26 May 2017

Finding memories interleaved
with old books on bookshelves

With Stephen Hilliard in a photograph from ‘The Irish Times’ in 1986

Patrick Comerford

With new bookshelves now in place in the seminar room in the Rectory in Askeaton, I have spent some time each day clearing books out of boxes stacked away under the stairs, where they have been stored for weeks.

There is still some work to do, as the books have come out of the boxes randomly and now need to be moved around so that they are in some themed ordering and so that I can now find what I am looking for.

I am sure others can identify with the feelings I have when I cannot find a book today, but can still remember where it was in the flat where I lived in in Wexford in the 1970s, or the first house I bought in Dublin in the late 1970s.

It was a difficult moment in Dublin a few weeks ago as I closed the door of my former study in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute in Dublin, handed back my keys and left behind shelves lined with hundreds of books I knew I was unlikely to use here but that would be useful to my successor or former colleagues.

So many of my books carry emotions and memories across time and place. Quite often I have not only write my name on a book when I buy it but also the date and place where I bought it.

I constantly mark travel books with notes of where I have eaten, the room numbers of hotels I am staying in, or the dates I have visited towns, museums or archaeological sites. I use tickets and receipts to mark my place in books I am reading as I travel, and so when I open a book some years later, out may fall a train ticket, a bus ticket or a ticket to a gallery or the opera, or the business card from a café, and the holiday or working visit comes back to life again.

As I was moving some books around the new bookshelves in the Rectory in Askeaton late one evening this week, out fell a group photograph taken in editorial offices of The Irish Times over 30 years ago.

It seems to have taken on the day a presentation was made to Stephen Hilliard shortly before he left The Irish Times and was ordained deacon, so it was probably taken in 1986.

In the printing world, a presentation marking a departure like this was known as a ‘knockdown.’ This photographs shows colleagues from the Foreign Desk and the Chief Sub-Editors Desk that afternoon. I can identify (from left): Paul Gillespie (on the phone), myself, Liam McAuley, Gerard Smyth, Johnny Hughes, Ray Crowley, Malachy Logan, Sean O’Toole, Stephen Hilliard, Arminta Wallace, Noel Costello, Mary Morrissy and Patrick (Paddy) Smith.

I was 34 at the time. Stephen and I were studying theology at that time: he had completed a BD at London and was finishing his Diploma in Theology at the Church of Ireland Theological College and Trinity College Dublin; I had a year to go before finishing my BD at Maynooth.

Stephen was ordained deacon in 1986 and priest in 1987. He was a curate in the Christ Church Cathedral group of parishes (1986-1987) with Canon Pat Carmody, and then with Archdeacon Gordon Linney in Glenageary (1987-1988), before being appointed Rector of Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, in 1988. He died on 9 January 1990 following an attack by intruders in the rectory in Rathdrum.

Stephen had been a faithful member of the congregation in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, and so as I was writing about the celebrations at Saint Bartholomew’s yesterday, coming across this photograph at the same time was even more poignant.

Some of us in this photograph contributed five years later to True to Type, a collection of short stories published in 1991 as a tribute to Stephen, edited by Fergus Brogan and launched by Gordon Linney. The other 17 contributors to that book were: Maeve Binchy, Deaglan de Breaduin, Fergus Brogan, Declan Burke-Kennedy, Joe Culley, Mary Cummins, Kieran Fagan, Brendan Glacken, Tom Glennon, Mary Maher, Seamus Martin, Mary Morrissy, Eugene McEldowney, Noel McFarlane, Padraig O Morain, Arthur Reynolds and Paddy Woodworth.

Stephen Hilliard was proud of his family connection with another former journalist, the Revd Robert Martin (Bob) Hilliard (1904-1937), who fought in the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War and was killed in the Battle of Jarama on 14 February 1937. Bob’s bravery was remembered by Christy Moore and Luke Kelly in the song Vive La Quinte Brigada.

Stephen was also a grandson of the Revd George Frederick Hamilton, Rector of Ballingarry, Co Limerick (1923-1931), now part of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes, while his great-grandfather, Archdeacon Frederic Charles Hamilton (1828-1904) had at one time been Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (1878-1883).

It is interesting how we can follow in each others’ steps.

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