13 February 2021

Some thoughts of love
for Saint Valentine’s Day

The shrine of Saint Valentine in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Many people, especially young couples, are more likely to think of tomorrow [14 February 2021] as Saint Valentine’s Day than as the Sunday before Lent or Transfiguration Sunday.

Despite the pandemic restrictions, thousands of locks may be secured to bridges and fences across Europe, people will try to visit Juliet’s supposed balcony in Verona, and many people may want to visit the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin, where Saint Valentine’s reliquary is traditionally taken from a special shrine in a side chapel and placed before the High Altar.

Saint Valentine is a widely believed to have been a third century Roman martyr. He is commemorated on 14 February, and since the High Middle Ages he has been associated with young love.

Yet, despite his popularity, we know nothing reliable about Saint Valentine apart from his name and the tradition that he died a martyr’s death on 14 February on the Via Flaminia, north of Rome. Many of the stories about his life are mythical and unreliable.

Popular legend says Valentine was a Roman priest who was martyred during the reign of Claudius II, Claudius Gothicus. He was arrested and imprisoned when he was caught marrying Christian couples and helping persecuted Christians.

It is said Claudius took a liking to this prisoner. But when Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor, he was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs and stones; when that failed to kill him, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate.

Many of the legends about Saint Valentine can be traced only to 14th century England and the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle, when 14 February was already linked with romantic love.

Because of these myths and legends, Saint Valentine was dropped from the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints in 1969. Nevertheless, the ‘Martyr Valentinus who died on 14 February on the Via Flaminia close to the Milvian Bridge in Rome’ is still on the list of officially recognised saints.

The day is also celebrated as Saint Valentine’s Day with a commemoration in Common Worship in the Church of England and in other churches in the Anglican Communion.

The relics of Saint Valentine were given by Pope Gregory XVI as a gift to Father John Spratt, an Irish Carmelite Prior, after he preached a popular sermon in the Jesuit church in Rome, the Gesu, in 1836. Since then, they have been kept in a shrine in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin.

Although the story of Saint Valentine is inextricably linked with romantic young love, it is good to be reminded of love as we prepare for Lent, which begins next Wednesday, and that our Lenten pilgrimage is a journey towards fully accepting the love of God offered to us through Christ on Good Friday and Easter Day.

May those you love be a blessing to you, and may you be a blessing to those who love you.

The Collect of Trinity VI:

Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
Pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hearts and gifts for Saint Valentine’s Day in a shopfront in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

David Earl, a former
Precentor of Limerick who
became Dean of Ferns

Saint Edan’s Cathedral, Ferns … David Earl, a former Precentor of Limerick, was Dean of Ferns in 1979-1994 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)

Patrick Comerford

The Very Revd David Kaye Lee Earl (1928-2017), who was Dean of Ferns from 1979 until 1994, was one of my predecessors as Precentor of Limerick (1977-1979), and in the 1950s and 1960s he was also Rector of Rathkeale (1958-1965).

When a project looking at my predecessors as Precentors of Limerick was postponed some months ago due to the pandemic limits on public events, I thought it might still be interesting to continue looking at past precentors in a number of blog postings.

In earlier postings, I recalled some previous precentors who had been accused of ‘dissolute living’ or being a ‘notorious fornicator’ (Awly O Lonysigh), or who were killed in battle (Thomas Purcell). There were those who became bishops or archbishops: Denis O’Dea (Ossory), Richard Purcell (Ferns) and John Long (Armagh).

There was the tragic story too of Robert Grave, who became Bishop of Ferns while remaining Precentor of Limerick, but – only weeks after his consecration – drowned with all his family in Dublin Bay as they made their way by sea to their new home in Wexford (read more HERE).

In the 17th century, two members of the Gough family were also appointed Precentors of Limerick. In all, three brothers in this family were priests in the Church of Ireland and two were priests in the Church of England, and the Rathkeale branch of the family was the ancestral line of one of Ireland’s most famous generals (read more HERE).

In the mid to late 18th century, two members of the Maunsell family were Precentors of Limerick: Richard Maunsell (1745-1747) and William Thomas Maunsell (1786-1781) (read more HERE).

They were related to Canon John Warburton who was, perhaps, the longest-ever holder of the office, being Precentor of Limerick for 60 years from 1818 until he died to 1878 (red more HERE).

Last month, I looked at Warburton’ successor, Canon Frederic Charles Hamilton, who provides an interesting links with both this group of parishes, with the Mariners’ Church in Dún Laoghaire and the Anglican mission agency SPG, now USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), of which I am a trustee. (see HERE).

As I move to the end of the 19th and the early 20th century, Hamilton’s successor as Precentor, Francis Meredyth, was a published poet and dramatist, and some of the Precentors of Limerick were also among the last Deans of Ardfert, including Robert Archibald Adderley (1870-1946), who also served in Listowel and Ballybunion (see HERE).

Then, later last month, I told the story of Dean Charles Gray-Stack (1912-1985), one of the last Deans of Ardfert. He was one of my predecessors as Precentor of Limerick, and long before me had been in ministry in the Rathkeale Group of Parish in the 1940s and 1950s. He was also a well-known contributor to the The Irish Times in the 1950s and 1960s (see HERE).

David Earl was one of Charles Gray-Stack’s successors as Precentor of Limerick. He was born in Dublin in 1928, a son of Victor Earl of Grantstown House, Co Waterford, and was educated at Bishop Foy’s School, Waterford, and Trinity College Dublin (BA 1954).

He was ordained deacon in 1955 and priest in 1956, and he spent three years as a curate in Sant James’s, Dublin (1955-1958). While he was there, he married Christine Lepper from Clane in Clane Church, Co Kildare, in 1956.

He was appointed the Rector of Rathkeale, Nantenan, Ballingarry, Rathronan and Newcastle West in 1958. Saint David’s Church, Newcastle West, was closed that year, and it was demolished in 1962.

He remained in this group of parishes until 1965, when he became the Rector of Killarney, Aghdoe and Muckross, Co Kerry. In 1977, he was appointed the Precentor of Limerick, and Prebendary of Donaghmore and Ballycahane in the cathedral chapter in 1977.

He remained in this diocese until he was appointed Dean of Saint Edan’s Cathedral, Ferns, in 1979 in succession to the Very Revd Thomas Henry Crampton McFall, who had been dean from 1949 to 1979. He was also Rector of Ferns, Kilbride, Toombe and Ballycarney until he retired in 1994. He was succeeded by the Very Revd Leslie David Arthur Forrest, who was Dean of Ferns in 1995-2011.

In retirement, David Earl lived in Tramore, Co Waterford. He died in Waterford on 31 March 2017. He was survived by his wife Christine (née Lepper), his daughters and son, Alison, Judy, Susan and Jonathan, his sons-in-law Gerald Jephson, James Bourke and Elmer Dool, his daughter-in-law, Karen Cheevers, many grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

His funeral Eucharist took place in Christ Church, Tramore, on Sunday 2 April 2017, followed by burial in adjoining churchyard.

Bishop Michael Burrows of Cashel Ferns and Ossory said later that ‘the great throng of friends and former parishioners at the funeral was eloquent evidence of lives touched, enriched and guided by a ministry of great kindness and care for individuals.’

Bishop Burrows added, ‘To visit David was always a tonic … He was fun, wise, and had an incredible memory of people and events.’

Saint Mary’s Church, Killarney … David Earl was Rector of Killarney in 1965-1979 and Precentor of Limerick in 1977-1979 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)