31 December 2023

Looking back on 2023
and being equipped for
the walk ahead in 2024

In Comberford during one of this year’s many return visits to Lichfield and Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

This has been a year that no-one could have predicted: the war that has engulfed Gaza, Israel and Palestine since 7 October, the war that continues in Ukraine and Russia and that is about to enter its third year, the return of Covid (almost with a vengeance), the rise in the cost of living that is drawing more and more families into an ever-descending vortex of poverty, and the housing crisis in Britain, Ireland and many other European countries.

This year has seen the continuing rise of the far-right reach new heights and given expression in the election results in the Netherlands, the frightening rise of antisemitism across the world, the abhorrent prospect of Donald Trump returning to power, the attacks on migrants in Dublin in May, the racist riots in Dublin in November and the attack on an hotel in Co Galway shortly before Christmas.

The sad message to many migrants arriving in Ireland, Britain – and in many other countries – this Christmas was definitely: ‘There is no room in the inn.’

The so-called ‘mainstream right’ has been seen to embrace the far-right. It went almost unnoticed in the British media that Rishi Sunak embraced the Italian prime minister and had taken part in a rally organised by her party, the political heir to Mussolini’s fascists. I have tried to image how the Daily Mail or the Daily Express would respond to a Labour politician attending a similar event with the political heirs of Stalin in central or eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, that sector of the media refuses to take the government to task for the failure to fund the NHS properly and to invest in its ffuture. The very people who thought up the slogan on the big red bus during the Brexit campaign have very short memories indeed. The by-election results in Tamworth and many other constituencies offer some hope for an interestng general election in 2024.

This has been the hottest year on record, and everyone feels the consequences of global warming, with rising temperatures and rising flood waters.

In Greece, it was a year of two elections, a year when it seemed thousands of migrants would have their status legitimised to cope with labour shortages, when peace and co-operation with Turkey seemed possible, and the debate over the Parthenon marbles reached new levels when Rishi Sunak lost his marbles and snubbed the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis during a visit to London.

In Ireland, the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement was marked not so much by Joe Biden’s visit but by the DUP continuing to boycott the Stormont Assembly and Sinn Fein MPs continuing to refuse to take their seats in Westminster.

In Rugby, this was the year Ireland won the Grand Slam but lost to New Zealand in the quarter finals of the Rugby World Cup.

This was also a year that saw Irish people being rescued from the conflict in Sudan, the year of the downfall of Ryan Tubridy, of Dee Forbes and of the board of RTÉ.

This year also saw the deaths of two Big Bens: Ben Dunne and Ben Briscoe. It was cringing to hear Sinn Fein politicians pay tribute to Ben Dunne, without mentioning that the IRA had kidnapped him and that the ransom money probably paid for many Sinn Fein and IRA activities.

This was the year Ireland mourned Sinead O’Connor and Shane MacGowan, and Christy Dignam of Aslan. But there were other great Irish cultural figures who died this year too, including the Kilkenny-born playwright Tom Kilroy, the artists Camille and Souter Graham Knuttel, the historian Dermot Keogh, the Jesuit theologian and sociologist Micheál Mac Gréil, and the Dublin-born actor Michael Gambon.

Former colleagues in The Irish Times who died during the year include Noel McFarlane, Derek Richards, Iain Pratt, Michael Viney and Peter Thursfield.

Among my friends and other colleagues who died this year were Canon Anna Matthews of Cambridge, who had often asked me to return and preach in Saint Bene’t’s Church; Jane Dayus-Hinch, who I got to know through many activities in Lichfield; Professor Petros Florides of TCD, the Cypriot-born mathematician who was always quick to describe me as a ‘true Philhellene’; Patsy Lyle, a former President of the Irish Hellenic Society; Canon John McKegney, who once invited me to Armagh to preach through Good Friday; and the Revd Maedbh O’Herlihy, who was always welcoming in Achill and who fought a brave battle with Motor Neurone Disease. Pat Arrowsmith, who I knew in my CND days also died this year.

Two of my former lecturers also died this year: the Augustinian theologian Gabriel Daly had taught on some of the modules at the Irish School of Ecumenics, and I had attended lectures in Cambridge and Thessaloniki by the Orthodox theologian Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon.

Deaths in my extended family included my ‘distant cousin’ Kevin Martin (ז״ל‎) in June, shortly after we had lunch in London. We had a shared interest in family history and Sephardic genealogy, including the overlapping stories of the Comerford, Mendoza, Martinez or Martin and Nunez families. I had missed the opportunity to celebrate Hanukkah and his birthday with him in Golder’s Green a year ago. But we had kept in touch week-by-week and we had hoped to meet again soon.

Francis Maurice (Frank) Comerford (1927-2023), who died in London earlier this year at the age of 95, was the longest-serving leader of the 143-year-old The Stage newspaper and digital platform.

The Hungarian Parliament on the banks of the Danube … we visited Hungary and Finland in 2023 to see USPG’s work with Ukrainian refugees (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Although I never did manage to keep that promise to myself to get back to Greece this year, there was some interesting travel this year. This included visits with Charlotte to Hungary and Finland on behalf of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), to see church-linked projects working with Ukrainian refugees in Budapest and Helsinki. We also visited Prague to celebrate Charlotte’s birthday in the Czech capital.

In addition, there were five visits to Ireland this year. I was in Dublin in March to carry out research in the RCB Library for a chapter in a book that was published in Limerick later in the year. I stayed in Rathmines, and took this opportunity for a return visit to the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

There were two family birthdays in Dublin, when I stayed in Rathmines in June and in Camden Street in August.

We were in Dublin again in June, and stayed in Burlington Road while I was being interviewed in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, by television programme makers from Montenegro. They are producing a documentary about Prince Milo of Montenegro, who is buried at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and Marko Zekov Popović, the ‘Hereditary Royal Standard Bearer of Montenegro’, whose ashes are in an urn on a shelf in Christ Church Cathedral.

I missed the launch in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, at the end of November of Christmas and the Irish, a new collection of essays edited by Professor Salvador Ryan of Maynooth, and that includes three contributions from me. I so wanted to be at this book launch – but only realised when I got to Luton Airport that I had left my passport back in Stony Stratford. Even seasoned and experienced travellers can make the daftest of mistakes.

My fifth visit to Dublin this year – it ought to have been my sixth – was a family visit in the week before Christmas, when I stayed once again in Rathmines.

There have been opportunities too to travel around England this year, with many visits to London, Oxford, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Tamworth, Lichfield and York. The cathedrals I have visited this year include Christ Church in Dublin and in Oxford, the two cathedrals in Coventry, Southwark and Saint Paul’s in London, Northampton Cathedral, York Minster, and, of course, Lichfield Cathedral, as well as the ruins of Osney Abbey and Whitby Abbey and the cathedrals in Budapest, Helsinki and Prague.

We stayed in York twice this year (in May and September-October), with visits to Knaresborough, Harrogate, Whitby and Whitby Abbey, Hebden Bridge, Heptonstall and Bishopthorpe. We visited the locations of ‘Happy Valley’ and the grave of Sylvia Plath, walked on the beach at Robin Hood’s Bay, and I also attended the Choral Eucharist in York Minster.

