08 March 2022

Red-brick church in Riverchapel
has links with the Gothic Revival
and serves Courtown Harbour

The Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea, Riverchapel,Co Wexford, designed by JJ McCarthy and his son CJ McCarthy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

On a visit to Co Wexford at the weekend, I stopped to see the Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea, Riverchapel, which is the Roman Catholic parish church for the seaside resort of Courtown Harbour.

It is said the history of the Riverchapel and Courtown area dates back to ca 600, when Saint Aidan, the first Bishop of Ferns, landed at Ardamine on his return from Saint David’s in Wales.

Saint Aidan established his first church at Kiltennel, although some sources say this was an earlier Christian foundation, founded in the late sixth century.

Inside the church in Riverchapel … it was built in 1881-1882 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Riverchapel started as a small village in the parish of Ardamine, just 5 km south-east of Gorey. The name comes from a small mud-walled chapel beside the Owenavorragh River that served the community in the 1700s.

Courtown developed into a fishing village in the 1830s, and was endowed with long sandy beaches, woodlands and the rock-cut gorge of the river.

With the arrival of the railway from Dublin to Gorey and the south-east, both Courtown and Riverchapel became popular tourist destinations in the 1860s.

Inside the church in Riverchapel, near Courtown (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea was built in the Gothic style with a bell tower at the north-west angle, to designs by the architect James Joseph McCarthy (1817-1882).

McCarthy had also worked on the ‘Twin Churches’ on Bride Street and Rowe Street, Wexford, and on Saint Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, and claimed the mantle of AWN Pugin, the architect who introduced the Gothic revival in church architecture to Ireland.

Although officially JJ McCarthy was the architect of the church in Riverchapel, all the detail work was by his son, Charles James McCarthy (1858-1947), who made all of the drawings for the church in 1881, before overseeing its completion after his father died on 6 February 1882.

The foundation stone was laid on 1 May 1881, and the church was dedicated on 27 August 1882. James T Ryan of Waterford and Limerick was the contractor and Thomas Clifford of Enniscorthy was the clerk of works.

The church gable has a quatrefoil-detailed Rose Window with cut-granite surrounds (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

This church is an important part of late 19th century church history and architectural heritage of north Co Wexford. Its architectural composition has been compared with the earlier Catholic Church of Saint John the Baptist in Lispole, Co Kerry, with similar rectilinear plan forms, aligned along a liturgically-incorrect axis.

This is a six-bay double-height church, built on a rectangular plan with a six-bay, single-storey lean-to side aisle. It is built on a south-north axis, rather than the liturgically traditional east-west axis.

The church has red brick Flemish bond walls, red brick Flemish bond stepped buttresses in the corners, lancet windows and a pointed-arch front door. The gable has a quatrefoil-detailed Rose Window with cut-granite surrounds.

The church has red brick Flemish bond walls, red brick Flemish bond stepped buttresses in the corners (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The vibrant red brick was supplied by the Courtown Brick and Tile Works. The silver-grey granite dressings show good quality workmanship and also produce an eye-catching Ruskin-style Gothic palette. The slender profiles of the windows and doors underpin a mediaeval-style Gothic theme. The fl├Ęche-like buttressed spirelet embellishes the banded roof and provides a picturesque eye-catcher in the landscape.

Inside the church, the interior details include trefoil-detailed timber pews, replacement Stations of the Cross (1967) between stained glass memorial windows (1949, 1980), an exposed scissor truss timber roof on cut-granite beaded Cavetto corbels, wind braced rafters in the ceiling on a carved timber cornice, a replacement Gothic-style reredos (1980) and the stained glass ‘Trinity Window’ (1943).

The Trinity Window defines the chancel and has been attributed variously to Harry Clarke, the Harry Clarke Studios, and to the Earley Studios (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Like so many churches throughout the Diocese of Ferns and Co Wexford, this church has a fine collection of stained-glass, including windows attributed to Harry Clarke and the Harry Clarke Studios.

The elegant Trinity Window defines the chancel. This jewel-like window depicts Christ the King, with the Virgin Mary (left), and Saint Joseph (right). It has been attributed variously to Harry Clarke, the Harry Clarke Studios, and to the Earley Studios.

Other stained glass in the church is signed by Irish Stained Glass and George William Walsh of Dublin.

The interior of the church, including the sanctuary, was reordered in 1968-1969 along the lines of the liturgical reforms introduced by Vatican II (1962-1965). The church was restored once again in 1980-1981. The new porch was built in 1998, and the stained-glass windows were restored in 2004.

The windows and the memorials recall the association of Riverchapel and Courtown with the sea (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

A memorial commemorates members of Courtown lifeboat station, which opened in 1866 and which was re-established in 1990.

The growing population in the neighbouring parish of Ballygarrett led to the formation of the new parish of Riverchapel-Courtown Harbour in 1991, with the late Father Aidan Jones, who had served the parish from 1980, as the first parish priest (1991-1995).

This church has been well maintained, and the elementary form and massing survive intact, along with quantities of the original fabric, both inside and outside. It is set in relandscaped grounds on a slightly elevated site, and it makes a pleasing visual statement in this coastal village.

Saint Patrick depicted in the Dunne memorial window in Riverchapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Lent:
8 March 2022 (Psalms 19, 20, 21)

‘The heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork’ (Psalm 19: 1) … evening lights on Morriscastle Beach at Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford, on Sunday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Lent began last week on Ash Wednesday (2 March 2022), and Sunday was the First Sunday in Lent. Before today begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

During Lent this year, in this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 19:

Many of us are familiar with this Psalm because the concluding verse (14) has traditionally been used in the Church of Ireland to introduce sermons: ‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.’

