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Ancient Citadel with Ties to Some of Russia’s Greatest Figures

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Reliable historical information is sparse for this period, and fact and legend are often intertwined. In early December 1237 the forces of Batu Khan approached Ryazan, which they stormed and devastated after defeating the forces of Prince Yury, the ruler of Ryazan. The prince was himself killed in the battle.

This bare account was richly elaborated in a work called “The Tale of the Destruction of Ryazan,” attributed to a priest at the Church of St. Nicholas in Zaraisk. In this tale, Prince Yury sent his son Fyodor to negotiate with Batu Khan, but the Mongol leader had no reason to relent.

Hearing of the beauty of Fyodor’s wife Eupraxia, Batu made offensive proposals that were firmly rejected by Fyodor. When Eupraxia learned of her husband’s death at the hands of the Mongols, she leapt from a tower with her infant son rather than submit to Mongol capture. By some accounts, her death occurred at the site subsequently occupied by the Church of St. Nicholas in Zaraisk.

By the late 15th century, Muscovy had finally succeeded in freeing itself from subservience to the Golden Horde, but its southern lands were increasingly vulnerable to raids by Crimean Tatars.

In response to the Crimean threat, Tsar Vasily III (1479-1533) strengthened the southern borders with a fortified line anchored by fortress towns. After Ryazan was absorbed into Muscovy, work began on a brick and limestone kremlin in the center of Zaraisk. Built between 1528 and 1531, the rectangular Zaraisk kremlin is a gem of Russian fortress architecture. Its imposing brick walls are reinforced by four corner towers as well as three gate towers — all originally without the peaked wooden caps added much later.

The fortress repulsed several Crimean Tatar attacks, but Zaraisk was not left in peace. It played a significant role in the Time of Troubles, a conflict that was part civil war and part dynastic struggle involving Polish claimants that lasted over a decade.

In 1608, Zaraisk was seized by Polish forces, and costly attempts by Russian patriots to retake the town succeeded only in June 1609. In 1610, command of the Zaraisk kremlin was given to Prince Dmitry Pozharsky (1578-1642) and in early 1611 he and his Zaraisk troops marched on Polish-occupied Moscow as part of the First People’s Army. Wounded in the struggle, Pozharsky withdrew to his estate until news came of a second People’s Army, led by Kuzma Minin. With Minin’s proclamation of support, Pozharsky took command of the new army and in August 1612 expelled Polish forces from Moscow, thus clearing the way for the young Michael Romanov to assume power.

With the country’s recovery, Zaraisk continued to serve as a fortress, repulsing its last raid from the Crimea in 1673. In 1681 the Cathedral of St. Nicholas was rebuilt in the kremlin and is now the town’s oldest church. The fortress also contains the Cathedral of the Decapitation of John the Baptist, reconstructed to a design by Constantine Bykovsky in 1901-04.

The modest growth of Zaraisk in the 18th and 19th centuries is reflected in surviving monuments such as the Church of the Annunciation and the Church of Elijah the Prophet, as well as merchant houses and a complex of neoclassical trading rows.

During the early 19th century, Zaraisk became a local center for the grain trade, but major road development passed the town by. A monumental brick water tower, completed in 1914, testifies to economic growth just before World War I.

In the history of 19th-century Russian culture, Zaraisk is best known for its association with the childhood of Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881). In 1831, his father, Mikhail Andreevich Dostoevsky, purchased an estate at the nearby village of Darovoye.  The road to Darovoye passed by the Zaraisk kremlin, and near the main kremlin gate tower there was a station from which coaches left for Moscow. Every summer Dostoevsky’s mother would walk with her children from Darovoye to Zaraisk to post letters to her husband, who was still at work in Moscow.

Zaraisk has a street named after the great writer, and the remains of his mother, Maria, rest in a tomb within the Cathedral of John the Baptist in the Zaraisk kremlin.

There is also an indirect reference to Zaraisk in Crime and Punishment.

At the turn of the 20th century, Zaraisk nurtured another artist, Anna Golubkina (1864-1927), the first Russian woman to achieve major fame as a sculptor. Born in Zaraisk to a family of Orthodox dissenters known as Old Believers, Golubkina was largely educated at home.

With the encouragement of a Zaraisk teacher, Golubkina left in 1889 for study in Moscow. Her studies subsequently took her to St. Petersburg and Paris, where she worked as an assistant to Auguste Rodin in 1897-1900. Returning to Moscow in 1901, Golubkina received several commissions, including the dramatic frieze “The Wave” over the main entrance to the Moscow Art Theater, designed by noted architect Fyodor Shekhtel.

After the 1917 revolution, Golubkina continued to work as a sculptor and teacher in Moscow, but her health deteriorated. Seriously ill, she returned in the summer of 1927 to the family house in Zaraisk, where she spent her final days. In 1974 this early 19th-century house was converted to a museum that not only commemorates her work but also provides a view of a cozy pre-Soviet domestic setting.

Today Zaraisk is a regional center confronted with the challenge of preserving its valuable architectural heritage in difficult economic conditions. Rich in associations with history and culture, Zaraisk forms an essential part of Russia’s’ cultural memory.



