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crookhavenchurchofireland1THE SUMMER SERIES of Compline services at the little church of St Brendan’s in Crookhaven starts this coming weekend, on Sunday, July 6th, 2014. All the services start at 8.30 pm. (At the end of the Mizen peninsula — in West Cork —, looking out at the Fastnet lighthouse on its rocky plinth, Crookhaven is very near the Irish mainland’s most south-westerly point.)

Below is the preacher roster for the 2014 summer series, and what follows after (written by me) appeared in the Irish Times (as an ‘Irishman’s Diary’) in July 2012, designed to provide a sense of Crookhaven in place and time.

Sunday 6th July:   The Dean of Ross, Very Rev. Chris Peters.
Sunday 13th July: The Bishop of Cashel, Rt. Rev. Michael Burrows.
Sunday 20th July: The Rector of Bantry: Rev. Canon Paul Willoughby.
Sunday 27th July: The Rector of Abbeystrewry, Rev. John Ardis.
Sunday 3rd Aug:   Rabbi Dame Julia Neuberger.
Sunday 10th Aug: Rt. Rev. Dr. Richard Henderson.
Sunday 17th Aug: Archbishop of Armagh, Most Rev. Dr. Richard Clarke.
Sunday 24th Aug: The Rector of Kilmoe, Rev. Trevor Lester.

GO STRAIGHT THROUGH Goleen on the R591 (going westwards) and the road begins to run along the water’s edge, past Spanish Point, and Rock Island, and eventually, after about five or six kilometres, it doubles back on itself, looping around the south side of Crook Haven. The road peters out in Crookhaven’s little village cluster. Aside from a couple of rows of higgledy-piggledy, brightly painted, street-side houses, the village consists of a pier, a little sailing clubhouse, two pubs, a restaurant, a grocery shop, and a chipper. The detached residential houses in and around the harbour are summer places for the wealthy and well-established, mercifully discrete for the most part, and tucked away amid the rock-crops and cockle-rich sand-marshes.

DSCF5033On the way into the village you pass the little church of St Brendan the Navigator. This Christian temple has but a partial-life nowadays: it is open for business only eight weeks in the year — just for the months of July and August. Even then, however, it doesn’t offer the full product range of the Anglican Communion, only the thanksgiving service of Compline, at 8.30 on Sunday evenings.

Preserve us, O Lord, while waking, and guard us while sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace . . .  


Interior of the little church of St Brendan’s, Crookhaven

However, this old-fashioned (almost extinct) service in this out-of-the-way place is often surprisingly well-attended. There aren’t enough people in Crookhaven to fill St Brendan’s, yet the little church is frequently full, or very nearly full, for this simple eventide thanksgiving ritual. In addition to holiday-makers in the Crook Haven and Barley Cove areas, attendees travel from outside the parish bounds — even from as far away as Skibbereen (50 kilometres away) — not all of whom would be orthodox church-goers by any means, some of them (your Diarist, for example) not any class of Christian at all.

Compline at Crookhaven is one of those things that can make a West Cork summer a unique experience: a thanksgiving service at the end of the world as, beyond the ocean horizon, the evening’s brilliant sphere of orange effulgence liquefies and melts away . . .

[And] We all of us sigh, a thousand sighs as one
for such a ruthless drowning of the light . . .
Deirín dé. Deirín dé.
May we sleep sound till round of day. §

The popularity of this service-series may be simply that the journey west along the Mizen peninsula is a pleasant drive on a Sunday evening, or maybe it’s the remoteness of the situation (at Crookhaven one is further west than, say, Finisterre, which as its name indicates is an Old World end-point), or it could be because of that sense of being some place stranded by time and imperial tide — the little church of St Brendan has no heating or electricity — it is candle and gas-lamp-lit (the organ a harmonium) — or it may be a blend of some or all of the above.

The charter of Our Lady’s College of Youghal (1464) included the livings of the parishes of Schull (Skull / An Scoil) and Kilmoe (Kilmolagga) — Kilmoe parish is Toormore, Goleen, and Crookhaven, a trinity of little settlements west of the town and parish of Schull. Kilmoe continued as a college benefice until the 1600s when Sir Richard Boyle (later to become first earl of Cork) bought the college grant from Sir Walter Raleigh.

The west coast of west Cork was infested with piratic havens at this time and, in an effort to make inroads on these cultures of lawlessness, Boss Boyle had a garrison deployed to Crookhaven, so beginning the long association between Crookhaven and the strategic services of the British authorities — an association that would continue with excise-men and watchtowers and lighthouses up until the surpassing of Marconi’s wireless telecommunications technology in the early 1900s.*

Between 1610 and the 1630s Crookhaven was an industrious English-plantation fishing colony, some hundreds strong. In addition to Wilkinsons and Wilsons and Burchills and the like, the colony included Nottors (Germans from Herrengberg) and Roycrofts and Camiers (French Huguenots), lichen-coated headstones for whom tilt and totter picturesquely in the church graveyard. This first Protestant colony was wiped out in the Counter-Reformation-sponsored ethnic cleansing of the 1640s.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAIn 1699-1700 Dive Downes, the Anglican bishop of Cork and Ross, visited every parish in his episcopal territories. On 6 June 1700, he day-tripped by boat (from Schull) west to the parish of Kilmoe. At Crookhaven he found the ruins of a church at the edge of the village “dedicated to St Mullagh”; “part of the Chapple”, he judged, much “older than the rest”. There were no books or registers for the parish, but he found nine Protestant families living in the area, among whom were John Prouce, the Parish Clerk, Thomas Dyer “the Tide Waiter” (customs and excise-man), Thadeus Coughlan, Mr Pierce Arnott, and a Mr Mahon. On the 4th Sunday of the month Mr Vyze preached at Mr Coughlan’s house.

Dr Peter Browne, bishop of Cork and Ross from 1710 to 1735, had the church rebuilt at his own expense — the bishop’s coat of arms, in stone, may still be made out in the west gable of the building.

The church was rebuilt again in the 1840s, the new building rededicated to St Brendan the Navigator (the carved stone bearing Bishop Browne’s coat of arms reset in the west-facing gable-wall).

Nicholas Cummins, rector of the Kilmoe union of parishes back in the 1980s, provided the following collect for St Brendan’s, which is appropriately simple and direct: ‘Almighty God, / You inspired your servant St Brendan the Navigator to sail across the seas in a voyage of discovery / Grant that we following his example withstand all the storms of life and arrive at the safe haven of your eternal kingdom, / Through Jesus Christ Our Lord.’


§ Lines from ‘Last Light over Europe’, a poem by John Wakeman.

* The following did not appear in the Irish Times piece, however, because of the character of the web (and because this is my blog) I am going to add it here (along with all the additional pictures).

Guglielmo_Marconi_1901_wireless_signalIn The Magic of West Cork, Pat Murphy (a retired Daily Mail reporter) reports asking an elderly fisherman in Crookhaven in the 1950s if he had known Marconi when the great man was in the locality in 1901, and if so had he any dealings with him [on Guglielmo Marconi, to save you Wikipediaing it, see below] . “Indeed then I did”, said the old salt. “I used to carry the telegrams for him from the station at Brow Head to the Post Office and back again every day.” What sort was he, Pat asked. “A nice poor craythur altogether”, the old man replied emphatically. “He used to walk about with his hands behind his back and his head stuck out like a horse going to the wather trough; thinkin’, thinkin’ all the time. Sure the man was all brains. I believe he wore the lightest hat in the world lest it press down on his brain too much. And yet in anything other than the telegraphs the same man was an eejit; yes, an eejit. He wanted to get a sealskin coat for his wife — an O’Brien, by the way — and didn’t he go out in a boat with a boyeen to shoot seals when they were reported in the mouth of the bay. Well, surely you’d expect a man with a brain like that to realise that trying to shoot from a boat that was rockin’ about on the movement of the water that the gulls would be more in danger than the seals? Why didn’t he sit up on a rock and let the boyeen go out in the boat and be ready to pick them up when he had them shot?”

“But a great man nonetheless. His voice can be heard on the darkest night anywhere there is danger on the seas. Did not a big boat sink off the easht coast of America some time ago and didn’t the brave little ladeen at the wireless signal SOS…SOS until the water was half way up his neck and not a soul aboard that ship was lost! O, have no doubt about it, Marconi took a power of cruelty out of the sea. May God be good to him. A nice poor craythur altogether.”

Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909 for his contribution to the development of wireless telegraphy. Marconi’s mother was one of the Jamesons of the Jameson Whiskey distillery. His father was a wealthy Italian landowner from near Bologna, and it was as a science student at the University of Bologna that the young Marconi became interested in electromagnetic waves (radio waves). Marconi didn’t actually invent or discover anything, rather he drew together and improved what was already around for some time — decades even — producing an effective (commercially viable) system. Indeed, there were many forms of radio transmitters already in existence in the 1890s, but they were unable to achieve transmission ranges of more than a few hundred meters. By practical experimentation the teenage Marconi increased the range of his homemade system significantly, transmitting up to 1.5 kilometres (nearly a mile). Moreover his system could cope with hills and other obstacles in the landscape.

In 1895, aged 21, Marconi came to London seeking development money for his ideas (he was unsuccessful in his approaches to the authorities in Italy). By means of his mother’s family connections he was able to marshal the interest of William Preece, the Royal Mail’s chief electrical engineer. Soon (working in England) Marconi was successfully transmitting over distances of up to 6 kilometres (3.6 miles), even over large bodies of water. By the summer of 1897 he successfully transmitted the message “Are you ready” over a distance of 16 kilomertres (9.9 miles). After which a series of lectures on ‘Signalling through space without wires’ at the Royal Institution made his reputation nationally. In 1899 Marconi was successfully transmitting across the English Channel. And in the same year he went to America and successfully transmitted reports of the America’s Cup yachting race for the New York Herald. By then he had his sights firmly set on trans-Atlantic transmissions, which he finally achieved at end of 1902. On 18 January 1903, when President Theodore Roosevelt transmitted a message of greeting to King Edward VII, Marconi’s place in history was secure. ‘Marconi Stations’, as they came to be called, were soon sprouting up all along the Atlantic coasts in Europe and the United States.

Not only was Marconi’s mother Irish, he married an Irishwoman, Beatrice O’Brien (1882-1976), daughter of Edward Donough O’Brien, Lord Inchiquin. They divorced in 1924 but before doing so they had four children, a son Giulio (1910-71), and three girls, Degna (1908-98), Gioia (1916-96), and another little girl who died in infancy.