Thursday, 31 July 2014
I was a guest of John Green, chair of the Glasnevin Trust, this afternoon [31 July 2014] when President Michael D Higgins and the Duke of Kent dedicated the Cross of Sacrifice at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
This new war memorial is a joint project of the Glasnevin Trust and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, of which the Duke of Kent is president. It has been erected with the support of the Irish Government and today’s ceremony marks a further step in the normalising of Ireland’s acknowledgement of the war dead.
Until today, the Republic of Ireland was the only country in the world not to have a Cross of Sacrifice in cemeteries containing the bodies of 40 or more military personnel who died while with British or other Commonwealth forces during either World War I or World War II.
In his speech, President Higgins said that World War I remains “somewhat of a mystery” a century on. “If all wars are an object of infinite sadness, this particular one also remains as an inextinguishable source of bewilderment.”
He said: “We cannot give back their lives to the dead, nor whole bodies to those who were wounded, or repair the grief, undo the disrespect that was sometimes shown to those who fought or their families. But we honour them all now, even if at a distance, and we do not ask, nor would it be appropriate to interrogate, their reasons for enlisting.
“To all of them in their silence we offer our own silence, without judgement, and with respect for their ideals, as they knew them, and for the humanity they expressed towards each other. And we offer our sorrow too that they and their families were not given the compassion and the understanding over the decades that they should have received.”
He said it was important to go past the staggering statistics of the war and remember “the tragedy of each single death, of every life shattered.”
Dedicating the cross, Mr Higgins said: “As friends we, Irish and British, share this moment of remembrance; and in mutual sympathy we dedicate this monument to the memory of all those who lost their lives during the too long, dreadful years of 1914 to 1918. “Let us now, together, cultivate memory as a tool for the living and as a sure base for the future - memory employed in the task of building peace.”
The Duke of Kent said the ceremony was an important step in the continuing process of remembering those who died. “It represents a lasting tribute to their sacrifice and it is my hope, in the years to come, that memorials such as these continue to inspire successive generations to remember,” he said.
The attendance also included the new Minster for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys; the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland , Theresa Villiers; the British Ambassador to Ireland, Dominick Chilcott; and the chief executive of the Glasnevin Trust, George McCullough.
There were colour parties from the Irish and British armies, prayers led by Irish and British military chaplains, and appropriate musical contributions from Irish British army bands, including the two national anthems, Lead Kindly Light, Abide with Me and the Derry Air.
The Cross of Sacrifice is seven metres tall cross, and is made of blue limestone from Threecastles Quarry in Co Kilkenny by McKeon Stone of Stradbally, Co Laois. It follows the design set by Sir Reginald Blomfield (1856-1942), the British architect who created the template cross for the War Graves Commission after World War I. Hundreds of Blomfield design crosses have been erected around the world, but until today none had been erected in the Republic of Ireland.
The stone cross stands on an octagonal platform and has a bronze sword mounted on its face, blade pointing down. It has been erected at a ceremonial plaza, close to two screen walls carved with the names of Irish people who died in both world wars while in British or Allied forces. It stands close to the graves of national figures such as Charles Steward Parnell, Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera.
The chair of the Glasnevin Trust, John Green, who invited me to today’s ceremony, is a descendant of the Comerford family of Co Cork, and a descendant of the Home Rule leader, John Redmond. He is descended from Anna Comerford (1829-1883) and James Sullivan Green, who were married in the Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, in 1857. Their son, John Maxwell Sullivan (Max) Green (1864-1922), married John Redmond’s daughter, Johanna, in Kensington in 1913.
In his address, John Green quoted from John Redmond’s brother, Major Willie Redmond. He also pointed out that 210,000 Irish men and women served in the British Army during World War I, and one in five perished. Thousands more serving in allied forces, including the Canadian and Australian forces. Another 100,000 served in British and Allied forces during World War II, and about 10,000 of them were killed. The Cross of Sacrifice is intended as a monument to them all, he said.
Teresa Villiers, explaining the symbolism of the Cross of Sacrifice, said the Cross represents the faith of the majority of the dead, and the sword represents the military character of the commemoration. She said the event showed a commitment from Britain and Ireland to working together to mark the centenaries of World War I and other significant anniversaries.
Dr Edward Madigan, Lecturer in Public History at Royal Holloway in the University of London, first proposed the installation of the Glasnevin cross during the two years he was the Resident Historian at the Commonwealth and War Graves Commission. He then led talks with the Irish Government and the Glasnevin Trust.
In his speech today he said he believes a Cross of Sacrifice was never erected in this part of Ireland after World War I because “the installation of Crosses of Sacrifice was unwelcome in the political and cultural climate of the 1920s in what was then the Irish Free State.”
Apart from the small band of noisy protesters who pushed themselves up to the cemetery railings, it was obvious today that past antipathy has all but disappeared.
They screamed and shouted during the minute’s silence, during the prayers and during the speeches, including those by both President Higgins and the Duke of Kent. Their cries included “Shame!” and “Brits Out!” – it is shameful that they could try to drown out silence, prayers, and the elected President of Ireland, and the slogan “Brits Out!” would be seen for its racism if any other derogatory stereotype was used instead.
The threatened rain never came, and sun broke through the clouds halfway through the ceremony, perhaps a sign of hope on a sombre anniversary.
The ceremony in Glasnevin is part of a wider programme of ceremonies to mark the centenary of World War I and the decade of commemorations, with events such as the 1913 lockout and the 1916 Easter Rising also being marked.
Wednesday, 30 July 2014
Over the past few years, I have enjoyed writing about ancestral homes that have come on the market, such as Comberford Hall, between Lichfield and Tamworth in Staffordshire, the Moat House in Tamworth, or Quemerford House in Calne, Wiltshire. I have delighted in finding more humble ancestral homes, or even their sites long after they have been demolished, including Cross Kevin Street, Dublin, where my great-grandmother Anne (Doyle) Comerford was born.
This afternoon, I found that another former family home is about to be sold. I was on my way from a reception in the Clyde Court Hotel in Ballsbridge, hosted by the Moroccan Embassy to mark Moroccan National Day, to the Beechwood Luas (light rail) station, when I decided to take a look at No 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, the house where my great-grandfather, James Comerford, died in 1902, and where my grandfather, Stephen Edward Comerford, lived for a number of years.