Nearer to home, there have been day trips or ‘escapades’ visiting cities, town and villages near here, including Coventry, Rugby, Long Buckby, Aylesbury, Buckingham, Bicester, Berkhamsted, Bletchley, Crick and Winslow. And there have been days I have wandered aimlessly around Milton Keynes and Campbell Park, looking out for interesting sculptures and public art.

On Comberford Road in Tamworth … continuing my family history research (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

I was back in Lichfield at least five times, with walks around Stowe Pool, Minster Pool and along Cross in Hand Lane and a two-day self-guided retreat in Lichfield Cathedral, and I was in Tamworth three or four times, visiting both the Moat House and Comberford itself. My continuing family history research also brought me to Yelvertoft, where Canon Henry Comberford of Lichfield Cathedral was once the rector; Watford, by the Watford Gap, in search of the former Comberford Manor; and Wednesbury, which had links with the Comberford family in the 16th and 17th centuries.

I am retired and I have no official role in the Diocese of Oxford. But I renewed my ordination vows in Christ Church, Oxford, at the Chrism Eucharist on Maundy Thursday. I sing in the Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford, and alternate my Sunday church attendance between Stony Stratford, and Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton.

I find collegiality, friendship and support in the monthly meetings of the Milton Keynes Chapter of clergy, I have become a trustee of the Retreat, a Church-linked almshouse in Stony Stratford with four residents in four residential units, and Tamworth and District Civic Society invited me to say grace at their annual dinner in the Castle Hotel earlier this year.

I continue to search for and photograph synagogues and the sites of historic synagogues, with visits to synagogues and their sites in London, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Northampton, Oxford, Bletchley, Wolverton, New Bradwell, Haversham, Berkhamsted, Knaresborough, Dublin, Budapest, Helsinki and return visits to synagogues in Prague, with a first-time visit to the Jerusalem synagogue in Prague.

This interest brought an invitation to speak in Milton Keynes and District Reformed Synagogue on ‘Synagogues of the World’ in April and to take part in the synagogue’s Open Day on 10 September.

Although I am no longer a trustee, I continue to engage in voluntary work for USPG. This year this has included editing the Lenten study guide, visiting Hungary and Finland, speaking as a volunteer at the Daventry Deanery Synod in Badby in Northamptonshire (Diocese of Peterborough), and taking part in the annual reunion in London. Sadly, I missed this year’s conference in Yarnfield Park in Stone, Staffordshire.

A new book on the Philhellenes published in Thessaloniki earlier this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

My writings and publications this year included co-authoring with Professor Panos Karagiorgas a bilingual, Greek/English book on the Philhellenes, published in Thessaloniki; editing Who is Our Neighbour?, this year’s Lenten study with USPG; a number of pieces in The Irish Times, including a major feature arising from my visit with USPG to Ukrainian refugees in Hungary and Finland; three essays in Salvador Ryan’s Christmas and the Irish; a chapter in a book in Limerick marking the ‘Decade of Centenaries’; and a journal paper on JD Bernal and his Sephardic family background.

In addition, I had photographs published in five books and one journal.

These publications this year have included:

• ‘The Sephardic family roots and heritage of John Desmond Bernal, Limerick scientist’, pp 60-66 in The Old Limerick Journal, ed Tom Donovan (Limerick: Limerick Museum, 72 pp), No 58, Winter 2023, with nine photographs.

• ‘Church-goers in Limerick During War and Revolution’, Chapter 6, pp 83-89, in Histories of Protestant Limerick, 1912-1923, ed Seán William Gannon and Brian Hughes (Limerick: Limerick City & County Council, 2023); with three photographs, pp 70-71.

• ‘The ‘Wexford Carol’ and the mystery surrounding some old and popular Christmas carols’, pp 72-77 in Christmas and the Irish: a miscellany, ed Salvador Ryan (Dublin: Wordwell Books, 2023, 403 pp, €25), with a photograph on p 71.

• ‘Molly Bloom’s Christmas Card: where Joycean fiction meets a real-life family’ is published in Christmas and the Irish: a miscellany, ed Salvador Ryan (Dublin: Wordwell Books, 2023, 403 pp, €25), pp 151-155, with a photograph on p 155.

• ‘‘We Three Kings of Orient are’: an Epiphany carol with Irish links’, pp 103-107 in Christmas and the Irish: a miscellany, ed Salvador Ryan (Dublin: Wordwell Books, 2023, 403 pp, €25).

• <<Ο Sir Richard Church και οι Ιρλανδοι Φιλελληνες στον Πολεμο των Ελληνων για την Ανεξαρτησια>>, pp 53-75, in Πανος Καραγιώργος και Patrick Comerford, Ο Φιλελληνισμος και η Ελληνικη Επανασταση του 1821 (Θεσσαλονικη: Εκδοτικος Οικος Κ κ Σταμουλη, 2023, 78 pp).

Who is Our Neighbour? (London: USPG, 2023, 48 pp), editor and Introduction, pp 5-6; a six-session study course for Lent 2023.

• A photograph (p 137) in: Jack Kavanagh, Always Ireland, An Insider’s Tour of the Emerald Isle (Washington DC: National Geographic, 2023, 336 pp, hb, $35).

• The cover photograph on: Tim Vivian, A Doorway into Thanks: Further Reflections on Scripture (Austin Macauley Publishers, London, Cambridge, New York, Sharjah, 2023, $14.95).

• Three photographs (pp 78, 165, 355) in: Hellgard Leckebusch, Singing our Song, the Memoirs of Hellgard Leckebusch (1944-2023), eds, Silke Püttmann and Kenneth Ferguson (Mettmann, NRW, Germany: Silke Püttmann, 2023, e-book).

I was the subject of a major interview with the American online journal ‘Profiles in Catholicism.’ I continue to blog each day, including a prayer diary each morning. This blog passed a number of landmarks a few weeks ago, passing the figure of 7 million hits in mid-August and 7.5 million hits at the end of November.

I have been asked to contribute to the Tamworth Heritage Magazine in 2024, I have been invited to write the foreword or prologue to a new bilingual book on Greek folk songs to be published in Thessaloniki early in the new year, a book review is about to be published in an Orthodox theological journal in India, and I have been asked to write a substantial paper for the launch of new theological e-journal being launched early in 2024. There are other active writing plans for the coming months, as well as photographs in two or three more forthcoming books.

Healthwise, I had a stroke last year (18 March 2022), but I am a stroke survivor not a stroke victim. I have sarcoidosis, but sarcoidosis does not have me. I have a severe Vitamin B12 deficiency, but I live a full and fulfilling life. I continued to have check-ups this year in hospitals in Oxford and Milton Keynes as they monitor and follow-up the effects of my stroke. I continue to receive regular B12 injections and to receive medication for my sarcoidosis.

My walking average is not as high as I hoped, but I have managed to keep the daily average above 4 km throughout the year, with hopes to improve on this next year.

Perhaps the most difficult problems, emotionally, legally and socially, were not health issues but the drawn-out court proceedings that eventually ended with the finalisation of my divorce case in Birmingham on 30 August. I hope never again to face not only the many legal problems and court cases, but also the online bullying that continues on at least one Facebook page from which I have been blocked, including wishes that I die soon and that I rot in hell.

