29 June 2021

A visit to Garinish Island
with its microclimate
and its Italian gardens

The Italian Garden is, perhaps, the outstanding feature on Garinish Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

During this month’s road trip or ‘staycation’, there were three stopovers: two nights each in Dingle, Co Kerry, and the West Cork Hotel in Skibbereen, before staying for two nights in Glengarriff at Casey’s Hotel.

It was also a three-island road trip, with visits to the Great Blasket Island, Cape Clear Island, and then, from Glengarriff, to Garinish Island.

Glengarriff is about 20 km west of Bantry and 30 km east of Castletownbere, and the economy is heavily dependent on tourism. It is the gateway to the Beara Peninsula, connecting Bantry and Kenmare and there is a variety of shops, galleries, hotels, restaurants and pubs.

Bryce House at the east end of the island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Glengarriff has been known as a holiday destination since the 1700s and boomed in the Victorian times as a stop along the ‘Prince of Wales Route’. Today, Glengarriff has a population of 800 and in normal times, outside Covid, this expands significantly during the summer months.

Glengarriff offers natural beauty, peace and tranquillity. The name Glengarriff comes from the Irish An Gleann Garbh, meaning ‘the Rugged Glen.’ It sits in a glacially deepened valley in West Cork, nestled by the foothills of the Caha Mountains with a unique climate that is mild and temperate thanks to the Jet Stream that warms the waters of Bantry Bay. This is one of the few areas that retains much of the ancient woodlands that once covered these islands.

Local sites of tourist interest include the Italian Gardens on Garinish Island, visited by boat trips. Other tourist amenities include the Bamboo Park behind Toad Hall, the Blue Pool lagoon, Barley Lake, walking trails, kayaking in the bay and music festivals.

The seal island, with its tame seal colony, is a sight from the ferry to Garinish Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Two of us took the Harbour Queen Ferry from Glengarriff Pier to visit this island in the harbour of Glengarriff in Bantry Bay. Garinish is renowned for its gardens, laid out in beautiful walks and it has specimen plants that are rare in this climate.

The ferry trip brought us close to seal island, with its tame seal colony, and offered a sighting of an eagle’s nest.

Garinish Island extends to 15 hectares (37 acres) and is also known by the alternative names of Garnish Island, Ilnacullin and Illaunacullin (‘island of holly’).

The clock tower in the walled gardens on Garinish Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The gardens on Garnish Island flourish in the mild humid micro-climate of Glengarriff harbour. This is an island garden of rare beauty, assisted by a mainly pine shelter belt, and known to horticulturists and lovers of trees and shrubs around the world.

The gardens were designed by the architect and garden designer Harold Peto (1854-1933) for the island’s owners, John Annan Bryce, (1841-1923) a Belfast-born Scottish politician who bought the island from the War Office in 1910, and his wife Violet L’Estrange.

Peto and Bryce were a creative partnership, so that the island remains renowned for its richness of plant form and colour, changing continuously with the seasons.

The Iralian tea house or casita (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Annan and Violet Bryce were convinced that with its sheltered situation and the warming influence of the Gulf Stream, a wide range of oriental and southern hemisphere plants could flourish in the almost subtropical climate of Glengarriff.

Keenly interested in horticulture and architecture, the Bryces planned to build a mansion and lay out an extensive garden on the island, and commissioned Harold Peto to design these.

Peto was an advocate of the Italian style of architecture and garden design, although the wild Robinsonian style of gardening dominated his epoch. However, he believed that more formal styles could co-exist with the Robinsonian style and ought not to be neglected.

The Italian temple on Garinish Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Italian Garden is, perhaps, the outstanding feature of Garinish. Here, Peto’s genius, combined with Annan Bryce’s ideas and resources, resulted in the creation of a formal architectural garden that blends with its natural setting.

Pathways wind around the landscape, leading to the fascinating garden buildings and architectural features, including an Italian tea-house or Casita of Bath stone with colonnades, a formal pool, an Italian pavilion with columns of Rosso Antico of a beautiful red colour, a Grecian Temple, marble slabs from Carrara, the Island of Skyros and Connemara, a clock tower, the casita and the Martello Tower.

The Grecian Temple overlooks the sea and the Caha Mountains (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Plans for a mansion were prepared incorporating the Martello Tower, but it was never built. Instead, Bryce House, an extensive cottage, became the home of the Bryce family.

Among their guests were the writers George Bernard Shaw, who stayed on the island in 1923 while writing his play, Saint Joan, the poet Æ George Russell, and Agatha Christie.

