08 March 2018

In search of another
former family home on
the seafront in Bray

Seanchara House, once known as Tullira, in Wavecrest Terrace on Strand Road, Bray, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I have been in Dublin today for a hospital appointment in Saint Vincent’s University Hospital. It had been a long journey to Dublin on Tuesday through parts of the country that were still covered in snow after suffering the full impact and onslaught of the ‘Beast from the East’ and ‘Storm Emma.’ So two of us seized the opportunity for a walk on the beach in Bray, Co Wicklow, yesterday afternoon [7 March 2018].

The skies had cleared in Bray, and there were mere traces of snow on Bray Head as we went for a walk along the Promenade before going for a late lunch in Carpe Diem.

But it also seemed appropriate to go in search of a long-forgotten family home in Bray, that I had known about but did not know where to find.

I knew that when they married a month after the end of World War II in 1945, my parents had lived briefly on Putland Road, Bray, and before she died I had brought my mother to see the house.

Later, I also learned through another cousin that one of my mother’s cousins in the Crowley family had owned Shanganagh Castle, near Bray, for a brief period in the mid-20th century.

But I also knew that my mother had a cousin, Mary (Crowley) McSwiney (1913-1993), who had run a boutique hotel on the seafront in Bray in the 1940s and 1950s, perhaps even later, with her husband, John Gerard McSwiney (1913-1960).

As far as I can remember, I had never visited them there, and I had no personnel recollections of being in the house. They were known to me Aunt Mary and Uncle John, although he had died when I was quite young, and I think she may have moved to Templeogue shortly after. I remember later she was a teacher in Our Lady’s School in Templeogue.

Her father, Jeremiah Crowley of Wallstown Castle, Castletownroche, Co Cork, was a brother of my grandmother, Maria (Crowley) Murphy (1882-1957) of Millstreet, Co Cork.

Mary and John McSwiney were the parents of four sons, and I knew them in my teens. Jeremy, who later lived in Rathfarnham close to the Church of Ireland Theological Institute when I was working there, had been back in contact with me before he died ten 10 years ago in 2008, as we shared our experiences and work in the area of Christian-Muslim dialogue.

The former Tullira and Wavecrest Terrace in Bray, Co Wicklow, including the former Rath-na-Seer Hotel (centre) and the former Grand Hotel (right) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

But my memories were too patchy to rely on, and so before yesterday’s visit to Bray, I looked up some old editions of Thom’s Directory, and found the family had lived at a house called Tullira on Wavecrest Terrace on Strand Road in the 1940s and 1950s. Today, few of the Victorian and Edwardian terraces along the Promenade in Bray retain their original names, although the names of Martello Terrace, Royal Marine Terrace, Fitzwilliam Terrace and Brennan’s Terrace survive to a greater or lesser degree.

In the old directories half a century or more ago, Tullira was listed as being in the same block as the Rath-na-Seer Hotel and the Grand Hotel, but neither of these names survive today, and it was an interesting task to pace out the former names of houses and terraces along Strand Road given in the directories so I could determine exactly which house had once been known as Tullira.

In recent decades, Tullira had been known as Seanchara House. The house was sold in recent months by Sherry Fitzgerald after being on the market with an asking price of almost €1.4 million.

Before it went on the market, it had been a family home for the previous 35 years. At different times, family members had run it as a guesthouse, a restaurant and most recently they had rented out the basement as a Montessori school.

The house is a handsome seafront villa and is still in excellent condition. Its single-storey design adds much variety to the promenade, providing a contrast with the adjacent tall houses.

This detached, three-bay, single-storey over basement house was built around 1860. The building is finished in render and the east front is framed by moulded pilasters. A short flight of steps rises to the uPVC replacement front door. This door has a plain fanlight and is flanked by panelled pilasters with console brackets which support a projecting cornice. The door is set on a slightly projecting bay with split pediment.

The windows are flat-headed with uPVC replacement frames and shouldered moulded surrounds. There is a decorative blocking course.

The hipped roof is finished with artificial slate and uPVC rainwater goods. The tall rendered chimney-stacks have corbelling and uniform clay pots.

The building is set in a garden that runs to about one third of an acre. It faces the road and the seafront, directly opposite the bandstand, and is set on a slight rise behind a low rendered wall with square gate pillars with pyramidal caps and wrought-iron gates. The gardens back on to a high redbrick wall next to the railway line.

The estate agents’ description when it was on the market said the principal rooms are elegant, with high ceilings, ornate plasterwork and fine fireplaces. Many handsome period features remain intact, including decorative plasterwork and centre roses in high ceilings, marble fireplaces, and a stained-glass window in an arch in the front hall.

The former Rath-na-Seer Hotel is now Jim Doyle’s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The former Rath-na-Seer Hotel is now Jim Doyle’s, a popular pub and restaurant on the seafront. This was built around 1900 in the Jacobean style as a detached, two-bay, three-storey house. It is finished with render and the tall bays are built in ashlar granite.

The main entrance is located within a recent projecting single-storey, hip-roofed porch. To either side of the front east elevation is a three-storey canted bay with a copper clad domed roof. Each bay sits on a three-storey bay with a Jacobean gable.

The window openings are flat-headed with one-over-one timber sash frames. The hipped roof is finished with natural slate. The building is set back behind a low rendered wall, and the former front garden is now used as a beer garden.

This flamboyant Edwardian free-style design is well preserved and in good condition. Although the building was much altered in the later 20th century, it remains a good example of a house that has been converted to commercial use.

The former Grand Hotel at 1-2 Wavecrest Terrace is now known as the Porter House. This detached, four-bay, three-storey building dates from about 1860. It was originally built as two semi-detached houses, and they share many stylistic features with the house once known as Tullira.

