20 June 2019

A Dublin Baptist Church
designed by a leading
Gothic revival architect

Grosvenor Road Baptist Church … typical of the Gothic revival that was fashionable for Victorian churches in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Both the Unitarian Church on Saint Stephen’s Green in Dublin, and the Baptist Church on Grosvenor Road in Rathmines, because of their Gothic Revival style of architecture look more like suburban Anglican parishes churches that have been influenced by the Tractarian Movement and Anglo-Catholicism.

With their prominent corner-site positions, they are both attractive buildings that appeal to passers-by who may know little about their background or the stories and traditions of their denominations.

The Baptist Church on Grosvenor Road was designed in 1859 by Carmichael and Jones, a partnership formed by Hugh Carmichael and Alfred Gresham Jones in 1854.

This church is a solid example of the fashion that as developing in church architecture in Victorian Dublin. The church has an interesting arrangement of arches at the main entrance, and an attractive façade flanked by pencil-thin towers.

For a period, the church was used by the Plymouth Brethren, whose presence in the area continues at Rathmines Gospel Hall. The Baptists returned to Grosvenor Road in 1942.

Despite its Gothic exterior, the church is quite plain inside, with a distinctive lack of decoration, and the original vaulted ceiling is hidden above a relatively recent flat ceiling. The east end of the church was rebuilt in 1989 and fitted with a pool for full immersion baptism.

Grosvenor Road Baptist Church was designed by Hugh Carmichael and Alfred Gresham Jones (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Hugh Carmichael had been a pupil of William Deane Butler, and his partnership with Jones lasted until Carmichael died in 1860. Apart from Grosvenor Road Baptist Church, their designs included Monsktown House (1859) for William Harvey Pim.

Alfred Gresham Jones (1824-1915) was born in Dublin, a son of George Jones, merchant tailor. The Irish Architectural Archive holds a watercolour reconstruction of the Parthenon by Jones, for which he was awarded a Silver Medal by the RDS in 1843 or 1844.

After studying at the Royal Dublin Society’s School of Architectural Drawing, he spent some time in London. He returned to Dublin, and by 1852 was working with John Skipton Mulvany. A year later, he was working from his father’s home at 7 Garville Avenue, Rathgar. In 1854, he formed a partnership with Hugh Carmichael.

After Carmichael’s death in 1860, Jones practised on his own. He was a member of the Blackrock Township Commissioners (1874-1875), representing Monkstown ward.

He was involved in the residential development at Queen’s Park, Monkstown, where he designed two villas, the Cottage (later Villa Carlotta) and Verona, where he lived in 1869-1872 and in 1886-1888. He also lived close to Grosvenor Road at 2 Kenilworth Terrace (1863-1865) and Kenilworth Road, Rathgar (1867-1868).

His other works include houses on Kenilworth Square, Palmerston House in Rathmines, Tullow Parish Church (1862), Carrickmines, Merrion Hall (1862-1863), built near Merrion Square for the Plymouth Brethren, now the Davenport Hotel, the Methodist Churches in Athlone (1864) Bray (1864), and Sandymount (1864), Saint Paul’s Church, Glenageary (1864-1868), Saint Barnabas Church, North Lotts (1869-1870), Wesley College on Saint Stephen’s Green (1877-1879), the long-lost Turkish Baths on Saint Stephen’s Green (1878), the Metropolitan Hall on Lower Abbey Street (1878-1879), Harold’s Cross Parish Hall (1882-1883), near Kenilworth Square, and Mytilene House on Ailesbury Road (1885), now the French Embassy.

Jones also designed the Dublin Exhibition Palace and Winter Garden on Earlsfort Terrace, an ambitious project that included heated winter gardens. However, all that remain of the Crystal Palace are a few statues and a rustic grotto in the Iveagh Gardens, the original site of the palace.

At the height of his successful, prolific career in Dublin, and for reasons that are still unknown, Jones emigrated with his family to Australia in 1888. By then, he was already in his mid-60, and he started a successful practice in Australia, where he also wrote poetry. He died in Melbourne in 1913 at the age of 91.

Jones also designed a Victorian terrace of houses opposite Grosvenor Road Baptist Church. This terrace has been described by Jeremy Williams in Architecture in Ireland 1830-1921 as ‘the most ambitious Gothic Revival speculative terrace built in the Dublin suburbs.’