I have never been inside the house, and to my surprise it is on the market at the moment, and the estate agents, Young’s of Ranelagh, tell me the sale is about to be closed.
No 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue is described by Young’s as “a superbly-located split-level family home with three bedrooms and a sunny west-facing rear garden.”
They say that while the house is in need of some modernisation, the house “retains numerous period features such as high ceilings and original fireplaces.” In other words, many parts of the house survive from the time my grandfather and great-grandfather were living there at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The three-bedroomed, terraced house was built ca 1880 and is directly behind the Beechwood Luas station and only minutes’ walk from the bustling and fashionable suburban village of Ranelagh, with its many cafés, bars, restaurants and shops.
Originally Young’s were quoting €550,000 for No 11, but it is probably going to sell for more than €700,000 No 11 is much smaller than, say, Comberford Hall, but is almost within the same price bracket, which shows where the property market in Dublin is going.
I had decided to walk to the Beechwood station from the Moroccan Embassy reception because of the warm summer sunshine this afternoon.
There was an opportunity to express my hopes to the ambassador that all embassies in Dublin would use all their diplomatic skills to bring a peaceful end to the crisis in Gaza.
At the top of Lansdowne Road, I passed the Israeli Embassy, with its flag fluttering freely in the Dublin sunshine. At present the Israeli Embassy is refusing to answer questions from journalists in The Irish Times and is running a vitriolic propaganda campaign on one its Facebook pages, berating The Irish Times as The Palestinian Irish Times and The Hamas Irish Times.
If this is the contempt a diplomatic mission can show for a reputable, respectable newspaper in an open, democratic society, I can only imagine the contempt facing journalists who try to cover events in Gaza objectively.
That flag fluttering freely in the summer breeze represents a freedom of opinion that I hope the residents of Gaza will enjoy eventually. But it also flutters freely because newspapers like The Irish Times guard and protect our democratic liberties and rights in this country.
I enjoyed the freedom of the afternoon to stroll on through Herbert Park and Donnybrook to Ranelagh, stopping for a while in recently-opened second-hand book shop before ending up in Beechwood Avenue, and giving thanks for the values of my grandfather and great-grandfather, who, in their own ways, were voices for freedom and liberty.
Tuesday, 29 July 2014
I was in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, last night [28 July 2014] for the unveiling of the Tree of Remembrance by the author Jennifer Johnston and the opening of the “Lives Remembered” exhibition in the North Transept.
Surrounded by poppy wreaths, war memorials and regimental flags from the past, she declared: “We have just been through the most terrible century and we must hope there is not another like it.”
The tree, which is the centrepiece of the exhibition, is a stark and leafless distressed metal sculpture that evokes “No Man’s Land” on the Western Front in World War I. But it is a memorial not only to all who died in World War I, but to all who died in all wars.
Several hundred people were in the cathedral last night and heard the cathedral education officer, Andrew Smith, pay tribute to ironworks Bisgood Bagnall, who he developed his idea with to make it a reality. Andrew said the tree symbolised “an incredibly important moment in European history” and was a counterpoint to the Tree of Life in the stained glass window above it.
Visitors are invited to tie a message to the tree, and last night I wrote message remembering my grandfather, Stephen Comerford (1867-1921), who joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers – “the Toughs and Tuffs” – in 1915.
Within days, my grandfather was sent to the Greek island of Lemnos and on to Gallipoli and Suvla Bay. He was among the few survivors evacuated to Thessaloniki. In the severe Greek winter, many of them suffered frostbite, dysentery and other sicknesses. In the summer’s heat of 1916, more came down with malaria and were evacuated from Thessaloniki.
Stephen was discharged on 3 May 1916, three days after the Easter Rising ended, and was sent back to Dublin. Malaria was life-threatening but life-saving – for a few months at least. The war ended on 11 November 1918 and a month later, on 14 December, his youngest child – my father Stephen Edward Comerford – was born in Rathmines. Later, Stephen was decorated with the three standard medals – the Victory Medal, the British Medal and the 1914-1915 Star. But his health continued to deteriorate, no more children were born, and he died alone in hospital at the age of 53.
He is buried in Saint Catherine’s, the old Church of Ireland churchyard in Portrane in north Co Dublin. Ironically, his gravestone also gives the wrong age for him at the time of his death. Stephen Comerford was born on 28 December 1867, and died on 21 January 1921 at the age of 53. But the gravestone says he died at the age of 49 – the age he was when he came back from the war in 1916. As his health deteriorated, he must have remained 49 for ever in my grandmother’s heart.
His widow, my grandmother Bridget (Lynders), continued to live in Rathmines until 1935, when she moved to Ashdale Park, Terenure. When she died on 25 March 1948, she was buried with my grandfather in Portrane, close to other members of the Lynders family.
Last night, in the north transept of Saint Patrick’s, I found myself standing beneath the monument to Field Marshal Lord Wolseley (1833-1913), whose family name is associated with Wolseley in Staffordshire and Mount Wolseley, Co Carlow. He was born in Golden Bridge House, near Kilmainham, Dublin, became commander-in-chief of the British army, and retired as Master of the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham.
Dean Victor Stacey explained last night that Jennifer Johnston’s father, the playwright Denis Johnston, is buried in the cathedral graveyard, and that she is a descendant of a former dean, Archbishop John Henry Bernard. But she was also invited to open the exhibition because this year marks the fortieth anniversary of her novel How Many Miles to Babylon?, which tells the story of two Wicklow boys who enlisted in World War I. Her uncle, Billy Richards, died in Gallipoli in August 1915.
Jennifer Johnston quoted also from ‘Lament for Thomas MacDonagh,’ a poem by the war-time Irish poet Francis Ledwidge, who died in World War I:
He shall not hear the bittern cry
In the wild sky, where he is lain,
Nor voices of the sweeter birds,
Above the wailing of the rain.
Thinking last night of my grandfather on Lemnos and of the war-time poetry of Francis Ledwidge, I also found myself thinking of another war-time poet, Rupert Brooke, and his connection with Lemnos.
Rupert Brooke and his division arrived at Lemnos on the hospital ship HMS Grantully Castle on 12 March 1915. On Thursday 18 March, they left Mudros Habour for the Dardanelles. But after several hours of inactivity, they were withdrawn and returned to Lemnos.
