On the beach in Donabate, looking towards Lambay Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)
I was preaching at the Harvest Eucharist in Saint Patrick’s Church, Donabate, on Sunday morning. It was a bright, sunny autumn morning, and I arrived early in Donabate in time to go down to the beach at the Martello Tower.
Early morning Sunday sunshine on the beach at Donabate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)
The sun was still climbing in the east, with a beautiful strong, shining, silver glaze fanning across the sea below me. To the north, Lambay Island was clearly visible in all its dignity. All along the horizon, yachts were lining up, one-by-one as they emerged from Malahide to the south.
In all my time visiting Donabate and Portrane, I had never been inside the Church of Ireland parish church until this Sunday, although my grandparents, Bridget Lynders and Stephen Comerford, were married across the road, in the other Saint Patrick’s, in 1905.
The Church of Ireland parish church in Donabate stands on the north side of a quaint and well-kept grassy square at the west end of the village. A flagged path leads up to the church, and above the south door stands a unique sundial path which parishioners claim still tells the right time. But I wondered: do they put it back for winter time or put it forward for summer time? And how does the sun know?
The unique sundial above the south porch at Saint Patrick’s Church in Donabate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)
Times past, times present
Times present and times past ... inside the porch, two former gravestones illustrate how Saint Patrick’s stands on an historic ecclesiastical site. One is the early 18th century tombstone of Richard Fitzsimons; the second is older, dating from 1592, and recalls Patrick Barnewall of Staffordstown and his wife Begnet de la Hoyde.
But Saint Patrick’s stands on a much earlier church site, dating back as far as the early sixth century, perhaps. It is said that Saint Colmcille or Columba brought Christianity to Lambay Island, and left Colman on the island as a deacon. Saint Colman’s name was given to a later Celtic church in Lanistown or Turvey, which seems to have been a dependency of the church in Swords. The parish of Kilcreagh was merged with Donabate from early times.
Eventually, the church named after Saint Colman was probably replaced by Saint Patrick’s Church in Donabate in the early 13th century. Around 1230, at the time new church was being built, Archbishop Luke of Dublin transferred Donabate from Swords to the Convent of Graney in south Co Kildare.
The parish of Kilcreagh was merged with Donabate from early times, and the first recorded priest in Donabate is the Revd Richard de St Martin, who was presented to the parish by Archbishop Luke in 1240. The next recorded Vicar of Doneauthac or Donabate was William de Bathe (1310).
Henry de Marleburgh or Marlborough, who became Vicar of Donabate in 1419, wrote the Annals of Ireland in Latin in 1413-1421, and these were published by Ware in 1633 as the Chronicles of Ireland.
During his visitation of the Diocese of Dublin in 1613, Archbishop Thomas Jones found the church and chancel in Donabate were in good repair, as did the Archbishop of Dublin, Lancelot Bulkeley, in 1630.
However, Archbishop Bulkeley also noted that the Vicar of Donabate, the Revd John Mooney, was married to a Roman Catholic, and described his wife as “as rank and violent a recusant as any this day lives in Christendom.”
From 1660 on, the Vicars of Donabate and Lusk and the Curate of Portrane were one and the same person. John Archdall, who was here in 1661-1674, and John Archdall who was here in 1678-1690 were father-and-son Vicars of Donabate.
According to the local historian Peadar Bates, the Revd Charles Ternan was both the Church of Ireland Vicar of Donabate (1697-1703) and the Roman Catholic Parish Priest of Donabate (1697-1700) at one and the same time, although he is not listed by either JB Leslie or WRJ Wallace in their succession lists for the Church of Ireland clergy in the Diocese of Dublin.
Archbishop King’s gifts
In 1703, the Revd William Pryce was Vicar of Donabate from 1703 to 1715. It appears that while he was vicar, Saint Patrick’s Church was rebuilt, with financial encouragement from Archbishop William King of Dublin. Archbishop King also gave land in Portrane to my grandmother’s ancestors, the Lynders family, in 1722.
Shortly after his appointment, a dispute arose between Pryce and Matthew Barnwell of Turvey. The disagreement focussed on three acres of land at Loughanbane, and eventually Archbishop King that the tithes should be paid to the vicar. Detailed accounts from the time reveal the extensive and exhaustive rebuilding work carried out on the church in the first three decades of the 18th century.
The Vicars of Donabate during this work included James Leslie (1707-1770) from Co Kerry, who became Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe in 1755. A year earlier, in 1754, Colonel Thomas Cobbe of Newbridge House was appointed Churchwarden of Donabate for the first time. From that time on, the Cobbes were the principal benefactors of Saint Patrick’s, and their generosity resulted in the old tower beside the church being transformed into the Cobbe family vault.
The Cobbe family’s private gallery in Donabate Parish Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)
At the same time, the Cobbes were allowed to erect their own private gallery at the west end of the church.
The gallery was fitted out with its own private stove and fireplace, and £150 was spent on decorating the coved ceiling in the Cobbe family gallery with ornate plasterwork.
Bishops and vicars
The Cobbes first came to the peninsula in 1736 when Thomas Cobbe’s father, Charles Cobbe (1689-1765), Bishop of Kildare and later Archbishop of Dublin, bought the lands of Lanistown, Newbridge and Donabate. In 1742, he extended his estates when he bought the lands of Kilcreagh, Corballis and Baltra, and in 1746 he became Archbishop of Dublin.
