24 May 2015

A walk along the coast at Malahide
and finding an unusual tower house

Hicks Tower looking down on the golden sands of Malahide this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Day of Pentecost and I was preaching at the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, this morning.

Later, four of us went to lunch in Mexico to Rome, strolling through Temple Bar on our way there and back to the cathedral.

Later in the afternoon, two of us drove north to Portmarnock, intending to go for a walk on the long sandy beach there. But there was little or no space for parking and we were south of Robswall on the edges of Malahide before we found a place to park and to start our walk along the coast.

After a short time, the beautiful golden sand of Malahide was spreading out below us, with Hicks Tower looking down on the scene from its lofty perch on hillock above the road.

Hicks Tower, Malahide … built as a Martello Tower but converted into an Art-and-Crafts house by Frederick Hicks over 100 years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Hicks Tower looks like a small French chateau, but in fact is a former Martello tower, first built around 1805 and remodelled ca 1911 as an Arts-and-Crafts style detached house.

It takes its name from the architect Frederick Hicks (1870-1965), who redesigned the tower and made it his home. There are two storeys to the main tower block with two further storeys providing additional attic accommodation. The return and stair block are attached to the rear.

The tower has a conical roof there is and hipped roof to right with red clay tiles and concrete ridge tiles. The tower also has an iron weathervane. There are roughcast panelled chimney stacks, and the walls are roughcast.

This is one of the 74 Martello towers built in Ireland between 1804 and 1815 when the British Government feared a Napoleonic invasion of Ireland. The walls of Hicks Tower are 6 ft thick and the ground floor would have been used to store 30 barrels of gunpowder, cannon balls and water tanks with a capacity of 465 gallons.

The first floor provided the living and sleeping quarters for the soldiers while the top floor, with a parapet, held a 24 pounder cannon. The tower was built to be bomb-proof and the original entrance was 10 feet from the ground. The swivel gun on the parapet had a range of about a mile.

It is said only wooden pegs and no nails were used in its construction, in case a spark from a soldier’s boot would blow the tower asunder. The mortar, holding the granite blocks together, is exceptionally strong, made up of lime, ash, hot wax and ox-blood.

Hicks took over the tower in 1910 and, with colossal labour, he cut windows in the wall and added a roof as he converted it into his home.

I spy with my little eye … a surprising figure in the wall of Hicks Tower, Malahide (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The Dublin-based architect Frederick Hicks was born in Banbury, Oxfordshire, on 16 May 1870, the son of Joseph Hicks, a linen draper, and his wife Mary. He was educated at Taunton School and received his architectural training at the London Architectural Association School and Finsbury Technical College.

After completing his articles with John William Stevens of London at the age of 20, he moved to Dunlin in 1890 to take up a trial appointment in the office of James Rawson Carroll. He later worked with William Henry Byrne and with Thomas Drew before setting up his own practice in Dublin in 1895.

He was working from the same premises as Frederick Augustus Butler at 5 Saint Stephen’s Green in 1898 and at 28 South Frederick Street and 35a Kildare Street from 1900 until Butler’s death in 1903.

In 1905, Hicks formed partnership with Frederick Batchelor at 86 Merrion Square. The 17-year partnership of Batchelor and Hicks lasted until 1922, when Batchelor retired.

Hicks continued to work from the same premises until 1945, and he was President of the RIAI 1929-1931. As an accomplished artist, he exhibited frequently at exhibitions of the Water Colour Society of Ireland and the Royal Hibernian Academy from 1926 to 1963. When he retired in 1945, he sold his practice to his assistant Alan Hope.

Hicks died at his home at The Tower, Malahide, on 24 April 1965 shortly before his 95th birthday and was buried beside his wife and a daughter in the churchyard at Saint Andrew’s Church of Ireland parish church, Malahide.
No 86 Merrion Square, with its much-photographed front door is now the offices of GVA Donal O'Buachalla, where my father was once a director until his retirement.

No 86 Merrion Square, Dublin, where Hicks practised as an architect from 1905 to 1945 ((Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hicks worked mainly on designing houses and on hospitals. As well as converting the Martello Tower into a house for himself around 1910, his other works include the Carnegie Free Library in Rathmines (1905-1913), the World War I memorial in All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman, Saint Thomas’s Church (1929-1932) in Cathal Brugha Street, off O’Connell Street, Dublin, now Saint George’s and Saint Thomas’s, and repairs to the stonework in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (1946).

Some years ago, Hicks Tower was owned by the lifestyle ‘yoga guru’ and controversial businessman Tony Quinn, but I am not sure whether he still lives there.

We continued our walk along the beach and the coastline and the beach, with views back to Ireland’s Eye and Howth Head, and out to Lambay Island and Portrane Peninsula, watching the yachts and sail boats moving in and out of Malahide Harbour.