On their return, they found Mudros Harbour was full of the ships for the impending landings. For a week there were days ashore, strolling Myrina or through the orchards where the almond trees were in blossom. On Lemnos, Brooke thought he could see far of Mount Olympus with his strong field glasses.
He and his fellow officers, who called themselves the Latin Club, talked of classical Greece, of Homer, of Philoctetes, the archer bitten by a snake on Lemnos, of the resistance on Lemnos to the invading Miltiades. One of them exclaimed: “I shall take Constantinople and avenge the Byzantine Empire.”
Brooke wrote in a letter home: “We read Homer to each other, and drift among the Isles of Greece ... by the wine dark sea.”
They left Lemnos on 24 March bound for Egypt. By 2 April Brooke was sick with sunstroke and dysentery and was bitten on the lip by a mosquito. On 10 April, Brooke and the division left for Lemnos again, but they were diverted to Skyros.
Brooke arrived on Skyros on 17 April. On 20 April, during a long day on the island, they rested in the olive grove where his grave now stands: Brooke remarked on “the strange peace and beauty of this valley.” He seemed to have recovered from his illnesses, but he began to fall seriously ill that evening.
As a consequence of his mosquito bite in Port Said, he had developed blood poisoning. On 22 April, he was moved to a French hospital ship moored in Tresboukis Bay, off Skyros. It was waiting for the injured from Gallipoli, and he was the only patient on board, cared for 12 doctors and surgeons. On 23 April, his temperature rose and he lost consciousness. He died late in the afternoon, and was buried at 11pm in an olive grove on the island. He was 27.
Rupert Brooke is famous as one of Britain’s war poets – along with Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and others. In some ways, his poems reflect the terrible naivety or innocence of the early days of World War I. One of his best-known poems is “V: The Soldier” which was published by The Times (London) on 11 March 1915, and was read from the pulpit of Saint Paul's Cathedral on 4 April 1915, less than three weeks before Brooke died, by Dean William Inge as part of his Easter Day sermon:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
There is more information about the exhibition on the website of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
Monday, 28 July 2014
On 28 July 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Although Britain did not declare war on Germany until 4 August 1914, today marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. “Lives Remembered” is a new exhibition at Saint Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, exploring the Cathedral’s connections with World War I.
The exhibition is being officially opened this evening [Monday 28 July 2014] by the author Jennifer Johnston, and remains in place for the four years that mark the centenary of World War I until 2018.
The exhibition, located in the north transept of the cathedral, looks at how the congregation was affected by war, those remembered in the monuments and windows in the cathedral, and at the role Saint Patrick’s Cathedral plays in remembrance of those lost to conflict.
At the centre of the exhibition is a new monument, the Tree of Remembrance, a tribute to all affected by conflict. This sculpted steel tree is surrounded by barbed wire as a reminder of the ugliness and brutality of conflict.
The Tree of Remembrance was designed by Andrew Smith, the cathedral Education Officer and curator of the exhibition, and was executed by Bushy Park Ironworks. This monument differs from the other monuments in the cathedral in that it is inclusive. Plaques in different languages around the base of the monument invite people to leave messages of remembrance for a loved one affected by conflict, tying on small tags with thoughts, memories or prayers for loved ones.
Andrew hopes that over the next four years the barbed wire will be replaced by a wall of messages of hope.
An audiovisual facility using tablets shows videos of interviews on a number of themes, including the effects of World War I on the cathedral’s community and remembrance. Another tablet contains Ireland’s memorial records detailing the names of almost 50,000 Irish people.
My own contribution is a short interview with Andrew in the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, looking at the just war theory and asking whether it needs to be readdressed in the nuclear age.
Fourteen panels look at the issues of conflict and remembrance. On one side of the north transept, the emphasis is on outreach and response to World War I and conflict within the cathedral’s walls over the centuries. Other panels focus on the Church and war and the history of remembrance in Saint Patrick’s.
There is more information about the exhibition on the website of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
Sunday, 27 July 2014
Despite the light rain that descended on the east coas late today, four of us went for a brief walk on the beach in Bettystown, Co Meath, this afternoon.
As the rain eased and the tide continued to recede, it was possible to see as far north as the Mountains of Mourne on the Co Down coast, while out only a short distance to the east a cluster of small trawlers were working away in the shallow waters off the coast.
We had a late lunch in Relish, and even in the rain enjoyed the views out over the sandbank, down onto the beach and out to the Irish Sea.
Earlier in the morning, I was celebrating the Eucharist and preaching in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge.
Later we drove north and stopped at Balrath to see Balrath Cross, a 16th century Wayside Cross, now located in Ballymagarvey Cemetery , close to the grounds of Ballymagarvey House.
The cross was moved to its present location several years ago because of road widening around the corner at Balrath Cross.
The east face of the cross is carved with a Pieta or image of a steaed, weeping Virgin Mary with the body of the dead Christ resting in her lap. Below this image is a Latin inscription asking for prayers for the soul of John Broin, and below that again is a later inscription in English saying the Cross was “beautified” in 1727 by Sir John Aylmer and his wife Catherine. This may be Sir John Aylmer, 3rd Baronet, of Balrath, who died in 1714.
On the west face of the cross, a crucifixion is carved on the upper portion, with small knot carvings beneath. At the ends of both arms there are carvings of two masks, and there are several other smaller carvings on the cross.
The graveyard surrounds the ruins of Ballymagarvey Church, which dates back to 1658. Ballymagarvey Cemetery is probably much older and may have been more extensive before it was enclosed within its present walls.
Local lore says Ballymagarvey takes its name from a mediaeval bishop named Magarvey or McGarvey. Beside the cross, cemetery and ruined church is Ballymagarvey House, built in the early 19th century for a Mrs Osbourne who had been granted 444 acres. The nearby Somerville Estate extended to 8,000 acres.
The Aylmer family came to live in Ballymagarvey House in the mid-19th century, when they built a Corn and Flax Mill village, with a pond, millrace and the beautiful cut-stone buildings which once housed the granaries. Today, the house is a popular wedding venue.
From Ballymagarvey, we drove onto Johnstown, near Navan, and then through Navan, Slane and along the banks of the River Boyne before turning off to Tullyallen for Mellifont and the ruins of the largest and oldest Cistercian abbey in Ireland.
