The Mater Hospital, Dublin – and Thoughts on the Hymns of Mrs C.F. Alexander of Eccles Street

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Two members of my family have had occasion to spend many hours just recently at both the Mater and the Mater Private; both hospitals beside each other in Eccles Street, Dublin. One day, in the middle of all those lonely worrying hours spent pacing depressing hospital corridors, I took a breath of fresh air on the street outside and suddenly remembered something which lifted me spiritually. Wasn’t it in Eccles Street that one of Ireland’s best known hymn writers was born? Some say she was born at Ballykean House, Redcross, Co. Wicklow, but either way I believe that this lady had links to both these locations.

It is widely believed that Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander (nee Humphreys) was born to Major John and Mrs Humphreys at 25 Eccles Street, Dublin in early April 1818. In fact this year would be the 200th anniversary of her birth! Best known for the lovely hymns she wrote for children like “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and “There is a Green Hill Far Away,” Frances was a prolific writer who wrote verse from a very early age.

As I wondered on that busy troubled street with taxis blaring their horns and ambulance sirens drowning my ears, I passed asylum seekers from troubled parts of the world and homeless people sitting begging on the pavement and I saw a man with one leg wheeling himself swiftly forward…

Two hundred years have passed and the Eccles Street where Frances was born has changed entirely, so much so that 25 Eccles Street, the Humphreys’ old family home, would appear to no longer exist. From what I could see, there was a park there now; a little area of green with a few trees and birds gently singing in the middle of mankind’s mayhem. I remembered Frances’ well known carol “Once in Royal David’s City” and the little hymn about my loving Creator that she used to teach children about creation in her Sunday school…

 

“All things bright and beautiful,

All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful,

The Lord God made them all.

 

Each little flow’r that opens,

Each little bird that sings,

He made their glowing colours,

He made their tiny wings.”

 

And I remembered that the hands that designed the petals on the spring flowers and the glowing colours on the feathers of the tiny birds were pierced for me – and for you. How He cares for and loves us and our families – and every needy soul in that street where hearts are burdened with poverty, suffering and a load of care. I thank Him for His Presence and His uplifting Spirit as I walk in this world which is not my home. I thank Him for the memory of the old hymn writers and their faith in the risen Saviour; something which is portrayed in Mrs Alexander’s hymn for little children…

 

“There is a green hill far away,

Without a city wall,

Where the dear Lord was crucified,

Who died to save us all.”

 

He died that we might be forgiven,

He died to make us good,

That we might go at last to heaven,

Saved by His precious blood.”

 

I returned to that hospital ward with a spring in my step, remembering that He is with me all the way… gently leading to Eternal Day. May you know the love of Jesus, the risen Saviour, in your heart today.

 

“Jesus calls us over the tumult

Of our life’s wild, restless sea;

Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,

Saying, “Christian, follow me!”

 

In our joys and in our sorrows,

Days of toil and hours of ease,

Still He calls, in cares and pleasures,

“Christian, love Me more than these.”

(C.F. Alexander 1818-1895)

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