03 October 2016

Saint Brigid’s Church, Stillorgan:
suburban parish with Celtic roots

Saint Brigid’s Church, Stillorgan, and the Gough family tombs seen from the parish centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

I was invited to preach at two Harvest Eucharists yesterday [2 October 2016], in All Saints’ Church, Blackrock, and Saint Brigid’s Church, Stillorgan.

These are two very different suburban Dublin parish churches, and while this was my first time in All Saints’ Church, I had been in Saint Brigid’s before, and it was a pleasure to be invited back to the parish centre for the generous Harvest Lunch.

Karen Poff (Karen Dalton) has engaged in extensive research on the history of Stillorgan and the surrounding locality. On the parish website, she points out that the name Stillorgan comes from Tig Lorcain or the ‘House of Lorcan’ and dates from ca 900. However, before that Stillorgan was first known as Acranakill or Atnakill (the ‘place of the church’).

It is said that a church stood on this site from the early ninth century and that it was a dependency of Saint Brigid’s monastery in Kildare, which was founded in the fifth or sixth century. A stone slab found in Saint Brigid’s graveyard in 1781 was thought to be from a ninth century church. However, the evidence for a church named Saint Brigid’s only dates from 1216.

In 1181, the lands of Stillorgan and Dundrum were granted to Holy Trinity Church (Christ Church Cathedral), Dublin, as part of the Manor of Kill o’ the Grange.

When Walter de Ridelsford founded a convent at Graney, Co Kildare, ca 1200, he endowed it with the churches of Kilmacud and Bray. The convent continued to hold the church at Kilmacud until the dissolution of the monastic houses at the Reformation. The tithes were then granted to the Lord Deputy, Sir Anthony St Leger. He in turn sold then to the de Bathe family of Drumcondra, who then assigned them to Christ Church Cathedral.

Meanwhile, in 1216, Raymond Carew of Stillorgan granted Saint Brigid’s to the Priory of the Holy Trinity or Christ Church Cathedral, along with the church lands. From then, Saint Brigid’s was attached to the church in Kill o’ the Grange until the Reformation, although Saint Brigid’s Church was in ruins by 1500.

After the Reformation, the Deans of Christ Church Cathedral continued to appoint the clergy to Saint Brigid’s, although Stillorgan was part of Monkstown parish from the 16th century and Saint Brigid’s was still in ruins in 1590.

In 1578, the Wingfield family, later of Powerscourt, acquired some lands in Stillorgan, along with the ruined church and the leased the Manor and lands of Stillorgan to the Wolverston family in 1587. James Wolverston devoted himself to the ‘improvement of his property at Stillorgan,’ and when he died in 1609 he was buried at Stillorgan church.

The Parishes of Booterstown, Blackrock, Stillorgan, Kilmacud, Dundrum, Donnybrook and Irishtown were established in 1616. When William Petty drew up his first map of Co Dublin in 1655, Stillorgan was in the Parish of Kill. By 1660, Saint Brigid’s is described as a church surrounded by trees, and the parish of Stillorgan and Kilmacud was united to Monkstown.

In 1684, Sir Joshua Allen acquired Stillorgan and its manor He was a master builder, and was Sheriff, Alderman and then Mayor of Dublin. He moved to Chester, but returned to Ireland after the Battle of the Boyne and died shortly afterwards in 1691.

Inside Saint Brigid’s Church, Stillorgan … the present church was built through the generosity of the Allen family in 1706-1712 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Stillorgan began to develop as a village after Captain John Allen (1660-1726), later the first Viscount Allen, built Stillorgan House in 1695, when he received a royal patent to enclose a demesne and deer park. Stillorgan Park and house probably stood on the site of the present Stillorgan House (Rehab Ireland).

John Allen was High Sheriff of Co Dublin in 1691, and was MP for Co Dublin three times (1692-1693, 1703-1713 and 1715-1717) and in intervening years he was MP for Co Carlow (1695-1703) and Co Wicklow (1713-1715).

From 1706 to 1712, John Allen helped to rebuild Saint Brigid’s Church with the support of Archbishop William King. In 1717, he was given the titles of Viscount Allen in Co Kildare and Baron Allen of Stillorgan in Co Dublin. His wife Mary FitzGerald was a granddaughter of George FitzGerald, 16th Earl of Kildare. When he died in 1726, his son Joshua Allen (1685-1742), MP for Co Kildare (1709-1727) became the 2nd Viscount Allen.

When the family title eventually passed to distant cousins for want of a male heir, he Stillorgan estates were inherited by the second viscount’s daughter, Elizabeth Allen, who married John Proby (1720-1772) in 1750, and two years later he was given the title of Baron Carysfort. Stillorgan remained a mainly rural and agricultural area in the 18th and 19th centuries, with additional employment provided by a local brewery in which the Guinness family had an interest.

By 1760, Saint Brigid’s has fallen into disrepair once again and needed to be rebuilt. In 1762, Stillorgan was separated from Monkstown to form an independent parish, and in 1762 the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church Cathedral transferred the tithes to the incumbent.

