21 October 2019

Why I have to change my
plans for winter walks on
the beach in Ballybunion

Late autumn lights on the beach in Ballybunion on Sunday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

It is sad when a good restaurant, with good food and good wines, finds it has to close its doors.

Since I moved here in early 2017, one of my regular pleasures – once or twice a month – has been a walk on the beaches of Ballybunion, after the Sunday services in Askeaton and Tarbert, and lunch in Daroka on Cliff Road, with its views across to the castle ruins and out across the North Kerry coast to the Atlantic waves.

I had missed those Sunday lunches in Daroka, during the summer months. But when they resumed serving lunch on Sundays two of us returned last month, and we were back again yesterday [20 October 2019].

Sadly, though, Daroka is about to close. Emily Devine O’Brien, the general manager, and Daniel O’Brien, announced recently that they had taken ‘the incredibly hard decision’ to close the restaurant next Monday [28 October].

‘It has been our privilege to be part of a business community in Ballybunion that is unquestionably the hardest working community that we have ever been part of,’ they announced on Facebook. ‘We have had some of the best moments of our lives inside the walls of Daroka and will treasure the memories and friends we have made through its journey.’

They add: ‘Sadly though it’s goodbye from us.’

We have had some of the best moments of our lives inside the walls of Daroka and will treasure the memories and friends we have made through its journey’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Next weekend is their last weekend of in Daroka. Already they are full for Sunday lunch next Sunday, although they still have some places left for either Friday or Saturday evening.

They like to boast: ‘Here at Daroka we try to keep it real. Real food, real simple. Not everything is organic, not everything is local; but everything is the best. The best we can source, procure, prep, cook and serve.’

In the past, I have quoted two of the many humorous quotations on the wine list in Daroka:

‘I can certainly see that you know your wine. Most of the guests who stay here wouldn’t know the difference between Bordeaux and Claret’ – Basil Fawlty, Fawlty Towers.

‘I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food’ – WC Fields, ca 1930s.

They have taken their wines very seriously in Daroka (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

But, humour aside, they have taken their wines very seriously in Daroka, and told their diners: ‘Our wine philosophy is straightforward, in terms of style, we look for wines of balance, wines that are true to type (representative of their origins), and wines that will complement our style of food.’

Although some rare wines were priced in the high triple figures, the wines in Daroka have been sensibly priced, by and large, and the Daroka team has offered guests interesting ways to explore the restaurant’s choice of wines.

They explained: ‘In terms of pricing, our aim is to offer excellent value at each price point. To help select our wines, we work closely with our wine suppliers.’

They went on to say, ‘We have taken much pleasure in creating our wine list and we have a number of wines which we regard as hidden gems, such as our “Wine by the Glass.” We do hope that you enjoy our selection and welcome your comments and feedback.’

The approach has been good-humoured, but these are seriously good world wines. They said on their wine, ‘We are proud to work with small, quality-focused wine producers. In our opinion, not only do smaller producers inevitably offer a superior combination of quality and value for money, many of those that appear in our list are benchmark producers for their region.’

Although we are in the second half of October, it was a bright sunny afternoon yesterday, and after lunch in Daroka two of us we went for a walk on the long, sandy stretch of beaches beneath the cliffs on the north side of Ladies’ Beach as far as the rocks and pebbles on the shore at the south end of the Men’s Beach.

The temperatures were a little higher than normal, reaching 13 or 14 during the afternoon, and the skies were a clear blue.

The extended sunny weather brought some families back to Ballybunion, perhaps to enjoy an unexpected weekend at their holiday homes and mobile homes. A few brave-hearted swimmers and surfboarders even took to the water.

These beach walks are good exercise for my lungs, easing the symptoms of Sarcoidosis, and also help to relieve the tingling or pins and needles at the ends of my toes and fingers that comes with my severe B12 deficiency.

I said last month, ‘I am looking forward to more walks on the beaches of Ballybunion … and Sunday lunches in Daroka.’

Sadly, the closure of Daroka I am going to have to change my plans for Sunday afternoons as autumn fades and I head off for winter walks on the beach.

Sunlight on the beach in Ballybunion on Sunday afternoon(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

‘Sing with us in harmony
and let our voices become more
than the sum of their parts’

‘Adoration of the Torah’ by Artur Markiowicz (1872-1934) in the Jewish Museum in the Old Synagogue, Kraków (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Over the last few weeks, to coincide with the Jewish High Holy Days, I have been publishing blog postings on the synagogues of Dublin.

Those postings came to a conclusion on Friday. The High Holy Days, traditionally the most spiritually intense times of the Jewish year, come to an end this evening and tomorrow with Simchat Torah, which begins this evening [21 October 2019] and ends tomorrow [22 October 2019].

By the beginning of this week, many people may have holiday fatigue. There was Selichot, then the cemetery service, two days of Rosh Hashanah, Shabbat Shuvah, five services on Yom Kippur, a week of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret services with Yizkor, and this evening there is Simchat Torah.

After a long round of autumn holidays and festivals, Simchat Torah (שִׂמְחַת תּוֹרָה, ‘Rejoicing with the Torah’) marks the end of one annual cycle of Torah readings, and the beginning of a new one, and it follows immediately after the festival of Sukkot.

