03 January 2014

Soaked up to my knees by the waves
in Kilcoole between the storms

The waves breaking against the East Coast shoreline beside the railway line in Kilcoole, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

The strong storms, the heavy rains and the cold weather continue to wreak havoc across these islands. It has hovered around 7-8 C in Dublin today, but the wind chill factor made it feel like –7 or lower.

The rains and the tides have brought flooding to parts of Dublin and Wicklow, but these have not been as high or as heavy as the rides and flooding in other parts of Ireland.

I was in the hospital in Tallaght for a short time this morning for tests. But by noon, the skies were clearing, and seemed like a good idea to go to Kilcoole, Co Wicklow, to see today’s high tide from the defence walls that separate the coastline from the main east coast railway line linking Dublin and Wexford.

We parked just behind the railway station and at first I thought the sound beyond was a train trundling along the line. But, as the steady sound continued, I realised it was the high tide beating against the rocks of the defence wall.

As I stood on the steps between the railway line and the sea, I was soaked up to my knees by the waves (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Crossing the railway line to the steps down to the beach in between the rocks that reinforce the break-wall between the sea and the railway, it was the first time I have ever seen the steps covered by waves.

As I stood on the steps in the break-wall between the railway line and the sea, one wave after another crashed in, and I was covered briefly up to me knees in water. It was beautiful if chilly.

Despite the cold temperatures and the high waves, it was possible to see for miles along the coast, south and north. We walked along the wall for a short distance north towards Greystones. But by now I was wet from me knees to me toes and in need of a change of shoes and socks.

Luisne, originally built as Darraghville ... the spirituality centre is seeking to discern the way forward into the future (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

On the way back to Greystones, by now in my bare feet, we stopped briefly to photograph Luisne, an old house that is home to a centre for spirituality about a mile north of Kilcoole. This once elegant historic house is surrounded by 40 acres of beautiful unspoilt Wicklow countryside.

Open and without walls, Luisne describes itself as “a contemporary monastic settlement inspired by the early monasteries and the scientific revelation that all life is intimately interconnected and richly diversified.”

The programmes at Luisne include meditation twice a day and regular extended meditation practice in weekly classes and weekend workshops, as well as classes on art appreciation, astronomy, cookery, herbal remedies, vegetarian cooking, mindfulness and yoga.

The Luisne Spirituality Centre was established in 2004, but the presence of the Holy Faith community dates back to the 1890s, and the house is a century older.

The original house, Darraghville, was built by John Darragh, a former lord mayor of Dublin, ca 1782, on lands first leased from the Gardiner family, Earls of Blessington – they gave their name to Gardiner Street, Gardiner Square, Blessington Street and other Georgian streets in Dublin.

Darraghville is a two-storey over basement, five-bay, Georgian residence, with a projecting semi-hexagonal bay to the west, parapet hipped roof to the east, and treble-hipped “A” roofs to the west. There are Venetian windows with sidelights feature on the two principal façades.

The house retains many of its original features, including decorative plaster ceilings, stone flooring, vaulted basements, and staircases and woodwork of architectural importance. The façade was brickwork, but is now concealed behind painted render. The three-storey extension to the north probably dates from the mid-19th century.

Photographs from the 1870s record the resplendent grandeur of a lower walled garden with an extensive glassed greenhouse, tea-house and an ornamental bridge. The lower garden is now overgrown, but the walls and entrances remain, and it still features a meandering stream, the bridge base and the old tea-house, very much in need of restoration.

A second walled garden beside the house is well maintained. It may have had a tennis court and fruit trees originally, but is now a vegetable patch, fruit trees and flower beds, as well as a small greenhouse.

John Darragh traded as a china and earthenware merchant on Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin. When his widow Mary died in 1799, the Darraghville estate passed to the Newton family, and George Newton built a new house on the site. In 1894, the Holy Faith Sisters bought Darraghville and opened new schools, including a junior boarding school for boys in 1898, where the more famous pupils included the comedian Jimmy O’Dea.

The ministry of the Luisne Spirituality Centre began in 2004, and the estate is still farmed and used for grazing livestock. However, the Holy Faith Congregation can no longer afford to fund the Luisne Centre. Plans are at an early stage to set up a charitable trust, Luisne Limited Company, to manage Luisne in the years to come so it can continue and expand.

I had a change of shoes in the car, but needed socks if I was going to go to lunch. We stopped in Greystones, and then, after a little rime browsing in the Village Bookshop, two of us had lunch in the Happy Pear.

Evening lights on the beach as the sun sets behind me in Bray late this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The storm was still resting, and we decided to stop again to have another look at the breaking waves – this time in Bray. The tide had receded a little, but the sound of the waves against the pebbles on the shore was still a joy to the ear.

Behind me, the sun was setting in the south-east. Another gale is expected tonight. But the exhilaration on the beaches of Co Wicklow today was better than any shot in the arm in an hospital.

● The next meeting to discuss the future of Luisne is at 8 p.m. on Thursday next, 9 January 2014.

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