31 December 2019

The sun sets on a year
dominated by Trump,
Johnson and ‘Brexit’

Sunset at Pavlos Beach in Platanias, near Rethymnon, earlier this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The sun is setting on a year that seems to have been dominated by Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, a year in which the future course of these islands, politically, economically and socially, may have been changed indelibly by the ‘Brexit’ debate.

The political landscape has been altered so miserably that the only light political commentary that may be permissible at the end of this year is to recall that 2019 was also the 50th anniversary of the screening of the first Monty Python programme on the BBC.

The rise of anti-Semitism across the United States and Britain, and the rise of right-wing authoritarianism across Europe make me fretful and fearful at the one time.

On the other hand, this may be remembered as the year that we woke up to the dangers of climate change, thanks to the protests by Extinction Rebellion, and the inspiration of Greta Thunberg.

For me, this has also been a good year personally.

In parish ministry in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes, it has been a joy to be present for and to take part in the regular weekly round of Sunday services, along with baptisms, weddings and funerals, school visits and assemblies, and engaging with the local community on behalf of the Church.

The funerals this year included the funeral in Christ Church Cathedral of Freddie McKeown, who was the Dean’s Verger in the cathedral for many years.

As Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, I took part in many cathedral services, and I also preached in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare, as the Canon Precentor [17 February 2019].

The parish activities included Lenten study groups this year on the Creeds and the 39 Articles. Each morning throughout Lent, I posted on blog reflections drawing on the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and my daily blogs throughout Advent 2019 involved reading a chapter of Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning.

My role in continuing ministerial education in the diocese involved preparing liturgical and preaching resources that are made available online each Monday morning, and resourcing ministry in the diocese by organising regular training days throughout the year for priests and readers.

I was also involved in bring a group from the Compass Rose Society, an international Anglican society, around church sites in Co Clare.

I preached in the chapel at Saint Columba’s House in Woking, Surrey, during a residential meeting of USPG trustees, and was invited to take part in the Saint Laurence O’Toole festal evensong in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

My interfaith work included consultations with the Muslim community and the Jewish community at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, commemorating a key Sikh literary figure in Templeglantine in West Limerick, and reviewing a book on religious minorities in the Middle East for the journal Search. As I continued to seek to disentangle various branches of the Comerford family tree, it was interesting to come across one branch of the family with roots that spread into the family trees of many interesting Sephardic families across Europe.

I visited synagogues in Dublin, Bratislava, Cordoba, Corfu, Malaga, Porto, Prague, and Vienna, searched for the sites of synagogue in Waterford, Derry, London, Peterborough and Siranda in Albania, took part in the Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations in Mansion House Dublin, and blogged a series on the synagogues of Dublin.

My international travel brought me to Albania for a second time (Siranda and Butrint), to Austria on a day-trip (Vienna), to Greece twice (Crete and Corfu), to Portugal for a second time (Porto), to the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and the two capitals of the countries that once made up Czechoslovakia (Bratislava and Prague) and to Spain twice (Malaga, Santiago and Cordoba), as well as visits to many parts of Britain.

The differences between the Orthodox and Western calendars meant that once again I was able to celebrate Easter twice this year, and I spent Greek Orthodox Easter in Platanias, on the eastern edges of Rethymnon in Crete.

I was back in Greece later in the summer and spent two weeks in Corfu. From there I visited Igoumenitsa on the mainland, and for the first time visited the monasteries of Meteora and the first islands of Paxos and Antipaxos.

There were numerous visits to Britain, including return visits to Lichfield and Cambridge and seemingly-countless visits to London.

In Lichfield, I stayed once again at the Hedgehog Vintage Inn on Stafford Road, just a short stroll into the cathedral. In Tamworth, I stayed at the ‘Bottom House’ or the Tamworth Arms on Lichfield Street, opposite the Moat House. I stayed in the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon, in Hertfordshire, during the annual conference of USPG, listening to ‘the Prophetic Voice of the Church,’ and this allowed return visits to Cambridge.

Later in the year, I visited Cornwall for the first time ever. I flew into Newquay, and stayed in Truro, but also visited Marazion, Penzance, Porthleven, Saint Agnes, Saint Ives and Saint Michael’s Mount.

