31 July 2013

Can Paris offer new
hope for an old cinema
in Lichfield?

The current edition of the Lichfield Gazette [August 2013] publishes the following full-page feature on page 14, which is a reprint of one of my blog postings:

Can Paris offer new
Hope for an old cinema
In Lichfield

By Patrick Comerford

The Regal Cinema today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Here the Reverend Patrick Comerford gives a fascinating insight into the restoration of a cinema very like our own, but with a Gallic twist

Recently, The Economist published a news story about the Louxor Palais du Cinema, north-west of the Gare du Nord in Paris, which was once one of the jewels of Egyptian-inspired art deco. It opened in 1921, boasting pillars, papyrus motifs and pharaohs’ heads – and with an auditorium that could seat almost 1,200 people.

The Economist recalls that this was the heyday of silent movies of the sort that ‘The Artist’ has brought back to life. However, after World War II, the cinema fell on hard times, and the Louxor screened its last movie in 1983 before Pathé sold the building to a retail firm that had plans for a store. But the plans never saw the light of day because the Louxor’s exotic façade had been listed for preservation. From 1987 the building stood empty.

Two pressure groups were formed in 2001 to regenerate the Louxor and to raise the tone of the neighbourhood. Paris City Hall bought the site, work began on restoring the Louxor to its original glory, and three years and 25 million euros later, the Louxor re-opened on18th April with Grandmaster, a Chinese martial-arts movie, as its first showing.

This news must surely give hope and succour to the people in Lichfield who are campaigning to save the Regal Cinema at 23-27 Tamworth Street.

The Regal Cinema opened on 18th July 1932 with Maisie Gay in The Old Man and Shirley Dale in The Begger Student. It was designed by the Birmingham-based architect Harold Seymour Scott, who was one of the directors of the independent operating company.

Like the Louxor in Paris, the external and internal styles of the Regal were described as a “delicate” Egyptian, Art Deco style. There was seating in the auditorium for 1,300 people, with 1,000 people in the stalls and another 300 in the circle. The proscenium was 40 ft wide, and the cinema also had its own café.

By November 1932, the cinema had been leased to the County Cinemas chain. It was taken over briefly by the Oscar Deutsch chain of Odeon Theatres Ltd in September 1939, but it was back in the hands of the original independent owners by around 1941.

In August 1943, it was taken over by the Associated British Cinemas (ABC) chain, which operated the Regal Cinema until July 1969. The Star Cinemas chain then took over. Part time bingo was introduced on several nights a week, and on 10 July 1974, the Regal Cinema screened its final film; Bruce Lee in The Big Boss. The Regal then became the Star Bingo Club.

The building was sold in the late 1970s, and became a KwikSave supermarket, with a snooker club in the former café area.

By 2008, the building was ‘For Sale’ or ‘To Let’ for leisure use.

Proposals to demolish the auditorium and to build a hotel on the site, retaining the Regal Cinema’s facade as the entrance, were put forward in February 2010. Planning consent was granted for the partial demolition and new build of the premises to create a bar and restaurant and a 104-bedroom hotel, with associated facilities.

However, in the three years since then, no work has been carried out on the proposed hotel.

Last July, Anna Coley started a Facebook page, “Restore the Regal Cinema, Lichfield!” Around the same time, Adam Bradley organised a petition for the restoration of the Regal Cinema “to its former glory.” By the time the petition closed, it had been signed by more than 80 people.

Lichfield District Council points out that “planning permission has been granted for a new cinema as part of the new Friarsgate Scheme, which should satisfy the demand for a cinema in the local area.” However, the argument is not simply about the need for a cinema for Lichfield and the surrounding catchment area. It is about the conservation of a unique and beautiful building that is part of Lichfield’s architectural heritage.

If this was a Tudor-era cinema in Bore Street, a Georgian-era cinema in Bird Street, or a Victorian-era cinema in Beacon Street, the case for its preservation would be quite clear. Is art deco architecture less valued because it only dates from the 1930s?

The blogger Brownhills Bob points out that The Regal is the only Art Deco building left standing in Lichfield since the Robin Hood on the corner of Saint John Street and Frog Lane was demolished. It was also built in the 1930s, replacing an earlier pub dating back to the 1790s. In his book on The Old Pubs of Lichfield (2001/2007), John Shaw recalls the names changes it went through, including City Gate, City Frog and Funky Frog, before being demolished in October 2000 to make way for new apartments on the site. Part of the Art Deco Burton building at 26 Market Street dates from about 1938, when the foundation stones were laid, but the ground floor has since been replaced with later shop-fronts.

Lichfield Film is the brainchild of Lucy Beth, who told the Lichfield People website: “The lack of cinema in Lichfield is something which is constantly discussed … Lichfield Film aims to bring a relaxed cinematic experience to the city.”

Although the former Civic Hall frequently shows films and movies are occasionally billed as part of the Lichfield Festival, the city has been without a permanent cinema since the Regal closed.

The calls for restoring the Regal have received an overwhelming response in recent months in letters to the Lichfield Gazette.

Planning permission for the new hotel runs out in September. That means work on the plans could still proceed, and that the company has until September to start turning the Regal into an hotel.

What happens if work does not begin by September? The planning permission runs out, and hopefully an order will made for the preservation and restoration not only of the exterior but for restoring the interior too, and for the use of the building once again as a cinema and perhaps as a community arts centre too?

To see the petition go to:


The Facebook campaign to save the Regal Cinema is at:


Patrick’s career has included the positions of: Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Adjunct Assistant Professor in the University of Dublin (Trinity College Dublin), and Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. For many years he worked as a journalist with the Lichfield Mercury, the Wexford People and The irish Times, where he was Foreign Desk Editor until 2002.

Patrick’s blog can be found at:


Regal application

A warm Moroccan welcome
on a warm summer’s evening

What is your image of a welcome in Morocco?

