31 July 2016

Silver Strand in Co Wicklow was
a surprising new beach to discover

Inside a cave at Silver Strand in Co Wicklow watching the waves on the beach (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016; click on image for full-screen resolution)

Patrick Comerford

I try to go for a walk on a nearby beach at least once in a weekend, if not twice. It’s good for my lungs and good for my feelings about two conditions, Sarcoidosis and a Vitamin B12 deficiency.

Because I live so close to the M50, places like Bray are often no more than 15 minutes’ drive from home, and it is only little further to get to the beaches at Greystones and Kilcoole, further south in Co Wicklow, or beaches to the north at Malahide, the Velvet Strand at Portmarnock, Balcarrick Beach at Donabate, Portrane, Rush, Loughshinney, the two beach at Skerries, and Laytown, Bettystown and Mornington in Co Meath.

They are all within such easy reach, that I really have few excuses for not getting out for a healthy walk on a beach, taking in the fresh sea air and enjoying the sound of the sea and the waves lapping against the sand and the pebbles.

But I was surprised by the list of “50 Great Irish Beaches” in the ‘Weekend’ Review’ in The Irish Times on Saturday [30 July 2016]. I am familiar with only 20 of the 50 beaches listed by Catherine Murphy.

Few of the beaches I have named in north Co Dublin are included on the list, I am familiar with only one of the beaches on Achill Island, and I was surprised that the list did not include beaches such as Dugort on Achill Island, Brittas Bay in Co Wicklow, or more beaches in Co Wexford, and that the list included none of the beaches on the ‘Gold Coast’ of Co Meath.

Please don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not quibbling. I have long been vocal about the pollution on Bettystown Beach and the refusal of Meath County Council to stop its use as a car park, and the erosion of the beach in Courtown is symptomatic of the problems facing many beaches on the Wexford coast.

The list made me realise how limited I have been in my exploration of Irish beaches. So, after I had presided and preached at the Sung Eucharist in Saint John’s Church, Sandymount, this morning [31 July 2016], two of us decided this afternoon to go for a walk on one of the beaches on the list of ’50 Great Irish Beaches’ that I had not visited previously.

Silver Strand beach and caves in Co Wicklow came in at No 14 on the weekend list in ‘The Irish Times’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016; click on image for full-screen resolution)

Silver Strand beach and caves in Co Wicklow came in at No 14 on the list in The Irish Times. Catherine Murphy wrote: “Caramel sands, fragrant honeysuckle and intriguing waves await those who walk down the steep steps to the beach.”

The beach lies just 3 km south of Wicklow Town, but it is a private beach, and access is through one of two neighbouring caravan parks perched on the cliffs above Silver Strand, in picturesque rural settings.

Silver Strand Caravan Park is also known as Webster’s Caravan Park or Harry’s Place. The park is a family run business with coastal views and private access to Silver Strand Beach and Caves.

The park has been owned and operated by four generations of the Webster family and has been catering for the needs of mobile home owners for over a century. For over 40 years, the park has been run by Harry Webster with his wife Jean and their children.

The park has also been a location in a number of media productions, including TV series such as Love/Hate, Moonfleet, The Vikings, Camelot, George Gently, Fair City and ITV’s Primeval, and several feature films including Frankie Starlight, The Escapist, Driftwood and The Count of Monte Cristo.

A little further south, Wolohan’s Caravan and Camping Park has been run by the Wolohan family for over 70 years. This is a 22-acre site set in rural farmland and with spectacular coastal views.

During the week, both parks charge an entrance fee of €6 a day for a car. But this is a bank holiday weekend in Ireland and we paid €10 for the car and access to the beach and the facilities at the Silver Strand Caravan Park or Webster’s.

I know Irish people object to charges like this, but when you compare this with parking charges in high rise inner city parking lots in Dublin that offer no facilities, the charge seemed reasonable and goes towards maintaining a beach that truly deserves its place on that list of ‘50 Great Irish Beaches.’

From the top of the steps leading down to the beach, Silver Strand looks like a small bay. But as we made our way down, we were surprised how large the bay is, with plenty of space for families to stake out their own place with a degree of privacy.

Silver Strand is a collection of three small beaches, enclosed by a maze of caves that brought me back in my mind’s eye to a visit to Matala on the south coast of Crete almost two years ago [26 August 2014].

The tide and the waves were gentle, the sand was soft, and it seemed possible to walk out safely into the water for quite a distance. Inside, the caves acted as echo chambers, resounding with the sound of the waves on the beach.

Eventually, we climbed back up the steps, turning back every now and again for wistful glances at the beach below, before heading on to a late Sunday lunch in the Avoca Café at the Mount Usher Gardens, in the part of Co Wicklow that is known as the ‘Garden of Ireland.’

Memories of the caves at Matala in a cave at Silver Strand, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016; click on image for full-screen resolution)

Storing up treasures for ourselves
without being rich towards God

A large barn at Comberford Manor Farm in Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford,

Sunday 31 July 2016:

The Tenth Sunday after Trinity

11 a.m., The Sung Eucharist,

Saint John the Evangelist,

Sandymount, Dublin

Hosea 11: 1-11; Psalm 107: 1-9, 43; Colossians 3: 1-11; Luke 12: 13-21.

In the name of + the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I am not fond of television quiz programmes, or programmes that ask silly questions of people.

You have the programme presenter sitting there, looking smug with both the questions and answers, researched by a paid researcher, and the poor member of the public sitting there, anxious about obscure questions about the World Cup Final at Wembley in 1966, or No 1 hits in 2006, or celebrity weddings in 2016.

I could not, for the life of me, answer any one of those questions. But some poor people, for the sake of €100 or €1,000 – never, it seems, on the way to being a millionaire – are made to look silly or ridiculous.

Quite frankly, I find it demeaning. And I have never wanted to hoard up all the answers for a television quiz, or, for that matter, for a parish table quiz. As I get older, I know this is anxiety that I do not need, and it is probably knowledge I am better off not storing up.

Recently, watching one of those programmes as we were idly flicking through television channels, I was told: ‘I could never go on a programme like that with you!’

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘Because I could never answer: “What is his favourite piece of music.” Or: “If money was no barrier, what would he buy?”’

Well there is a lot of good music to listen to.

But if money was no barrier, what would I buy?

Would it make me happy?

Would it make anyone else happy?

Would it tell anyone that they are loved, loving, worth loving, that I love them, that I really enjoy their love?

But do not get me wrong, please.

I understand why the man in this morning’s Gospel reading (Luke 12: 13-21) does many of the things he does.

He has a bumper crop one year, and not enough room to store it in. Was he to leave what he could not store to rot in the fields?

It is a foundational principle of all economics, whatever your political values – from Marx and Malthus to Milton Freedman – that the production of surplus food is the beginning of the creation of wealth and the beginning of economic prosperity.

Even if you are a complete suburbanite, it should bring joy to your heart the see the fields of green and gold these weeks, for the abundance of the earth is truly a blessing from God.

And it would have been wrong for this man to leave the surplus food to rot in the fields because he failed to have the foresight to build larger barns to store the surplus grain.

It provides income, creates wealth, allows us to export and so to import. Surplus food is the foundation of economics … and makes possible generosity, charity and care for the impoverished.

For the people who first heard this story, just image those people who first heard this parable – they would have imagined so many images in the Old Testament of the benefits of producing surplus food.

Joseph told Pharaoh to store surplus food in Egypt and to prepare and plan ahead for years of famine (see Genesis 41: 1-36). In the long run, this provides too for the survival of the very brothers who had sold him into slavery (see Genesis 42), and, eventually, for the salvation of the people of God.

The production of extra grain in the fields at the time of the harvest allows Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi to glean in the corners of the field behind the reapers (Ruth 2: 1-4). In the long run, this provides too for the survival of Boaz and his family line, and, eventually, for the salvation of the people of God.