We stopped for double espressos at the Food Fayre and Café, where it was a pleasure to sit out in the warm sunshine and the open air, enjoying what appears to be the arrival of early summer, before retracing our steps past Hicks Tower and Robswall Castle.

Walking back along the coastline in Malahide this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

‘And the fire and the rose are one’
… finding hope for all at Pentecost

‘And the fire and the rose are one’ ... a candle and a rose on a dinner table in Minares on Vernardou Street, Rethymnon, in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford,

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin,

Sunday 24 May 2015,

The Day of Pentecost

11 a.m., The Cathedral Eucharist

Readings: Acts 2: 1-21 or Ezekiel 37: 1-14; Psalm 104: 26-36, 37b; Romans 8: 22-27 or Acts 2: 1-21; John 15: 26-27, 16:4b-15.

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

Last month, I spent the week after Easter in Cappadocia in south central Turkey.

Although it snowed that week, I did all the normal tourist things, including a hot-air balloon trip and visiting the “fairy chimneys,” the cave dwellings and the troglodyte underground cities.

But my first reason for going there was because of my interests in Patristic studies: this is the region that has given the Church the Cappadocian Fathers – great writers, theologians and thinkers in the fourth century such as Saint Basil the Great (Ἅγιος Βασίλειος ὁ Μέγας), Bishop of Caesarea; his younger brother, Saint Gregory of Nyssa (Ἅγιος Γρηγόριος Νύσσης); and their friend, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (Ἅγιος Γρηγόριος ὁ Ναζιανζηνός), who became Patriarch of Constantinople.

It was thrilling to realise that I was visiting towns and cities linked with the Cappadocian Fathers who advanced the development of theology, especially our Creeds and our doctrine of the Trinity.

With the conflicts in Anatolia, Turkey and the Middle East, Christians in the region are an ever-dwindling minority and their cultural contributions to life in the Eastern Mediterranean and neighbouring regions is not just being forgotten, but in many cases is being deliberately wiped out and obliterated.

Early one morning, we descended into the depths of Derinkuyu (Ανακού), the largest excavated underground city in Turkey. This multi-level city goes down 85 metres underground. It is large enough to have sheltered 20,000 people, along with their livestock and food, with churches, chapels, schools, wine presses, wells, stables, cellars, storage rooms, refectories and even a burial chamber. At the fifth or lowest level, I found myself in a cruciform church.

The forlorn Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Theodoros Trion in Derinkuyu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

When I came up and emerged into the daylight, brushing my eyes, I was facing a stark reminder that until 1923 Derinkuyu was known to its Cappadocian Greek residents as Malakopea (Μαλακοπέα). Across the square from the entrance to the underground city stands the lonely and forlorn Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Theodoros Trion, like a sad scene in an Angelopoulos movie.

This once elegant church stands forlorn and abandoned since 1923. Its walls have started to collapse, the frescoes are crumbling, and the restoration promised by the government has been abandoned.

The Greek-speaking people who lived in Cappadocia for thousands of years were forced in fatal swoop, like all Greek-speakers in Anatolia, to abandon their homes in 1923 and to go into exile. They had been there before the days of Alexander the Great. But they are there no more.

They were there in Biblical times. We read about them this morning (Acts 2: 1-21). On the first day of Pentecost, we are told, the good news is heard by Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and parts of Libya, visitors from Rome, Cretans and Arabs – each in their own languages.

The very people who are counted out in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East then and today, the ethnic and linguistic minorities, the religious curiosities and perceived oddities, those who dress, and appear, and sound and look different, whose foods and perfume and bodily odours are marked by variety, are counted as God’s own people on the Day of Pentecost.

Pentecost is the undoing of Babel (Genesis 11: 1-11). The barriers we built in the past, the walls we use to separate ourselves from each other, are torn apart by the Holy Spirit who rushes in and breaks down all the walls that separate us from those we think are different because of how they sound, look and smell.

Pentecost celebrates the over-abundant generosity of God. This is generosity is beyond measure, to the point that it challenges us, surprises us, startles us.

So often we want to box-in, contain or marginalise the Holy Spirit. For most traditional Anglicans, the Holy Spirit is relegated to, confined to, occasions such as Confirmation, like this afternoon, or to prayers during the ordination of bishops, priests and deacons. After that, the Holy Spirit has little or nothing to do with us.

Yes, the Holy Spirit is for Charismatics, and for people who pray and sing with their hands in the air and bounce on their feet as they sing and dance. But not for staid, traditional, Anglicans like me. So how is the Holy Spirit relevant to me, apart from some prayers at my Confirmation and Ordination?