No 58 Grosvenor Road, which part of this terrace, is currently on the market through Lisney. This is an imposing Gothic-style, three-storey over basement, Victorian mid-terrace house. It retains many of the outstanding original features designed by Jones, including ornate cornice work, centre roses and marble, cast iron fireplaces, granite steps and the original staircase.

But the house was divided into four flats in the 1980s and is in need of total renovation. Lisney is seeking €1.7 million for the house.

No 58 Grosvenor Road … part of ‘the most ambitious Gothic Revival speculative terrace’ designed by Alfred Gresham Jones (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Church of the Three Patrons
in Rathgar was once known
as the ‘Servants’ Church’

The Church of the Three Patrons in Rathgar, on the corner of Rathgar Road and Leicester Avenue, was designed by Patrick Byrne (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2019)

During my brief visit to Dublin earlier this week, I also visited the Church of the Three Patrons in Rathgar, on the corner of Rathgar Road and Leicester Avenue. This was one of the last buildings of the architect Patrick Byrne, and one of the finest of the many churches he built in Dublin.

In its early days, the church was known popularly as ‘the Maids’ Church’ or the ‘Servants’ Church.’ The church of the Three Patrons in Rathgar was built as a chapel-of-ease for Father William Meagher, the Parish Priest of Rathmines. The parish of Rathmines was formed in 1823, and a number of new parishes were carved out of this parish in the decades that followed as the suburbs of south Dublin grew and expanded.

These new parishes included Rathgar at the Church of the Three Patrons (1882), and the Parish of Cullenswood, at the Church of the Holy Name on Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh (1906).

Inside the Church of the Three Patrons in Rathgar, looking towards the High Altar (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The foundation stone of the new church in Rathgar was laid on 18 March 1860, and the church was built between 1860 and 1862. At the time, the Rathmines Township was extended in 1862 to become the Rathmines and Rathgar Township, and later it was renamed the Rathmines and Rathgar Urban District Council in 1898.

New churches for other traditions were being built in Rathgar at the same time. Zion Church, the Church of Ireland parish church Rathgar, was founded in 1861, Christ Church, the Presbyterian Church, was built in 1859-1862, the Methodist Church on Brighton Road was built in 1874, and the Baptist Church on Grosvenor Road was built around the same time.

Inside the Church of the Three Patrons in Rathgar, looking towards the Organ and gallery above the entrance porch (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Church of the Three Patron was built following the donation of £2,000 by a wealthy parishioner. Rathgar was one of the prosperous, burgeoning new suburbs of Dublin in the 1850s and 1860s, but this parishioner heard that Roman Catholics servants working in houses in Rathgar ‘found it a great hardship’ to attend Mass in Rathmines, because the time they were allowed to go to Mass was often too short a time.

A further £4,650 was raised from among the ‘humbler classes’ from their small income and from private fundraising.

However, the tolerant spirit that motivated the 19th century Protestant residents of Rathgar who helped to pay for the building had its critics. ‘The adherents of the Papacy in this country seem to be determined to brave the law and public decency to the utmost,’ The Irish Times reported at the time.

‘On Sunday last, the Protestant and quiet township of Rathgar was the scene of mob fanaticism and priestly display. A chapel, it seems, is to depreciate the value of the property of the neighbourhood and drive the Protestant occupants from the place.’

‘Processions formed and the Metropolitan Police kept the road open. There were priests in pontifical robes and the Bishop of Bombay, who blessed the foundation stone, ‘was resplendent in tinsel and embroidery.’

No attempt was to keep the occasion private, The Irish Times complained. ‘Popery was dominant and, careless of the law, marched her processions and performed her showy ritual without disguise, to the accompaniment of music and singing. If a few Protestant youths play a tune which rings of loyalty or patriotism with a fife and drum, the police immediately seize the offenders … Under the windows of the Protestant gentry all the paraphernalia of Popery was ostentatiously displayed and the people were taught that Romanism was, indeed, the dominant religion.’

Statues of the three patrons above the high altar (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The foundation stone was laid on Saint Patrick’s Day, 17 March 1860 and the church was dedicated to the Three Patron saints of Ireland – Saint Patrick, Saint Bridget and Saint Columba – on 18 May 1862 as a chapel-of-ease for Rathmines parish.

The architect Patrick Byrne (1782-1884) was born in 1782 or 1783, and probably studied at the Dublin Society’s Schools (later the RDS).