Towards the end of the year, I also stayed in Woking in Surrey, during a residential meeting of the trustees of USPG, and visited the first purpose-built mosque in Britain.

I travelled throughout Ireland, staying overnight in all four provinces, and travelled through most counties in Ireland.

I was in Derry for the General Synod of the Church of Ireland. I spent two days ‘island-hopping’ in the Aran Islands, visiting Inishmore and Inisheer, and staying on Inishmore.

There was a family visit to Galway, a family wedding in Sligo Cathedral, when I stayed in Markree Castle, Co Sligo, and the wedding of friends in Martinstown House, Co Kildare, when I stayed on the Curragh.

I also stayed overnight in Waterford, when I visited the Hook Peninsula and the Hook Lighthouse, New Ross, Fethard-on-Sea and Dunbrody House, Co Wexford, and stayed overnight in the Ferrycarrig Hotel, Wexford, which provided an opportunity to have dinner with two old friends former journalist colleagues from the Wexford People, Hilary Murphy and Nicky Furlong.

I was invited to give a number of public lectures this year, including:

● Thomond Archaeological and Historical Society, ‘AWN Pugin and the Gothic Revival in Ireland’ in Mary Immaculate College, Limerick (28 January 2019).

● Tamworth and District Civic Society on ‘The Comberfords of Comberford and the Moat House, Tamworth’ in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (9 May 2019). The reception afterwards was held, appropriately, in the Comberford Chapel, and it was good to meet the present owners of both Comberford Hall and the Moat House that evening.

● Charleville Heritage Society, Charleville, Co Cork, on Charleville’s architectural heritage (23 May 2019).

● Saint Kieran’s Heritage Association, Ardagh, Co Limerick, on Mother Harriet Monsell (13 September 2019).

● Lichfield Civic Society on the Comberford family’s connections with Lichfield, in Wade Street Church (17 September 2019).

● Saint Kieran’s Heritage Association, Ardagh, Co Limerick, on William Smith O’Brien (22 September 2019).

● Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, on the Limerick-born Cambridge philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe (15 October 2019).

It was also a good year for ‘church crawling.’ I visited this year included Truro Cathedral, Peterborough Cathedral, Lichfield Cathedral, the two cathedral in Southwark, and Westminster Abbey this year.

In Ireland, I visited the two cathedrals in Sligo, the two cathedrals in Waterford and the two cathedrals in Tuam; the ruins of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Elphin, Co Roscommon; Kilfenora Cathedral, Killaloe Cathedral and Ennis Cathedral, the three cathedrals of Co Clare; Saint Columb’s Cathedral, Derry; Saint John’s Cathedral and the cathedral ruins on Cashel Rock; Saint Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare; the Stephensdom and the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Vienna; Saint Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava, Saint Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Sé do Porto or the cathedral in Porto, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella, the Cathedral of Panagia Spilaiotissa in Corfu, the cathedrals in Rethymnon, and the ruins of the basilica in Butrint.

The churches I visited in Ireland included the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Kilmallock, Co Limerick, and Saint Flannan’s Church, Killaloe, Co Clare, with their Harry Clarke windows; Christ Church, Fermoy, Co Cork; the ruins of Malahide Abbey, Co Dublin, the ruins of the Franciscan abbey in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, and the ruins of Quin Abbey, Co Clare; Saint Mary’s Church, Tipperary; the churches and church sites on the Hook Peninsula; Saint Stephen Walbrook in London, and Saint George’s Church – Little Dorrit’s parish church in Southwark.

There were first-time visits to Wade Street Church, Lichfield, the new library at Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield, the church at Dublin Airport, Emo Church in Co Laois, and first-time visits to a number of churches in Co Limerick, including the churches in Ballysteen, Broadford, Dromkeen, Dromcollogher and Nicker, as well as the church ruins and church sites at Castletown Conyers, Co Limerick, and the church ruins at Kilnaughtin, Co Kerry.

There were day trips from Askeaton to Tipperary, Nenagh and Charleville, and cricket matches in Malahide.

