10 June 2020

Chapelizod’s Catholic parish
church on the Liffey shapes
a Constable-like scene

The Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a landmark building at the entrance to Chapelizod (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

As I was walking along the south bank of the River Liffey earlier this week, from the Dublin University Boat Club at Islandbridge to the Ana Livia Bridge at Chapelizod, the Catholic parish church rose above the river bed on the north bank in a scene that could have been the setting for a Constable painting.

As we got closer, the church was shimmering in its reflections on the surface of the river, and it became obvious that it was built over a high crypt that is not visible from the road on the other side of the church.

The Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a landmark building on Chapelizod Road. It was planned following Catholic Emancipation in 1829, and was designed by John Bourke and forms part of an attractive group of buildings marking the entrance to Chapelizod.

The church in Chapelizod rises above the river like a scene in a Constable painting (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

This Gothic Revival Catholic church was built in 1845-1849 and opened for worship in 1849. The church is built over a high crypt that is only visible on the river side, to raise it to street level and higher than the flood plain. The dark limestone elevations of the church are brought to life by its Gothic-style devices, including the buttresses, pinnacles and stained-glass lancets.

The details include roughly-dressed limestone blocks laid to random courses, chamfered string courses at sill level, buttresses, a stepped parapet, ogee-headed niches over the windows, cruciform-roofed pinnacles over the buttresses, pointed arch window openings with chamfered reveals, windows set within decorative-headed niches, pointed arch door openings, timber battened doors with iron door furniture, and pointed arch louver openings at the second and third stages and belfry of the tower.

The church has a four-bay nave, four-stage west tower, south porch and sacristy. There is a pitched slate roof with terracotta ridge tiles, hidden by the stepped parapet, and a ringed Celtic cross with knotwork detail on the east gable parapet.

Inside the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Chapelizod (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The interior was reordered after Vatican II. Inside, the church has a single-cell nave, with a gallery and stairs at the west end and the sanctuary at the east end. There is a rib-vaulted, plasterwork ceiling, marble altar furniture, timber pews and free-standing timber confessionals. The organ is in the gallery.

The Nativity scene in the triple-light East Window is a good example of stained-glass work. This east window has hood-mouldings terminating in mask stops and is flanked by paired lancets.

The wall-mounted commemorative Gothic-style marble water stoup on the south wall of the entrance porch in the tower was erected in memory of Mrs Mary Broderick in 1909. The south porch is now used as parent and baby room.

The tower of the church in Chapelizod (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The concrete landscaped churchyard is bounded on the north side by Chapelizod Road, with a plinth wall and wrought-iron railings. A gate opens into the garden path leading to the presbytery next door.

The church was designed by the Dublin architect John Bourke. Most of his work is connected with the Catholic Church, and he is best known as the designer of churches, convents and schools.

Bourke was awarded first premium by Dublin Corporation for his design for Dublin baths and wash houses in 1847, and was one of the earliest members of the Dublin Mechanics’ Institute. His other works include the tower and spire at Saint Peter’s Church, Phibsborough, the completion of Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, the Mater Hospital in Eccles Street, Dublin, and the church on City Quay, Dublin.

When he was selected as the architect of the Mater Misericordiae Hospital in 1851, he visited the great hospitals in England, Scotland, Belgium and France.

He lived at 27 South Richmond Street, Portobello (1845-1854) and 13 Lower Charlemont Street (1855-1871). He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (FRIAI) in 1863.

Bourke died suddenly on 10 November 1871 in Dr Hayden’s consulting room in Harcourt Street, having gone there feeling unwell. He was buried at Glasnevin cemetery on 14 November 1871. His obituary in the Irish Builder praised his ‘unswerving integrity’ and said he ‘was justice personified between contractor and client.’

The presbytery is one of a pair of Victorian villa-style houses (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The Presbytery beside the church was built as one of a pair. Although this Victorian house has lost some of its historic fabric, it is of architectural interest and forms part of a group, including the church, marking the entrance into Chapelizod.

The raised basement is typical of Victorian houses in suburban Dublin and gives a villa-like character to the pair.

The house was built ca 1885. The original presbytery, which was demolished sometime after 1915.

The church seen through the trees and reflected in the waters of the River Liffey, below the bridge at Chapelizod (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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