30 May 2019

How Shop Street Bridge
in Tuam acquired
an unusual balustrade

Shop Street Bridge in Tuam, Co Galway, is said to have been first built in the early 17th century by Archbishop William Daniel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Shop Street Bridge in Tuam connects Shop Street with the north part of the town and has been an important commercial route in the Co Galway town for more than four centuries.

An earlier bridge in Tuam, Bishop Street Bridge, was built between 1609 and 1629 by William Daniel, Archbishop of Tuam. Archbishop Daniel, who was born in Kilkenny, was one of the first scholars of Trinity College Dublin, and later one of the first elected fellows.

At TCD, he became involved in translating the New Testament into Irish. The project was commenced by Nicholas Walsh, Bishop of Ossory, John Kearney, Treasurer of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, and Nehemiah Donnellan, Archbishop of Tuam, and their translation was printed in 1602.

William Daniel also translated an Irish version of the Book of Common Prayer, published in 1608. He was appointed Prebendary of Stagonil in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, in 1591, and Treasurer of the cathedral in 1609. He became Archbishop of Tuam in 1609.

Archbishop Daniel died in Tuam on 11 July 1628, and was buried in in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Tuam, in the same tomb as his predecessor and brother-in-law, Nehemiah Donnellan.

The balustrade on Shop Street Bridge is said to have been first commissioned by the Blake family for Menlo Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Shop Street Bridge was built in Tuam in 1735 by Timothy Dunne, Sovereign (Mayor) of Tuam. This is a low, three-arch limestone bridge, built with coursed rubble limestone walls and with round arches flanking the wider and taller round middle arch.

However, the glory of the bridge is its balustrade, which was added in the 1820s. It is said this balustrade was commissioned for Menlo Castle by Charles Blake who owned the brewery in Tuam. His wife was one the Blakes of Menlo, who are one of the 14 ‘Tribes of Galway.’ However, when the balustrade was installed, she did not like it and it was moved to the bridge in Tuam.

This balustraded parapet has intermediate cut-stone plinths and piers with square recessed panels decorated with fans in each corner and plain piers at the ends. The balustrade supports limestone copings.

Below the bridge, the River Nanny and its ribbon of biodiversity is the habitat of a trout nursery, and it is a true wilderness of biodiversity.

The park area below the bridge been the mill pool until 1961, and the mill with its millwheel operated as a corn mill from 1720 until 1964. The watermill is unusual in being built over a river and supported by arches that could have served also as mill races.

The mill with its millwheel operated as a corn mill from 1720 until 1964 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Corrib Drainage Scheme lowered the riverbed of the River Nanny by 1.78 metres at Bishop Street Bridge and upstream. This dramatically cut power to the existing mills along the river, and as a result an electric engine was installed to power the ‘Little Mill.’

The mill closed in 1964. The ‘Little Mill’ was turned into a museum in 1978 on foot of a heritage project by Saint Patrick’s Secondary School and the teacher Tony Claffey. The project later received the ‘Best European Project’ award in Brussels. Today, it is the only fully preserved corn mill in the west of Ireland.

The Mill Pool was redesigned as a two-stage channel in 2007, the park was laid out as King Ruairdrí O’Connor Park, named in honour of the Last High King of Ireland, and the Miller’s Cottage with its Victorian facade was rebuilt in 2016.

The park is now a peaceful area by the River Nanny.

King Ruairdrí O’Connor Park is a peaceful area by the River Nanny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

How the Moon Landing
50 years ago changed
our view of the Ascension

The Ascension Window in the North Transept (Jebb Chapel), Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Ascension Day, Thursday 30 May 2019:

11 a.m.: The Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.

Readings: Acts 1: 1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1: 15-23; Luke 24: 44-53.

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Did you go to see the recent exhibition in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing?

We all know stories of elderly people who, half a century ago, refused to believe there had been a moon landing in 1969. They were the modern equivalent of ‘flat-earthers.’

But I remember sitting up to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the television on the night of 20/21 July 1969, and to hear Neil Armstrong’s words: ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’

It was a giant leap for humanity. We all became rocket scientists that night, because it changed our ideas of the shape of the universe, how we could travel through it, our understanding of the cosmos, and the place of our small planet in the universe.

Our view of the universe, our understanding of the cosmos, shapes how we image and think of God’s place in it, within it, above it, or alongside it. And, sometimes, the way past and outdated understandings of the universe were used to describe or explain the Ascension now make it difficult to talk about its significance and meaning to today’s scientific mind.

The Ascension is one of the 12 great feasts of the Church, coming 40 days after the Day of Easter. In the Orthodox Church, this day is the Analepsis, the ‘taking up,’ for by ascending into his glory Christ completed the work of our redemption.

On this day, we celebrate the completion of the work of our salvation, the pledge of our glorification with Christ, and his entry into heaven with our human nature glorified.

Today we celebrate the culmination of the Mystery of the Incarnation.

