13 December 2009

In search of Saint Patrick’s footprint in Skerries

Dusk in Skerries ... the strand, the sea and the sky all seemed to be reflecting a sandy-brown colour for the rest of this twilight-like afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, December 2009)

Patrick Comerford

We marked Gaudete Sunday in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this morning with the Collect, Readings and Post-Communion Prayer for the Third Sunday of Advent, and lighting the pink candle on the Advent Wreath.

The preacher was the former Vice-Principal of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, the Revd Canon Dr Billy Marshall, and the celebrant was the Revd Canon Mark Gardner, Dean’s Vicar and Canon-Pastor of the cathedral, who is about to move to Saint Catherine’s and Saint James’s as Vicar early next month.

It had been a busy week before, with another injection for my B12 deficiency, a lengthy consultation with my GP on dealing with my sarcoidosis, a book launch in the Dublin Civic Trust, meetings, lectures, seminars, daily chapel services some sermons to work on and planning for some new publications, as well as out wonderful Advent Carol Service on Wednesday evening in Saint George’s and Saint Thomas’s.

And so, by Saturday I was feeling tired. Sarcoidosis is still sapping my energy, and so it was good that Saturday was an easy day – almost a lazy day – just writing Christmas cards and decorating the tree, but I still needed by weekend walk on a beach, and so early in the afternoon, I headed back out to Skerries on the north-east Dublin coast.

A week earlier, I had arrived for high tide on the beach on Sunday afternoon. This afternoon, the tide was out, and there were long sandy stretches on the beaches of Skerries. It has been dry and sunny, but cold, for the last few days, but winter has set in, and the sun seemed to be setting a little earlier than usual, bringing an early close to the day, so that the strand, the sea and the sky all seemed to be reflecting a sandy-brown colour for the rest of this twilight-like afternoon.

On the South Strand, the view out to the islands of Skerries, including Saint Patrick’s, Shenick, Colt Island and Rockabill, and back to Lambay off Rush and Portrane, was clear. The word Skerries comes from the Danish words skere, meaning rocks or a reef, and ey meaning an islet or small island. But the Book of Armagh, written about 800 AD, the islands off Skerries were once known as the “isles of the children of Cor.”

As I walked up to the steps behind the Martello Tower to Red Island, the Mountains of Mourne and then the Fingal coast up past Balbriggan came into sharp relief.

Recently I said I wanted to take another lo take a closer look at the links between Saint Patrick and Skerries – the Church of Ireland parish church is Holmpatrick, and the Roman Catholic parish church is Saint Patrick’s.

Local lore says that after Saint Patrick was expelled from Wicklow he moved to Saint Patrick’s Island off Skerries in 432 AD. Legend also says that one day, while Saint Patrick was on shore buying supplies, the people of Skerries rowed over to his island where he had a goat tied up for milk, stole it, took it back to the mainland and ate it. When he returned he was angry, and with one great step he bounded from his island to Red Island. There he questioned the local people, and when they denied their theft he took away their powers of speech. They could only bleat like goats, until they eventually admitted their crime.

It is said that on Red Island there is still a mark on the rock that is nothing less than Saint Patrick’s footprint.

Can you believe it? Well, I failed to see the saint’s footprint on Red Island this afternoon.

The tide was still out in the harbour (Photograph: Patrick Cometrford, 2009)

I walked on around Red Island, past the lifeboat station, down onto the harbour and the pier. The tide was still out, and a pair of seals were begging for fish from the few fishing boats that were tied up on.

From the harbour I walked back into Skerries for a late lunch in The Olive (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, December 2009)

Then it was back around the North Strand, past the sailing club, and down into Strand Street for a very late lunch in the Olive – a vegetarian antipasto plate that was imaginative in its presentation … and it was impossible to resist the temptation to buy two of their hampers as Christmas presents.

Outside, darkness had fallen. It was sad to hear that a question mark hangs over the future of the Red Bank. But it was good to see the trees on Strand Street festooned with Christmas lights, despite some earlier doubts about them this year. In Gerry’s, I picked up the Sunday papers, the Economist, and some of their excellent bargains in wine. I don’t know who the wine buyer in Gerry’s is, but he or she has a wonderful eye for Italian wines, and knows where to source them.

Then it was back along the coast towards Rush and into Lusk, out to Blake’s Cross and onto the M50.

My sarcoidosis means I’m still feeling a bit run down this evening. But fresh sea air, the beach walk, and the sharp, invigorating atmosphere along the coast of Skerries reassures me that while I may have sarcoidosis, sarcoidosis does not have me.

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