24 May 2021

The church in Patrickswell
is a dramatic statement on
the Co Limerick landscape

The east windows in the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Patrickswell, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Between the showers and the rain on Sunday (23 May 2021), I visited the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the village of Patrickswell, Co Limerick. This is a distinctive and dramatic modern church building, between Adare and Limerick City, at the junction of the N20, N21 and M20.

Patrickswell is part of the present parish of Patrickswell and Ballybrown, and the other church in this grouped parish is Saint Joseph’s in Ballybrown, north of Clarina, which I visited a few weeks ago. The parish has a population of about 3,400 people.

The village of Patrickswell is not shown on maps until the early 19th century, although the name Patrickswell appears in a document from 1689 in a list of lands owned by Thomas Rose. Rose owned large tracts of land in the area, and local historian Gerard Beggan believes Rose gave Patrickswell its name.

The Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Patrickswell is a distinctive and dramatic modern church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Local legend says that when Saint Patrick blessed the well in Patrickswell, he stood on high ground and looked towards Carrigogunnell. When night fell and the light appeared from the castle. The legend says Saint Patrick began to read from his book, and when he closed his book and as soon as he did, the light in the castle was quenched forever.

Needless to say, there is no evidence that Saint Patrick ever visited Patrickswell – or any other part of present-day Co Limerick. His name was later given to a well, and the water was said to cure sore and toothaches and was also sprinkled on crops and milk churns.

In the parish, a small mound south-east of Attyflin House was known as Kyle. Tradition says this is the grave of warriors killed in a battle between the Danes and Brian Boru. Westropp says the Kyle was 10 feet high and covered with bushes. Kyle was destroyed in the 1850s, and its exact location is no longer known.

Inside the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Patrickswell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The name of the townland of Attyflin ‘the site of Flann’s house.’ This area is called after a local character, Flann O’Brien, who had a castle here around 1540. Flann had a colourful lifestyle and was a supporter of the monks of Manister. The monks disapproved of Flann’s behaviour, but they still got their beef from his farm.

One day, Flann was not in good humour and sent a mocking note to the abbot of the monastery telling him that if his faith was worth anything, the promise would weigh as much as the beef. The abbot weighed the beef against the note of paper in front of Flann’s messenger.

The piece of paper was heavier than the beef and the messenger went back to Flan and told him what happened. Flann raced to the monastery to see the weighing scales with his own eyes and once he did, he confessed his sins and became a monk in the monastery. Flann lived to be a great age and died in the monastery as an old man.

The former church in Lurriga (1847-1977) is now business premises (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Until the mid-18th century, the parishes of Kilkeedy and Clounanna were joined with Adare. When the parish of Patrickswell was formed, the first parish priest was Father Nicholas Molony, who had returned from exile in France, having fled from Rathkeale some years earlier.

A new church was built in Lurriga in 1847 on land was bought from Captain George Tuite. This church continued in use until 1977, and the building is now the offices and business premises of Duggan Systems Ltd.

The older church was replaced by the new Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was built in 1977. The church was designed by the architects John Thompson and Partners designed the church and it was built by Patrick Healy. The McSweeney family gave the site for the church and the presbytery.

The McSweeney family also gave the altar and the ambo as gifts.

The mansard roof of the church sweeps dramatically upwards to a central pinnacle surmounted by a cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Bishop Jeremiah Newman and Father William Creed, Parish Priest of Patrickswell, officially opened the church on 9 June 1977.

This is a square-shaped church, with low pebble-dashed white walls and a mansard roof that sweeps dramatically upwards to a central pinnacle surmounted by a cross.

Inside, the church is lit from the central skylight, and the colourful, modern stained-glass windows. The altar and sanctuary are placed diagonally in the north-east corner, in front of a gently undulating wall.

The north wall is filled with windows depicting the Sacred Heart (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The large windows filling the north and east walls reach to the ground, each in groups of five divided by buttresses, with the north windows dedicated to the Sacred Heart and the east windows to the Virgin Mary.

The west and south walls have irregularly placed small window openings that give the building a bunker-like appearance.

The tabernacle in the church in Patrickswell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

As for Saint Patrick’s Well in Patrickswell, it is said the well dried up after it was desecrated in 1798 by the wives of troops stationed in the village, and the commanding officer broke the stone of the well. Popular devotions at the well ceased around 1890 when a pump was erected over the well. This pump has now been removed.