On this day we see the completion of Christ’s physical presence among his apostles and the consummation of the union of God and humanity, for on this day Christ ascends in his glorified human body to sit at the right hand of the Father.

The Ascension is the final visible sign of Christ’s two natures, divine and human, and it shows us that redeemed humanity now has a higher state than humanity had before the fall. That is the theological explanation, in a nutshell. By how do you image, imagine, the Ascension?

When we believed in a flat earth, it was easy to understand how Christ ascended into heaven, and how he then sat in the heavens, on a throne, on the right hand of the Father. But once we lost the notion of a flat earth as a way of explaining the world and the universe, we failed to adjust our images or approaches to the Ascension narrative.

Ever since, and especially after the moon landing, intelligent people have been left asking silly questions:

When Christ went up through the clouds, how long did he keep going?

When did he stop?

And where?

But the concept of an ascension was not one that posed difficulties in Christ’s earthly days. It is part of the tradition some of the prophets, Elijah and Enoch, were lifted up from the Earth before they died and were buried.

But Christ is not taken up to the Moon like some Biblical Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin. Our first reading tells us ‘he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight’ (Acts 1: 9).

In the Bible, the cloud is not a weather warning, but symbolises the presence of God: think of the ‘pillar of cloud’ that leads the freed slaves from Egypt through the wilderness into the Promised Land; how Moses climbs Mount Sinai to stand before the Lord, who descends in a cloud; the cloud that becomes a sign of God’s presence in the Temple in Jerusalem; or the cloud the covers the mountaintop at the Transfiguration.

As Dom Erik Varden of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey wrote in The Tablet last week [25 May 2019], ‘The cloud is glory. The glory is presence. It tells us that the Lord, the Father of all, is there.’

It is not that Christ vanishes beyond earth’s orbit, but that Christ enters the Father’s glory, which is set to fill the earth (see Numbers 14: 21).

So, where are we to see the Risen and Ascended Christ today?

Instead of keeping my head in the clouds, can I do what the disciples do immediately after the Ascension, as we hear in the Gospel reading?

They walk back into Jerusalem, the city. But this is also a journey into the New Jerusalem, which we have been reading about in our readings from the Book of Revelation these Sundays.

As we walk towards that New Jerusalem, as we hope for the New Heaven and the New Earth, can I see Christ’s footprints in the wilderness?

Can I see Christ walking on the wrong side of the street with the wrong sort of people?

Can I see Christ walking up to the tree, looking up at Zacchaeus in the branches (Luke 19: 1-10), and inviting him to eat with him?

Can I see his feet stumbling towards Calvary with a cross on his back, loving us to the very end?

Am I prepared to walk with him?

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Christ the Pantocrtator, or the Ascended Christ in the Dome of the Church of Analipsi (Church of the Ascension) in Georgioupoli, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Acts 1: 1-11

1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7 He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

Luke 24: 44-53

44 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

The ‘Museum of the Moon’ installation in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical Colour: White, or Gold.

The Greeting (from Easter Day until Pentecost):

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Penitential Kyries:

God our Father,
you exalted your Son to sit at your right hand.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
you are the way, the truth and the life.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit, Counsellor,
you are sent to be with us for ever.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.


Grant, we pray, Almighty God,
that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ
to have ascended into the heavens;
so we in heart and mind may also ascend
and with him continually dwell;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Jesus said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives (John 14: 27, 28)


Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who after he had risen from the dead ascended into heaven,
where he is seated at your right hand to intercede for us
and to prepare a place for us in glory:

Post Communion Prayer:

God our Father,
you have raised our humanity in Christ
and have fed us with the bread of heaven.
Mercifully grant that, nourished with such spiritual blessings,
we may set our hearts in the heavenly places;
where he now lives and reigns for ever.


Christ our exalted King
pour on you his abundant gifts
make you faithful and strong to do his will
that you may reign with him in glory:

Dismissal: (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

Go in the peace of the Risen Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!


281, Rejoice, the Lord is King! (CD 17)
634, Love divine, all loves excelling (CD 36)

The Ascension depicted in the East Window by Marion Grant (1951) in the Church of Saint George the Martyr in Southwark (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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.

Tuam’s closed railway
station is a reminder
of an industrial past

The abandoned railway station in Tuam, Co Galway … the arrival of the railway in Tuam inspired the building of third version of Saint Mary’s Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

With the arrival of the railway in Tuam in 1860-1861, the Anglican population of Tuam more than doubled from 310 to 640. The 14th century cathedral was no longer large enough to accommodate the growing congregation, and Charles James Seymour, the Dean of Tuam, was inspired to commission a third cathedral on this site, the present Saint Mary’s Cathedral, in 1861-1878.

The former railway station in Tuam, despite its present sad state, is a handsome villa-style building. It is a fine building in the tradition of railway architecture and is enhanced by the retention of most of its original fabric and details. The water tank is also a good structure in the engineering tradition.

This is a detached nine-bay single-storey building. It has a five-bay central section with a projecting gable-fronted porch, and this is flanked by slightly recessed two-bay sections.

