31 March 2019

An evening out at
the Mustard Seed
in a former convent

The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge … fine dining in a country house setting in Ballingarry, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I had dinner this weekend at the Mustard Seed in Ballingarry, Co Limerick. The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge is on a small hill overlooking the village of Ballingarry, nestled in the heart of the Golden Vale, south of Adare and Rathkeale.

Guests at this country house, with its own unique ambience, can enjoy the tranquillity, fresh country air and walks in the surrounding hills and lanes.

Sitting on acres of manicured lawns, orchard and a working kitchen garden, this heritage hideaway is the only Blue Book Country House in the Limerick countryside.

It is surrounded by country lanes for leisurely strolls and close to the Ballyhoura Mountain range for more organised trails. The house looks across at Knockfierna, the highest peak in the landscape of the Mid-West, offering the perfect trek for even the amateur walker.

It is also close to Lough Gur, one of Ireland’s finest archaeological and historical gems.

The house was once known as Echo Lodge, and until the mid-20th century the house was home to Saint Mary’s Convent of Mercy and with an adjoining school.

This is an impressive, substantial country house with a symmetrical form, solid massing and is articulated by the finely cut limestone quoins.

Father James Enright began building the Roman Catholic parish church in Ballingarry the 1870s, before he was moved to Parteen in 1874. The church was completed by Father Timothy Shanahan. He found the parish priest’s house in Ballingarry, built by Father Enright, was so large that he decided it would be more suitable as a convent, and he brought the Sisters of Mercy to Ballingarry from Abbeyfeale.

Echo Lodge was built in 1884 as a three-bay, two-storey house, with a recessed centre-bay. Today it has a portico at the front or south-east, bay windows on the south-west side and first floor. In addition, the house has recent multiple-bay extensions behind on the north-west side, and on the north-east side that provide hotel accommodation.

The hipped slate roof has overhanging eaves, timber brackets and there are rendered chimneystacks. Lined-and-ruled rendered walls having limestone quoins and plinth course. Square-headed openings with bipartite one-over-one pane timber sliding sash windows having render keystones and limestone sills. Square-headed openings to bay windows and rear elevation having one-over-one pane timber sliding sash windows and limestone sills.

The round-headed windows to north-east side have one-over-one pane timber sliding margin sash windows and limestone sills. The round-headed openings at the portico, the south-west and north-east sides have fixed windows and limestone sills.

The portico has limestone Doric columns supporting a carved frieze with an inscription and an entablature, with flanking render Doric style pilasters. A flight of limestone steps leads up to the front doors entrance.

The pillared portico of the present house provides a decorative focus, and it is said it limestone columns were salvaged from nearby Grove House in the 1960s. Grove House was probably built around 1814 by Colonel William O'Dell, MP, and it was later used as a workhouse before its eventual demolition.

Echo Lodge is a well-maintained Victorian country house and it retains much of its early form and character, as well as many important original features including the slate roof and timber sash windows.

Dinner in the Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge … accompanied by a bottle of Passo del Tempio (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

We were there thanks to a generous and thoughtful gift and we were welcomed by John Edward Joyce, the General Manager, to this legendary restaurant with its warm, welcoming open fire, its warm hospitality and its superb food.

We had a table at the front window, and for starters we had risotto with blue-berried beetroots, fennel, blue cheese and pumpkin seeds; and salmon with gravlax yuzu, pickled squash, onion, yoghurt espuma and coriander oil.

Our intermediates were a salad of organic leaves with tomato and chili dressing, mushroom and wild garlic soup.

Our mains were Ravioli with leek and parmesan, spinach, artichoke crisps and king oyster mushrooms, and John Dory, with spinach, shitake, cauliflower and yoghurt purée and cockles.

It was all accompanied by a bottle of Passo del Tempio from Sicily, and followed by coffee.

The Mustard Seed is celebrating over 30 years of food and hospitality since 1985.

Its recent awards include: Host of the Year, Georgina Campbell 2019; Best Customer Service, RAI 2018; Best Front of House Team, Yeschef 2018; One Fab Day 100 Best Wedding Venues, 2018; outstanding Guest Experience, Georgina Campbell; Best Customer Service, Food and Wine Magazine Hideaway of the Year, Georgina Campbell; and Pet Friendly Hotel of the Year, Georgina Campbell.

The Library at the Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge in Ballingarry, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

April 2019, Holy Week and
Easter in the Rathkeale and
Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes

The Resurrection depicted in a fresco in Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Sunday 7 April (Lent 5):

9.30, Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton;

11.30, Morning Prayer, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert).