Mellifont Abbey, on the banks of the River Mattock and 10 km north-west of Drogheda, was founded in 1142 at the suggestion of Saint Malachy, Archbishop of Armagh.
Four years after Saint Malachy died, the Synod of Kells held some of its sittings in Mellifont in 1152, and was attended by bishops, kings and the papal legate, John Paparo.
By 1170, there were 100 monks and 300 lay brothers at Mellifont. The abbey was a model for other Cistercian abbeys in Ireland, and remained the principle abbey in Ireland until the Reformation and the suppression of the monasteries in 1539.
Little of the original abbey survives, apart from the octagonal 13th-century lavabo, where the monks washed their hands before praying and before eating, some Romanesque arches and the 14th-century chapter house where the monks met.
From Mellifont, we drove south through Drogheda to Bettystown for our late lunch in Bettystown. They were celebrating the seventh birthday of Relish, with balloons and a birthday cake. As usual, there was a warm welcome from the staff, the food was wonderful, and it was the perfect way to end the weekend ahead of what looks like being a busy week.
Saint Bartholomew’s Church,
Clyde Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin
30 July 2014
The Sixth Sunday after Trinity
11 a.m.: The Solemn Eucharist
Readings: Genesis 29: 15-28; Psalm 105: 1-11, 45b or Psalm 128; Romans 8: 26-39; Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52.
May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Have you ever found yourself lost for words when it comes to describing a beautiful place you have visited?
If you have ever been to the Bay of Naples or Sorrento, how would you describe what you have seen to someone who has never travelled outside a 30 km radius from Dublin?
You might try comparing the first glimpse of Vesuvius with looking at the Great Sugarloaf … but that hardly describes the experience of climbing the rocky path, looking into the caldera, or the experience of the sulphuric smell.
You might want to compare the Bay of Naples with the vista in Dalkey or Killiney … but that hardly catches the majestic scope of the view.
You might want to compare the church domes with the great copper dome in Rathmines … but that goes nowhere near describing the intricate artwork on those Italian domes.
You might compare the inside of the duomo in Amalfi with the inside of your favourite parish church … but you know you are getting nowhere near what you want to say.
And as for Capri … you are hardly going to write a romantic song about Dalkey Island, Ireland’s Eye or Lambay.
Comparisons never match the beauty of any place that offers us a snatch or glimpse of heaven.
And yet, we know that the photographs on our phones, no matter how good they seem to be when we are taking them, never do justice to the places we have been when we get home.
We risk becoming bores either by trying to use inadequate words or inadequate images to describe experiences that we can never truly share with people unless they go there, unless they have been there too.
I suppose that helps to a degree to understand why Jesus keeps on trying to grasp at images that might help the Disciples and help us to understand what the Kingdom of God is like.
He tries to offer us a taste of the kingdom with a number of parables in this morning’s Gospel reading:
● The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed … (verse 31).
● The kingdom of heaven is like yeast … (verse 33).
● The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field … (verse 44).
● The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls … (verse 45).
● The kingdom of heaven is like a net in the sea … (verse 47).
Do they understand?’ They answer, ‘Yes.’ But how can they really understand, fully understand?
After leaving here last Sunday, I had a late lunch in Mount Usher and posted some photographs of the gardens on my site. An American reader I have never met commented: “A little piece of heaven.”
We have a romantic imagination that confuses gardens with Paradise, and Paradise with the Kingdom of Heaven. But perhaps that is a good starting point, because I have a number of places where I find myself saying constantly: “This is a little snatch of heaven.” They include:
● The road from Cappoquin out to my grandmother’s farm in West Waterford.
● The train journey from outside Ferns to Wexford, along the banks of the River Slaney.
● The view from the east end of Stowe Pool across to Lichfield Cathedral at sunset on a Spring evening.
● The Backs in Cambridge.
● Sunset at the Fortezza in Rethymnon on the Greek island of Crete.
● The sights and sounds on some of the many beaches I like to walk on regularly … Bettystown, Skerries, Loughshinny, Portrane, Donabate, Malahide, Bray, Greystones, Wexford, Achill, Crete … I could go on.
The Kingdom of Heaven must be so like so many of these places where I find myself constantly praising God and thanking God for creation.
But … but it’s not just that. And I start thinking that Christ does more than just paint a scene when he describes the kingdom of heaven. Looking at the Gospel reading again, I realise he is doing more than offering holiday snapshots or painting the scenery.
He tries to describe the Kingdom of Heaven in terms of doing, and not just in terms of being:
● Sowing a seed (verse 31);
● Giving a nest to the birds of the air (verse 32);
● Mixing yeast (verse 33);
● Turning small amounts of flour into generous portions of bread (verse 34);
● Finding hidden treasure (verse 44);
● Rushing out in joy (verse 44);
● Selling all that I have because something I have found is worth more – much, much more, again and again (verse 44, 46);
● Searching for pearls (verse 45);
● Finding just one pearl (verse 46);
● Casting a net into the sea (verse 47);
● Catching an abundance of fish (verse 47);
● Drawing the abundance of fish ashore, and realising there is too much there for personal needs (verse 48);
● Writing about it so that others can enjoy the benefit and rewards of treasures new and old (verse 52).
So there are, perhaps, four or five times as many active images of the kingdom than there are passive images.
The kingdom is more about doing than being.
Father Andrew (McCroskery) and Father Nigel (Kirkpatrick) are “Bikers on a Mission.” During their 10-day tour of Ireland, starting later this week and visiting every one of the 30 cathedrals in the Church of Ireland, they are going to see many beautiful places that I have no doubt are little snatches of heaven.
But there is a greater image of heaven in what they are pointing to rather than what they are going to be looking at.
The purposes of their trip from Friday next [1 August 2014] to 10 August are:
● To celebrate 300 years of the work of the United Society (Us, the new name for USPG);
● To highlight the work of the United Society among the people of Swaziland, one of the smallest and poorest countries in Africa, where life expectancy is just 50 because of the high rate of HIV and TB infection;
● To raise much-needed funds for this work.
Through the Luyengo Farm Project, the Usuthu Mission Primary School, the Mpandesane feeding station and similar work, Us is supporting health, education, training, leadership and farming projects in Swaziland – not because it hopes to transform the economy of Swaziland with a few quick-fix solutions, but because these projects are sacramental signs of the Kingdom.
