17 April 2019

‘… the heavens bowed their head
As from Its heart slow dripped a crimson rain’

‘O Sun, O Christ ... Thou pawnest Heaven as a pledge for Earth’ … sunset on the beach at Platanes near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Wednesday 17 April 2019

Wednesday in Holy Week (‘Spy Wednesday’)

8 p.m., Compline, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Reading: John 13: 21-32.

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

I said on Sunday (Palm Sunday, 7 April 2019) that during Holy Week this year, instead of preaching each day in Holy Week I hoped to read a poem to help our reflections during this Holy Week.

In our Gospel reading this evening (John 13: 21-32), we are at the Last Supper, and Jesus has finished washing his disciples’ feet.

He now tells them that one of them is about to betray him. He then tells Judas Iscariot to go and do quickly what he is planning to do.

My choice of a Lenten poem this evening is the sonnet, ‘I saw the Sun at Midnight,’ by the 1916 leader, Joseph Mary Plunkett (1879-1916).

Although another poem by Plunkett, ‘I see his blood upon the rose,’ is well-known, Plunkett’s work as poet is often overshadowed by the memory of his role in the Easter Rising in 1916.

But Joseph Mary Plunkett was hardly the typical ‘green, Gaelic, Catholic working class hero’ that those who hijack the memory and names of 1916 today would like us to imagine. Instead, Joseph Mary Plunkett came from an aristocratic and artistic background.

He was the son of Count George Noble Plunkett (1851-1948), curator of the National Museum of Ireland, and Josephine Cranny (1858-1944), Countess Plunkett. He was born on 21 November 1887 at 26 Upper Fitzwilliam Street, Dublin, an elegant Georgian house on the Fitzwilliam or Pembroke estate, close to Merrion Square, Fitzwilliam Square and Saint Stephen’s Green.

He was sent to school in Dublin at Catholic University School and the Jesuit-run Belvedere College, before going to the Jesuit-run English public school, Stonyhurst.

In England, he studied the mystics Saint John of the Cross, Saint Theresa of Avila, and Saint Francis de Sales, and their influence permeates his poetry, although, in a short article on ‘Obscurity and Poetry,’ he later applied the term ‘mystic’ to but a very small part of his own verse.

Back in Ireland, he became friends with Thomas MacDonagh and Padraic Pearse at Saint Enda’s School, Rathfarnham. Like him, they would become signatories of the 1916 Proclamation. But ill-health made him inactive for much of his life, and he spent many winters abroad. He and his mother spent a winter travelling in Italy, Sicily and Malta, and he spent another winter in Algiers, where he studied Arabic literature and language.

When he returned from Algiers, he lived in Donnybrook, but apart from MacDonagh and Pearse he had few other literary friends in Dublin until he became interested in the Irish Review, whose contributors included James Stephens, Thomas MacDonagh and Padraic Colum, who was editor in 1912-1913. Two of his poems were published in the Review, and he became editor in June 1913.

While he was editor, the contributors included David Houston, Joseph Campbell, Conal O’Riordan, James Cousins, Lord Dunsany, Darrell Figgis, Arthur Griffith, Mary Hayden, Winifred M Letts, Susan Mitchell, Francis Sheehy Skeffington and Sir Roger Casement.

Along with MacDonagh and Edward Martyn, he also co-founded the Irish Theatre in 1914.

In 1916, he was one of the signatories of the Proclamation. He was imprisoned in Richmond Barracks. Shortly before his execution in Kilmainham Jail on the morning of 4 May 1916, he married his fiancé, Grace Gifford (1888-1955), in the jail chapel. His friend, Thomas MacDonagh, who married Grace’s sister, Muriel, was executed the day before. Grace was a member of the Church of Ireland, but she and Joseph had planned to marry in University Church, Saint Stephen’s Green. He was 28 when he died.

Two volumes of Plunkett’s poetry were published: one in 1911 and the other posthumously. They include many immature poems, but also some lasting poems he later counted among his mature work, including ‘White Dove of the Wild Dark Eyes,’ the sonnet ‘I Saw the Sun at Midnight, Rising Red,’ the poems ‘1867,’ ‘I See His Blood Upon the Rose,’ ‘My Soul is Sick with Longing,’ and ‘The Stars Sang in God’s Garden.’