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Travel agents experiencing increase in bookings since Covid-19 restrictions eased

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Travel agents are experiencing an increase in inquires and bookings since the government announced the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions on Friday.

Pat Dawson, CEO of the Irish Travel Agents Association, says there has been a “phenomenal” turn around in bookings, and travel agents are busy getting back to inquiries.

“We are looking at a healthy summer season, it’s the first time I’ve been positive in two years.”

He advised people to book their holidays early to avoid disappointment. “The longer you leave it, the dearer it will get. Mid-term break in February and Easter are almost full.”

Mr Dawson believes there is a pent-up demand. “There are some people who have money they haven’t spent, a big chunk of that will be spent on foreign holidays.”

John Spollen, director of Cassidy Travel in Dublin, says he has seen an increase in bookings over the weekend.

Popular destinations include Spain and Portugal, which have been Irish favourites for many years now, says Mr Spollen. There are also some bookings for the US, Jersey, Madeira and the Greek islands.

Peak travel

People should avoid peak travel times from mid June to the end of August and consider booking mid-week, early or late flights to get the best value, according to Mr Spollen.

“In May, September and October, the weather will be similar to summer weather.”

Mr Spollen added people should take out travel insurance and ensure their passport and driver’s licence are in date.

Michael Doorley of Shandon Travel in Cork said they have seen a huge increase in inquiries.

“We are not back to 2019 levels yet… the EU is a big destination. We have had a lot of inquires about mobile home holiday parks. Italy would be the most popular destination for this type of holiday, but Croatia is becoming almost as popular.”

There are also bookings for America coming in, as well as some couples celebrating their honeymoons belatedly, according to Mr Doorley.

It is important that people understand the restrictions in the country they are travelling to, he added, and they should check the Department of Foreign Affairs website regularly.

Aoife O’Donoghue is just one of the many Irish people who have not been on a holiday abroad in two years, and she is excited to be going to Barcelona at the end of March.

“A friend is moving over there in February, so myself and two other girls are going to visit her. It’s actually all our birthdays that weekend too,” she says.

The friends used to live together in Galway, and Ms O’Donoghue says it’s fantastic to have something to look forward to again.

The last time she went abroad was to Switzerland in January 2020. “Just as we were coming back there was news of the big Covid outbreak in Italy, so felt lucky to have gotten a holiday in before it all kicked off.”

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Property group clashes with council over Dundrum residential development

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The owners of Dundrum Town Centre have clashed with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown council over demands for more large apartments as they advance fast-track plans for a major residential development in the south Dublin village.

Property group Hammerson and insurer Allianz, which operate the new shopping complex in the area, have been in talks with An Bord Pleanála to build up to 889 apartments on the site of the old Dundrum shopping centre.

Their company, Dundrum Retail Ltd Partnership, has told the council it should scrap new requirements for “a minimum of three-plus bedroom units” in large apartment blocks that are included among proposed amendments to its draft county development plan.

In a submission last week to the council, the company said the new guidelines were in conflict with official rules that said there should be no minimum requirement for apartments with three or more bedrooms.

According to the company, the justification for the guidelines was based on fast-track strategic housing development permissions in the council area and “evidence” from certain boroughs in London.

“[Dundrum Retail Ltd Partnership] submit that the logic underpinning the policy is flawed and is not a basis for imposing prescriptive unit mix ratios on a countywide basis,” it said.

“The draft development plan needs to be amended to remove the very prescriptive requirement for apartments with three or more bedrooms and to allow applicants to make the case for a particular unit mix based on the particular attributes of local areas where a different mix might be appropriate.”

The company also told the council that proposed amendments to the development plan presented “contradictory or ambiguous objectives” in relation to proposals for a community, cultural and civic centre in the area.

Such objections were included among 106 submissions on the draft plan in a public consultation which closed last week. Numerous other developers and the Irish Home Builders Association lobby group also opposed the measures, some saying they would delay or prevent the delivery of new homes.

Asked about the submissions, the council said the response to any issues raised would be set out in a report by its chief executive to elected members which would be published. “It will be a decision of the elected members to adopt the plan and it is anticipated that this will take place in early March 2022. The plan will then come into effect six weeks later,” the council said.

Cost increase

In its submission, the Irish Home Builders Association said its members were concerned that the introduction of “further onerous standards” would increase the cost of delivering new homes and their price.

“This at a time when construction costs are already under huge inflationary pressure and affordability is a major issues for most home buyers,” said James Benson, director of the association.

“A key concern of the home-building sector in respect of the new plan is a lack of consistency with national planning guidelines/standards, which may be considered to be contrary to recent Government policy which sought to bring a greater extent of standardisation to national planning standards.”

The submission added: “The key concerns relate to the locational restriction and unit mix requirements for [build-to-rent] schemes, other standards for apartment developments which are more onerous/restrictive than the Government’s… guidelines, and the requirement for early delivery of childcare facilities in residential developments, all of which have the potential to impact adversely on the viability and affordability of housing in the county.”

