transform the darkness itself into light.

A Hanukkah Menorah in a shopfront in Murano in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In his later songs and poetry, Leonard Cohen wrote about the darkness of life and the light of God. I was listening to his album You want it darker on the road from Rathkeale to Dublin this afternoon, and thought his song If I didn’t have your love is about the love and light of God, and is appropriate as Hanukkah comes to a close at the end of this year:

If the sun would lose its light
And we lived an endless night
And there was nothing left
That you could feel
That’s how it would be
My life would seem to me
If I didn’t have your love
To make it real

If the stars were all unpinned
And a cold and bitter wind
Swallowed up the world
Without a trace
Oh well that’s where I would be
What my life would seem to me
If I couldn’t lift the veil
And see your face

If no leaves were on the tree
And no water in the sea
And the break of day
Had nothing to reveal
That’s how broken I would be
What my life would seem to me
If I didn’t have your love
To make it real

If the sun would lose its light
And we lived in endless night
And there was nothing left
That you could feel
If the sea were sand alone
And the flowers made of stone
And no one that you hurt
Could ever heal
That’s how broken I would be
What my life would seem to me
If I didn’t have your love
To make it real

A gift for children
at Christmas-time

The Flight into Egypt … a stained glass window by the Harry Clarke Studios in Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church, Athlone (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 29 December 2019

The First Sunday after Christmas (Christmas 1):

Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick

11 a.m.: United Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2),

Readings: Isaiah 63: 7-9; Psalm 148; Hebrews 2: 10-18; Matthew 2: 13-23

There is a link to the readings HERE.

Candy canes hanging on the Christmas tree in the Rectory in Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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

This Sunday can be something of an anti-climax for many people, after all that has happened on Christmas Day and the day after, Saint Stephen’s Day.

Saint Matthew is alone among the four Gospel writers in recounting the flight into Egypt (Matthew 2: 13-23). We hear this morning how Saint Joseph learns after the visit of the Magi that King Herod the Great is plotting to murder the infants in his kingdom.

Herod the Great fears the new-born ‘King of the Jews’ that the Magi speak about is going to be a threat to his throne, and so he sets out to kill all innocent children under the age of two.

The wise men from the East came to Herod the Great asking ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?’ They have visited the child with Mary, paid him homage, and offered him gifts. Now they have returned to their own country.

In yet another dream, an angel warns Saint Joseph of the plot, and so he takes the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child with him, and the family flee to Egypt.

Perhaps it’s an unsettling story.

Perhaps it’s a story that reminds us how we can make Christmas too easy, too comfortable.

This is not a ‘family-friendly’ story, if you think of what happens to the Holy Family, to Joseph, Mary and Jesus.

The Christmas story is not complete without tyrannical rulers, mass murder, refugees and families fleeing injustice.

The Cambridge priest poet Malcolm Guite, in his poem ‘The Holy Innocents (Refugee)’, writes:

We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,
Or cosy in a crib beside the font,
But he is with a million displaced people
On the long road of weariness and want.

Perhaps the Christmas story is a reminder to us that everywhere today we find oppressive rulers, the denial of human rights, child abuse, and the creation of mass numbers of refugees there is something very wrong, there is a denial of the Kingdom of God that Christ has come into the world to announce, that the state of our world today is a clear denial of the message of Christmas, of what Christmas is all about.

That’s the dark and bitter side of Christmas.

But I thought we might also like to share something sweet about Christmas too this morning.

How many of you have candy canes hanging on your Christmas trees at home?

Did you know the candy cane is a traditional Christmas symbol throughout America?

A story that’s rather nice but probably not true says that back in 1670, 350 years ago, a German choirmaster was worried about the children sitting quietly all through the long Christmas service in Cologne Cathedral.

So, he gave them something to eat to keep them quiet. He wanted to keep their minds on Christmas, so he made them into the shape of the letter ‘J’, like a shepherds crook, to remind them of the shepherds that visited the Baby Jesus at the first Christmas.

The shape of the candy cane is like the letter ‘J’ and reminds us of the name of Jesus (Matthew 1: 21; Luke 1: 31).

