31 October 2017

A ruined castle in Ballingarry is
a reminder of the ‘Wild Geese’

The ruins of the de Lacy castle at Ballingarry … a reminder of the ‘Wild Geese’ who fled Ireland after the Treaty of Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

There is a number of towns and villages throughout this parish that once had a Church of Ireland parish church. Although those churches have closed, the towns and villages are still within the parish, and they often have resident parishioners.

After the united group Eucharist in Rathkeale on Sunday, two of us visited Ballingarry, which is 8 or 9 km south of Rathkeale, on the road towards Charleville. We were in search of the former Church of Ireland parish church, but ended up looking at the two parish churches, the ruins of the old castle built by the de Lacy, some interesting Victorian shopfronts, and The Turret, a curious family home dating back to the 17th century, but with a story that dates back many more centuries.

In early records, Ballingarry is referred to originally as ‘Garth,’ and the variations used over time include Gare, Gorth, Garry, Garrystown and Ballingarrie. The name Ballingarry is rendered in Irish as Baile an Gharraí, or the ‘Town of the Gardens.’

Ballingarry was originally a walled mediaeval settlement. Often, the gardens and lands of mediaeval town lay outside the town walls, but in Ballingarry they lay inside the walls, giving rise to the Anglo-Norman and Gaelic names such as La Garthe and Baile an Gharrai.

In the Middle Ages, there was a number of religious houses in the area. The earliest of these houses is said to have been founded by Donough Carbrae O’Brien for the Conventual Franciscans, although it is generally believed that Fitzgerald, Lord of Clenlis, founded the house. The FitzGeralds founded a Cistercian abbey dedicated to the Blessed Virgin in 1198.

On the streets of Ballingarry, once a mediaeval walled town with gardens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The name of Knight Street is said to recall a former Priory of the Knights Templar, who are also said to have had a house on the site of Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton. Samuel Lewis says the preceptory of Knights Templars was founded here in 1172. After the suppression of the order in 1304, the preceptory was granted to the Knights Hospitallers.

Garth was also one of the six deaneries in the Diocese of Limerick in the 13th century, and at the time consisted of 12 parishes.

The de Lacy family is mentioned on record as far back as the early 14th century, and it is likely then that Ballingarry owes its existence to the illustrious Norman family settling there.

Ballingarry Castle is still referred to as the de Lacy Castle. The castle is situated off Knight Street, and for generations was the home of the family, who are said to have fled Ireland as part of the Flight of the Wild Geese in the 1690s after the Treaty of Limerick.

Ballingarry and the castle are said to have been destroyed at an early time by ‘Irish foes and English rebels.’ But the castle and the town were rebuilt in the 15th century. In 1408, King Henry IV gave the bailiffs of Ballingarry (Garth) taxes and customs to repair the defences and to wall the town, as unwalled settlements like this were vulnerable to attacks from hostile neighbours.

Ballingarry Castle became a stronghold of the FitzGeralds or Geraldines of Desmond while it was held by the de Lacy family, who were related by intermarriage. In 1569, the castle garrison of 40 soldiers was slaughtered and the castle was captured for Queen Elizabeth I by Captain John Ward.

The castle was forfeited by the de lacy family after the defeat of the Earl of Desmond in 1583, but was soon pardoned and later reinstated. In the years that followed, however, Ballingarry Castle changed ownership several times. In 1607, John de Lacy surrendered the castle and his lands to Richard Boyle (1566-1643), Earl of Cork, although the family seems to have continued to live there under terms of surrender and regrant.

On 19 May 1630, the Earl of Cork leased Ballingarry Castle, as well as the lands, rectory and tithes, to David de Lacy, son of John de Lacy, for 21 years at a rent of £75. But Boyle reserved the patronage of the living to himself, granting it to his cousin, Richard Boyle (1574-1645), Archdeacon of Limerick (1605), Bishop of Cork (1620), and Archbishop of Tuam (1638).

The de Lacy family was still living at Ballingarry Castle when William Lacie lost the lands and titles with the Cromwellian confiscations in the 1650s. Further losses followed with the Jacobite and Williamite wars.

As the de Lacy family was being forced to leave Ballingarry, the Odell family, who were among the first settlers of the Munster Plantation, became the most eminent family in the Ballingarry area and remained prominent for several centuries.

Major John Odell became the landlord of Ballingarry and Castletown in 1667 after he bought a long lease on Ballingarry, including lands confiscated from the de Lacy family. He was High Sheriff of Limerick in 1678-1679, and he and his family lived in the de Lacy castle before building ‘The Turret’ and moving there in 1683-1685.

Major Odell was a cousin of William Odell, a colonel in the Limerick Militia and MP for Limerick for 26 years, as well as High Sheriff of Limerick.

Meanwhile, after the Siege of Limerick, many members of the de Lacy family became ‘Wild Geese,’ joining armies across Europe, including Spain, Austria, Russia and beyond. Count Peter von Lacy (1678-1751), who had been born into the de Lacy family in Co Limerick, fought with fame and distinction as a Russian imperial commander under Peter the Great and was Governor of Riga.

Until the early 19th century, the de Lacy castle served as the glebe house in Ballingarry and was lived in by the Rectors of Ballingarry, giving it the alternative name of Parson’s Castle. It must be the most unusual former rectory within my parish. The castle was repaired in 1820s, and then served as a barracks during local disturbances in 1827; it was later used as a hospital during a cholera epidemic.

Ballingarry had become a booming economic centre, with a thriving linen and weaving industry and a vibrant farming sector. Ballingarry had 1,700 residents, including weavers, boot-makers, carpenters, harness-makers, smiths, nail-makers and chain-makers, and it was said 1,500 linen looms were active in the town in the early 19th century. But the Great Famine (1845-1849) decimated the local population and destroyed local industry. By the 1890s, the population of Ballingarry had fallen to under 700.

In the mid-19th century, Castle Lane was a fashionable part of Ballingarry, and Dr Robert Odell lived in the castle for many years with his wife and children. But the castle has since been abandoned, and has crunbled, and in recent years was used as a cowshed.

Today, the ruins of the de Lacy castle are abandoned, and a ‘No Entry’ sign on a gate topped with barbed wire has toppled down and has been trampled across. The sleepy village retains many of its colourful Victorian shopfronts and its attractive streetscapes, and also boasts a celebrated restaurant and country house hotel. We went off in search of ‘The Turret’ and the two parish churches.

Ballingarry Castle changed hands over the centuries, but now stands in ruins (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

95 facts or myths about
Martin Luther 500 years
after his 95 theses

A Lutheran Mass, with Martin Luther preaching, depicted in the Altarpiece of the Church of Torslunde in Denmark, 1561

Patrick Comerford

Martin Luther proposed an academic discussion of indulgences when he posted his 95 Theses on 31 October 1517. Myth now says that on that day 500 years ago, he nailed those 95 Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, although in reality Luther had sent them to the Archishop of Mainz in an effort to stimulate debate.

Here are 95 points to mark today’s 500th anniversary:

1, In a recent feature in The Guardian, the Irish-born historian Dr Christopher Kissane wrote about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and Martin Luther posting his ‘95 Theses’ in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517. He pointed out that this anniversary is ‘an opportunity for reflection’ and ‘a chance to heal old wounds.’

2, Martin Luther is unlikely to have nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Schlosskirche (Castle Church) in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517. In reality, he may have simply dispatched them to the Archbishop of Mainz by courier.

3, Luther may not have expected much of a response, because the powers of the Archbishop of Mainz were extremely limited in Wittenberg. Both the Elector’s All Hallows’ Foundation (tomorrow, 1 November, is the Feast of All Saints) and the parish church had held papal privileges since 1400, and these were extended to the university on its foundation in 1502.

4, Martin Luther (1483-1546) was born in Eisleben, Saxony, on 10 November 1483 and was named Martin because he was baptised the bext day, 11 November, the Feast of Saint Martin of Tours. His father’s Hans Luder (or Ludher), and he only later spelt his name Luther; his mother’s name Margarethe Lindemann.

5, Luther grew up in a Church in which calls for reform were already a commonplace. In 1512, Pope Julius II summoned the Fifth Lateran Council, which continued until 1517. This was, in part, a reaction to what the Pope saw as the illegitimate Council of Pisa of 1511, which had been called by the King of France.

