17 March 2015

Celtic mists in the Dublin and Wicklow
Mountains on Saint Patrick’s Day

The Orlagh Retreat Centre … another chapter is about to come to an end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

What does Patrick do on Saint Patrick’s Day?

I am very uneasy with green, Gaelic triumphalism of any kind, and I am very uneasy with “Paddy-whackery,” including the expressions of it that reduce “Saint Patrick’s Day” to “Paddy’s Day.”

But I am very happy with my name Patrick, and this morning in the chapel at the Orlagh Retreat Centre that I described how I sit happily with the name Patrick – even if my mother intended to name me Paul.

Saint Patrick probably came from the English Midlands, and was captured by slave traders who brought him to a coastal town where he was sold into slavery to Irish traders.

It is a delight to me that the Irish patron saint is not Irish – no more than Saint George is English – and his name is a reminder that Ireland and England are the closest neighbours and ought to be the best of friends.

But his name is also a reminder that cultural diversity is an essential part of Irish identity and the story of Christian identity in Ireland.

In the New Testament reading this morning (Acts 13: 46-49), Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas describe themselves as being sent as “a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”

There was no celebration of the Eucharist in either Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, or the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute this morning, and so I went to Mass in the Orlagh Retreat Centre, just a few minutes away in the hills above where I live.

The mist-clouded view from Orlagh across the city and Dublin Bay this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The Augustinian community, the Orlagh Team and the house staff have created a welcoming atmosphere and a warm welcome in a beautiful setting in pasture and woodland, with panoramic views over Dublin City and Bay out to Howth Head. It is a combination that has created an atmosphere that invites contemplation and reflection.

I was invited to read the Gospel (Luke 10: 1-12, 17-20), and later spoke of the delight in celebrating my name day on this day which challenges so many prejudiced notions of Irish identity. We heard stories of Irish missionaries and monks who had brought the Gospel to the ends of the earth, but that must always be about “the gentiles” or “the nations” and never about narrow national pride.

Two of us were offered a guided tour of the chapel and the old house afterwards, and we lingered a little longer over coffee in Orlagh.

In the old drawing room in Orlagh … the house dates back to the late 18th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

I was saddened to hear last night after the Bible study I was leading in Whitechurch Parish that Orlagh is about to close.

A statement issued by the Orlagh community and team on Sunday [15 March 2015] said that the Augustinian Province and council have decided “with regret, to close Orlagh.”

The team has been asked not to take any booking after next September, not to prepare programmes for 2015-2016, and the property will be placed on the market in Spring next year. As long as Augustinians are living in the house, Sunday and weekday masses and the weekly meditations will continue.

Is there a future for the unique ministry at Orlagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Is the Orlagh ministry, which has a unique charism, going to continue in another way? Whatever happens, the next few months are going to be very painful for a community and team that contributed so much to the spiritual growth and development of so many.

Despite my reservations about the artificial greening of Saint Patrick’s Day, I am still captivated by the images of Celtic Mists that shroud this day.

There was little point in going for a walk on a beach this afternoon, as the streets of the coastal towns were busy with parades and pageants. Instead, two of us spent a few hours in the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains, in green mountain countryside, shrouded in clouds and mist but with little rain.

The Hazel House … a rustic setting for coffee in the Dublin Mountains (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

We stopped first at the Hazel House in Tibradden, a self-service café, craft shop and woodwork school in the Dublin Mountains.

The Hazel House is run by Niall and Kate Fitzharris, and the café is entirely self-service with an honesty box. Although in the mountains above Rathfarnham and Whitechurch, the courses are accessible with a shuttle bus service available from the Yellow House in Rathfarnham.

Later, we drove on through the Mountains, around Glencullen, Knockree and Glencree, where Spring has brought out the full range variety of shades of green in the fields, the hills and the mountainside, covered at times in clouds and mists.

By the time we climbed down into Enniskerry at the end of the day, the day’s celebrations were coming to end.

Celtic Mists in the Wicklow Mountains near Knockree this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

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