When the people of God go hungry, the provision of surplus food is seen as a sign of God’s love and God’s protection … whether it is:

● the hungry people in the wilderness who are fed with manna (see Exodus 16), which is alluded to in this morning’s Psalm (Psalm 107: 1-9, 43);

● or the way the Prophet Hosea reminds the people, in this morning’s Old Testament reading (Hosea 11: 1-11), that God is the God who can say throughout their history: “I bent down to them and fed them” (Hosea 11: 4);

● or the hungry people who are fed with the abundant distribution of five loaves and two fish (Matthew 14: 13-21; Mark 6: 30-44; Luke 9: 10-17; John 6: 1-14; see Mark 8: 1-9);

● or the Disciples who find the Risen Christ has provided for their needs with breakfast (John 21: 9-14).

Surplus food, wealth, providing for the future, building bigger and better barns … it is never an excuse to “relax, eat, drink, [and] be merry.”

A barn on a farm at Cross in Hand Lane, outside Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Our Gospel reading this morning offers the abundance and generosity of God’s provision as a sign of God’s love, for us as individuals and for all around us.

The rich man is not faulted for being an innovative farmer who manages to grow an abundant crop.

The rich man is not faulted this morning for storing up those crops.

The rich man is not condemned for tearing down his barns and building larger ones to store not only his grain but his goods too.

The rich man is not even condemned for being rich.

The man condemns himself, he makes himself look foolish, for thinking that all that matters in life is our own pleasure and personal satisfaction.

We are human because we are made to relate to other humans.

There is no shared humanity without relationship.

We are made in the image and likeness of God, but that image and likeness is only truly found in relationship … for God is already relational, God is already revealed as community, in God’s existence as Trinity.

This man thinks not of his needs, but of his own pleasures. He has a spiritual life … we are told he speaks to his Soul. But he speaks only to his own soul. His spiritual life extends only to his own spiritual needs, to his own Soul, it never reaches out to God who has blessed him so abundantly, the God who in this morning’s Psalm reminds us that he “fills the hungry soul with good” (Psalm 107: 9).

His spiritual persona never reaches out to or acknowledges God who has blessed him so abundantly, or to the people around him who have needs and who could benefit from his charitable generosity or from his business acumen.

In failing to take account of the needs of others, he fails to realise his own true needs: for a true and loving relationship with God, and a true and loving relationship with others.

He has no concern for the needs of others, physical or spiritual. He is spiritually dead. No wonder Saint Paul says in our epistle reading that greed is idolatry (Colossians 3: 5).

But if he has stopped speaking to God, God has not stopped speaking to him. And God tells him that night in a dream that this man is spiritually dead.

God says to him in that dream that his life is being demanded of him. (Luke 12: 20).

But did you notice how we never hear how he responds, how we never hear whether he dies?

The story ends just there.

The Gospel reading for the last Sunday at the end of September [25 September 2016, the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity] is the story of the rich man who kept Lazarus at the gate, and then died (see Luke 16: 19-31). But unlike that rich man, we are never told what happened to the rich man in this morning’s Gospel reading.

Did he die of fright?

Did he die after drinking too much?

Did he wake up and carry on regardless?

Or, like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, did he wake up and realise his folly, and embrace the joys of the Incarnation?

I am challenged not to pass judgment on the Rich Man. Instead, Christ challenges me, in the first part of this reading (Luke 12: 13-15), to put myself in the place of this man.

If we are to take the earlier part of this Gospel reading to heart, perhaps we might reserve judgment on this foolish rich man.

Perhaps, instead of judging this young man with the benefit of hearing this story over and over again, perhaps in the light of the first part of this Gospel reading, we might reflect on this Gospel reading by asking ourselves two questions:

“If money was no barrier, what would I buy?”


“Would that choice reflect the priorities Christ sets us of loving God and loving one another?”


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

A barn on a farm in Co Wexford waiting for the harvest (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)


Let your merciful ears, O Lord,
be open to the prayers of your humble servants;
and that they may obtain their petitions,
make them to ask such things as shall please you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post-Communion Prayer:

O God, as we are strengthened by these holy mysteries,
so may our lives be a continual offering,
holy and acceptable in your sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Luke 12: 13-21

13 Εἶπεν δέ τις ἐκ τοῦ ὄχλου αὐτῷ, Διδάσκαλε, εἰπὲ τῷ ἀδελφῷ μου μερίσασθαι μετ' ἐμοῦ τὴν κληρονομίαν. 14 ὁδὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἄνθρωπε, τίς με κατέστησεν κριτὴν ἢ μεριστὴν ἐφ' ὑμᾶς; 15 εἶπεν δὲπρὸς αὐτούς, Ὁρᾶτε καὶ φυλάσσεσθε ἀπὸ πάσης πλεονεξίας, ὅτι οὐκ ἐν τῷπερισσεύειν τινὶ ἡ ζωὴ αὐτοῦ ἐστιν ἐκ τῶν ὑπαρχόντων αὐτῷ. 16 Εἶπεν δὲ παραβολὴν πρὸς αὐτοὺς λέγων, Ἀνθρώπου τινὸς πλουσίου εὐφόρησεν ἡ χώρα. 17 καὶ διελογίζετο ἐν ἑαυτῷ λέγων, Τί ποιήσω, ὅτι οὐκ ἔχω ποῦ συνάξω τοὺς καρπούς μου; 18 καὶ εἶπεν, Τοῦτο ποιήσω: καθελῶ μου τὰς ἀποθήκας καὶ μείζονας οἰκοδομήσω, καὶ συνάξω ἐκεῖ πάντα τὸν σῖτον καὶ τὰ ἀγαθά μου, 19 καὶ ἐρῶ τῇ ψυχῇ μου, Ψυχή, ἔχεις πολλὰ ἀγαθὰ κείμενα εἰς ἔτη πολλά: ἀναπαύου, φάγε, πίε, εὐφραίνου. 20 εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ θεός, Ἄφρων, ταύτῃ τῇ νυκτὶ τὴν ψυχήν σου ἀπαιτοῦσιν ἀπὸ σοῦ: ἃ δὲ ἡτοίμασας, τίνι ἔσται; 21 οὕτως ὁ θησαυρίζων ἑαυτῷ καὶ μὴ εἰς θεὸν πλουτῶν.

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ 14 But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 15 And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ 16 Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18 Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 20 But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

An empty barn on my grandmother’s former farm near Cappoquin, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

‘The Doctor, the Countess and the Organist:
1916 tales from Saint John’s, Sandymount’

Saint John’s, Sandymount … presiding at the Sung Eucharist at 11 a.m. this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am back in the Church of Saint John the Evangelist in Sandymount this morning [31 July 2016], presiding and preaching at the Sung Eucharist at 11 a.m.

This month’s edition of the Church Review tells how Saint John’s is planning an exhibition for Heritage Week next month [25-28 August 2016] as part of the programme for the 1916-2016 centenary commemorations.

The exhibition – ‘The Doctor, the Countess and the Organist: 1916 Tales from Saint John’s, Sandymount’ – reflects the connections between Saint John’s and its people with the events of 1916, both at home and abroad.

The exhibition focusses principally on the dissonant narratives of a Sandymount resident, Dr Charles Calthrop de Burgh Daly, and Cecil Grange McDowell, the organist of Saint John’s. At the time, the Incumbent of Saint John’s was the Revd Fletcher Sheridan Le Fanu.

Dr Charles Calthrop de Burgh Daly of 71 Park Avenue, Sydney Parade, was a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was fired on by Countess Markievicz in Dublin in April 1916. He was standing in the window of the University Club when Countess Markievicz stepped from behind a statue in Saint Stephen’s Green and fired at him.

An early edition of the ‘Soldier’s Song’ acknowledges Cathal Mac Dughghaill as the composer

Cecil Grange McDowell, from Carlow, was the organist and choirmaster at Saint John’s and a vestry member. He was also an engineer with Dublin Corporation and an artist who specialised in architectural work. He went on to change his name to Cathal Mac Dubhghaill. He forsook his background to join the rebellion in 1916 and he wrote the first arrangement of the National Anthem.

While he was fighting with Eamon de Valera at Boland’s Mills in Easter Week 1916, he was baptised a Roman Catholic by a Father O’Reilly from Westland Row.

After the rising, he was prisoner in Richmond Barracks and Frongoch, and in 1921 he married the poet Maeve Cavanagh MacDowell of the Irish Citizen Army. She was a sister of the cartoonist, Ernest Cavanagh, who was killed in 1916 and who is remembered especially for his cartoons in the The Irish Worker of William Martin Murphy during the lockout in 1913, depicting him as ‘William Murder Murphy’ and the ‘Vulture of Dartry Hall.’