6, Throughout the Western Church at the time, many bishops were also trying to reform their dioceses.

7, Luther was not the first reformer to emphasise the importance of preaching. Many mayors and city councils were appointing preachers, often Augustinian, Franciscan and Dominican friars, who were instructed to deliver sermons in the language of the people.

8, Martin Luther prayed to the saints: in 1505, he was caught in a thunderstorm, struck by a lightning bolt and thrown from his horse. He was terrified of death and divine judgment, and cried out: ‘Help! Saint Anna, I will become a monk.’

9, Luther joined the Augustinian order as a friar on 17 July 1505, was ordained in 1507 at the age of 24, and completed his doctorate in Wittenberg in 1512. During that time, he also visited Rome in 1510, and had his ‘Tower Experience’ (Turmerlebnis) which was a major changing moment in his life.

10, Luther wrote his 95 Theses in Latin, the language of academia and the Church. They could be read only by the educated clergy and by those who had received a Latin education.

11, A German translation of the 95 Theses was not made until Christmas 1517, when they were translated by a Nuremberg city councillor, Kaspar Nützel.

12, Luther’s subsequent decision to begin writing in German led to a string of pastoral works in 1518-1519, including explications of the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer, an instruction on Confession, and a series of ‘sermons’ or short treatises on Baptism, the Eucharist, Penance, and Marriage. These were short, accessible works that could be read by those who were literate, and read aloud to those who were not.

13, Much of what is accepted as Lutheran theology, including the Augsburg Confession, is actually the work of Luther’s more intellectual contemporary Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560).

14, Luther was willing to exaggerate, if not lie, about the Papacy. In Rome in the Middle Ages, unwanted infants were passed into the hospital at the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia through a revolving, barrel-like door, the rota. When Martin Luther visited the hospital in 1511, he was shocked by what he saw. But he exaggerated the reports he heard and claimed the unwanted babies were the Pope’s own children.

15, Luther’s theological insights are often summarised in the ‘Three Solas’ or the ‘Five Solas’: Sola Scriptura (the Bible alone); Sola Fide (Faith alone); and Sola Gratia (Grace alone). To these, some add Solo Christo (‘through Christ alone’) and Soli Deo Gloria (‘to the glory of God alone’).

16, The ‘Three Solas’ were not identified systematically until the 20th century, and the ‘Five Solas’ are not listed together until 1965.

17, Luther gave primacy to Scripture, but does not ignore tradition. He had a very full grasp of Patristic writings. He chose Scripture over innovation that has no Scriptural foundation.

18, Luther was not innovative, and is not setting up a new Church. He stands in a long line of tradition that includes Francis of Assisi and the Brothers of the Common Life.

19, Luther retained sacramental confession.

20, Luther rejected Transubstantiation, but it was not defined in the present understanding until the 13th session of the Council of Trent in 1551, more than five years after Luther’s death.

21, Luther accepted the concept of ‘Real Presence’ and that the Eucharist is genuine participation in the life of Christ. There were other definitions and understandings of ‘Real Presence’ and they are held to this day, for example, within the Eastern Orthodox Church, without being considered heretical by Rome.

22, Writing about the Eucharist, Luther asks: ‘Now what is the Sacrament of the Altar?’ And he answers: ‘It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, in and under the bread and wine which we Christians are commanded by the Word of Christ to eat and to drink ...’

23, In the Large Catechism, Luther says: If a hundred thousand devils, together with all fanatics, should rush forward, crying, How can bread and wine be the body and blood of Christ? etc., I know that all spirits and scholars together are not as wise as is the Divine Majesty in His little finger. Now here stands the Word of Christ: Take, eat; this is My body; Drink ye all of it; this is the new testament in My blood, etc. Here we abide, and would like to see those who will constitute themselves His masters, and make it different from what He has spoken. It is true, indeed, that if you take away the Word or regard it without the words, you have nothing but mere bread and wine. But if the words remain with them, as they shall and must, then, in virtue of the same, it is truly the body and blood of Christ. For as the lips of Christ say and speak, so it is, as He can never lie or deceive.

24, But Luther moves the Eucharist from being a ritual action passively observed to a genuine participation by all present.

25, Luther emphasises the holiness of the everyday life of work, family and citizenship.

26, The Church has always been in a state of being reformed, although the principle of ecclesia semper reformanda, which has been attributed not to the Reformers but to Saint Augustine, is not one of Luther’s sayings. It was used only for the first time by Karl Barth in 1947, and then adapted by Hans Küng in the 1960s.

27, One early reformer was Pope Gregory the Great, one of the Doctors of the Church, who reformed the liturgy and structures of the Western and sent Saint Augustine on his mission to England.

28, From the mid-14th century, John Wycliffe and the Lollards were demanding Reform, and William Tyndale, who worked on an early translation of the Bible, was executed before the Anglican Reformation began.

29, In England, from the mid-14th century, the Lollards were demanding Reform under the leadership of John Wycliffe. He was a contemporary of Julian of Norwich, an early champion of women’s voices in the Church. Although she lived and wrote a century before Luther and Calvin, she may be seen as an early forerunner of the Anglican Reformation.

30, William Tyndale, who worked on an early translation of the Bible, was executed before the Reformation began. His prominence in Protestant folklore sometimes eclipses the influence of Desiderius Erasmus.

31, Long before Luther is said to have nailed his theses to the door of the Church in Wittenberg in 1517, Desiderius Erasmus was at Queens’ College, Cambridge. There between 1511 and 1514, Erasmus translated his new Greek and Latin versions of the New Testament that would inspire the kind of Bible study that created an interest in Luther’s writings and theology.

32, Erasmus remained a Roman Catholic priest, but through his work on the Greek New Testament in Cambridge while he was Professor of Divinity, he made the Bible accessible to the Anglican Reformers and he helped to stimulate an interest in Luther’s work.

33, Luther’s marriage to Katharina von Bora, a former nun, challenged clerical celibacy but also gave him six children. That marriage to a nun and a Roman Catholic would deny him membership if he applied to join many later Protestant organisations.

34, Until Luther, Faith was understood not as individual assent but as the Faith delivered to the apostles, preserved in the Church and expressed in the Creeds. But his emphasis on individual faith, conscience and interpretation made an insightful contribution to the Enlightenment.

35, The locus classicus of Luther’s doctrine of salvation by faith alone is found in the ‘Introduction’ he wrote to Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, as part of Luther’s famous translation of the Bible of 1522.

36, Luther’s concept of ‘justification by grace’ was largely accepted by Vatican II in the 1960s. ‘It took us only 450 years to see Luther’s point,’ says the Catholic theologian John Borelli of Georgetown University. ‘In many ways, Vatican II was Luther's council.’

37, Luther did not see eye-to-eye with many other Reformers. When Luther and Zwingli met at the Marburg Colloquy, they agreed on many points of doctrine, but they did not reach an accord on the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

38, The most cogent critique of Luther came from King Henry VIII. For his tract Assertio Septem Sacramentum (A Defence of the Seven Sacraments), written in 1520, Henry VIII was honoured by Pope Leo X with the title Fidei Defensor, Defender of the Faith, on 11 October 1521.

39, Prompted by Christian II, the exiled king of Denmark, Luther sent a letter of apology to Henry VIII in September 1525. But a royal letter of ridicule and rebuke followed 10 months later. By 1527, however, Henry’s views were changing. He wanted a male heir and also wanted to marry Anne Boleyn in the hope that she would become the mother of a male heir.

40, Luther concluded that the king was bound under pain of eternal damnation to retain the wife he had married. But the divorce issue was settled for Henry in 1533 when Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, dissolved the marriage to Catherine of Aragon and declared the king lawfully married to Anne Boleyn.

41, In 1521, the Archbishop of Canterbury received complaints that Oxford was infested with Lutheranism. But Cambridge became the nursery of the English Reformation, and many of the English reformers and some of the early martyrs were students and scholars there.

42, The White Horse Inn, on a site that is now part of King’s College, Cambridge, became the meeting place for these young scholars from 1521. Because of their interest in Luther’s writings and theology, the White Horse Inn became known as ‘Little Germany.’

