30 December 2013

A bright mid-winter sunset
on the beach at Donabate

A bright winter sunset at Balcarrick Beach in Donabate this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

One of the basic instincts in northern Europe in the mid-winter is to keep alive the hope for light pouring back into the world.

It explains the midwinter calculations that made Newgrange a monument not just to those buried in the chamber but to the importance of hope for light in the darkness of northern Europe. It explains why people festoon their houses with such glaring and gaudy but seasonal lights at this time of the year. It explains why people count the extra minutes and moments of sunlight in the afternoon as December moves towards an end.

This afternoon, two of us were on our way to Portrane when we realised the afternoon was turning to evening. We decided to take a detour at Donabate and catch the sunset on Balcarrick Beach.

Clear blue pools beneath the setting sun in Donabate this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The tide was out, and under the low, setting sun, the sand seemed to stretch for miles, and slow setting sun was orange – for all the world like a falling Christingle orange – casting a glow all around.

Here and there, just below the Martello Tower and the ramp down unto the beach, small pools of water were catching the sunlight in clear blue bowls, as clear as the blue pools in the calcified terraces of Pamukkale in south-west Turkey.

By the time we walked back up the ramp beside the Martello Tower, the sun had set in south west, but there was still a warm orange glow in the blue sky.

‘Heaven cannot hold him / Nor earth sustain …’ heaven and earth came together at sunset in Donabate this afternoon (Phoograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The weather was bleak and cold, but no snow had fallen, and still I recalled Christina Rossetti’s words:

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim Thronged the air –
But only his mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give him –
Give my heart.

The waves on the beach in Donabate at dusk this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

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