But life is good. The highlight of the year was, undoubtedly, when Charlotte and I got married in Camden Town Hall on 3 November, with a reception for a very small group in the Boot and Flogger, a restaurant in Southwark, and the church blessing in the Harvard Chapel in Southwark Cathedral on 4 November.

The highlight of the year … Charlotte and I got married in November

I made plans last night for that long-promised return visit to Greece. I also hope thatin the year ahead of us Britain gets the election and the result the nation deserves.

What can I expect – what can any of us expect – in the year to come?

In my prayer diary on this blog earlier today, I referred to the theme this week in the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG, which is ‘Looking to 2024 – Freedom in Christ.’ This theme is introduced today by the Revd Duncan Dormor, USPG General Secretary, who says that ‘as we step into the new year, we know that our world is a deeply uncertain place … We do not know what lies ahead in 2024.’

He continues: ‘We can only step forward, as Paul noted, ‘by faith and not by sight.’

‘As individuals, as flesh and blood, we all crave freedom and security – freedom from injustice and violence, and the security that a good livelihood, friends, community, just laws and the government bring. And so our hearts naturally go out to all who live with deep insecurity and oppression.

‘As we are called by God to walk faithfully through 2024, so are we called to a freedom rooted in Christ. This is an active, life-giving freedom, a freedom that reaches out towards others.

‘It is expressed in our solidarity with our sisters and brothers, and with our neighbours, global and local. A solidarity that sets people free, ourselves and others. It begins when we come before our loving God in prayer, and it equips us for the walk ahead.’

May you be equipped for your walk ahead next year.



Daily prayers during
the 12 Days of Christmas:
7, 31 December 2023

‘On the Seventh Day of Christmas … seven swans-a-swimming’ on the Grand Canal at Inchicore, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Seventh Day of Christmas (31 December 2023), the First Sunday of Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I spent most of yesterday in bed with a slight temperature, a head cold and some joint and muscular pains. The symptoms seemed to aggravate my Sarcoidosis symtoms last night, and although I had hoped to be at the Parish Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, later this morning I doubt whether that would be considerate to other churchgoers.

Whatever I decide later this morning, before today begins I am taking some time for reading, reflection and prayer.

My reflections each morning during the ‘12 Days of Christmas’ are following this pattern:

1, A reflection on a verse from the popular Christmas song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’;

2, the Gospel reading of the day;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

‘Christ in Majesty’ by Sir Ninian Comper in Southwark Cathedral, surrounded by seven doves, symbolising the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Seventh Day of Christmas today (31 December) means we are more than half-way through the traditional ‘12 Days of Christmas’ – although, in liturgical terms, Christmas is a 40-day season that continues until Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation (2 February).

The seventh verse of the traditional song, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, is:

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ,,,

Seven Swans a-Swimming,
Six geese-a-laying,
five golden rings,
four colly birds,
three French hens,
two turtle doves
and a partridge in a pear tree.


The Christian interpretation of this song often sees the seven swans-a-swimming as figurative representations of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven virtues – they might even represent the seven churches of the Book of Revelation.

Sir Ninian Comper’s East Window in Southwark Cathedral shows Christ in Majesty in the centre light, with the Virgin Mary on the left and Saint John the Evangelist on the right. Christ sits enthroned above the world surrounded by seven doves, symbolising the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord.

Christ is depicted in the window as a youthful figure, with a globe or the world below his feet bearing seven stars representing the seven churches in the Book of Revelation:

Ephesus (Revelation 2: 1-7): known for toil and not patient endurance, and separating themselves from the wicked; admonished for having abandoned their first love (2: 4).

Smyrna (Revelation 2: 8-11): admired for its affliction and poverty; about to suffer persecution (2: 10).

Pergamum (Revelation 2: 12-17): living where ‘Satan’s throne is; needs to repent of allowing heretics to teach (2: 16).

Thyatira (Revelation 2: 18-29): known for its love, faith, service, and patient endurance; tolerates the teachings of a beguiling and prophet who refuses to repent (2: 20).

Sardis (Revelation 3: 1-6): admonished for being spiritually dead, despite its reputation; told to wake up and repent (3: 2-3).

Philadelphia (Revelation 3: 7-13): known for its patient endurance and keeping God’s word (3: 10).

Laodicea (Revelation 3: 14-22): is neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm, called on to be earnest and repent (3: 19).

The cardinal virtues comprise a set of four virtues recognised in Classical writings and and usually paired with the three theological virtues.

The cardinal virtues are the four principal moral virtues on which all other virtues hinge: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. The three theological virtues are: faith, hope and love. Together, the cardinal virtues and the theological virtues comprise what are known as the seven virtues.

Plato is the first philosopher to discuss the cardinal virtues when he discusses them in the Republic. In his Rhetoric, Aristotle writes: ‘The forms of Virtue are justice, courage, temperance, magnificence, magnanimity, liberality, gentleness, prudence, wisdom.’ Cicero, like Plato, limits the list to four virtues.

Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine of Hippo and Saint Thomas Aquinas adapted them, and Saint Ambrose was the first to use the term ‘cardinal virtues.’

The three Theological Virtues are: Faith, Hope and Love (see I Corinthians 13).

The Four Cardinal Virtues and the Three Theological Virtues … windows in the Church of Sant Jaume in Barcelona (Photographs: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 2: 15-21 (NRSVA):

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

The visit of the Shepherds (see Luke 2: 15-21) in the Nativity scene on the triptych in the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Sunday 31 December 2023):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Looking to 2024 – Freedom in Christ.’ This theme is introduced today by the Revd Duncan Dormor, USPG General Secretary:

‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.’ (Galatians 5:10)

As we step into the new year, we know that our world is a deeply uncertain place. Few of us predicted the events of the last few years – the Covid-19 pandemic, a major land war in Europe, the cost-of-living crisis or conflict in the Holy Land. We do not know what lies ahead in 2024.

We can only step forward, as Paul noted, ‘by faith and not by sight.’

As individuals, as flesh and blood, we all crave freedom and security – freedom from injustice and violence, and the security that a good livelihood, friends, community, just laws and the government bring. And so our hearts naturally go out to all who live with deep insecurity and oppression.

As we are called by God to walk faithfully through 2024, so are we called to a freedom rooted in Christ. This is an active, life-giving freedom, a freedom that reaches out towards others.

It is expressed in our solidarity with our sisters and brothers, and with our neighbours, global and local. A solidarity that sets people free, ourselves and others. It begins when we come before our loving God in prayer, and it equips us for the walk ahead.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (31 December 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

‘The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it’. (Psalm 24: 1-2)
O God,
we have profoundly damaged creation.
Give us the strength to recover what we have tainted,
amplify the voices calling for renewal.

‘On the Seventh Day of Christmas … seven swans-a-swimming’ on the Grand Canal at Harold’s Cross, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

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,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Heavenly Father,
whose blessed Son shared at Nazareth the life of an earthly home:
help your Church to live as one family,
united in love and obedience,
and bring us all at last to our home in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

God in Trinity,
eternal unity of perfect love:
gather the nations to be one family,
and draw us into your holy life
through the birth of Emmanuel,
our Lord Jesus Christ.