The main celebrations of Simchat Torah take place in synagogues during the services this evening and tomorrow morning. In many synagogues, this is the only time of the year when the Torah scrolls are taken out of the ark and read at night. In the morning, the last appointed portion (parashah) of Deuteronomy and the first portion of Genesis are read in the synagogue.

Simchat Torah can be celebratory, raucous and joyful, all at one and the same time, and often with constant singing and dancing. Each time the Ark is opened, people leave their seats and dance and sing with the Torah scrolls in a joyous celebration that often lasts many several hours.

Each member of the congregation is called up for an aliyah or a reading of the Torah from the bimah or reading platform. Sometimes, there is a special aliyah or an ‘ascent’ to the Torah, for children. Sometimes, the Torah is carried in a kind of festive parade around, preceded and followed by children waving flags.

In some communities, a Torah scroll is unrolled, from beginning to end, and people, wearing protective gloves as they touch the parchment, hold it up in a giant circle. Someone looks for a blessing for each person based on the verses near where their hands happen to be.

Many communities dance seven circuits of the synagogue while carrying the Torah – one for each day of the week, one for each colour of the rainbow, one for each of the seven sefirot or qualities of God.

For some time, for my private prayers and evening devotions, I have been using the prayer book, Service of the Heart, compiled by Rabbi John Rayner and Rabbi Chaim Stern, who wrote or rewrote many of the prayers and hymns it includes.

This prayer books includes this prayer for Simchat Torah:

‘Those who serve You shall be clothed in righteousness, and Your faithful ones will sing for joy. And it shall be said on that day: “Behold this is our God; we have hoped in him, and he will save us; this is the Lord; we have waited for him: let us rejoice and be glad in him.’

This prayer is based on Biblical passages (Psalm 132: 9; Isaiah 25: 9) and comes from a longer passage traditionally recited after the opening of the Ark on Simchat Torah. It was first found in the 11th century prayer books known as Machzor Vitry compiled by Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105), a mediaeval French rabbi generally known by his acronym Rashi, and his disciple, Simchah Vitry.

Service of the Heart also includes a hymn sung while the Scrolls are carried in procession:

Save us, O Lord we implore You;
Prosper us, O Lord, we implore You;
Answer us, O Lord, when we call upon You.

God of all spirits, save us;
Searcher of hearts, prosper us;
Mighty Redeemer, answer us when we call upon You.

Lord, Pure and Upright, save us;
Protector of the needy, prosper us;
Benevolent and Beneficent God, answer us when we call upon You.

Eternal King, save us;
God, Radiant and Glorious, prosper us;
Upholder of the failing, answer us when we call upon You.

Helper of the weak, save us;
Redeemer and Deliver, prosper us;
Eternal Rock, answer us when we call upon You.

Lord, Holy and Awesome, save us;
Merciful and Gracious God, prosper us;
Keeper of the Covenant, answer us when we call upon You.

This is an adaptation of an early mediaeval hymn, with an alphabetic acrostic, and this too is first found in Machzor Vitry.

The first two lines in this hymn are from Psalm 118: 25, the third line is based on Psalm 20: 10. This version is slightly abridged. The hymn is traditionally sung on Simchat Torah in conjunction with the hakkafot as the Torah scrolls are carried around the synagogue seven times.

On her blog Velveteen Rabbi, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat has posted seven poems commissioned for last year’s celebration of Simchat Torah by Temple Beth-El of City Island, a well-known synagogue on Long Island.

They were written to accompany the seven hakkafot or circle dances with the Torah. They map to the seven ‘lower’ sefirot through which God is revealed: chesed, loving kindness; gevurah, boundaries and strength, tiferet, balance and harmony; netzach, endurance; hod, humble splendour; yesod, roots and foundation; and malchut, Shechinah.

Seven songs

Such abundance! Sunlight streaming
golden as chicken soup, rain
that comes in its season, profusion
of produce at the farmer’s market,
the way our hearts spill over
when we see someone we love, the way
Your heart flows to each of us.

Bless boundaries. Bless the chutes
that control the flood, the walls
that protect from harm. Bless
integrity holding firm.
Bless the strength to stand tall
even in the face of storms:
to bend, and not to break.

Balance us, God, like angels
dancing on the head of a pin.
Sing with us in harmony
and let our voices become more
than the sum of their parts.
When we match kindness with justice
the beauty takes my breath away.

Because we wake every morning
and start again. Because in
putting one foot in front of the next
we learn and relearn how to walk
in Your ways. Because nothing
worth doing comes easy. Because
when we keep going, we aim toward You.

No more than our place, no less
than our space: when we manage that,
we shine with the sun’s own splendour.
Remind us that we are cloaked in skin
but made of light. Remind us
that through our best actions
Your glory shines, Majestic One.

Our roots stretching deep.
Our foundations. Our generations.
Our teachers. Our drive to create.
Our students. Our readiness to open
our hands and let Torah through.
Our lives the foundries where we shape
our tradition into something new.

Where heaven meets earth, where I
meet you, where reality meets redemption
we dance like the psalmist, exulting.
Our eyes well up with a mother’s joy:
look, all of our exiled parts
ingathered beneath this leafy roof,
safe beneath the wings of Shechinah.

Torah scrolls in the Jewish Museum in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)