43, A future bishop in the Church of Ireland was among the Cambridge scholars who met at the White House. They included Thomas Cranmer, future Archbishop of Canterbury, Miles Coverdale, translator of the Bible into English, Matthew Parker, later Archbishop of Canterbury, William Tyndale, Bible translator, the martyr Hugh Latimer, and John Bale, later Bishop of Ossory.

44, Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) was six years Luther’s junior, and was martyred 10 years after Luther’s death. As a student in Cambridge, Erasmus was one of his favourite authors, but it was Luther who drew his attention to the Scriptures.

45, Hans Holbein’s painting of the Ambassadors (1533) shows the ambassadors at the court of Henry VIII standing on the floor mosaic of Westminster Abbey, with not one but two globes, and Luther’s Book of Psalms.

46, Luther rejected the centuries-old consensus on the canon of Scripture. He relegated many canonical books of the Old Testament to the Apocrypha, and tried to remove Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation from the New Testament because they challenged his views on Sola Gratia and Sola Fide.

47, Luther’s followers rejected these proposals, but they changed the order of the books, which remain last in the German-language Luther Bible. It should be asked whether Luther tried to shape the Bible to fit his theology rather than allowing the Bible to shape his theology?

48, Luther’s translation of the Bible was completed in 1534. It helped to standardise the modern German language, was a landmark in German literature and contributed to shaping German cultural and national identity.

49, Martin Luther’s Marian theology was developed out of the deep Marian devotion he experienced in his childhood and in his training for the priesthood. Later, it became an integral part of his theology and piety.

50, Luther asserted dogmatically what he considered firmly established biblical doctrines, including the divine motherhood of Virgin Mary and held to what were then pious opinions about the Immaculate Conception and the perpetual virginity of Mary, although they only became dogmatic teachings of the Roman Catholic Church as recently as the 19th and 20th centuries.

51, But Luther also taught that all doctrine and piety should exalt and not diminish the person and work of Jesus Christ. He emphasised that the Virgin Mary was a recipient of God’s love and favour, but could not see her as a mediatrix of intercession or redemption.

52, Luther accepted the Marian decrees of the ecumenical councils and the dogmas of the Church, and held to the belief that the Virgin Mary was a perpetual virgin.

53, Luther accepted the then-popular view of the Immaculate Conception, over three centuries before Pope Pius IX declared it a dogma in 1854, and he believed in the Virgin Mary’s life-long sinlessness.

54, Although Luther pointed out that the Bible says nothing about the Assumption of Mary, he believed that Virgin Mary and the saints live on after death.

55, In his Commentary on the Magnificat (1521), Luther extolled the magnitude of God’s grace towards the Virgin Mary and her own legacy of Christian instruction and example demonstrated in this canticle of praise.

56, Luther wrote a number of pious poems that focus on the Virgin Mary’s virginity, and translated into German old devotional Latin hymns about her.

57, Luther approved keeping Marian paintings and statues in churches, said ‘Mary prays for the Church,’ and advocated the use of the portion half of the ‘Hail Mary.’

58, Throughout his life, Luther called the Virgin Mary by the title Theotokos, Mother of God. He believed that as Christ was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was ‘born of the Virgin Mary,’ then she is the Theotokos, the God-bearer.

59, Luther’s cultural legacy is also found in the arts, including church architecture, painting and music. The altar pieces in Wittenberg and Weimar are among the great works by Lucas Cranach (1472-1553), who also painted the best-known portrait of Luther. His contemporaries included Matthias Grünewald (1470-1528) and Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528).

60, Luther was a singer, lute player and prolific hymn-writer. His best-known hymn is ‘A mighty fortress is our God,’ and many of his hymns were set to music later by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).

61, Luther wrote several hymns, and it could be said he inaugurated congregational singing in church.

62, One ugly, unacceptable side of Luther is his antisemitism. His virulent anti-Jewish writings helped shape German, European and Christian expressions of anti-Semitism.

63, Luther’s language in On the Jews and Their Lies (1543) is vile as he claims the Jews are full of the ‘devil’s faeces ... which they wallow in like swine.’ He calls for synagogues and schools to be set on fire, homes razed, prayer books destroyed, rabbis forbidden to preach, property and money confiscated.

64, It is shocking to read Luther as he says Jews should be shown no mercy or kindness, afforded no legal protection and advocates their murder: ‘We are at fault in not slaying them.’

65, At an early stage in his life, Luther had very different views. In 1519 he challenged the view known as Servitus Judaeorum (‘Servitude of the Jews’), established in Corpus Juris Civilis by Justinian I (529–534). He wrote: ‘Absurd theologians defend hatred for the Jews. … What Jew would consent to enter our ranks when he sees the cruelty and enmity we wreak on them – that in our behaviour towards them we less resemble Christians than beasts?’

66, In 1523, he condemned the inhuman treatment of the Jews and urged Christians to treat them kindly. He wrote: ‘If I had been a Jew and had seen such dolts and blockheads govern and teach the Christian faith, I would sooner have become a hog than a Christian. They have dealt with the Jews as if they were dogs rather than human beings.’

67, Later, however, Luther campaigned against the Jews in Saxony, Brandenburg and Silesia, and in Wittenberg in 1543 he published his 65,000-word treatise On the Jews and Their Lies. There, he says that the Jews are a ‘base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth.’

68, Later, in Of the Unknowable Name and the Generations of Christ, he uses ugly imagery as he equates Jews with the Devil.

69, Luther’s views informed the foundation for Nazi attacks on Jews in the 1930s and 1940s. The historian Diarmaid MacCulloch says Luther provided a blueprint for the Kristallnacht, when Lutheran bishops applauded the burning of synagogues on Luther’s birthday, 10 November 1938. Bishop Martin Sasse of Thuringia and many other bishops, pastors and theologians used Luther’s writings to call for a ‘de-Judaised’ form of Christianity and to justify early Nazi measures against the Jews.

70, On the other hand, one of the towering figures of the 20th century was Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), the Lutheran theologian who died in a concentration camp for his resistance to Hitler and the Nazis.

71, Luther was also a misogynist and he condoned polygamy based on his interpretation of the practice of the patriarchs in the Old Testament.

72, The Lutheran influence that was dominant in the early Reformation in England diminished during the reign of Edward VI, when England became a haven for religious refugees, including Martin Bucer from Strasburg, who had once tried to bring Luther and Zwingli together and who influenced Calvin’s doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.

73, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer invited Melanchthon and Calvin to England for a conference to discuss a united confession. But that conference never took place. The Lutherans were unfriendly to these exiles because of their denial of the real presence, and the heirs of exiles were among the later Puritans rather than among the Anglicans.

74,Thomas Cranmer drew on Lutheran catechisms, litanies, and liturgies as he compiled the Book of Common Prayer.

75, The 39 Articles were strongly influenced by phrases and sentences in the Augsburg Confession, and the Lutheran imprint is impressed on the Book of Common Prayer and the Anglican form of liturgy and worship to this day.

76, Since 1930, there has been full communion between the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden and the member churches of the Anglican Communion. The contacts maintained by Bonhoeffer and Bishop George Bell through Swedish mediation laid the foundations for the World Council of Churches.

77, Today, there is full communion between the Anglican churches in Europe and the Episcopal Lutheran churches through the Porvoo Communion, which brings together 15 churches. There are similar agreements in the US and Canada.

78, Luther’s primary demands were for an end to Church corruption, particularly in the abuse of Papal authority and the ‘sale’ of indulgences; the administration of Holy Communion under both forms of bread and wine; access to the Bible in the common language; and an end to compulsory clerical celibacy. In recent decades, the Vatican has resolved most of these debates, including even clerical celibacy, albeit in a limited and restricted way

79, ‘True Christians participate in all the blessings of Christ and the church, and this is granted to them by God even without indulgence letters,’ Luther wrote (Thesis 37). Such letters, he wrote, ‘are nets with which one fishes for the wealth of people’ (Thesis 66). In 1567, Pope Pius V abolished the sale of indulgences.

80, Many of the later divisive dogmas were not key issues at the Reformation, including the Immaculate Conception (1854), Papal Infallibility (1870) and the Assumption (1950).