Collect on the Eve of the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus:

Almighty God,
whose blessed Son was circumcised
in obedience to the law for our sake
and given the Name that is above every name:
give us grace faithfully to bear his Name,
to worship him in the freedom of the Spirit,
and to proclaim him as the Saviour of the world;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Happy New Year

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The Swan … once claimed to be the oldest pub in Lichfield, but has since been turned into a restaurant and apartments (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

30 December 2023

A former rectory in
Harold’s Cross was
inspired by Wyatt’s
‘Celtic Revival’ work

The former Harold’s Cross Rectory on Leinster Road West was designed by Joseph Maguire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

My eldest brother found it entertaining to point out that Leinster Road West is not to the west but to the south of Leinster Road in Rathmines. Leinster Road West is an interesting street off Harold’s Cross Road, between Leinster Road and Kenilworth Square.

Although the residents of Leinster Road West probably feel more at home in Rathmines, this street runs immediately behind the Roman Catholic parish church of Harold’s Cross and two of its most interesting buildings are associated with the Church of Ireland parish of Harold’s Cross.

I went back to look again at these two buildings one morning last week during my brief pre-Christmas visit to Dublin.

No 13 Leinster Road West is now known as Marleigh House, but it was built in 1871-1872 as the glebe house for Harold’s Cross Church, then a trustee church.

The glebe house was built while the Revd William Booker Askin (1822-1907) was the chaplain in Harold’s Cross from 1857 to 1901. When Harold’s Cross was transferred to the Church of Ireland and became a parish, the glebe house became the rectory.

Joseph Maguire’s design was inspired by Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt’s adaptation of the ‘Celtic revival’ style in Grafton Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The house at 13 Leinster Road West, was designed by the Dublin-born architect and engineer Joseph Maguire (1820-1904), who was then living nearby in Kenilworth Square.

In his design of Harold’s Cross Rectory, Maguire was inspired by Irish monastic and cathedral buildings, with their Romanesque arches and decorated columns. Some of this inspiration can still be detected in details of the house, including the porch, arches, columns, capitals and pillars.

Maguire may have drawn his inspiration from the original shopfront at Nos 24-25 Grafton Street, designed in the ‘Celtic revival’ style for William Longfield by Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt (1820-1877), a descendant of John Wyatt (1675-1742), of Weeford near Lichfield, and a member of an outstanding family of architects.

In his Grafton Street shopfront design in 1863, Wyatt combined details from many churches and cathedrals, including the doorway in Saint Lachtain’s Church, Freshford, Co Kilkenny, crosses from Monasterboice, Co Louth, and the chancel arch and crosses from Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Tuam, Co Galway.

The Irish Builder at the time hoped Wyatt would ‘stimulate many an Irish architect to ... recreate a national style,’ and praised it for being ‘at once novel and successful.’ It seems to have inspired Maguire, who designed the rectory for Harold’s Cross in the decade that followed.

Joseph Maguire designed the rectory in Harold’s Cross in the decade that followed Wyatt’s shopfront in Grafton Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Joseph Maguire was born at 5 Saint Patrick’s Close South, Dublin, on 26 February 1820, a triplet and the tenth of the 16 children of William Maguire, inspector of taxes for the Paving Board, and his wife Mary (Vickers). He was baptised the following day in Saint Patrick's Cathedral, where his father was sexton. After his father died in 1844, Maguire moved with his mother to 9 Peter Place, and he lived until he married Mary Hayes in Rathfarnham in 1845.

Maguire was an active architect by the 1860s and 1870s, with an interest in the design of proper artisan and labourers houses and in church architecture. He was also a district agent to the Royal Insurance Company, the Dublin architect and valuator of the Royal Land, Building and Investment Company of Belfast, and architect and executive sanitary officer to the North and South Dublin Unions.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (FRIAI) in 1867 on the proposal of James Higgins Owen and Sir Thomas Drew, seconded by Edward Henry Carson, but resigned in 1869. He was a founding member of the Architectural Association of Ireland in 1872.

Maguire worked mainly from addresses in Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street), although at times he also had offices in D’Olier Street, Grafton Street and Middle Abbey Street. For most of that working life, Maguire lived in Rathgar at addresses in Kenilworth Square, including No 2 (1858), No 4 (1859), No 8 (1860-1864), No 14 (1862-1865), No 57 (1867-1881), No 50 (1882), No 59 (1883-1892). He also lived on Garville Avenue (1846-1853, 1893), Leicester Avenue (1853-1857), Rathgar Avenue (1894-1896), and Grosvenor Square. He was living at 84 Rathgar Road when he died on 2 December 1904.

The grounds of the rectory at the corner of Harold’s Cross Road and Leinster Road West were originally more extensive. Parts of the grounds were acquired from the Church of Ireland Representative Church Body by the Rathmines and Rathgar town council for road-widening in 1929.

Within a decade of the new rectory being built on Leinster Road West, a parish hall was built in 1882-1883 for Harold’s Cross opposite the rectory, on the corner of Harold’s Cross Road and Leinster Road West. It was designed by Alfred Gresham Jones (1824-1915) and his pupil Thomas Phillips Figgis (1858-1948).

The parish hall was converted into offices in 1992 and is now called Century House.

Century House was built as Harold’s Cross Parish Hall in 1882-1883 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers during
the 12 Days of Christmas:
6, 30 December 2023

The ‘Six Geese a-Laying’ on the Sixth Day of Christmas are said to represent the six days of Creation … a flock of white geese has permanent sanctuary in the cloisters of Barcelona Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Sixth Day of Christmas (30 December 2023) and tomorrow is the First Sunday of Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Before today begins, I am taking some time for reading, reflection and prayer.

My reflections each morning during the ‘12 Days of Christmas’ are following this pattern:

1, A reflection on a verse from the popular Christmas song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’;

2, the Gospel reading of the day;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

‘On the Sixth Day of Christmas … six geese-a-laying’ … geese on the banks of the Cam behind King’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Tenaya Hurst)

The Sixth Day of Christmas today (30 December) brings us half-way through the traditional ‘12 Days of Christmas’ – although, in liturgical terms, Christmas is a 40-day season that continues until Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation (2 February).

The Sixth Day of Christmas is a quiet day in the Church calendar, without commemorations, although the Episcopal Church (TEC) recalls Frances Joseph-Gaudet (1934), the Educator and Prison Reformer, on this day.

The sixth verse of the traditional song, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, is:

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me …

Six geese-a-laying,
five golden rings,
four colly birds,
three French hens,
two turtle doves
and a partridge in a pear tree.


The Christian interpretation of this song often sees the six geese a-laying as figurative representations of the six days of Creation (see Genesis 1).

Perhaps today is a good day to begin preparing for the New Year, to begin making resolutions that have a truly spiritual and Christian intent.