Turn it the other way and it is the shape of a shepherd’s crook. The shepherds visited the Baby Jesus that first Christmas. And, of course, Christ is the Good Shepherd and we are called to be his followers (see Isaiah 40: 11; Psalm 23: 1, John 10: 11, John 10: 27-30).

Now look at the colours of the candy cane. They are white and red to remind us that Christ is truly God and truly human.

The white in the stripes represents his holiness, his purity, that he is God incarnate, that at Christmas God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1: 14).

The red stripes are for the blood he shed when he died on the cross (Luke 22: 20; I John 1: 7; Revelation 1: 5).

At a time when children were not encouraged to come forward at Communion, the white and the red could also remind them of the bread and wine at Communion.

The candy maker also flavoured the candy cane with peppermint. Peppermint was very similar to hyssop, which was used for sacrifice and purification in the Old Testament, reminding us of Christ’s sacrifice. Perhaps the peppermint is also a reminder of the spices the Wise Men brought as gifts when they visit Jesus (see Matthew 2: 11).

The candy cane is solid, like is a rock. The candy maker chose hard candy for the candy cane to remind us that Jesus is our rock, dependable and strong (Psalm 31: 3).

When the candy cane is broken, it is a reminder that when Christ was crucified, his body was broken (I Corinthians 11: 24).

Did the first makers of candy canes think of all these connections when they invented them?

Perhaps all these meanings were added after candy canes became popular. But the candy cane is a gift reminding us that the love of God is a gift for us in the birth of Christ.

And did you know, if you share two candy canes together you can make a heart, the symbol of love?

Because, love came down at Christmas, and Christmas is all about the love of God for us, shown in the birth and incarnation of Christ, and a reminder that we need to share that love with one another.

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

The Flight into Egypt … a stained glass window in Saint Ailbe’s Church, Emly, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Matthew 2: 13–23 (NRSVA):

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.’ 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean.’

The Flight into Egypt in Harry Clarke’s ‘Presentation Window’ in Saint Flannan’s Church, Killaloe, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical Colour: White or Gold

The Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
who wonderfully created us in your own image
and yet more wonderfully restored us
through your Son Jesus Christ:
Grant that, as he came to share in our humanity,
so we may share the life of his divinity;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,
and his name shall be called the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 6)


You have given Jesus Christ your only Son
to be born of the Virgin Mary,
and through him you have given us power
to become the children of God:

The Post-Communion Hymn:

Heavenly Father,
you have refreshed us with this heavenly sacrament.
As your Son came to live among us,
grant us grace to live our lives,
united in love and obedience,
as those who long to live with him in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one
all things earthly and heavenly,
fill you with his joy and peace:

The Flight into Egypt … a panel in Saint Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)


152, Come and join the celebration (CD 9)
179, See amid the winter’s snow (CD 11)
418, Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face (CD 25)

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.

28 December 2019

Three new sculptures
at Howth Harbour have
a maritime theme

Three new wood sculptures by Richie Clarke overlooking Howth Harbour have a maritime theme (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Three new wood sculptures overlook the harbour at Howth and were a pleasure to see on Friday afternoon [27 December 2019], during a brief visit to Dublin before returning to Askeaton this afternoon.

The three sculptures on the slope beside the Courthouse in Howth are the work of Richie Clarke, a wood carver from Mullingar, Co Westmeath, whose work is influenced by Celtic mythology and Irish folklore.

From small decorative pieces to carved tree trunks, Richie Clarke’s work displays an impressive mastery of his craft.

The initiative for these three new sculptures at Howth Harbour came when a group from Howth Tidy Towns visited Malahide Castle at the invitation of Colin Gilhooley from Fingal County Council. They had spoken to Colin Gilhooley about the wooden sculptures in Malahide town and in the grounds of Malahide Castle grounds and asked if it would be possible for Howth to have something similar.

They were shown around the castle grounds and looked at and photographed the wooden sculptures. They posted some of these photographs on Facebook and asked for feedback from Howth residents on their preferred theme for the proposed Howth sculptures.