The building is finished in render with a pedimented parapet and it is framed with giant order pilasters. The original front door is now replaced by a more-recent projecting, single-storey, flat-roofed porch that sits in front of a slightly projecting gabled bay.

The window openings are flat-headed with replacement uPVC frames. The openings are dressed with moulded surrounds, and some have blocking courses with projecting cornices. The roof is finished with natural slate and has cast-iron rainwater goods.

Like Jim Doyle’s, the former front garden is now used as a beer garden. Although the two original houses have been much altered in the later 20th century, this building is another good example of a house that has been converted to commercial use. It is well preserved and in good condition and its character and detailing add much to the rhythm of Bray’s mainly Victorian promenade.

The former Grand Hotel is now the Porter House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Following the Stations
of the Cross in Lent 23:
Millstreet 6: Veronica
wipes the face of Jesus

Station 6 at Saint John’s Well, Millstreet, Co Cork … Veronica wipes the face of Jesus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am continuing my Lenten journey each morning in Lent, when my meditations and reflections are being guided by the Stations of the Cross from three locations.

The idea for this series of morning Lenten meditations came from reading about Peter Walker’s new exhibition, ‘Imagining the Crucifixion,’ inspired by the Stations of the Cross, which opened in Lichfield Cathedral last month and continues throughout Lent.

Throughout Lent, my meditations each morning are inspired by three sets of Stations of the Cross that I have found either inspiring or unusual. They are the stations in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, at Saint John’s Well on a mountainside near Millstreet, Co Cork, and in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield.

In my meditations, I am drawing on portions of the Stabat Mater, the 12th century hymn of the Crucifixion (‘At the cross her station keeping’) attributed to the Franciscan poet Jacopone da Todi. Some prayers are traditional, some are from the Book of Common Prayer, and other meditations and prayers are by Canon Frank Logue and the Revd Victoria Logue of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.

For these two weeks, I am looking at the 14 Stations of the Cross at Saint John’s Well in a forested area on the slopes of Mushera, outside Millstreet in north Co Cork.

Saint John’s Well is 8 or 9 km south-east of Millstreet, on the slopes of Mushera, on the Aubane side of the mountain, opposite the entrance to Millstreet Country Park and a short distance from the Cork/Kerry border. The Stations date from 1984 and were designed by Liam Cosgrave and Sons, Sculptors, of Blackpool, Cork.

Millstreet 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

In the sixth station by Liam Cosgrave in Millstreet, Christ is holding his cross alone, and there is no sign of Simon who helped him to take up the cross in the previous station. Christ is holding the cross with one hand and has used the other to hand her veil back to Veronica, who has fallen to her knees.

This encounter is not recorded in any of the four Gospels, but this is International Women’s Day, and this morning I think of Veronica as a representative of every woman who shows care and compassion in the face of violence and oppression.

The first historical record of the Veil of Veronica being displayed in Rome only dates from 1199, when two pilgrims, Giraldus Cambrensis, the early historian of Ireland, and Gervase of Tilbury, make direct references to the existence of the Veil of Veronica.

A few years later, in 1207, the cloth was publicly paraded for the first time and displayed by Pope Innocent III. This procession, between Saint Peter’s and the Santo Spirito Hospital, became an annual event and the procession inspired Pope Boniface VIII to proclaim the first Jubilee in 1300. For the next 200 years, the ‘Veronica’ was regarded as one of the most precious Christian relics.

Some accounts say the veil was stolen or destroyed after the Sack of Rome in 1527, others say it survived, but it disappears almost entirely from public view after 1629, when the Pope prohibited making reproductions.

But that association of the image of Jesus with Santo Spirito brings back memories of another image of Christ I saw on the steps of Santo Spirito in Rome last year.

The hospital was built for paupers and abandoned children by Pope Innocent III, who began this procession. Two years ago [March 2016], the Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz donated a bronze statue on the steps of the hospital showing ‘Christ the Beggar’, sitting on the steps, with the words beside him: ‘Ha avuto fame e mi avete dato da mangiare, ho avuto sete e mi avete dato da bere. I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink’ (Matthew 25: 35).

The bowl and cup in front of ‘Christ the Beggar’ could be a chalice and paten. True Communion with Christ is giving food and drink to those who hunger and thirst.

A second statue at Santo Spirito shows Christ as an impoverished patient lying on a makeshift bed on the steps of the hospital. The words beneath him read: ‘Ero malato e mi avete visitato. I was ill and you visited me’ (Matthew 25: 36).

The story of the Veil of Veronica challenges us to ask: ‘Where do I see the face of Christ.’

‘Christ the Beggar’ … a sculpture by Timothy Schmalz on the steps of Santo Spirito Hospital in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

From Stabat Mater:

Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!
Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain,
In that Mother’s pain untold?


Cloth. Sweat. Blood. Icon.
Legend tells of a woman wiping Jesus’ face and
gaining an image of Christ painted in his blood on her cloth.
In relieving the suffering of others we, too, find the face of Jesus.


Immanuel, God with us, you came as the image of God made flesh and we scorned you. May we seek not to do great things in your name, but to honour you with small acts of mercy done with great love. This we pray in the name of Jesus, our crucified Lord, the King of Glory, the King of Peace. Amen.

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.
Because by your holy cross You have redeemed the world.

Jesus, suddenly a woman comes out of the crowd. Her name is Veronica. You can see how she cares for you as she takes a cloth and begins to wipe the blood and sweat from your face. She cannot do much, but she offers what little help she can.

A prayer before walking to the next station:

Holy God,
Holy and mighty Holy immortal one,
Have mercy on us.

‘I was ill and you visited me’ … a sculpture by Timothy Schmalz on the steps of Santo Spirito Hospital near the Vatican (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Tomorrow: Station 7: Jesus falls the second time.

Yesterday’s reflection