Saturday, 15 June 2013

Love locks return to the Ha’penny Bridge

Love locks have returned to the Ha’penny Bridge, having been removed last year by Dublin City Council (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

After this morning’s Irish Times memorial service in the Unitarian Church on Saint Stephen’s Green, many of the people present went back to Callaghan’s Hotel, on the corner of Harcourt Street for coffee.

The humour inside and the sunshine outside helped to make it fell less like a wake, and it was good to meet old colleagues and friends. It is almost 11 years since I left the staff of The Irish Times, and while I have no regret and do not share the hankering others have for what they regard as the “good old days,” it good that we continue to care for each other and delight in each other’s company.

The sun was still shining an hour later, and two of us went for a stroll through South William Street and down through Temple Bar.

An enduring but impertinent question on the corner of Dame Lane and South Great George's Street this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

I still had two book tokens that came as media prizes at the General Synod last month – but no longer!

I left Eason’s on O’Connell Street with three new books:

Tony Kevin’s Walking the Camino (London: Scribe, 2013 reprint) is an Australian writer’s account of the Spanish pilgrimage to Santiago which I have often thought of taking part in. Even if I never get round to walking the ‘Camino,’ here is an opportunity to do so vicariously over the next few weeks.

The Dorling and Kindersley Naples & the Amalfi Coast, in the Eyewitness Travel series, should be a useful travel companion next month.

And Blogging for Dummies could add bells and smells to these pages in the coming weeks – you have been warned.

Looking out on the Ha’penny Bridge from Wallace’s Taverna on Lower Ormond Quay this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

We had a late lunch in Wallace’s Taverna on Lower Ormond Quay, looking out onto the River Liffey and the Ha’penny Bridge in the afternoon sunshine.

Last year, Dublin City Council removed a number of love locks from the bridge, citing a maintenance and damage risk. “This seems to have only started happening in the last few months and we're asking people not to do it,” a spokesperson for Dublin City Council said at the time.

But the love locks have returned, and are spread decoratively across the bridge.

There are many modern myths that seek to explain the origin of love lock, which started appearing on bridges throughout Europe in the early 2000s.

In Rome, love padlocks began to be fixed to the Ponte Milvio (Milvian Bridge) after the popular movie adaptation of Federico Moccia’s book I Want YouHo voglia di te (2006).

In Serbia, the love locks are associated with the Most Ljubavi, or the Bridge of Love, and the tradition is said to predate World War II.

But the most famous example of love locks must be on the Via Dell’Amore in Italy, on the pathway between Manarola and Riomaggiore in the Cinque Terre – a route I walked last summer. The pathway’s legend holds that it was a meeting place for lovers from the two towns, and it has become a favourite location for tourists to place their locks and throw the keys into the sea.

In London, love locks have been attached to various points along the fence on Tower Bridge. In Liverpool, a lot of locks have appeared on the Albert Docks, where a sign proclaims: “This is a special place for lovers! Interlock your padlocks on the railings and throw away the key into the Mersey. You will never lose your true love!”

However, there were more worries for tourists in the Albert Docks in Liverpool today, with 30 people on board a boat that sank this afternoon.

The Irish and Greek flags flying side-by-side on the quays in Dublin this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

We strolled back through Temple Bar and Drury Street, and the sunshine continued to shine into the late afternoon.

Street art in Drury Street, near Grafton Street, Dublin, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

‘To praise Eternity contained in Time and coloured glass’

‘To praise Eternity contained in Time and coloured glass’ – John Betjeman … a window in the Unitarian Church, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford,

Irish Times Memorial Service,
Dublin Unitarian Church,

11 a.m., 15 June 2013

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Here we are again. Another year has come and gone, another year has passed. And we are back together again, like a family, remembering those who have died, but also saying hello to each other, and glad to find that so many of us are still alive.

Whether you are religious or not, this church has come to symbolise, for many of us, the cycle of life and death for staff members and former staff members of The Irish Times.

