Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Two photographs in a new book on Portobello

Portobello by Maurice Curtis, published earlier this year by the History Press

Patrick Comerford

Two of my photographs have been used to illustrate Maurice Curtis’s new book on the history of another Dublin locality, Portobello.

Maurice has already written illustrated histories of Harold’s Cross and Rathmines. In this new book, he looks at Portobello, which lies on the bank of the Grand Canal, stretching from South Richmond Street to Clanbrassil Street and the South Circular Road and including some of the adjacent roads and streets.

Henry Grattan ... once a key figure on the frieze of The Irish House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)

Both photographs, which are printed in black and white rather than the original colour, appear on page 25, to illustrate Henry Grattan’s connections with the Portobello area.

The first is my photograph of Henry Grattan from the frieze of The Irish House, which once stood on the corner of Wood Quay and Winetavern Street.

As Maurice recalls, Henry Grattan was rewarded with a house and land near Portobello for his sterling work in achieving Irish legislative independence in the late 18th century.

The Irish House shortly before its demolition ... it represented the pinnacle of James Comerford’s career as a stucco artist

The second photograph, which is not my own but which comes from my collection, is a photograph of The Irish House shortly before its demolition. The stucco work on the Irish House was designed by my great-grandfather James Comerford (1817-1902).

Portobello is one of Dublin’s best-known suburbs, and has long been a centre of artistic and cultural life in Dublin. The list of luminaries associated with Portobello includes some of the great names of Irish letters, including George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and Brendan Behan; some of Ireland’s best-known actors, artists, directors, sculptors and painters, among them Barry Fitzgerald and Jack B Yeats. And there are prominent politicians and presidents too.

In this new book, Maurice invites us to join him on a visual tour of Portobello through the decades, recounting both the familiar and the events and places that have faded over time, revealing many fascinating details.

In this tribute to a well-loved part of Dublin, Maurice claims the area was named after an area on the East Coast of Panama, although I always thought that Portobello, along with Rialto and the Grand Canal, took their names from Venice.

This is the third book with The History Press for this author and local historian, who is a long-time resident of Dublin.

● Maurice Curtis, Portobello (Dublin: The History Press, 2012), 128 pp, ISBN: 9781845887377 .

With the Saints through Christmas (1): 26 December, Saint Stephen

An icon of Saint Stephen, the first deacon and the martyr

Patrick Comerford

Saint Stephen’s Day today [26 December], Holy Innocents’ Day on 28 December, and the commemoration of Thomas à Beckett on 29 December are reminders that Christmas, far from being surrounded by sanitised images of the crib, angels and wise men, is followed by martyrdom and violence. Close on the joy of Christmas comes the cost of following Christ. As the popular expression says: “No Cross, No Crown.”

Saint Stephen (Στέφανος, Stephanos) is the first martyr of Christianity. His name is derived from the Greek word meaning “crown,” and traditionally, he carries the crown of martyrdom. In iconography, Saint Stephen the Deacon is often depicted as a young, beardless man, with a deacon’s stole and holding three stones of his martyrdom and the martyrs’ palm.

According to the brief New Testament account of his life and death (Acts 6:1 to 8: 2), Saint Stephen is one of the seven deacons selected by the Early Church in Jerusalem to attend to the needs of the Greek-speaking widows whose needs were being neglected. Stephen, and the other six deacons – Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas – all have Greek names.

He was denounced for blasphemy later, and was tried before the Sanhedrin. During his trial, he had a vision of the Father and the Son: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7: 56). He was condemned, taken outside the city walls and stoned to death. Among those who stoned him to death was Saul of Tarsus, later the Apostle Paul.

In the Old City of Jerusalem, the Lion’s Gate is also called Saint Stephen’s Gate, after the tradition that Saint Stephen was stoned to death there, although it probably took place at the Damascus Gate.

In the one of the earliest examples of irony in Western Europe, the Mediaeval Church designated Saint Stephen y as the patron saint of stonemasons and, for some time, he was also the patron saint of headaches.

Saint Stephen’s House, an Anglican theological college in Oxford, is at Iffley Road in the former monastery of the Cowley Fathers, where it is said Dietrich Bonhoeffer decided to return to Germany where he met with martyrdom.

Bonhoeffer’s martyrdom illustrates how the extension to the Christmas holiday provided by this saint’s day would have no meaning today without the faithful witness of Saint Stephen, the first deacon and first martyr, who links our faith in the Incarnation with our faith in the Resurrection.

The interior of Saint Stephen’s Church, Mount Street Crescent, Dublin

This day, the “Feast of Stephen,” is also mentioned in the popular carol, Good King Wenceslas. The carol was published by John Mason Neale (1818-1866) in 1853, although he may have written it some time earlier, for he included the legend of Saint Wenceslas in his Deeds of Faith in 1849.

Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if you know it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me food and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither,
You and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together,
Through the cold wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger,
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread now in them boldly,
You shall find the winter’s rage freeze your blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
You who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.

Although it is included in neither the Irish Church Hymnal nor the New English Hymnal, this carol reains its popularity, and I imagine it is going to sung in many places today.

Wenceslas was a 10th century Duke of Bohemia who was known for his saintly caring works for the poor. He became the patron saint of Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) and his feast day is on 28 September.

In the calendars of the Western Church, Saint Stephen is commemorated today [26 December], while in the calendars of the Eastern Orthodox Church, his feast day is celebrated tomorrow [27 December].


Gracious Father,
who gave the first martyr Stephen
grace to pray for those who stoned him:
Grant that in all our sufferings for the truth
we may learn to love even our enemies
and to seek forgiveness for those who desire our hurt,
looking up to heaven to him who was crucified for us,
Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Advocate,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.


II Chronicles 24: 20-22; Psalm 119: 161-168; Acts 7: 51-60; Matthew 10: 17-22.

Post Communion Prayer:

Merciful Lord,
we thank you for these signs of your mercy,
we praise you for feeding us at your table
and giving us joy in honouring Stephen,
first martyr of the new Israel;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tomorrow (27 December): Saint John the Evangelist.

Canon Patrick Comerford is lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.