Patrick Comerford

What is your image of Morocco?





The Atlas Mountains?

Anew report from World Economic Forum on global tourism, looking at 140 countries, and gathering data up to the end of last year [2012], asked people: “How welcome are foreign visitors in your country?”

According to the data, the top three most welcoming countries for foreigners are, in order: Iceland, New Zealand and Morocco. Ireland is there too among the other high-ranking countries, including the rich and peaceful (Ireland, Canada, Austria), a few tourist havens (Thailand, United Arab Emirates), and, for some reason, big parts of West Africa.

The three countries least welcoming to foreigners are, in order: Bolivia, Venezuela and Russia. Other poorly ranked countries include the more troubled states of the greater Middle East (Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia), Eastern Europe and, surprisingly, China and South Korea, are near the bottom.

The survey is not based on the number of foreign visitors: the mid-ranking US and low-ranked China have some of the world’s highest rates of foreign tourism. Nor is it based on regional safety and security: Yemen ranked above Sweden and Belgium.

But perhaps nobody is surprised that tourism-friendly Morocco is so high on the list.

Is it any wonder that Ryanair opened two new bases in Morocco this year, in Fez and Marrakesh, as part of a new €158-million investment?

Since April, Ryanair has based two new aircraft in Marrakesh serving 22 routes including seven new destinations: Baden, Bergerac, Cuneo, Dole, Munich, Paris and Tours. One plane is based in Fez, flying to 15 destinations including four new routes to Lille, Nantes, Nimes and Saint Etienne. Ryanair is also flying to two other airports in Morocco – Essaouira and Rabat.

Morocco’s Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad said recently: “The Moroccan tourism sector is very proud of the confidence Ryanair is showing in the capacity of the Moroccan destination to grow and develop to become a leading market in the Mediterranean region.”

It is surprising then to find that none of these Ryanair connections to Morocco is available from Dublin.

But I received a warm, traditional Moroccan welcome last night [30 July 2013] at the Moroccan Ambassador’s Residence in Dublin for Ramadan Iftar and to mark the Moroccan National Day.

Iftar is the evening meal when Muslims break their fast during Ramadan. This is often done as a community, with people gathering to break their fast together. I have experienced this in the past in Pakistan, Egypt and Turkey, when Iftar is done right after Maghrib (sunset).

Traditionally, three dates are eaten to break the fast. Many Muslims believe that feeding someone iftar as a form of charity is very rewarding. The traditional prayer for breaking the fast at the time of Iftar is: “Oh God, it is for you that I observe fast and it is with your blessing that I break it.”

At a Moroccan iftar, dates, milk, juices, and sweets typically provide the sugar surge needed after a day of going without food. Harira, a hearty lentil and tomato soup, satisfies hunger and restores energy. Hard-boiled eggs, meat-filled or seafood-filled pastries (briouats), fried fish, and pancakes might also be served.

Large batches of sweets such as sellout and chebekiaare are traditionally prepared in advance for use throughout the month.

Eid Al Ârch or Fête du Trône (Throne Day) on 30 July is an annual celebration marking the accession to the Moroccan throne of Mohammed VI in 1999.

At last night’s reception in Foxrock, which began at sunset, there was plenty of traditional Moroccan iftar food. The guests included diplomats, judges, politicians, academics, business figures, charity and aid workers, the ambassador’s neighbours and both members of the Muslim community and church leaders – a healthy and practical exercise in Christian-Muslim dialogue.

We were all entertained in traditional Moroccan fashion in a large tent in the garden. And as we sipped our mint tea, nobody exclaimed: “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

28 July 2013

From lunch on Ormond Quay to
the Duke of Ormond’s deer park

Flowers in the Kitchen Garden in Ashtown Castle this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

The rain came down in torrents at lunchtime today [28 July 2013] as two of us strolled from Christchurch Cathedral to the Italian Quarter for lunch in Wallace’s Taverna.

For the first time in many months we sat indoors there as people huddled outside under the awnings and the rain showed no signs of abating.

This traditional Italian restaurant and pizzeria opened in 2005 as La Taverna di Bacco, the flagship restaurant of the Italian Quarter on the corner of Ormond Quay.

Rain hits the paving stones in the Italian Quarter at lunchtime (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

As the rain continued in patchy showers, we realised this was not an afternoon for a walk on a beach. Instead, we drove out to the Phoenix Park, intending to visit Farmleigh House.

Despite the rain, cricket was being played at the Civil Service Cricket Club, and the grass was being prepared at the Phoenix Cricket Club, which was formed in 1830, making it the oldest cricket club in Ireland one of the oldest in the world.

When we got to the Phoenix Monument, Chesterfield Avenue was closed off, and we ended up visiting the Visitor Centre and Ashtown Castle instead.

A busy bee at work in the walled kitchen garden at Ashtown Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013

We first strolled around the 2½-acre Victorian kitchen walled garden, with its array of flowers, fruit, vegetables and small trees. We are all concerned about the future of bees, and one of the delights of the walled garden was seeing the number of bees hovering around the flowers and plants.

Ashtown Castle ... neglected by successive Papal Nuncios, but now restored for the people of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

We then stopped to look at Ashtown Castle, which had been hidden for centuries within the walls of a much larger and more recent building that was used as the official residence of the Papal Nuncio until 1978.

When the Papal Nuncios abandoned the house, it was full of dry rot and in such a state of neglect and disrepair that it was deemed to be structurally irreparable. But as the house was being demolished, Ashtown Castle was uncovered.

The castle may date back to the 1430s, when it was built as a tower house. The dimensions conform to a government policy of the time that offered £10 to those who built a castle of this style for their own safety. Ashtown Castle was later incorporated into Ashtown Lodge, when it was rebuilt as the official residence of the Under Secretary of Ireland from 1782.