81, In 1999, the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church issued the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, agreeing on Justification and lifting Roman Catholic anathemas that once applied to Lutherans. The declaration followed earlier affirmations of a shared, common faith, including the declaration on the Eucharist (1978).

82, Pope Francis recently spoke favourably about the process of dialogue, although there is still some way to go before the divisions of the past five centuries are healed.

83, Martin Luther’s reforms initially attracted widespread popular sympathy, but ultimately his success and the continuation of his ideas were guaranteed because of the support of secular princes and city magistrates.

84, ‘Catholics should do penance for setting the stage for the [division],’ says Bishop Denis Madden of Baltimore, who heads the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. ‘It was not out of the blue that [Luther's protest] happened. The society, the church, the way things were being done at that time, called for reform, and there were very few courts of appeal where that reform could begin.’

85, In 2015, a ‘Declaration on the Way to Unity’ identified 32 issues on which Roman Catholics and Lutherans are approaching convergence.

86, A year ago, on 31 October 2016, Lutheran and Roman Catholic leaders held a joint ecumenical prayer service in Sweden, launching this year-long commemoration of the Reformation. Both continue to hope for an agreement that is going to allow Lutherans and Roman Catholics to celebrate Communion together.

87, Lutheran leaders have approached the Reformation anniversary with humility. ‘We’ve had to say that breaking up the western church was not a gift to the church,’ says the Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest of the Lutheran denominations.

88, There are still deep divisions within Lutheranism. Neither the Missouri Synod nor the Wisconsin Synod, for example, are yet willing to invite those who do not share all their beliefs, including other Lutherans, to share Communion.

89, Luther shaped the German language. His German Bible is for the German language what Chaucer, Shakespeare and the King James Bible are for English, or what Dante is for Italian.

90, Luther’s writings triggered wars and civil turmoil and wars throughout Europe. But he died in his own bed early on the morning of 18 February 1546, and was buried beneath the pulpit in the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

91, Although the Edict of Worms condemned Luther as a heretic, he escaped death as a heretic. Which just goes to shows how complex interaction between political and religious motives shaped and enabled the Reformation.

92, Unlike most scholars of his time, Luther was both interested in and knowledgeable about the technology of printing. He knew the economics of the business, cared about the aesthetics and presentation of books and understood the importance of what we now call brand-building.

93, Luther and theology aside, we could say the Reformation caused more than a religious rift. It has been said recently that through the world’s first ‘viral’ media campaign, the Reformation also transformed architecture, sparked the notion of secular democracy, and began to empower women in the Church.

94, Luther enjoyed his beer. He wrote: ‘Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!’

95, Luther suffered from constant, chronic constipation. Legend says he was inspired to write his 95 theses while seated comfortably on the chamber pot. That cannot be confirmed, but in 2004 archaeologists discovered Luther’s lavatory, which was remarkably modern for its day, featuring a heated-floor system and a primitive drain.

Saint Finian’s Lutheran Church, Adelaide Road, Dublin ... the Lutheran Church in Ireland dates from the late 17th century and a pastor from Hamburg who came to Ireland as military chaplain in the army of William III (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

30 October 2017

An autumn afternoon
in Birdhill, Ireland’s
tidiest town and village

Birdhill was voted this year’s Tidiest Town in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

On the road from Dublin to Askeaton at the end of last week, two of us stopped for lunch at Matt the Thresher in Birdhill, one of the best-known gastropubs in Ireland.

At one time, a huge volume of traffic passed through on the village on the N7. Now the village is at a junction on the R445 (formerly the N7), about 20 km from Limerick City, and close to the M7, just two minutes off exit 27.

The M7 has diverted much of that traffic from Birdhill, making it a quiet and tranquil village. The hills to the south-west stretch down to the banks of River Shannon, surrounded by woods and grassland, meadows and stonewalls, streams and rivers, with a rich variety of wildlife and views of Lough Derg.

Birdhill was named the ‘Tidiest Village’ in the Tidy Towns Awards in 2007, 2008, 2016 and again in 2017, and the village also took the overall award this year and was named Ireland’s ‘Tidiest Town.’ But when it was named this year, it stirred a humorous conversation on one radio chatshow about tidy towns, tidy villages and tidy crossroads.

Birdhill (Cnocán an Éin Fhinn, the Little Hill of the Fair Bird) is a small and picturesque village between Limerick and Nenagh, 5 km from Killaloe to the north, and 7 or 8 km from Newport to its south.

Birdhill takes its name from a mythical encounter between Oisín of the Fianna and a giant bird that was causing widespread destruction in the area. Birdhill is in the Barony of Owney and Arra, between Lower Ormond to the north, whose principal town is Cloghjordan, and Upper Ormond to the east, whose principal town is Nenagh.

Matt the Thresher takes its name from a character in Charles Kickham’s book ‘Knocknagow’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The village uses as its motto ‘For the sake of the little village,’ words spoken by Matt the Thresher in Charles Kickham’s book Knocknagow.

Matt the Thresher has been providing award-winning food under the family-run team of Ted and Kay Moynihan since 1987, and was the perfect place to stop for a bite to eat. It was voted Best Gastro Pub 2010.

The building is an attractive component of the local streetscape due to its location, form and massing. Its stepped roofline and decorative detail such as the bargeboards and windows add interest.

This detached multi-phase house was built around 1890 and the first vintner’s licence for the premises was granted in 1891 to Martin Hassett, who also ran a general provisions and light hardware store from the building, as well as a bakery, a taxi service, and Birdhill’s first post office.

Bill Hassett ran a bicycle repair shop nearby until he died in 1973 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The bar and grocery business was continued by Martin Hassett’s daughter, Mary Anne Bradshaw – better known as ‘Babe’ – from 1927 to 1964. But the premises closed in the second half of the 1960s, and Babe died in 1972. Meanwhile, her brother Bill Hassett has been running a bicycle repair shop nearby until he died the following year.

The pub was refurbished and reopened in 1975 by the Crowe family from Broad Street, Limerick, who renamed it the Old Pike. In 1978, the licence was transferred to Peter Laffey.

In 1985, the premises were bought by Tony Ryan of GPA (Guinness Peat Aviation) and Ryanair. He carried out major renovations on the pub, and reopened it as an ‘olde worlde’ style gastropub with the name Matt the Thresher after the character in Charles Kickham’s Knocknagow.

Initially, the pub was managed by Denis O’Brien, Tony Ryan’s personal assistant. In 1987, it was acquired by Ted and Kay Moynihan, who developed it into a popular restaurant and bar. The business changed management in 2016, and is now run by the Moynihan and Lyons families.

Inside ‘Matt the Thresher,’ once managed by Denis O’Brien (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

This is a four-bay, two-storey block with gablets to the first floor and a canted bay window to the ground floor, with a slightly-higher single-bay block to west end with a shopfront.

It is connected to a three-bay, two-storey former coach house by a seven-bay single-storey block. There are pitched slate roofs with carved timber bargeboards to the gablets and rendered chimneystacks and rendered walls.

Throughout the building, there are timber sash windows, and there is a timber battened front entrance door.

From Bloomfield to barracks to baristas in Birdhill … the Old Barracks (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Nearby, the Old Barracks is a detached three-bay, two-storey former RIC barracks built around 1820, although a nearby plaque says it was first built around 1720 as a home for retired nurses.

The barracks building was one of several founded by Bloomfield, who built four police barracks at Birdhill, Newport, Lackabrack, and Foilduff, all on the perimeter of his estate, on the four points of the compass.

The barracks was built with local stone, which provides a positive contribution to the streetscape. The round-headed arch over the central doorway partially blocked. The pair of cast-concrete bollards at the entry are marked ‘Jacob Clonmel 1847.’

The building is significant because of its connection to Lord Bloomfield, who owned the nearby Ciamaltha House.

The Bloomfield family first settled at Eyre Court, Co Galway, in the early 18th century. Benjamin Bloomfield of Eyre Court had three sons: John, ancestor of the Redwood family, Co Tipperary; Joseph; and Benjamin, ancestor of the Barons Bloomfield.