This psalm is a hymn of glory to the universe as God’s work and to God’s precepts in word of God.

In Psalm 19, the heavens and the earth proclaim God’s glory and power (verses 1-6), the covenant is an expression of God’s will for Israel (verses 7-9), and we are reminded that the ‘fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever’ (verse 9). This Psalm also links God’s judgement with God’s forgiveness. Note too, the description of the psalmist as God’s ‘servant’ (verses 11, 13).

In the first half of the poem, the Psalmist speaks metaphorically of creation singing a song of praise to its Creator. The former Chief Rabbi, Lord (Jonathan) Sachs, describes this as ‘a silent song yet one that can be heard by those whose ears are attuned to wonder.’

‘Yet their sound’ or ‘Yet their music’ (verse 4) – literally ‘their line’ – may refer to the reverberating string of a musical instrument; but it may mean the line marking a boundary – a reference to the order and ‘fearful symmetry’ of the universe.

But God’s word not only gives life to the natural universe: it instructs the human universe, the world we make by our actions and reactions. The Psalmist pours out his praise to God’s creation of the world-that-is, and God’s revelation of the world-that-ought-to-be.

‘Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God’ (Psalm 20: 7) … part of the Parthenon frieze in the Acropolis Museum in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 20:

There are many words and phrases in this psalm that at first glance suggest a great conviction that the Lord will grant whatever we wish, as long as we have enough faith. But this is, at the very least, an over-simplification.

Several of the verses in Psalm 20 start with the word ‘may’ (see verses 2, 3, 4, 5a, 5b in the NRSV and NRSVA translations; verses 1, 5a and 5b in the Book of Common Prayer Psalter, pp 612-613).

This may suggest that what follows is not guaranteed to come to pass, but we are also asked to consider whether what we desire is the same as what God desires. God knows better than us what we need and what we want.

At the same time, God is our loving father we should not be afraid to ask for things. Verses 6, 7 and 8 are perhaps a good illustration of this point: if the Lord will help or save his anointed (verse 6), then as God’s children we can be sure God will help us.

‘Your hand will find out all your enemies; your right hand will find out those who hate you’ (Psalm 21: 8) … the ‘Hands’ sculpture by Seamus Gilmore in Ennis, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 21:

Psalm 21 is accredited to David. It is numbered Psalm 20 in the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate translations of the Bible.

This royal psalm and the previous psalm, Psalm 20, are closely related: they are both liturgical psalms; in both, the king is the prominent figure. This psalm may have been written before a battle, after a victory, at the king’s coronation, or at an annual celebration of the king’s accession.

Psalm 21 is characterised as a psalm of thanksgiving. It focuses on the imagery of a king. In the Bible, the king is often credited with being an example of the moral state of a kingdom.

The New Revised Standard Version describes Psalm 21 as a psalm of ‘thanksgiving for victory.’ The Jerusalem Bible identifies both messianic and eschatological themes in Psalm 21 (20), and associates this psalm with the idea of ‘Christ the King.’

The King James or Authorised Version, in its translation of verse 9, gives us the phrase in English ‘the time of thine anger.’ This is translated in the Jerusalem Bible as ‘the day that you appear.’

Psalm 19 (NRSVA):

To the leader. A Psalm of David.

1 The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hidden from its heat.

7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.

11 Moreover by them is your servant warned
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 20 (NRSVA):

To the leader. A Psalm of David.

1 The Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
The name of the God of Jacob protect you!
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary,
and give you support from Zion.
3 May he remember all your offerings,
and regard with favour your burnt sacrifices.

4 May he grant you your heart’s desire,
and fulfil all your plans.
5 May we shout for joy over your victory,
and in the name of our God set up our banners.
May the Lord fulfil all your petitions.

6 Now I know that the Lord will help his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with mighty victories by his right hand.
7 Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses,
but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.
8 They will collapse and fall,
but we shall rise and stand upright.

9 Give victory to the king, O Lord;
answer us when we call.

Psalm 21 (NRSVA):

To the leader. A Psalm of David.

1 In your strength the king rejoices, O Lord,
and in your help how greatly he exults!
2 You have given him his heart’s desire,
and have not withheld the request of his lips.
3 For you meet him with rich blessings;
you set a crown of fine gold on his head.
4 He asked you for life; you gave it to him—
length of days for ever and ever.
5 His glory is great through your help;
splendour and majesty you bestow on him.
6 You bestow on him blessings for ever;
you make him glad with the joy of your presence.
7 For the king trusts in the Lord,
and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.

8 Your hand will find out all your enemies;
your right hand will find out those who hate you.
9 You will make them like a fiery furnace
when you appear.
The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath,
and fire will consume them.
10 You will destroy their offspring from the earth,
and their children from among humankind.
11 If they plan evil against you,
if they devise mischief, they will not succeed.
12 For you will put them to flight;
you will aim at their faces with your bows.

13 Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!
We will sing and praise your power.

Today’s Prayer:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary this morning (8 March 2022, International Women’s Day) invites us to pray:

Today we pray for women across the world. May we celebrate women’s achievements and continue to demand gender justice and equality.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold’ (Psalm 19: 10) … a mask in a shop window in Venice (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