20 April 2021

How a new church in Harold’s Cross
replaced an old ‘Little Tin Church’

The Rosary Church in Harold’s Cross … the parish dates from 1935 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

I was writing yesterday (19 April 2021) about the former Church of Ireland parish church in Harold’s Cross, how it began as a trustee church in the 1830s, and how it is now a parish church of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In the Roman Catholic Church, Harold’s Cross was part of the parish of Saint Nicholas Without until 1823, when it became part of the new parish of Rathmines.

Harold’s Cross was constituted as a new parish from portions of the parishes of Rathmines, Rathgar and Terenure in 1935. Before the new parish was formed, Archbishop Edward Byrne of Dublin took initiatives to shape the parish. When the house and grounds of Mount Harold, a Georgian residence, were put on sale, he instructed the Parish Priest of Rathmines, Canon Fleming, to buy the house and the site.

The sale was completed on 11 August 1931 and the new parish was formed in 1935 with Father Percy McGough as the first parish church, although a new church was not built until 1938.

The Rosary Church in Harold’s Cross replaced an old tin church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At first, it was decided to erect a temporary church in Harold’s Cross. When a new church was built at Foxrock, Co Dublin, in 1935, Canon Fleming arranged to have the old timber-framed, tin church in Foxrock, dating from 1907, taken down and re-erected in the grounds of Mount Harold.

When the process of rebuilding was almost complete on 30 September 1935, Archbishop Byrne constituted Harold’s Cross as a new parish.

This temporary church was blessed by Archbishop Byrne on 24 November 1935 and the first Mass was celebrated by Canon Percy McGough, who remained Parish Priest of Harold’s Cross until he died in 1954. Harold’s Cross parish then began a new history with the ‘Little Tin Church’.

The Rosary Church in Harold’s Cross was designed by Ralph Henry Byrne in 1938 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Building work began in 1938 on the lands of Mount Harold House on a new church with the dedication of Our Lady of the Rosary.

The new church, with a capacity for 1,250-1,600 people, was designed by the architect Ralph Henry Byrne (1877-1946) and was built in 1938-1940 by Murphy Brothers of Castlewood Avenue, Rathmines.

The church is a large, granite structure, with pitched-pine flooring. The Communion rail is 116 ft long, reputedly one of the longest in Dublin, the pipe organ dates from 1947, and all the windows were plain originally. The ornate stained-glass window over the main altar, depicting Our Lady of the Rosary, is by the Abbey Stained Glass Studios and was installed in 1996.

RH Byrne, who designed the church in a classical style, was born in Largo House, 166 Lower Rathmines Road, Rathmines, on 25 April 1877, the third but second surviving son of the architect William Henry Byrne (1844-1917), who had been a pupil of JJ McCarthy. He was educated at home and at Saint George’s School, Weybridge.

In 1896, he was articled to his father for five years, and then spent six months in the Harrogate office of Thomas Edward Marshall, before joining his father’s practice as a partner in 1902.

Byrne’s father became blind in about 1913 and died on 28 April 1917. RH Byrne continued the practice under the name of William H Byrne & Son, and in 1936 his nephew by marriage, Simon Aloysius Leonard, joined the partnership.

Byrne, who worked from 20 Suffolk Street, Dublin, was elected a member of the RIAI in 1902, proposed by George Coppinger Ashlin, seconded by Thomas Drew and William Mansfield Mitchell. He was elected a fellow (FRIAI) in 1920 and was vice-president in 1938, the year he began work on his church in Harold’s Cross.

The Communion rail in the church is 116 ft long (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Byrne is known principally for the restoration of the Church of Our Lady of Refuge, Rathmines, after the disastrous fire in 1920, with a new, much higher dome (1920-1928).

His other works include the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Athlone (1930-1936), the Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar (1931-1936), the Cathedral of Saint Patrick and Saint Felim, Cavan (1938-1943), the Church of the Four Masters, Donegal, the completion of Saint Senanus Church, Foynes, Co Limerick (1932), commenced by JJ McCarthy, rebuilding Saint Mary’s Church, Croom, Co Limerick (1929-1932), and the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, Newport, Co Tipperary (1933-1934).

As for the original house at Mount Harold, some priests of the parish lived there until the 1970s. The ground floor of the house remains and it now serves as a Pastoral Centre.

The church was built by Murphy Brothers of Rathmines (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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