In 1742, John Bloomfield of Redwood married Jane Jocelyn and their grandson, John Colpoys Bloomfield, married Frances Arabella, daughter and co heir of Sir John Caldwell, Baronet, of Castle Caldwell, Co Fermanagh. In 1851, the estate of John Colpoys Bloomfield of Castle Caldwell, amounting to 1,977 acres in Co Tipperary, was bought by William Hort and George Armstrong for almost £13,000.

Benjamin Bloomfield (1768-1846) of Newport, Co Tipperary, fought as an army officer at Vinegar Hill in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, during the 1798 Rising. Later, he was MP for Plymouth and became private secretary to George IV, earning his reputation for trying to curb the excess spending by the king in the early 19th century. In 1825 he was given the title of Lord Bloomfield.

His son, John Bloomfield, the 2nd Lord Bloomfield, was British ambassador to Berlin. His mistress, the Sweidh actress Emilie Sophie Högquist (1812-1846), later became the mistress of King Oscar I of Sweden. After Lord Bloomfield died in 1879, his estate of almost 10,000 acres was inherited by his sister, the Hon Harriett Mary Anne Kingscote of Gloucestershire.

Later in the 19th century, the Old Barracks served as accommodation for servants of the Twiss family, and from 1905 to 1923 it was Buckley’s provision and grocery store.

It then returned to police use and served as a garda station from 1927 to 1962, with living quarters, a cell, a day room, an interview room and a store. When the garda station closed, the house became a family home for a number of families, including the Spain, Moran, Sheridan and McDermott families. It was bought in 1985 by Tony Ryan of GPA and Ryanair, who planned to use as part of an extension of Matt the Thresher.

In 1990, the building was refurbished under the guidance of the architect Sam Stephenson, and it opened a year later as the Tipperary Trading Company to showcase Tipperary-made products. In 1998, it became a retail outlet for Tipperary Crystal.

The house was bought by Browsers Furniture in 2003, and they sold home and garden furniture from here for the next decade. The building was leased to the Coffee Culture Trading Academy in 2015, and the surrounding grounds have been made available as a community allotment for growing herbs and vegetables.

Autumn colours at ‘Matt the Thresher’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Which pub is the oldest
pub in Limerick City?

The Locke Bar on George’s Quay … is this the oldest pub in Limerick City? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Here is a conundrum or a puzzle for this unusual Bank Holiday weekend.

Which pub is the oldest pub in Limerick City?

It’s a question for historians and Limerick residents alike.

The Locke Bar on 3 George’s Quay is a gastro pub that claims to be on the site of one of Limerick’s oldest pubs, dating back to 1724.

The pub is on a prominent corner beside the banks of the Abbey River, on a tree-lined quay, a few doors away from both Barrington’s Hospital and across the street from Saint Mary’s Cathedral. It is just a few steps away from King John’s Castle and the Hunt Museum.

This ‘olde world’ pub has old wood panelling and open fires. At lunch time it is popular with barristers and solicitors from the courts nearby, but it is equally popular with tourists in the evening and is known for its live music.

Because the Locke Bar is so close to I have Saint Mary’s Cathedral, I have often enjoyed lunch there. But is it the oldest pub in Limerick City?

Enjoying lunch at the Locke Bar on George’s Quay (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Although the Locke Bar is on the site of a pub that opened in 1724, some Limerick people who challenge its claims say it has been opened for about 20 years as the Locke Bar, and that this does not make it the city’s oldest pub.

That approach to definition would rule out many pubs from similar claims. After all, the Guinness Book of Records says Ireland’s oldest pub is Sean’s Bar in Athlone. Not only is this not its original name, but it’s not even the original ninth century building, and by no stretch of the imagination could Sean’s Bar have remained in the same family, continuing the same business tradition.

Katie Daly’s on The Parade … is this the oldest pub in Limerick City? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Recently, on a number of social media platforms, the Locke Bar sent congratulations to Tony and Grainne who opening Katie Daly’s Heritage Pub and Kitchen last month at 12 The Parade, on the corner with Convent Square where Nicholas Street arrives in front of King John’s Castle.

But the name Katie Daly’s is modern by today’s standards, and the pub itself claims, modestly, to date from 1789, making it 65 years younger that the Locke Bar by any of the standards that might be used to date the age of a pub.

Then, there are those who say JJ Bowles at 8 Thomond Gate is the oldest pub in Limerick. This is a great rugby pub, only seven minutes’ walk and shouting distance from Thomond Park, with a riverside beer garden.

The pub is beloved by Munster rugby fans. But it seems to date from 1794, making it five years younger than Katie Daly’s and much younger than the Locke Bar, although its defenders are quick to point out that the building claims to date back to the 1600s.

If the discussion is about the oldest pub in Limerick, should the discussion be confined to Englishtown and Irishtown?

If the boundaries are extended, then how far can we go? After all, Durty Nelly’s in Bunratty was opened in 1620. But that’s not in the city.

So which pub is Limerick’s oldest pub?

Thomond Bridge with JJ Bowles across the river and Thomond Park in the distance, to the right … is this the oldest pub in Limerick City? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

29 October 2017

A holiday weekend
stroll on the beach
at Castlegregory

On the beach at Castlegregory on the Maharees Peninsula (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

The weekend at the end of October is a bank holiday weekend in Ireland, for no particular reason at all. Even if Hallowe’en falls a few days later in the week ahead, it is still known as the Hallowe’en weekend.

Those of us of a certain age also know it as Michael O’Leary’s Weekend since was introduced 40 years by then Minister for Labour Michael O’Leary to the delight of workers in 1977 and as a surprise to his cabinet colleagues and employers.

Richie Ryan, who was Minister for Finance at the time, tried to have the decision reversed by the cabinet the following month. The extra day off work was equal to a 0.5 per cent increase in wages, and was probably introduced because O’Leary knew he could not get the backing of Liam Cosgrave’s cabinet for a May Day holiday.

A bank holiday at the very end of October is about as far away from May Day as you can get in the calendar. And there was no Spring feeling in the air this Bank Holiday weekend as two of us set out for a walk on the beach and to visit Castlegregory is on the north side of the Dingle Peninsula.

A bank holiday weekend walk on the beach at Castlegregory (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Castlegregory is halfway between Tralee and Dingle, and outside the summer season as a population of about 250. The Parish of Castlegregory includes most of the north-east portion of the Dingle Peninsula. In summer, the village is a popular holiday resort, with spectacular beaches on the Maharees Peninsula and golf and facilities.

Castlegregory is named after a castle built in the 16th century by Gregory Hoare, a local power-broker. The castle was destroyed during the Cromwellian wars in 1649. There are, however, a few stone fragments. Many of the tragic romantic stories about the castle are fictitious inventions. Some say that before the Great Famine was a town.

Castlegregory is at the foot of a sandy peninsula known as the Maharees. This peninsula is a sandy pit for much of its length, with sand dunes giving way to earth and rocky ground near the north end. The sand dunes create a unique ecosystem, and there are lengthy beaches on both sides of the peninsula, which separates Brandon Bay to the west and Tralee Bay to the east.

The Brandon Bay beaches are open to the North Atlantic and often receive long rolling swells that can provide excellent surf given suitable wind and tide conditions. The peninsula is dotted with campgrounds and caravan parks and contains three hamlets – Fahamore, Kilshanig and Ceannduiche – that are home to local pubs and restaurants.

Off the peninsula are a number small islands, known as the Maharee Islands, or the Seven Hoggs, which is also the name of a local pub. On the largest of the Magharee Islands, Illauntannig (Oileán tSeanaigh), the ruins of a seventh century monastic site founded by Saint Senach include two oratories, three beehive or clochan huts, and three examples of a leacht or altar.

A reminder of the old railway line … Michael O’Neill’s Railway Tavern in Camp (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Castlegregory was the terminus of a branch line of the Tralee and Dingle Light Railway. The railway station opened on 1 April 1891 and closed for passenger and goods traffic on 17 April 1939, although a monthly Tralee-Dingle cattle train continued until the main line closed in 1953.

On our way back to Tralee, we stopped at Michael O’Neill’s Railway Tavern in Camp, a traditional musical pub that is also a reminder of the railway line that once linked Dingle and Tralee.