From Ashtown Castle, we walked across to the courtyard that houses the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre, which provides an historical interpretation of the Phoenix Park from the year 3500 BC to the present day.

The Phoenix Park extends to 707 hectares (1,752 acres) and is one of the largest enclosed recreational spaces within any European capital city. It is larger than all the city parks in London put together and twice the size of Central Park in New York.

The Phoenix Park was established just over 350 years ago in 1662 on behalf of King Charles II by the Viceroy of Ireland, James Butler, Duke of Ormond, who also gave his name to Ormond Quay, where we had lunch a few hours earlier. Ormond originally planned the Phoenix Park as a Royal Deer Park, using the former demesne of Kilmainham Priory, which stretched across both sides of the River Liffey.

In the 1660s, the Duke of Ormond introduced a herd of Fallow Deer that has lived in the park ever since. In 1668, Marcus Trevor, Viscount Dungannon, was appointed Park Ranger, and with two other keepers, he was responsible for the deer, managing the park’s enclosures and the new plantations.

Ormond also founded the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham in 1680. The foundation of the Royal Hospital reduced the Phoenix Park to its present size and location on the north side of the river. The park was then enclosed within a stone wall, which adjusted and delineated the size and the boundaries of the park.

The traditional maze at Ashtown Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The other attractions beside Ashtown Castle and Visitor Centre include a café, a traditional maze, woodland walks, a picnic area and a children’s playground.

Almost one-third of the Phoenix Park is covered with trees, and the park is a sanctuary for many mammals and birds, with a wide range of wildlife habitats.

Nearby is the official residence of the President, Áras an Uachtaráin, which dates from 1750, and is the former Vice-Regal Lodge. Ratra House was the retirement home of Ireland’s first President, Dr Douglas Hyde. It was built in 1876, and Winston Churchill, lived there from the ages of two to six when it was known as the Little Lodge. In his autobiography, My Early Life: 1874-1904, Churchill said his “first coherent memory” was formed in the Phoenix Park when his father was Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, Churchill’s grandfather, the Duke of Marlborough.

When we left the Visitor Centre it was still raining, and we never got to visit Farmleigh House. Instead we drove on Castleknock, where I wanted to photograph the parish church to illustrate a paper I am writing on Josiah Hort, an 18th century bishop.

By the time I got home, it was time for a change of clothes.

27 July 2013

Walking along the cliffs
from Bray to Greystones

Panoramic views of Bray at the start of the Cliff Walk (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

The predicted rain and thunder never came this afternoon, and two of us went to Bray and parked the car in front of the Bray Head Hotel. It’s difficult to know whether this hotel is open or closed – it appears to be more elegant inside than its decaying exterior would indicate.

The sign said you could pay at reception, but the there was no-one around apart from a handyman-caretaker who had a key to the front doors and was letting no-one in as he collected €3 for each car in between whitewashing the side walls of the hotel.

On this sunny afternoon, €3 was good value, as we set off along the 6-km long cliff walk from Bray and Greystones, following a route the train line along the cliffs of Bray Head.

We missed out on the top of Bray Head, which is said to be an attractive and interesting experience. From there, there is a view of Raheen na gClig church, “the little Church of the Bell” or “the little Fort of the Stones.” The remains of the Church, dating from the 12th or 13th century, stand in the middle of Raheen Park. Beside the church, Saint Patrick’s Well was once a site of pilgrimage in early Christian times and supposedly blessed by the saint at one time.

Looking out to the Irish Sea from the Cliff Walk (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Instead we set out on the cliff walk directly. Below us, there were panoramic views down onto the beach in Bray, and across Dublin Bay and out to the Irish Sea.

The highest point along the walk is 127metres (417 feet), the contour is hilly, and at times some of the steep steps were difficult for me with the joint pains in my knees and legs. But the walk offers stunning and dramatic views along the steep cliffs, and down to the Irish Sea and to the railway line below.

Cornered areas along the cliff walk remind me of Venetian bastions in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

I recalled the stunning walks along the sea cliffs at Cinque Terre in Italy, or some of the walks along the Sorrento and Amalfi Coasts. At one or two points, cornered areas reminded me of the bastions on the old Venetian fortezza on the island of Spinalonga off the coast of Crete.

But there were no ice-cream stalls or bars to break the walk or to take advantage of the summer walkers.

The ruins of the Toll Gate at Lord Meath’s Lodge, leading to Killruddery House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The cliff walk opened up after the construction of the railway line in the 1850s, and there are reminders of this story all along the path.

The ruined Toll Gate at Lord Meath’s Lodge is a reminder that the railway company once owned the walkway up to Lord Meath’s Lodge, leading to Killruddery House. The gate was kept closed and walkers were charged a penny for entry each day except on Fridays. A dirt road was also built around the top of Bray Head for guests, and this was open to the public too. But the cliff walk was closed each Friday when it was reserved for Lord Meath’s own use.

The steps above the toll house led to Kilruddery Estate and the stones for the cottage and the toll gate were collected from the immediate area except for the granite and red brick.

Just beyond Lord Meath’s lodge is an area called the Brandy Hole. The cave was immense with its entrance at sea level, and, it is believed, a connecting tunnel to the path. Brandy, tea, gin, silks and wine were smuggled in from France under cover of darkness or misty weather until the cave was destroyed when the railway was built.

Looking down onto the railway line from the cliff walk (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Building the railway along the cliff walk imposed significant geological challenges, and constant erosion meant some stretches of the railway line on the cliff walk were dangerous.

On 9 August 1867, the train from Enniscorthy to Dublin derailed because of a faulty joint between two rails on the bridge spanning Ram Scalp. Two passengers were killed and 23 people, including the driver and fireman, were injured. The rescue teams found it difficult to access the crash site. A new tunnel was built further into the cliff face after the crash, but the old tunnel entrance can still be seen today.

