21 June 2023

‘O commemorate me with no hero-courageous
Tomb – just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by’

Patrick Kavanagh’s bench by John Coll at Wilton Terrace on the Grand Canal, between Baggot Street Bridge and Leeson Street Bridge, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

O commemorate me where there is water,
Canal water, preferably, so stilly
Greeny at the heart of summer. Brother
Commemorate me thus beautifully
Where by a lock niagarously roars
The falls for those who sit in the tremendous silence
Of mid-July. No one will speak in prose
Who finds his way to these Parnassian islands.
A swan goes by head low with many apologies,
Fantastic light looks through the eyes of bridges –
And look! a barge comes bringing from Athy
And other far-flung towns mythologies.
O commemorate me with no hero-courageous
Tomb – just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by.

While I was being interviewed in Dublin last week by Montenegrin television, Charlotte and I were staying in the Clayton Burlington Hotel on Leeson Street, close to Leeson Street, Raglan Road, Pembroke Road, Baggot Street and the Grand Canal, and all their memories of and associations with the poet Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967).

It was Bloomsday, and after coffee in the Canal Bank Café on the corner of Leeson Street and Suffolk, we went on our own Dublin perambulation of the area that Patrick Kavanagh made his own corner of Dublin after moving to the city from Co Monaghan in 1939.

He wrote 70 years ago in 1953:

If ever you go to Dublin town
In a hundred years or so
Inquire for me in Baggot Street
And what I was like to know.

Patrick Kavanagh’s love of the area is feted in his ballad, ‘On Raglan Road’, and these streets became his ‘enchanted way’, the quiet streets where old ghosts meet.

There are plaques to him on the houses he lived in – one of them is now the Mexican Embassy on Raglan Road – and he pops up constantly in the street art around the area along with other writers, including Samuel Becket and Brian O’Nolan or Flann O’Brien or Myles na Gopaleen.

Parson’s Bookshop was beloved by many writers in Dublin, particularly Brendan Behan, Benedict Kiely, Mervyn Wall and Mary Lavin, but none more so than Patrick Kavanagh. It used to be the Bridge House, on Baggot Street Bridge, but has long since closed.

‘And look! a barge comes bringing from Athy / And other far-flung towns mythologies’ … barges on the Grand Canal between Baggot Street Bridge and Leeson Street Bridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Kavanagh’s lasting memorial along these ‘enchanted ways’ is his bench close to Baggot Street Bridge on Wilton Terrace and Wilton Park, on the north bank of the Grand Canal.

Sitting on a bench erected to the memory of ‘Mrs Dermot O’Brien’, Kavanagh wrote a sonnet requesting the same for himself. That bench inspired his sonnet, ‘Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin.’ That particular seat was on the Mespil Road or south side of the Canal, and was dedicated to ‘Mrs Dermot O’Brien.’ She was Mabel Emmeline Smyly, the wife of Dermod William O’Brien (1865-1945) from Mount Trenchard, near Foynes, Co Limerick, a landscape and portrait painter who won an Olympic medal in the painting competition at the 1928 Olympic Games.

Shortly after Kavanagh died in 1967, his friends John Ryan and Denis Dwyer formed a committee to raise money to buy the materials and pay for the labour for another, less-well-known seat. That statue, unveiled a few months after his death, is a simple wood and granite seat designed by the artist Michael Farrell (1940-2000).

But the sculpture that is best-known as a commemoration of Patrick Kavanagh is on Wilton Terrace. This is a more recent sculpture, with a much-photographed life-size bronze figure by John Coll. It was commissioned as part of the Dublin 1991 European City of Culture celebrations and was unveiled 32 years ago on 11 June 1991 by President Mary Robinson.

John Coll is originally from Taylor’s Hill Galway and now living in Dublin. After an initial career as a marine biologist, he became a figurative sculptor with many public works to his name, including the monument to Patrick Kavanagh on the Grand Canal and his celebration in bronze of Brendan Behan on the Royal Canal in Drumcondra.

John Coll’s sculpture on Wilton Terrace, between Baggot Street Bridge and Leeson Street Bridge, shows a reflective Patrick Kavanagh sitting thoughtfully, his hat beside him on the bench. He seems to offer a sympathetic, non-judgmental ear to passers-by, inviting them to sit down and have a chat.

Coll imagines the poet Kavanagh composing not ‘Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin’ but another sonnet, ‘Canal Bank Walk,’ for a plaque beside the sculpture bears the quotation:

Leafy with love banks and the green waters of the canal
Pouring redemption for me

Patrick Kavanagh 1904 to 1967
Sculptor John Coll.

The poem ‘Canal Bank Walk’ was also inspired by the Grand Canal, but was written in 1958 after the poet’s recovery from lung cancer and from legal difficulties:

Leafy-with-love banks and the green waters of the canal
Pouring redemption for me, that I do
The will of God, wallow in the habitual, the banal,
Grow with nature again as before I grew.
The bright stick trapped, the breeze adding a third
Party to the couple kissing on an old seat,
And a bird gathering materials for the nest for the Word
Eloquently new and abandoned to its delirious beat.
O unworn world enrapture me, encapture me in a web
Of fabulous grass and eternal voices by a beech,
Feed the gaping need of my senses, give me ad lib
To pray unselfconsciously with overflowing speech
For this soul needs to be honoured with a new dress woven
From green and blue things and arguments that cannot be proven.

The house where Patrick Kavanagh once lived on Raglan Road is now the Mexican Embassy in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (24) 21 June 2023

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral is in the historic Greek neighbourhood in Vienna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This week began with the Second Sunday after Trinity (18 June 2023) and Father’s Day. Before the day begins, I am taking some time for prayer, reading and reflection.

Over these weeks after Trinity Sunday, I am reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at relevant images or stained glass window in a church, chapel or cathedral I know;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Griechische Kirche or Greek Church was designed by the Danish-born architect Theophil Hansen in the Byzantine Revival style (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Vienna:

This week I am reflecting on Orthodox churches named after the Holy Trinity. These Trinity reflections continue this morning (21 June 2023) with photographs of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Vienna, in the historic Greek neighbourhood in the Innere Stadt or old town.

The area has also been known as the Fleischmarkt, for this was the city of the city’s first meat market from 1220. Greek merchants first settled around the Fleischmarkt in the early 18th century, and there have been Greek Orthodox churches on this site since 1787, following the Patent of Toleration issued by the Emperor Joseph II in 1781.

. The neo-Byzantine style Griechische Kirche or Greek Church, with its rich, gilt structure, was designed by the Danish-born architect Theophil Hansen (1813-1891) in the Byzantine Revival style.

The cathedral was officially opened on 21 December 1858. The exterior features two-tone brickwork and gilded archways. The elaborately ornamented sanctuary shows a stylish allusion to Baroque church architecture that is typical of southern Germany and Austria.

A number of frescoes for the façade and the vestibule were commissioned from the Austrian painter and art professor Carl Rahl, with other frescoes by Ludwig Thiersch.

Baron Theophil Edvard von Hansen was born Theophilus Hansen in Copenhagen on 13 July 1813, and later became an Austrian citizen. He is known particularly for his buildings in Athens and Vienna and is an outstanding representative of neoclassicism.

After training with the Prussian architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel and studying in Vienna for some years, he moved to Athens in 1837, where he studied architecture and design, with particular interest in Byzantine architecture.

In Athens, Hansen designed his first building, the National Observatory of Athens, and two of the three neighbouring buildings forming the so-called ‘classical trilogy’: the Academy of Athens and the National Library of Greece, alongside the National and Cappodistrian University of Athens, designed by his brother Christian Hansen.

The Greek-Austrian financier Georgios Sinas called Hansen back to Vienna in 1846. There Hansen took up an apprenticeship with noted Austrian architect Ludwig Förster.

In his early works, such as the museum at the Arsenal in Vienna, Hansen still displayed a more romantic style. In later years, he became the most outstanding representative of Renaissance-inspired historicism or the Neo-Renaissance style, which also came to be known as Viennese-style. This style extended into the smallest details of the interior design and partially accepted the courses of a synthesis of the arts.

Hansen became one of the most influential architects of the Viennese Ringstrasse. His best-known work is the Austrian Parliament building, designed in the style of an ancient, neo-classic temple and a reference to the Greek beginnings of democracy.

Hansen was originally a staunch critic of the Classical style that was taught to him at the Copenhagen Academy. Over the years, however, he came to incorporate Classical elements into his forms.

Hansen’s Musikverein in Vienna is one of the most notable concert halls in the world. Its design and acoustics are often admired and copied in music houses.

Hansen worked with Austrian sculptor Vincenz Pilz and artist Carl Rahl, as well as the architect Otto Wagner. The Emperor Franz Joseph honoured Hansen in 1884 with a title in the Austrian nobility as Freiherr or Baron von Hansen. He died in Vienna on 17 February 1891.

Hansen’s Greek cathedral in Vienna was financed by the Greek-Austrian diplomat and philanthropist Simon Sinas (1810-1876), and this was one of their many collaborations in Vienna and Athens.

Simon Sinas (Σίμων Σίνας), or Simon von Sina, was an Austrian banker, aristocrat, benefactor and diplomat of Greek descent. He was born in Vienna on 15 August 1810, but his family were Greeks who came originally from Moscopole in what is south Albania today.

He was the Greek consul in Vienna, and later the Greek minister to Austria, Bavaria and Germany. His father, Georgios Sinas, was also a benefactor and diplomat, and Simon Sinas expanded his father’s business.

Simon Sinas made major donations to educational and scientific foundations in Austria, Hungary and Greece. While he was the Greek Ambassador in Vienna, he hosted the ‘Greek Ball’ in the Palais Sina for which Johann Strauss II composed the Hellenen-Polka (Hellenes Polka).

Sinas became director of Austria’s central bank, Oesterreichische Nationalbank, and established the Simon Georg Sina banking house in Vienna. After the Second Schleswig War or German-Danish War came to an end in 1864, Sinas funded the return of Austrian forces from Schleswig-Holstein. Sinas held a seat in the Herrenhaus or upper house in the of Austrian parliament from 1874.

Along with Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Vienna, Sinas was the donor or financed many public buildings, including the Hungarian Academy of Budapest, the Athens Orthodox Cathedral and the Athens Academy, and others. He died in Vienna on 15 April 1876.

In the past, the parishioners of the Greek Cathedral in Vienna have included the family of the conductor Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989). They were descended from Georg Karajan (Geórgios Karajánnis, Γεώργιος Καραγιάννης), was born in Kozani, in the Ottoman province of Rumelia, now in Greece.

The cathedral has been the seat of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Austria since 1963, and is part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Beside the cathedral, the Griechenbeisl is one of other landmarks associated with the Greek community in Vienna. It was once frequented by Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert. A passage links the Griechenbeisl to Griechengasse or ‘Greek Street,’ with its own Greek restaurant, Artemis.

There have been Greek Orthodox churches on the site of the cathedral since 1787 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 6 ‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2 ‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

5 ‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

16 ‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’

The Greek-Austrian financier Georgios Sinas financed the building of the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

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 ‘The snowdrop that never bloomed.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (21 June 2023) invites us to pray:

We pray for all the children displaced through war and conflict. We pray for peace and comfort over their hearts and minds and give thanks for creative activities that help them process their trauma.


Lord, you have taught us
that all our doings without love are nothing worth:
send your Holy Spirit
and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,
the true bond of peace and of all virtues,
without which whoever lives is counted dead before you.
Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Loving Father,
we thank you for feeding us at the supper of your Son:
sustain us with your Spirit,
that we may serve you here on earth
until our joy is complete in heaven,
and we share in the eternal banquet
with Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The parishioners of the Greek Cathedral in Vienna have included the family of the conductor Herbert von Karajan (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

Greek merchants first settled around the Fleischmarkt in Vienna in the early 18th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)