02 October 2020

‘Such a fine fine line between
love and hate and war and peace’

‘The Festival of Sukkot teaches us to give thanks to God for the harvest of fruit and grain and to share these and all nature’s blessings with our fellow men’ (Rabbi Sidney Brichto) … a full barn on my grandmother’s former farm near Cappoquin, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

The Harvest is in in most parts of rural Ireland. But in the Rathkeale Group of Parishes, we decided last week to cancel the planned Harvest Thanksgiving Service this evening (2 October 2020) in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Instead, the Harvest theme is being taken up in our services next Sunday morning (4 October 2020), with Harvest readings, hymns and intercessions at the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton (9.30 a.m.) and Morning Prayer in Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert (11.30 a.m.).

This year’s planned Harvest Thanksgiving Service coincided with the date of Sukkot in the Jewish Calendar. Sukkot is the harvest festival that commemorates the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness, and the Jewish harvest festival that acknowledges the fragility of our lives and invoke God’s sheltering presence.

The Festival of Sukkot this year begins at sundown this evening [Friday 2 October 2020] and continues until sundown next Friday [9 October]. The conclusion of Sukkot marks the beginning of the separate holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

Sukkot (סוכות or סֻכּוֹת, sukkot or sukkos), the Festival of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths, is also known as the Festival of Ingathering (חג האסיף, Chag HaAsif) and in some translations the Festival of Shelters.

This Festival is mentioned in Exodus as agricultural in nature – ‘Festival of Ingathering at the year’s end’ (see Exodus 34: 22) – and it marks the end of the harvest time and of the agricultural year in the Land of Israel. A more elaborate religious significance in Leviticus describes the Exodus and the dependence of the People on the will of God (see Leviticus 23: 42-43).

A meditation on Sukkot in Service of the Heart, a prayer book I use regularly in my daily prayers and meditations, offers this Kiddush for welcoming Sukkot, composed by Rabbi Sidney Brichto (1936-2009), a Jewish authority on both the Old Testament and New Testament and translator of the People’s Bible:

‘The Festival of Sukkot teaches us to give thanks to God for the harvest of fruit and grain and to share these and all nature’s blessings with our fellow men.

‘Let us praise God with this symbol of joy and thank him for his providence which has upheld us in our wanderings and sustained us with nature’s bounty from year to year. May our worship lead us to live this day and all days in the spirit of this Festival of Sukkot with trust in God’s care, with thanksgiving for his goodness, and with determination that all men shall enjoy the blessings of the earth.’

This Biblical holiday is celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei, usually between late September and late October. It is one of the three biblically mandated festivals when Jews were expected to undertake a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, along with Passover and Shavuot (see John 7: 2-14).

In the times of the Temple in Jerusalem, Sukkot was also the time of a water-drawing ceremony (see John 7: 37-38).

Sukkot is a joyous and upbeat celebration, and is celebrated today with its own customs and practices.

The holiday lasts seven days in Israel and eight days in the diaspora. The first day (and the second day in the diaspora) is a Shabbat-like holiday when work is forbidden. This is followed by intermediate days called Chol Hamoed, when some work is allowed. The festival closes with another Shabbat-like holiday called Shemini Atzeret, and the second day is called Simchat Torah [10/11 October 2020] in the diaspora.

It is traditional in Jewish families and homes to mark this festival by building a sukkah or a temporary hut to dwell in during the holiday. The customs include buying a lulav and etrog and shaking them daily throughout the festival.

A sukkah is a temporary dwelling in which farmers once lives during the harvest. Today, it is also a reminder of the type of the fragile dwellings in which the people lived during their 40 years wandering through the wilderness after fleeing slavery in Egypt.

Throughout the holiday, meals are eaten inside the sukkah and some people even sleep there as well.

On each day of the holiday it is mandatory to perform a waving ceremony with the Four Species or specified plants: citrus trees, palm trees, thick or leafy trees and willows.

Prayers during Sukkot include reading the Torah every day, the Mussaf or additional service after morning prayers, reciting Hallel, and adding special additions to the Amidah and Grace after Meals. There are traditional readings from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

On each day of Sukkot, worshippers walk around the synagogue carrying the Four Species while saying special prayers known as Hoshanot. This ceremony commemorates the willow ceremony at the Temple in Jerusalem, in which willow branches were piled beside the altar with worshippers parading around the altar reciting prayers.

Another custom is to recite the ushpizin prayer to invite one of seven ‘exalted guests’ into the sukkah. These ushpizin or guests represent the seven shepherds of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. According to tradition, each night a different guest enters the sukkah followed by the other six. Each of the ushpizin has a unique lesson that teaches the parallels of the spiritual focus of the day on which they visit.

Brant Rosen is an American rabbi and blogger, who is known for his activism and outspokenness on behalf of the Palestinian people, and who writes poems major festivals in the Jewish calendar, such as sukkot.

Brant Rosen is the full-time rabbi of Tzedek Chicago, a ‘non-Zionist’ synagogue he founded in 2015. He has also worked for the Quaker-led social justice programme, American Friends Service Committee, co-chairs the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council, and co-founded the Jewish Fast for Gaza (Ta’anit Tzedek).

He has been named one of the ‘Top 25 Pulpit Rabbis in America’ by Newsweek magazine.

Brant Rosen’s blog Shalom Rav explores ‘the intersection between Judaism and social justice, with a particular emphasis on Israel/Palestine.’ He is also the author of the blog Yedid Nefesh, where he posts his poetry and thoughts on Judaism and spirituality.

On Sukkot Eve 2012, he posted his own selections from Ecclesiastes to help celebrate this time of rejoicing:

a generation goes a generation comes
but the earth remains forever
the sun rises the sun sets and
glides back to where it rises again
southward blowing turning northward ever
turning blows the wind
on its rounds the wind returns

all streams flow into the sea but
the sea is never full
to the place from which they flow
there they will flow back again

(Ecclesiastes 1: 4-7)

To mark the festival of Sukkot in 2011, Brant Rosen published a new version of the best-known part of the Book of Ecclesiastes (3: 1-8):

Kohelet 3: 1-8

an eon turns to a millisecond
swing from here and to
there keeping rhythm here
to there and back again we are
born and we
die we plant and
we uproot
we kill we heal we
destroy and we rebuild again
we cry out and we laugh to the high
high heavens we throw stones and
gather them up once
more we embrace and we turn
away cast our eyes down
down to the ground we seek and
we lose we may yet find we
hoard and we purge we tear
and then sew back up we hold our tongues
and we scream like rain
we’re spitting in the wind
such a fine fine line between
love and hate and war
and peace enjoy it
while you can

Doneraile Court, carefully
restored Georgian house,
is now open to the public

Doneraile Court in north Cork opened to the public in 2019 after a half-century restoration project (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

After visiting Buttevant last week, I also visited Doneraile Court, a country house set in 160 ha (400 acres) of walled parkland near Doneraile, in north Co Cork, and that has recently opened to the public.

Standing on the banks of the River Awbeg, the house dates from the 1720s, when it was built by Arthur St Leger, 1st Viscount Doneraile, and it was the seat of the St Leger family until the mid-20th century.

Sir Anthony St Leger came to Ireland in 1537, and became Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1540. The St Leger family came to Doneraile in 1629 and remained there until 1969, when the property was sold to the Land Commission. The house has been in the care of Irish Georgian Society and the Office of Public Works in 1994, and opened to the public last year (2019).

The estate and Doneraile village have strong literary traditions, from Edmund Spenser, who wrote of the River Awbeg in his poem The Faerie Queene, and to Canon Patrick Sheehan and Elizabeth Bowen. Spenser wrote The Faerie Queene while he was living in Kilcoman, and the ‘gentle Mulla’ river he refers to in his poem runs through Doneraile Estate as the River Awbeg.

Doneraile and other estates were bought in 1629 by Sir William St Leger, Lord President of Munster, who moved into the 13th-century Doneraile Castle. By 1645, the castle had been attacked and burned several times and was so badly damaged that it was abandoned.

The present house at Doneraile Court was first built in the late 17th century, using some of the stonework of the old castle. It was extensively remodelled Arthur St Leger, 1st Viscount Doneraile, and the current façade was added in 1725 by the architect Isaac Rothery.

Arthur St Leger’s daughter, Elizabeth St Leger Aldworth, was the first – and supposedly the only – woman admitted to the Freemasons. Her memorial in Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork, was erected by the Freemasons of Cork.

Arthur St Leger, 2nd Viscount Doneraile, had a short-lived second marriage to Catherine Conyngham that took place under dubious circumstances in 1725. She left him after only a month, and he claimed he had been too drunk to be sure that the marriage had taken place.

The St Leager arms above the portico at Doneraile Court (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

When Hayes St Leger (1702-1767), the 4th Viscount, died without any children, the property was inherited by Elizabeth Aldworth’s son, St Leger Aldworth, who was MP for Doneraile in 1761-1776. To inherit the estate, he had to take the surname St Leger, becoming known as St Leger St Leger. He was given the title of Baron Doneraile in 1775, and the title of Viscount Doneraile was revived for him in 1785, so that he became the first viscount of the second creation.

Throughout the 19th century, the St Leger family owned and bred horses for hunting and racing on the estate, and gave its name to the St Leger, a famous race.

The literary heritage of Doneraile found expression in popular verse with Patrick O’Kelly’s self-funded publication of The Litany for Doneraile in 1812. The poet piles curses on the town because of a lost watch. Fortunately, the then Lady Doneraile replaced it for him, prompting a retraction in the form of Blessings on Doneraile, which wishes far nicer things on the town.

Hayes St Leger (1818-1887), 4th Viscount Doneraile, died from rabies after he was bitten by his pet fox, and had no sons to inherit the estate and titles. His only surviving daughter, the Hon Ursula Clara Emily St Leger, became Lady Castletown in 1874 when she married Bernard Edward Barnaby Fitzpatrick (1848-1937), 2nd Baron Castletown.

While Lord and Lady Castletown lived at Doneraile Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr (1841-1937), a judge of the US Supreme Court justice, visited Doneraile on several occasions. He carried on an extensive correspondence Lady Castletown and may have had an affair with her. He also developed a lifelong friendship with Doneraile’s parish priest, the writer Canon Patrick Sheehan (1852-1913), author of My New Curate, Glenanaar and The Graves of Kilmorna.

The house at Doneraile Coirt was extended and developed throughout the 19th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

While the Castletowns were living at Doneraile, the estate experimented with market gardening, and the house was extended to include a dining wing and a conservatory, neither of which survive.

The house has a seven-bay, three-storey façade of cut stone with curved end bows added later in the 18th century. The interior includes an early 18th century panelled room and a late 18th century oval staircase hall with Adams-style plasterwork on the ceiling.

A nine-bay Gothic Revival style conservatory built in 1825 has since been demolished. Other 19th century additions included a three-bay porch at the front, a vast dining room in 1869 that was demolished during restoration work a century later, and an octagonal kitchen and game store also built in 1869. Other improvements on the estate included cottages, lodges, farm buildings and stables.

The Doneraile demesne included some 3,200 ha (8,000 acres) in 1870. But it was gradually reduced in size with the sale of land to tenants under various Land Acts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Lady Castletown died at Doneraile in 1927. By then, the Doneraile title and estates had passed to her distant cousin, Edward St Leger (1866-1941), 6th Viscount Doneraile.

Hugh St Leger (1869-1956), 7th Viscount Doneraile, was the last Lord Doneraile to live in the house. He was born in New Zealand and lived there before inheriting the title and estate in 1941. The remaining demesne land, including Doneraile Wildlife Park, was sold to the government in 1943. He and his wife had no children and he died in 1956. Mary (née Morice), the widowed Lady Doneraile, remained at Doneraile Court, and oversaw the sale of the property to the Land Commission, beginning the process of preserving Doneraile Estate for the nation.

Doneraile Court was sold to the state by the estate trustees in 1969 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Richard St John St Leger (1923-1983), a 44-year-old Californian truck driver, arrived in Ireland with his wife Melva, a trapeze artist, and their five children in 1968 and he claimed to be the 9th Viscount Doneraile. Dick filed an application with the House of Lords to have his claim recognised. While this process was under way, and despite objections from the estate’s trustees, he moved into the house with his family, initially living with the widowed Lady Doneraile, although she later moved into a cottage on the estate.

The trustees agreed with the Land Commission to sell Doneraile Court and its lands for £56,800. But, meanwhile, Richard St Leger was refurbishing the house with plans to open it to the public.

The Irish Georgian Society offered support and sent a large number of volunteers to help before a planned opening ceremony in July 1969 with the US Ambassador to Ireland. However, just days before, the trustees gained a High Court injunction against opening Doneraile Court. The trustees then proceeded to sell its entire contents to a consortium of antique dealers.

The Land Commission completed the purchase of the estate, and Richard St Leger never proved his claim to the title. He moved out of the house, returned to the US and died in 1983. The title is now used by his son, Richard Allen St Leger, as 10th Viscount Doneraile.

The Doneraile estate passed into state ownership through the Office of Public Works and the Department of Forestry and Fisheries. Care was lavished on the parkland in preparation of opening it to the public, but the house began to show evidence of neglect and deterioration. Windows were broken by vandals, plasterwork began falling from the walls and the 19th century conservatory collapsed.

Doneraile Court was leased rent-free to the Irish Georgian Society in 1976 on condition that the society restored the building. By 1978, the society had spent £25,000 on structural repairs and that figure climbed steadily. By 1983, an estimated £40,000 had been spent on the house, although much of the work had been undertaken by volunteers.

The park at Doneraile opened to the public in 1984, a tearoom opened in the old kitchen in the house in 1990, and the ground floor of Doneraile Court opened in 1992 with a variety of exhibitions.

Two years later, with the greater part of the restoration work completed at a cost of £500,000, the Irish Georgian Society handed the house back to the Office of Public Works. But for the next 25 years, the house remained closed and shuttered until it opened to the public last year (2019).

A room in Doneraile Court is dedicated to the writer Elizabeth Bowen. Her home nearby at Bowen’s Court in Kildorrery was demolished in 1961.

The kitchen wing from the 19th century is the home of the Doneraile Court tearooms, and we finished our visit there sipping coffees.

The ‘Triumphal Arch’ at the entrance to Doneraile Court (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The ‘Triumphal Arch’ at the entrance to Doneraile Court is believed to date from ca 1830 and has been attributed by some sources to George Pain. It was erected during by Hayes St Leger, 3rd Viscount Doneraile, after a new road was made around the edge of the parkland to replace an earlier road that ran directly in front of the house.

The Ionic capitals on the pillars at either side of the main arch contrast with the Doric order used for the pedimented lodge immediately inside the gates. Both have been restored by the Office of Public Works.

The grounds around the house are laid out in the style of Capability Brown, the deer park has Killarney Red, Sika and Fallow deer and the meadows have a herd of Kerry cattle.

Since opening its doors last year, Doneraile Court is at the heart of this great estate once again. The OPW in partnership with the Crawford Art Gallery exhibits significant works at Doneraile Court, and guided tours are available

Doneraile Court’s unhappy past is behind it, and it seems the future of the house is secure.

The park at Doneraile opened to the public in 1984 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)