Bryce House is presented as it would have appeared during their lifetime. A selection from their vast collection of important paintings, prints, drawings, and books is on display. A theme throughout the house is the winged lion of Saint Mark, the symbol of Venice.

The Martello tower on the island dates from the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Like other towers in Cork – but unlike other Irish Martello towers – it has a straight cylindrical shape that does not splay out at its base.

The steps leading up to the Martello Tower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The island is renowned for its richness of plant form and colour, changing continuously with the seasons.

The vivid colours of Rhododendrons and Azaleas reach their peak in May and June, while hundreds of cultivars of climbing plants, herbaceous perennials and choice shrubs dominate the midsummer period from June to August.

Autumn colour, particularly on the magnificent heather bank, is rich during the usually mild autumn months of September and October.

A theme throughout Bryce House is the winged lion of Saint Mark, the symbol of Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Annan Bryce died in 1923, but his widow Violet continued to development the gardens. Their son, Rowland Bryce, took over this work in 1932, continuing to add interesting plants from many parts of the world. He was assisted by Murdo Mackenzie, an outstanding Scottish gardener.

When Roland Bryce died in 1953, he bequeathed Garinish Island to the Irish people. Murdo Mackenzie remained in charge of the garden when it passed into public ownership until his retirement in 1971. Today, the island is managed by the Office of Public Works.

The Office of Public Works normally charges for admission on arrival at the island. This charge is separate from the fares collected by boat owners.

There are three main ferry services from Glengarriff to Garinish Island: the Blue Pool Ferry leaves from the Blue Pool Amenity Area, next to Quill’s Woollen Market; the Harbour Queen Ferry leaves from the Pier, opposite the Eccles Hotel; Ellen’s Rock Boat Service leaves from Ellen’s Rock about a mile outside the village on the Castletownbere Road.

Waiting for the Harbour Queen Ferry leaves from Glengarriff Pier to Garinish Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

A reflection on ministry,
mission and unity
on Saint Peter’s Day

Saint Paul (left) and Saint Peter (right) in windows in the west porch in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Skibbereen, Co Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Last week, I marked the 20th anniversary of my ordination as priest in 2001 and the 21st anniversary of my ordination as deacon in 2000. In recent days, many of my ordained colleagues have been posting photographs on social media celebrating the anniversaries of their ordinations too.

Today (29 June) is Saint Peter’s Day in the calendar of the Church of Ireland, and the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the Church of England and many other church calendars, honouring their martyrdom in Rome.

This time of the year is known in Anglican tradition as Petertide, one of the two traditional periods for the ordination of new priests and deacons – the other being Michaelmas, around 29 September.

The Cambridge poet-priest Malcolm Guite says on his blog that Saint Peter’s Day and this season is appropriate for ordinations because Saint Peter is ‘the disciple who, for all his many mistakes, knew how to recover and hold on, who, for all his waverings was called by Jesus “the rock,” who learned the threefold lesson that every betrayal can ultimately be restored by love.’

The Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul holding the church in unity … an early 18th century icon in the Museum of Christian Art in Iraklion, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the Orthodox Church, Saint Peter and Saint Paul are seen as figures of Church Unity, sharing a common faith and mission despite their differences. They are often seen as paired, flanking images at entrances to churches, and the icon of Christian Unity in the Orthodox tradition shows the Apostles Peter and Paul embracing each other – signs of the early Church overcoming its differences and affirming its diversity.

Peter’s Cell is an unusual place-name in the heart of the old city in Limerick. It marks the site of a house established by Donal Mor O Brian (1168-1194) for the Canonesses of Saint Augustine in 1171. Very little is known about these canonesses, apart from the fact that they had a church dedicated to Saint Peter – the word cell comes from cella or a room for each nun.

Despite the forced departure of the Augustinian canonesses at the dissolution of monastic houses during the Reformation, the name of Peter’s Cell survived in a small corner near the junction of Bishop Street and Peter Street.

In the late 17th century, the Quakers had a small burial ground near Peter’s Cell, and the Dissenters, the precursors of the Presbyterians, rented the former site of the canonesses, from Lord Milton from the 1690s until they built a new meeting house or chapel in Peter Street in 1765.

Part of the ruined convent buildings was converted into the Peter’s Cell Theatre around 1760. Later, Saint Munchin’s College was located in Peter’s Cell briefly in 1800-1809.

So, Peter’s Cell in Limerick has been used by Augustinians, Quakers, Presbyterians, theatre-goers, and as a diocesan seminary. Another form of ecumenism and diversity in centuries gone by, I suppose. But then our ministry must always involve mission in a broken world, and not in a world as we would like to find it. And, at the heart of that ministry and mission must be the quest for unity among all Christians.

When Pope Francis marked the feast of Saint Peter and Paul last year, he stressed the importance of unity in the Church and allowing ourselves to be challenged by God, urging people to spend less time complaining about what they see going wrong, and more time in prayer.

He noted that Saint Peter and Saint Paul were two very different men who ‘could argue heatedly’ but who ‘saw one another as brothers, as happens in close-knit families where there may be frequent arguments but unfailing love.’

God, he said, ‘did not command us to like one another, but to love one another. He is the one who unites us, without making us all alike.’

Saint Peter in chains (see Acts 12) … the window by Charles Eamer Kempe in Lichfield Cathedral commemorating Dean Herbert Mortimer Luckock (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Readings:

Ezekiel 3: 22-27; Acts 12: 1-11; Matthew 16: 13-19.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
who inspired your apostle Saint Peter
to confess Jesus as Christ and Son of the living God:
Build up your Church upon this rock,
that in unity and peace it may proclaim one truth
and follow one Lord, your Son our Saviour Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Saint Peter and Saint Paul in a pair of stained glass windows in Saint John’s Church, Wall, near Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
31, Arsanios Monastery, Crete

Moni Arsanios in the village of Pagalohori dates from the 16th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

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).

My photographs this morning (29 June 2021) are from the Monastery of Arsanios, near Rethymnon, continuing a week of photographs from monasteries in Crete.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the start of the Greek War of Independence, and earlier in this series morning reflections, I have also visited Arkadi Monastery (1 May 2021) and the former Monastery of Saint Catherine of Mount Sinai in Iraklion (8 May 2021).

Moni Arsanios or the Monastery of Saint George dates from the 16th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Moni Arsanios (Μονή Αρσανίου) or the Monastery of Saint George at the village of Pagalohori, 11 km east of Rethymnon, dates from the 16th century. Below, there are panoramic views out to the Cretan Sea; above are views up to Mount Psiloritis, the highest mountain on the island.

The katholikon or main church in the monastery is dedicated to Aghios Georghios (Saint George), and a smaller church is named after Saint Mark the Deaf, whose feast day is celebrated on 2 January. This is the only church dedicated to Saint Mark the Deaf, not only in Greece but in the entire world.

The monastery probably takes its name from a monk called Arsenios, who built the monastery in the 16th century.

The katholikon was dedicated to Saint George in 1600. When The Turks occupied Rethymnon in 1646, the monastery may have been deserted. Bishop Neophytos Patelaros put the monastery under the protection of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1655, and the Stavropegic and Patriarchal status of Arsaniou was reconfirmed in 1778 and again in 1850.

Despite the protection of the Patriarch of Constantinople gave to the monastery with this Stavropegic status, it did not protect it from natural and political calamities. Many of the cells of the monastery collapsed under a strong earthquake in 1856, and ten years later, in 1866, the Turks destroyed what they could in the monastery to punish the monks for their revolutionary activities.

A new Church of Saint George was built in 1888 on the ruins of the old church, but the Turks returned in 1896 to burn and plunder the monastery. A year later, they murdered the monk Father Gabriel Klados, hanging his head on a tree in Rethymnon to use for target practice.

By 1900, it looked as though the monastery could not survive, but it was reconstituted in 1903. Further woes came with World War II, when the Germans executed Abbot Damianos Kallergis in 1941 for the support the monks gave to the Greek partisans and the resistance to the Nazis. But the monastery survived. It was renovated in 1970, the katholikon was decorated with frescoes in 1988-1990, and a museum and conference centre were founded.

The katholikon is a cruciform basilica with a dome. There is a fine carved wood ikonostasis (icon screen) and the walls are decorated with vivid frescoes.

Along with visitors who come to the conference centre and museum, the monastery has a steady daily trickle of tourists in normal summers, outside Covid time. But the future of Moni Arsanios must be a matter of faith today. When I last visited, there were only three monks living permanently there. The two I met were in their mid-80s, the third monk was then in his mid-40s.

The Pantokrator in the dome of the katholikon in Moni Arsanios (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 16: 13-19 (NRSVA):

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14 And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16 Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 17 And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’

The fine carved wooden ikonostasis or icon screen in the katholikon or main church of the monastery (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (29 June 2021, Saint Peter and Saint Paul) invites us to pray:

Almighty Father, let us remember the examples of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, two of your most loyal disciples. May we seek to emulate the conviction of their faith through our deeds and words.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

A smaller church in the monastery is dedicated to Saint Mark the Deaf (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

The Stavropegic status of Moni Arsanios did not protect he monastery from natural and political calamities (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)