This morning’s account of the first Day of Pentecost is a sharp reminder that Pentecost is for all. The Holy Spirit is not an exclusive gift for the 12, for the inner circle, for the believers, or even for the Church. See how many times the words all and every are used in this story:

● they are all together (verse 1);
● the tongues of fire rest on each or every one of them (verse 3);
all of them are filled with the Holy Spirit (verse 4);
● the people in Jerusalem are from every nation (verse 5);
● each or everyone hears in his or her own language (verse 6);
● so that all are amazed and perplexed (verse 12);
● Peter addresses all (verse 14);
● he promises that God will pour out his Spirit on all (verse 17);
● this promise is for allwithout regard to gender, age or social background (verses 17-21);
● and the promise of God’s salvation is for everyone (verse 21).

God’s generosity at Pentecost is lavish, risky and abundant, overflowing to the point of over-abundant generosity. The Holy Spirit is not measured out in tiny drops, like some prescribed medicine poured out gently and carefully, drop by drop. It is not even like the gentle measure used for pouring out a glass of wine

The Holy Spirit gushes out and spills out all over the place, in a way that is beyond the control of the 12, like champagne fizzing out after the cork has been popped at a celebration, sparkling all over the room, champagne that can never be put back, unlike wine that can be decanted and poured out once more in polite and controlled measures.

The gift of the Holy Spirit marks the beginning, the birthday, of the Church, so perhaps champagne is the right image as we celebrate the birthday of the Church. But this is a gift that does not cease being given after Pentecost.

The gift of the Holy Spirit remains with the Church – for all times. The gift of the Holy Spirit is for all who are baptised, who are invited to continue daily to hear the word, to join in fellowship, to break the bread, to pray – just as we are doing at this Eucharist this morning (see Acts 2: 42-47).

Because of this gift, the Church is brought together in diversity and sustained in unity. The Orthodox Church speaks of the Church as the realised or lived Pentecost.

I think our thinking about the Holy Spirit is made difficult by traditional images of a dove that looks more like a homing pigeon; or tongues of fire dancing around meekly-bowed heads of people cowering and hiding in the upper room in Jerusalem, rather than a room that is bursting at the seams and ready to overflow.

But the Holy Spirit is not something added on as an extra course, as an after-thought after the Resurrection and the Ascension.

This morning, as we affirm our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed, shaped to a profound degree by those Cappadocian Fathers, as we say “We believe in the Holy Spirit,” do we really believe in the Holy Spirit as “the Lord, the giver of life,” in the Holy Spirit as the way in which God “has spoken through the prophets”?

The gift of the Holy Spirit does not stop being effective the day after confirmation, the day after ordination, the day after hearing someone speaking in tongues, or the day after this Day of Pentecost.

God never leaves us alone. This is what Christ promises the disciples, the whole Church, in our Gospel reading this morning. We need have no fears, for the Resurrection breaks through all the barriers of time and space, of gender and race, of language and colour.

If the Holy Spirit is the Advocate and is living in me and you, then who am I an advocate for? Who do I speak up for when there is no-one else to speak up for them?

Pentecost includes all – even those we do not like. Who do you not want in the Kingdom of God? Who do I find it easy to think of excluding from the demands the Holy Spirit makes on me and on the Church? And we have had a lot of discussion about exclusion in this republic, in this society, and in this Church in recent days.

Pentecost promises hope. But hope is not certainty, manipulating the future for our own ends, it is trusting in God’s purpose.

‘Little Gidding,’ the fourth and final poem in the Four Quartets, is TS Eliot’s own Pentecost poem. ‘Little Gidding’ begins in “the dark time of the year,” when a brief and glowing afternoon sun “flames the ice, on pond and ditches” as it “stirs the dumb spirit” not with wind but with “pentecostal fire.”

At the end of the poem, Eliot describes how the eternal is contained within the present and how history exists in a pattern, and repeating the words of Julian of Norwich, he is assured:

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

I have no doubts that the Holy Spirit works in so many ways that we cannot understand. And no doubts that the Holy Spirit works best and works most often in the quiet small ways that bring hope rather than in the big dramatic ways that seek to control.

Sometimes, even when it seems foolish, sometimes, even when it seems extravagant, it is worth being led by the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit may be leading us to surprising places, and, surprisingly, leading others there too, counting them in when we thought they were counted out.

Whether they are persecuted minorities in the Middle East, or people who are marginalised at home, or those we are uncomfortable with because of how they sound, seem, look or smell, God’s generosity counts them in and offers them hope.

And if God counts them in, so should the Church. And so should I.

And so may all we think, say, and do, be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘ ... all shall be well and / All manner of thing shall be well’ … sunset seen from the Sunset Taverna in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
By the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Faithful God,
who fulfilled the promises of Easter
by sending us your Holy Spirit
and opening to every race and nation the way of life eternal:
Open our lips by your Spirit,
that every tongue may tell of your glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached at the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on the Day of Pentecost, 24 May 2015.