6 May 2021


Perhaps, in the hope we that may eventually emerge from the pestilence, you would like a suggestion or two from me about possible Summer holidays ...

I venture to suggest the Co Kerry village of Sneem ... a very unusual Irish village. 

The Church of Ireland Rector there a generation or two ago was Charlie Gray-Stack, who was also Dean of Ardfert ... the old episcopal See of Co Kerry (features of the ruined Cathedral at Ardfert were copied by Pugin when he built the new Catholic Cathedral at Killarney). It was, I think, in 1952 that the Catholic Church, most regrettably, stopped calling the Kerry diocese Ardfert and Aghadoe (as they still do in the rather more traditional C of I). 

Charlie was no Paisleyite Protestant. He astonished both the papists and his fellow Irish Anglicans by his enthusiasm for the Holy Rosary and his defence of the televised Angelus - which, even in those days, was already being targetted by the secularists of Dublin 4. He transfigured his church; announced that it was dedicated to the Transfiguration (C of I parish churches originally lacked dedications, as did many C of E churches until the Victorian 'ecclesiologists' came along and invented them); and filled it with icons. It had been a typical, rather mean little Irish church in poor and ungrammatical Gothic, built to serve the as-yet unburned Ascendancy Big Houses which abounded in the subtropical climate of the South Iveragh. Charlie plastered and whitewashed the outside and planted palm trees, so that looked positively Mediterranean, instead of dour, Northern, and proddy. 

An earlier member of the congregation was presumably the actress Dorothea Jordan who was the long-serving mistress of William IV when he was Duke of Clarence. (That is why he surnamed his innumerable brood of bastards 'FitzClarence'; and created his eldest 'natural' son 'Earl of Munster'.)

The Catholic church in Sneem was built by Lord Dunraven, one of that interesting gaggle of Ascendancy aristocrats and gentry, not often remembered, who followed Saint John Henry into Full Communion. He had it dedicated to the Holy Cross. It was he who began the academic study of the extensive early monastic remains in coastal Kerry, sailing round the headlands and islands in his yacht and making notes and drawings. He is a gentleman and a scholar who deserves to be less forgotten both among Brits - and among the Irish who, despite their intermittent cultural make-overs (invariably for the worse), still suffer from a passion for discontinuity, their communal memories ruptured by the events of 1920/2 and a lurking anglophobia. 

Beside the Catholic church is a sculpture park; I recall one very surreal day when we gathered for the unveiling of a statue of Isis, given by the Egyptian ambassador (yet another addict of holidaying in Sneem). There stood I; beside me, Archdeacon Murphy, brother of the then Catholic Bishop (Irish Catholics retain the title of Archdeacon as an honorific); I wondered how an image of that Hellenistic Goddess who was such a potent rival of Christianity could be so lackadaisically tolerated by two Christian priests, not to mention a sternly monotheistic Moslem. When I last saw it, the Irish damp had done quite a bit of no good to the said idol which, under a shiny black surface, was plaster. The smooth Ptolemaic lines of the Philopateira Thea are now enhanced by enormous and positively super-baroque blisters.

Down by some lush inlets of the sea is the Parknasilla Hotel; G B Shaw used to go there, being driven, sitting bolt upright, in the back of his Rolls Royce, fearless through the bailiwick of the Third West Cork Brigade (who so memorably dealt with both the Black and Tans and poor Mr Collins). He wrote a lot at Parknasilla, including S Joan. Tea on the terrace there, overlooking the fertile, myrtle-clad coastline and Kenmare Water, is quite a Grand Hotel (often, Mediterranean) experience, if you can ignore the hunched figure of Bertie Ahern ... remember him? ... biting his fingernails in the corner. 

In fact, you could go on retreat there. The Hotel, needing to fill some empty book-shelves, bought en bloc the entire library of a defunct seminary (a commodity in which Modern Ireland is immensely rich).

