Sunday, 27 June 2021

Reaching for the stars
in the streets and on
stage in Skibbereen

The Town Hall has been a focal point for social and cultural life in Skibbereen since the 1850s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Skibbereen is the ‘hub’ of West Cork and an ideal base to discover the delights of the area. I had explored Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Abbeystrewry Church, the Church of Ireland parish church, during my road trip or ‘staycation’ in West Cork, and I had seen the sad and charred ruins of the former Mercy Convent chapel designed by Pugin and Ashlin.

But walking around Skibbereen, I found other interesting buildings too, and some fine street art celebrating important figures from science and literature in the town.

Since the late 1850s, the Town Hall has been the most prominent building in the Town Square and a focal point for cultural and social life in Skibbereen.

As far back as 1801, the Becher family, who owned that part of the town – and who donated the sites for the cathedral and the convent – had mapped the site of the Town Hall stands for a Market House, and the Bechers established a thread market there in 1824. The Market House was also used as the rent office for the Becher estate.

Sir Henry Wrixon-Becher (1826-1893) erected a new Town Hall on the site in the early 1860s, replacing the old Market House and Toll House that had was in a dilapidated state. The new building had an extended marketplace on the ground floor and a large hall or theatre on the first floor.

Becher offered to sell the Town Hall to the Town Commissioners, who held their meetings in the Courthouse or in the Land and Labour Hall on Bridge Street. However, the debate about buying the Hall was not without controversy.

Becher refused to sell the Town Hall without an agreement that it should not be used for any political or sectarian purposes – a clause caused that divided the Town Commissioners and that was opposed by the nationalist members.

The Skibbereen United Trades Association opposed buying the Becher hall and wanted the Town Commissioners to provide employment by building a new hall. In addition, many workers opposed buying what was Becher’s rent office.

The Town Hall was bought by Skibbereen Town Commissioners in 1866 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

After years of debate, the Hall was bought by the Town Commissioners in 1866. But a year later, Henry R Marmion, agent for the Townsend estate which owned the Bridgetown side of town, proposed building a Town Hall of their own in Bridge Street.

Meanwhile, the upstairs hall in the Town Hall became a venue for travelling theatre groups and musicians. The town clock was presented in 1878 by The O’Donovan of Liss Ard and the clock tower was added to accommodate it.

Becher’s proviso that the Town Hall would not be used for political meetings was soon ignored, and some of the major figures in Irish nationalism spoke at meetings there.

Charles Stewart Parnell addressed a crowd in the square from the upstairs window of the Town Hall on 10 April 1880. Michael Davitt addressed a meeting in the Hall in August 1887. Maud Gonne spoke there on Saint Patrick’s Day 1902. Other political figures who spoke there included Eamon de Valera, Michael Collins, Terence MacSwiney and Mary MacSwiney.

Harold Pinter, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, made an early stage appearance at the Town Hall. Pinter began his career as an actor and toured Anew McMaster’s Touring Company in 1951-1952. They played six consecutive nights in the Town Hall that September, performing a different play each night.

McMaster staged the last show in the Town Hall. On the night of 13 August 1955, his travelling theatre company performed the Greek classic Oedipus Rex. Later that night, the Town Hall was extensively damaged by fire. The McMaster company’s sets and costumes were destroyed too, as well as the library’s large stock of books. The Town Hall, the centre of commercial, social and cultural life in Skibbereen for over a century, was destroyed.

Within weeks of the fire, Skibbereen Urban District Council decided to rebuilt the Town Hall on the same site. A new and bigger Town Hall was opened and blessed by Bishop Cornelius Lucey on 2 February 1960.

In the 1960s, the Town Hall staged many local and touring theatrical productions. The Cathedral Players continued to stage plays and the annual Skibbereen pantomime, first held in 1963, continued for many years. Weekly dances were held the 1960s and 1970s when Ireland’s showbands were at their peak. The Skibbereen Theatre Society continues to stage at least one production annually.

The Town Hall ceased to be the local council offices in the 1990s when the UDC moved to new offices over the Library in the Bishop Kelly Memorial Institute in North Street. Town Councils in Ireland were abolished in 2014.

But the Town Hall on the corner of the Square and North Street remains a testament to Victorian imagination and diversity in the use of architectural revival styles, and its survival continues to enrich the architectural heritage of Skibbereen.

Ellen Mary Clerke (1840-1906) depicted in street art in Skibbereen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

In the street art that decorates Skibbereen, two works commemorate two sisters born in the town: Ellen Mary Clerke (1840-1906) and Agnes Mary Clerke (1842-1907). They were the daughters of John William Clerke (1814-1890), a bank manager in Skibbereen, and his wife Catherine Mary Deasy.

Ellen Mary Clerke was born in Bridge Street on 26 September 1840. She never had any formal education and was educated at home by her parents and tutors. Ellen became an acclaimed author and published works in several European languages.

Her best-known work is Fable and Song in Italy, and also published a novel Flowers of Fire.

Ellen Clerke joined the staff of the influential Catholic weekly newspaper The Tablet in the 1880s, and continued to edit it until she died. She was highly regarded as a commentator on Italian and German politics, and was recognised as a scientific journalist, specialising in geography and anthropology.

She also contributed to the Observatory magazine and the Journal of the British Astronomy Association, and won wide recognition for a major article on the dock labourers’ strike in 1889.

Agnes Mary Clerke (1842-1907) depicted in street art in Skibbereen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Her sister Agnes Mary Clerke was born in Bridge Street on 10 February 1842. She too was educated at home by her parents and tutors, and she developed an early interest in languages and music. The family moved to Dublin in 1861 and then to Queenstown (Cobh), and later lived in London and Florence.

From her childhood, Agnes was interested in astronomy and wrote several books on the subject. She went on to become a pioneering figure in astronomy and astrophysics in the late 19th century.

Agnes made an impact in the fields of astronomy and cosmology and for a quarter of a century she was the leading writer on astronomy and astrophysics in the English-speaking world.

Her best-known book, A Popular History of Astronomy during the Nineteenth Century (1885) continues to be reprinted. Her other books include The System of the Stars (1890) and Problems in Astrophysics (1903). She also wrote 150 biographical entries in the Dictionary of National Bopgraphy.

The Clerke Crater on the Moon, close to the eastern edge of the Sea of Tranquility, is named after Agnes Mary Clerke. She died in London in 1907.

‘Thanks’ … colourful street art in Skibbereen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Sunday intercessions on
27 June 2021, Trinity IV

Women students and ordinands preparing for a service organised by the Church of Ireland Theological Institute … how is the Gospel good news for women? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Let us pray:

‘How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!’ (II Samuel I: 27):

Heavenly Father,
we pray for the world, for the kingdoms and the nations of the world,
especially those nations torn by war, conflict, injustice and oppression.

We pray for justice, mercy and peace,
for all prisoners, especially prisoners of conscience,
for an end to hatred, oppression and gender violence.

We pray for Ireland, north and south,
We give thanks for all who are responding
to the pandemic crisis …

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

‘Your faith has made you well; go in peace’ (Mark 5: 34):

Lord Jesus Christ,
we pray for the Church,
that we may grow in faith, in hope, and in love.

We pray for our Bishop Kenneth as he prepares to retire,
we give thanks for his faithful and caring ministry,
we pray for our neighbouring churches and parishes,
and people of faith everywhere,
that we may be blessed in our variety and diversity.

In the Anglican Cycle of Prayer,
we pray this week for the United Church of Pakistan,
and the new Moderator of the Church,
Archbishop Azad Marshall, Bishop of Raiwind.

In the Church of Ireland this month,
we pray for the Diocese of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh,
and for Bishop Ferran Glenfield.

In the Diocesan Cycle of Prayer,
we pray for Youth work in our dioceses,
the Boys’ Brigade, the Girls’ Friendly Society,
Tuam, Killala and Achonry Children and Youth,
and the United Diocesan Youth Council,
that our young people may flourish and grow in faith.

We pray for our own parishes and people …
and we pray for ourselves …

Christ have mercy,
Christ have mercy.

‘Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice’ (Psalm 130: 1):

Holy Spirit,
we pray for one another …
we pray for those we love and those who love us …
we pray for our families, friends and neighbours …
and we pray for those we promised to pray for …

We pray for those who feel rejected and discouraged …
we pray for all in need and those who seek healing …

We pray for those who are sick or isolated,
at home or in hospital …

Ruby … Arthur … Ann … Daphne … Sylvia …
Ajay … Adam … Simon …

We pray for all who grieve and mourn at this time …
for all who are broken-hearted,
trying to come to terms with the loss of loved ones,
for the Downes, Smyth and Doherty families …

We remember and give thanks for those who have died …
especially Ena Downes … Joe and Linda Smyth … Catherine Doherty …
May their memories be a blessing …

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

A prayer from the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) on the Fourth Sunday after Trinity:

Healing God,
May we look to You in uncertain times.
Let us take the words of your Son to heart:
‘Do not fear, only believe’.

Merciful Father …

‘De Profundis’ (1943), the haunting Holocaust tour de force by Arthur Szyk (1894-1951), draws on Psalm 130: ‘Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord’

How do women who are
forced to the margins hear
the Gospel as good news?

‘The Daughter of Jairus’ by James Tissot (1836-1902)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 27 June 2021

The Fourth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity IV)


The Readings: II Samuel 1: 1, 17-27; Psalm 130; Mark 5: 21-43

9.30 a.m. Castletown Church, Morning Prayer

11.30 a.m. Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, the Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion II)

There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him’ (Mark 5: 21) … a boat in the South Harbour on Cape Clear Island off the coast of Co Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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

Our Gospel reading this morning (Mark 5: 21-43) tells the stories of how Christ responds to the plight of two very different people: a young girl who is on her deathbed, and a woman who has been suffering for the previous 12 years, as long as the young girl has lived.

The women in this reading remain unnamed, like so many women in the New Testament: three women in all, the dying girl, the older woman, and the girl’s mother.

The young girl who is on her deathbed and her mother are from a religious family; the older woman who interrupts this story, and who disrupts Jesus and intrudes on the crowd, has endured a lifetime of suffering. The two principal women in this story both suffer and are marginalised, are seen as not worth bothering about, because of their gender and because of their age.

This morning’s readings remind us that Christ calls the unnamed, the marginalised, and the long-suffering from the outside into the community. They call out, just as the psalmist cries out, ‘Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord’ (Psalm 130: 1).

This Psalm (Psalm 130), known as De Profundis, is a prayer for deliverance from personal trouble, but it ends with a message of hope for all people.

God is attentive to our pleas, despite everything that has gone wrong. God forgives, God is merciful, God offers unfailing love and freedom.

The psalmist makes the powerful and paradoxical point that God is to be held in awe not because he punishes but because he forgives.

God’s love for us surpasses the love of any father or mother for their children.

In the Gospel reading, one of the key people is the daughter of a leading member of the local synagogue. But religious position and social status are of little value when a small girl is struck with a death-threatening illness or disease.

In both cases these women are ritually unclean … a bleeding woman, a dying or dead women. Jesus should not touch them. Yet their plight touches his heart, and he reaches out to them with a healing touch.

One young woman is restored to her place in her family and in her community. One older woman, who has lost everything, who is at risk of being marginalised, even by the Disciples, is offered the hope of her proper place.

In the Gospel reading, the crowd who gather around Jesus by the lake becomes a large crowd pressing in on him.

Too often in a crowd, it is those who get to the front first, who have the loudest voices, who are heard, whose demands are met.

But in this case, it is not the loud and the proud, the rich or the famous, who grab the attention of Christ – it is a weak, timid, neglected impoverished, exploited and sick woman. All her money has gone on quacks, and she has no man to speak up for her.

But look at what Christ does for her. Without knowing it, he heals her. And when he realises what has happened, he calls her ‘Daughter.’

In a society where men had the only voices, where to have a full place in society was to be known as a Son of Israel, she is called ‘Daughter.’ She too has a full and equal place in society, in the world, and before God.

It is shocking that when the unnamed girl dies the first reaction of some key local figures is to upbraid her father for seeking help, and not to offer him comfort and sympathy.

Their lack of compassion and sympathy contrasts sharply with the compassion Christ shows for both the older and the younger woman.

Until last week, I was still hoping to take part in the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (the United Society Partners in the Gospel) next month. However, the impact of the Delta Variant means the conference has been replaced by a virtual event.

Some years ago, at the USPG conference, I heard powerful and engaging stories of how projects supported by USPG are empowering women around the world.

Canon Delene Mark from South Africa gave harrowing accounts of gender-based violence, people trafficking, child murder and forced prostitution.

Sheba Sultan from the Church of Pakistan reminded us that women in Pakistan cannot achieve anything without tackling bigotry and intolerance.

We heard from India where the Delhi Brotherhood is challenging gender-based violence, including rape and murder.

The Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes talked about gender justice, which is much more than ending gender-based violence. She shared a vision of equality for men and women created equally in the image and likeness of God, made one in Christ, called and equipped by the Holy Spirit, and living with the promise of abundant life for all.

We were challenged each day to ask ourselves: how is the Gospel good news for women?

Speaker after speaker insisted the Gospel is Good News – but only if we read it, accept its consequences for us, and then live it out.

The Gospel is Good News for women like the two women in the Gospel story and for the women I heard about at that USPG conference. But … only if we read it and if we put it into practice.

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

‘When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him’ (Mark 5: 21) … a crowded boat in the Mediterranean (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 5: 21-43 (NRSVA):

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ 29 Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31 And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ 32 He looked all round to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

‘Christ raises the daughter of Jairus’ (left), in the Hardman window by JH Powell at the west end of the nave in Saint Nicholas Church, Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect of the Day (Trinity IV):

O God, the protector of all who trust in you,
without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:
Increase and multiply upon us your mercy;
that with you as our ruler and guide,
we may so pass through things temporal
that we finally lose not the things eternal:
Grant this, heavenly Father,
for Jesus Christ’s sake, our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Eternal God,
comfort of the afflicted and healer of the broken,
you have fed us at the table of life and hope.
Teach us the ways of gentleness and peace,
that all the world may acknowledge
the kingdom of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Old newspaper cuttings … when and how is the Gospel good news for people on the margins?

Hymns:

211, Immortal love for ever full (CD 13)
592, O Love that wilt not let me go (CD 34)

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.



Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
29, Agia Irini, Rethymnon

The bells of Agia Irini are ringing out again after being quiet for decades (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

Today is the Fourth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity IV). Later this morning I am planning to preach at Morning Prayer in Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick, and to celebrate the Parish Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

Last week my photographs were of seven churches in Venice. This morning (27 June 2021), my photographs are from the Convent of Agia Irini, 5 km south of Rethymnon, introducing a week of photographs of monasteries in Crete.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the start of the Greek War of Independence, and earlier in this series morning reflections, I have also visited Arkadi Monastery (1 May 2021) and the former Monastery of Saint Catherine of Mount Sinai in Iraklion (8 May 2021).

Agia Irini may have been founded sometime between 961 and 1204 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When I am in Rethymon, I often try to visit Agia Irini, one of the oldest monasteries in Crete. Some accounts say it was founded sometime between 961 and 1204, and it was certainly built before 1362, when a Venetian document testifies to its existence.

But the monastery was destroyed several times during the many revolutions in Crete against Ottoman rule, and the monastery went into decline after the revolution of 1821 at the beginning of the Greek War of Independence.

In 1844, the Schools Commission assumed the management of the monastery and in 1866, after it suffered great damage at the hands of the Turks, the monastery was granted to the nearby monastery of Chalevi.

However, during the last Cretan revolution of 1897-1898, the Turks burnt the monastery, the ruined monastery was formally closed in 1900, and the ruins remained deserted for most of the 20th century.

At first, the monastery lands were granted to the monastery of Arsani, but in 1925 the lands were distributed among local Greek war veterans. When Sister Akaterina brought me on a tour of the monastery, she spoke of how the Metropolitan of Rethymnon, the late Bishop Theodoros Tzedakis, had a vision in 1989 for the restoration of the monastery and invited a group of nuns to form a new community at Agia Irini.

The nuns moved into the buildings and restoration work started in 1990. At the time, Agia Irini was a jumble of dilapidated buildings. Today, it is one of the most beautiful monasteries in Crete, having been restored with great care, using the principles of monastic architecture from a bygone era.

The restoration work was acknowledged in 1995 with the annual European Union award for cultural heritage, the Europa Nostra Award. From the entrance, the monastery looks like a walled fortress. Unlike other churches, the main church is not in the centre of the enclosure but outside it on the higher level of the sacred rock.

The church was officially opened in 2003, and was consecrated two years ago ten years ago on 20 August 2011 by Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria.

On the ruins of an old olive mill stands the smaller chapel of Saint Raphael, Saint Nicholas and Saint Irene. The monastery also has a small museum, a refectory, and workshops for icon painting, embroidery and sewing. The nuns use olive oil and tsoikoudia from their own trees and grapes to make hand-made soap and herb extracts.

Outside the courtyard, an older three-aisled church of Saint Irene, Saint Catherine and Saint Euphemia is awaiting restoration.

About eight nuns now live in the monastery. In their shop, the nuns sell traditional handicrafts of weaving and needlework, their own almond-flavoured drink, candles, religious books and icons, including unusual icons written on odd pieces of ceramic. Two of the nuns are also well-known icon writers.

A quiet corner in the monastery of Agia Irini, 5 km south of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 5: 21-43 (NRSVA):

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ 29 Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31 And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ 32 He looked all round to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

The restoration of Agia Irini was acknowledged with the Europa Nostra Award (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (27 June 2021, Trinity IV) invites us to pray:

Healing God,
May we look to You in uncertain times.
Let us take the words of your Son to heart:
‘Do not fear, only believe’.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The grave of Metropolitan Theodoros Tzedakis outside the church in Agia Irini (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