Byrne worked from Mabbot Street, Dublin (1815-1853), and was appointed measurer and then architect to the Wide Streets Commissioners (1820-1848). He was also architect to the Trustees of the Royal Exchange (1847-1851).

His early churches included Saint John the Baptist (Roman Catholic) Church, Clontarf (1835-1838) and Saint Paul’s Church, Arran Quay (1835-1844), and in 1839, he was put in charge of AWN Pugin’s designs for the chapel at Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham.

The three patrons, flanked by two Dublin saints, Saint Laurence O’Toole and Saint Rumold (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Byrne also designed the mortuary chapel at Goldenbridge Cemetery (1835), and later he became the architect to Glasnevin Cemetery, where he designed the entrance and gate lodges, the chapel, and the O’Connell Circle and O’Connell Memorial.

His later churches included Saint Audeon’s, High Street (1841-1852), Saint John the Baptist, Blackrock (1842-1845), Saint James’s (1844-1854), where the foundation stone was laid by Daniel O’Connell (1844), Saint Pappan’s Church, Santry (1846-1848), the Church of the Visitation, Fairview (1847-1855), Church of Our Lady of Refuge, Rathmines (1850-1856), the portico of the Franciscan Church on Merchant’s Quay, the Church of Saint Alphonsus and Saint Columba, Ballybrack (1854), and Saint Assam’s, Raheny (1859-1864).

Byrne later worked from Talbot Street (1854-1864), Lower Gardiner Street and lived at 3 Waltham Terrace, Blackrock. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland (FRIAI) in 1847, and was vice-president in 1855-1864. He was elected an academician of the Royal Hibernian Academy (1860).

The High Altar and baldacchino are the work of Joseph Farrell (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Byrne’s church in Rathgar is considered one of the finest 19th century churches in Dublin. A number of myths about the design of the church have passed into local lore in Rathgar. One says its façade was modelled on the Library of Ceslus in Ephesus. Another says it has no windows facing the streets so local Protestant householders and residents could not see proceedings inside the church as they passed by.

Byrne designed the church in the Italian renaissance style. Because of the prominent corner, the church is oriented on a west-east axis rather than the traditional liturgical east-west axis.

Inside, the interior of the church appears quite austere, with a massive central space dominated by a giant order of Corinthian pilasters. The apse has an ambulatory, which has tiny curved chapels set into the walls. These were decorated by O’Neill and Byrne.

Statues of the three patrons rise above the high altar, with Saint Patrick in the centre, flanked by Saint Brigid (left) and Saint Columba (right). Two further niches hold statues of two other saints associated with Dublin: Saint Laurence O’Toole (left) and Saint Rumold (right).

The side chapels are highly decorated (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The ambulatory behind the chancel is an unusual feature in a Roman Catholic parish church, although there is one in the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin too.

The exterior was left unfinished, and never received the portico Byrne had designed to relieve some of the austerity.

Byrne’s later years were ‘embittered by painful pecuniary difficulties’ and he died on 10 January 1864 at the age of 81. His son and assistant, John F Byrne, had died a few months earlier.

His library, ‘consisting of a beautiful and expensive collection of the best works on architecture and civil engineering,’ was sold at auction in Dublin in February 1864.

The mortuary chapel in the church (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The High Altar (1882) with its baldacchino is the work of Joseph Farrell (1823-1904), a member of a well-known family of sculptors.

Three side altars, the sacristy, porch and other additions (1882) were the work of O’Neill and Byrne, and a partnership formed by John O’Neill (1828-1883) and William Henry Byrne (1844-1917), a former pupil of James Joseph McCarthy. WH Byrne also designed the present façade in 1891 and made further improvements in 1906.

The High Altar and baldacchino seen from the ambulatory (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2019)(Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The paintings of the Stations of the Cross in the side aisles and the mysteries of the Rosary in the nave are also unusual features.

Ashlin and Coleman decorated part of the church in 1927 and completed the Saint Aloysius side altar in 1932. Two marble shrines designed by Ashlin and Coleman in 1936 were sculpted by CW Harrison.

The church benefitted from the generosity and patronage of local residents and parishioners (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2019)

In recent decades, when the church was being restored, the Three Patrons parishioners found ecumenical hospitality at Christ Church, the Presbyterian church in Rathgar.

This restoration work began in 1994 and included reproofing, insulation, pointing stonework, a new heating system, cleaning paintings and redecoration, at a cost of £500,000.

William Henry Byrne designed the present façade in 1891 (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2019)