Readings: Isaiah 43: 16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3: 4b-14; John 12: 1-8.


517, Brother, sister, let me serve you (CD 30)
218, And can it be that I should gain (CD 14)
587, Just as I am, without one plea (CD 33)

Sunday 14 April (Palm Sunday, Lent 6):

9.30, The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Castletown Church;

11.30, Morning Prayer, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

Readings: Isaiah 50: 4-9a; Psalm 31: 9-16; Philippians 2: 5-11; Luke 23: 1-49.


217, All glory, laud and honour (CD 14)
134, Make way, make way, for Christ the king (CD 8)
715, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God the Lord Almighty (CD 40)

Monday 15 April:

8 p.m., Evening Prayer, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.

Readings: Psalm 36: 5-11; Hebrews 9: 11-15; John 12: 1-11.


217, All glory, laud and honour (CD 14).

Tuesday 16 April:

8 p.m., Late Evening Office, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin.

Readings: Psalm 71: 1-14; John 12: 20-36.


66, Before the ending of the day (CD 4)
218, And can it be that I should gain (CD 14)

Wednesday 17 April:

8 p.m., Compline, Holy Trinity, Rathkeale.

Reading: John 13: 21-32.

Hymn: 247, When I survey the wondrous cross (CD 15)

Thursday 18 April (Maundy Thursday):

8 p.m., the Maundy Eucharist, with Washing of the Feet, Castletown Church.

Readings: Exodus 12: 1-4 (5-10), Psalm 116: 1, 10-17; I Corinthians 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-17, 31b-35.


431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour (CD 26)
432, Love is his word, love is his way (CD 26)
515, ‘A new commandment I give unto you (CD 30)

Friday 19 April (Good Friday):

12 noon to 3 p.m.: The Three Hours, Christ’s journey with the Cross to Calvary, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.

Saturday 20 April (Easter Eve):

8 p.m., The Easter Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Holy Trinity, Rathkeale;

10 p.m., The Easter Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Castletown Church.

Readings: Isaiah 65: 17-25; the Easter Anthems (sung as Hymn 286, CD 17); I Corinthians 15: 19-26; Luke 24: 1-12.


260, Christ is alive! Let Christians sing (CD 16)
258, Christ the Lord is risen again (CD 16)
255, Christ is Risen, alleluia (CD 16)

Sunday 21 April (Easter Day):

9.30 a.m., the Easter Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton;

11.30 a.m., the Easter Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert).

Readings: Acts 10: 34-43; Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24; I Corinthians 15: 19-26; John 20: 1-18.


286, The strife is o’er, the battle done (CD 12)
78, This is the day that the Lord has made (CD 5)
263, Crown him with many crowns (CD 14)

Sunday 28 April (Easter 2):

9.30 a.m., Morning Prayer, Castletown Church;

11.30 a.m., the Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale (with the Revd Joe Hardy).

Readings: Acts 5: 27-32 or Job 42: 1-6; Psalm 118: 14-29 or 150; Revelation 1: 4-8; John 20: 19-31.


646, Glorious things of thee are spoken (CD 37)
239, See, Christ was wounded for our sake (CD 15)
307, Our great redeemer, as he breathed (CD 18)

The Resurrection … a stained glass window in Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mothers’ broken hearts,
expanding hearts, and
souls that are pierced

‘Mother and Child’ … a sculpture by Anna Raynoch in Auschwitz (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 31 March 2019: the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Mothering Sunday)

11 a.m.: United Group Service for the Fifth Sunday:

Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2),

Readings: Exodus 2: 1-10; Psalm 34: 11-20; II Corinthians 1: 3-7; Luke 2: 33-35.

The distress of refugee Syrian mothers and fathers seen by the artist Kaiti Hsu

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

I grew up on a solid diet of English boys’ comics, graduating from the Beano and the Dandy in the 1950s to the Victor, the Valiant and the Hotspur in the early 1960s, and books and films set in places like Stalag Luft III, such as The Wooden Horse and The Great Escape.

There were limited storylines, and the characters never had any great depth to them.

In those decades immediately after World War II, Germans were caricatures rather characters, portrayed as Huns who had a limited vocabulary.

And I remember how they always referred to the Vaterland. Somehow, seeing your country as the Father-land made you harsh, unforgiving, demanding and violent. While those who saw their country as a mother, whether it was Britannia or Marianne, or perhaps even Hibernia, were supposed to be more caring, empathetic and ethical, endowed with justice and mercy.