The cliffs and rocks are home to extraordinary birdlife, including seabirds such as gannets, kittiwakes, great black-backed gulls, fulmars, guillemots, black guillemots, razorbills, shags and cormorants.

Along the Cliff Walk there are many plants and colourful wild flowers such as the Red Valerian, heather, bracken, gorse, honeysuckle and dog rose.

Butterflies and bees flitted in and out between the growth and there was a peculiar black flying creature with red wings that seemed to hover rather than fly in places.

At times, overhanging branches and the hedgerow made this look like a country walk (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

At points along the walk, the overhanging branches and the hedgerow made this look like a country walk. Before we reached Greystones, the rock cliffs give way to sandy cliffs and banks, and then moved in a little inland between rolling fields of green and gold.

Saint Crispin’s Church close to the mediaeval site of Rathdown Village (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

A few paces on, at the junction of the Cliff Walk and the exit to the Grove, we were at the site of the Rathdown Mediaeval Village. Across the railway line, we could see the remains of Saint Crispin’s Church. The medieval settlement at Rathdown gave its name to the Barony of Rathdown which extended from near Kilcoole to Merrion Gates in Dublin.

A castle was built here in the 13th century as protection from other Gaelic families. In 1301, Rathdown was captured and burnt by the O’Byrnes and the O’Tooles. There was still a castle on site in 1536, but at the time of the Down Survey (1657) it had fallen into ruins. These ruins were used as building material during the construction when the railway line was being built in 1854-1856, and there are no visible remains today.

A view of Greystones as I came close to the end of the walk (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The last half kilometre was the only disappointing stretch of the walk, between iron hoarding and railing around wet and neglected building sites, between the railway track and the new marina in Greystones.

The 6 km walk took just over 2½ hours to complete. We rewarded ourselves with a well-deserved and generous lunch in the Happy Pear in Greystones, with a table outside, watching life passing by on Church Road.

There was a lengthy wait at the Dart station in Greystones for a train back to Bray, but we spent the time on the platform reading the Guardian and the Economist.

More information on the Cliff Walk is available here.

Fields of green and gold near the Greystones end of the Cliff Walk (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

25 July 2013

Naming babies and preserving buildings
over coffee in Rathgar and Harold’s Cross

No 201 Harold’s Cross Road ... a part of local history that is in danger of being lost (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

A few weeks ago, I was having a quiet coffee on my own outside the Bijou Deli in Rathgar, reading the Guardian and watching the passing traffic – human and motorised.

I’m not one to pry – generally – but as I overheard the conversation at the next table, I reminded myself of how Maeve Binchy said regularly that listening to other people’s conversations on the bus, on the Tube, or in the lift gave her some of her best and most realistic dialogue.

It seemed that the couple at the next table had just started dating each other. The questions were routine, but important for establishing who each other was ... tastes in coffee, best friends, favourite movies and television programmes, best holidays ever, and so on.

I suppose anthropologists would easily identify is all as part of the preening and courting ritual. Inevitably, as they moved on to the next coffee, they started talking about babies’ names.

What would the royal baby be called? ... What names do like? ... What about Alexander? ... Do you like Cameron – not the prime minister, the name?

And then she asked him: “Do you like Irish names?”

“Like what? Like Rory or Seamus?”

“No, real old Irish names.”

“Oh, you mean like Fuinneog? Or Tráthnóna?”

“Yeah, what do you think?”

I had to start reading the paper in earnest to stop myself from laughing out loud.

As I was passing by the Bijou Deli again early this afternoon on my way to a funeral in Harold’s Cross, I was almost tempted to stop there again in the hope of hearing a similar conversation. I imagined a poor baby being brought to me to be baptised as Tráthnóna. Or a disturbed Prince Fuinneog wishing his parents had called him plain George.

I continued on to Harold’s Cross – which I had often thought deserved a decent café, and was delighted today to spot the very place: the Black Apple Café at 206 Harold’s Cross Road.

I only had a double espresso and a biscuit, but they have an imaginative menu that made me wish I had arrived there in time for lunch. They have tables out on the street, a sunny back patio, and friendly, helpful staff.

Last month, the Black Apple Café won the JCI Friendly Business Awards for the Best Eco Business in Dublin – meaning they have clear environmental standards and policies on energy, water, waste, disposables and pollution, and sourcing local ingredients and produce, rather than buying and selling mass-produced food.

It was packed this afternoon, but I am glad I managed to find a table at the window looking out at the main street in Harold’s Cross. The café opened in May last year, and I can only wish them the best of successes in the future.

The former Church of Ireland parish church in Harold’s Cross is now a Russian Orthodox Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Harold’s Cross has changed a lot since my parents lived in the area many years ago. The former Church of Ireland parish church beside Mount Jerome Cemetery is now the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate.

The site of the former Kenilworth Cinema in Harold’s Cross is vacant and desolate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The site of the Kenilworth Cinema is desolate, and there are many empty shops. On the other hand, the old Park Inn, which had been closed for many year, has been renamed and has bright wall paintings on the corner with Lower Kimmage Road.

A bright street corner in Harold’s Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Still, Harold’s Cross is the sort of Dublin 6 village that could do with a makeover and some TLC that would put the heart back into it. And the Black Apple Café makes a good start to that … I’m sorry I was engrossed in coffee and the Guardian this afternoon that I forgot to take photographs inside and outside. But I’ll be back soon with my camera ... and for more of that coffee.

Across the street from the Black Apple Café, No 201 Harold’s Cross Road is the house where the Quaker abolitionist Richard Allen (1803–1886) was born. This is a large red brick building dating from 1750, and it appears on Rocque’s maps of 1756 and 1760. Looking at the house from the street, the surviving 18th century features include the blocked front doorcase.

By1870, this was a ‘Female Orphanage’ with a small central path leading to the front door and an extended the north range (now No 199) with a Post Office. In 1936, the main building was still marked on maps as an orphanage. By then the north range was rebuilt, but the shop I remember as Healy’s grocery shop is now closed and derelict.

Many 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.

But, looking at the building today, the windows are boarded up and it looks derelict; the front garden is overgrown, and there is sense that the whole site is being neglected. Are we about to lose another piece of Dublin’s architectural heritage?

Walking the pilgrims’
route with Saint James

A banner of Saint James of Compostella in a side chapel in Saint James’s Church, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today [25 July 2013], Saint James is commemorated in the calendar of the Church of Ireland and in the Book of Common Prayer.

Last year, during the Camino or Pilgrim Walk around the inner city churches in Dublin, marking the International Eucharistic Congress, the fourth church for those following the route to have our “Pilgrim Passports” stamped was Saint James’s Church in Saint James’s Street.

The foundation stone of the church was laid in 1844 by Daniel O’Connell. But the church claims a link with the tradition linking this part of Dublin – Saint James’s Gate – with the Camino de Santiago de Compostella since the 12th century.

In a side chapel, there is a banner of Saint James of Compostella, and Irish pilgrims on the Camino have their Pilgrim Passports stamped here before they set out for Spain.

Across the street, the former Church of Ireland parish church of Saint James, which was designed by Joseph Wellard, has been closed for many years. Until recently, it was a shop and showrooms. Now it is vacant, and it looks sad and forlorn behind padlocked gates.

Saint James’s Church, the former Church of Ireland Parish Church, looks sad and abandoned behind padlocked gates (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


Lord, God of peace:
Grant that after the example of your servant,
James the brother of our Lord,
your Church may give itself continually to prayer
and to the reconciliation of all
who are caught up in hatred or enmity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Jeremiah 45: 1-5; Psalm 126; Acts 11: 27 to 12: 2; Matthew 20: 20-28.

Jeremiah 45: 1-5

1 The word that the prophet Jeremiah spoke to Baruch son of Neriah, when he wrote these words in a scroll at the dictation of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah: 2 Thus says theLord, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: 3 You said, ‘Woe is me! TheLord has added sorrow to my pain; I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest.’ 4 Thus you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: I am going to break down what I have built, and pluck up what I have planted – that is, the whole land. 5 And you, do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for I am going to bring disaster upon all flesh, says the Lord; but I will give you your life as a prize of war in every place to which you may go.’

Psalm 126

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, •
then were we like those who dream.
2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter •
and our tongue with songs of joy.
3 Then said they among the nations, •
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
4 The Lord has indeed done great things for us, •
and therefore we rejoiced.
5 Restore again our fortunes, O Lord, •
as the river beds of the desert.
6 Those who sow in tears •
shall reap with songs of joy.
7 Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed, •
will come back with shouts of joy,
bearing their sheaves with them.

Acts 11: 27 to 12: 2

27 At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. 29 The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; 30 this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

1 About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. 2 He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword.

Matthew 20: 20-28

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.’

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
we thank you that after your resurrection you appeared to James,
and endowed him with gifts of leadership for your Church.
May we, who have known you now in the breaking of bread,
be people of prayer and reconciliation.
We ask it for your love’s sake.

24 July 2013

Saint George’s Church celebrates
200 years in the heart of Balbriggan

Saint George’s Church, Balbriggan … celebrating its bicentenary this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I was sorry I could not be in Saint George’s Church last night as it marked 200 years in Balbriggan with a special Service of Thanksgiving.

The foundation stone for Saint George’s Church was laid on 23 July 1813.

The bicentenary was recalled last night with Evening Prayer using the words of the Book of Common Prayer current in 1813. The service was led by Canon Cecil Hyland and Balbriggan Lay Reader Roy Hicks.

Afterwards, an exhibition of old Bibles and Prayer Books published since 1800 was on display for the first time in Balbriggan.

High on the west tower of the church, for the first time in living memory, the inscription has been restored by local craftsman, Michael Grimes, It reads: “Founded by Rev George Hamilton of Hampton on the 23rd day of July in the year of our Lord 1813.”

By the early 19th century, the parish church in Balrothery was in a dilapidated state. In addition, by then most of the parishioners were living in Balbriggan, and the Hamilton family planned a new parish church or chapel-of-ease in the town.

Those plans were frustrated by resisted by successive Rectors of Balrothery. Eventually, however, the Hamiltons realised their hopes in 1813 when the Revd George Hamilton was given permission to build the new church for the people of Balbriggan under an Act of Parliament, 11 and 12 George III, 6, and the “chapelry of Saint George” was founded.

The legislation provided for a perpetual curacy, with a grant of £25 a year from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners from Primate Boulter’s fund. Hamilton granted the land for the church and provided a substantial endowment to fund the stipend of a perpetual curate or vicar.

The foundation stone for the new church was laid on 23 July 1813, and the chapel was completed in 1816 at a cost of £3,018.2.2, of which £1,400 was given by the Board of First Fruits. £478.15.2 was raised from voluntary subscriptions by local people in Balbriggan, and £1,139.7.0 came from the Revd George Hamilton and his family.

When the church building was completed in 1816 it was described as “a handsome edifice with a square embattled tower.”

Saint George’s was consecrated on 20 October 1816. In his book, Churches of the Church of Ireland Dedicated to Saint George, Duncan Scarlett suggests the church was dedicated to Saint George in honour of King George III, who was then the reigning monarch. But the name may also have been chosen personally by George Hamilton.

The Revd George Hamilton was the proprietor of the village and the keeper of lighthouse– an interesting pursuit for a priest of the Church of Ireland. Hamilton and the Marquess of Lansdowne provided the funds for building the second pier in Balbriggan between 1826 and 1829, forming an inner harbour .

However, the church accidentally burned down in 1835, and another new church was built in the 1830s.