Year after year, some of us have come here and been surprised not only to hear the names of those who have died in the past year, but to look around us and see who is still alive, who is still hale and hearty.

This church, the Unitarian Church, with its beautiful Victorian stained-glass windows, is celebrating 150 years of being on Saint Stephen’s Green. And as this congregation welcomes us back year after year, we might identify with the words of the journalist and poet John Betjeman, when he talks about churches where

… … the clasped hands lying long
Recumbent on sepulchral slabs or effigied in brass
Buttress with prayer this vaulted roof so white and light and strong
And countless congregations as the generations pass
Join choir and great crowned organ case, in centuries of song
To praise Eternity contained in Time and coloured glass.

This morning, we are giving thanks for the lives of those described by Deaglan de Breadun in his ‘Irishman’s Diary’ in The Irish Times on Tuesday as a “circle of friends,” and recalling “Eternity contained in Time and coloured glass.”

Each year, as the names are read – especially the names of those who have died in the past year – each of us twinges, and each of us smiles. We share, paradoxically, both pain and joy. And, sometimes, there is a silent moment of guilt, regret or sorrow as we hear the name of someone and recall moments of being rude or dismissive, abrasive or unthinking, and regret we no longer have a chance to remedy that.

Tomorrow’s Gospel reading is a story that reminds me of that way of behaving (Luke 7: 36 to 8: 3). In this story in Saint Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is invited to dinner in the house of a comfortable and well-known religious leader, Simon the Pharisee.

Simon is delighted to have a celebrity guest at dinner. But that’s all he sees Jesus as – a celebrity. And so Simon forgets his manners. He may have been hoping to get some vicarious celebrity status from his dinner guest. But we all do that. Journalists are good to the point of indulgence at name-dropping when it comes to writing memoirs.

Simon is so eager to impress the neighbours that he forgets to treat Jesus like a guest, as another fellow human being, to extend the normal courtesies of welcome and hospitality.

But I can understand Simon at this point, I can see myself there.

What is less forgivable is Simon’s attitude to the woman who sneaks into the house, and washes Jesus’ feet and anoints him. She is a well-known woman about town and someone Simon is unlikely to forget.

But, while Simon is glad to be on first-name terms with Jesus, this woman is left nameless in this story. Like so many people on the margins, she is stripped of her first name – just like the Widow of Nain in last Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 7: 11-17), or the Centurion from Capernaum and his slave the week before (Luke 7: 1b-10).

It happens throughout the Gospels: the Samaritan woman at the well, the Syro-Phoenician Woman and her daughter – even the rich man who keeps Lazarus at the gate becomes marginalised himself, and in the process loses his personal name.

Depriving people of their name, imposing anonymity on them, marginalises and dehumanises them.

We can do little about the way we have mistreated those who are dead. But giving them back their names this morning restores their humanity, gives them back that great “by-line” in life.

What can we do about the past? What can we do about the way we have marginalised others in the past, reduced their humanity, deprived them of the great “by-lines” of life?

The first thing you can do is forgive yourself. Be good to yourself.

Secondly, I can decide how I am going to treat the rest of us. We are remembering the dead this morning – but we are among the living. And the best way we can pay tribute to the dead, is to honour the living.

Let us not marginalise each other, let us not make each other nameless. Let us not deprive each other of the true by-line that matters, our shared dignity in our common humanity … while we are still alive.

It is in the way we behave today that we catch a glimpse of what eternity may be like, that we can, in the words of John Betjeman, “praise Eternity contained in Time and coloured glass.”


Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, an Assistant Adjunct Professor, Trinity College Dublin, and a former Foreign Desk Editor of ‘The Irish Times.’ This address was given at an Irish Times memorial service in the Unitarian Church, Dublin, on 15 June 2013.

Remembering a ‘circle of friends’ from The Irish Times

Gothic gargoyles and grandeur ... the Unitarian Church, Saint Stephen’s Green, is the venue for this morning’s Irish Times commemoration service (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

Once a year, I take part in an inter-denominational service in the Unitarian Church on Saint Stephen’s Green commemorating and celebrating the lives of former staff members The Irish Times.

A full year has passed since the last service, and this year’s service takes place this morning [15 June] at 11 a.m. Those who died in the past 12 months will receive special mention as the list of the dead is read out. Those who have died since last year’s service include the writer Maeve Binchy, who died on 30 July last, and the former Gaelic Games Correspondent, Paddy Downey.

Formany years, this service was organized by Deaglan de Breadun. Earlier this week, he wrote in The Irish Times: “Everyone is welcome, including former staff, as well as readers and especially letter-writers because we are all, in Maeve Binchy’s phrase, a ‘circle of friends’.”

The other participants in this morning’s service include Father Peter McVerry and the Minister of the Dublin Unitarian Church, the Revd Bridget Spain.

We have been welcomed year by year by the ministers and congregation at the Unitarian Church, which is celebrating the 150th anniversary of its move to Saint Stephen’s Green in 1863. As part of these special commemorations, I was invited to preach in the Unitarian Church four month ago [17 February 2013].

The commemoration continue tomorrow morning [Sunday], when the preacher at the anniversary service is the Revd Bill Darlison, a former minister in Dublin and now President of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

The Dublin-born William Robertson (1705-1783), who has been called “the father of Unitarian nonconformity,” was once Rector of Rathvilly, Co Carlow, and curate of Saint Luke’s, Dublin. His secession from the Church of Ireland in 1764 predates the formation of identifiably Unitarian congregations in England in 1773 by Theophilus Lindsey (1723-1808), by Joseph Priestly (1733-1804) and by others.

However, the Unitarian Church on Saint Stephen’s Green traces its history back to the mid-17th century and to three groups of Protestant Dissenters in Dublin: one met in Saint Mary’s Abbey on the north side of the River Liffey; the second met in the old Wood Street Meeting House on the south side of the river; and the third met in Cook Street.

These congregations had their origins in 17th century Presbyterianism. The congregations in Saint Mary’s Abbey and Wood Street merged in 1762, and two years later they moved to a new meeting house on Strand Street, where they were joined by the Cook Street congregation in 1787.

These groups were first known as Non-Subscribing Presbyterians because of their refusal to subscribe to the Calvinist tenets of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and within a few decades they were being described as Unitarians.

The last service in Strand Street Meeting House was held on Sunday 7 June 1863 and the new Unitarian Church on Saint Stephen’s Green opened on Sunday 14 June 1863. Four years later, the Presbyterian Meeting House in Eustace Street closed, and the congregation amalgamated with the church on Saint Stephen’s Green.

The locked gates of the Huguenot Cemetery in Merrion Row … the spelling would have surprised many subeditors in The Irish Times (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The site on the west side of Saint Stephen’s Green was once known as the “French walk”, because many French Huguenots owned property there. Around the corner on Merrion Row, just steps away from the Shelbourne Hotel, the French Huguenot Cemetery is under lock and key behind a gate with a misspelled inscription that would never have passed the beady eyes of many of the subeditors in The Irish Times whose names are being read out this morning.

The church was designed in the Decorative Gothic style by Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon of Belfast. Inside, the initial impression is a church designed along High Church Anglican principles. The roof trusses are supported by pillars topped with decorated with angelic figures representing images described in the Epistle to the Ephesians: the girdle of truth, the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, the sword of the sprit, the word of God and the breastplate of righteousness. Behind the Communion Table, the marble reredos is carved with the words of the Beatitudes.

The stained-glass windows include the large Wilson Memorial Window above the Communion Table; four French-designed windows, made in Tours 1865-1868, including one showing Christ with the Little Children and another showing Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday; and three windows from the Túr Gloine studios, including one telling the story of the Good Samaritan.

The church is currently fundraising to spend €250,000 to restore its beautiful JW Walker Pipe Organ (1910) at the back of the church. Recently, the organist Josh Johnston announced that the appeal had reached a milestone of €100,000. Josh is playing the organ and the piano at this morning’s service for this ‘circle of friends’ from The Irish Times.