26 March 2023

On a quiet street where
old ghosts and poets meet
along the enchanted way

‘On Grafton Street … we tripped lightly along the ledge’ … two pints on the ledge in McDaid’s in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Two of us spent two days in Dublin last week while I was researching a chapter for a book due for publication later this year.

We stayed in Rathmines while I spent my two days of research working in the Church of Ireland library (the RCB Library) in Rathgar, just a 30-minute walk away, and the public library in Rathmines.

Although it was a very short, quick return visit, I had breakfast with an old friend in Churchtown, lunch in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute where I was on the academic staff for 15 years, strolled by banks of the River Dodder in Rathgar, and visited my older brother in Rathmines and the house on Beechwood Avenue in Ranelagh where my grandfather and great-grandfather had lived.

One evening, after dinner in Forno 500 in Dame Street, two of us strolled through Dublin in the night air, through Temple Bar, by the Ha’penny Bridge and the River Liffey, into Trinity College, where I was an adjunct assistant professor until 2017, and then along Grafton Street, before stopping off in McDaid’s for a late-night drink beneath the portraits of an array of Irish writers, including James Joyce, Brendan Behan, Sean O’Casey and Patrick Kavanagh.

We caught a bus from Redmond’s Hill back to Rathmines, discussing why we preferred one or other recording the poem ‘On Raglan Road’ by Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967) – Charlotte’s choice is Luke Kelly, mine is Ronnie Drew. But our other nominees included Sinead O’Connor and Van Morrison.

‘On Grafton Street … where old ghosts meet’ … portraits of Irish writers on the wall in McDaid’s on Harry Street, including Patrick Kavanagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

In the past, when I occasionally celebrated the Eucharist in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, I would take a quiet break in the stillness of the morning, and stroll through the neighbouring streets in Ballsbridge, including Herbert Park, Waterloo Road, Wellington Road, Pembroke Road, Elgin Road, Clyde Road and Raglan Road, the street that inspired the poem by Patrick Kavanagh:

On Raglan Road on an Autumn day, I saw her first and knew
that her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue …

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Victorian and Edwardian houses on Raglan Road and the surrounding streets in the Pembroke township and Pembroke estate became the new residential homes of people who had lived previously in the Georgian squares of Dublin, such as Fitzwilliam Square and Merrion Square.

In more recent years, Raglan Road has become one of Dublin’s most exclusive residential streets, with some of the most expensive houses on sale in Ireland. Recent residents of Raglan Road have included the billionaire businessman Denis O’Brien, and the road is also home to several ambassadors, including the Turkish and Belgian ambassadors, as well as the Mexican Embassy.

The Mexican Embassy at No 19 Raglan Road was the home of Patrick Kavanagh in 1940-1943. It was Mrs Kenny’s boarding house, and he paid 10 shillings a week in rent. Before that, he had lived nearby on 62 Pembroke Road, but his poetic genius is irreversibly linked with Raglan Road, and his best-known poem, ‘On Raglan Road.’

During those early Sunday morning strolls, as I walked along ‘the enchanted way’ that is wide, tree-lined Raglan Road, it was easy to imagine Kavanagh’s ‘Quiet street where old ghosts meet’:

On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew.
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw danger, yet I walked along enchanted way.
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at dawning of day.

The poem was first published under the title ‘Dark Haired Miriam Ran Away’ in The Irish Press almost 80 years ago on 3 October 1946. But everyone at the time knew that Kavanagh’s poem was about Dr Hilda Moriarty from Dingle, Co Kerry.

Patrick Kavanagh met the beautiful, dark-haired Hilda Moriarty in 1944. She was a medical student at University College Dublin and was only in Dublin a few months, but she became one of most celebrated beauties of her time. She already knew Kavanagh’s poetry and writings; she was 22 and he was 40.

The penniless poet loved her, but there was an 18-year gap. She was flattered, but she did not reciprocate. When Hilda went home to Dingle for Christmas 1944, Kavanagh followed her but was not welcome in the Moriarty home. She was the young and beautiful daughter of the local doctor; he was a middle-aged, out-of-work journalist and the son of a small farmer. Kavanagh stayed at Kruger Kavanagh’s guesthouse in Dunquin and paid for his stay by writing an article on ‘My Christmas in Kerry’ in The Irish Press.