Most people favoured a maritime theme for the three sculptures on the slope beside the Courthouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Most people favoured a maritime theme for the three sculptures on the slope beside the Courthouse.

During the months that followed, the group from Howth Tidy Towns worked with Colin Gilhooley, sourcing photographs from the internet and commenting on initial drawings. They are more than happy with the results and delighted to see them installed on the Courthouse slope.

The sculptures were commissioned by Fingal County Council and created by Richie Clarke from Mullingar who says he is ‘very relieved to see these pieces, which have taken over my life for the last couple of months, finally installed.’

Richie Clarke was born and grew up in Mullingar, Co Westmeath. He says on his website, ‘I believe that where we come from shapes our sub-conscious and pushes us in a certain direction in life. Most of my childhood and adult life was spent in in these outdoor playgrounds. Wood carving connects me to nature and I think that is why I love it so much.’

He has been woodcarving for almost 20 years. A carpenter and cabinet maker by trade, wood carving seemed a totally natural progression for him. He is mostly self-taught but has had tuition from Chris Pye, the master woodcarver.

Richie Clarke’s influences are mainly Celtic mythology, Irish folklore and fantasy literature (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

His influences are mainly Celtic mythology, Irish folklore and fantasy literature such as Tolkien, Robert Jordan, Patrick Rothfuss and George RR Martin.

‘Characters from Irish mythology and folklore offer me a wealth of amazing material to work with,’ he says. ‘The beauty of carving a mythological figure is that it comes with an enchanting story and a cultural aspect that people can connect with. Also, symbols such as “The Green Man” convey a message of the green energy of nature, rebirth and wisdom.’

‘Sadly, when a large tree has to be felled or topped for one reason or another, it is nice to be commissioned to carve it on site into what will be its next life so it will continue to live on in its new form. Whether it is hand carved signs, letter carving, tree spirits, gargoyles, druids, wizards or the Salmon of Knowledge, I will happily work with my clients to tailor a figure to their needs or location.’

He adds, ‘From small decorative indoor pieces to large log carvings or carved tree trunks and stumps, there is very little I cannot work with. I take pride in working with my clients to deliver a piece of art and a value for money and quality that is second to none.’

Evening lights at Howth Harbour on Friday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Chichester Phillips: the MP for Askeaton
who gave Ireland its first Jewish Cemetery

The Jewish Cemetery on Fairview Strand, Ballybough, is Ireland’s oldest Jewish cemetery and one of the earliest Jewish burial grounds on these islands (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Captain Chichester Phillips (1647-1728) was a politician in the 17th and early 18th century who made his career in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Boyne as MP for Askeaton, Co Limerick, in the Irish House of Commons from 1695 to 1713.

Phillips was the owner of Drumcondra Castle, Dublin, and his family may have given their name to Philipsburgh Avenue in the Fairview/Marino area, previously known as Ellis Avenue.

The Phillips family had a long-standing connection with Ireland. His grandfather, Sir Thomas Phillips, played a key part in the Plantation of Ulster. He founded the town of Limavady in 1610, also held lands in Coleraine, and was Governor of Coleraine. Sir Thomas died in London in 1636, leaving the Limavady estates to his eldest son Dudley. His younger son, Chichester Phillips, married Susannah Warner, daughter of the Revd Thomas Warner, Vicar of Balsham.

The younger Chichester Phillips was born in Balsham, Cambridge, in 1647, but as a child was brought to Ireland when his family moved to Dublin, where the elder Chichester Phillips died in 1656.

His widowed mother Susannah Phillips remarried, and her second husband was Sir Simon Eaton, of Dunmoylin, near Shanagolden Co Limerick. Sir Simon was given the title of baronet in 1683 and died in 1697; Susannah died in 1701. This family connection with Co Limerick may explain why Chichester Phillips became the Earl of Cork’s agent for his estates in the Askeaton and MP for Askeaton while his step-father was still living.

After the Williamite Revolution, Phillips took the side of William III against James II of England. He served in several regiments as an ensign, lieutenant and captain, and his last military appointment was as a captain in the Earl of Granard’s Regiment of Foot.

