For several summers prior to the First World War John Ireland holidayed on Jersey. In particular he recalled swimming in the sea on the east coast, at Fauvic. Jersey’s east coast as seen in July 2017, with its eerie lunar landscape at low tide, looks much as it might have done 100 years earlier.
John Ireland is one of many English composers drawn to the county of Sussex (both East and West).
In addition to Ireland living at Rock Mill, Washington, others with Sussex associations include:
- Bax, Arnold: Storrington
- Brian, Havergal: Brighton
- Bridge, Frank: Friston
- Coates, Albert: Selsey
- Elgar, Edward: Fittleworth
- Gipps, Ruth: Bexhill-on-Sea
- Harrison, Julius: Hastings
- Murdoch, William: Bognor Regis
- Parry, Hubert: Rustington
- Reeves, Sims: Worthing
- Sammons, Albert: Bognor Regis
- Scott, Cyril: Eastbourne
- Turnbull, Percy: Pulborough
- Vaughan Williams, Ralph: Rottingdean
When Ireland was living on Guernsey in 1939–40, he may have encountered the island’s Christmas customs. One of these was a festival known as La Longue Veille, which took place on 23 December. On this day a special feast was prepared, consisting of Guernsey biscuits (pictured), cheese, galettes and mulled wine. There are other interesting habits and traditions. Christmas Eve was known as Serveille, and the people of Guernsey shared a folk belief common to a number of English counties that all cattle kneel at midnight in remembrance of the manger at Bethlehem. Another superstition was that on Christmas Eve the water in the wells is turned to wine. Ireland would surely have liked the idea of these distinctive customs, given his propensity for researching English folklore.
Aside from the obvious attractions of its climate, landscape and historic dolmens, there are other reasons why John Ireland might have been drawn to Jersey. It is an island full of the sorts of customs and legends that fascinated him. One distinctive tradition is the Jersey perquage, a sanctuary path leading from the island’s churches to the sea. As long as a person seeking sanctuary remained either in the church or on one of these roads, then they enjoyed the protection of the ecclesiastical authorities. Few traces of these ancient and unique paths remain, however, as land was gradually sold and incorporated into private property. However, the tiny chapel at St Brelade’s Bay still has its perquage, the shortest on the island, given that the chapel is virtually on the beach.
On a sparklingly beautiful day in December, these are views from the house in Penrith in which Ireland’s mother Annie grew up.
In April 1924 Ireland took the train to Bournemouth, along with fellow composer Granville Bantock. Travelling there for the Third Bournemouth Festival, they stayed at the Grand Hotel. Bantock was there to conduct his ‘Hebridean’ Symphony, but Ireland too was there to conduct – his relatively recent tone poem Mai-Dun. In the same festival Harriet Cohen played Bax’s Theme and Variations for piano and orchestra, and a number of other composers conducted their own works, among them Dunhill, Howells and Moeran. All concerts were given by the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra, a review in the Telegraph commending them for their Herculean labours (in Lloyd, p.163).
Source: Stephen Lloyd (1995). Sir Dan Godfrey: Champion of British Composers, London, Thames.