11 June 2023

Rathmines Library has been
progressive and pioneering
since it opened in 1913

Rathmines Library, on the corner of Lower Rathmines Road and Leinster Road, opened 110 years ago in 1913 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

I was recalling yesterday how three buildings grace the skyline and dominate the skyline of Rathmines: Rathmines Church with its giant green copper dome, and which is celebrating the bicentenary of its parish this year; Rathmines Library; and Rathmines Town Hall, with its clock tower.

Rathmines Library had been my local library when I was in my teens, and in recent weeks I used the library for some of my research for a forthcoming publication in Limerick. With its classical façade, replete with a William Morris stained glass window, the library has been a prominent landmark since it first opened 110 years ago in 1913.

Rathmines Library opened in its present location on the corner of Lower Rathmines Road and Leinster Road on 24 October 1913. But the first public library in Rathmines opened in June 1887 in rented premises at 53 Rathmines Road. The library soon needed more space, and in 1899 moved to 67 Rathmines Road, remaining there for 14 years. Rathmines Fire Brigade later used the same building.

Rathmines and Rathgar Urban District Council applied in 1902 for a grant to Andrew Carnegie, who was making large grants of money towards building libraries around the world. An initial grant of £7,500 in 1903 was later increased to £8,500. It took the town council some time to find a suitable site for the library at 157 Lower Rathmines Road, but building work began in 1912.

The Dublin-based architect Frederick George Hicks (1870-1965) won the competition to design the new library and his partnership firm of Batchelor and Hicks of Dublin were the architects for the new building.

Frederick Hicks was born in Banbury, Oxfordshire, on 16 May 1870, a son of Joseph Hicks, linen draper, and his wife Mary. His architectural training was at the London Architectural Association School and Finsbury Technical College. At 20, he moved to Dublin in 1890 to the office of James Rawson Carroll, where he worked with Frederick Batchelor. He later worked with both William Henry Byrne and Sir Thomas Drew, before setting up his own practice in Dublin in 1895, working from 5 Saint Stephen’s Green, 28 South Frederick Street and 35a Kildare Street.

Batchelor and Hicks set up a partnership at 86 Merrion Square in 1905, and their practice continued until 1922, when Batchelor retired. Hicks continued to work until his retirement in 1945. He was president of the RIAI in 1929-1931, and exhibited frequently at the exhibition of the Water Colour Society of Ireland and the Royal Hibernian Academy.

Hicks died at home at The Tower, Malahide, on 24 April 1965 shortly before his 95th birthday and was buried in Saint Andrew’s churchyard. His former office at 86 Merrion Square has a much-photographed front door and was later the offices of GVA Donal O’Buachalla (now Avison Young), where my father was once a director until his retirement.

Hicks designed many artisan housing schemes, including many in Rathmines, and his other designs include Saint Thomas’s Church (later Saint George and Saint Thomas Church), Cathal Brugha Street, Dublin, and Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church, Kilmallock, Co Limerick.

The library and technical school next door were part of the same building, but each had a separate entrance (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Hicks’s design of the library is a fine example of neo-Georgian style architecture. The library was built in red brick and was designed to fit in with the style of Rathmines Town Hall, designed by Sir Thomas Drew, and it was intended to be an ‘ornament to the township’. The library and technical school next door were part of the same building, but each had a separate entrance.

The Baroque style façade is composed of Arklow brick walls with terracotta dressings. The library and technical school next door were part of the same building but each had a separate entrance, with the library entrance flanked by two-storey high Ionic columns.

A ventilating cupola is in the centre of the roof, and large Venetian windows provide light to the ground floor. The ground floor included a newspaper reading room, an open access lending library, a strong room and a librarian’s room. The large sunny room on the ground floor where people could read the daily newspapers was innovative in a day when newspapers were expensive for ordinary people.

A teak staircase leads up to the landing, where a handsome stained-glass window designed by William Morris depicting ‘Literature’ overlooks the stairwell. There the staircase divides into two parallel flights that lead to the first floor.

The first floor included a well-equipped reference room, with an inner room for periodicals and a lecture hall, now the exhibition room.

The Library and Technical Institute opened on 24 October 1913. During the opening speeches in the town hall, a suffragette seized the chance to shout about ‘votes for women!’ A report at the time said that Sir Thomas Wallace Russell (1841-1920), who was speaking, encouraged those present not to give attention to the woman.

In its early days, Rathmines was a pioneering and progressive library, introducing open access lending and a self-contained children’s library with its own dedicated librarian. Mary Kettle, a councillor in Rathmines, and other women councillors were interested in making the lives of poor children better. They voted to provide school meals for children and supported opening a children’s library in Rathmines 100 years ago in 1923.