As a reward for his loyalty in 1691, the Commissioners for Forfeited Estates sold him lands in Killucan and Rathwire in Co Westmeath that had been forfeited by the O’Mulledy family. He was listed as an alderman of Dublin in 1696. He was the second MP for Askeaton, sitting first with George Evans and later with Robert Taylor.

Phillips bought the freehold title to Drumcondra Castle in 1703. Ironically, his claim to Drumcondra was based originally on a lease from King James II to Giles Martin in 1677.

Captain Phillips married Sarah Handcock in 1685. She was the daughter of William Handcock, MP for Westmeath, and they were the parents of six children, two daughters and four sons.

Captain Chichester Phillips died in 1728. He is best remembered today not as the Williamite MP for Askeaton but for giving the land to create Ireland’s first Jewish cemetery at Ballybough, Dublin. Ten years before he died, on 28 October 1718, Captain Phillips leased a plot of land to Jews who had recently established a small community in Dublin. This land became Ireland’s oldest Jewish cemetery and one of the earliest Jewish burial grounds on these islands. It merits consideration for National Monument status, according to a conservation and management plan commissioned by the Dublin City Council.

The mortuary house built in 1857 served as the caretaker’s cottage (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The façade of the caretaker’s cottage has a shield bearing an inscription that reads ‘Built in the Year 5618’ – the Hebrew calendar dating for 1857-1858 CE. The inscription is well-known on northside Dublin and has caused mirth among generations of Dublin schoolboys, but the present Jewish year that began on 29 September 2019 is 5780.

A small number of Jews had settled in the Annadale area off Ellis Avenue (now Philipsburgh Avenue), Fairview, by the 1700s. Most of them were Marranos, descended from Jewish families forced to convert to Christianity by the Inquisition. Some had fled from Spain and Portugal, others had arrived indirectly through the Netherlands.

Acting on behalf of the community, Alexander Felix (David Penso), Jacob do Porto, and David Machado de Sequeira, on behalf of the Sephardic community, and Abraham Meirs on behalf of the Ashkenazic community, leased a plot of land for a graveyard from Captain Chichester Phillips.

A 40-year lease was signed on 29 September 1717, and the lease was granted on 28 October 1718. This makes this cemetery older than the Alderney Road cemetery in Mile End, London, acquired by the Great Synagogue in London in 1725.

The Jewish community sought assistance from German and Polish Jews in London to build a wall around the cemetery. At first, they failed to receive support from the Bevis Marks Synagogue or Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in London. But eventually the Bevis Marks community not only funded the wall but provided a supervisory agent from London.

The Dublin Jewish congregation was in financial difficulty by 1748, and was £7 10s in arrears with paying the rent on the cemetery lease. Members of the Bevis Marks Synagogue came to their assistance, and in the name of Michael Philips, a member of the Crane Lane synagogue, bought the freehold of the cemetery from Michael Phillips, grandson of Chichester Phillips, for £34 10s. The title deeds for the cemetery were deposited at Bevis Marks Synagogue and remained there until the 20th century.

The small site is only about one-seventh of an acre in size. The cemetery has more than 200 graves, and Louis Hyman lists the inscriptions in an appendix in his book The Jews of Ireland (pp 267-273).

The cemetery has almost 150 headstones with inscriptions in both Hebrew and English, and holds about 200 graves. The oldest legible headstone marks the grave of Jacob Wills (1701-1777). He was born in France, the son of Yochanan Weil, and lived in London before moving to Dublin, where was a jeweller and goldsmith on Essex Quay. In the synagogue he was known as Jacob Frenchman, but in secular life he was known as Jacob Will or Wills. He died on 11 March 1777.

In the past, visitors have shown particular interest in three or four Rothschild family graves – although they are not related to the banking family.

The mortuary house was built in 1857, 139 years after the cemetery first opened, as a defence against grave robbery and the theft of headstones, and served as the caretaker’s cottage.

The largest tomb belongs to Lewis Wormser Harris of Suffolk Street, a former alderman, who was been elected Lord Mayor of Dublin. He would have been the city’s first Jewish Lord Mayor but died the day before he was due to take office in 1876. Eighty years later, Alderman Robert Briscoe became Dublin’s first Jewish Lord Mayor in 1956.

The only burials in the 20th century were of members of the Harris family: Juliette Harris, widow of Alderman Lewis Wormser Harris (1908), their son, Ernest Wormser Harris (1946), and his wife, Maude Jeanette Harris (1958), the last burial.

The cemetery officially closed in 1978. Meanwhile, a new cemetery, dedicated to Sir Moses Montefiore, had opened on Aughavannagh Road in Dolphin’s Barn in 1898. It was established by Robert Bradlaw and the Dolphin’s Barn Jewish Burial Society.

Until recently, the cottage at Fairview was lived in by the cemetery caretakers, Con and Gloria O’Neill. Gloria was so devoted to her task that she was even seen handwashing the gravestones.

Dublin City Council took ownership of the cemetery on Fairview Strand in 2017 from the Dublin Jewish Board of Guardians, who could no longer afford its upkeep. It had been a Jewish cemetery for 300 years.

The Irish Times reported recently [15 July 2019] that the cemetery is to be refurbished and reopened to the public more than 40 years since its closure, under new plans from Dublin City Council.

However, the fabric and character of the cemetery is under threat due to the overgrown condition of the grounds, the dilapidated state of the mortuary house and encroachment from neighbouring sites. ‘Of particular concern, given international experience, is the risk of anti-Semitic vandalism leading to the defilement of this sacred space’ if its poor condition is not addressed, the plan states.

The conservation report notes the grounds have been ‘colonised’ by invasive plants, including Japanese knotweed, and mature trees are displacing memorials, damaging their stonework and metalwork.

In recent years, the cottage has suffered from break-ins and squatting. While there are ‘no obvious examples’ of anti-Semitic vandalism, the report said, this is a risk, and the house and cemetery would ‘remain a focus for anti-social behaviour’ unless a strategy was put in place to ensure the ‘preservation of the built heritage and the sanctity of the burials, while also making the site more secure and accessible to the public.’

The council has carried out historic research, cleared weeds and secured the house. It plans further conservation and restoration work before the cemetery opens to the public. There have been suggestions the house should be used as a museum or interpretive centre. The report recommends it be restored for use as a caretaker’s house for surveillance of the cemetery.

Most members of Dublin’s Jewish community are now buried in Dolphin’s Barn cemetery or in the Progressive Jewish Cemetery at Woodtown, near Rathfarnham.

As for Captain Phillips of Askeaton, two of his sons were priests in the Church of Ireland: the Revd Charles Phillips, Rector of Kilcolman, Co Cork; and Canon Marmaduke Phillips, MA, DD (1698-1770) friend of Jonathan Swift and at different times Rector of Raheny, Dublin (1732-1736), and Prebendary of Inniscarra in Cloyne, Co Cork (1751-1770).

In a letter to Dean Swift in 1734, Marmaduke Phillips quoted lines from an unknown author:

What’s past we know, and what’s to come must be,
Or good or bad, is much the same to me;
Since death must end my joy or misery,
Fix’d be my thoughts on immortality.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is the Church of Ireland priest in Askeaton
The cemetery in Ballybough was a Jewish cemetery for 300 years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This feature was first published in December 2019 in ABC News 2019 (pp 61-63), the annual magazine of Askeaton/Ballysteen Community Council Muintir na Tíre

27 December 2019

‘Enlightened reading
in dark times’

Some of my Christmas reading with a few days off (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

After the busy rounds Christmas, I have taken a break and spent the last few days in Dublin, watching films on television – including The Two Popes – and enjoying my Christmas reading, including catching up on the Christmas editions of my favourite magazines, and dipping into some books.

There are two current editions of the New Statesman: the Christmas Special, which is dated 13 December 2019 to 2 January 2020, and a special, post-election edition, dated 20 December 2019 to 9 January 2019.

The Christmas special includes profiles of Dominic Grieves, an enlightened Tory rebel who did not retain his seat at the general election, and Edna O’Brien, who recalls The Country Girls being denounced from the pulpit in Tuamgraney, Co Clare, and then being burned.

The New Statesmandescribes itself as ‘enlightened thinking in dark times.’ These are dark times politically, indeed. The extra, post-election edition, with the cover headline ‘Days of Reckoning,’ is a ‘special issue on this era of extraordinary politics.’

Writing about the ‘New Right revolution,’ Andrew Marr this not the revolution many NS readers had been hoping for. He says Boris Johnson’s victory ‘has the potential to realign British politics’ and that Johnson’s ‘opponents underestimate him at their peril.’

Jeremy Cliffe wans that ‘Central Europe’s authoritarians show where an unleashed Boris Johnson could lead Britain.’ George Grylls visits Wigan and ‘Britain’s forgotten lands’ to see how Labour lost its northern vote.

Perhaps in its humour the Christmas edition of Private Eye is being more analytical than its readers expect when its front cover claims that Jeremy Corbyn handed Johnson this election victory like a Christmas present.

The Tablet also has a Christmas double issue, with a cover illustrated a detail from a panel by Jan de Beer at an exhibition that continues in Birmingham until 19 January.

The Tablet should be essential reading for thinking Anglicans too. This Christmas edition includes an obituary of the broadcaster and author Mary Craig, who was a regular contributor to the Tablet.

Each year, The Economist produces a Christmas double issue, and this year’s special features include an analytical insight into the shaping of Ireland as a modern liberal society and an interesting look at the lives of families who were moved from the East End of London to East Anglia over the past half century.

ABC News is the very lavish annual magazine of Askeaton/Ballysteen Community Council Munitir na Tíre. In this year’s edition, published within the past week or so, my contribution is a paper on Captain Chichester Phillips, who was MP for Askeaton from 1695 to 1713, and who donated the site in Dublin for Ireland’s first Jewish cemetery.

After my visits to Jewish Prague, Vienna and Bratislava this year, I have returned to reading The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, which tells the story of the Ephrussi family, his grandmother’s far-flung family. Last month, I visited the exhibition in the Jewish Museum in Vienna, ‘The Ephrussis, Travel in Time,’ in which Edmund de Wall retells the story of the Ephrussi family as told in this book. Their story moves from Odessa to Paris and Vienna, then to their migration as refugees as World War II forced them to seek asylum in Britain, the US, Mexico, Japan and other countries.

I also received presents of two books by the Revd Maria Elsa R. Bragg, who is a duty chaplain at Westminster Abbey: Sleeping Letters and Towards Mellbreak.

Edmund de Waal has described Sleeping Letters as ‘a beautiful book, a remarkable, cadenced recollection of how grief lives in the body. It is poetry as a kind of dance.’

Edmund de Waal’s Irish-born sister-in-law, the writer Kit de Waal, reveals in the Christmas Special of the New Statesman, ‘I came to writing late in life.’ In the same section, Archbishop Rowan Williams writes, ‘I had settled in my early teens – thanks largely to a couple of imaginative and humane clergy that I knew – that I should be a priest.’ But he also talks about ‘the temptations of perfectionism.’

He thought once of becoming a monk, at another time of teaching English ‘as the alternative “spiritual” calling.’

He summarises what he’s wanted and tried to do as ‘something to do with learning and holding the attentiveness to God and things and words that breaks through private dramas and obsessions. Being a priest and a writer and a teacher of sorts has always been, for me, grounded in those prospects not followed.’

In her column in this Christmas Special, the Revd Lucy Winkett of Saint James’s Church, Picadilly, recalls this story:

‘I was standing in the olive wood souvenir shop in Bethlehem in the West Bank. With US Dollars in my hand, I was haggling with the Palestinian shopkeeper about the carved wooden nativity set I thought I might buy. I liked it because it wasn’t too fussy; slightly abstract. For Christian groups visiting the Holy Land, there is always a desire to support the local economy of the “little town” where Christ was born. But I thought the price was too high, especially because, while the sheep, shepherds, Joseph, Mary, and the Wise Men were all present and correct, there didn’t seem to be any Jesus. No crib. Perhaps an indication of the residual power of the dog collar, the man started to justify the fact that there wasn’t a Jesus as part of the carved set. “He hasn’t been born yet”, “it’s bad luck to have an actual baby in there” and so on.

‘What both of us had missed was that the anonymous carver had placed the baby as a bundle in Mary’s arms. He was there all right, but I’d been too keen on getting a bargain to notice. Maybe that’s my Christmas sermon right there.’

The Hotel Kyjev and
modern, visionary
street art in Bratislava

Street art on the façade of the Hotel Kyjev in Bratislava (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Many years ago, on a working trip to Egypt, the hotel in Alexandria was such a standard example of Stalinist brutalism that some of us began referring to it as ‘Hotel Bratislava.’

I cannot remember the true name of the hotel, and I had not yet been to Bratislava. But every time I see brutal hotels that have survived in Mediterranean resorts since the days of the explosion in mass tourism in the 1970s and 1980s, I am reminded of this sad hotel that represented the worst in cheap and functional planning.

When I saw the Hotel Kyjev on Rajská Street near Kamenné námestie in central Bratislava last month, I realised it may well have been the very place that must inspired some in our group to label that sad hotel in Alexandria.

The hotel has been closed for seven or eight years now and is deteriorating into a sad state of decay and neglect. But the Hotel Kyjev is one of the boldest architectural reminders of socialism in the centre of Bratislava. The hotel was designed by Ivan Matušík and built in 1973. It was named the Hotel Kyjev after the capital of Ukraine was one of tallest buildings in the Slovak capital, at a height of 65 metres.

Throughout the communist era, the hotel had no serious competition in Bratislava. It was often reserved for the most important guests of the state and visiting dignitaries – even the President of Czechoslovakia had his own suite there.

After the fall of communism, the hotel remained open. Because the interior was never remodelled, the retro style of the lobby, the public rooms and the accommodation became an attraction for tourists. The view from the roof was said to be breath-taking.

But after the revolution, there was no money to keep up with other hotels on the market. The hotel changed ownership for the last time in 2007, when it was bought by the British developer Lordship. But it needed considerable investment. Lordship tried several times to change the look of the hotel and to redevelop the area along with the neighbouring Tesco department store in Stone Square.

The distinctive design of the Kyjev could not keep the hotel open, and it closed its doors in 2011. Initially, developers wanted to tear it down, but they changed their minds after public pressure, although the hotel has never been declared a monument.

Most people in Bratislava agree Stone Square needs revitalisation. The area lacks public green places, and open spaces, the buildings are seen as dirty buildings and the area has attracted homeless people in considerable numbers. But a large number of people want the hotel complex designated a national cultural monument.

Now, however, the entire façade of the Hotel Kyjev has been transformed in recent years by the photographer Lousy Auber into one of the biggest street art pieces in Central Europe.

As part of a recent street art festival in Bratislava, Auber was planning and designing the work for six months. The artists received permission from Lordship and then consulted City Hall and preservationists about their design. The optical illusion was created in only few hours by 17 mountain climbers who used colourful sprays.

The façade has evoked strong reactions, both positive and negative. Some people wonder whether it is too much of an interference with the design of a building in the monument zone or ask if it is destroying the modernist architecture.

However, Tomáš Lukačka, organiser of the Bratislava Street Art Festival, has responded, ‘If anybody is concerned that we have destroyed something on the building, this is not true – the building has already been destroyed.’

The work, which has already prompted various responses, will probably remain on the building until the site is redeveloped.

Meanwhile, although the hotel remains closed, the popular nightclub in the Luna Bar underground, with its retro style remains open.

Will the Hotel Kyjev and Lousy Auber’s work be there, in this city of street art, this time next year?

I don’t know. I don’t have 20/20 vision.

Twigi … a shop window and façade in Bratislava inspired by the city’s street art (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)