Archbishop Cobbe first came to Ireland in 1717 as chaplain to his cousin, the Duke of Bolton, who was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1747, John Wesley was a guest of Archbishop Cobbe at Newbridge House, and Wesley records in his diary: “I had the favour of conversing with him two or three hours.” When he died in the Palace of Saint Sepulchre in Kevin Street, Dublin, on 14 April 1765, his coffin was carried from his palace in Dublin to Saint Patrick’s Church, Donabate, and there he was buried.
By then, his son Thomas Cobbe, who had married Lady Eliza Beresford, was the principal benefactor of Saint Patrick’s Church in Donabate, so that Saint Patrick’s almost became the estate church.
William Day, who was Vicar of Donabate 1777-1789, died at sea while returning to Ireland from Lisbon in 1791. He was from Co Kerry too, and his mother, Lucy (Fitzgerald) Day, was one of nine sisters known as the Nine Geraldines. Her children, grandchildren and other descendants formed a lengthy and widespread clerical family that included Deans of Ardfert, Limerick, Ossory and Waterford, Bishops of Cashel, Clogher and Osssory and one Archbishop of Armagh.
The Chancel and Butler window in Donabate Parish Church date from 1874 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)
The chancel was added to the church in Donabate in 1874, and the stained glass window behind the altar commemorates James Henry Edward Arcedeckne-Butler (1838-1871) – a grandson of the 23rd Lord Dunboyne – who lived at Portrane House and farmed the former Evans estate. His widow erected the Butler vault and was responsible for the East Window (1874) depicting the Raising of Lazarus.
The window and the new chancel were dedicated in 1874 by Archbishop Beresford of Armagh. The four ornamental angels in gilt gold on the chancel ceiling are said to have been found during ploughing on Lancelot Smith’s farm. The oak communion rails, which came from the Lady Chapel in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, were a gift of the Cobbe family.
A church in Portrane
The Vicars of Donabate were also the Curates of Portrane, where the first church was dedicated to Saint Kenny or Saint Canice. Archbishop John Comyn of Dublin granted the church in Portrane to the Covent of Grace Dieu in the late 12th or early 13th century. A new church was built there in the 14th century, and it has since been known as Saint Catherine’s.
However, during his visitation in 1615, Archbishop Jones found the church and chancel in Portrane had fallen down and they were in ruins. Three separate curates of Portrane can be identified in the 17th century, but the parish of Portrane has been merged with Donabate from the 17th century, although the union was not made official until 1835. In 1968, Donabate was grouped with Swords.
The Evans family bought the Portrane Estate in 1728, and built Portrane House. Apart from the Evans family and the Cobbes of Newbirdge House, only five other families held freehold property in the parish at the time: the Barnewalls of Turvey, the Arthurs of Ballymadrough, the Lynders family, who had been in Portrane since at least 1722, and the Bates and Davis families.
When George Evans died in 1842, his widow Sophia (Parnell) Evans erected a round tower on the Mount Evans estate in his memory. When Sophia Evans died in Paris in 1853, she was buried in the ruins of Saint Catherine’s Church, Portrane. The estate passed to a cousin, George Evans, but he found the estate was heavily mortgaged, he left Ireland in 1864, and Portrane House was leased to St John Butler, father of JHE Arcedeckne-Butler, who is commemorated in the East Window in Saint Patrick’s.
In 1885, Portrane House and estate were bought for £8,000 by James Considine. Seven years later, he sold Portrane to the Board of Lunatic Asylums for building a new hospital. Building work began in 1896, and the architect for the new hospital was George Ashlin, a brother-in-law of Edward Pugin, the Gothic revivalist.
Ashlin’s work in Portrane and the new economic life on the peninsula brought my grandfather, Stephen Comerford, to work on the new buildings. In Portrane, he met my grandmother, Bridget Lynders, and they were married in the other Saint Patrick’s in 1905 ... they were later buried in the churchyard beside the ruins of Saint Catherine’s Church in Portrane.
Sunshine on the beach
Late summer fun on the seashore below the Martello Tower in Donabate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)
After preaching at the Harvest in Donabate on Sunday morning, I went on to preach at the Harvest Eucharist in Saint Columba’s, Swords. But I returned to Donabate for a late lunch in the Waterside House Hotel, where the Signal Restaurant looks out onto the two beaches at Donabate.
The menu was very cheerful for one vegetarian and one vegetarian happy to eat fish, and lunch was accompanied by a half bottle of Pinot Grigio.
The Round Tower, erected by Sophia Evans after the death of her husband at Portrane House still stands in the hospital grounds (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)
Afterwards I strolled along the cliff walk above the beach heading north towards Portrane. The round tower built by the widowed by Sophie Evans still rises on the horizon and but is dwarfed by the hospital buildings. As the sun continued to beam down on yellow sand, the green scrub, the blue sea, it was still possible on that Sunday afternoon in early October to dream that summer was lingering in Donabate and Portrane. But as I awoke this morning, I knew it had come to a cold and wet end.