25 November 2020

Sailing between Scylla
and Charybdis, trying
to set the right course

The National Library of Ireland ... the venue for ‘Scylla and Charybdis,’ the ninth episode in ‘Ulysses’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, was trying to sail through choppy waters in Dail yesterday afternoon (24 November 2020) as he spoke about Covid-19 and hinted at the government plans to lift or ease the pandemic lockdown.

He said, ‘As we all know, the Government faces difficult decisions in the week ahead, as we approach the end of six weeks of Level 5 restrictions. We sail between Scylla and Charybdis in trying to set the right course.’

‘In doing so, we know for certain that increased human interaction will result in more people getting infected thus increasing the chance of a third wave.’

Journalists discussing the debate on RTÉ’s ‘Drive Time’ later in the day feigned or boasted ignorance of the reference, and even seemed to delight in mispronouncing both Scylla and Charybdis; reports in The Irish Times today seem to miss the reference altogether.

There was a time when both media outlets had a number of staff journalists with at least a basic classical education, and a time when staff journalists in The Irish Times who did not understand the classical significance of the Tánaiste’s classical citation would at least have understood its place in the canon of Irish literature through James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Scylla and Charybdis are two immortal and irresistible monsters in Greek mythology and literature, and they beset the narrow waters navigated by Odysseus in his wanderings described in Homer’s Odyssey, Book XII. They were later localised in the Strait of Messina, between Sicily and the tip of the Italian mainland.

Scylla was a supernatural female creature, with 12 feet and six heads on long snaky necks, each head having a triple row of sharklike teeth, while her loins were girdled by the heads of baying dogs. From her lair in a cave, she devoured whatever ventured within reach, including six of Odysseus’s companions.

Charybdis, who lurked under a fig tree a bowshot away on the opposite shore, drank down and belched forth the waters thrice a day and was fatal to shipping. Her character was most likely the personification of a whirlpool. The shipwrecked Odysseus barely escaped her clutches by clinging to a tree until the improvised raft that she swallowed floated to the surface again after many hours.

Later, Scylla was often rationalised in antiquity as a rock or reef.

‘Scylla and Charybdis,’ the ninth episode in Joyce’s Ulysses, is set in the National Library in Dublin, where Stephen Dedalus delivers his much-anticipated (though sparsely attended) lecture on Shakespeare and Hamlet.

As Dedalus delivers his lecture, he navigates between various pairs of powerful forces: the ideas of Aristotle and Plato, the impulses of youth and maturity, the relationship between the artist and art, and the disciplines of dogmatic scholasticism and spiritual mysticism.

It is like, one might say, being caught between a rock and a hard place.

Leo Varadkar has shown in the past how he can out-do Boris Johnson when it comes to quoting from the Classics.

As last night’s speech by Joe Biden shows once again, the Brexit negotiations are more complicated by the position of Northern Ireland. I imagine that for Spanish negotiators, there are similar concerns about the Rock of Gibraltar.

Perhaps when Leo Varadkar is next swapping classical quips with Boris Johnson, he may remind him of what it is to be caught between a rock and a hard place.

Gibraltar has been British since 1704 … but could Boris Johnson be caught between a rock and a hard place? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Colman’s Church,
Kilcolman: a 20th century
church with an earlier story

Saint Colman’s Church, Kilcolman, Co Limerick … built in 1913 on the site of an earlier chapel built in 1827 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Kilcolman is a small village in west Limerick, just off the R521, between Ardagh and Shanagolden. The name of Kilcolman is from Cill Cholmáin, ‘the church of Saint Colman,’ and the Catholic parish church, like the ruined mediaeval church on the opposite side of the street, is dedicated to Saint Colman of Templeshambo, Co Wexford.

Father Darby Egan built the first church on this site in Kilcolman as a chapel of ease in 1827. It was built on land donated to the parish by the local landlord, John FitzGibbon (1792-1851), 2nd Earl of Clare, who also donated £50 towards the building costs. Lord Clare also leased land in the townland of Knockboheen in the late 1830s for building a schoolhouse.

Lord Clare lived apart from his wife, the former Elizabeth Burrell, who lived on the Isle of Wight. Yet, it is interesting to note, that Lady Clare built a Catholic church at Ryde and a Priory at Carisbrooke. Lord Clare became Governor of Bombay later that year, and when he returned to Ireland, he was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of Co Limerick and Lord Lieutenant of Limerick.

Inside Saint Colman’s Church, designed by Brian Sheehy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The old chapel was demolished in 1911-1912, the site was lowered from its original elevation and a new church was built in Kilcolman while Father Jeremiah Murphy (1860-1936), originally from Dromcollogher, was the Parish Priest.

Bishop Edward O’Dwyer (1842-1917) of Limerick laid the foundation stone on 10 August 1913. The inscription on the foundation stone names Brian Sheehy as the architect and John Ryan & Sons as the builders.

Brian Sheehy (1870-1930) practised as an engineer and architect from 57 O’Connell Street (formerly George’s Street), Limerick. His other works in this area include the Parochial House, Askeaton (1911), also built by John Ryan.

Inside Saint Colman’s Church, facing towards the gallery and the liturgical west end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

This is a cruciform, gable-fronted Gothic Revival church, built on a north-south axis instead of the traditional east-west liturgical axis. All the material for the church was brought by train to Ardagh and then transported to Kilcolman by horse and cart.

There are examples of fine craftsmanship in the details both outside and inside the church. The outside walls are enlivened by the rich textural effects of the rusticated concrete, which is an early example of the use of this material.

The walls were built with rock-faced cavity blocks. Each block was carefully handcrafted on the site by Mike Somers from Carrons. The blocks were made by placing a mould around them to give a rough textured design. The sand for these blocks came from Peter Culhane’s quarry.

The marble reredos above the original High Altar has been retained(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The church has a four-bay nave, with the chancel at the north end, two-bay single-storey extensions at the east and west sides, a lean-to at the north side and a cut limestone open work bellcote above the south front with a cast-iron cross finial. The rusticated concrete walls have buttresses at the nave and the south sides.

Inside, there are Y-tracery stained glass windows and quarry glazed coloured glass windows, a timber scissors truss ceiling, concrete corbels, a timber porch, timber panelled double-leaf doors. The wood was hand cut on the site by Jack Bresnihan and the Sheahan brothers from Foynes.

The marble reredos above the original High Altar has been retained despite recent renovations in line with Vatican II changes. The three-light stained-glass window above the main altar was given by the women of parish. The window depicts (from left to right) Saint Joseph, Christ as the Sacred Heart and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

The wooden altar from the early 19th century church, once kept in the sacristy, was reinstated in the chancel when the church was celebrating its centenary in 2013.

The octagonal baptismal font, with an unusual interior double segmentation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The octagonal baptismal font, with an unusual interior double segmentation, is said to have come from the 1827 chapel of ease.

The limestone font inserted in the south-east interior wall dates from 1746. This is said in some accounts to have come from the mediaeval church across the road, but other accounts say it is the baptismal font from Dunmoylan Church. It is inscribed with the name Maurice Rahilly, perhaps Murtough Rahelly or Maurice Rahilly who was parish priest of Coolcappa and Kilcolman between 1704 and 1737.

A cast-iron spiral staircase beside the porch leads to the gallery above.

A cast-iron spiral staircase leads to the gallery (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Two stained glass windows in the gallery above the porch at the south or liturgical west end of the church are by Franz Mayer and Company. They are in memory of a local teacher, George McNamara and depict Saint Colman and Saint Ita, both carrying episcopal or abbatial crosiers.

Saint Colman of Templeshambo is the patron saint who gives his name to the parish; Father Jeremiah Murphy, who inspired the building of this church, had revived the annual on 15 January pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Ita while he was parish priest of Killeedy and built a shrine on the site of her monastery.

The priests buried in the church grounds include: John K Fitzgerald (1912), John Casey (1966), William O’Connell (1971) and Michael Kelly (1988). Father Darby Egan, who built the first chapel of ease in Kilcolman in 1827, is buried in the church at Coolcappa.

The limestone font dating from 1746 is said to be the baptismal font from Dunmoylan Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Prominent clergy from this parish include Denis Hallinan (1849-1923), Bishop of Limerick (1918-1923), who was originally from the townland of Graigue and went to school in Kilcolman. He trained for the priesthood at the Irish College in Rome and was ordained in 1874.

His first appointment was as a curate in Newcastlewest until 1886, when he was transferred to Saint Michael’s Church, Denmark Street. He went to Saint Mary’s in 1896, and returned to Newcastlewest as parish priest in 1898. He was appointed Bishop of Limerick in 1918.

As Bishop of Limerick, he dedicated the windows depicting Saint Colman and Saint Ita. When he died in 1923, two of his chalices were given as gifts to the parish of Coolcappa and Kilcolman and are still in use today.

The two stained glass windows by Mayer in the gallery depict Saint Colman and Saint Ita, both carrying episcopal or abbatial crosiers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)