16 June 2018

It’s surprising what
you find to read in
an Irish bar in Crete

It’s surprising what you find to read in an Irish bar in Crete on a summer afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

You never quite know where you are going to find an Irish pub, nor do you quite know what you are going to find in one.

Of course, you can expect to find plenty of Guinness and Kilkenny, flags flying in the country colours of the proprietor and plenty of fittings and furniture that have been brought over from Ireland.

I’m not a beer drinker, nor am I terribly fond of anything that smacks of being faux Irish. So, I have seldom been to the sort of Irish pub you find across the world.

But late one afternoon this week, as two of us were strolling around Georgioupoli, we were caught by the attractive location and looks of McGinty’s Irish Bar – as in ‘Paddy McGinty’s Goat’ – which had its ‘grand opening’ last week.

The bar is located at a landmark junction in the road, and we sat out on the terrace watching people passing as we sipped our cold drinks in the late afternoon sunshine.

And it’s surprising what you find to read in an Irish bar in Crete on a summer afternoon. One wall in McGinty’s is lined with shelves overfilled with the most eclectic collection of books that would delight, engross and entertain most of my friends and colleagues simultaneously.

A two-volume history turns up in Crete 150 years later (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

For example, stuck in at the end of a middle shelf, side-by-side, was Thomas Baker’s two volume History of the College of St John the Evangelist, Cambridge, published in Cambridge almost 150 years ago in 1869.

It was the sort of discovery that would delight Aunt Dot in The Towers of Trebizond, where she says ‘Cambridge was our university’ and she describes her family’s High Church Anglicanism approving ‘the improvements in the chapel of St. John’s College, Cambridge under Dr. Beale’.

Many of the pages in these two volumes had not been cut since they were published, indicating clearly that they had not been read too carefully by their owners over the past century and a half.

But in those idle moments, I took down both volumes, knowing there were family memories and stories to be found inside their covers.

Here are the college records of Henry ‘Comberforth’ BA, later Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral, who was admitted to Saint John’s on 31 March 1533. He graduated BA (1533), MA (1536) and BD (1545), and went on to become a Fellow of Saint John’s College and a Proctor of Cambridge University. When he was the ‘parson of Polstead’, near Colchester, in 1539, Henry was still associated with the college. He was still a Fellow of Saint John’s when he was involved in a bishop’s visitation to Saint John’s in April 1542.

Here too is Henry’s brother, Richard Comberford MA, so often confused by 18th century genealogists with Richard Comerford of Ballybur, Co Kilkenny. It is noted that Richard was born at Comberford, Staffordshire, and was admitted to Saint John’s on 8 April 1534. He was a Fellow of Saint John’s in 1538, and later was the Senior Bursar in 1542-1544.

Richard Comberford of Cambridge and his brother John Comberford both leased lands at Much Bradley in Staffordshire from the college.

Perhaps these appear to be absurd links for someone to become engrossed with during a holiday on a Greek island. But the leases on the lands in Much Bradley push the family connection back a generation earlier than I had realised, and so these volumes provide particularly interesting links that I must pursue when I get back home.

As I was poring over those volumes and memories, an old postcard fell from the pages, with coloured illustrations of the coats-of-arms of Cambridge colleges. It may have been there as a bookmark. Perhaps I was wrong; perhaps someone had started to read these books before I arrived in Crete this summer.

Meanwhile, bars here, of all sorts, are doing a roaring trade. The season seems a little quiet at the moment, but certainly there are roars coming from all the bars every night as people gather to watch World Cup matches.

A bookmark found inside the covers of the books in McGinty’s Irish bar in Georgioupoli on a summer afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In search of an elusive
blue dome in the trees
beyond the beach

The elusive blue dome, hidden in the trees behind the beach at Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Blue domes are commonly seen on Orthodox Churches in Santorini and Mykonos and other Cycladic islands in Greece – indeed, the Lidl multinational supermarket chain caused controversy last year when it removed crosses from the domes on churches in Santorini in images it was using to market Greek products.

The blue domes of Aegean and Cycladic churches are so well-known that have come to typify stereotypical images of picture-postcard Greece. But in Crete, the domes and roofs of churches normally have distinctive terracotta tiles.

For the past few days I have been surprised, therefore, to see from the balcony of my hotel roof in Georgioupoli what I thought was the blue dome of a church in the distance, appearing over the tree tops to the east.

Late yesterday afternoon, while the sun was still beaming down, despite forecasts of more expected thunder, two of us set out to walk east along the beach in search of the unusual blue dome and what we thought was a church.

No-one knew where we were looking for, and seemed beyond belief that every time we thought we were near the church it the dome and the tower seemed to vanish from our eyes again and again.

We cross through beach bars and all-included hotels, we walked around swimming pools and children’s play areas, all the time chasing this blue dome, and eventually crossed gingerly across the main road with a mixture of fear, trepidation and delight as we realised the dome was on the other side of the national road (VOAK) that links Chania to the west with Rethymnon and that continues further east on to Iraklion and Aghios Nikolaos.

But there was no village around, and no signposts for either a church or a monastery.

Finally, we found the blue dome and the tall tower – only to realise that these were eccentric architectural features in the Pilot Beach Resort. It is yet another hotel offering tourists inclusive packages, so they do not have to venture outside the hotel gardens and grounds – least of all, I imagine, in search of a church.

The hilltop chapel of the Prophet Elijah in a small graveyard east of Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Disappointed, we started walking back on the old road towards Georgioupoli, and we came across a hilltop cemetery chapel that we can see from our hotel balcony too.

The Prophet Elias (Hλίας) or Elijah is a popular dedication for mountain-top and hill-top churches and chapels throughout Greece, because of his association with hilltops and mountains, including, in the New Testament, the mountain of the Transfiguration.

Inside the hilltop cemetery chapel of the Prophet Elias (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The chapel is tiny but inside there is a number of icons of the Prophet Elijah, including one covered in a gold-like metal, telling the story of him being taken up to heaven by chariot and horses of fire (see II Kings 2:1-12).

An icon of the Prophet Elias in the hilltop cemetery chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The panorama that spread below us included the bay and harbour of Georgoupoli, including the much-photographed tiny chapel of Aghios Nikolaos at the end of a rocky breakwater.

The tiny chapel in the grounds of the Feriniki holiday apartment complex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The walk back along the road to Georgioupoli was surprising short. Within ten minutes we were back in the resort.

In the grounds of the Feriniki holiday apartment complex, behind our hotel, we came across another, whitewashed private chapel, small enough to go unnoticed but large enough for three or four people to stand in.

The chapel has a tiny, simple wooden screen that replaces the traditional iconostasis or icon screen, and is decorated with a number of locally-written icons.

Its simplicity is real, and unlike the imaginary but elusive blue-domed church to the east, it offers space for prayer and reflection.

Inside the chapel at Feriniki, with its simple icon screen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)