These images somehow played on, pandered to, the images a previous generation had of the different roles of a father and a mother.

So, culturally it may come as a surprise, perhaps even a cultural challenge, to many this morning, that the other Gospel readings provided for Mothering Sunday include a Parable that tells us what it is to be a good father, the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Culturally we are predisposed to thinking of this parable as the story of the Prodigal Son. But this is not a story telling us to be wayward children. The emphasis is three-way: the wayward son, the unforgiving or begrudging son, and the loving Father.

Who is missing from this story? … the Mother of these two sons.

The people who first heard that parable – eager tax collectors and sinners, grumbling Pharisees and Scribes – may well have been mindful of the Old Testament saying: ‘A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a mother’s grief’ (Proverbs 10:1).

Or inwardly they may have been critical of the father, recalling another saying in the Book of Proverbs: ‘Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray’ (Proverbs 22: 6).

We all know what bad parenting is like. I know myself. I know what it is to have two sets of parents, and four sets of grandparents, who came with different gifts and different deficiencies. But I am also aware of my own many failings as a parent too, and hope on this Mothering Sunday that where I have failed as a father, a loving mother has been more than compensation.

In the story of the Prodigal Son – a story with which most of us are familiar with, I imagine – Christ rejects all the dysfunctional models of parenting we have inherited and received.

Those first listeners to this parable may well have had wayward sons and jealous sons, and the story, initially, would have been no surprise, would have been one they knew only too well.

But they no longer need to be challenged as adult children. The challenge they need is about their own parenting skills. And they may well have been distressed as they hear a story about a man who behaves not like a father would be expected to behave but like a mother.

Where was the mother of the Prodigal Son? Did she have a role in this family drama?

Had she been praying ever since her wayward son left home, asking God to keep him safe, to bring him home?

Perhaps it was her prayers that reached him in some way and reminded her son of home?

But the Father in the parable is also both Father and Mother to the Son.

He behaves just like a mother would in these circumstances.

He is constantly looking and waiting and watching for him until the day he sees him.

And when he sees him, instead of being the perfectly behaved gentleman he is filled up with emotions, he runs, he hugs, he kisses. He finds him clean clothes, he finds clean shoes, he feeds him. And like a good mother, he probably also tells him his room is made up, it has always been there for him.

The father of the Prodigal Son bucks all the images of parenting we have inherited: he is both mother and father to his children.

The sufferings and compassion of three images in recent times illustrate for me how loving parents can be reflections of divine majesty and grace.

I think of the pregnant mother, a qualified solicitor who had been homeless, told Valerie Cox on RTÉ radio some years ago how she was forced to walk the streets of Dublin because the hostel where she was staying would not allow her in until 7.30 in the evening.

Like the Prodigal Son, no one gave her anything and she had no proper bed at night. She was 6½ months pregnant, had an eight-year-old daughter, and Mother Ireland has betrayed her.

Or I think of Syrian mothers who are refugees crossing the Aegean Sea, and see their children drown just before they reach the shores of Greece … a story largely forgotten by media outlets today.

We see it as our problem rather than seeing it as a problem for the people fleeing war and savage violence.

Or I think of Nuala Creane, who spoke movingly ten years ago at the funeral of her son Sebastian, who was murdered in Bray in 2009. In a well-sculpted eulogy, carved with all the beauty, precision, delicacy and impact of a Pieta being sculpted by a Michelangelo, she told all present that ‘my story, my God is the God of Small Things. I see God’s presence in the little details.’

She spoke of the heartbreak and the choice that faces everyone confronted with the deepest personal tragedies, admitting, ‘Our hearts are broken but maybe our hearts needed to be broken so that they could expand.’

Broken hearts, expanding hearts, souls that have been pierced, rising to the challenge with unconditional love … this is how I hope I understand the majesty and the glory of Christ, at the best of times and at the worst of times.

How as a society – whether it is our local community, this island, or in Europe – are we mothers to mothers in need?

How, as a Church, so often spoken of lovingly as ‘Mother Church,’ do we speak up for God’s children in their time of need and despair?

I suppose, on this Mothering Sunday, that Christ had good experiences of mothering as he was growing up. Just a few verses before the parable of the Prodigal Son, he uses a most maternal image as he laments over Jerusalem and declares: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem … How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings …’ (Luke 13: 34).

The Christ Child, when he was born, was cradled in the lap of a loving mother who at the time could never know that when he died and was taken down from the cross she would cradle him once again in her lap.