This evening’s poem, which is a deep meditation on the love of God, was also included in The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1917), edited by DHS Nicholson and AHE Lee.

‘I saw the Sun … rising red … heavy with the stain of blood-compassion’ … a sun-streaked sky at the Rectory in Askeaton before sunrise (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I saw the Sun at Midnight, by Joseph Mary Plunkett

I saw the Sun at midnight, rising red,
Deep-hued yet glowing, heavy with the stain
Of blood-compassion, and I saw It gain
Swiftly in size and growing till It spread
Over the stars; the heavens bowed their head
As from Its heart slow dripped a crimson rain,
Then a great tremor shook It, as of pain –
The night fell, moaning, as It hung there dead.

O Sun, O Christ, O bleeding Heart of flame!
Thou givest Thine agony as our life’s worth,
And makest it infinite, lest we have dearth
Of rights wherewith to call upon Thy Name;
Thou pawnest Heaven as a pledge for Earth
And for our glory sufferest all shame.

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

John 13: 21-32 (NRSVA):

21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23 One of his disciples – the one whom Jesus loved – was reclining next to him; 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ 26 Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

Liturgical Colour: Red or Violet

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God,
you sent your Son to reconcile us to yourself and to one another.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
you heal the wounds of sin and division.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
through you we put to death the sins of the body – and live.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Lord God,
whose blessed Son our Saviour
gave his back to the smiters,
and did not hide his face from shame:
Give us grace to endure the sufferings
of this present time,
with sure confidence in the glory that shall be revealed;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Introduction to the Peace:

Now in union with Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of Christ’s blood; for he is our peace. (Ephesians 2: 17)


Christ draw you to himself
and grant that you find in his cross a sure ground for faith,
a firm support for hope,
and the assurance of sins forgiven:


247, When I survey the wondrous cross (CD 15)

‘The night fell, moaning, as It hung there dead’ … sunset seen through the church ruins at Kilconly in north Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

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

Former Presbyterian church and
town hall find new life in Nenagh

The former Presbyterian Church in Nenagh, Co Tipperary … designed by Henry James Lundy and now a tourist office (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The former Presbyterian Church and the former Town Hall next door form an interesting pair of buildings on Banba Square in the centre of Nenagh, Co Tipperary, and they now serve as a tourist office and an arts centre.

The former Presbyterian Church, built on the corner of Banba Square and Kickham Street in 1905-1906, was designed by the Dublin-born architect Henry James Lundy (1871-1964).

Henry James Lundy was born on 5 June 1871, the eldest of the four sons of Hugh Lundy (1827-1912), from Co Cavan, and his wife Elizabeth (1847-1928), née Young, from Killucan, Co Westmeath.

The younger Henry Lundy was a pupil from 1891 to 1895 in the office of the Dublin-born architect, William Henry Beardwood (1842-1930), who designed Roscrea Abbey, Co Tipperary. Beardwood’s brother, Dom Camillus Beardwood, who was the first Abbot of Roscrea, was born Joseph Beardwood and had also trained as an architect.

By 1900, Lundy had established his own office in Dame Street, Dublin, and his pupils and assistants included Francis Peter Russell. He married Evaline Marion Spence, daughter of William Spence, an iron and brass founder, of Cork Street, Dublin, in 1901 and they were the parents of two sons, William and George.

The former Presbyterian Church in Nenagh, Co Tipperary was built in 1905-1906 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Tenders for a new Presbyterian church in Nenagh were invited in July 1905, and the church was designed by Lundy and built in 1905-1906 by Whelan Brothers of Dublin.

Lundy designed a detached, T-plan church, with three-bay side elevations and a two-bay return. The terracotta dressings are by Beckett of Kingscourt, Co Cavan, and the lead light windows by McCullagh and Nairn of Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin.

There are rendered walls with buttresses and a render plaque, pointed-arch openings with timber sliding sash windows that have hood-mouldings and some stained glass. The memorial stone was laid on 23 October 1906. The porch on the north-west side is a recent addition.

Six years after his church in Nenagh was completed, Lundy’s architectural career came to an end and in 1912 he emigrated to Canada to farm, leaving his younger brother, Hubert John Lundy, in the Dublin office.

Henry Lundy eventually returned to Ireland about 1953 and died while staying with his brother Hubert in Dublin on 5 January 1964.