Roisin Walsh, the first children’s librarian in Ireland, was based in Rathmines. She became the first chief librarian of Dublin City Council when all the authorities merged in the 1930s.

The library presented both the written word and the writers and thinkers of the day to the general public. It became a true literary workshop catering for the student and general reader in an atmosphere of peace and learning, making information, education and the enjoyment of reading available to all.

A popular free lecture series included topics from ‘Prehistoric Man’ by FE Stephens to ‘My Own Poetry’ by Senator William Butler Yeats in 1926. The future President Douglas Hyde gave a talk in 1928 on Irish folklore, and in 1931 the campaigner and academic Hannah Sheehy Skeffington spoke about Russia.

The library was used by a variety of community groups: Rathmines Chess Club had its headquarters there, the Public Health Department held clinics there, and the Thomas Davis branch of the Gaelic League held meetings there.

The library reopened in 2011 after extensive refurbishment works that removed barriers for people with disabilities and created an open, accessible and welcoming environment. A passenger lift, automatic doors, accessible signage, accessible toilets and improved furniture and shelving were installed, and significant conservation works restored the building to its former glory.

Some of the restored features include reading desks and the original floors, including the oak parquet on the ground floor, the solid pine on the first floor and the teak staircase. The literary associations with Rathmines and local writers were strengthened, re-enforcing Dublin’s designation as a UNESCO City of literature.

Today the library offers access to a collection of 35,000 items, including books, audio books, large print, DVDs and reference material. The children’s library reflects the fact that 35% of active borrowers are children. There is free Wi-Fi, space for study and research, and advice and guidance from professional staff.

Rathmines Library marked its centenary 10 years ago with a programme of lectures, exhibitions and children’s events in 2013. Today, the library stands proudly in the heart of Rathmines, on the corner of Lower Rathmines Road and Leinster Road. It is still a major part of the community and is visited by hundreds of people every day.

Rathmines Library is visited by hundreds of people every day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (14) 11 June 2023

Ely Cathedral and its towers rise above the low-lying wetlands of the Fens, so that it has long been known as the ‘Ship of the Fens’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the First Sunday after Trinity (11 June 2023). The calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today also celebrates Saint Barnabas, Apostle (11 June), although this festival may be observed tomorrow (12 June), and Saint Mary and Giles Parish in Stony Stratford has transferred the celebration of Corpus Christi from Thursday (8 June) to this morning.

Later this morning, I plan to be in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, for the Parish Eucharist. But, before the day begins, I am taking some time for prayer, reading and reflection.

Over these few weeks after Trinity Sunday, I am reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at relevant images or stained glass window in a church, chapel or cathedral I know;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The unique Octagon or Lantern Tower is the glory of Ely Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

My photographs this morning (11 June 2023) are from Ely Cathedral, whose formal title is the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. This year, Ely Cathedral is marking 1,350 years since Saint Etheldreda first established a monastery in Ely in the year 673.

Ely Cathedral and its towers rise above the low-lying wetlands of the Fens, so that it has long been known as the ‘Ship of the Fens.’ It is said the cathedral can be seen from almost every parish in the Diocese of Ely, which includes most of Cambridgeshire, parts of Norfolk and Essex, and one parish in Bedfordshire.

Ely, with about 15,000 people, is the third smallest city in England and was only recognised as a city in a royal charter in 1974. The Isle of Ely remained a separate county until 1965. Saint Ethelreda (Audrey), an Anglo-Saxon princess and Fenland queen, founded an abbey on the Isle of Ely in the year 673. The Diocese of Ely was formed in 1108 out of the See of Lincoln, and the monastery became a cathedral in 1109.

Ely Cathedral is cruciform in shape and for its time was a model of symmetry. The nave, at 165.5 m (537 ft) is the fourth longest cathedral nave in England. The Octagon or ‘Lantern Tower,’ which replaced the central tower, is a unique structure and the glory of Ely Cathedral.

The main transepts were built at an early stage, crossing the nave below a central tower, and are the oldest surviving parts of the cathedral. Building work continued throughout the 12th century, when the western transepts and tower were completed under Bishop Geoffrey Ridel (1174-1189) in an exuberant Romanesque style with a rich decoration of intersecting arches and complex mouldings.

The Galilee or entrance porch was added under Bishop Eustace (1198-1215) in the Early English Gothic style. Under Bishop Hugh of Northwold, a new east end was begun in 1234, with a grand 10-bay structure. His chancel was completed around 1252.

The free-standing Lady Chapel was built in 1321-1349 in an exuberant Decorated Gothic style. The niches were once filled with an extensive sculpted cycle illustrating the life-story of the Virgin Mary, but they were damaged during the Reformation and the Lady Chapel was stripped of all decoration.

The great Norman crossing tower collapsed in 1322, damaging the first four bays of the Early Gothic choir. These bays were rebuilt, and the tower was replaced by the Octagonal Lantern. Although it is supported on eight massive masonry piers, the lantern is built from oak timbers. When it was completed in 1340, the Octagon was the largest crossing span in northern Europe and it remains Ely Cathedral’s most distinctive feature, visible for miles across the Fens.

At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the cathedral suffered only minor damage, but Saint Etheldreda’s shrine was destroyed, many of the statues in the Lady Chapel were severely damaged, and Bishop Thomas Goodrich ordered the destruction of all the mediaeval statues, painting and stained glass.

Ely Cathedral has undergone several major restorations: under James Essex in the 18th century; under George Peacock in 1839; under George Gilbert Scott, when the painted wooden ceiling of the nave was decorated by Henry Styleman le Strange and Thomas Gambier Parry; and in 1986-2000.

The Victorian Gothic architect AWN Pugin was once found weeping in the Lady Chapel, disturbed by the destruction of its beauty. But he was inspired by the Octagonal Lantern Tower later when he was designing the chapel for the Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham, Dublin.

Modern works of art in the cathedral include Jonathan Clarke’s sculpture, ‘The Way of Life’, Hans Feibusch’s ‘Christus’ (1981), and David Wynne’s sculpture (1967) capturing the moment when the distraught Mary Magdalene meets the Risen Christ on Easter Morning. But Ely’s most controversial modern work is David Wynne’s statue of the Virgin Mary in the Lady Chapel. Robed in stark blue, she is rejoicing in the news that she is to be the mother of the Christ Child.

The Bishops of Ely include the Caroline divine Lancelot Andrewes (1609-1619), who oversaw the translation of the Authorised Version of the Bible, and Matthew Wren (1638-1667), uncle of Sir Christopher Wren, the architect of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London (see 9 May 2021).

Stephen Sykes (1990-2000), one of the most eminent Anglican ecclesiologists, was Dean of Saint John’s College, Cambridge, Professor of Divinity at Durham and the Regius Professor of Divinity in Cambridge before becoming Bishop of Ely.

Many of the early monastic buildings survive to the south of Ely Cathedral, so that Ely has Europe’s largest collection of mediaeval monastic buildings still in domestic use. They include the Porta or great gateway to the monastery that now houses the library of the King’s School.

Inside Ely Cathedral … the nave is the fourth longest cathedral nave in England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 9: 9-13, 18-26 (NRSVA):

9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.

10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ 12 But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’

18 While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.’ 19 And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. 20 Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21 for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.’ 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well. 23 When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute-players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, ‘Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. 26 And the report of this spread throughout that district.

The nave ceiling in Ely Cathedral was painted during the Victorian restoration (Photograph: Patrick Comerford) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Opening the World for Children through Learning.’ This theme is introduced this morning:

‘The Estate Community Development Mission (ECDM) was set up by the Church of Ceylon to support tea plantation workers in Sri Lanka. The church has a long-term commitment to advocacy work amongst Sri Lanka’s plantation communities, seeking legal rights for tea plantation workers and their families.

‘The ECDM grew out of this. USPG has supported this programme since 2013. The ECDM seeks to serve all plantation workers, irrespective of religion, caste or ethnicity. One key aspect of the ECDM’s work focuses on the children of tea plantation workers, ensuring that they have access to a good education, preventing them from having to enter the labour market at a young age.

‘The programme runs five pre-schools, catering for 120 children. It provides extra coaching and guidance to children to enhance their knowledge and social skills and integration; at present, 163 children benefit from the programme in this way. The programme also conducts seminars for students preparing to sit major school exams.’

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (11 June 2023, First Sunday after Trinity) invites us to pray:

Lord God,
We pray protection over all your children.
May they experience childhood in its fullest,
able to sing, dance, laugh and learn
safe and loved.


O God,
the strength of all those who put their trust in you,
mercifully accept our prayers
and, because through the weakness of our mortal nature
we can do no good thing without you,
grant us the help of your grace,
that in the keeping of your commandments
we may please you both in will and deed;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Eternal Father,
we thank you for nourishing us
with these heavenly gifts:
may our communion strengthen us in faith,
build us up in hope,
and make us grow in love;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

William of Kilkenny, Bishop of Ely from 1254 to 1256, had previously been appointed Bishop of Ossory (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org