02 January 2020

‘For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice’

‘We shall not cease from exploration’ … walking by the boatclubs on the River Liffey at Islandbridge on New Year’s Day is like walking along the Backs and the River Cam in Cambridge (Photograph: Parick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.

— TS Eliot, Little Gidding

‘And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

‘Little Gidding’ is the last poem in TS Eliot’s Four Quartets.

Moving from last year’s words and language to the voice of this new year provides an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of time, the past, the present and the future.

A good place to do this on the afternoon of New Year’s Day was by the banks of the River Liffey in Islandbridge, and by the rowing clubs.

I am on my way back to Co Limerick from Dublin this morning for a new year in the parish. Time plays silly games with us as we move between one place and the next, from one year to the next.

Strolling along the riverside, between the enveloping dusk of the later afternoon and then in the Phoenix Park as sun set and winter darkness began to turn a winter evening into night, I had just a tinge of regret that I had not arrived at Islandbridge in time to walk by the river, the water, the weirs, the boat clubs and the tall trees reflected in the water.

Dublin University Boat Club began with the formation of the Pembroke Club in 1836. It amalgamated with the University Rowing Club in 1847 to become the Dublin University Rowing Club. This club was the first Irish club to field a crew at Henley Royal Regatta, and for the next 43 years it was by far the most successful Irish rowing club.

The DURC split in 1866 with and the formation of the Dublin University Boat Club. But the two clubs put aside their old differences in 1898 and were amalgamated under the name of the Boat Club.

The other clubs along this stretch of the river include the UCD, Commercial, founded in 1856, and Neptune Rowing Club, founded in 1906.

The walk along the south bank of the Liffey, from the Trinity boathouse, with the other clubs on the north bank of the river, is the nearest equivalent in Ireland to walking along the ‘Backs’ in Cambridge.

From there, two us continued on into the Phoenix Park, and caught glimpses of the setting sun in the trees beyond the grounds of the Phoenix Cricket Club.

Phoenix is the oldest cricket club in Ireland, founded in 1830, about five years before Dublin University Cricket Club, by John Parnell, the father of Charles Stewart Parnell, who was also a member for a short time.

Two early members, Lord Dunloe and Lord Clonbrock, were also on the 1833 members list at the MCC. Along with VE Alcock, they were mainly responsible for the club expanding and developing over its first 20 years, making it the ‘Premier Club of Ireland.’

Phoenix has been based in the Phoenix Park for almost its entire history, and has been at its present ground since 1847. In the 1930s, 1940s and 1970s, Phoenix was the dominant club in Leinster cricket.

The sun was setting, but the pink and orange streaks continued to light up the clouds and the sky for another hour or more. It was one of those winter evening that continued to delight, long after the sun had set.

But ‘what might have been … is always present,’ as TS Eliot reminds us in ‘Burnt Norton,’ his first poem in the Four Quartets. And I have promised myself more time this year for walks by rivers and the sea, in gardens and in the countryside.

‘Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future’ … sunset on New Year’s Day at the Phoenix Cricket Club in the Phoenix Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.

— TS Eliot, Burnt Norton

‘What might have been is an abstraction’ … on the River Liffey at Islandbridge, at the Dublin University boathouse on New Year’s Day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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