In recent years, this former Presbyterian church has been converted for local authority offices but retains much of its original form. The gabled street façade and large pointed-arch window identify it clearly as a former church, it retains interesting features, including the buttresses, plaque, hood-moulding and ridge crestings.

The former church now serves as the town’s tourist office, conveniently located in the town centre beside the Arts Centre and close to Nenagh Castle, its churches, courthouse and other buildings of architectural interest.

Nenagh’s former Town Hall … designed by Robert Paul Gill and built in 1885-1889 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Beside Lundy’s church, the former Town Hall, now Nenagh Arts Centre, stands on the corner of Banba Square and O’Rahilly Street, and was built in 1885-1889. This town hall was designed by the Nenagh-born engineer and architect, Robert Paul Gill (1863-1928).

Robert Paul Gill was born in Nenagh in 1863 and baptised in Saint Mary’s Church on 10 July 1863. His father, Robert Gill, was an assistant county surveyor for Co Tipperary and was responsible for providing Nenagh’s town water supply in 1891.

Gill was a student at Trinity College Dublin before serving a pupil with Marmaduke Backhouse in 1881-1883 and then with Thomas J Myles, engineer with the Midland Great Western Railway Co, in 1883-1884. His brother, Thomas Patrick Gill (1858-1931), was Home Rule MP for South Louth (1885-1892), a close ally of Charles Stewart Parnell and later secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction.

In 1889, Gill became the architect of New Tipperary, a housing development on the edge of Tipperary town for the evicted tenants of the local landlord, Arthur Hugh Smith-Barry.

Gill also became an assistant county surveyor in Co Tipperary, a post he held until at least 1922, town surveyor of Nenagh at the same time and engineer to Borrisokane Rural District Council. He also worked for the Congested Districts Board, actively promoting rural development and co-operative creameries.

Gill also practised privately with John Ousley Moynan as Moynan and Gill, and his son Owen joined the practice when he returned home from World War I. Gill also farmed at Fattheen House near Nenagh.

His first wife, Margaret Mary (‘Daisy’) Stephens, was from Borrisokane, and they were the parent of nine children; his second wife, Mary Hourigan, was from Limerick, and they were the parents of three more children.

Gill died in 1928. His youngest son, Tomas MacGiolla (1924-2010), later became TD for Dublin West and President of the Workers Party.

Gill’s town hall was built in 1889 on the site of Nenagh’s old turf market. This is a gable-fronted two-storey building, with a three-bay front elevation, six-bay side elevations and later extensions at the south-east and north sides.

Its noticeable features include the round-headed doorcase with a carved limestone archivolt on engaged square columns with capitals carved with acorns and oak leaves, its symmetry of form, and the well-executed stone decorative features.

The Town Hall was refurbished as Nenagh Arts Centre in 2010. It has a state-of-the-art theatre it offers a wide programme, including films, plays, music and children’s theatre.

Praying through Lent with
USPG (43): 17 April 2019

‘Jesus is nailed to the Cross’ … Station XI in the Stations of the Cross in the Chapel in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Wednesday in Holy Week [17 April 2019], often known as ‘Spy Wednesday.’ Later this evening, I am leading and speaking at Compline in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (8 p.m.).

During Lent this year, I am using the USPG Prayer Diary, Pray with the World Church, for my morning prayers and reflections.

USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice. It was founded in 1701.

This week, Holy Week, the USPG Prayer Diary is focussing on the work of the Delhi Brotherhood Society (DBS) and its Women’s Helpline, which provides pastoral support and counselling to help families to resolve issues of gender violence or marital discord.

This theme was introduced on Sunday morning with a short article telling Meera’s story.

Wednesday 17 April 2019, Wednesday in Holy Week (‘Spy Wednesday’):

Pray for women vulnerable to eviction and for their children, that they find support, are made aware of their legal rights and are empowered to take control.


Isaiah 50: 4-9a; Psalm 70; Hebrews 12: 1-3; John 13: 21-32.

The Collect of the Day:

Lord God,
whose blessed Son our Saviour
gave his back to the smiters,
and did not hide his face from shame:
Give us grace to endure the sufferings
of this present time,
with sure confidence in the glory that shall be revealed;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation.
Give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow