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.