Another builder, Park Developments, said in a submission the draft sought “more onerous policies, objectives and standards” that would have a direct effect on housing supply. “We are already seeing the impact of the chronic shortage in the supply of housing on the affordability of rental accommodation and homeownership.”

Castlethorn Construction said the blanket imposition of three-bedroom requirements “can only serve to militate against development of apartments” in the council area. It said the cost of delivering three-bed apartments was “very significant”, adding that demand was “not evident by reference to market sentiment, estate agents’ advice” and national policy imperatives.

Developer Hines, which has major interests in the Cherrywood strategic development zone, said in its submission that the logic underpinning requirements for more three-bedroom units was flawed.

“While making the case that recent development has been weighted towards one- and two-bed units, it fails to recognise that three-bed semi-detached and detached houses remain the predominant typology within [Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown] and that the [strategic housing development] permissions provide a much-needed mix of housing types within the county to redress this balance within the county.”


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Laicisation of Catholic priest in Tipperary causes disappointment and anger in parish

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Standing in the family’s hardware store on Main Street in Carrick-on-Suir, Fiona Hearn remembers how Fr Richard Geoghegan gave her son First Holy Communion 15 years ago.

Today, Geoghegan is no longer a priest, following the Vatican’s decision to issue a laicisation order, with the history of the story up to that point a subject of disagreement.

The former parish priest at Ballyneale and past curate at St Nicholas Parish in Carrick-On-Suir announced on Twitter last week that he had been officially “dismissed by Rome” on January 7th.

“My Bishop was happy to dispense me. I’m a good man. And he talks about the shortage of vocations,” said Geoghegan, who entered the seminary in 1987 aged just 19, and he was ordained six years later.

The Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Phonsie Cullinan, whose diocese extends over both the borders of Tipperary and Cork, has rejected Geoghegan’s charges.

Fr Richard Geoghegan
Fr Richard Geoghegan

Geoghegan had petitioned Pope Francis for laicisation last March and it was granted on December 15th, said the bishop: “I wish to acknowledge and thank Richard for his pastoral ministry over the years and wish him well for the future.”

Geoghegan came under fire from conservative Catholics following an appearance on hotelier Francis Brennan’s RTÉ show Grand Tour of Vietnam in 2017, wherein he performed in drag as singer Shirley Bassey, wearing a blonde wig and lipstick.

The TV appearance might not have done him any favours, Hearn accepts. “He is only human at the end of the day. He is well loved here in town. We’d love to have him back. I’d have nothing but deep respect for him,” she says.

“He is a real people’s person. Some older priests could be aloof. You couldn’t meet a nicer, more down to earth man. I think he has been pretty hard done by the Pope and the bishop.”

Hearn is not alone in her feelings, with many members of the tight-knit Catholic churchgoing community in Carrick-On-Suir and surrounding districts still shocked and disappointed by the turn of events.

Despite the bishop’s declaration that Geoghegan had himself applied to be laicised, the Association of Catholic Priests’ Tim Hazelwood describes his treatment as “inappropriate, unreasonable and unacceptable”.

In 2020, Hazelwood accompanied Geoghegan to a meeting with Bishop Cullinan, and his secretary.

“It was obvious from the meeting that he wanted Richard to apply for laicisation,” Hazelwood says. “That’s when Richard said he would have liked to be a curate…Richard found it difficult being on his own in a parish. He needed support,” Hazelwood adds.

“Obviously, the bishop had made up his mind,” says Hazelwood, “I was shocked, really because the majority of bishops would be supportive, but what I was hearing was really a put down.”

Geoghegan declined to comment when contacted.

Former parishioner, John Nolan said, “The Church is crying out for priests and is leaving a good man go. He was friends with everyone, an absolute gentleman. Anyone having a wedding here would look for him. I think it is all down to Bishop Phonsie. ”

Describing him as “a fantastic priest”, Carrick-on-Suir butcher Morris Whelan says was a great man. “He knew everyone by name. You’d meet him once and he knew your name forever. He was involved in the parish in every part of it.”

Local Sinn Féin councillor David Dunne remembers Geoghegan’s kindnesses during his mother’s illness.

“Everyone recognised him for the programme he did with Francis Brennan…It was fairly flamboyant and wasn’t in keeping with the Church, but it was typical of Fr Richard,” said Cllr Dunne, “He was always friendly, outgoing and is well-regarded. It is a major loss.”

Describing the former priest’s ability to engage, Luke Foran says: “One of my favourite memories of him is my brother’s Communion where he had all the kids gathered around and Richard’s phone rang, and who was on the phone only ‘Jesus’.

“You should have seen the kids’ faces drop. It was brilliant and he enthralled and captivated the whole place. He was ahead of his time. Richard humanised the priesthood and was a breath of fresh air,” he said.

Besides the memories, there is anger, too. Ashling Ní Fháthaigh said: “When he was saying mass the church was a lot fuller with a younger congregation. (He) was liked by so many and was punished for that.”

Believing that the church’s hierarchy has questions to answers, Margaret Croke says: “A church without compassion and understanding who can so readily dismiss a person who was so dedicated for so many years to its flock and to God really needs to change.”

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