Christ’s life on earth is marked by teaching, healing, caring for children and the marginalised, feeding the hungry, proclaiming the Kingdom.
In supporting these Us projects in Swaziland, Andrew and Nigel are offering signs of the ministry of Christ as he invites us to the banquet, as he invites us into the Kingdom – works that are little glimpses of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.
There is a viral project on social media, particularly on Facebook, challenging people over five days to list three positive experiences they have had each day.
This afternoon, when you go home, I challenge you to think of three places, three gifts in God’s creation, that offer you glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven, and to think of three actions that for you symbolise Christ’s invitation into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Give thanks for these pearls beyond price, and share them with someone you love and cherish.
And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
Pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
God of our pilgrimage,
you have led us to the living water.
Refresh and sustain us
as we go forward on our journey,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Canon Patrick Comerford is lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This reflection was shared at the Solemn Eucharist in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, on Sunday 30 July 2014.
Saturday, 26 July 2014
Twenty years ago, Archbishop Donald Caird commissioned me as a Diocesan Reader in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, in 1994.
For six years, I served as a Reader in Saint Maelruian’s Parish, Tallaght, working closely with the Revd Robert Kingston, until I was ordained by Archbishop Walton Empey, again in Christ Church Cathedral in 2000.
This evening [26 July 2014], I was in Christ Church Cathedral for the launch of a new and comprehensive biography, Donald Caird: Church of Ireland Bishop: Gaelic Churchman: A Life, by Aonghus Dwane.
The biography, published by Columba Press, was launched by the former President of the Supreme Court, Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness.
The evening began at 5 p.m. with a service of Urnaí na Nóna (Choral Evensong in Irish), and was followed by the book launch at 6 p.m. and a reception in the south transept.
At the same time, the Cathedral is hosting a new exhibition marking the centenary of Cumann Gaelach na hEaglaise, or the Irish Guild of the Church, founded 100 years ago in 1914. Archbishop Caird is a long-standing member of the guild.
As Dean of Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny (1969-1970), Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe (1970-1976), Bishop of Meath and Kildare (1976-1985), and as Archbishop of Dublin (1985-1996), Donald Caird enjoyed a distinguished career in the Church of Ireland. His lifelong interests in the Irish language and ecumenism mean he is also well-known in wider Irish society.
His time in office, particularly as Archbishop of Dublin, coincided with historic developments in the life of both Church and State, including the great “liberal agenda” debates on contraception, abortion and divorce in the Republic; the ordination of women in the Church of Ireland, and the developing peace process in Northern Ireland.
The broad scope of Donald Caird’s friendships and interests, both North and South gave him unusual insights into many aspects of Irish life. This is a man who had met both Peig Sayers and CS Lewis.
Aonghus Dwane’s generously illustrated-biography traces Donald Caird’s life story from his childhood in Ranelgah and his schooldays in Wesley College, to his early experiences in the Kerry Gaeltacht areas of Dún Chaoin and the Blasket Islands, and his introduction to the Irish Guild of the Church, where he met such figures as Dr Kathleen Lynn, who had taken part in the 1916 Rising.
The book recalls his education in Trinity CollegeDublin and traces his life in the ordained ministry, beginning with a curacy Saint Mark’s, Dundela, CS Lewis’s home parish in Belfast, and a chaplaincy in Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, to taking up episcopal office in 1970.
There are accounts of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland and his meeting with the bishops of the Church of Ireland in 1979. There are anecdotal and warm recollections of Donald's relationships with the late Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich and Archbishop Robin Eames. And he is credited with a strong commitment to ecumenism and full minority participation in the institutions of the Republic.
But this is also the story of a private and family man, often told through his own reminiscences and the anecdotes of friends and contemporaries.
The attendance at this evening’s launch included Donald’s wife Nancy and manhy of his family members. There too were his successor in Dublin, Meath and Limerick, Archbishop Wealton Empey, another successor in Limerick, Bishop Edward Darling, Archbishop Rhcard Clarke of Armagh, and the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, the Very Revd Dermot Dunne, Archdeacon Gordon Linney, Dean Victor Stacey of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and many members of the Chapter of Christ Church Cathedral and of Cumann Gaelach na hEaglaise.
I was interested in reading about the work of Faith Alive, the Archbishop’s Commission for the Decade of Evangelism, to which he appointed me in 1990. In recalling Donald’s visits to the Reformed Episcopal Church in Spain, Aonghus also quotes from an ‘Irishman’s Diary’ I wrote for The Irish Times on 3 January 1995.
Aonghus Dwane is an Irish language officer in Trinity College Dublin. Originally from Cork and a graduate in Law from UCC, he was a senior prosecution solicitor with the Director of Public Prosecutions before moving to the Irish language sector in 2005.
He has contributed to many newspapers and journals and was director of the Celtic Revival Summer School in Dublin and the Aran Islands in 2006. He is the deputy chairman of Cumann Gaelach na hEaglaise.
Friday, 25 July 2014
In the early 1980s, I was secretary and then chair of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND). In those years, Irish CND, the Student Christian Movement (SCM) and Dawn, a nonviolence journal, organised a number of residential weekends in the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation in the Wicklow Mountains.
On one occasion, a residential weekend on nonviolence studied the writings and tactics of Gandhi, and was opened by the Indian Ambassadord in Ireland.
Other weekends looked at the work and thinking of Martin Luther King or provided opportunities for CND council members to get to know each other.
It was a time long before any of us imagined mobile phones, and Glencree – without phones or television, and with its “Simple Living” style of accommodation – seemed to be a remote and distant place in the Wicklow Mountains, far from the cares and woes of city life.
But on one weekend, however, we all realised, while we had all been living a monastic-style life for a few days, discussing our next anti-war campaign, a real war had been unfolding in the real world.
Between 6 p.m. on 16 September and 8 a.m. on 18 September 1982, between 762 and 3,500 civilians, mostly Palestinians and Shia Lebanese civilians, were murdered in the Sabra neighbourhood and the nearby Shatila refugee camp in Beirut.