The Blennerville Windmill and an old cottage (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Earlier, on our way to Castlegregory, two of us stopped at Blennerville (Cathair Uí Mhóráin, ‘the town of the Morans’), about a mile (1.6 km) west of Tralee on the N86 road to Dingle, where the River Lee enters Tralee Bay.

Blennerville was once the port of Tralee, and is connected to the town centre by the Tralee Ship Canal. There is local speculation that this was the ancient site of the Tramore ford, the only escape route afforded to the 15th Earl of Desmond from Tralee towards the south, before his capture and execution in 1583.

The name of Blennerville was given by Sir Rowland Blennerhassett (1741-1821), 1st Baronet, who made this his residence. A bridge was built at the site in 1751, and in 1783 Sir Rowland Blennerhassett renamed it Blennerville after his family.

Blennerville Windmill, Ireland’s only commercially operating windmill, was built in 1800. For most of the 19th century, the port at Blennerville was used by emigrants as a gateway from Kerry to North America, and the Jeanie Johnston was the most famous of these ships.

On the banks of the River Lee at Blennerville (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

When the Tralee Ship Canal opened in 1846, Blennerville lost its place as Tralee’s port. The village went into decline, and the windmill closed and fell into ruins. The Tralee and Dingle Light Railway opened in 1891, connecting Tralee and Dingle on one of Europe’s most western railway lines. A station operated at Blennerville until the line closed in 1953.

Blennerville Windmill was bought by Tralee Urban District Council in 1981, and it opened to the public in 1990.

The Beamish Bug … an old beetle in the grounds of the Railway Tavern at Camp (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Hallowe’en is not until Tuesday evening, but Michael O’Leary’s Bank Holiday weekend continues tomorrow. The clocks went back last night, and, as we like to say in Ireland at this time of the year, you would notice the evenings are beginning to close in.

Inside the Railway Tavern at Camp (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Hobgoblins, foul fiends and how
to hang all the law and prophets

Hang all the law and the prophets

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 29 October 2017,

The Fifth Sunday before Advent (Proper 25).

11 a.m., The Eucharist,

Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Readings: Deuteronomy 34: 1-12; Psalm 90: 1-6, 13-17; I Thessalonians 2: 1-8; and Matthew 22: 34-46.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

1, To be a pilgrim

The night after tomorrow is Hallowe’en.

Now, I know many Church people are uncomfortable about Hallowe’en – not just because of the pranks and silly games associated with it, but because of some of the other things that go along with it.

But this morning I want to tell another story about hobgoblins and journeys out into the dark.

For some older people here, one of our hymns this morning brings back memories of school days and school assemblies. ‘To Be a Pilgrim’ is the school hymn for many schools in England, and is sung in several school movies.

In Lindsay Anderson’s film if.... (1968), it typifies traditional religious education in English public schools. It is also sung in the movie Clockwise (1986), when John Cleese, better known as Basil Fawlty, speaks to a group of headmasters as he would to his own pupils and tells them all to stand and sing the hymn.

The tune was written by one of my favourite composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams. And for many people of my age, this song was also popular many years ago when it was recorded by English folk stars such as Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band.

The words are based on a poem by John Bunyan, but it was hidden in the second part of his book, The Pilgrim’s Progress.

His original poem did not become a hymn to sing in churches. Perhaps this was because he refers to a lion, a ‘hobgoblin’ and a ‘foul fiend.’ The words were rewritten by the hymnwriter, Percy Dearmer, who cut out those references, and so it became the hymn we know today in different versions.

John Bunyan’s poem begins:

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather

Percy Dearmer reworded these opening lines:

He who would valiant be
’Gainst all disaster,
Let him in constancy
Follow the Master.

The Master, of course, is Christ, and Percy Dearmer also introduces references to the Lord and the Spirit, making this a hymn about the Holy Trinity too.

The original poem, like the book, was written as an allegory and with lyrics that are only metaphorically Christian.

The hymn’s refrain ‘to be a pilgrim’ is now so common in the English language that it is used in the title of many books about pilgrimage.

I remember reading Pilgrim’s Progress when I was about 8. John Bunyan writes simply but with sincerity and spiritual intensity.

In the book, Christian is the young pilgrim who sets out into the dark on his own, on a venture that represents the Christian life. He faces many obstacles, difficulties and moral battles on this pilgrimage that is life.

But he has the example of other Christians to guide him, to keep him on the path, to give him courage.

Saint Paul warns us this morning about the dangers of ‘deceit or impure motives or trickery,’ and instead tells us to have ‘courage in our God’ so that we can ‘declare … the gospel of God in spite of great opposition’ (I Thessalonians 2: 2-3).

Hallowe’en might represent all the dangers and fears we face as adults in life.

But there is good reason to be of good courage. Because the name ‘Hallowe’en’ means the evening before the day of All Hallows, All Saints. The saints are the members of the Church, past and present – and, indeed, future – who provide us with an example of how to live the Christian life, how to be true pilgrims in the life ahead of us, how to live without fear, and how in the midst of all the disasters that may face us to be valiant so that we may follow the Master, who is Christ.

2, Hang all the Law and the Prophets

A statue of Bishop Charles Gore outside Saint Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Long ago, there was a famous English bishop, Charles Gore (1853-1932), who was also one of the great, almost formidable, theologians at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. He was from a well-known Irish family. His brother was born in Dublin Castle, his father was brought up in the Vice-Regal Lodge, which is now Arás an Uachtaráin, and his mother was from Co Kilkenny.

But formidable theologians are also allowed to play pranks on the unsuspecting. And it is told that Charles Gore loved to play a particular prank on his friends and acquaintances when he was a canon of Westminster Abbey.

He would enjoy showing visitors the tomb of one of his collateral ancestors, the 3rd Earl of Kerry, who was descended from the Fitzmaurice family, who were once famous throughout Limerick and North Kerry.

He would point to an inscription that ends with the words, highlighted in black letters and in double quotation marks: ‘hang all the law and the prophets.’

Now that sounds ghoulish, almost like a Hallowe’en prank.

But when you look closer at this monument you would see the words are preceded by ‘... ever studious to fulfil those two great commandments on which he had been taught by his divine Master ...’ ‘…hang all the law and the prophets.’

So let’s see how we can hang all the law and the prophets.

The exercise that follows involves hanging up two inter-linked wire hangers. One carries a card saying, ‘Love God’, the other a card saying, ‘Love one another.’ They are held onto a line by string.

Children are now invited to bring wire hangers to hang from these first two wire hangers. This second group of hangers carry cards with markings such as ‘Remember God’s goodness,’ ‘Don’t make a god of money,’ ‘Tell the truth,’ ‘Listen to Mom and Dad,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Be faithful,’ ‘Don’t rob,’ ‘Don’t tell lies,’ ‘Don’t envy others,’ ‘Don’t be jealous’ …

Then the string holding the first two wire hangers is cut. All the wire hangers fall to the floor.

The Lesson:

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22: 37-40).

‘Hang all the law and the prophets’ ... all the wire hangers fall to the floor


Blessed Lord,
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
Help us to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the blessed hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of all grace,
your Son Jesus Christ fed the hungry
with the bread of his life and the word of his kingdom.
Renew your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness
sustain us by your true and living bread,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This two-part sermon was prepared for the United Group Parish Eucharist (Family Service) in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, on Sunday 28 October 2017.


He who would valiant be

He who would valiant be
’Gainst all disaster,
Let him in constancy
Follow the Master.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

Who so beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound –
His strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might;
Though he with giants fight,
He will make good his right
To be a pilgrim.

Since, Lord, thou dost defend
Us with thy Spirit,
We know we at the end,
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies flee away!
I’ll fear not what men say,
I’ll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.

28 October 2017

Going to World’s End
in search of George
Peabody’s railings

A sunny autumn evening at Worrall’s End or World’s End, on the banks of the River Shannon at Castleconnell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I was writing yesterday of how the English Radical politician John Bright and his friend, the London-born American financier George Peabody regularly stopped in Cruise’s Royal Hotel in Limerick on their way to Castleconnell for their fishing trips.