People in the area used the well until the 1940s when an epidemic of typhoid fever occurred in the area. Local people feared that the well was the source of contamination and they stopped taking water from the well.

And, I wonder, did the legendary Flann O’Brien inspire the pseudonym of Brian O’Nolan (1911-1966). He wrote many satirical columns in The Irish Times and an Irish language novel, An Béal Bocht under the name Myles na gCopaleen. But he used the name Flann O’Brien for his English language novels, including At Swim-Two-Birds, The Third Policeman and The Dalkey Archives.

The west and south walls have irregularly placed small windows (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Pentecost 2021:
97, Bath Abbey

The west end of Bath Abbey illustrates Oliver King’s dream that inspired him to restore the building at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Seasons of Lent and Easter this year, I took some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

The fifty days of the Season of Easter come to an end yesterday, the Day of Pentecost (23 May 2021). My photographs for the rest of this week are from six churches in the ‘Major Churches Network,’ churches once known as the ‘Greater Churches’ in England.

The Major Churches Network was founded in 1991 as the Greater Churches Network. It is a group of Church of England parish churches defined as having exceptional significance, being physically very large, listed as Grade I, II* or exceptionally II, open to visitors daily, having a role or roles beyond those of a typical parish church, and making a considerable civic, cultural, and economic contribution to their community.

These churches are often former monastic properties that became parish churches after the English Reformation, or civic parish churches built at a time of great wealth.

This morning (24 May 2021), my photographs are from Bath Abbey.

Bath is part of the Diocese of Bath and Wells, but Bath Abbey is not a cathedral – a similar mistake is often made about Westminster Abbey.

Bath Abbey was once known as the ‘Lantern of the West’ because of the impact of light flooding in through its windows. A Benedictine monastery was founded here in 675. King Offa of Mercia rebuilt the monastery in 781, and dedicated it to Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Here Edgar was crowned the first King of England on the Day of Pentecost in 973.

When John of Tours became Bishop of Wells and Abbot of Bath in 1088, he moved his seat from Wells to Bath, and began planning a much larger church as his cathedral. Bath shared cathedral status with Wells for a time, and when later bishops returned to Wells, they continued to be called Bishop of Bath and Wells.

By the 15th century, Bath Abbey was dilapidated. Bishop Oliver King of Bath and Wells decided in 1499 to rebuild the Norman cathedral and church on a smaller scale. The dream that inspired the project is represented on the façade of the west end of the abbey, with angels ascending and descending ladders, and olive trees encircled with crowns and crowned with mitres.

The new church was near completion when Bath Priory was dissolved at the Reformation in 1539. Once again, the abbey church became derelict. But, under Elizabeth I, when the city was experiencing a revival as a spa, the restoration of the abbey as the city’s parish church began.

The tomb of Bishop James Montagu stands within iron railings near the centre of the abbey. He became Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1608, when the abbey was still largely in ruins, and used his personal fortune to complete the restoration work in 1617.

The abbey has 640 monuments – more than any other church in England apart from Westminster Abbey – and 847 ledgers or gravestones. The monument to Colonel Robert Walsh, who died in 1788, includes a broken column, representing the extinction of his branch of an old Irish family.

Another monument recalls the Marchioness of Ely. She was Jane Myhill, from Killarney, Co Kilkenny, and she married Sir Charles Tottenham Loftus (1738-1806) of Loftus Hall, Co Wexford, who became Marquess of Ely for his support of the Act of Union. The monument was erected by their son, Bishop Robert Ponsonby Tottenham, while he was Bishop of Killaloe, later Bishop of Ferns and then Bishop of Clogher.

Other monuments recall Sir Isaac Pitman the inventor of shorthand writing, Thomas Malthus the economist, and Richard ‘Beau’ Nash, the Georgian Bath socialite.

Bath Abbey seen above the city’s ancient Roman baths (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 10: 17-27 (NRSVA):

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 18 Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother”.’ 20 He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 27 Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’

The great east window of Bath Abbey is an example of the best Victorian stained glass … it was damaged in the air raids of 1942, but was restored after World War II (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (24 May 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us give thanks for the work of the African Union, bringing together a continent of 1,500 different languages. May we learn to embrace difference, and to collaborate well.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Fan vaulting over the nave of Bath Abbey, made from local Bath stone … a Victorian restoration in the 1860s of the roof from 1608 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

An Irish bishop’s mother, fondly remembered in Bath Abbey by her son (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)