The mass murders were carried out by an Israeli proxy militia, the South Lebanon Army, and other far-right paramilitary groups. Three months earlier, in June 1982, Israel had invaded Lebanon under the pretext of rooting out the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
The Israeli army surrounded Sabra and Shatila and stationed troops at the exits to prevent camp residents from leaving and fired illuminating flares at night that allowed the massacres to continue even throughout the nights.
At the time, the Irish Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Seán MacBride, was President of Irish CND. He was also the assistant to UN secretary general and president of the UN General Assembly. In 1983, Seán MacBride chaired a commission that concluded Israel was responsible for the violence. The MacBride commission also concluded that the massacre was a form of genocide.
That year too, the Kahan Commission in Israel found that Israeli military personnel, aware that a massacre was in progress, had failed to take serious steps to stop it. Israel was found to be indirectly responsible, and the Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon, bore personal responsibility “for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge.”
Sharon was forced to resign. But there was no shame – he was back in the cabinet the following year, and eventually he was Foreign Minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet and then Prime Minister of Israel from 2001 to 2006. He died earlier this year on 11 January 2014.
I remembered the shamelessness of Ariel Sharon when I visited Glencree this afternoon, and realised that despite the reports of the MacBride and Kahan commissions, Israel and the international community have forgotten all the lessons that should have been learned after the massacres in Sabra and Shatila.
Similar massacres are taking place in the Gaza Strip today. The only differences today are that weapons are more lethal and the news is reaching us as it happens, whereas over 30 years ago it took some time for the horror of events to reach the outside world.
This time we know what is happening, yet the Republic of Ireland has abstained in the UN General Assembly vote this week on investigating Israel for war crimes.
The principles of a just war may be enshrined in international war but they seem to have been forgotten: there is no distinction between civilian and military targets, there is no proportion between the evil being committed today and the destruction that would follow had war not been waged; and there is no hope of Israel achieving its end – eventually, Israel and Hamas must talk to one another.
I am shocked by the images of children being mowed down as they play football on a beach, I am outraged by images of children being brought into hospitals with limbs severed and heads pulped; I am heart-broken by the images of grieving parents and traumatised children. And the Irish government has the audacity in my name to say it can remain neutral in a vote in the General Assembly of the United Nations.
As I walked around the grounds in Glencree this afternoon, there were signs of hope: a tree planted by Colin and Wendy Parry in memory of their son, Tim (12), killed along with Johnathan Ball (9) by an IRA bomb in Warrington in 1993; a Japanese pole praying that peace may prevail on earth; some sculptures; and a tree planted in May 2005 by the Israeli ambassador in Ireland, Daniel Megiddo, and the Palestinian ambassador, Ali Halimeh, to mark the fortieth anniversary of the formation of VSI.
I had spent the morning and much of the afternoon, enjoying the summer sunshine and temperatures as I caught up on some reading and research. Late in the afternoon, two us decided to head up into the mountains behind where I live, and we stopped briefly at Kilakee to enjoy the uninterrupted panorama across the city and Dublin Bay as far as Howth Head.
From there we drove across the Wicklow Mountains and down into Glencree.
By then the Armoury Café in Glencree was closed, and after saying a prayer for peace in the small church behind the centre, we drove on down into Enniskerry in search of that cup of coffee.
It was now almlost 6, and every coffee shop but one was closed, and even there the coffee machine was not working properly. An antique shop was open, and while I was not in the mood to pay €90 for a 100-year-old prie-dieu, I thought how I’d pay anything and pray for ever if it brought peace to those traumatised children in the Gaza Strip.
Instead, we sat in the centre of the village, enjoying an ice cream in the still-warm summer sunshine. And I thought of the words of William Butler Yeats in The Lake isle of Innisfree:
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I returned to the garden for dinner with a jug of Pimm’s. And I was thankful for the peace I have in my own life. May Peace Prevail on Earth. Meanwhile, call your TD, your MP, the Department of Foreign Affairs, your Foreign Ministry, ambassadors ... anyone who should know that this violence in Gaza must not continue.
Wednesday, 23 July 2014
I had long thought the search for details about the family background of my great-grandmother was going to be a futile exercise. Anne Doyle was only 17 when she married my great-grandfather, James Comerford from Bunclody, Co Wexford, in 1851.
I thought, perhaps, that, like James, Anne also came from Co Wexford, and had come to Dublin to marry him. I knew about one of her sisters, but the names Anne Doyle and Mary Doyle are so commonly found throughout Ireland that I imagined looking for their family story was going to be like looking for the proverbial needle in the proverbial haystack.
To my delight, however, I uncovered Anne’s story in recent weeks. But in searching for her story I also found myself in search of the shortest street in Dublin.
Anne Doyle was born 180 years ago in August 1834, the youngest of three daughters of Garret Doyle and his wife Mary Byrne, who were living at 25 Cross Kevin Street. She was baptised on 25 August 1834 in the Church of Saint Nicholas of Myra in Francis Street. The parish records show she was baptised by Father James Roche, and the sponsors at her baptism were William Coffey and Bridget Reilly.
Garret and Mary Doyle had two other daughters: Mary, who was baptised on 15 December 1828 in Saint Nicholas Church by Father James Roche (sponsors: James and Margaret McGuirk, and Eliza Doyle, who was baptised on 23 September 1831 in the same church (sponsors: James Dougherty, Mary Rood).
I knew Anne’s later biographical details, the details of her marriage and children, the places she lived, including Stephen Street (1852), 22 Long Lane (until 1865) and 7 Redmond’s Hill (from 1866 until at least 1870), all within one-three minutes walk from Cross Kevin Street, until she moved to 2 Mountpleasant Villas, Ranelagh, where she died on 28 April 1899. Her widowed husband, my great-grandfather James Comerford, then moved into 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh, where my grandfather was living, and there he died on 14 December 1902, aged 85.
Her sister Mary was Anne’s bridesmaid, and Anne kept in touch with her childhood friends and neighbours – on 12 July 1859, she was a witness with Edward Sherwood at the marriage of Edward Connor of 28 Cross Kevin Street and Ann Raymond in Saint Nicholas Church.
It was a densely populated area. The proximity to the two cathedrals meant that in the mid-19th century there was a healthy mixture of Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic neighbours.
The area included some of the worst slums and tenements in Dublin at the time, but it was also an area associated with great creativity: the composer John Field (1782-1837) was born in Golden Lane and received his early education in Dublin before moving to London, where he studied under Muzio Clementi, the Rome-born composer and friend of Mozart. Later, in 1830, Clementi lived at Lyncroft House in Lichfield, now the Hedgehog Vintage Inn. Field died in Moscow seven years later, in 1837. He is remembered in a monument on the corner of Golden lane and Bride Street.
Later, in the 19th century, the first pneumatic tyre factory in the world opened at 67 Upper Stephen Street in 1889 to make tyres under John Boyd Dunlop’s patent of 7 December 1888
But where is Cross Kevin Street? Does it still exist? In my search for Cross Kevin Street this week, I accidentally came across what must be the shortest street in Dublin today.
On my way to a meeting in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on Tuesday evening [22 July 2014], I went in search of Cross Kevin Street.
Cross Kevin Street is named in the index but not on the actual street map I was using in the Official Dublin Street Guide City & District (2010-2011) produced by Ordnance Survey Ireland (p. 75, grid reference A2). But scale mitigates against that, for Cross Kevin Street can be no more than 20 metres long, and there are no buildings, no shops, no houses sharing this address, despite the one name sign identifying this street.
Cross Kevin Street links Bride Street with New Bride Street, and is within walking distance of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. But the only building on the street is a block of flats that faces Bishop Street on one side and Lower Kevin Street on the other side, with the sign for the street name on the side of the block of flats.
Upper Kevin Street and Lower Kevin Street are linked in an awkward way at this junction. They were once linked by Cross Kevin Street, although they are now joined by a tortuous, snake-shaped junction, and the last remaining buildings on Cross Kevin Street were demolished to take that awkward twist out of the junction as cars sweep by the Iveagh Trust flats.
It is an ugly blot on the Dublin streetscape today, and some of the strongest protests against street widening in this area came from Victor Griffin when he was the Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Looking at the junction and the street sign this week, it was difficult to see how this had been a longer street in the time of Anne Doyle, when it had many more buildings, and two side streets or alleyways leading off it, Lamb’s Court and Fearon’s Court.
A quick look at baptismal records in the local Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic parishes and at street directories and electoral rolls reveal some of the families who lived on Cross Kevin Street:
No 14: Mulligan (1906);
No 15: Wilson (1880); Harwood (1885); Bardock (1889);
No 16: Dalton (1880);
No 22: Connell (1836);
No 23: Allen (1845);
No 24: Macken (1832); Porter (1834); Cahill (1865);
No 25: Doyle (1828-1831); Murphy (1873);
No 26: Greenfield (1864);
No 27: Graham (1862);
No 28: Edwards (1844, 1845); Connor, Raymond (1859).
No 31: Lawless (1829);
No 32: McKewing (1833, 1834); Lamb (1850); Gill (1869); McGuire (1878).
Unknown numbers: Pellen (1838); Green (1838).
The electoral lists for 1910 show:
No 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 12, 13D, 15 and 16 Cross Kevin Street, with Fearon’s Court and Lamb’s Court off Cross Kevin Street.
Cross Kevin Street is perhaps 20 metres long, and has no surviving buildings to claim as its own. But Cross Kevin Street is still just slightly shorter than Palace Street, which is about 30 metres long.
Palace Street, off Dame Street, links Dames Street to the entrance to the Lower Castle Yard in Dublin Castle. The east side of this short street is graced by the side of Sir Thomas Newenham Deane’s elegant former Munster and Leinster Bank, now a Dame Street branch of Allied Irish Bank. Between Deane’s bank and the walls of Dublin Castle is a narrow entrance to Dame Lane, which runs behind Dame Street onto South Great George’s Street.
This short street, with only three addresses, stands on the site of the mediaeval mill known as the ‘Doubleday Mill.’ The mill was demolished in the late 17th century and terraced houses were built fronting onto Palace Street and completed before 1756.
These buildings, are depicted on Rocque’s map of Dublin in 1756. When they were demolished, they were replaced by a new terrace of six houses, but only two of those houses survive today.
On the west side of the street, No 1 Palace Street abuts the Castle wall. Here Chez Max, a delightful French restaurant established in 2005. The charming back garden is a small haven that promises to transport diners directly to Paris. But I have been equally welcome on a quiet afternoon, sitting out in the front sipping a double espresso.
Next to it is No 2, the only terraced house on Rocque’s map that survives today and is a protected structure. No 2 was the home of Dublin’s oldest charity, the Sick and Indigent Roomkeepers’ Society, from 1855 to 1992. It was founded in 1790 “for the relief of the poor without religious discrimination.” It now works from offices in Leeson Street, but the façade still retains the memory of the “Indignant Roomkeepers.”
No 3 Palace Street is a modern building that has received a mixed reception from architectural critics. In 1999, the Dublin City Architect, Jim Barrett, commissioned David Mackay, of Barcelona architects MBM, to design a building for the site, which had previously been cleared and was in use as a small park fronting onto Dame Street. This new building has been criticised for being “rather overbearing,” “over-scaled,” “bluntly designed” and “lacking in any finesse in design or materials.” One critic describes it as “Robocop on Dame Street” and adds: “The only positive is that the bank and City Hall will hopefully outlast it.”
If Cross Kevin Street is the shortest street in Dublin, and Palace Street is in second place, then the third shortest street may be Dean Street, which connects The Coombe to the crossroads at New Street, Kevin Street and Patrick Street, close to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
There are only four shopfronts on one side, the south side, of Dean Street. The other buildings on the opposite, north side are really a continuation of The Coombe, which was straightened out without grace and beauty at this junction many decades ago.
This afternoon [23 July 2014], after celebrating the mid-day Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, I was reminded that Canon Street to the south of Saint Werburgh’s Church, and to the immediate east of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, was once claimed as the shortest street in Dublin – and even the shortest street in Europe.
Canon Street was first known as Petty Canon Alley, taking its name from the minor canons, who assisted at the daily services in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
By the mid-20th century, Canon Street had only one premises, Rutlegde’s pub at No 1. It stood on a corner of Bride Street, close to Cross Kevin Street, but it too was demolished in the late 1960s to make way for the widening of Bride Street and shaping the new junction at Kevin Street.
Rutlegde’s pub and Canon Street were only a minute’s walk from Cross Kevin Street. They vanished together and were relegated to history and local memory, sustained in the name of Canon Court. Sadly, there was nothing of Canon Street to photograph in my search for Cross Kevin Street and the shortest street in Dublin.
Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
23 July 2014
12.45: The Eucharist
Readings: Jeremiah 1: 1, 4-10; Psalm 70; Matthew 13: 1-9.
May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Last week, I said it is neither custom nor practice in Christ Church Cathedral to have a sermon, homily, or even a brief reflection at this mid-day Eucharist. And so I said I was going to be very brief and very short.
I shall be even briefer and even shorter today.
But I just want to refer briefly to today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 13: 1-9).
This is the first part of the Gospel reading we had ten days ago on the Fourth Sunday after Trinity [Sunday 13 July 2014, Matthew: 13: 1-9; 18-23].
We continued in a similar theme last Sunday with the parable of the wheat and the weeds [Sunday 20 July 2014, Matthew: 13: 24-30, 36-43], and the theme continues next Sunday with the stories of the mustard seed, the yeast, the treasure hidden in the field and so on [Sunday 27 July 2014, Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52].
What is apparent in all of these parables is not so much the growth that results on each occasion, but the over-abundant and over-generous action of God. This abundant generosity is without discrimination ... to the point of seeming carelessness.
God scatters the seed on good soil and bad soil, on the pathway and on the rocky ground; God plants the wheat, and despite the efforts of others to subvert his plan by sowing the tares or weeds, and our misunderstanding of what he is doing in our wanting to destroy the bad crops and with it the good crops, the wheat still grows in abundance.
God plants the tiny mustard seed, yet the smallest of seeds becomes the greatest of shrubs and a tree.
Even at small, tiny, but faithful celebrations of the Daily Eucharist such as this, God is sowing tiny seeds whose growth you and I may never see, may never harvest. But it is never my plans that matter. I do not need to see the fruits of the harvest in generations to come.
Perhaps the welcome you receive today, the word you hear, the sacrament you receive, will bear fruit long after you have forgotten this priest or this place.
It is for me, in the words of the Prophet Jeremiah in our Old Testament reading, to go to all to whom God sends me, to speak whatever I am commanded to say, and to fear not.
When you leave this place, I hope the word of God is planted in your heart, and that the Sacrament you receive today nourishes and nurtures the growth of that seed.
And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Almighty and everlasting God,
by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church
is governed and sanctified:
Hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people,
that in their vocation and ministry
they may serve you in holiness and truth
to the glory of your name;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Post Communion Prayer:
Holy and blessed God,
as you give us the body and blood of your Son,
guide us with your Holy Spirit,
that we may honour you not only with our lips
but also with our lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Canon Patrick Comerford is lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This reflection was shared at the mid-day Eucharist in the cathedral on 23 July 2014.
Sunday, 20 July 2014
It has been a warm summer day, with temperatures in the mid-20s, and earlier in the day I thought I was going to spend the afternoon walking a beach in either Bray or Greystones after presiding at the Eucharist and preaching in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge.
However, by the time two of us reached Bray on the N11 early in the afternoon, we realised that Bray would be crowded today for the Bray Air Show. We continued on, accidentally missed the turn-off for Greystones, and on a whim decided to turn off for Ashford and to go for lunch in the Avoca Garden Café at Mount Usher Gardens.
My initial impression was memories of the Tea Gardens in Grantchester near Cambridge on another summer afternoon. But this turned out to be a unique experience.
● one herbed Fivemiletown goat’s cheese crottin and marinated beetroot salad with rocket, spelt, candied walnuts and caramelised apple puree;
● one plate of homemade Falafel with baba ghanouj, beetroot tzatziki, caramelised onion hummus, couscous and pita;
● two large jugs of water, generously laced with mint and chunks of lemon;
● and two double espressos.
This was my first time in this Avoca café, and it turned out to be one of the most relaxed as well as one of the tastiest lunches I have had this year, and after strolling through the garden setting of the café I could have headed back feeling I had a beautiful afternoon.
But I had never visited Mount Usher before, although I have passed it hundreds if not thousands of times while it was on the main road between Wexford and Dublin before it was by-passed. Looking at the time and the blue skies above, and recalling the joys of a visit to the National Botanic Gardens earlier this month, we decided on impulse to spend a few hours strolling through the gardens.
Mount Usher was voted the “Best Garden to visit in Ireland” by BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine and is one of only three top-rated gardens in Ireland in The Good Garden Guide.
Mount Usher is laid out across 8 ha (22 acres) along the banks of the River Vartry as it tumbles over a series of cascades on its way to the Irish Sea. It is a fine example of a true “Robinsonian-style” garden with its free-flowing informality and natural design.
Mount Usher Gardens were created by four generations of the Walpole family over a period of 112 years from 1868 and were preserved by Mrs Madeleine Jay from then until they were taken over by the Avoca group in 2007. The gardens include many champion trees of Ireland and Britain, as well as some 4,500 different varieties of trees, shrubs and plants.
The Walpoles were greatly influenced by Ireland’s most famous gardener, William Robinson (1838-1935). When he started, gardening was based on what is now called formal Public Park annual bedding. It allowed the rich to display their wealth as the bedding plants required expensive staff to grow and maintain them. Robinson rejected this approach and advocated a natural style which ever since is known as “Robinsonian.”
Robinson admired the way cottage gardens had been maintained for hundreds of years, and believed a garden should be based around perennial plantings and that its art is working with nature to create beauty. He revolutionised gardening and virtually all gardens in this part of the world owe a great deal to him. Mount Usher is probably the oldest and best-known of the gardens he inspired.
Edward Walpole, the garden’s founder, passed the property to his three sons. The youngest son, Thomas Walpole, was an engineer, and his contribution to the beauty of the place included designing and building the curved weirs throughout the grounds.
Today there are over 5,000 species of plant in Mount Usher, many of them rare and exotic, all grown organically, painting a cacophony of colour throughout the season. We took a copy of the new Mount Usher Tree Trail brochure and set off on an afternoon walk through one of Ireland’s Greatest Gardens.
If Co Wicklow is the Garden County of Ireland, then Mount Usher is the Garden of the Garden County.
Here are some more of my photographs from today’s visit to Mount Usher without any further comment. I hope you decide to visit the place yourself.