Both men were enthusiastic about Castleconnell, and Peabody was so enamoured with this place on the banks of the River Shannon that he later paid for the iron railings around the local Roman Catholic parish church.

On the way back to Askeaton from Dublin yesterday afternoon, two of us stopped for a late lunch at the Matt the Thresher in Birdhill, and then decided to look for Castleconnell beloved of Bright and Peabody.

Castleconnell is a scenic village in Co Limerick on the banks of the River Shannon, 11 km outside Limerick city and just a few minutes’ walk from the boundaries where Co Limerick meets Co Clare and Co Tipperary.

The castle that gives takes its name to the town is now ruined and once belonged to the Gunning family. The castle, built on a rocky outcrop overlooking the bend on the River Shannon, was besieged and destroyed by General Ginkel’s army during the Jacobite and Williamite wars at the end of the 17th century.

Nearby, Mountshannon House was a Palladian house that was once the home of John FitzGibbon, 1st Earl of Clare, who in the late 18th century was the Attorney-General for Ireland and later Lord Chancellor of Ireland. FitzGibbon was instrumental in pushing through the Act of Union in 1800. The house was inherited by his descendants but was burnt to the ground by the IRA in the 1920s.

From the 19th century, Castleconnell was known for its fishing. The main catch was salmon and trout and the Shannon Inn became well known for its fishing clientele over the years.

The fortunes of Castleconnell changed considerably in the 1930s when the Shannon Electricity Scheme and the Ardnacrusha dam at Parteen dramatically reduced the flow of water and water levels on the Shannon south of the dam. Castleconnell now gets the first 10 cubic metres per second, Ardnacrusha gets the next 400 and anything left over is sent down the old route. The diversion is done at Parteen Villa Weir, upstream of O’Briensbridge but downstream of Killaloe.

We stopped at Worrall’s End or World’s End, where we found the weir, quay and rowing-club on this stretch of the River Shannon.

Castleconnell boat club, founded in 1983, is located here at the upstream end of Castleconnell. At this point, rowers have a smooth, wide water to continue rowing for 3.2 km as far as O’Brien’s Bridge. Just beyond the bridge, rowers have another 1.5 km before coming to a water flow regulator.

The name of Worrall’s End or World’s End is said to be a corruption of ‘Worrall’s Inn,’ and was already in use 200 years ago in 1817.

The weir was built in the early 1840s and it keeps up the water level in the stretch of river upstream, nowadays as far as Parteen Villa Weir, but formerly as far as Cussaun Lock on the Killaloe Canal. The quay was built at around the same time, using stone removed from a shoal in the river

The weir is at the same level as it was in the 1840s, so the stretch of river upstream from here, through O’Brien’s Bridge, to Parteen Villa has the same minimum depth as it had and should be just as navigable as it was back then.

Famous residents of Castleconnel have included John Bulmer Hobson (1883-1969), a leading member of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Bulmer Hobson was born in Belfast and had a fairly strict Quaker upbringing, going to Friends’ School Lisburn. He was sworn into the IRB in Belfast in 1904 by Denis McCullough. Together they founded the Dungannon Clubs, ostensibly to celebrate the victory of Volunteers of 1782 in restoring the Irish Parliament, but also an open front for the IRB.

Hobson moved to Dublin in 1907, and soon became a close friend of Tom Clarke. Hobson and Constance Markievicz founded Na Fianna Éireann in 1909. He was appointed to the IRB’s Supreme Council in 1911.

He was one of the founding organisers of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. He was a primary connection between the Volunteers and the IRB, and in 1913 he swore Patrick Pearse into the IRB.

Hobson was involved in the Howth gunrunning, landing arms from the Asgard at Howth on Sunday, 26 July 1914. Later, on principle, he resigned as a Quaker soon after the 1914 Howth gun-running, as the Quakers are opposed to all forms of violence.

As secretary and a member of the Volunteers provisional council, Hobson was instrumental in allowing the Irish Parliamentary leader John Redmond to gain control of the Volunteers in an effort to avoid a split.

Hobson remained a member of the IRB, but the chief-of-staff of the Volunteers, Eoin MacNeill, he was kept out of the plans for the Easter Rising in 1916. Hobson was kidnapped by the organisers of the rising to stop him from spreading news of MacNeill’s order countermanding the plans, and he was held at gunpoint in Phibsborough until the Rising was well underway.

Hobson took no major role in politics after the Rising, or in the War of Independence. In 1922, he was appointed Chief of the Revenue Commissioners Stamp Department. Many years later, in 1947, he criticised the rising and its leader saying the military council had ‘no plans … which could seriously be called military’ and that the rising consisted of ‘locking a body of men up in two or three buildings to stay there until they were shot or burned out.’

He retired in 1948, and after a heart attack in the 1960s he lived with his daughter and son-in-law, Camilla and John Mitchell, in Castleconnell. He died there on 8 August 1969, aged 86, and was buried at Gurteen Cemetery near Roundstone, Co Galway.

Other residents of Castleconnell have included Marcus Horan, who has played Prop for Munster and Ireland, and Paul Warwick from Australia, who has played at Fly-half, Fullback and Centre for Munster.

Gardenhill House near Castleconnell, Co Limerick … a Comerford family home in the 1940s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

On Friday afternoon, Google Maps seemed frustrate all our efforts to find the Roman Catholic parish church and the rails donated by Peabody. So instead we went looking for Gardenhill House, and once home to some members of the Comerford family.

The house is off the R675, east of Castleconnell, and was originally the home of the Blackall family. The Blackall family were first granted lands in the Barony of Pubblebrien under the Acts of Settlement, including 800 acres in Ballymartin, Killonahan, Drumloghane, Ballyanraghmore and Dooneen. Two Blackall brothers Charles and George, sons of Thomas Blackall of Killard, Co Clare, married two sisters, Elizabeth and Margery Burnell of Ranaghan, Co Clare in 1772 and 1782.

By the early 19th century, the Blackall family had lost most of its landed property due to increasing encumbrances. But Jonas Blackall (1811-1888) of Gardenhill and Limerick City, who entered the legal profession, owned 230 acres in Co Limerick in the 1870s, and Captain NG Blackall held some land at Coolreiry, Castleconnell, in 1906.

However, the original Gardenhill House that was a home of the Blackall family, was in ruins by 1840, and the present house dates from after 1840.

Owen Comerford (1869-1945), who died at Gardenhill House on 15 June 1945, was a member of the Rathdrum branch of the Comerford family from Co Wicklow who lived at Ardavon House, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, and owned Rathdrum Mills

Owen Comerford was born on 11 December 1869. He was educated, with his brothers Edward Comerford (1864-1942) and James Comerford (1868-1924), at Oscott College, Birmingham (1880-1883). He was a shareholder in Rathdrum Mill.

On 8 February 1898, in Saint Michael’s Church, Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire), Owen Comerford married Kathleen Byrne, daughter of Laurence Byrne of Croney Byrne, Rathdrum. They later lived at ‘Coolas,’ Seafield Road, Clontarf, and he was still living there in 1940. Kathleen died on 17 October 1932.

Owen later went to live with his daughter and son-in-law, at Gardenhill House, Castleconnel. This house is a substantial version of the characteristic three-bay two-storey house. Retaining much of its original form, the façade is enlivened by the timber sliding sash windows, limestone sills and slate roof. The ornate doorway adds artistic interest to the façade. The outbuildings add context to the composition and enhance the overall group setting.

Owen Comerford died at Gardenhill House, Castleconnell, on 15 June 1945.

Owen and Kathleen Comerford were the parents of an only daughter Nora Kathleen (‘Norrie’). In 1940, she married James Henry Montgomery, civic guard, of Chapelizod Garda Barracks, Co Dublin. They later lived at Gardenhill House, Castleconnell. They had no children, and Norrie Montgomery died in 1972.

We returned to Castleconnell, but still failed to find the church and Peabody’s rails before we headed back to Askeaton.

A sunny autumn evening at Worrall’s End or World’s End at Castleconnell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

When Greece said ‘No’
and played its part
in saving democracy

The Greek flag flies beside the European flag and the flag of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at Arkadi Monastery in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Ohi Day or Oxi Day (Επέτειος του «'Οχι»), and it is celebrated throughout Greece and Cyprus and by Greek communities around the world on 28 October each year.