Cecil McDowell or Cathal Mac Dubhghaill died 10 years after the Rising in Nice in 1926.

The exhibition will recall other elements in the life of Saint John’s during 1916, including the loss of Dr Daly’s younger son, Charlie, during the Battle of the Somme, and the launch of a book by Emily French de Burgh Daly, the wife of Dr Daly and a sister of the songwriter Percy French. The book, An Irishwoman in China describes the time when the family lived in Manchuria, where Dr Daly was the medical officer at the British consulate.

Alyson Gavin, a genealogist and churchwarden of Saint John’s has researched the memorial plaque in erected Saint John’s in 1920 and naming local men who fought in World War I.

Arthur Charles de Burgh Daly of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers was only 19 when he was killed in action in 1916

Second Lieutenant Arthur Charles de Burgh Daly of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers was only 19 when he was killed in action at the Battle of Ginchy on 9 September 1916. His parents had lived in Newchwang in Manchuria, in China, where he was born. When his parents returned to live in Ireland, he went to school in Worthing and Tonbridge Wells, and was planning to have go up to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.

But on leaving school he obtained a commission on 26 August 1915 and was sent to the front on 19 July 1916. He went straight into the fighting on the Somme and took part in the Battle of Guillemont on 6 September.

In his last letter home, written on 8 September, he said: “We attack Ginchy tomorrow. In case of accidents, I played the game two days ago, and will, please God, tomorrow.” On the following morning, he was killed at the head of his men charging the German trenches. He got no further than four or five yards before he was shot through the brain by two bullets from a machine gun, and was killed instantly. He is buried at Delville Wood cemetery in Longueval, France.

Due to an administrative error, his family received a telegram on 18 September 1916 giving his date of death as 4 September. However, his letter dated 8 September, the actual day before his death, had already arrived at his family home in Sandymount. His family believed some mistake had been made and they hoped that he was still alive. His father, Dr Charles de Burgh Daly, wrote to the War Office pleading for clarification. The War Office eventually established that the wrong date had been given erroneously.

His elder brother, Major Ulick de Burgh Daly of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, was wounded at Richebourg L’Avoue on 9 May 1915. Shortly after his return to the Front in June 1916, he was invalided home with appendicitis. He was subsequently “mentioned in dispatches” for distinguished services.

Their sister Lucy was in the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nursing service, where she served in hospitals around Dublin and at a British army base in Boulogne before being demobilised in 1919.

Captain Edward Stafford-King-Harman … his wife was pregnant when he was killed in Flanders in 1914

Another name on the memorial in Saint John’s is Captain Edward Stafford-King-Harman, who was the heir to the vast Rockingham estate in north Co Roscommon and to his family title of baronet. The family had moved to Taney, Dundrum, but attended Saint John’s Church, Sandymount. He married Olive Pakenham-Mahon of Strokestown Park, Co Longford and after joining the Irish Guards in 1911, and was later posted to Flanders in September 1914.

He was reported missing after intense fighting at Klein Zillebeke on 6 November 1914. Reports indicate that Harman’s company were holding the frontline when they were surrounded and cut off from the main body of British troops. For some time, there was confusion about whether he had been killed or captured as a prisoner of war.

During the eight months that followed, Edward’s family wrote continuously to the War Office, seeking confirmation and an indication of his status and the possible location of his body in France. In June 1915, the family were finally notified that he was listed as “killed in action in Ypres” in Flanders on 6 November 1914.

Posthumously, he was promoted to the rank of captain in the midst of confusion surrounding his death. Edward Stafford-King-Harman was honoured in the Irish Life magazine on 30 July 1915 in a supplement entitled “our heroes from Mons to the Somme August 1914 to July 1916.”

At the time of his death, his wife, Olive was pregnant at the time and she gave birth to their daughter Lettice Mary Strafford-King-Harman on 10 April 1915. Olive and Lettice returned to live at Strokestown, and the Rockingham estate was inherited by Edward’s brother, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Cecil William Francis Stafford-King-Harman. Sir Cecil sold off what remained of the Rockingham Estate in the early 1960s and died in 1987. Most of the estate was bought by the Land Commission, and a large part of this land later became part of Lough Key Forest Park.

Private John Drew Mitchell of 21 Ailesbury Road, who is also named on the memorial, was a son of Frank William Drew Mitchell, the Secretary of the Congested Districts Board, and Emily Wild. He died on the same day as Charles de Burgh Daly, at the battle of Ginchy. As Trooper JD Mitchell, he transferred from the Royal Horse Guards to the 1st Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment, on 13 May 1916 and he entered the conflict on 23 May. He received a fatal wound and died in action at the age of 28. He was buried at Heily Station Cemetery, Mericourt-L’Abbé.

Inside Saint John’s Church, Sandymount (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The other names on the memorial include: Second Lieutenant Thomas Coote Cummins of the York and Lancaster Regiment, who died of wounds in France; Lieutenant Eric Greaves, MC, of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers; Private Trevor Eyre Symes, of the Royal Highlanders; Second Lieutenant Ivan Philip Watson of the Royal Irish Rifles; Second Lieutenant John Godfrey Baird Dunne of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who died in Persia; Corporal Ronald Stuart Baird Dunne, of the Army Service Corps, who was killed in action in Thessaloniki; Corporal Henry Augustus Kavanagh of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who was killed in action in Palestine; and Private Arthur Thomas Avison, Machine Gun Corps.

A verse below the memorial says: “As gold in the furnace hath he tried them and received them as a burnt offering.”

The exhibition at Saint John’s closes on 28 August with a recital by the organist, Eoghan Ward, featuring music from both narratives, including pieces by Cecil MacDowell.

Eoghan Ward has been the resident organist at Saint John’s since 2012. He began his musical career as a chorister in the Palestrina Choir at Saint Mary’s Pro-Cathedral under Ite O’Donovan. He received his first organ lessons at Clongowes Wood College under Raymond O’Donnell and, after reading music at Trinity College Dublin, he studied organ under Dr Kerry Houston.

Admission to all events is free. The opening hours are: Thursday-Saturday, 25-27 August 2016, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday 28 August, exhibition 12 noon to 3 p.m., recital 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Saint John’s Church is located on Park Avenue, Sandymount. The nearest DART station is at Sydney Parade. Buses 1 and 47 stop at the church, and buses 4, 7 and 8 stop nearby at Ailesbury Road.

Saint John’s, Sandymount … details of the gargoyles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

30 July 2016

An afternoon walk on the beach
in Bray after a long absence

Walking on the beach below Bray Head this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

It 10 days since I had a walk along a beach. Until this afternoon, I had not been on a beach since my holidays in Rethymnon on the Greek island of Crete came to an end on Wednesday of last week [20 July 2016].

A walk on the beach in Bray, Co Wicklow, was not an option last weekend, knowing that the seafront was going to be crowded with people attending the Bray Air Show, so two of us went to Farmleigh and the Phoenix Park instead, and walk around the boating lake. And on Sunday we had a long, lingering lunch with friends from Christ Church Cathedral, that stretched well into the late afternoon.

A glass of Nuragus in Carpe Diem this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

But this afternoon, two of us got to Bray in the late afternoon, and first had a late Saturday lunch in Carpe Diem – including doubles espressos and a glass of Nuragus.

Nuragus is a white Italian wine grape variety that is grown in Sardinia. It has a long history on Sardinia and may have been introduced to the island by the Phoenicians. The grape is still widely planted in Sardinia, but its numbers began to dwindle in the late 20th century, falling by 50% during the 1980s alone to a total of 8,700 ha in 1990.

Today it is mostly found in the southern part of the island, between Cagliari and Oristano on the hot Campidano plain. Under Italian wine laws, Nuragus grown in southern Sardinia may be labelled under the Nuragus di Cagliari DOC, as long as the grape makes up at least 85% of the blend with other local white grape varieties.

Well-made examples of Nuragus have aromas similar to Vermentino with almonds and sour apple flavour notes. It has been compared to Portugal’s Vinho Verde and Spain’s Albarino wines.