Anna (right) and Simeon (centre) with the Christ Child and the Virgin Mary (see Luke 2: 36-40) … a window in the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Saffron Walden (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 2: 36-40 (NRSVA):

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

Anna (right) and Simeon (centre) with the Christ Child, the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph (see Luke 2: 36-40) … a window in Peterborough Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Saturday 30 December 2023):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), has been ‘Love at Advent and Christmas.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (30 December 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

We pray for senior church leaders around the world – bishops, primates and archbishops. We pray too for the head of the Anglican Church, the Most Revd Justin Welby. May they guide us all in 2024 with strength, grace and wisdom.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
you have given us your only-begotten Son
to take our nature upon him
and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin:
grant that we, who have been born again
and made your children by adoption and grace,
may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God our Father,
whose Word has come among us
in the Holy Child of Bethlehem:
may the light of faith illumine our hearts
and shine in our words and deeds;
through him who is Christ the Lord.

Additional Collect:

Lord Jesus Christ,
your birth at Bethlehem
draws us to kneel in wonder at heaven touching earth:
accept our heartfelt praise
as we worship you,
our Saviour and our eternal God.

Collect on the Eve of Christmas I:

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,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The ‘six geese-a-laying’ represent the six days of creation … a December sunset at Stowe Pool in Lichfield (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

29 December 2023

Memories of a former
Jewish home and its
two synagogues on
Denmark Hill, Rathmines

The former Jewish home on Denmark Hill, off Leinster Road, Rathmines, was founded in 1950 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

In my walk around Rathmines and Harold’s Cross last week, during my short return visit to Dublin, I spent a morning strolling around Leinster Road, Harold’s Cross Road and Leinster Road West.

Between these two streets, I went in search of the site of the former Jewish Home on Denmark Hill, which was founded in 1950. The home had its own synagogue until it closed and was moved to the Quaker-run Bloomfield Care Centre in Rathfarnham.

The private synagogue was in what was formally known as the Home of Aged and Infirm Jews Synagogue on Denmark Hill, part of Le Bas Terrace running between Leinster Road and the junction of Leinster Road West and Effra Road.

The home, later known from about 1974 as the Jewish Home of Ireland, was founded in 1950 after Rifka and Zalman Potashnick made a deed of gift, giving their home on Castlewood Avenue, Rathmines, to the Board of Guardians of the Jewish community for the establishment of a ‘real Jewish home’ for the Jewish elderly ‘not blessed with children or other relations who can lovingly care for them.’

The couple were known locally as ‘Mr and Mrs Solomon’. Rifka Potashnick was moved to set up this charitable foundation after she befriended the widowed Rabbi Brown. He had been reduced to poverty, and she found him living in circumstances that made him dependent on community welfare. He wore many layers of clothes to keep himself warm and he moved from one household to the next, relying on the meals each family offered him.

When he failed to turn up at her home for a few days, Rifka went in search of the impoverished rabbi, and found him in Saint Kevin’s Hospital. When he died there, she was disturbed by the circumstances. She talked about her plans for a new home with her son-in-law Maurice Wine and, to help establish the new home, Rifka and Zalman ‘downsized’ and moved to a smaller home in Neville Road, Rathgar.

However, the Potashnick home was not suitable for communal living. It was sold to provide the initial funds towards buying the premises on Denmark Hill, close to the synagogue at 52 Grosvenor Road.

The architect of the new home was Norman Douglas Good, the eldest son of Dr Douglas Good and Ada Baillie Good of Appian Way, Dublin. He trained in a Dublin architect’s office, the school of architecture at University College Dublin, and the Architectural Association in London, in the 1920s. He worked in partnership with the architect Michael Scott as Scott & Good from 1931 to 1936, and then continued to practise from 36 Frederick Street.

The home was first listed in the Jewish Year Book in 1951. The synagogue followed Ashkenazi Orthodox ritual, and may have relied for spiritual leadership on the various Chief Rabbis of Ireland and Dublin’s communal rabbis, as well as readers from the various Dublin synagogues.

The home was supported by the Jewish communities in Dublin, Belfast and Cork, and was open to any Jewish applicant, anywhere in Ireland, subject only to medical condition and the availability of a bed.

The first trustees of the home included Maurice Wine, Gerald Gilbert, Solomon Verby, and Maurice Baum. They bought the home of Hanchen and Louis Wine. The acclaimed violinist and musician Erwin Goldwater was the first chairman of the committee. He was President of the Rathmines Hebrew Congregation, which then had its synagogue nearby at 52 Grosvenor Road, Rathgar.

At the opening ceremony, Erwin Goldwater expressed the hope that ‘never again will any of our poor and aged end their days in surroundings that are strange.’ It is said no-one was ever turned away for lack of funds.

The original synagogue in the home was a replica of a synagogue in Abraham Isaac Cohen’s antique shop on Lower Ormond Quay. Until his death in 1985, Abraham Cohen’s son, Louis Cohen, took personal responsibility for this synagogue. As Ray Rivlin has recalled in Jewish Ireland – a social history (2011), it attracted a regular Shabbat minyan, even from members of others shuls, and Louis Cohen hosted a Kiddush at the home every Sabbath and Festival.

The home was provided with a beautiful new synagogue in 1991, dedicated to the Revd Abraham Gittleson (1915-1983). He was born and raised in Dublin and studied at Gateshead yeshiva. He returned to Dublin and from the early 1940s for over 40 years he served many congregational roles in Dublin as a mohel, shochet and teacher.

He served at the Lennox Street Synagogue in the 1940s. He became second reader of the Dublin United Hebrew Congregation at Greenville Hall on the South Circular Road ca 1948, and served that synagogue as second and then first reader until he died in 1983.

The new synagogue in the home was named in his memory in 1991cand a scholarship fund in his name was established to support the education of Jewish children in Dublin.

When the home closed in 2005, the 18 residents were moved, two at a time, to the Quaker-run Bloomfield Care Centre on Stocking Lane in Rathfarnham, with a separate wing, its own prayer room and a kosher kitchen under kashrut supervision. Today, the Bloomfield Care Centre works in conjunction with the Jewish Representative Council to help members of the Jewish community to continue a Jewish lifestyle while in assisted living.

Initially, the home on Denmark Hill was converted into two student houses, one male and one female. But in recent years the site has since been developed into mixed housing.

Shabbat Shalom

The former Jewish home on Denmark Hill, off Leinster Road, Rathmines, closed in 2005 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers during
the 12 Days of Christmas:
5, 29 December 2023

The ‘Five Golden Rings’ on the Fifth Day of Christmas are said to represent the Torah, the first five books of the Bible … Torah scrolls in the Jewish Museum, Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Fifth Day of Christmas (29 December 2023) and the Church Calendar today remembers Saint Thomas Becket (1170), Archbishop of Canterbury and Martyr.

Before today begins, I am taking some time for reading, reflection and prayer.

My reflections each morning during the ‘12 Days of Christmas’ are following this pattern:

1, A reflection on a verse from the popular Christmas song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’;

2, the Gospel reading of the day;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

A Torah crown on display in the Spanish Synagogue in Prague … the ‘Five Golden Rings’ represent the Torah, the first five books of the Bible (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The 12 Days of Christmas: 5, Five Golden Rings:

The Fifth Day of Christmas (29 December) is the Feast of Saint Thomas Becket in many parts of the Anglican Communion. In 1170, on the Fifth Day of Christmas, four knights from the court of King Henry II burst into Canterbury Cathedral as the archbishop was on his way to Vespers. Inside the cloister door, they murdered Thomas Becket, whose defence of the rights of the Church had angered his one-time friend, the king. Within three years, Thomas was canonised, and the shrine of Saint Thomas of Canterbury would become one of the most popular destinations for pilgrims.

