17 October 2016

The moving church in Carlow
that died and found new life

Saint Clare’s Church, Graiguecullen, began life on the other side of the River Barrow as Saint Anne’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

The church with the most unusual story in Carlow undoubtedly is Saint Clare’s Church in Graiguecullen, which began life on the other side of the River Barrow and at another end of the town as Saint Anne’s Church on a site next to Kelvin Grove on Athy Road.

It is strange that a church that began life as a Church of Ireland parish church could be been moved stone-by-stone across the river and begin a new life as a Roman Catholic parish church.

The story of this unusual church begins in 1841, when the Tory landlord, Colonel Henry Bruen of Oak Park, and Thomas Bunbury were elected MPs for Carlow by a close margin, defeating Dan O’Connell Junior, known as ‘Young Dan,’ and John Ashton Yates, who had been Liberal MP for Carlow from 1837-1840. Colonel Bruen was an antiquarian, and although he was a staunch Conservative, he voted in 1829 for Catholic Emancipation.

After the election, the Conservatives of Tipperary launched a presentation fund for Colonel Bruen (1789-1852). Other counties followed suit, and a deputation waited on Colonel Bruen at Carlow Clubhouse on 2 April 1842. They had £2,000 in hands and ideas about giving the colonel a service of gold plate.

However, Colonel Bruen declined to accept any personal favour. Just then he was building a private church in his demesne in the form of a Greek temple, so he suggested that the money be devoted to erecting a free church for the use and benefit of Carlow parish. To support this proposal, he donated the field next to Kelvin Grove as a site.

A meeting of subscribers was held in Morrison’s Hotel, Dublin, on 6 May 1842, and the project was approved. But even in those days £2,000 was too little to complete a project such as this.

Two years later, the Carlow Sentinel reported on 13 July 1844, wrote that half the Church of Ireland congregation could not find places in Saint Mary’s Church. the parish church in the centre of the town. It encouraged the Bruen Testimonial Committee to take steps towards building a new church.

Colonel Bruen responded by promising to make good the difference between the £2,000 raised in subscriptions and the cost of completing the church.

Inside Saint Clare’s Church, Graiguecullen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The church was designed by the London-based architect, John McDuff Derick (1810-1859), who also had offices in Oxford and Dublin. According to his obituary in the New York Evening Post, Derick was was the son of James Derick of Ballymote, Co Sligo, and was descended on his father’s side from an old Connaught family and on his mother’s from the Macduffs, Earls of Fife. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, was a pupil of Sir John Soane, and travelled in Normandy, the south of France and Italy. In the 1830s, when he designed the boatmen’s floating chapel on the Oxford Canal in the Grecian style.

Derick was one of the original promoters of the Oxford Architectural Society. He developed an extensive, mainly ecclesiastical, practice as a young man. During the 1850s, he was active in Ireland, designing three churches and the castellated gateway at Duckett’s Grove, Co Carlow. He was elected an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1854, and read a paper on the monastic remains at Castledermot, Co Kildare, to the Oxford Architectural Society.

On 21 May 1852, Joyce Derick, wife of the architect, laid the foundation stone of the new church, forming portion of the east jamb of the south of the chancel. The stone contained a scroll and coins of the realm.

Soon after his work on Saint Anne’s, Derick retired early from practice because of domestic problems and failing health. But he was forced to resume his profession after suffering unforeseen financial losses. In 1858 he emigrated to America, where he died in 1859. He is described as modest and cheerful, honourable and generous and is said to have been a friend of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin and some of the leading artists and writers of his day.

Saint Anne’s Church was regarded as a gem of Gothic architecture. However, the congregation dwindled over the decades, and eventually closed for worship.

In 1926, the closed church was bought by the Very Revd James Fogarty, Parish Priest of Graiguecullen. The church was taken down stone by stone, transported across the River Barrow, and re-erected – once again stone-by-stone – in Graiguecullen on property that once belonged to the Haughtons, a prominent local Quaker family.

The original parish church in Graiguecullen stood nearby on the site of Saint Fiacc’s Parish Hall – Saint Fiacc had established a monastery nearby at Sleaty in the late fifth century. In 1909, Father Hugh Cullen was appointed parish priest of Graigue-Carlow, and in his honour the name of the parish was changed to Graiguecullen.

Thomas Thompson and Sons engineering works got the contract to dismantle it and re-erect it in Graiguecullen. When the church was being taken down and being re-erected, a steeplejack was killed.

The foundation stone laid in 1852 was found during the demolition of the church, and the original scroll was handed over to the Ven Samuel Ridgeway, Rector of Carlow (1912-1950) and Archdeacon of Leighlin, and it was moved to Saint Mary’s Vestry. The fate of the coins is not recorded.

When the Poor Clares first came to Carlow, they lived a house built on Wellington Bridge spanning the River Barrow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

In 1893, the enclosed order of the Poor Clares came to Carlow, and moved into a house built on the Wellington Bridge spanning the River Barrow. In 1900, they moved to a purpose-built monastery on a site beside the land where Saint Anne’s would be relocated, and so Saint Clare’s seemed to be an appropriate name for the rebuilt church.

The old Saint Anne’s opened as the new Saint Clare’s in 1929. The church still lacks its spire – the stones are awaiting a propitious time for erection. All that remains of the former church on Athy Road in the wall opposite Saint Dympna’s Hospital. The Oak Park estate, near Carlow town, remained in the Bruen family until 1957.

Saint Mary’s Church on Church Street was completed in the 1830s by Thomas Cobden (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Carlow’s only remaining Church of Ireland parish church is Saint Mary’s Church on Church Street, just of Centaur Street. It is the third Church of Ireland church built on this site, and was completed in the 1830s by Thomas Cobden, the noted 19th century architect who also designed the Roman Catholic Cathedral, the Scots’ Church or Presbyterian, and Braganza, which became the residence of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Kildare and Leighlin.

Saint Mary’s Church stands in an area of long-standing religious importance. In the sixth century, Saint Croneybeg had her religious cell in this area. The present church dates from 1727, but the tower and spire, standing at 195 ft, were added in 1834 by Cobden who completed the building.

Inside, the church interior retains its traditional galleries. There are also several monuments including some by Sir Richard Morrison, the important neo-classical architect.

Carlow Town Hall was designed by William Hague and opened in 1886 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Across from the church, on the north side of the Haymarket, the Town Hall was designed by the Church architect William Hague (1836-1899) in 1884 and was opened in March 1886 by Carlow Town Commissioners. For over 120 years The Town Hall continued to be the centre of local government administration in Carlow.

Saint Mary’s Parish is also associated with the Deighton Memorial Hall at the junction of Castle Street and Dublin Street.

Until the early 1830s, this building functioned as the County Courthouse and the seat of the Grand Jury, the forerunner of the County Council. The cells for holding prisoners were in the basement with direct access to the courtroom. In 1909, a local businessman, Joseph C Deighton handed this building over to Saint Mary’s Parish to use as the Parochial Hall.

Deighton Memorial Hall was donated to Saint Mary’s Parish as a parochial hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

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