In 1781, the parish boundaries were realigned once more, and Booterstown, including Blackrock, Stillorgan, Kilmacud and Dundrum, was separated from Donnybrook.

In 1812, the church was restored extensively, and north aisle and tower were added to Saint Brigid’s Church with a loan of £800 from the Board of First Fruits. Two schoolrooms, a schoolhouse and a residence for a schoolmaster and schoolmistress were built in 1820.

With the death of Joshua William Allen (1782-1845), 6th Viscount Allen, in 1845, the Allen titles came to an end. The last Allen family land holdings in Stillorgan were sold off in 1851, and their former house was demolished in 1880-1887.

When Archbishop William Whately died in 1863, a memorial window was erected in Saint Bigid’s Church, Co. Dublin. In 1874, there was a proposal to remove tower, galleries and vestibule in Saint Brigids’ Church, but this was never carried out.

The rectory at Saint Brigid’s Church, Stillorgan, was designed by James Franklin Fuller (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The rectory at Saint Brigid’s dates from 1881, and the architect was James Franklin Fuller. The old glebe house was sold to James O’Brien in 1889 and its name was changed to Saint Ita’s.

James Franklin Fuller (1835-1924) was born in Glashnacree, near Kenmare, Co Kerry, and went to school in Blackrock, Co Cork, with the architect Thomas Newenham Deane. Fuller trained as architect in Southampton and London, and worked with William Burges before returning to Ireland in 1861. He became a district architect with the Irish Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and set up his own office at 179 Great Brunswick Street, Dublin, at the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869.

In 1871 he became architect to the Representative Church Body (RCB) for the dioceses of Dublin, Glendalough, Kildare, Meath, Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin, and held that post for 42 years until his resignation in 1913. In addition, he was also architect to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, the Benchers of King’s Inns and the National Board of Education. His pupils and assistants included George Francis Beckett, Laurence Aloysius McDonnell and Richard George Thompson.

As a writer, he published several novels, as well as articles on genealogy, heraldry and antiquarian subjects. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (FRSAI, 1915), a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (FSA, 1915), and an active member of the Kerry Archaeological Association. He died at his house at 51 Eglinton Road, Dublin, in 1924.

Canon Ernest Henry Lewis-Crosby (1864-1961), the last chaplain to a Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, became the Rector of Stillorgan in 1923. He was a member of the Cornwall family of Rathmore House, Naas, Co Kildare, who are commemorated in windows and memorials in Saint Brigid’s. He was later Dean of Christ Church Cathedral (1938-1961).

The graves in the churchyard include those of the Gough family of Saint Helen’s, and Bishop Evelyn Charles Darby Hodges (1887-1980), a former principal of the Church of Ireland Theological College (1928-1942) and a former Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe (1944-1960). In his retirement, he was priest-in-charge of Saint Andrew's, Dublin (1965-1971), where his father, the Revd William Henry Hodges, had been curate almost a century earlier (1889-1991).

In 1978, All Saints’, Blackrock, was united with Saint Brigid’s, Stillorgan, and the present rector is the Revd Ian Gallagher, who was instituted in 2001. A new Parish Centre was built at Saint Brigid’s in 1994, and was opened by President Mary Robinson and Archbishop Donald Caird. There, during the Harvest Lunch yesterday afternoon, many reminiscences of the parish and its clergy were shared.

The grave of Bishop EC Hodges, a former principal of the Church of Ireland Theological College, in Saint Brigid’s Churchyard, Stillorgan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

All Saints’ Church, Blackrock: a suburban
Dublin church in the Tractarian tradition

All Saints’ Church, Blackrock … a Victorian church that continues the legacy of the Tractarians and the Oxford Movement (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

I was invited to preach at the Harvest Eucharists yesterday [2 October 2016] in both All Saints’ Church, Blackrock, and Saint Brigid’s Church, Stillorgan, where the Rector is the Revd Ian Gallagher.

These are two beautiful but very different suburban Dublin parish churches, and while I have been in the parish church in Stillorgan before, this was my first time in All Saints’ Church, Blackrock.

All Saints’ Church was built on Proby Square and Newtown Park in 1868-1870 in the Early English style to meet the needs of a growing Victorian suburb. This part of the Carysfort Estate was developed in 1840-1880, and the parish was created in 1868 from parts of Stillorgan, Kill and Monkstown.

The first Vicar of Blackrock (1870-1898) was the eminent Victorian church historian, Canon George Thomas Stokes (1843-1898). While he was vicar, Canon Stokes was also Assistant Professor (1880-1883) and then Professor of Ecclesiastical History in Trinity College Dublin (1883-1889), the Keeper of Marsh’s Library (1887-1898), and a canon of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin (1893-1898).

All Saints’ Church was designed by John McCurdy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The church was built for a congregation of 250. The foundation stone was laid on 15 September 1868, the new vicar was instituted on 6 April 1870, and the church was consecrated on 21 April 1870.