In his play, Murder in the Cathedral, TS Eliot reconstructs from historical sources the archbishop’s final sermon, preached in Canterbury Cathedral on Christmas Day. It is a remarkable meditation on the meaning of Christmas, martyrdom, and the true meaning of ‘peace on earth.’

In the Orthodox tradition, this day is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which was observed yesterday in the Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions.

The fifth verse of the traditional song, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, is:

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me …
five golden rings,
four colly birds,
three French hens,
two turtle doves
and a partridge in a pear tree.


The Christian interpretation of this song often sees the five golden rings as figurative representations of the Torah or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

A statue of Saint Thomas Becket in Northampton Cathedral … he escaped during his trial by Henry II in Northampton in 1164 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Matthew 10: 28-33 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

32 ‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.’

Two plaques in London recall Saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was murdered on 29 December 1170 (Photographs: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Friday 29 December 2023, Saint Thomas Becket):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Love at Advent and Christmas.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (29 December 2023, Saint Thomas Becket) invites us to pray in these words:

Lord, we pray for clergy around the world. We recognise the difficulties and challenges they may have faced throughout the year. As the busy period of Christmas draws to a close, may they be refreshed and revived, ready to lead their parishes into the new year.

The Collect:

Lord God,
who gave grace to your servant Thomas Becket
to put aside all earthly fear
and be faithful even to death:
grant that we, disregarding worldly esteem,
may fight all wrong,
uphold your rule,
and serve you to our life’s end;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God our redeemer,
whose Church was strengthened by the blood of your martyr Thomas Becket:
so bind us, in life and death, to Christ’s sacrifice
that our lives, broken and offered with his,
may carry his death and proclaim his resurrection in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

or

Eternal God,
who gave us this holy meal
in which we have celebrated the glory of the cross
and the victory of your martyr Thomas Becket:
by our communion with Christ
in his saving death and resurrection,
give us with all your saints the courage to conquer evil
and so to share the fruit of the tree of life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

A decorative breastplate for a Torah scroll 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

28 December 2023

An old Quaker house
in Harold’s Cross is
rebuilt after decades
of decay and neglect

No 201 Harold’s Cross Road, the birthplace of the Quaker abolitionist and philanthropist Richard Allen (1803–1886), is now being restored (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

For more than ten years, I have written about the sad and sorry state of No 201 Harold’s Cross Road, an important part of the architectural heritage of the Rathmines and Harold’s Cross area of south Dublin and an integral part of the history of Quakers and the story of Irish philanthropy.

In recent months, however, a number of new comments on these posts, dating back to 2013, alerted me to the restoration work now being carried out on this important building.

So, during my pre-Christmas visit to Dublin earlier last week, as I was strolling around Rathmines and Harold’s Cross, I decided to see the work myself, and I was delighted to see how the house is being rescued and restored.

Countless efforts have been made in recent years to have the complete building classified as a Protected Structure, and to ensure the protection of the railings and plinth wall in front.

Back in March and August 2015, I wrote about the sad neglect and decay of this house, pointing out that this was part of local history was in danger of being lost. Looking at the house from the street then, the surviving 18th century features included the blocked front doorcase. But the windows were boarded up and it looked derelict, the front garden was overgrown, and there was an overpowering sense that the whole site was being neglected.

The only apparent change during that five-month period eight years ago was the addition of garish whitewash that was used to cover up graffiti on the walls. But that had simply defaced the attractive symmetry of the red-brick façade of the house.

No 201 Harold’s Cross Road in 2015 … whitewash covered up graffiti and defaced the attractive symmetry of the red-brick façade (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

No 201 Harold’s Cross Road is a large red-brick building dating from 1750, and it appears on Rocque’s maps of 1756 and 1760. It was there the Quaker abolitionist and philanthropist Richard Allen (1803-1886) was born on 8 January 1803.

The story of the Allen family is told in detail by Clive Allen in his 2007 book The Allens, Family and Friends, ten generations of Quaker ancestry.

When Richard Allen was born in this house in Harold’s Cross, it was the summer home of his parents, Edward and Ellen Allen. Edward Weston Allen (1765-1848) was a linen merchant and wholesale draper. In 1798, he married Eleanor ‘Ellen’ Barrington (1776-1819), descended from an old Quaker family from Co Wexford.

Edward and Ellen Allen lived at 102 Saint James’s Street, and later at 22 Upper Bridge Street. But in the summer months they lived in this house in Harold’s Cross, which was then a rural area.

Edward was a founding member of the Cork Street Fever Hospital, the Dublin Institution, and other charitable foundations. Towards the end of his life, Edward Allen moved to a house named Mountain View near Churchtown, where he died in 1848 at the age of 82. Although he had long stopped attending Quaker meetings and had left the Society of Friends, he was buried in Friends’ Burial Ground in Cork Street, Dublin.

In all, Edward and Ellen Allen had 15 children. Their second son, Richard Allen, was born in the house in Harold’s Cross on 8 January 1803, and like some of his brothers and sisters he was educated there privately by a tutor. At the age of 17, he joined the family business in Bridge Street.

Although his father had been asked to leave the Society of Friends, Richard was an active Quaker, and in 1828 he married into another Quaker merchant dynasty when he married Anne Webb. But they never lived at the house in Harold’s Cross, living instead at Ellis Quay, and later at High Street, Dublin. He also had shops opposite the GPO in Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street), Dublin, and in Patrick Street, Cork.

He was active in the movement for the abolition of slavery, took part in many anti-slavery conferences in London and lobbied parliament for more effective legislation outlawing the slave trade. He attended the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, the other Irish delegates including Daniel O’Connell and the historian Richard Robert Madden.

His commitment to the anti-slavery movement became a financial risk to his business, and he also became involved in movements for prison reform and the abolition of the death penalty.

His friends and wider circle included the freed slave Frederick Douglass, the American publisher William Lloyd Garrison, the temperance campaigner Father Theobald Mathew, the Dublin-born philanthropist Dr Thomas Barnardo, and the poet and balladeer Thomas Moore.

He later lived at De Vesci Lodge in Monkstown and then at Brooklawn in Blackrock, Co Dublin, where he died in 1886.

The story of the Allen family is told by Clive Allen in his 2007 book

By 1870, the former Allen family home in Harold’s Cross had become a ‘Female Orphanage,’ known as Westbank Orphanage or the Protestant Girls’ Orphanage. A a small central path leading to the front door and an extended north range (now No 199) with a Post Office. The main building was still marked on maps as an orphanage in 1936. By then the north range was rebuilt. The shop I remember from my childhood as Healy’s grocery shop closed in recent years and was derelict by 2013.

Ten years ago, back in 2013, I asked whether we are about to lose another piece of Dublin’s architectural heritage. Nothing was done in the years that followed, and the condition of the house continued to deteriorate.

Harold’s Cross is a Dublin 6 suburb with a lot going for it. It has good cafés, an interesting social mix of housing, from artisan cottages at Harold’s Cross Bridge to the elegant Victorian houses and villas on Leinster Road and Kenilworth Square.