From Carpe Diem, we went for a long walk on the seafront. The tide and the waves were gentle compared to the tides and the waves we had experienced on the beaches in Rethymnon earlier this month, and – while it felt more like an autumn day than summer – a few people, and a dog or two, braved what must have been chilly waters for a swim.

We walked as far south as the bay below Bray Head, then retraced our steps and walked as far north as the harbour, where there was no sailing but a large number of swans.

The sea front is busy with a fun fair, and just as our walk came to an end the sun began to come out again.

Walking around Bray Harbour this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Fernhurst: the Victorian house that
is ‘the crown jewel of Orwell Park’

Fernhurst, 14 Orwell Park, Rathgar … once described as ‘the crown jewel of Orwell Park’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

In recent days, I have written about two interesting houses on Orwell Park in Rathgar: No 4, which was once the childhood home of the playwright John Millington Synge, and Dartry House, which as Darty Hall had been the home of the towering business figure of early 20th century Ireland, William Martin Murphy.

But without doubt my favourite house on Orwell Park is Fernhurst or 14 Orwell Park, a grand detached late-Victorian house.

This house was formerly owned by the composer Bill Whelan, and came to public attention when it was sold for €3.795 million two years ago [August 2014]. It was sold through Sherry FitzGerald, and the original asking price was €3.795 million.

When it was on the market two years ago, one newspaper report said Fernhurst is “considered the crown jewel of Orwell Park by many.” But I had a friend from Co Carlow who lived there in the early 1970s while she was a student, and I got to know and appreciate this house about 45 years ago.

Fernhurst is a very fine Victorian detached house with intricate exterior brick and sandstone detailing. A landmark Monterey pine in the front garden shields the house from view.

The house stands on 0.3 acres of grounds, and the property is deceptively large spanning a width that is between double and treble that of the average house on the road.

The Victorian pillar box on the footpath outside Fernhurst (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

One of the few remaining Victorian pillar boxes in Dublin, complete with its VR monogram, stands on the footpath immediately in front of the house. I suppose it is appropriate, then, that a vintage postcard of Horse Guards, London, that was sent to Master Kenneth Hope, Fernhurst, Orwell Park, Dublin, and postmarked London 1903, was offered for sale on eBay recently.

Sadly, this pillar box is defaced with graffiti, and like most of those remaining and rare Victorian pillar boxes, this one is in the early stages of neglect and decay.

A vintage postcard sent to Kenneth Hope at Fernhurst from London in 1903

For much of the 20th century, Fernhurst was the home of Robert Grove White, a Cork-born barrister, and his family. His wife Maud died in 1949, he died in 1960, and they are buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Harold’s Cross.

The house measures 418 square metres (4,500 sq ft). Victorian tiling outside leads through the Gothic-arched front door and into the fine hall where all the rooms have ceiling heights of more than 11 ft, ornate architraves, pitch pine doors and floors, brass door knobs and fingerplates, as well as great panes of leaded and stained glass.

The windows, while upgraded, retain their original mechanisms and Victorian style radiators heat the rooms.

When the composer Bill Whelan lived there, his baby grand piano sat in the bay window of the double drawing room – a great space with interconnecting doors that slide back to reveal a room to the rear with ornate ceiling plasterwork and a mirror-image bow window.

Bill Whelan is best known for composing a piece for the interval of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest, Riverdance, the electrifying seven-minute reinterpretation of traditional Irish dance that became a full-length stage production and introduced Irish dancing to international popular culture.

A family room on the other side of the hall is a cosier and equally well-used space. A door off it leads down to the double- height Victorian conservatory with a vaulted glass roof. A set of steel steps goes down to a limestone floored room.

The dining room has had an unusual Venetian plasterwork treatment. A double-height French door leads the eye up to the vaulted ceiling as well as providing a snapshot view of the well-tended gardens.

Adjoining the dining room is a John Daly-designed cherry-wood kitchen that includes a box bay window and window seat.

On the hall return is a double-height stained glass window that floods upstairs and downstairs with warm washes of colour. There is another bedroom on this level.

The three large bedrooms on the first floor all have 11 ft high ceilings. The master bedroom has an en-suite bathroom that includes a separate bath and shower.

The family bathroom at the top of the house is accessed along a minstrel’s gallery and a bank of linen cupboards the size of an average bedroom. The bathroom has garden views.

At garden level, two bedrooms share what the estate agents called a Jack-and-Jill bathroom. There is also a utility area behind a folding door. A den or games room to the rear has French doors leading outside to a granite patio.

The gardens, adjoining Saint Luke’s Hospital, have a high laurel hedge to the rear and is formally laid out and carefully planted.

As I passed Fernhurst earlier this week, the decorators were working in the bay window of the double drawing room, and I was tempted, just slightly, to knock on the door and ask whether I could see that Victorian plasterwork again.

Fernhurst on Orwell Park … I was tempted to knock on the door as I passed by earlier this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

For other postings on the architectural heritage of South Dublin see:

Berwick Hall.
The Bottle Tower, Churchtown.
Brookvale House, Rathfarnham.
Camberley House, Churchtown.
Dartry House, Orwell Park, Rathfarnham.
Ely Arch, Rathfarnham.
Ely House, Nutgrove Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Fernhurst, 14 Orwell Road, Rathgar.
Fortfield House, Hyde Park, Terenure.
No 201 Harold’s Cross Road, the birthplace of Richard Allen.
Homestead, Sandyford Road, Dundrum.
Kilvare House, also known as Cheeverstown House, Templeogue Road.
Knocklyon Castle.
Laurelmere Lodge, Marlay Park.
Marlay Park.
Mountain View House, Beaumont Avenue, Churchtown.
Newbrook House, Taylor’s Lane, Rathfarnham.
Old Bawn House, Tallaght.
Rathfarnham Castle.
Sally Park, Fihouse.
Scholarstown House, Knocklyon.
Silveracre House, off Sarah Curran Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Synge House, Newtwon Villas, Churchtown, and No 4 Orwell Park, Rathgar.
Templeogue House.
Washington House, Butterfield Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Westbourne House, off Rathfarnham Road.

Dartry House: from mill owners and
strike breakers to missionary priests

Dartry House, built as Dartry Hall in 1810-1840, and was once the home of William Martin Murphy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

During one of my afternoon walks in the Rathgar area this week, I walked along Orwell Park, to photograph a house where the playwright John Millington Synge had lived during his early childhood, and then found myself at Dartry House, a house that I had known over ten years ago, and that has been impressively restored since then.

Dartry House is an imposing two-storey mansion built about 1810-1840 with several later additions such as a turret which was incorporated in the building about 1900.

It was originally built as Dartry Hall for Obadiah Williams, a wealthy merchant of Huguenot descent.

Dartry Mill today … the proprietor, William Wallace, lived at Dartry Hall from 1844-1849 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

From 1844 to 1849, Dartry Hall was owned by William Wallace, the proprietor of the Dartry Mill. In 1849, he sold the house to William Drury, and it remained in his family’s ownership until 1883, when the house was bought by the industrialist and newspaper proprietor William Martin Murphy (1845-1919), who was then living nearby in Rostrevor Terrace, Rathgar.

Murphy was originally from Bantry, Co Cork. He moved to Dublin in 1875, and from 1878 he was living at No 7 Rostrevor Terrace. But within a decade of moving to Dublin he had moved into Dartry Hall.

In Murphy’s days, the grounds of Dartry House included walled gardens and a tropical greenhouse. Murphy made a number of additions to the house, including the mansard attic rooms and a turret, which was built around 1900. Although the turret can not be seen by the public today, these additions create a the image of a French chateau or even a Disney-style fantasy castle to this house in quiet, secluded corner of suburban south Dublin.

Dartry Hall in Ernest Cavanagh’s cartoon in ‘The Irish Worker’ of William ‘Murder’ Murphy

Murphy owned a number of businesses in Dublin, including the Irish Independent, Clery’s department store, the Imperial Hotel and the Metropole Hotel and the Dublin United Tramways Company (DUTC), and he was a central figure in the Dublin Lockout in 1913, when the union side was led by Jim Larkin.

Ernest Cavanagh’s cartoons in the Irish Worker in 1913 depicted Murphy at the gates of Dartry Hall, and labelled him ‘William Murder Murphy’ and ‘The Vulture of Dartry Hall.’ The poet WB Yeats also expressed his disdain for Murphy in a number of poems that had an enduring impact on Murphy’s image in subsequent generations.

James Larkin described him as ‘the most foul and vicious blackguard that ever polluted any country … a capitalistic vampire.’

Tramway House on Dartry Road, opposite a side entrance to Dartry House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The DUTC owned by Murphy built the tram line from the centre of Dublin to Dartry and the No 14 tram line came to an end at Dartry Hall. The terminus and the associated sheds now house an engineering firm.

Murphy was a constitutional Nationalist, and was an Irish Parliamentary Party MP for Dublin Saint Patrick’s from 1885 to 1892. Murphy sided with the majority Anti-Parnellites when the party split. However, Dublin was a Parnellite stronghold and in the bitter general election of 1892, Murphy lost his seat to a Parnellite newcomer, William Field by a wide margin of 3,991 to 1,110.

Murphy was offered a knighthood by King Edward in 1907 for his contribution to the Irish International Exhibition in Herbert Park, but it is said the offer was firmly but politely refused.

With his father-in-law James Lombard, also a Nationalist MP, Murphy built hundreds of houses in the Dublin area. Murphy died on 26 June 1919 at Dartry Hall from a heart attack caused by aortic valve disease. He is buried in an unmarked vault within the O’Connell Circle in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

Murphy was succeeded at Dartry Hall by his son, William Lombard Murphy (1876-1943), and his daughter Eva Magdalene Murphy (1883-1958), who stayed on at the house. During the Irish Civil War, Dartry Hall was attacked by Republicans because a member of the family was a pro-Treaty member of the Rathmines and Rathgar Urban District Council.

When Eva Magdalene Murphy died in 1958, Dartry Hall was sold by the Murphy family. It was bought in 1958 by the Mill Hill Fathers, a congregation of missionary priests. By then it was known as Dartry House.

While the Mill Hill Fathers were there, the house hosted the offices of many mission agencies and voluntary organisations. I regularly attended meetings of the Irish Missionary Union and other organisations in the first decade of this century, until the house and its grounds were sold.

Dartry House and about four acres of ground at Orwell Park were sold to Eugene Renehan of Walthill Properties for around €30 million in 2005.

The house underwent extensive conservation and restoration works in 2008-2009 to provide seven new spacious apartments. The architects were Niall D. Brennan Associates.

The apartments have views over and access to the listed formal gardens located beside to the house. The restoration works carried out to Dartry House sought to ensure that this building is retained as a pivotal focus for the surrounding area of Dartry and Rathgar.

The rest of the site was developed with low-density schemes of apartments and houses. The site has a southerly orientation and backs on to a large belt of trees that divide it from Dartry Park and the River Dodder.

Eugene Renehan had already converted the 18th century courtyard at Headfort Estate in Kells, Co Meath, into a residential area. His other schemes included the Moorings at Portobello Harbour and Rathmines Wood at Lower Rathmines Wood.

The Mill Hill Missionaries used the proceeds of the sale to maintain priests returning to Ireland from the missions, and built a new house, Saint Joseph’s, on part of the original site.

Two pairs of granite pillars at the original entrance to Dartry Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Six of the original and impressive granite entrance pillars at Dartry House are still standing: four in two pairs just off Orwell Park, and and a pair for a pedestian entrance on Dartry Road, near the old mill and almost opposite Tramway House.

A modern plaque on one of the pillars outside Dartry House today says the house was “lovingly restored” by Eugene Renehan in 2010, and quotes John Ruskin in The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849): “When we build, let us think that we build for ever.”

Dartry Hall when it was the home of William Martin Murphy

For other postings on the architectural heritage of South Dublin see:

Berwick Hall.
The Bottle Tower, Churchtown.
Brookvale House, Rathfarnham.
Camberley House, Churchtown.
Dartry House, Orwell Park, Rathfarnham.
Ely Arch, Rathfarnham.
Ely House, Nutgrove Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Fernhurst, 14 Orwell Road, Rathgar.
Fortfield House, Hyde Park, Terenure.
No 201 Harold’s Cross Road, the birthplace of Richard Allen.
Homestead, Sandyford Road, Dundrum.
Kilvare House, also known as Cheeverstown House, Templeogue Road.
Knocklyon Castle.
Laurelmere Lodge, Marlay Park.
Marlay Park.
Mountain View House, Beaumont Avenue, Churchtown.
Newbrook House, Taylor’s Lane, Rathfarnham.
Old Bawn House, Tallaght.
Rathfarnham Castle.
Sally Park, Fihouse.
Scholarstown House, Knocklyon.
Silveracre House, off Sarah Curran Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Synge House, Newtwon Villas, Churchtown, and No 4 Orwell Park, Rathgar.
Templeogue House.
Washington House, Butterfield Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Westbourne House, off Rathfarnham Road.

29 July 2016

Moat House to reopen after pub owner
takes on Comberford ancestral home

The Moat House on Lichfield Street, Tamworth, in summer sunshine … the Comberford family ancestral home is to reopen as a pub next month (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

The Moat House in Tamworth, one of the ancestral homes of the Comberford family, is to reopen its doors next month after the lease has been taken on by a local businessman, according to a report in this week’s edition of The Tamworth Herald [28 July 2016].

The Moat House on Lichfield Street was built by the Comberford family in 1572 and Charles I was a guest of the Comberford family here when he visited Tamworth as Prince of Wales in 1619.

This week’s report by Helen Machin, which describes the house as “Tamworth’s iconic Moat House,” says the Moat House is to reopen its doors next month.

The report, which The Tamworth Herald says is exclusive, follows months of speculation and considerable interest in the Grade II* listed building.

The lease has been taken on by Martin Young (35), a local businessman who also owns the Three Tuns pub in Fazeley. He plans to re-open the Moat House in mid to late August.

He said: “This is a massively exciting project for me, next to the castle, it’s the most famous building in Tamworth.”

He told The Tamworth Herald: “I plan to return it to its former glory, previously it has been used as a pub and restaurant, and eventually I hope to host high profile events and weddings there.”

In a similar report this morning [29 July 2016] on the site Insider Media, he tells Storm Rannard: “I am delighted to have taken over such a prestigious venue which I feel has significant potential.”

He adds: “The Moat House presents a unique opportunity to provide a wonderful social hub for the people of Tamworth to enjoy. My management team and I will provide a beautiful venue which will welcome both laid back diners and those who wish to simply enjoy our range of drinks.”

Martin Young, who has taken on the lease of the Moat House, with Lynne Dudley, the new manager (Photograph: Tamworth Herald, 2016)

Martin Young, who has been in the pub trade for 19 years, has been doing much of the general labouring and painting himself, according to The Tamworth Herald. However, he has called in specialist contractors for some of the work on the house on Lichfield Street, Tamworth.

He told Helen Machin: “Structurally everything is in good condition, but it needs a lot of love, a lot of attention and a lot of paint! But it’s a stunning building.”

Martin Young comes to the Moat House with a wealth of experience. The Three Tuns in Fazeley was a finalist in the Tamworth Business of the Year and the winner of the Enterprise Inns Midlands Community Pub of the Year last year [2015].

Work is well under way at the Moat House, with work currently concentrating on the ground floor and the extensive gardens by local tradesmen.

The pub will be open to serve drinks next month, then shortly afterwards it is hoped that the kitchen renovations will be complete and that food will be served too. Martin Young said: “We’re paying great attention to detail, I want to make sure that every bit is right and we don’t run before we can walk. We’re keen not to destroy the character of the building.”

The Moat House has been closed since 2014. The lease was sold in a deal brokered by specialist business property adviser Christie & Co.

Charles Jones, business agent at Christie’s Birmingham office, said: “The Moat House is a fantastic property which is steeped in history and has significant potential. Martin recognised the opportunity and quickly placed an offer which suited the vendor’s needs.”

He added: “Martin has an excellent reputation for running pubs that are valued at the heart of the local community, and we’re delighted that he has taken on the Moat House with plans to operate the business as an important local asset. I expect that this site will be very successful and wish him the best of luck in his new venture.”

The Moat House includes a bar, restaurant, library, function room, gardens and space for more than 80 cars.

A briefing paper on the vote to go ahead
with a new reactor at Hinkley Point C

A computer-generated image of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant. Photograph: EDF Energy/The Guardian

Patrick Comerford

I was interviewed on Newstalk FM this morning by Kieran Cuddihy about the decision late yesterday that could give the go-ahead to building Britain’s first new nuclear power station for a generation.

I was speaking as President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND). Also on the programme was Dr David Robert Grimes of Oxford University, a Dublin-born physicist who writes regularly for The Irish Times and the Guardian.

In advance of the programme, I prepared this briefing paper last night.

The setting

Britain is likely to get its first new nuclear power station for a generation after the directors of the French energy group EDF voted in favour of building the Hinkley Point C power station. After a decade of debate about the controversial £18 billion project, the EDF board approved the project by 10 votes to seven.

If the plan gets the expected British government approval in a few weeks’ time, there will be not one, but two new EPR-style reactors at the Hinkley Point C power station in Somerset.

But it will be too big, too slow, and too expensive.

A more dangerous nuclear world

Nuclear safety has been back in the public eye with the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident recently, along with fifth anniversary of the Fukushima crisis.

The decision comes just weeks after the British government pushed through a decision on replacing Britain’s Trident nuclear submarine force. Britain is on a mad roll towards making this a more-nuclear world and more dangerous world.

Hinkley C is going to produce weapons-grade uranium and weapons-grade plutonium. At a time when world tensions are rising, when Cold War tensions are at a height we have not seen since the 1980s, at a time when we are worried about terrorists and rogue states gaining access to the uncontrolled production of dangerous material like this, this seems like lemmings rushing to the edge of the cliff.

How can the world argue morally that it is wrong for Iran to have its nuclear programme when Britain is stepping up the nuclear race with both nuclear weapons and nuclear power stations?

In addition, it is only five years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 led Japan and Germany to shut down all their nuclear reactors. Japan has since restarted some, but Germany still plans to close all its plants permanently by 2022.

Why should we be concerned?

Of course, we should be concerned in Ireland.

The site of the Hinkley Point C is just 240 km from the Irish coast, and is a greater distance from London – a 265 km drive.

Yet the British government insists it does not have to consult with its European neighbours because there is little or no likelihood of “significant transboundary environmental impacts.”

In the past, British courts have ruled against An Taisce, the Irish National Trust, when it tried to block Hinkley. An Taisce’s lawyers say there was a failure to undertake “transboundary consultation” as required by the European Commission’s Environmental Impact Assessment Directive.

Ireland, The Netherlands, Norway and other European countries have argued they should have been consulted about Hinkley, and even more distant Austria has raised the possibility of a severe accident that could lead to radioactive materials being spread by wind across Europe.

Others are worried too. A UN committee has already ruled that Britain failed to consult European countries properly over potential environmental risks. The committee said Britain “is in non-compliance with its obligations” to discuss the possible impact of any accident or other event that could affect those nations in proximity to Hinkley.

Paul Dorfman, a senior researcher at UCL’s energy institute, said the ruling from the UN Economic and Social Council throws great uncertainty over Hinkley.

Why now?

Ironically, the British government, which supports the project heavily, has welcomed this vote from EDF as a vote of confidence in the British economy just a month after the UK voted to leave the EU.

The cost of the project

The construction of Hinkley Point C is due to be completed by 2025, and its advocates claim it will provide 7% of Britain’s electricity, enough power for six million homes, for almost 60 years.

The British government wants to phase out coal by 2025, and claims nuclear energy offers a lower-carbon option that produces enough electricity to fill the gap created by closing existing plants.

But who said nuclear is cleaner than coal? This is simply exporting the dirt to the Third World, where open-cast uranium mines are radioactive isolated landscapes that blight vast areas for the foreseeable future. Looking at how similar projects have been delayed in France, Finland and other countries, how can we believe that the target date of 2025 is realistic? A similar project has overrun costings in France.

The £18 billion cost of Hinkley Point C is being borne by EDF, which is 85% owned by the French government, and China General Nuclear Power Corporation, which has agreed to take a 33% stake in the project. But the costing must also take account of £3030 billion in subsidies.

EDF’s own flagship project in Flamanville is more than three times over budget and years behind schedule. EDF’s workers in France have campaigned for Hinkley Point C to be delayed or scrapped amid fears it could ruin the company’s finances.

The cost to consumers

This reactor would be the most expensive nuclear reactor in the world, and on top of this it would be poor value for tax payers and consumers.

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, has pointed out that the project is “terrible value for money” for British families.

“This is a bitter pill to swallow for hard up people who have been told that the government is trying to keep bills down while dealing with energy security and lowering carbon emissions. Today’s decision doesn’t prove the UK is open for business post Brexit. It just shows the Hinkley deal became too big to fail in the eyes of British and French politicians.”

And, of course, there is a cost to consumers.

The British government has guaranteed EDF a ‘strike price’ of £92.50 for each megawatt hour of energy it generates. But the present wholesale price of that amount of electricity to the British consumer is £38.

Either consumer prices for electricity are going to rise rapidly in Britain – at a time when they are falling fast in other countries, as we know in Ireland; or the British government, the British taxpayers is going to subside the cost, and in the process subsidise the French and Chinese nuclear programmes.

The delays

Can Hinkley Point C (HPC) provide 7% of Britain’s electricity during its estimated lifetime of 60 years? Even these estimates depend on HPC beginning to generate power in 2025, and that is several years later than planned.

In 2007, EDF’s chief executive, Vincent de Rivaz, made the brash claim that people in Britain would be cooking their Christmas turkeys on new nuclear power by Christmas next year [2017]. Now, however, Hinkley Point C is not going to be completed before 2025, at least.

John Sauven of Greenpeace points out: “Every time EDF has tried to build a reactor like Hinkley, it has failed. There isn’t a shred of evidence that Hinkley can be built on time or on budget, and if it hits the same problems as its predecessors, it can’t be relied on to keep the lights on in the UK.”

The main reason for the delays has been worries over the financing of the project by EDF. EDF is 85% owned by the French government, and French trade unions warn Hinkley could ruin the company’s finances.

Look at what’s happening in France

In the run-up to the meeting, an EDF director opposed to the project resigned. in his resignation letter, Gérard Magnin said Hinkley C is “very risky.” He did not attend the board meeting in Paris yesterday [28 July 2016].

His walk-out follows the resignation of EDF’s finance director, Thomas Piquemal, in March. He too expressed concerns about the cost of Hinkley Point C, and he resigned because he felt his warnings that Hinkley Point C could bankrupt the company were being ignored.

In June 2016, EDF executives and managers told MPs that Hinkley Point C should be postponed, until it has “solved a litany of problems,” including EDF’s “soaring debts.” At the time, EDF said it was delaying a final investment decision until at least September 2016.

Apart from financial concerns, there are concerns in France too about how to deal with nuclear waste. France’s nuclear safety authority has found weaknesses in a reactor EDF is building in Flamanville, which is the same design as Hinkley Point C.

Flamanville is over-budget and behind schedule. The €10.5 billion nuclear reactor has faced problems that some say could now be repeated in Britain.

It stands on granite cliffs overlooking the Channel and has become France’s most famous building site.

The technology behind the European pressurised reactor (EPR) is meant to be safer than anything that has gone before. But the project is more than three times over budget and years behind schedule, and France’s nuclear safety authority has found weaknesses in the reactor’s steel.

If and when it comes online, perhaps late in 2018, the Flamanville EPR will be the world’s largest nuclear reactor. It is being claimed that the reinforced concrete core is being built to withstand plane crashes and earth tremors. But the combination of the EPR’s size and its safety features have turned it into a construction nightmare.

The proposed waste disposal scheme remains a proposal. No similar scheme has been built yet, indeed the design has yet to be completed, let alone tested or tried.

Today, there is not one single EPR reactor that is operating anywhere in the world. In Flamanville, the first concrete was poured in 2007. Since then costs have more than tripled to €10.5 billion, and the project is six years behind schedule.

In Finland, the location of another EPR, the picture is even worse: the Olkiluoto reactor is nearly a decade behind schedule and three times over budget, with the added headache of legal battles over who is to blame.

We know less about the two EPR reactors being built in China.

In 2015, it emerged that weak spots had been found in the Flamanville reactor’s steel, which is made by another French industrial champion, Areva. France’s Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) said it had found “very serious anomalies” in the reactor vessel.

As the regulator deepened its investigation, it warned that the problems could affect other reactors in operation. In its latest annual report, the ASN expressed “significant concerns” for the future of France’s nuclear industry.

Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based nuclear policy analyst, accuses the industry of over-estimating its capacity to build highly complex reactors, while under-estimating its skills gaps.

He is worried that relentless cost-cutting pressures could compromise safety, as Areva bids to save €1 billion by 2017 through job cuts. “To me, it is very obvious that you will cut into safety and security and that is what makes me most nervous,” he says. “The financial and economic pressure on all the stakeholders is completely unparalleled.”

The French nuclear regulator, ASN, said it had been informed by Areva that its investigation had found evidence of irregularities in about 400 components produced since 1965, of which some 50 are believed to be in use in French nuclear plants. Areva found faults at a new reactor being built at Flamanville in Normandy. That scheme, like another at Olkiluoto in Finland, is using an EPR like the one planned for Hinkley and is both massively delayed and over budget.

The alternatives

Kevin Coyne, the national officer for energy of the union Unite, was absurd when he said that going ahead “could result in the lights going out in Britain.”

Environmental groups including Greenpeace have criticised any go-ahead, calling for investment in homegrown renewable energy like offshore wind.

John Sauven of Greenpeace says: “We need to invest in reliable home-grown renewable energy like off-shore wind which is powering other northern European countries more cheaply than Hinkley, even taking into account the back-up cost when the wind doesn’t blow.”

The supporters of Hinkley claim it is going to provide 7% of Britain’s electricity from about 2025, at a time when old coal and atomic plants are closing down.

This dash for brash, costly projects comes just as electricity production is moving to a smaller, more dispersed model with the arrival of renewables. Meanwhile, demand for power has been falling in continental Europe as a result of factory efficiency drives.

Britain too should be thinking about smaller, easier-to-build, more-flexible nuclear power stations.

The nitty-gritty of the finances

The unhedged British wholesale electricity price in January 2015 was about £50/MWh. EDF has negotiated a guaranteed fixed price – a “strike price” – for electricity from Hinkley Point C of £92.50/MWh (in 2012 prices), which will be adjusted and linked to inflation during the building period and over the subsequent 35-year tariff period. The price could fall to £89.50/MWh if a new plant at Sizewell is also approved.

The National Audit Office estimates that the additional cost to consumers of “future top-up payments under the proposed HPC CfD have increased from £6.1 billion in October 2013, when the strike price was agreed, to £29.7 billion in March 2016.”

Research by Imperial College Business School argues that no new nuclear power plants would be built in the UK without government intervention.

Compared with other power generation sources, actual UK strike prices in 2015 were in the range of £50-£79.23/MWh for photovoltaic, £80/MWh for energy from waste, £79.23-£82.5/MWh for onshore wind, and £114.39-£119.89/MWh for offshore wind and conversion technologies (all expressed in 2012 prices). These prices are indexed to inflation.

In 2012, maximum strike prices were £55/MWh for landfill gas, £75/MWh for sewage gas, £95/MWh for onshore wind power, £100/MWh for hydroelectricity, £120/MWh for photovoltaic power stations, £145/MWh for geothermal and £155/MWh for offshore wind farms.

For projects commissioned in 2018-2019, maximum strike prices are set to decline by £5/MWh for geothermal and onshore wind power, and by £15/MW for offshore wind projects and large-scale photovoltaic, while hydro power remains unchanged at £100/MWh.

A 2014 Agora Energiewende study found that new wind and solar can provide carbon-free power at up to 50% lower generation costs than new nuclear, based on a conservative comparison of current feed-in tariffs in Germany with the agreed strike price for Hinkley Point C, and neglecting future technology cost reductions in any of the technologies.

Two houses in Churchtown and Rathgar
with links to the playwright JM Synge

The birthplace of JM Synge (1871-1909) at Newtown Villas in Churchtown (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

My walks in search of mid-afternoon coffee or on the way home in the evening have led to two unexpected finds of houses in the Churchtown, Rathfarnham and Rathgar area that are associated with the great Irish playwright, John Millington Synge (1871-1909).

Synge was the author of plays, poems and essays, and played a pivotal role in the founding of the Abbey Theatre, alongside WB Yeats and Lady Gregory. His stylised realism set the tone for great writers who followed him, including Sean O’Casey, Brendan Behan and Samuel Beckett. Indeed, Beckett’s novels and plays are often indebted to Synge’s casts of tramps, beggars and peasants.

Around the corner from the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and Braemor Park, Synge House in Newtown Villas is now part of a discreetly-hidden gated community on the corner of Braemor Road.

Edmund John Millington Synge was born on 16 April 1871 in Newtown Little, then described as being in Rathfarnham and now Synge House, No 2 Newtown Villas, Churchtown, Dublin 14. Synge was the youngest son in a family of eight children and spent the first year of his life in this house.

The former country house has been converted into duplex accommodation, with one imposing two-storey-over-basement residence stuck back-to-back to an identical property. Both have steps leading up their main entrances on opposite sides, and have been divided into apartments.

Edmond John Millington Synge was born here in 1871, the youngest of five children. His father, John Hatch Synge, was from a landed gentry family that was seated at Glanmore Castle, Co Wicklow, and moved to Dublin to practice as a barrister.

The Synge family was descended from Edward Synge (1614-1678) from Shropshire, who became Bishop of Limerick and later Bishop of Cork. The family was closely identified with the Church of Ireland over several centuries, providing archbishops, bishops, deans, archdeacons, and clergy in abundance.

The playwright’s branch of the family derived its fortune from John Hatch, the son of Sir William Temple’s agent, who amassed estates in Co Wicklow, Co Meath and Dublin. In Dublin, John Hatch gave his name to Hatch Street, and he owned a townhouse on Harcourt Street that later became the High School.

Glanmore Castle, standing on a 4,000-acre estate in Co Wicklow that included Roundwood Park, was built by John Hatch’s son-in-law Francis Synge, who inherited Glanmore from his uncle, Sir Francis Hutchinson.

Francis Synge’s son, John Hatch Synge (died 1845), the playwright’s grandfather, was known as ‘Pestalozzi John’ after the Italian educationalist whose theories he applied in the estate school, incorporating its own printing-press for teaching materials.

The family estate in Co Wicklow was lost by his son, also John Hatch Synge, under the terms of the Encumbered Estates Act of 1848. The family bought back some of the estates at auction in 1850, and his brother Francis Synge re-established Glanmore Castle as the family seat. Both brothers were members of the Plymouth Brethren, which had a stronghold in Co Wicklow.

In 1856, John Hatch Synge married Kathleen Traill, daughter of the Revd Robert Traill, the Rector of Schull, Co Cork, who is described as having spent his life “waging war against popery.” He was the principal of the Schull Relief Committee during the Great Famine, and died of famine fever in 1847. His translation of Josephus’s The Jewish Wars was published posthumously.

Soon after John was born at Newtown Little, his father John Hatch Synge, a lawyer, contracted smallpox, and died in 1872. He was 49 and the child was just a year old.

No 4 Orwell Park, Rathgar (right) … the childhood of JM Synge; his grandmother lived in the neighbouring house (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The widowed Kathleen Synge was left with an income of £400 a year from a Galway property, bolstered by annuities for her children from an uncle. She moved to 4 Orwell Park, Rathgar, to be next door to her mother, Mrs Traill, whose house was afterwards occupied by his sister Annie and her family – maintaining the practice of living together as an extended family of evangelical religious temper under the tutelage of Kathleen.

John was always sickly and was kept at home by his domineering mother who tutored him there. Overshadowed by her through most of his early years, he would live with her for most of his life and even take his holidays with her. For her part, Kathleen Synge was her father’s daughter, a dour evangelical who mixed only in devout circles.

A neighbour wrote: “Mrs Synge conducted her household by a rule as strict as that of a religious order and supposed that her children would acquiesce without question.”

The banks of the River Dodder, behind Orwell Park, inspired Synge’s early interests in nature (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Nevertheless, Synge seems to have had a happy childhood. He developed an interest in nature and in bird-watching as he wandered behind Orwell Park along the banks of the River Dodder, with clusters of wild flowers and a variety of birds and wildlife, and in the grounds of nearby Rathfarnham Castle. Family holidays were spent at the seaside resort of Greystones, Co Wicklow, and at the family estate at Glanmore Castle, Co Wicklow.

The cruel irony for Kathleen Synge was that the long hours of reading she allowed her son to indulge in ultimately took him to Charles Darwin – as a 14 year old he kept The Origin Of The Species hidden under his pillow – and eventually he abandoned his religion completely.

Nos 1 and 2 Newtown Villas … John Millington Synge was born in No 2, the house to the right (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Robert Synge, a brother of the playwright, settled in Argentina as an engineer. Another brother, the Revd Dr Samuel Synge, was a CMS medical missionary in China (1896-1914) with the Church Mission Society (CMS) and the Dublin University Fukien Mission (now the Dublin University Far East Mission), before returning to Co Wicklow as Rector of Deralossary (1923-1951). In his letters to his daughter, he discussed JM Synge’s religious doubts and lack of paternal direction.

A third brother, Edward Synge, became land agent to the Synge estates and later to Lord Gormanston. He was involved in evictions in Galway and Wicklow, causing JM Synge to reproach his mother, to which she replied: “What would become of us if our tenants in Co Galway stopped paying their rents?”

His sister Annie also married a solicitor; an aunt Jane dandled Parnell on her knee and later lamented his politics.

The family later moved to two adjoining houses at Crosswaithe Terrace in Glasthule (Kingstown, Dun Laoghaire), where Mrs Synge continued to instruct her children and grandchildren. She wrote: “John – poor boy ... He had not found the Saviour yet.” He later wrote: “By the time I was 16 or 17, I had renounced Christianity after a good deal of wobbling.”

JM Synge was educated privately, at Mr Harick’s Classical and English School on Upper Leeson Street, and later briefly at Aravon School, Bray, Co Wicklow. The family spent summers in Delgany, Co Wicklow, and later in Duff House, a rented home at Lough Dan.

He studied the violin with Patrick Griffin for two years, and became a student at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, playing the piano, flute and violin and winning awards for counterpoint and harmony.

He entered TCD in 1889 and studied Irish with the Revd James Goodman (1828-1896), an “amiable old clergyman who made him read a crabbed version of the New Testament …” He studied Hebrew in his final year, read George Petrie on Irish antiquities and the Aran Islands, joined the academy orchestra in 1891, and graduated from TCD with a BA (Pass) in 1892.

In 1893, he campaigned against Home Rule in the belief that it would provoke sectarian conflict.

Later, he studied music in Koblenz, Wurzburg and Paris, and then studied literature and languages at the Sorbonne. In 1896, during a return visit to Dublin, he proposed to Cherrie Matheson, the daughter of a leading member of the Plymouth Brethren. Later that year in Paris, he met WB Yeats who encouraged him to visit the Aran Islands.

But in Paris, he also found Maud Gonne’s group – Irlande Libre, with a newspaper of the same name – to be mendacious and gave up attending their meetings. By then, however, he was suffering the first symptoms of Hodgkin’s Disease, and spent much time in hospital.

He travelled to Inishmore and the Aran Islands in 1898, and was invited to Coole Park, where he met Lady Gregory, Yeats, and Edward Martyn that summer 1898. He would spend the late summers of 1899-1902 on the Aran Islands. By coincidence, his uncle, the Revd Alexander Hamilton Synge, had been the Rector of the Aran Island, where he tried to ban Sunday games.

Synge stopped first at Aranmore but soon decided to “move on to Inishmaan, where Gaelic is more generally used and the life is perhaps the most primitive that is left in Europe.” He continued living mainly in Paris, but returned to the Aran Islands regularly.

This was followed in 1902 with two plays, Riders to the Sea and In the Shadow of the Glen, set in Glenmalure, Co Wicklow, near the Synge family home.

He left Paris in 1903 and moved to London. Later that year, In the Shadow of the Glen was staged for the first time by Irish National Theatre at the Molesworth Hall. It was criticised by Arthur Griffith in the United Irishman and other critics in the nationalist press as “a slur on Irish womanhood” and “a vile and inhuman story told in the foulest language we have ever listened to.”

When Riders to the Sea had its premiere in 1904, it was attacked by Patrick Pearse, who described it as “a sinister and unholy gospel.”

He was then living at 31 Crostwaithe Terrace, Glasthule, but he moved to 15 Maxwell Road, Rathmines, later that year.

He was appointed literary adviser to the Abbey Theatre at its foundation in December 1904. He became a director with Yeats and Lady Gregory when the limited liability company was formed in September 1905. His play The Well of the Saints also attacked by nationalists when it was stage at the Abbey in 1905.

Synge spent the summer of 1905 in Ballyferriter, Co Kerry, perfecting his Irish. He moved back to Croswaithe Terrace, in November 1906. At the time, he was writing The Playboy of the Western World, based on the story of a man who killed his father with a [turf-cutting implement.

The Playboy was first produced at the Abbey Theatre on 26 January 1907, with Riders to the Sea as a curtain-raiser, amid riots triggered by the phrase “chosen females in their shifts alone.” At the time, the word “shift” was also used in conversation as reference to Kitty O’Shea and her adultery with Charles Stewart Parnell. The rioters were egged on by a band of Trinity students who sang God Save the King. Theatre seats were torn up, Yeats turned up on the second night to appeal for calm, speaking as “The author of Cathleen Ni Houlihan,” and the Dublin Metropolitan Police were called into the theatre to keep the peace.

But Hodgkin’s Disease was taking its toll. He was working on his play Deirdre of the Sorrows, but spent much time in hospitals and nursing home. He was visited daily by Molly Allgood, aka Máire O’Neill, and they became engaged.

He read the Bible in a brown-paper wrapping during his last days, and he died on 24 March 1909, just short of his 38th birthday, in a private nursing home in Lower Mount Street, Dublin. He was buried in a Synge family grave in Mount Jerome. But the Synge family refused to permit Molly to attend his funeral. Deirdre, which was left uncompleted, was written for her and was performed at the Abbey in January 1910 in a version prepared by Yeats and Molly Allgood.

In his speech accepting the Nobel Award for Literature acceptance speech, Yeats said Synge was “incapable of a political thought or of a humanitarian purpose,” – meaning that he was pure imagination.

In 1927, Vaughan Williams wrote an operatic version of Riders to the Sea, which had its premiere in London in 1937 at the Royal College of Music.

The Abbey Theatre presented Pope John Paul II with a rare edition of The Playboy in 1979, during his visit to Ireland.

Today Newton Villas has been renamed Synge House. No 2 carries a plaque on the outside commemorating Synge’s birth, and Newtown Villas is surrounded by a gated residential scheme.

The plaque on Synge House, No 2 Newton Villas, commemorating JM Synge’s birth in the house (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

For other postings on the architectural heritage of South Dublin see:

Berwick Hall.
The Bottle Tower, Churchtown.
Brookvale House, Rathfarnham.
Camberley House, Churchtown.
Dartry House, Orwell Park, Rathfarnham.
Ely Arch, Rathfarnham.
Ely House, Nutgrove Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Fernhurst, 14 Orwell Road, Rathgar.
Fortfield House, Hyde Park, Terenure.
No 201 Harold’s Cross Road, the birthplace of Richard Allen.
Homestead, Sandyford Road, Dundrum.
Kilvare House, also known as Cheeverstown House, Templeogue Road.
Knocklyon Castle.
Laurelmere Lodge, Marlay Park.
Marlay Park.
Mountain View House, Beaumont Avenue, Churchtown.
Newbrook House, Taylor’s Lane, Rathfarnham.
Old Bawn House, Tallaght.
Rathfarnham Castle.
Sally Park, Fihouse.
Scholarstown House, Knocklyon.
Silveracre House, off Sarah Curran Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Synge House, Newtwon Villas, Churchtown, and No 4 Orwell Park, Rathgar.
Templeogue House.
Washington House, Butterfield Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Westbourne House, off Rathfarnham Road.