Back in Dublin, they met on-and-off throughout 1945. But eventually Hilda rejected him and in August 1947 she would marry Donogh O’Malley (1921-1968), later the Fianna Fail Minister for Education.

In the meantime, ‘Dark Haired Miriam Ran Away’ was published in The Irish Press on 3 October 1946. Patrick’s brother, Peter Kavanagh, said that ‘it was written about Patrick’s girlfriend Hilda, but to avoid embarrassment he used the name of my girlfriend in the title.’ A meaningless line in this edition, Synthetic sighs and fish-dim eyes and all death’s loud display, was later replaced with The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay.

Kavanagh celebrated this unrequited love with a poem he dreamed of setting to the Irish traditional air, The Dawning of the Day (Fáinne Geal an Lae).

In the poem, the writer recalls a love affair that he had with a young woman while walking on a ‘quiet street.’ Although the speaker knew that he would risk being hurt if he initiated a relationship, he did so anyway:

I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.

Twenty years after Patrick Kavanagh wrote his poem, the Dubliners were playing one evening in 1966 in the Bailey in Duke Street, off Grafton Street, the other Dublin street named in this poem. On that evening, Patrick Kavanagh asked Luke Kelly of the Dubliners if he could adapt ‘On Raglan Road.’ Naturally, Luke Kelly chose the air of Fáinne Geal an Lae … and so was born a much-loved Irish song.

A year after his poem became part of the Dubliners’ repertoire, Patrick Kavanagh married his long-term companion Katherine Barry Moloney in April 1967 and they lived on Waterloo Road. He died a few months later, on 30 November 1967, in a Dublin nursing home. Hilda’s husband, Donogh O’Malley, died some weeks later on 10 March 1968.

In an interview with RTÉ in 1974, the writer Benedict Kiely recalled Kavanagh trying out the paired verse and tune for him soon after writing it.

Dr Hilda O’Malley was interviewed by RTÉ in 1987 for a documentary about Kavanagh, Gentle Tiger. In the interview, she said one of the main reasons for the failure of their relationship was that there was a wide age gap between them.

She recalled how ‘On Raglan Road’ was written by Kavanagh. He had described himself as the peasant poet but she was not impressed and teased him for writing about mundane things such as vegetables. She said he should write about something else so he agreed to do so. According to Dr Moriarty, he then went away and wrote ‘On Raglan Road.’

Dr Hilda O’Malley died in 1991 in Saint Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin.

Before leaving Dublin at the end of last week’s short visit, we returned to Grafton Street, and had coffee beneath the Harry Clarke windows in Bewley’s. As we headed back to the airport that evening, we were still discussing Patrick Kavanagh’s unrequited love and the competing merits of the different recordings of ‘On Raglan Road.’

‘Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion’s pledge’ … the Ha’penny Bridge at night in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

On Raglan Road, by Patrick Kavanagh

On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.

On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge
Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion’s pledge,
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay –
O I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away.

I gave her gifts of the mind I gave her the secret sign that’s known
To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say.
With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May.

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now
Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow
That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay –
When the angel woos the clay he’d lose his wings at the dawn of day.

The Mexican Embassy on Raglan Road, where Patrick Kavanagh once lived (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying at the Stations of the Cross in
Lent 2023: 26 March 2023 (Station 1)

‘Jesus is condemned to death’ … Station 1 in the Stations of the Cross in Saint Dunstan and All Saints’ Church, Stepney (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Summer time begins today, which is the Fifth Sunday in Lent (26 March 2023). In the past, this Sunday in Lent was also known as Passion Sunday.

I plan to take part in the Parish Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, later this morning, and later in the afternoon I hope to find somewhere to watch the Gemini Boat Race. But, before this day begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

During Lent this year, in this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, I have been reflecting on words from Samuel Johnson, the Lichfield-born lexicographer and compiler of the first standard Dictionary of the English language. But, in these two weeks of Passiontide, Passion Week and Holy Week, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Short reflections on the Stations of the Cross, illustrated by images in Saint Dunstan’s and All Saints’ Church, the Church of England parish church in Stepney, in the East End of London, and the Roman Catholic Church of Saint Francis de Sales in Wolverton, which I visited for the first time last month;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the lectionary adapted in the Church of England;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Station 1, Jesus is condemned to death:

The Stations of the Cross begin with Christ’s condemnation before Pontius Pilate.

In the First Station in Stepney, Christ has a crown of thorns on his head and is bound with a rope around his wrists as he is led away from Pilate, who remains seated on his throne.

A Roman soldier and two other men, one bearded the other clean-shaven, figurative perhaps of Jew and Gentile, stand at the gate of the courtyard, perhaps a reminder of Christ’s words: ‘I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture … I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’ (see John 10: 9-11).

Pilate is seated on a throne, his hands dipped in a bowl balanced precariously above his lap, perhaps a reminder for all of us that our futures and our lives are balanced precariously too.

The words below read: ‘Jesus is Condemned to Death’.

In the First Station in Wolverton, Christ is bound with a rope that is tied around his chest and his arms, and his head has already been crowned with a wreath of thorns. Pilate is seated on a throne, rinsing his dripping hands above in a bowl held by a servant boy, seeking to wash himself of any responsibility for his role in the imminent death of Christ.

Behind the figure of Christ, a Roman soldier holds aloft a cross-shaped banner with the initials SPQR, a contrast with the initials INRI of the lettering to be placed above the Cross, and a contrast between the Cross and the World, between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world.

Below all four figures, the words read: ‘Condemned to Death.’

‘Condemned to death’ … Station 1 in the Stations of the Cross in Saint Francis de Sales Church, Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

John 11: 1-45 (NRSVA):

1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

7 Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ 8 The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ 9 Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ 11 After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ 12 The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ 23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24 Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ 27 She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ 37 But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ 40 Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Lazarus is raised from the Dead … a fresco in the Analpsi Church in Georgioupoli on the Greek island of Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

‘Good Neighbours: A View from Sri Lanka’

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Good Neighbours: A View from Sri Lanka.’ This theme is introduced this morning with an adaptation from Father Rasika Abeysinghe’s contribution to USPG’s Lent Course ‘Who is our neighbour,’ which I have edited for USPG.

Father Rasika Abeysinghe is a priest in the Diocese of Kurunagala in the Church of Ceylon. He writes:

‘The history of the Church in Sri Lanka has seen a long and enriching journey, continuously and critically asking this question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’

‘In asking this question, we are striving to break down the worldly constructs of class and creed. In Sri Lanka, class and creed have become the most mixed elements and present a variety of categories of communities.

‘We have found much traction in our endeavour in the midst of the worst economic crisis in the history of Sri Lanka. The work of the Church in this area transcends the Christian and non-Christian divide, providing food, aid and pastoral care for anyone who has been pushed to the brink of poverty and vulnerability. The work transcends the many classes of communities as each grapples with its own struggles.

‘In all these examples, as we strive for change on behalf of others, we have found they have changed us even more. We find ourselves overcoming our own pre-existing thoughts and prejudices. It would be our failure not to be aware that as we grow up, we have been accepting and nurturing human constructs.

‘And so, we must take care to break down these barriers within ourselves in the first place and then this will be visible in our actions.’

To read more from Father Rasika Abeysinghe see USPG’s Lent Course ‘Who is our neighbour?’

Today’s Prayer:

The prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (Sunday 26 March 2023, Lent V, Passion Sunday) invites us to pray:

O God in whom there is no beginning or end
no hierarchy or division,
show us our prejudices,
heal our divisions and hurts,
and make us one in Christ.

The Collect:

Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us
that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters
we do also for you:
give us the will to be the servant of others
as you were the servant of all,
and gave up your life and died for us,
but are alive and reign, now and for ever.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘Who is Our Neighbour?’, a six-week study course for Lent 2023 produced by the Anglican mission agency USPG

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