This original church, designed by an unknown architect, was a probably handsome edifice, although there are no surviving illustrations. We can imagine that it was a traditionally aligned three-bay hall, with a western tower. However, the church was accidentally burned on 22 December 1833. After the fire, the congregation used a schoolroom until their church was restored.

Saint George’s was rebuilt to a design by Frederick Darley, with a grant of £478 from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and reopened for worship on 4 March 1838. Darley enlarged the church with transects in the third bay to give the building a cruciform shape. The original box pews, destroyed in the fire, were replaced with bench pews.

Saint George’s is built of random rubble with few decorative features other than the dressed stone surrounds, hood mouldings and reticulated tracery on the window openings, most of which have clear lattice glazing in the original metal frames.

The quoins are restricted to the corners on the south wall, which faces the street. The later vestry and organ extensions are hidden from public view on the north wall. Unlike many churches of its time, the north wall of Saint George’s has window openings, although one of these was built up in 1901 when the organ was installed on the nave wall.

Darley’s original plans show how he intended to decorate the south facade of Saint George’s by adding buttresses with gabled extensions, pinnacles and finials matching those of the tower. He also envisaged a battlemented parapet above the gable on the south-facing transept, surmounted by a finial in the shape of a decorated cross. However, the money for these decorations may have run out during the course of rebuilding.

The two-stage tower at the west end of the church survived the fire of 1833 and was incorporated into the rebuilt church. This tower is of roughly-coursed rubble and offset buttresses of ashlar limestone. On the lower stage there are large windows on the west and north faces, and above the string course there are four openings with timbered louvers on the upper stage, which contain a bell by Thomas Mears of London, installed in 1840, and a carillon or peal of eight bells, installed in 1909 in memory of Warren St Ledger Woods of Whitestown House, who died the previous year. One lone operator on the peal can play simple hymn tunes and Christmas Carols, but the volume is not as great as the large cast-iron bells hanging in the belfry above the peal.

Surmounting the upper stage of the tower is a battlemented parapet of sandstone, extensions of the buttresses with gablets and pinnacles topped with decorated finials, two of which are now missing. The spire was built ca 1835 at the restoration of Saint George’s, and the parapet, buttress extensions and pinnacles may date from the same time. The tower was damaged during the Night of the Big Wind, on 6 and 7 January 1839.

Psalm 132, quoted on a plaque above the main door on the south side of tower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The biblical text on a plaque above the main door on the south side of tower above reads:

I will not suffer mine eyes
to sleep nor mine eye-lids
to slumber • neither the
temples of my head to
take any rest;
Until I find out a place
for the temple of the Lord:, an habitation
for the mighty God of

– Psalm 132: 4-5.

The quotation may have been chosen to give thanks for the rebuilding of the church after the fire of 1833.

Inside the entrance porch, a memorial honours parishioners who died in World War I.

Inside Saint George’s, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ architects, William Joseph Welland and William Gillespie, added a staircase and the gallery at the west end of the church in 1861-1863. This gallery is supported on two quatrefoil iron columns on either side of the aisle.

Underneath the gallery, the baptistery is in the north-west corner, and was used after the Eucharist on Sunday morning for serving coffee and tea. The baptistery has an octagonal red marble font, supported on grey marble colonnettes rising from a plinth of matching red marble. The font, dated 25 December 1862, bears the name Amelia Fancourt Hamilton, and was a Christmas gift to Saint George’s Parish from the wealthiest woman in Balbriggan at that time. She also established an infant school in the town. The baptistery was tiled in 1904 as a memorial to the Revd Samuel Warren, who was the Rector of Balbriggan from 1865 until his death in 1902.

The oldest memorials in the church are in the north transept, many of them to the Hamilton family who had their family pew there. One of these memorials, to Baron George Hamilton, was originally in Balrothery Parish Church before being moved to Saint George’s. He died at the age of 63 years on 14 November 1793. There are monuments too to the memory of R. Hamilton Esq., and the Revd George Hamilton.

The elaborate memorial to George Alexander Hamilton, who died in 1871 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The most elaborate memorial recalls George Alexander Hamilton, who died on 17 September 1871. His wife Amelia Fancourt Hamilton is remembered on a similar memorial nearby. This memorial says: “Her clothing and coal clubs were for many years a great benefit to the poor of this neighbourhood.” It also mentions that she set up an infant school in 1836 at Hampton Gates.

There are other memorials recalling tragic deaths, including the death of Richard Lucas Baker who died aged 22 as a soldier in Guernsey in 1848, and the death of Desmond Maurice Macartney-Filgate of Lowtherstone, who was with the RAF in World War I and died in a plane crash in 1918.

The Adoration of the Magi … a window by Meyers of Munich in the south transept of Saint George’s Church, Balbriggan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There are two memorial stained glass windows in the south transept. One, depicting the Adoration of the Magi, was designed by William Francis Dixon and made by the internationally famous firm, Meyer and Company of Munich, in 1906. It recalls the drowning at sea of Desmond Filgate’s father, Charles Alexander Hume Macartney-Filgate, in 1906. Tryphena Elizabeth Seymour Macartney Filgate, who lost her husband and son in two tragedies, died in 1919.

The Presentation in the Temple … a window by Catherine O’Brien of An Tur Glione in the south transept of Saint George’s Church, Balbriggan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The second window, designed by Catherine O’Brien of An Tur Glone in the Celtic Revival style in 1938, depicts the Presentation in the Temple, and is in memory of Richard Taylor Woods of Whitestown House.

The Resurrection … an Easter sermon in glass in the East Window in Saint George’s Church, Balbriggan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The three-light East Window behind the altar contains the oldest glass in the church, dating from 1883, and is a complete Easter sermon in itself. This window depicts the Resurrection and was also made by Meyer and Company of Munich. It was erected in memory of Thomas Edward Taylor (1811-1883) of Ardgillan Castle, near Balbriggan, who was MP for Co Dublin over 42 years and who is buried in a vault beneath the church.