People living in Harold’s Cross may bemoan the loss of the Kenilworth Cinema in recent decades, and the fact there is no major supermarket in the area. But the loss of this house, probably the oldest surviving building in the village, would have done far greater damage to the architectural heritage and character of Harold’s Cross.

Under the Dublin City Development Plan the entire site is now zoned Z1 ‘to protect, provide and improve residential amenities.’ Dublin City Council granted permission in 2019 for the refurbishment and construction of 12 apartments in house, including seven apartments in the house and five apartments in two linked three-storey residential blocks replacing the industrial unit. The plan includes a mix of one- and two-bedroom apartments and a new pedestrian entrance from Leinster Place, off Leinster Road.

The site of 199, 201 & 201A Harold’s Cross Road, covering 0.07 hectares (0.16 acres), including the three-storey house, a two-storey extension and a dilapidated industrial unit or warehouse to the rear, was sold recently through Knight Frank.

Today, the site is closed off from public view and covered in builders’ cladding and scaffolding. But was good to catch a glimpse of the house last week, and to be assured that it is being restored appropriately.

No 201 Harold’s Cross Road in 2013 … then a neglected and decaying part of 18th century heritage (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Daily prayers during
the 12 Days of Christmas:
4, 28 December 2023

‘Four colly birds on the Fourth Day of Christmas … the four evangelists depicted in the the East Window in Roscarberrry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Fourth Day of Christmas and the Church Calendar today remembers the Holy Innocents (28 December 2023).

Before today begins, I am taking some time for reading, reflection and prayer.

My reflections each morning during the ‘12 Days of Christmas’ are following this pattern:

1, A reflection on a verse from the popular Christmas song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’;

2, the Gospel reading of the day;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

‘Four colly birds’ … symbols of the Four Evangelists in a window in Saint Mary’s Church, Badby, Northamptonshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The 12 Days of Christmas: 4, Four Colly Birds:

The Fourth Day of Christmas, 28 December, is the Feast of the Holy Innocents in the Book of Common Prayer, and is known in some places as ‘Childermass.’ The story of the Holy Innocents is one of the most poignant stories in the Bible: ‘Rachel weeping for her children … because they are no more.’

I had lost my innocence by late teens: by 19, I was trying to break out as a freelance journalist in England with the Lichfield Mercury, wondering whether I should give up the ‘day job’ as a trainee chartered surveyor; by the age of 20, I had my own flat in Wexford, where I was working as a staff journalist with the Wexford People. I remember one Christmas in Wexford in those days of the 1970s how the late Maurice Sinnott suggested that this day, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, would be a good day for the Churches to recall the victims of war, particularly the children who had been killed by the Hiroshima bomb.

Holy Innocents’ Day is being marked later today by the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship with an online gathering. Along with links to what is happening in 2023, the gathering will also look at some of the wider issues, including an input from Canada about the victims of residential schools and child refugees around so many conflicts. Malcolm Guite will be reading his sonnet, ‘Refugee’, and there will be a video update from Sudan following attacks on 19 December.

Oscar Schindler famously said: ‘Whoever saves the life of one saves the entire world.’ He was referring to a well-known teaching in the Talmud: ‘Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world’ (Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4: 8, 37a). It is a teaching that has inspired the inscription on medals awarded to the Righteous Gentiles, those brave people who risked their own lives to save the lives of Jews during the Holocaust: ‘Whoever saves a single soul, it is as if he had saved the whole world.’

The obvious deduction from that, of course, is: Whoever destroys the innocence of one child, it is as if he has destroyed the innocence of all children, as if he has destroyed the childhood of everyone. It is for this reason that Jesus reserves his most severe and most frightening warning and rebuke for those sort of people (see Mark 9: 42; Luke 17: 2).

This is an appropriate day to remember those children whose innocence has been destroyed this year by war in Gaza, Israel and Palestine, in Ukraine and Russia, in forgotten wars, by poverty and by the cruelty of governments who think refugees, asylum seekers and their children are mere commodities to be exported to Rwanda or locked away in decrepit and inhumane accommodation.

But this is a good day too to give thanks for the children in our lives, whether in our own families or in the larger family of the Church. And it is a good day to revive the ancient custom of parents blessing their children at the end of the day as part of their nightly prayers.

The fourth verse of the traditional song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ is:

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me …
four colly birds,
three French hens,
two turtle doves
and a partridge in a pear tree.


Colly birds were blackbirds, but the Christian interpretation of this song often describes them as ‘calling birds’ so that they come to represent the Four Evangelists or the Four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

‘The Killing of the Holy Innocents’ by Giotto (ca 1304-1306) in the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua … 28 December is marked in the Church Calendar as the feast day of the Holy Innocents (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 2: 13-18 (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.’

John Hutton’s ‘Screen of Saints and Angels’ at the entrance to Coventry Cathedral ... the Coventry Carol, dating from the 16th century, recalls the story of the slaughter of the Holy Innocents (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Thursday 28 December 2023, the Holy Innocents):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Love at Advent and Christmas.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (28 December 2023, The Holy Innocents) invites us to pray in these words:

On this day, may we cherish our young people and provide them with the guidance and knowledge to navigate our complex and challenging world.

The Collect:

Heavenly Father,
whose children suffered at the hands of Herod,
though they had done no wrong:
by the suffering of your Son
and by the innocence of our lives
frustrate all evil designs
and establish your reign of justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
in your humility you have stooped to share our human life
with the most defenceless of your children:
may we who have received these gifts of your passion
rejoice in celebrating the witness of the Holy Innocents
to the purity of your sacrifice
made once for all upon the cross;
for you are alive and reign, now and for ever.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

Images of the Four Evangelists on the carved altar in Church of the Assumption, Moyvane, 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

27 December 2023

Retracing my steps in
my childhood haunts
on Leinster Road and
in literary Rathmines

Rathmines Town Hall seen from Leinster Road … Leinster Road was laid out in 1835-1840, connecting Rathmines and Harold’s Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

During my walk around Rathmines, Harold’s Cross and Ranelagh during my all-too-short and far-too-brief pre-Christmas visit to Dublin last week, I walked the length of Leinster Road – from Rathmines to Harold’s Cross, and back again.

I knew Leinster Road intimately in my later childhood and teens, and my memory deceives me into believing that in the 1960s I knew every house on the road. Our family GP lived in a large house at the Rathmines end of the road, beside the library. Dr Tierney had returned to Ireland from America in the late 1940s or early 1950s, drove a large American car, and brashly named his house ‘The White House.’

Rathmines Library was my local library, two of my sisters and one brother went to school on this road for a time, I had childhood friends all along Leinster Road, and I remember how for some weeks in the early 1960s I was sent to a nun in Saint Louis’s Convent on Leinster Road for art classes on Saturday mornings.

In his last few years, my grandfather lived in Rathmines, my father lived in Rathmines until his early teens, and his brother Robert, our Uncle Bob, died in a car crash on Leinster Road 70 years ago in 1953 at the age of 43.

