Thursday, 2 June 2016

Looking for a palace and a garden
on a sunny afternoon in Dublin

Palace Gardens between Exchange Court and Palace Street in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

Palace Gardens seems to be one of the most unusual street names in Dublin. There are no gardens, as far as I can see, and there is no palace nearby – unless one considers the palace that may once have existed within the walls of Dublin, although that has long disappeared.

But when I took a second look at it in the sunshine this afternoon, I realised that despite the harp on the name-sign, this is not an official street name.

Palace Gardens is on the south side of Dame Street, facing onto a modern plaza opposite the Olympia Theatre and that was once graced with statues of the three graces but that are forgotten and long gone.

The apartments are squeezed between Exchange Court, running along the east walls of City Hall, and Palace Street, which leads in Dublin Castle and which sometimes competes for the title of the shortest street in Dublin.

Summer in the plaza between Palace Gardens and Dame Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

In these days of bright early summer sunshine, the plaza in front of Palace Gardens is filled with tourists seeking shading resting place beneath the spreading trees, and chuggers who always seem to think I have time on my hand. Nearby are some of my favourite caf├ęs, restaurants and restaurants, including Mykonos on Dame Street and Chez Max on Palace Street.

I was on my way this afternoon [2 June 2016] to Christ Church Cathedral for Choral Evensong. I am the canon-in-residence this week, and read the two lessons at evensong, II Samuel 14: 1-11 and Acts 22: 6-21.

The New Testament reading told of the Apostle Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus and the persecutions of the Early Church in Jerusalem. It was appropriate then that the Precentor and Acting Dean, Canon Neil McEndoo, prayed for people who are suffering in Syria and the Middle East.

At least 1,000 people have died or are missing and presumed dead after a string of deadly incidents in the Mediterranean Sea over the past week, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

According to the UN, more than 2,500 people had died this year trying to reach Europe by sea – a sharp increase from the same period last year. The risk of death on the central Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy is now one in 23, according to William Spindler of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

About 204,000 migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean since January, a figure that has also climbed acutely. The number is more than double the nearly 92,000 who landed on European shores during the first five months of 2015.

Three-quarters of those who have arrived in Europe so far this year landed in Greece before the end of March – most of them refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan.

Counting all routes across the Mediterranean, William Spindler says the odds of dying while trying to cross to Europe are now one in 81.

The route between Libya and Italy, which is far longer than the one between Turkey and Greece, is particularly deadly, with 2,119 of all deaths registered this year along that route. Nearly all of those travelling on this route are from sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Nigeria and Gambia, as well as Somalia and Eritrea.

As the choir and clergy moved towards the west end of the cathedral at the end of Evensong, the evening sun was streaming through the west windows, and a prayed for a more enlightened and generous approach to refugees in Ireland and throughout Europe.

We live in an island that is a palace and a world that is a garden, and we need to be more generous in our sharing and our understanding in what are dark days for so many people.

Christ Church Cathedral in this evening’s sunshine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

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