But the experience of a mother’s loss and grief that come to mind in Lent is given new hope at Easter.

On Mothering Sunday, we move through Lent towards Good Friday and Easter Day, How do we, like Christ, and like so many suffering mothers, grow to understand those who suffer, those who grieve, those who forgive?

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Presentation in the Temple, carved on a panel on a triptych in the Lady Chapel, Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford/ Lichfield Gazette)

Luke 2: 33-35:

33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

‘A well-sculpted eulogy, carved with all the beauty, precision, delicacy and impact of a Pieta being sculpted by a Michelangelo’ … a copy of Michelangelo’s Pieta in the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Athlone (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical Colour: Violet.

The canticle Gloria is usually omitted in Lent. Traditionally in Anglicanism, the doxology or Gloria at the end of Canticles and Psalms is also omitted during Lent.

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

God of compassion,
whose Son Jesus Christ, the child of Mary,
shared the life of a home in Nazareth,
and on the cross drew the whole human family to himself:
Strengthen us in our daily living
that in joy and in sorrow
we may know the power of your presence
to bind together and to heal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of the Day:

Lord God
whose blessed Son our Saviour
gave his back to the smiters
and did not hide his face from shame:
Give us grace to endure the sufferings of this present time
with sure confidence in the glory that shall be revealed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and his name is called the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 7).


You chose the Blessed Virgin Mary
to be the mother of your Son
and so exalted the humble and meek;
your angel hailed her as most highly favoured,
and with all generations we call her blessed:

The Post Communion Prayer:

Loving God,
as a mother feeds her children at the breast,
you feed us in this sacrament with spiritual food and drink.
Help us who have tasted your goodness
to grow in grace within the household of faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Christ the Son of God, born of Mary,
fill you with his grace
to trust his promises and obey his will:

The grave of Samuel Johnson’s mother and father in Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Alternative words to use at the Peace:

Dr Samuel Johnson’s ‘Last Letter to his Aged Mother,’ written 250 years ago on 20 January 1769, reads:

Dear Honoured Mother:

Neither your condition nor your character make it fit for me to say much. You have been the best mother, and I believe the best woman, in the world. I thank you for your indulgence to me, and beg forgiveness of all that I have done ill, and all that I have omitted to do well. God grant you his Holy Spirit, and receive you to everlasting happiness, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen. Lord Jesus receive your spirit. Amen.


569: Hark my soul, it is the Lord (CD 33)
541: God of Eve and God of Mary (CD 310)
125: Hail to the Lord’s anointed (CD 8)

The Presentation in the Temple … a fresco in Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

Praying through Lent with
USPG (26): 31 March 2019

‘Jesus meets the Holy Women’ … Station VIII in the Stations of the Cross in the Friars’ Graveyard at Gormanston College, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Fourth Sunday in Lent [31 March 2019], and Mothering Sunday. Later this morning, I am presiding and preaching at the Parish Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (11 a.m.).

During Lent this year, I am using the USPG Prayer Diary, Pray with the World Church, for my morning prayers and reflections.

USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) 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. It was founded in 1701.

This week (31 March to 6 April 2019), the USPG Prayer Diary is focussing on the theme of Climate. This theme is introduced this morning with a short article from the Church of South India’s Green Schools programme, which is inspiring a new generation to care for the environment:

‘We train students to observe and watch nature. This is the best education we can give them because nature will reveal its treasures to the students. Observing nature with respect and curiosity will change their mindset, which is the primary goal of the Green Schools programme. We aim to catch the students when they are young and give them training in sustainable values in the hope that this can start to solve the present ecological crisis. Interestingly, we’ve noticed that primary school students respond better than high school students.

‘We also organise training for teachers and clergy in the dioceses. Mona Robert, a teacher at Dornakal Diocese High School, said: ‘The sessions inspired me. From now on I would like to read the Bible keeping ecology in mind. I was impressed by the significance of tigers, the guardians of the forest, and how they are [badly] treated. Also, because water is the main resource for all living beings, it should be used carefully, so we have to educate people about this.’

‘In Medak Diocese, teacher K Hepsheba reported: ‘We learned how everything in the universe is interrelated. If we care about nature, nature will care for us’.’

Sunday 31 March: The Fourth Sunday in Lent :

Creator God,
the heavens declare your glory
and the earth your generosity.
Forgive our exploitation of your gracious provision
and through your bountiful goodness
guide our efforts to be better stewards of your creation.

The Collect:

Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
Grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross,
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection