27 August 2016

A student’s trail from Pembroke Park
in Dublin to the colleges of Cambridge

The Irish School of Ecumenics was based at 20 Pembroke Park, Ballsbridge, when I was a student (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

When I was a student at the Irish School of Ecumenics over 30 years ago (1982-1984), most of the lectures and almost all of the tutorials took place in Bea House, a large, comfortable Edwardian house on Pembroke Park, between Herbert Park and Clyde Road, Ballsbridge.

Some of our lectures also took place in Milltown Park, the Jesuit college on Sandford Road, which was only a short walk away, along Marlborough Road or through Donnybrook Village and along Belmont Avenue.

Because Pembroke Park was on a corner with Clyde, it was inevitable that the curates of Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbirdge, also enrolled in the courses at the Irish School of Ecumenics, or that students found placements there. The Revd Ted Ardis was was a curate at Saint Bartholomew’s while he and I were students at ISE, and many ISE students found placements with the then Vicar, the Revd (later Archbishop) John Neill.

The ISE house on Pembroke Park was named Bea House after Cardinal Augustin Bea (1881-1968), a German Jesuit and pioneering ecumenist who was the personal confessor of Pope Pius XII. He was a highly influential participant in Vatican II Council in the 1960s and was a decisive force in the drafting of Nostra Aetate, which repudiated anti-Semitism.

One recent Sunday morning, during the gap between presiding at the early Said Eucharist in Saint Bartholomew’s and the Choral Eucharist, I strolled along Clyde Road, turned into Pembroke Park, and soon found myself looking for Bea House. I had forgotten it was No 20, and in the past I had usually approached Pembroke Park from the Herbert Park end. I felt the same dislocation I feel when I go looking for houses I had once stayed in or even lived in at some time in the past. But eventually found the former Bea House.

Bea House was sold a long time ago by the Irish School of Ecumenics, and since then it has been renamed Ardmore. But I recognised the house and could recall many happy days there with affection and with sentiment. There were hours spent in the library, long and lingering cups of coffee with fellow students, tutorial sessions with the academic staff, who then included Robin Boyd, Alan Falconer and Bill McSweeney, who supervised my dissertation for Trinity College Dublin.

After my student days ended in Pembroke Park in the mid-1980s, my associations with the ISE continued as a member of the Academic Council and as editor of ISE’s journal, Unity, and there were meetings with visiting church leaders, including a high-powered group from the Russian Orthodox long before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Pembroke Hall on Pembroke Park ... a reminder of the vast expanse once encompassed by the Pembroke Estate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Pembroke Park is one of the many street names that recall the expansive extent of the Pembroke Estate in this part of Dublin. A whole area of South Dublin around the Grand Canal, Ballsbridge and Sandymount was part of the Pembroke Township, with its own Pembroke Town Hall, and the Pembroke Estate almost coincided with Dublin 4.

Soon after leaving school, I spent some years training as a chartered surveyor with Jones Lang Wootton, which managed the Pembroke Estate. The core of the estate was formed by the Fitzwilliam or Merrion estates, which give their names to Fitzwilliam Square, Fitzwilliam Street, Fitzwilliam Place, Fitzwilliam Lane, Fitzwilliam Quay, on the River Dodder at Ringsend, and to Merrion Square, Merrion Street, Merrion Row, Merrion Road, the Merrion Gates, Merrion Strand, Mount Merrion and Mount Merrion Avenue.

The Fitzwilliam estate was inherited through marriage by the Herbert family, Earls of Pembroke, and they in turn gave their names to Herbert Park, Herbert Street, Herbert Place, Herbert Avenue and Herbert Road, and to Pembroke Park, Upper and Lower Pembroke Street, Pembroke Lane, Pembroke Row, Pembroke Road, Pembroke Gardens, Pembroke Street in Irishtown, and the numerous Pembroke Cottages throughout South Dublin.

The Herbert family estates in Wiltshire also give their name to Wilton Place and Wilton Terrace, while one family member, Sidney Herbert (1853-1813), 14th Earl of Pembroke, gave his name to Sydney Avenue, Sydney Terrace and Sydney Parade Avenue. Family marriages also explain a number of other street names in the area, including Lansdowne Road, Shelbourne Road and Bath Avenue.

A house beside the former ISE house on Pembroke Park, Ballsbridge is known as Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The Fitzwilliam Museum is one of the main cultural buildings in Cambridge, and so it was interesting to see that Sunday morning that the house next to the former Bea House is called Cambridge.

I am spending the next week on study leave in Cambridge, taking part in the annual summer school at Sidney Sussex College organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, and so the journey from ISE to Cambridge may circuitous or short, depending on how I look at it, and how I make connections between student days in Dublin and Cambridge that are separated by more than 30 years.

One other name on the Pembroke Estate in Dublin also reveals another Cambridge connection. Cherbury Court and Cherbury Gardens, Cherbury Court and Cherbury Mews off Booterstown Avenue in Blackrock stand on the site of a house that was called Herbert House on maps from 1829 to 1842, and Cherbury on later maps. The house was demolished in the 1970s, but its name survives in these street names and recalls the title of Lord Herbert of Cherbury held in the Herbert family from 1624 to 1691, from 1694 to 1734, once more from 1743 to 1801, and again from 1804.

The poet, philosopher and diplomat Edward Herbert (1583-1648), 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury, was the elder brother of the Anglican priest and poet George Herbert (1593-1633), who was educated at Trinity College Cambridge and graduated in 1613.

His spirituality is the Anglican Via Media or Middle Way par excellence. His poetry is constantly evident of the intimacy of his dealings with God and his assurance that, alone in a vast universe, he is held safe by the Crucified Christ.

Herbert stands alongside John Jewel, Richard Hooker and Lancelot Andrewes for his profound influence on the Caroline Divines, including John Cosin and Jeremy Taylor, and he is counted with John Donne as one of the great metaphysical poets. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote of Herbert’s diction that ‘Nothing can be more pure, manly, or unaffected.’ The poet laureate WH Auden wrote of him: ‘His poetry is the counterpart of Jeremy Taylor’s prose: together they are the finest expressions of Anglican piety at its best.’

On his deathbed, George Herbert sent the manuscript of A Priest to the Temple (or The Country Parson) to his friend, Nicholas Ferrar, who had been a student at Clare College (then Clare Hall), where I am staying tonight.

Suffering from poor health, George Herbert died of tuberculosis on 1 March 1633 at the age of 40, less than three years after being ordained priest. An inscription found in his rectory at Bemerton in Wiltshire after his death reads:

To My Successor:

If thou chance for to find
A new House to thy mind,
And built without thy cost;
Be good to the Poor
As God gives thee store,
And then my Labour’s not lost.

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