The architect of the new church was John McCurdy (1824-1884), the official college architect of Trinity College Dublin. He was also architect to the Commissioners for Education of Certain Endowed Schools (1873-1883), and to the Benchers of King’s Inns, and a Blackrock Township Commissioner (1864-1875).

McCurdy, who worked from his offices in TCD and from various offices in Leinster Street and Harcourt Place, was living at The Cottage, Newtown Park, Blackrock, while All Saints’ Church was being built. In his spare time, he was a keen yachtsman and in 1881 he designed a four-ton cutter for fellow yachtsman George Orr Wilson of Temple Road, Blackrock.

McCurdy later lived at 11 Trafalgar Terrace, Monkstown, Chesterfield House, Cross Avenue, Blackrock, and at Elsinore, 25 Coliemore Road, Dalkey, where he was living at the time of his death.

The church was built in rustic granite at a cost of £3,000. The contractors were J & W Beckett of South King Street, Dublin. The Beckett family believed they had Huguenot ancestry. The brothers James Beckett, and William Beckett formed the building company of J & W Beckett, which became one of the leading contracting firms in Dublin. James Beckett was instrumental in reviving the Dublin Master Builders’ Association in 1895, while William Beckett was the grandfather of the Nobel playwright Samuel Beckett.

The west window commemorates the first vicar, Canon George Thomas Stokes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The west window commemorates the first vicar, Canon Stokes. The three-light east window by Heaton, Butler & Bayne of London was installed in 1898, and shows Saint Paul preaching in Athens (left), Christ blessing the Children (centre), and Saint Patrick preaching.

In 1877, the chancel was decorated by Mannix of Harcourt Street. The Caen stone reredos and the encaustic tiling of the east wall and floor beneath the Altar were erected at joint expense of the Wesleyan Connexional School (now Wesley College) and Rathmines School in memory of two schoolboys who were parishioners and who were drowned in 1875.

Saint Columba baptisting a child … a fresco in the Baptistery in All Saints’ Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

One website says All Saints’ Church ‘is nearly a like a miniature Anglican cathedral.’ The church consists of a nave, side aisles and a square tower with a short spire. There is a square apse and transept.

Behind the altar, there are ornate mosaics, there is a hinted-at rood screen in the sanctuary, and large, elaborate frescoes in the baptistery, which occupies the single transept. Yet this is a small church by Dublin standards.

The Resurrection by James Powell and Son, London (1892) … the main windows of the nave are triangular in shape (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The church is mainly lit by the clerestory windows. The main windows of the nave are trefoil or triangular in shape – an unusual feature also found in Christ Church, Dun Laoghaire.

Saint Michael the Archangel … All Saints’ Church has some of the finest stained-glass windows by Wilhelmina Geddes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The church also has some of the finest examples of the work of the stained-glass artist Wilhelmina Geddes (1887-1955), a vital figure in the Irish Arts and Crafts movement and 20th-century British stained-glass revival. The war memorial windows show the archangels Saint Raphael and Saint Gabriel.

Geddes was born in Co Leitrim and was raised in Belfast. She studied at the Belfast School of Art and later in Dublin under the painter William Orpen. She was invited by Sarah Purser to join the Tur Gloine studio and worked there for several years. She moved to London in the 1920s and worked at the Lowndes & Drury’s Glass House in Fulham for the next 30 years where her pupils included Evie Hone.

Her windows depict human figures with deep emotional expression both in their faces and their body language. She also points to multiple references to mediaeval architecture and ancient Irish iconography within the designs on the stained glass. She had a rich knowledge of Biblical stories and the lives of the saints.

Professor Roy Foster of Oxford wrote in The Irish Times: ‘Her sensual men of God resemble no one else’s, powerfully muscled with prominent Adam’s apples and firm jaws, while her female saints and Madonnas are strong individuals who inhabit richly imaginative worlds.’

Many of her windows were commissioned to commemorate young men who died in World War I. She designed two windows in Saint Anne’s Church, Dawson Street, Dublin: a single-light window with the Archangel Michael with Joshua, Gideon, David and Jonathan, Saint Longinus and Saint George, Saint Sebastian and Saint Martin; and a single-light window of Saint Christopher and scenes from the life of Christ.

She also designed windows for Christ Church (Presbyterian), Rathgar, Dublin, and a war memorial window in the Presbyterian Church in Townsend Street, Belfast.

One of her last commissions was ‘Te Deum’, a large-scale war memorial rose window in Saint Martin’s Cathedral in Ypres, Belgium.

The church has a robed choir and the organ, built by the Manchester-based Dubliner George Benson, is a very fine example of a late-romantic English/Irish instrument. It was rebuilt in 1992 by Derek Verso & Co.

All Saints’ Church has a strong liturgical tradition that continues the legacy of the Tractarians and the Oxford Movement.

Inside All Saints’ Church, Blackrock (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)