Another military man, M le General de Gaulle, once holidayed in Sneem. Some wag, hearing that le General had stayed there, took to calling it Sneem les Deux Eglises which, it happens, is magnificently suitable! Attached to the Hotel is the most beautiful, scenic, twelve-hole Hotel golf course I have ever seen. Pam used to play rounds there with her sons/sons-in-law while I sat on a ruined and secluded jetty, drank Beamish, translated the Irish Times leader into Latin, looked out for the kingfishers and sea-otters, and watched the mullet drifting lazily in on the rising tide. 

The day when Ireland no longer offers Secluded Ruins will be the day when it is finally and irrevocably no longer Ireland.

If you were to holiday in Sneem, you could say the Rosary as you went out on the boats, past the great gannetry of the Little Skellig to the monastic island of Skellig S Michael (Shaw was rowed there but I doubt if he said the Rosary). It was one of the great pilgrimage centres in Ireland before, in the nineteenth century, Cardinal Cullen, that monumental spoil-sport, dragged the Irish Church kicking and screaming into the Tridentine reforms. 

I expect he used to preach about The Spirit Of The Council (of Trent, of course). Some people will stop at nothing.


philipjohnson said...

Well written Fr.Sounds like a beautiful place indeed.

Stephen said...

Card. Cullen as "monumental spoil-sport" - classic!! And the Skellig of St. Michael you reference is the "tip of the sword" of St. Michaels Sword. Of the seven, I've five yet to visit.

Gareth Thomas said...

Some thoughts on the subject of holidays in Ireland for UK citizens and self-identified 'Catholics':

(1) Long after there is any remaining danger from Covid, I would argue that nobody should be allowed to leave the UK on holiday to anywhere in the EU since "The People" - apparently - decided to restrict freedom of movement, including their own freedom as UK citizens. So you need to live with that fact for a while and let it sink in.

(2) An extra restriction should be imposed on the freedom of movement to Ireland by any UK Catholic converts who are still suggesting that Pope Francis is a heretic, since Ireland is still (more or less) a Catholic country, and the Church is trying to remind its citizens of that. No more protestant troublemakers are really required at this time. All Catholics entering Eire from the UK should give their assent to "Let Us Dream" and "Fratelli Tutti" at immigration control.

P. O'Brien said...

I just hope my vacation this summer won't be at the Vaccine Resisters Camp.

Rubricarius said...

With the aid of Google Maps and Street View I see the church of the Transfiguration seems to have lost its palm trees and the photograph of the interior shews a very bleak style of decoration, alas.

What are the kiln-shape structure by the Catholic church? Are they monastic cells?

Wynn said...

Gareth … if I may … sitting there in Finestrat brooding over the injustices which I do not doubt were done you by the authorities in this country is really not doing you any good.

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

Gareth Thomas,

Stop smoking marijuana!

Cordially yours


Simon Cotton said...

Perhaps some clarification on church dedications might be of interest. All mediaeval churches had a particular patron saint. These seem largely to have fallen into desuetude after the Reformation, though the only one forbidden was S. Thomas Becket. Dedications still survived in place names (e.g. Walpole St Peter). They were recovered by 17th and 18th c. antiquarians like the Rev. Francis Blomefield in Norfolk, who found them in surviving mediaeval documents like wills. Browne Willis’s Parochiale Anglicanum (1733) made these available for 13 dioceses. Some got confused. Mediaeval Norfolk and Suffolk were both in the diocese of Norwich, and there were parishes named Brampton, Rougham and Shimpling in both, so their dedications became muddled. North Lopham and South Lopham exchanged their dedications of St. Andrew and St. Nicholas. And so on. See the erudite essay ‘Moving the Signposts’ by the late Peter Northeast in East Anglian Studies, ed. Adam Longcroft and Richard Joby, 1995, ISBN 1873676867

Banshee said...

And there's the forgotten song harassing the bachelors and old maids right before Lent cut off the wedding season, "O ro, I'm going to Skellig." The idea was that you had a funny verse telling the sad story of each of the neighbors who was still single, and possibly proposing a funny matchmaking possibility that they should be praying for, when they (notionally) went on pilgrimage to Skellig Michael.