15 January 2016
‘I saw three ships comes sailing in’
during a walk on the seafront in Bray
There is a new commercial running on Irish television at the moment for a well-known fruit distributor, in which a child in Victorian or Edwardian clothes runs along the promenade in Bray and jumps up to see the ships on the sea through a seaside monocular or telescope.
The scene soon transforms to Bray today, but the child’s excitement remains the same.
There are new coin-operated telescopes along the promenade in Bray today, but the sky and air were so clear this afternoon that no artificial aids were needed to enjoy the clear views … and three ships could be seen on the horizon plying their way towards Dublin Bay.
We are still in the season of Christmas and Epiphany, and I am preaching in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on an Epiphany theme on Sunday morning [17 January 2015]. But those three ships this afternoon reminded me of the carol ‘I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In.’
This traditional English carol is sung to a variant of the tune ‘Greensleeves.’ The earliest printed version is from the 17th century, possibly from Derbyshire, and was published by William Sandys in 1833.
The lyrics mention ships sailing into Bethlehem, but the nearest lake or sea is the Dead Sea, about 32 km away. The reference is said to be to the three ships that bore the purported relics of the Magi to Cologne Cathedral in the 12th century. Another possible reference is to the supposed coat-of-arms of King Wenceslaus: “Azure three galleys argent” – three silver ships on a blue sea.
There are still many reminders of the former Victorian and Edwardian elegance of Bray in the seafront houses and in their iron railings and balustrades.
Before beginning a working weekend with part-time students and heading into a new semester next week, two of us went for a walk along the promenade in Bray this afternoon, and enjoyed the clear views. But the swell on the sea was a reminder that this is still winter and it is going to be another few weeks before we are going to be able to say that Spring is in the air.
Two days after receiving my B12 injection, the effects are beginning to kick in, and it was good to feel fit enough for a brisk walk and to take in the fresh sea air.
Later we had a late lunch in Carpe Diem, including a glass of Ibisco and two double espressos, before heading back to Dublin.
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