Ohi Day commemorates the day the Greek Prime minister Ioannis Metaxas rejected the ultimatum from the Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini on 28 October 1940. This day also recalls the Greek counter-attack against invading Italian forces in the mountains of Pindus during World War II, and he Greek Resistance during the occupying Italians and Germans.

Mussolini’s ultimatum was presented to Metaxas by the Italian ambassador to Greece, Emanuele Grazzi, around 3 a.m. on the morning of 28 October 1940.

Mussolini demanded Greece would allow Axis forces to enter Greek territory and occupy certain unnamed strategic locations – or face war. It is said Metaxas replied with a one-word laconic response: Όχι (No!).

Despite popular aside, the actual reply was in French: ‘Alors, c’est la guerre!’ (‘Then it is war!’)

In an immediate response to Metaxas’s ‘No’, Italian troops based in Albania attacked the Greek border two hours later at 5.30 a.m. That ‘No!’ brought Greece into World War II on the side of the Allies. Indeed, for a period, Greece was Britain’s only ally against Hitler.

Without that ‘No,’ some historians argue, World War II could have lasted much longer. One theory is that had Greece surrendered without any resistance, Hitler could have invaded Russia in the spring, rather than his disastrous attempt to capture it during winter.

On this morning 77 years ago, 28 October 1940, Greek people of all political persuasions took to the streets in masses, shouting «'Οχι», ‘No!’ From 1942, this day was celebrated as Ohi Day, first within the resistance and then after the war by all the Greeks.

The Battle of Crete and the extra resources required to subdue Greece drained and distracted Nazi Germany from its efforts on other war fronts.

Today, Ohi Day is a public holiday in Greece and Cyprus. The events of 1940 are commemorated with military and student parades, public buildings are decorated with Greek flags, there folk dances, and Greek Orthodox churches hold special services. Coastal towns may have naval parades or other celebrations on the seafront. In Thessaloniki, reverence is also paid to the city’s patron, Saint Dimitrios, and the city celebrates its freedom from Turkey.

There are traffic delays, especially near parade routes, some streets are blocked off, and most archaeological sites are closed for the day, along with most businesses and services.

In Dublin, Ochi Day and the fallen will be marked at 11 a.m. tomorrow morning [Sunday 29 October 2017], during the Divine Liturgy in the Greek Orthodox Church, with the Greek Diplomatic Corps in attendance. This will be followed by a holiday banquet at the Mykonos Restaurant with Irish and Greek music.

In the West, politicians are always happy to credit ancient Greece with the development of democracy. But in the present crises in Europe, when Greece is often seen as a burden rather than a partner, it may be worth remembering that Europe owes modern Greece an unacknowledged debt for helping to preserve democracy against the Nazis and Fascists during World War II.

The Greek flag at the church in Tsesmes, near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

27 October 2017

A reminder of a once
regal presence in
Limerick city centre

Costa café and Cruise’s Street … on the site of Cruise’s Royal Hotel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Limerick is endowed with an abundant supply of good coffee shops and cafés throughout the city centre. I have enjoyed trying new ones at regular intervals, although the well-known brands and chains also have their merits as ‘pit stops’ on days when I am trying to make haste between one bus connection and the next on the way between Dublin and Limerick.

Costa on the corner of Cruise’s Street and O’Connell Street is one of these convenient ‘pit stops’ for much-needed double espressos because it is also close to newsagents where I can stock up reading such as the The Guardian, New Statesman and Private Eye for the next long leg of the journey.

But the very name of Cruise’s Street and a plaque on the O’Connell Street façade of Costa are also reminders of an hotel that was torn down in 1991-1992 but that had been a Limerick institution for 200 years.

Cruise’s Royal Hotel was founded in 1791 on what was then George Street. In its final days it was one of the finest hotels in Limerick’s City Centre. The 80-room hotel provided a variety of entertainment for local people. The hotel had a presidential suite, and many Presidents and dignitaries who visited Limerick stayed there, including Richard Nixon.

In the 19th century, the guests at the hotel had included Daniel O’Connell, Charles Dickens and Charles Stewart Parnell.

George Russell was the first proprietor of the hotel when it was built in 1791. It passed through a number of hands before it was bought by the colourful Edward Cruise, who was a personal friend of Daniel O’Connell. In the 1820s, O’Connell conducted his Clare election campaign from Cruise’s Hotel, and later celebrated his victory there.

When the Viceroy of Ireland, Lord Mulgrave opened the new Wellesley Bridge in Limerick in 1835, he was feted afterwards at Cruise’s Hotel. The bridge is now known as Sarsfield Bridge.

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) visited Limerick in 1842, and stayed at ‘one of the best inns in Ireland - the large, neat, and prosperous one kept by Mr Cruise.’ This was the Royal Mail Coach Hotel or Cruise’s Hotel. There He was delighted to meet the proprietor, which he claimed was a rare occurrence in Ireland where hoteliers ‘commonly (and very naturally) prefer riding with the hounds, or manly sports, to attendance on their guests.’

He arrived in Limerick by boat, and his first impressions seem to have taken him aback: ‘… you are, at first, half led to believe that you had arrived in a second Liverpool, so tall are the warehouses and broad the quays: so neat and trim a street of near a mile which stretches before you.’

He found the men handsome and the women pretty: ‘If the women of the place are pretty, indeed the vulgar are scarcely less so, I never saw a greater number of kind, pleasing, clever-looking faces among any sort of people.’

Some years after his visit to Limerick, Thackeray caused offence with his comic song ‘The Battle of Limerick,’ which trivialises the Young Ireland movement and mocks and mimics Irish accents – although William Carleton remarked that he ‘writes very well about Ireland, for an Englishman.’

John Bright (1811-1889), the radical British politician who was almost a lone voice in opposing the Crimean War, regularly visited Castleconnell, Co Limerick, and on visit he was entertained at Cruise’s by the Mayor and Aldermen of Limerick. Bright often stayed at Cruise’s on his way to Castleconnell, as did his friend the London-born American financier and philanthropist George Peabody (1795-1869). The historian AJP Taylor says ‘John Bright was the greatest of all parliamentary orators … the alliance between middle class idealism and trade unionism, which he promoted, still lives in the present-day Labour Party.’

Cruise retired from the business in 1854, but his name continued to be part of the name of the hotel.

During his visit to Limerick in 1858, Charles Dickens (1812-1870) stayed at the hotel, which he referred to as the Royal Hotel. He was touring Ireland, visiting Belfast, Dublin and Cork, and in Limerick he was reading on the stages at the Theatre Royal on Henry Street, close to the corner of Mallow Street – a building that was destroyed by fire in 1922.

In a letter to his nephew, Dickens described the hotel and his stay in Limerick in September 1858. The Royal Hotel referred to was Cruise’s Royal Hotel on what was then George Street.

Writing about Limerick, Dickens told his nephew:

This is the oddest place of which nobody in any other part of Ireland seems to know anything. Nobody could answer a single question we asked about it … It is a very odd place in its lower-order aspects …

The Royal Theatre was ‘a charming theatre. The best I ever saw, to see and hear in’ with ‘an admirable audience. As hearty and demonstrative as it is possible to be.’

John Joseph Cleary, who succeeded Edward Cruise as proprietor, made many modern improvements to the hotel, including the introduction of hot baths and showers. He was Mayor of Limerick in 1873 and 1874.

From the 1870s and 1880s on, political guests in the hotel included Charles Stewart Parnell, John Redmond and John Dillon.

Other guests in the Victorian period included Alfred Lord Tennyson and his son, as they were passing through Limerick on their way to Curragh Chase to visit their friend, the poet Aubrey de Vere and his family.

When Edward Cruise, who gave his name to the hotel, died on 25 July 1887, in his 86th year, he was buried in Saint John’s churchyard, Limerick, close to the original proprietor, George Russell.

The hotel was demolished in 1991 to make way for Cruise’s Street, a pedestrianised street between O’Connell Street and Chapel Street, and that opened 25 years ago, in late 1992.

A visit by Charles Dickens remembered on a plaque on the site of Cruise’s Royal Hotel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)