The station has a pitched slate roof with six ashlar limestone chimneystacks, and wide eaves with carved timber brackets. There are painted rendered walls, and the front elevation has rusticated limestone raised quoins at all its corners and cut limestone skirting.

The building had square-headed windows with limestone sills and two-over-two pane timber sliding sash windows.

The doorway had a moulded limestone surround. The square-headed doorway had a cut limestone doorcase with imposts, plinths and brackets supporting a heavy cornice, with glazed timber panelled double-leaf doors and a plain overlight, and it was approached by limestone steps with metal rails.

The platform façade of the building was obscured by modern additions. To the east, a cast-iron water tank was signed ‘B Graham Waterford.’ It stood on a limestone base built of large blocks of roughly finished limestone, some with natural vermiculation, and rusticated raised quoins on the corners and on the central round-headed arch.

The platform shelter, which is now disused, is a fine example of cast-iron work and railway engineering.

It has a pitched corrugated-iron roof on light steel trusses with braces, supported at the rear by a brick wall that has a rendered base and rectangular panels with moulded brick surrounds, and at the centre of the plan by cast-iron brackets supported on round cast-iron columns with Corinthian capitals. The spandrels to the brackets have ornate vegetal decoration.

The station also has a three-bay double-height goods shed that is a very good example of railway goods shed.

The railway footbridge, built ca 1870, is highly decorative and a good example of the quality of iron casting in the 19th century.

The station opened on 27 September 1860, serving the line from Tuam to Athenry. The Tuam to Claremorris extension opened in 1872.

Some sources say the station may have been designed by John Skipton Mulvany (1813-1870) who designed an extension to the hotel at Salthill, Monkstown, for the Dublin and Kingstown Railway Company. Between 1837 and 1841, he designed stations at Salthill, Blackrock and Kingstown for the same company, and he later became architect to the Midland Great Western Railway Company and to the Dublin Trunk Connecting Line, designing the station at Broadstone in Dublin (1841-1851) and stations in Mullingar, Dalkey, Galway, Ballinasloe, Moate and Athlone.

However, it is more probable that Tuam station was designed by George Willoughby Hemans (1814-1885). He was born in St Asaph, North Wales, the son of Captain Alfred Hemans and his wife, the poet Felicia Hemans, whose grandfather, George Browne, was from Passage, Co Cork.

After three years at a military college in France, Hemans moved to Dublin to live with his uncle, Colonel George Baxter Browne, a magistrate and police commissioner. After working on the Ordnance Survey, Hemans became a pupil of Sir John MacNeill in London.

As MacNeill’s pupil, he worked on several Irish and Scottish railway lines. He then became Resident Engineer in charge of the Dublin end of the Dublin and Drogheda Railway. In this role, Hemans built the first two iron lattice bridges in Ireland on this line. Hemans then took charge of a division of the new Great Southern and Western Railway between Dublin and Cork.

In 1845, the directors of the Midland Great Western Railway invited Hemans to take charge of their proposed new line to Mullingar and Longford. The line to Mullingar opened in 1848 but stopped because of a lack of funds.

As a famine relief measure, the Government loaned the company £500,000 in 1849 to build a railway line between Athlone and Galway, and the company undertook to finance the line between Mullingar and Athlone. The railway pioneer William Dargan was contracted for the project, and the line from Mullingar to Galway was completed in August 1851, five months ahead of schedule and well below the estimated cost.

Hemans continued as engineer to the Midland Great Western railway until 1865. He also became chief engineer of the Waterford and Limerick railway, and during the 1860s he was also engineer to many other lines: Athenry and Ennis Junction; Athenry and Tuam; Dublin and Baltinglass; Enniskillen, Bundoran and Sligo; Inniskeen to Carrickmacross; Kilkenny Junction; Kilrush and Kilkee; Limerick and Kilkenny; from Newry to Armagh, Greenore and Warrenpoint; and the Portadown, Dungannon and Omagh Junction.

Hemans built more railways in Ireland than any other engineer of his time, employing Richard Hassard as his chief assistant for several years.

He was appointed engineer-in-chief to the government of the province of Canterbury, New Zealand, in 1870, and later to the government of New Zealand. He had a paralytic attack in 1872 while he was staying in Wales. He died on 29 December 1885.

At its height in the 1930s, when Tuam was a centre of industry, a total of 102 workers were employed at Tuam railway station. The railway line was used during the filming of The Quiet Man, and can be seen when John Wayne disembarks at Ballyglunin, about 6 km from Tuam.

By 1976, the number of workers had fallen to two – the station master and a porter. Tuam railway station closed to passenger traffic on 5 April 1976 and finally closed altogether on 18 December 1978.

At times, there have plans to reopen the Athenry to Tuam railway line, but they have been put on hold constantly. This would provide intercity services between Tuam and Galway and Dublin, and hopefully it comes in time to save Tuam’s railway station too.