Beneath the window and behind the altar stands a simple wooden Celtic cross, presented in 1995 by the family of Kathy Keenan. When the lights are on, this cross throws three shadows, evoking images of Calvary that are so appropriate in this Holy Week.

The crossing is occupied by a large chancel and an extension of the originally shallow sanctuary, which has an attractive, carved wooden altar. The altar frontal, and the pulpit and lectern falls were embroidered by Dorothy Whyte in memory of her son Alan White (24), who died on Christmas Day, 1936.

The wooden carved pulpit was donated in 1899 by Sarah Scriven, daughter of Henry Hamilton, originally from Tullylish, Co. Down. Sarah Scriven, a doctor’s wife, lived in Hampton Hall, and her son, the Revd Rowland Scriven (1859-1944), was a curate in the parish from 1898 to 1920, when he moved to England.

The Revd Samuel Percival Warren (1828-1902), who was the Rector of Balbriggan from 1865 until his death in 1902, was responsible for many later improvements to the church, including the installation of the organ in 1901. At the insistence of Gertrude Uhthoff Hamilton, the organ was located in its unusual place in the north wall.

One of the few graves in the churchyard is that of the Revd Daniel Henry Maunsell (1791-1834), “Curate of the Chapel of Balbriggan,” who is buried to the west of the tower. He died of cholera on 15 July 1834 at the age of 42, and it is said that the only man with the courage to touch his body was the son of Revd George Hamilton of Hampton Hall, T.C.G. Hamilton, who placed his body in a coffin and buried him.

Twenty years later, the row between the Rectors of Balrothery and the Hamiltons of Balbriggan erupted again in 1855 on a dispute over burial rights in the churchyard. A proposal by the Revd James Fitzgerald Gregg (1820-1905) to use the grounds for further burials was successfully opposed by the Rector of Balrothery, the Revd Francis Baker, who argued that the grounds should not be consecrated for burials because the church was “too close to the town for burials to be sanitary.”

The only exception was conceded for members of the Hamilton family, whose family vault lies beneath the east end of the church. Gertrude Uhthoff Hamilton and Alfred Ormsby Hamilton, who both died in 1935, are buried on the south side of the church.

The Benson Home Communion Set, passed through a long line of clergy for more than a century and a half (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When I was ordained priest 12 years ago, my good friend, the late Canon Norman Ruddock, then Rector of Wexford, presented me with a Home Communion set that had first belonged to the Revd Dr Charles William Benson (1836-1919), who was Rector of Balbriggan from 1903 until his death in 1919.

Dr Benson was known affectionately in the parish as “Daddy Benson,” and while he was Rector of Balbriggan a hundred years ago, he lived across the street from Saint George’s Church in Bedford House – now the privately-run Saint Anthony’s Nursing Home.

Dr Benson was a pioneering figure in education in the late 19th century and as headmaster of Rathmines School for over 40 years he was responsible for nurturing and encouraging the vocations of many leading bishops, priests and missionaries in the Church of Ireland. At the age of 67, he became the Rector of Saint George’s in 1903, and he was still the Rector of Balbriggan when he died at the age of 82 on 6 February 1919 in Bedford House in Church Street.

The Revd Dr Charles Benson, Rector of Balbriggan and the first owner of the home communion set

With that Home Communion set, Norrie included a hand-written list of all the priests who owned the paten and chalice and who – over the generations – passed it on to those they saw as their successors in the ministry and heirs to their vision, with my name at the very end. It is good to be reminded of the whole communion of saints.

Balbriggan became an independent parish in 1871. In 1960, Balbriggan and Balrothery were united with Holmpatrick (Skerries) and Kenure (Rush).

Trevor Sargent of Saint George’s has organised a number of events to mark the bicentenary of the foundation of Saint George’s Church.

Last Saturday saw a presentation in the church grounds of Pride and Prejudice by the Chapterhouse Theatre Group.

20 July 2013

The tent is up and Portrane
prepares for the big sale

4436 Enjoying the evening sunshine on the beach in Donabate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

The wonderful weather that I enjoyed in Cambridge for the past week has also been blanketing much of Ireland too.

The temperature was in the high 20s this afternoon, when two of us headed north to the Donabate, Portrane peninsula.

The terrace in front of the Waterside House Hotel in Donabate was packed with a mixture of people waiting for a wedding party to arrive and families seeking a refreshing break from the heat on the beach below.

Rather than heading down on to the long sandy beach to the south, we walked north along the path below the smaller beaches, leading to a cliff walk by the hospital, with rocky cliffs and bays below.

The sunshine seemed to linger a little longer this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Although evening was approaching, the heat of the sun was still strong, and families on the sand below seemed determined to savour every last moment of the summer heat today.

However, the strong heat created a haze, and Lambay Island was almost so indistinct out in the water that it might have been covered in light clouds.

The tent is up and everyone is getting ready for the big sale in Portrane on the August holiday weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Earlier in the afternoon, we had called in to see my Lynders cousins at The Quay, where the large tents are going up, furniture is being moved by teams of heavy volunteers and an array of goods is being sorted in advance of the big sale on the August Bank Holiday in two weeks’ time.

The sale runs from Saturday to Monday, 3-5 August 2013, in aid of Heart-to-Hand and its projects in Romania and Albania. I hope the good weather holds until then so that I can enjoy the beach views behind the big red-and-white tent while I volunteer on the book stall.

An afternoon by the boathouses
and the river, watching life go by

The Rosie makes its way between rowers, scullers and houseboats, with Fort St George (left) on the south bank of the Cam and Peterhouse boathouse on the north bank (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

My week in Cambridge ended as it began: walking by the river, enjoying the sunshine, and enjoying the sight of people in boats on the water.