Victorian houses on Leinster Road … Rathmines became one of the most attractive areas in Dublin in the 19th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Rathmines had been a rural hinterland until the mid-19th century. Samuel Lewis, writing in 1837, noted that 12 years earlier ‘Rathmines was known only as an obscure village.’ Rathmines developed rapidly in the early 19th century as many middle class and wealthy families began to move out of the overcrowded city centre. The Rathmines Township was formed by an Act of Parliament in 1847, and as the area expanded it became the Rathmines and Rathgar Township.

In time, Rathmines become one of the most attractive areas in Dublin. When my grandparents were living there in the early 20th century, Rathmines was a strongly Unionist area. But it was also the home of many republicans, pacifists, suffragists and socialists.

The residents of Rathmines over the years have included the painter Walter Osborne; Hollywood director Rex Ingram; revolutionary Constance Markiewicz; politician and doctor Kathleen Lynn; the writers James Joyce and John Millington Synge; and the theatre director Lord Longford.

The landmarks of Rathmines include the Town Hall designed by Sir Thomas Drew, with its distinctive clock tower; the imposing Carnegie Library on the site of the former Leinster Lodge on the corner of Leinster Road, with its Pre-Raphaelite window by William Morris and teak double staircase; and the Catholic parish church with a copper dome built in Glasgow and supposedly destined for an Orthodox church in Russia before the Revolution in 1917 made it redundant.

Leinster Road was laid out around 1835-1840 to connect Rathmines and Harold’s Cross, over the former lands of Mowld’s Farm. Leinster Road was originally gated at the Rathmines or east end. The Harold’s Cross or western section followed the line of the Swan River, which was culverted at this time.

Dorset House (right) and Surrey House form a pair of houses at 49A and 49B Leinster Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Dorset House and Surrey House form a pair of houses at 49A and 49B Leinster Road, built around 1878. When they were advertised for sale in The Irish Times on 25 October and 1 and 4 November 1878, it was said they were ‘built by a well-known architect under his personal supervision’ – although the architect was not named.

This pair of semi-detached polychrome brick houses stand at the corner of the road leading into Grosvenor Square. They are tall, gabled, narrow villas, built of red brick, each with a strip of garden leading onto Leinster Road.

Countess Constance Markievicz and her husband Casimir moved into Surrey House on Leinster Road in October 1911. There she gathered around her a small but elite clique of republicans, labour activists, journalists and artists, and the house became a venue for regular revolutionary meetings. Some of this ‘Surrey Clique’ included Harry Walpole, Jack Shallow, Louis Marie, Ed ‘Eamon’ Murray, Andy Dunne and Patsy O’Connor.

On one occasion in 1914, when a rifle from the Howth gun-running was tested in the back garden, the incident attracted the attention of the well-to-do neighbours. Markievicz acquired a small hand-held printing press and posters and handbills were printed in the house.

It was also said Markievicz provided hospitality for young girls who had lost their jobs in the Jacobs factory during the Dublin Lockout in 1913. James Connolly stayed in Surrey House and recuperated after his imprisonment and hunger strike that year. Connolly and his family stayed at Surrey House for the next three years, and Connolly and Markievicz used Surrey House as a base and office for printing and editing The Workers’ Republic and The Spark.

Other visitors included John Devoy, Jim Larkin, Helena Moloney, Eamon Martin, Con Colbert, Jack White, Bulmer Hobson, Margaret Skinnider and Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. Often the gas supply was cut off due to unpaid bills, and Markievicz struggled to feed her many visitors.

One account says the tricolour that flew over the GPO in 1916 was made in Surrey House by Theo Fitzgerald, although other accounts it stored there for the week before to the Rising. In the days immediately after the Easter Rising, the house was totally ransacked by the military, and the garden was dug up in the search for weapons.

Some accounts say Countess Markievicz never had a proper home again after the raids in 1916. However a witness statement claims Michael Collins warned her of an impending raid on Surrey House during the ‘Black and Tan War’. She probably continued to live at the house on Leinster Road during the War of Independence, although she was imprisoned for much of that time.

Surrey House (left) and Dorset House on Leinster Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

On the opposite side of the street, the suffragist Anna Maria and the social reformer Thomas Haslam had lived from 1858 at 125 Leinster Road, on the corner with Grosvenor Place.

She was born Anna Maria Fisher (1829-1922) into a Quaker family in Youghal, Co Cork, and in 1854 she married Thomas Haslam (1826-1917) from Mountmellick. They were founding members of the Dublin Women’s Suffrage Association, which began as an educational society in 1876. They hosted public lectures, published pamphlets and petitioned MPs to introduce legislation to allow women great political power.

Anna was a member of the committee of Rathmines night school, and active in the St John’s Ambulance, the Rathmines Literary Society, the Friends’ Education Society, the Sanitary Society, the Fresh Air Society, the Irish Housewives’ Association, and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. They are commemorated by a seldom-noticed limestone bench in Saint Stephen’s Green.

On the facing corner of Grosvenor Place and Leinster Road, Grosvenor Park was the Dublin home of the Pakenham family and the Earls of Longford. This large house at 123 Leinster Road stood in its own grounds with an apple orchard. It was surrounded by tall mature trees and lengthy stone walls, and looked far more like a country house.

General Thomas Pakenham (1864-1915), 5th Earl of Longford, was born in Dublin and died at the Battle for Scimitar Hill, the last British offensive in Suvla in the Gallipoli campaign. Grosvenor Park and the family titles were inherited by his eldest son, Edward Arthur Henry Pakenham (1902-1961), 6th Earl of Longford, who had moved into the house on Leinster Road by 1927. He was an Anglo-Catholic, a member of the Irish Senate, friend of Eamon de Valera and a key literary figure in the mid-20th century. He gave his name to Longford Productions, the company that ran the Gate Theatre.

Lord and Lady Longford were well-known to their neighbours on Leinster Road, and were often seen shopping locally in Harold’s Cross. He was only 58 when he suffered a massive stroke and died in Portobello Nursing Home on 5 February 1961. He was buried in Mount Jerome.

The family title was inherited by his brother Frank Pakenham (1905-2001), 7th Earl of Longford, a Labour government minister and campaigner for prisoner rights, social reform, decriminalising homosexuality and the abolition of the death penalty.

Another member of the Pakenham family was the journalist Valentine Lamb, a journalist with the Irish Field and a colleague in The Irish Times, who died in 1985.

Grosvenor Park was demolished in 1979, and several houses were built in the former grounds in 1980s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

By the 1960s, many of the grand townhouses in Rathmines were being divided into flats for students and young office workers and became ‘Flatland’. The widowed Countess of Longford, the writer Christine Longford, continued to live in Grosvenor Park until the late 1970s. She died at the age of 79 on 14 May 1980.

By then, the house at Grosvenor Park had fallen into decay, and I remember walking around the house as it was declining and falling into ruins. It was finally demolished at the end of 1979, and several houses were built within the former grounds from 1980 on.

Rathmines has long since shed its image as ‘Flatland’ and today it is a vibrant and cosmopolitan area and Rathmines was voted ‘Ireland’s best suburb to live in’ by The Irish Times in 2012.

The entrance to a former coachhouse at the Rathmines end of Leinster Road, a reminder of Victorian-era elegance (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)