21 December 2018

A glimpse in Limerick
of Christmas Past and
the world of Dickens

The former pharmacist’s shopfront at 37 Cecil Street, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Earlier this week, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol turned 175. It was first published on 19 December 1843 years and has so shaped our image of Christmas ever since that some writers claim Charles Dickens was true inventor of the Victorian Christmas.

Dickens intended that A Christmas Carol should be a moral tale, reflecting the attitudes of the day towards poverty, and in particular child poverty.

Ebenezer Scrooge, the bah-humbug-shouting miser despises Christmas, charity, the poor, and everything apart from his own money. He is visited first by the ghost of Jacob Marley, his dead business partner, and then by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future.

The message gets through, and Scrooge learns to love and celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. Scrooge remembers his lost humanity and learns to see it in others.

No fewer than 160 of the author’s descendants gathered in 2012 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles. Kilkenny is home to one of these direct descendants, Nicky Flynn (nee Dickens), the owner of Kytler’s Inn. Some years ago, she and her brother Gerald Dickens worked together to stag his one-man show, Mr Dickens is Coming, described as ‘a light-hearted and varied look at the life and character of Charles Dickens.’

During his life-time, Charles Dickens (1812-1870) toured Ireland, reading from and acting out parts in his novels. During his visit to Limerick 160 years ago, in 1858, Dickens stayed at the hotel he referred to as the Royal Hotel. He was 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’s Street, now O’Connell Street. It was torn down in 1991-1992.

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.’

As I walked through Limerick yesterday [20 December 2018], I thought for a moment I had caught a glimpse of Dickensian or Victorian Limerick as I peered into what was once O’Flaherty’s Pharmacy at 37 Cecil Street.

No 37 Cecil Street, Limerick, was built about 200 years ago, around 1820 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

This brick house was built ca 1820. It is an end-of-terrace, two-bay three-storey house over a covered basement, with a three-sided canted oriel shop window on the ground floor. The red-brick walls are laid in Flemish bond with cement pointing. There is mixed brick and rubble limestone on the gabled side elevation and a cement rendered wall at the rear.

The gauged brick camber-arched windows have patent rendered reveals, painted limestone sills and timber Wyatt-style sash windows.

The three-sided canted timber oriel window on the ground floor that I found myself admiring has multi-fixed-pane glazing. The timber frieze above once had lettering and an architrave.

The round-arched door opening has patent rendered reveals and a multiple-pane glazed timber door with the decorative original fanlight above. Here again the name ‘O’Flaherty’ has been removed in recent weeks.

Limestone and concrete steps lead up to the front door. The building is enclosed by replacement iron railings and cement paving, and at the rear the site is enclosed by a rubble stone wall bordering the lane leading up to the former Quaker Meeting House.

This house retains important architectural features to the front and rear, and it is part of a terrace of four, slender, three-storey houses that form an attractive feature on Cecil Street.

Sadly, the ‘O’Flaherty’ name has been removed over the front window and door, the shop is closed, and I wonder whether another delightful detail of Dickensian or Victorian architecture is about to be lost in Limerick this Christmas.

Is another delightful detail of Dickensian or Victorian architecture about to be lost in Limerick this Christmas? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Praying in Advent with USPG
and Lichfield Cathedral
(21): 21 December 2018

‘Mary meets Elizabeth’ (1996), by Dinah Roe Kendall, in ‘Allegories of Heaven: an artist explores the greatest story ever told’ (Carlisle: Piquant, 2002)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout the season of Advent this year, I am spending a short time of prayer and reflection each morning, using the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 being used in Lichfield Cathedral.

USPG, founded in 1701, is an Anglican mission agency supporting churches around the world in their mission to bring fullness of life to the communities they serve.

USPG is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice.

Under the title Pray with the World Church, the current USPG prayer diary (7 October 2018 to 16 February 2019), offers prayers and reflections from the Anglican Communion.

The USPG Prayer Diary this week prays with reflections from Bangladesh, and began the week on Sunday with an article by Paul Senoy Sarkar, Programme Officer for Shalom, which is the development organisation of the Church of Bangladesh.

The USPG Prayer Diary:

Friday 21 December 2018:

Pray that the Christian community might be able to contribute as salt and light in Bangladesh’s political situation.

The Virgin Mary stands with the Christ Child, a Christmas scene carved by Mary Grant in the centre of the west door of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford / Lichfield Gazette)

Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar:

Lichfield Cathedral’s Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 suggests you light your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray. It suggests setting aside five to 15 minutes each day.

Buy or use a special candle to light each day as you read and pray through the suggestions on the calendar. Each week there is a suggestion to ‘eat simply’ – try going without so many calories or too much rich food, just have enough. There is a suggestion to donate to a charity working with the homeless. There is encouragement to pray through what you see and notice going on around you in people, the media and nature.

The calendar is for not only for those who use the Cathedral website and for the Cathedral community. It is also for anyone who wants to share in the daily devotional exercise. The calendar suggests lighting your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray.

Today’s reflection is headed ‘O Oriens’ (‘O Rising Sun,’ but often translated in English as ‘O Dayspring’ or ‘O Morning Star’), referring to the fifth of the O Antiphons in the final week of Advent:


O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.


O Morning Star, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Today’s suggested reading is Luke 1: 39-45. The reflection for today suggests:

Pray for all who are expecting children, for all they look forward to and hope for. Pray for new parents delighting in their new-born children.

Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, the Church of Ireland):

Zephaniah 3: 14-18; Psalm 33: 1-4, 11-12, 20-22; Luke 1: 39-45.

The Collect:

O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

we give you thanks for these heavenly gifts.
Kindle us with the fire of your Spirit
that when Christ comes again
we may shine as lights before his face;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.