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)