There were walks on the beach or by the coast in Ireland at Dalkey, Dun Laoghaire, Howth, and Skerries in Co Dublin; Bray, Co Wicklow; Bettystown and Laytown in Co Meath; Ballybunion and Beagh in Co Kerry; on the Aran Islands in Galway Bay, and along the Cliffs of Moher.

There were walks in Curragh Chase in Co Limerick and the Curragh in Co Kildare; by the shores of Lough Gur; by Minster Pool and Stowe Pool in Lichfield; by the banks of the Deel in Askeaton and Rathkeale, by the Shannon, from Carrick on Shannon to the estuary in Co Clare and Co Limerick; by the Slaney in Wexford, the Suir in Waterford and at Golden in Co Tipperary, the Corrib in Galway, the Barrow in Portarlington, the Liffey in Dublin, the Tame in Tamworth, the Thames in London and the Danube in Bratislava; and boat trips on the Vltava in Prague and the Douro in Porto.

There were first-time visits to Emo Court, Co Laois, Kilduff Castle and Springfield Castle in Co Limerick, and a first-time trip on the Lartigue monorail in Listowel, Co Kerry. There were visits to Malahide Castle, and a visit to Tamworth Castle for the first time in almost half a century; and there were country walks in Nenagh, where I visited Brooke Watson, the childhood home of the scientist John Desmond Bernal.

I contributed to a new book, Marriage and the Irish: a Miscellany, which was launched in June at the Royal Irish Academy on Dawson Street, Dublin. This book is published by Wordwell and is edited by my friend and colleague, Dr Salvador Ryan, who is Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

The contributors included Professor Raymond Gillespie of Maynooth, Miriam Moffitt of Maynooth, and Dom Colmán Ó Clabaigh, a monk of Glenstal Abbey and a mediaeval historian. This new book follows the success of Death and the Irish: a Miscellany (2016), and is the second volume in a series, ‘Birth, Marriage and Death among the Irish,’ exploring the institution of marriage in Ireland from the seventh century to the present day.

My two contributions are:

15 – John Leslie, the ‘oldest bishop in Christendom’, and his eighteen-year-old wife (pp 50-52); and

47 – Four Victorian weddings and a funeral (pp 163-165).

The publishers promise this anthology may yet become an indispensable resource for everyone interested in the social, cultural, religious and legal history of Ireland. They even say that perhaps we may never think of Irish marriage in the same way again.

The Furrow is a ‘Journal for the Contemporary Church’, published in Maynooth and edited by the Revd Dr Pádraig Corkery, Head of the Department of Moral Theology and Acting Director of Pastoral Theology. In the March 2019 edition, Dom Henry O’Shea of Glenstal reviewed The Cultural Reception of the Bible, a Festschrift honouring Professor Brendan McConvery and edited by Professor Salvador Ryan and Professor Liam Tracey of Maynooth.

Dom Henry O’Shea says the ‘sheer breadth of the book is a joy’ and he singles out my essay on the Dublin-born Cambridge theologian, FJA Hort, for special consideration, describing it as ‘only one gem among many.’

I continued to write a monthly column in the Church Review, the diocesan magazine in Dublin and Glendalough, although my monthly column in the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory) came to an end after 30 years.

These monthly columns this year included a visit to Gorizia, a town once split by the cold war Iron Curtain that divided Italy and Yugoslavia; a look at the way climate change threatened to drown Venice; the transition of Prague from Marx to Marks and Spencer; the Camino route to Santiago; the bridges of Porto; the destruction of the Jews of Crete during the Holocaust; the stained-glass windows of Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth; Southwark’s two cathedrals; the monasteries of Meteora in northern Greece; the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen, outside Berlin; and Truro Cathedral in Cornwall, the home of the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols.

There were papers in ABC News 2019, and occasional contributions to The Irish Times.

I continue on the board of trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG, I am still President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND), and I spoke again at the Hiroshima Day commemoration on 6 August in Merrion Square, Dublin.

My blog postings passed 4 million readers in mid-November. My media invitations included taking part in a discussion on married priest with Ivan Yates on Newstalk.

Although I was unable to get to the launch of The Spiritual Journey of Ireland in Drogheda, much of this DVD was filmed with me in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, and it was very satisfying to see the final product.

There were regular meals in favourite restaurants. I enjoyed lunch in a new branch of Damascus Gate in Terenure, was sorry to see Daroka closing in Ballybunion, and towards the end of the year the delightful discovery of Da Mimmo, an authentic Italian restaurant on Dublin’s North Strand.

Towards the end of the year, there was a school reunion too with the class of 1969 from Gormanston College, Co Meath. It is 50 years since we left school, and if we are representative of the Ireland of the past half century then this country was in good hands.

Happy New Year.

Sunset at Agios Georgios in Corfu earlier this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

High tides and darkness
foil walks on the beach at
Laytown and Bettystown

Linda Brunker’s ‘Voyager’ looks out to sea above the beach at Laytown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

For one of our last walks on a beach this year, two of us decided to go to Laytown and Bettystown on the Co Meath coast yesterday afternoon [30 December 2019].

However, a full tide was in, it was getting dark, and walking along the beach below the car park at Laytown and north to Bettystown proved impossible at full tide.

I had stopped to photograph Linda Brunker’s Voyager above the beach at Laytown when we bumped into an old friend and colleague, and three of us decided to head on to Relish in Bettystown for a late lunch.

I could hardly believe that it is a year and a half since all three of us had been there for lunch, and it was time to catch up on the past year and on old times.

Linda Brunker’s Voyager was commissioned by Meath County Council and was unveiled in 2004. The stunning, 6-ft bronze figure matches Jarlath Daly’s sculpture, Flying a Kite, in Bettystown, and was inspired by the ocean and all that is in it, according to the artist.

A detail of Linda Brunker’s ‘Voyager’ above the beach at Laytown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Linda Brunker has designed pieces for the public park at Laguna Beach, California. The ocean has inspired her all her life and she was delighted to when she was commissioned by Meath County Council to design the Voyager. She told the Drogheda Independent some years ago, ‘I have always come to the beach at Laytown to collect elements to incorporate into these works. These include shells, seaweed and other items.’

Her beautiful sculpture on the seafront at Laytown led to much debate locally about the inspiration behind the work and the name it should be given. The suggested names for the work ranged from ‘The Lady of the Sea’ to ‘Inse’. Some residents said the 6 ft bronze lady reminds them of the ‘Little Mermaid’ at the entrance to Copenhagen Harbour.

The sculptor Linda Brunker was then based in Rathoath, Co Meath. She has exhibited around the world and designed pieces for the public park at Laguna Beach, overlooking the Pacific Ocean in California.

At time the Voyager was unveiled, she said it ‘is inspired by the sea and the myriad of life that is contained within it. ‘It reflects the draw that people feel toward the ocean and the healing effect it has on us.’

‘She is in a lively and uplifting pose and should be easily recognisable from a distance,’ she told the Drogheda Independent. ‘The closer the viewer gets the more they will see the details like fish, seaweed, starfish and shells.’

She revealed that moulds of sea creatures found on Laytown beach were used to decorate the Voyager. Colours of blue and green ordain the statute with details picked out in orange and white and black. All colouration was achieved using traditional chemical patination, and some areas are highlighted to accentuate the detail.

Several coats of lacquer were added to finish and protect he work from the elements. The figure stands on a base clad with rounded stones from Laytown, to echo the beach, and there are some bronze elements in the base, including namely fish and starfish.

High tide on the beach at Laytown, Co Meath, as darkness begins to fall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Linda Brunker’s other works include ‘The Children of Lir,’ a bronze sculpture overlooking Lough Owel, outside Mullingar, Co Westmeath. It was commissioned by Westmeath County Council in 1993.

Linda Brunker now lives in Toulouse in France. She was born in Dublin in 1966, and studied at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin (1983-1988), where she received a Diploma in Sculpture (1987) and her degree in fine art (1988).

She has received many public commissions through Ireland and in Brussels, London and the US, and her work is also in private collections in Ireland, Europe, Japan and the US.

Her other public works include the ‘Pact Woodland Sculpture Project’ (2006) in Tymon Park, Dublin; ‘The Healing Tree’ (2002), Virginia, Co Cavan; and ‘The Wishing Hand’ (2001), Department of Education, Marlborough Square, Dublin.

High tide after darkness falls on the beach at Bettystown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)