03 July 2021

Castletownbere, MacCarthy’s Bar
and the Irish doctor in Nagasaki

Castletownbere … street art on a gable end in the colourful town in the Beara Peninsula (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During last month’s summer road trip or ‘staycation’ in West Cork and Co Kerry, two of us spent an afternoon in the Beara Peninsula. This is a compelling and beautiful place, with the Miskish and the Caha mountains forming the rugged spine of the peninsula that seems at times to be adrift in the Atlantic.

The Beara Peninsula, with Kenmare Bay to the north and Bantry Bay to the south, is rich with Bronze Age remains: wedge tombs, stone circles and standing stones. But it is also home to Ireland’s largest whitefish fleet, based in Castletownbere.

We set off from Glengarriff into this large and long peninsulas, stretching for almost 50 km from Glengarriff to Dursey Island and back to Kenmare, and one of the scenic routes along the Wild Atlantic Way.

The north part of the peninsula, from Kenmare to near Ardgroom, is in Co Kerry, while the rest of the peninsula in is Co Cork. The rugged mountains and craggy coastlines along the southern stretch of the Ring of Beara make this one of the best-kept secrets in West Cork, and travel writers have described it as the ‘most underrated road trip in Europe.’

The ferry to Bere Island takes about 10 minutes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

We stopped and thought about taking the 10-minute ferry trip to Bere Island, 2 km off-shore, with its great forts, Martello tower, Ardnakinna Lighthouse and a number of looped walks. The island is about 11 km by 5 km – about the same size as Manhattan – and has a population of about 200.

Instead, however, we pressed on along the coast for lunch in the bustling and pretty town of Castletownbere, in O’Donoghue’s Bar, the Cornet House on the Square.

The Irish name of the town comes from a former castle built by the MacCarthy dynasty. Another castle, Dunboy Castle, 3 km west, was the seat of the O’Sullivan Beare family. During the Siege of Dunboy in 1602, Dunboy Castle was reduced by the forces of Elizabeth I. Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare then retreated with his followers to Leitrim.

Theobald Wolfe Tone sailed into Berehaven Harbour in 1796 with a French fleet that anchored off Ahabeg, 8 km east of Castletownbere. But the gales were so violent that they could not land.

Berehaven was one of the three ‘Treaty Ports’ until 1938 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

During World War I, Berehaven Harbour was a base for naval convoys escorting civilian ships across the Atlantic.

The US navy set up an air station at Berehaven on 29 April 1918, but it closed again at the end of World War I. When the Anglo Irish Treaty was signed on 6 December 1921, one of its provisions was that Britain would retain sovereignty over three strategically important ports, or ‘Treaty ports,’ including the ‘Dockyard Port at Berehaven.’ The two other ports were in Lough Swilly and at Cobh (Queenstown).

After the Irish Free State was formed in 1922, the Royal Navy continued to maintain its presence at the forts and batteries around Castletownbere and on Bere Island, together known as Berehaven. British sovereignty in Berehaven continued until 29 September 1938, when Berehaven was handed over and the last British troops left by train from Bantry to Cork.

Today, Berehaven is rated as the second safest natural harbour in the world, and Castletownbere is an important fishing port and commercial hub. The surrounding area is the setting for Daphne du Maurier’s novel Hungry Hill (1943), named after the nearby mountain of the same name.

MacCarthy’s Bar … the birthplace of Dr Aidan MacCarthy and the cover image for MacCarthy’s Bar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Perhaps the best-knwon literary association in the town is MacCarthy’s Bar on the Square. It featured on the cover and in the title of Pete McCarthy’s book, McCarthy’s Bar: A Journey of Discovery in Ireland (1998). MacCarthy’s Bar was the birthplace of Dr Aidan MacCarthy (1913-1992) a prisoner of war in World War II, a survivor of the Nagasaki atomic bomb, and author of A Doctor’s War (1979).

Air Commodore Joseph Aidan MacCarthy was born in Castletownbere on 19 March 1913 and was educated at Clongowes Wood School and University College Cork, where he graduated in medicine in 1938.

He practised first in Wales and then in London, where he joined the Royal Air Force. He was posted to France in 1940 and was evacuated from Dunkirk where he attended wounded allied soldiers while under fire from German aircraft. He was awarded the George Medal in 1941 for his part in the rescue of the crew of a crashed and burning Wellington bomber at RAF Honington.

MacCarthy was posted to the Far East in 1941, and was captured by the Japanese in Sumatra. The prison ship taking allied prisoners to Japan was sunk by a US submarine, and MacCarthy tried bravely to rescue his patients in the South China Sea.

As a prisoner in Japan, he cared for other prisoners of war who were forced to work in horrific conditions. He received extra punishment because the Japanese assumed MacCarthy was a close relative of General Douglas MacArthur.

He was in charge of a working party in Nagasaki when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city on 9 August 1945. A week later, he was the senior allied serviceman in Japan at the Japanese surrender.

Dr MacCarthy later practiced medicine in England, and died in Northwood, London, on 11 October 1995. His family continues to live in Castletownbere.

Before leaving Castletownbere, two of us also visited the Church of the Sacred Heart, the Roman Catholic parish church, and Saint Peter's Church, the former Church of Ireland parish church. But the stories of these two churches are for next week.

Castletownbere is an important fishing port and Berehaven is the second safest natural harbour in the world (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
35, Saint George’s Monastery, Karydi

The Monastery of Aghios Georgios in Karydi was founded around 1600 (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 (3 July 2021) are from the Monastery of Saint George, Karydi, near Vamos, concluding 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).

In the courtyard at the Monastery of Aghios Georgios (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Monastery of Saint George in Karydi is about 2 km south-east of the village of Vamos in western Crete, and is best-known as an architectural monument because of its former olive oil factory with its 12 arches and the remains of four olive mills.

Before the foundation of the monastery, the area was a settlement and fiefdom controlled by a Venetian nobleman, whose house is still preserved. Writing in 1577, the Venetian man of letters, Francesco Barozzi (1537-1694), who was born in Iraklion, mentions a church dedicated to Saint George at the current location of the monastery.

The Monastery of Aghios Georgios in Karydi was founded around 1600, and took its name from this settlement in an area abundant with walnut trees.

When the Turks captured Crete later in the 17th century, they realised the strategic location of the monastery on a road linking Sfakia and Vamos. There were about 10 Greek Orthodox families here, and the Turks forced them to either convert to Islam or to abandon their village. Four families changed their faith and asked the Turks to turn the Church of Saint George in the village into a mosque.

In the early 18th century, the taxes imposed on the priest were so oppressive that he felt he was being forced to leave the village. Eventually, with the help of the Monastery of Aghia Triada at Tzagarolon, near Chania, he found a way to pay his taxes, and in 1720 the monastery was given in thanks to Aghia Triada Monastery.

Since then, Saint George and the lands attached to it have been a dependency of the Monastery of Aghia Triada. The Turks conceded more freedom to the Christians of Crete in 1821. They began olive cultivation in 1829, which helped the monastery to grow and provided work for many people.

The monks bought the properties of the Muslim residents in the locality, and gradually the monastery became an important place of work. The monastery’s property and estates expanded rapidly, as many people left bequests and legacies or donated their land to the monastery, including even some Turks.

The scale of olive oil production at the monastery was so great, that an impressive olive oil factory with four mills was built here in 1863. At one time, the monastery owned 3,600 olive trees, as well as numerous animals and vines. It produced up to 25,000 kg of olive oil, which was a unique example of oil production on a grand scale anywhere in Crete.

The old olive oil factory with its 12 arches has become a picture postcard image of the monastery. The 12 arches, said by some to represent the 12 apostles, once supported a roof that has collapsed. The remains of the four mills can still be seen inside the factory ruins, but only their bases survive, and the millstones have been removed.

Meanwhile, several monks moved from Aghia Triada to Karydi, and rebuilt the church its present form in 1850-1880. A reliquary in the church is said to hold a small part of a bone of Saint George.

The last monk left the monastery of Aghios Georgios in 1900, and five years later, in 1905, part of the monastery land was ceded to local farmers and the monastery became forlorn and deserted. The rest of the monastery lands were granted in 1922 to Greek veterans of the Balkan wars and the Asia Minor campaign. The monastery and many of the surrounding olive groves were destroyed around 1923.

For many years, the monastery was left abandoned. However, the Greek Ministry of Culture began working with Bishop Irenaeus Galanakis in 1986 on a plan to restore the monastery.

Almost a century after the last monks left Aghios Georgios, one lone monk, Father Dorotheos, moved back into the monastery in 1996. He continues to live there, and with the support of local people he is continuing to restore the monastery and the church, and welcoming visitors.

The Monastery of Aghios Georgios is surrounded by olive groves (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 20: 24-29 (NRSVA):

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27 Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28 Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29 Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

A reliquary in the monastery church holds what is said to be a small part of a bone of Saint George (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (3 July 2021, Saint Thomas) invites us to pray:

Let us remember the life and works of Saint Thomas the Apostle. May we cast aside our scepticism and choose the way that Jesus taught us.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The monastery was left abandoned for many years (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

Inside the church in the monastery (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)