Having left my bags at the Porters’ Lodge in Sidney Sussex College on Friday afternoon [19 July 2013], I walked around the corner into Jesus Lane, and on to the junction with Maid’s Causeway and Victoria Avenue to Midsummer Common, on the north-east of the inner city.

Midsummer Common in the middle of summer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

This vast stretch of common land stretches for over 33 acres (13.4 hectares) along the banks of the River Cam, from Victoria Bridge to Elizabeth Way. Until Victoria Avenue was cut through the common in 1890, there was an even larger expanse of open land that included Jesus Green.

Although Midsummer Common is open common land, it looks more like a vast city park, with street lighting, tarmac paths and cycle lanes, and all the human problems that city parks attract.

I crossed Midsummer Common to the south side of the river, where houseboats are moored along the bank, while most of the boathouses of Cambridge colleges and town clubs on the north side.

In between the swans and young people learning to row and to scull, a small narrowboat, the Rosie, was chugging up and down the river, taking small groups of people on river tours.

I crossed the river at Clare Footbridge, and walked back and forth along the north bank of the Cam, in and out between the boathouses.

There are about 30 colleges in Cambridge, each with its own boat club on the Cam, interspersed with a the boathouses of a number of town clubs and the premises of the Cambridge University Combined Boat Clubs, which manages college rowing on the Cam and running university races, such as the Lent and May bumps but not the Fairbairn Cup. There are clubs too for medical students at Addenbrooke’s and students at the Veterinary School.

Sidney Sussex shares a boathouse with Girton, Corpus Christi and Wolfson (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Close to Clare Footbridge, Sidney Sussex shares a boathouse with Girton College, Corpus Christi and Wolfson. The Sidney Sussex club’s blades are dark blue with red stripes. Sidney alumni race as the Lord Protector Club – well, Oliver Cromwell was a Sidney alumnus.

The other clubs on the river include the Cambridge ’99 Boat Club, the Cantabrigian Rowing Club, the City of Cambridge Rowing Club, the Rob Roy Boat Club, the X-Press Boat Club and the Champion of the Thames Boat Club, some of them based in the boathouse of the Cambridgeshire Rowing Association.

The Goldie Boathouse, home of the Cambridge University Boat Club, is named after JHD Goldie (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Some of the boathouses have names that have become part of Cambridge lore. The Goldie boathouse is the home of the Cambridge University Boat Club. The boathouse is named after JHD Goldie, of Saint John’s and CUBC.

The Boat Club of Saint John’s College is known as Lady Margaret. According to Cambridge myth, the name Lady Margaret was adopted after the Saint John’s Boat Club was banned from using that name. However, the club was probably named after its boat, as was custom in the formative years of college rowing. The alumni race as Lady Somerset Boat Club.

The names of some town clubs are associated with well-known pubs in Cambridge.

The X-Press Boat Club was once the boat club of the Free Press Public House, but is now it is associated with The Cambridge Blue after the landlord switched pubs. The name of the club was supposed to change to the Cambridge Blue Boat Club, but this was blocked after objections were raised by the university.

The Champion of the Thames Boat Club has boasted its unusual name since 1995, and is sponsored by The Champion of the Thames, a pub on King Street, near Sidney Sussex College. The pub, in turn, is named after an oarsman who won a race on the Thames on 1860, moved to Cambridge and ever after had all correspondence addressed to “The Champion of the Thames, King Street, Cambridge.”

A glass of wine at the Fort St George on a summer afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

I crossed the river again at Peterhouse Footbridge, and close to the houseboats, across from the Peterhouse boat club, I stopped for a cool glass of wine in the Fort St George, an old sprawling pub on the south bank of the river.

To give the pub its full name, this is The Fort St George In England, and is the oldest public house on the Cam. It is a Grade II listed timber-framed building and dates from the 16th century. The pub got is unusual name because it is said to look like the East India Company’s Fort St George in Madras (Chennai).

I could have lost all sense of time in the afternoon sunshine on the river bank, until a friend from the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies joined me at the table, and conversation turned to reality.

I strolled back along the south side of the river, where the people who live on the houseboats have their own sense of community and call themselves the Camboaters.

Christ’s College Boat Club has the oldest wooden-framed boathouse on the river (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Christ’s College Boat Club is housed in the oldest wooden-framed boathouse on the river, and this is the nearest to Jesus Lock.

As I continued on to Jesus Lock, people were sunbathing on the banks of the river, enjoying this unusually warm and bright summer weather. There were lengthy queues too at the Lido to get into the Jesus Green Swimming Pool.

The corner of Chesterton Lane, Northampton Street and Magdalene Street, seen from the grounds of Saint Giles Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

I crossed the river once again at the Jesus Lock Footbridge, at Chesterton Road, and walked on back along Chesterton Lane, and Magdalene Street and Bridge Street to Sidney Sussex College. My week in Cambridge was coming to an end.

Magdalene Street, walking back into Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Some other boathouses on the River Cam:

Lady Margaret Boat Club (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The Boat Club of St John’s College is known as Lady Margaret, after the founder of the college, Lady Margaret Beaufort.

Jesus College Boat Club (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Jesus College Boat Club is responsible for Fairbairns, the favourite event in Michaelmas term. Jesus alumni race as the Disciples.

Trinity Hall Boat Club (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Pembroke College Boat Club (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Emmanuel Boat Club (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The Rosie passes Downing College boathouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Downing College boathouse has been close to the water in more ways than its member may care to remember ... the boathouse flooded while it was still being built.

The Cambridge ’99 boathouse and the Cambridgeshire Rowing Association boathouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The Champion of the Thames Boat Club is not a London club, but a Cambridge club. It takes its name from a pub in King Street and uses the the Cambridgeshire Rowing Association boathouse.