25 July 2023

Five months to go,
and my Christmas list
has a good new book

‘Christmas and the Irish’ … the latest collection edited by Professor Salvador Ryan makes an ideal Christmas present

Patrick Comerford

There are still five more months to go to Christmas. Please don’t ask me how many shopping days that amounts to. But already retailers and publishers are preparing for the Christmas market.

My friend and colleague Professor Salvador Ryan of Maynooth has edited Christmas and the Irish, a new volume that is at the final stages of production and that promises to be in the bookshops in October, and in time for Christmas gift planning this year, and with a launch in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin in November.

This new volume, published by Wordwell in Dublin, follows the success of his three previous volumes in an educating and entertaining series published between 2016 and 2021, looking at Birth, Marriage and Death and the Irish.

This latest collection looks at the celebration of Christmas among the Irish, from the seventh century to the present day. In 75 chapters, ranging from the serious to the light-hearted, writers from a range of academic disciplines and professions – anthropology, Celtic studies, education, folklore, healthcare, history, journalism, literature, media, broadcasting, pastoral ministry, philosophy and theology – reflect on what Christmas has meant to Irish people through the ages, at home or abroad.

The topics covered in this latest Christmas volume include: the theme of light in early Irish texts; festive feasting and fighting in the Middle Ages; the Kilmore carols of Co Wexford; the history of Irish Christmas food through the centuries; crimes of Christmas past; Christmas on the Blasket Islands; the claim that ‘Santa’s Grave’ is in Co Kilkenny; why Irish missionaries in Zimbabwe regularly missed out on their Christmas dinner; the origins and early life of the Late Late Toy Show; a Christmas surprise among Irish peacekeepers in the Lebanon; Christmas customs among the Travelling Community; Christmas and the Irish Jewish community; the Wren Boys; ‘Women’s Christmas’; Irish links to popular Christmas carols; Christmas and James Joyce; the curious custom of reciting 4,000 Hail Marys in the lead up to Christmas; and why it became an established tradition for the Viceroy to send a woodcock to the British monarch every Christmas.

This anthology is bound to be a fascinating read for all who are interested in the social, cultural, and religious history of Ireland. But, more importantly, it will delight all who love Christmas itself.

Many of the contributors are my friends and colleague. In her essay, another Wexford historian Dr Ida Milne of Carlow College, recalls her mother being the organist at the Christmas carol services in Ferns Cathedral.

Other contributors include Ian d’Alton of TCD, Seamus Dooley of the NUJ, the Limerick historian Se├ín Gannon, Crawford Gribben and Laurence Kirkpatrick, both of QUB, the singer-songwriter Max McCoubrey, Miriam Moffitt, John-Paul Sheridan of Maynooth, Clodagh Tait of Limerick.

Salvador Ryan is Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth. This is the eigth book edited by him that includes contributions from me. Other volumes he has edited and to which he has invited me to contribute include: Birth and the Irish: a miscellany (Dublin: Wordwell Books, 2021); We Remember Maynooth: A College across Four Centuries, edited with John-Paul Sheridan (Dublin: Messenger Publishing, 2020); Marriage and the Irish: a miscellany (Dublin: Wordwell, 2019); The Cultural Reception of the Bible: explorations in theology, literature and the arts, edited with Liam Tracey (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2018); Death and the Irish: a miscellany, ed Salvador Ryan (Dublin: Wordwell, 2016); Treasures of Ireland, Vol III, To the Ends of the Earth (Dublin: Veritas, 2015); and Treasures of Irish Christianity, Vol II, A People of the Word, edited with Brendan Leahy (Dublin: Veritas, 2013).

Now, in his latest venture, he has invited me to contribute three papers to this new Christmas volume:

• The ‘Wexford Carol’ and the mystery surrounding some old and popular Christmas carols;

• ‘We Three Kings of Orient are’: an Epiphany carol with Irish links;

• Molly Bloom’s Christmas card: where Joycean fiction meets a real-life family.

Because of my three contributions, I have had a sneak preview of Christmas and the Irish last week. Do I think it’s worth adding to your Christmas present list? Of course I’d say yes, wouldn’t I?

Christmas and the Irish: a miscellany, ed Salvador Ryan (Dublin: Wordwell Books, 2023), ISBN: 978-1-913934-93-4, €25

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (58) 25 July 2023

The East Window in Saint George’s Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth … in memory of John Peel MP is by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Seventh Sunday after Trinity (23 July 2023). Today, the Church Calendar celebrates the life of Saint James the Apostle (25 July).

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.

In the weeks after Trinity Sunday, I was reflecting each morning with Trinity-themed images from cathedrals, churches and chapels. That series came to a conclusion on Saturday (16 July) with my search for the mediaeval Holy Trinity altar in Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church, Tamworth. This week, my reflections each morning involve:

1, Looking at stained glass windows in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth;

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

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The window in memory of Canon EH Rogers is by Florence Camm (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Saint George’s Chapel Windows, Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth:

During this week, I am reflecting in this prayer diary each morning on windows in Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church, Tamworth.

The Pre-Raphaelite windows in Saint George’s Chapel, at the east end of the north aisle of Saint Editha’s Church, provide a unique collection of works by leading members of the Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts movements at the end of the 19th century and in the early 20th century.

Saint George’s Chapel was the venue for my lecture in 2019 on the Comberford Family, Comberford Hall and the Moat House at the invitation of the Tamworth and District Civic Society.

The East Window in Saint George’s Chapel is an artistic treasure in memory of John Peel (1804-1872), Liberal MP for Tamworth in 1863-1868 and again in 1871-1872.

The six panels in the tracery are known as the ‘Angels of Creation’ and are by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) of Birmingham. Burne-Jones was heavily influenced in his work by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rosetti, and worked closely with William Morris (1834-1896).

There are Burne-Jones windows in many Midlands churches, including Saint Philip’s Cathedral and Saint Martin in the Bull Ring, Birmingham, and there is a Burne-Jones window also in Saint Carthages’s Cathedral, Lismore, Co Waterford.

The East Window in Saint George’s Chapel was made in the 1874 in the workshops of William Morris, textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist. He was associated with the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts Movement, and had been an architectural student of George Edmund Street.

The design of the window connects the story of the six days of Creation with the story of the redemption of humanity.

Day 1: A six-winged seraph with a flame upon his brow, signifying energy, stands upon the greenness of the void and holds the globe of the universe enclosing the spheres of light and darkness: ‘and God separated the light from the darkness’ (Genesis 1: 4).

Day 2: A six-winged seraph with sad eyes: ‘So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome’ (Genesis 1: 7).

Day 3: Here a seraph is standing on the dry land, studded with forlorn flowers, showing the birth of delicate foliage with her mystic globe: Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation …’ (Genesis 1: 11).

Day 4: This is brighter in tone, with more gold, symbolic of the sun, the moon and the infinite glories of the heavens: And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky … to give light upon the earth’ (Genesis 1: 14-15).

Day 5: Still brighter in effect, the seraph on the wet sea margin, strewn with fragile shells. The sphere contains a swift whirl of white-winged seabirds sweeping up from the stormy sea: And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures’ (Genesis 1: 20).

Day 6: This panel shows the angel of the sixth day holding the sphere, the angels of the former days beside him, and the angel of the seventh day at his feet. This angel of the day of rest has a garland of flowers and is playing a stringed instrument among the roses.

The sphere shows the first meeting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden beside the tree of the forbidden fruit, and we can see the great coils of the serpent behind the tree. This has been described as the best of the six panels, and the figures of Adam and Eve are full of grace and simplicity.

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image … male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1: 26-27).

The smaller lights surrounding these are filled with depictions of angels who are playing musical instruments, making melody in honour of the Creation, the Incarnation and the Redemption.

The Incarnation is shown in an image of the Annunciation at the top of the arch which, through the Creation of Humanity, links with the impressive panel in the centre of the window, depicting the story of Saint Christopher, representing the Redemption of humanity.

On either side are two rows of three images of Old Testament prophets and New Testament saints: (top left) Noah, Enoch and Saint John the Baptist; (bottom left) Abraham, Moses and Saint Peter; (top right) Saint John the Evangelist, Samuel and David; (bottom right) Saint Paul, Elijah and Saint Barnabas.

The inscription in a scroll beneath the feet of Saint Christopher reads: ‘To the glory of God and in memory of John Peel sometime representative of this borough in parliament. Born Feb 4 1804. Died April 2 1872.’

The four four-light windows on the north wall of Saint George’s Chapel are the work of Burne-Jones, Morris and the Camm family.

Thomas William Camm (1839-1912) was born West Bromwich and founded the TW Camm stained studio in Smethwick. After he died, the studio and its work were continued by his sons Walter Camm (died 1967) and Robert Camm (died 1954) and his daughter Florence.

The first four-light window at the west end of the chapel contains stained glass by Florence Camm (1874-1960). The inscription reads: ‘This window was erected to the Glory of God and in loving memory of the Revd EH Rogers, Prebendary of Lichfield Cathedral and Vicar of this Parish Church of Tamworth from 1922 to 1938.’

Florence Camm spent all her life in Smethwick, running the Camm stained glass company with her brothers at a time when women artists and designers were struggling to be taken seriously.

She was a stained glass designer, painter and decorative metalworker, and was taught stained glass design by the arts and crafts designer Henry Payne (1868-1940). She exhibited 43 times at the Royal Academy in London and also showed at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and the Royal Scottish Academy. The Camm studio in the High Street, Smethwick, was demolished in the 1980s.

This window illustrates four New Testament scenes (from left):

1, The first light illustrates Saint Peter being delivered from prison: ‘Behold the angel of the Lord came upon them, and a light shined in the prison’ (Acts 12: 7).

2, The second light depicts Saint John the Evangelist writing to the seven churches in Asia: ‘John to the seven churches, Grace be unto you, and peace, which is to come’ (Revelation 1: 4).

3, The third light tells the story of the church in Antioch sending relief to the Church in Jerusalem at a time of famine: ‘The disciples sent relief unto the brethren in Judaea, by the hands of Barnabas’ (Acts 11: 30).

4, The fourth light shows Saint Paul preaching in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, in the Province of Galatia: ‘Paul stood up and beckoning said, Men of Israel, ye that fear God, give audience’ (Acts 13: 16).

The second four-light window from the west is a well-designed, four-light window, designed long after the death of both William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, but filled with richly-coloured glass by Morris & Co.

The two central figures, Ruth (left) and Naomi (right), were designed by John Henry Dearle (1860-1932), who was trained by William Morris. The text beneath the two women reads, ‘Intreat me not to leave thee’ (Ruth 1: 16). The outer figures are Samuel (left) and David (right), probably designed from the stock of cartoons by Burne-Jones held by Morris & Co.

The inscription reads: ‘In faithful remembrance of Emma Pipe Cooke, this window was erected by Annie Cooke, her daughter, AD 1925.’

Below this window, a marble plaque commemorates William Allport of Comberford Hall, who died 5 December 1813, aged 53: ‘He lived respected and died lamented by all who knew him.’

The third four-light window in this chapel also contains stained-glass by Florence Camm.

The inscription reads: ‘To the Glory of Almighty God and in loving memory of Esther Dean, who died the 11th day of October 1939, this memorial was placed here by her husband, Herbert Dean.’

The four lights depict the four key events in the life of Christ, with pithy Biblical or credal commentaries:

1, The Incarnation: ‘For unto you is born this day, a saviour which is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2: 11).

2, The Crucifixion: ‘Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by’ (Lamentations 1: 12).

3, The Resurrection: ‘The third day he rose again from the dead.’ This is not a direct scriptural quotation, but a clause taken directly from the Apostles’ Creed.

4, The Ascension: ‘He blessed them. He was parted from them and carried up into heaven’ (Luke 24: 51).

The fourth, four-light window at the east end of the north wall in Saint George’s Chapel, is in memory of the Revd Brooke Lambert (1834-1901), Vicar of Tamworth (1872-1878).

Brooke Lambert was born on 17 September 1834. He spent six years in Tamworth, and was succeeded by the Revd William MacGregor as Vicar of Tamworth (1878 to 1887). MacGregor would play a leading part in the regeneration of Tamworth in the late 19th century, but was forced to resign as vicar because of his controversial support of the co-operative movement.

Meanwhile, as Vicar of Greenwich, Brooke Lambert was known for his work as an Anglo-Catholic ‘slum priest’ in the East End of London. He died on 5 January 1901.

The striking figures in this window were designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and the glazing is the work of Morris & Co. The figures represent (from left) Saint Martin, Saint Lambert, Saint Nicholas and Saint George.

Saint Martin was chosen as the champion and protector of the poor and known for his charity.

Saint Lambert was chosen because of Brooke Lambert’s family name, and because the former vicar was born on the saint’s day, 17 September. Saint Lambert was Bishop of Maastricht and was martyred for his defence of marriage.

Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children (‘Santa Claus’) and represents Brooke Lambert’s love of children and his pioneering work in education.

Saint George was chosen because of the dedication of Saint George’s Chapel, and because Brooke Lambert was involved in the restoration of Saint George’s Chapel and building Saint George’s Church in Glascote.

The words of Hebrews 12: 1-3 in the Latin Vulgate New Testament are written diagonally across the lights of this window, and behind the figures and the other lettering:

ideoque et nos tantam habentes inpositam nubem testium deponentes omne pondus et circumstans nos peccatum per patientiam curramus propositum nobis certamen aspicientes in auctorem fidei et consummatorem Iesum qui pro proposito sibi gaudio sustinuit crucem confusione contempta atque in dextera sedis Dei sedit recogitate enim eum qui talem sustinuit a peccatoribus adversum semet ipsos contradictionem ut ne fatigemini animis vestris deficientes

‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.’

The Cooke window is by John Henry Dearle and Morris & Co (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Matthew 20: 20-28 (NRSVA):

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favour of him. 21 And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ 22 But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ 23 He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’

24 When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

The Dean window is by Florence Camm (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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 ‘Reflections from the International Consultation.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by Michael Clarke of the West Indies.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (25 July 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

We thank God that we are able to meet in person now following Covid-19 so that relationships can strengthen, and important conversations take place.


Merciful God,
whose holy apostle Saint James,
leaving his father and all that he had,
was obedient to the calling of your Son Jesus Christ
and followed him even to death:
help us, forsaking the false attractions of the world,
to be ready at all times to answer your call without delay;
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.

Post Communion:

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
by the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Brooke Lambert window is by Morris & Co, with striking figures by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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