05 August 2011

Saint Dominic’s heirs, Pugin’s heir and a literary legacy in Tallaght

Edward Brady's rustic limestone and slender gothic arches in cast concrete at Saint Mary's were awarded a European Heritage Award in 1975 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

I found myself on the Pugin trail once again today. Next Monday [8 August] is the Feast Day of Saint Dominic, and so – in preparation for a reflection next Monday at faculty meeting in advance of the new academic year – I visited the Dominican Priory and Church in Tallaght this afternoon [5 August].

The community at Saint Mary’s Priory in Tallaght is the second largest Dominican community in Ireland – the largest is at Saint Saviour’s in north inner city Dublin. The Priory Institute, which runs theological courses and offers part-time distance education in theology leading to a primary degree, has its headquarters in the priory.

The Retreat Centre at Saint Mary’s welcomes a multitude of groups, young and old, throughout the year, the archives of the Irish Dominican Province are housed at Saint Mary’s, and this is home too to the Dominican Prior Provincial and his team.

The Dominicans were founded in 1221 and first came to Dublin in 1224. They settled in Tallaght in 1856, acquiring the site of the former castle and residence of the Church of Ireland Archbishops of Dublin.

Busy bees in the Priory Gardens ... once the grounds of Tallaght Castle, the country residence of the Archbishops of Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The last archbishop to live in Tallaght was Lord John George Beresford (later Archbishop of Armagh), who found the house so dilapidated that he had an Act of Parliament passed in 1821 removing f any diocesan responsibility for maintaining this country seat. In 1822, his successor, Archbishop William Magee leased the property to Major James Palmer (1780-1850), Inspector General of Irish Prisons and son of Archdeacon Henry Palmer of Ossory. But the lease included a condition that Major Palmer must demolish the old castle lest it ever become a monastery.

Palmer dismantled all but the mediaeval tower, and from the materials built himself Tallaght House on the site of the present retreat house.

The demesne then passed to Sir John Lentaigne, who sold it to the Dominicans in 1856. A tower that was once part of Tallaght Castle still stands and is part of the Priory building.

The founding of Tallaght Priory was a milestone in the revival of the Dominicans in Ireland. In May 1864, Father Goodman, the Dominican Provincial, laid the foundation stone of the priory, which was designed by AWN Pugin’s former collaborator, James Joseph McCarthy.

The original priory church in Tallaght, designed by AWN Pugin’s son-in-law, George Coppinger Ashlin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

In October 1882, Cardinal McCabe laid the foundation stone of a new church, designed in the Early English style by Pugin’s son-in-law, George Coppinger Ashlin (1837-1921), who had been a pupil of Pugin’s son, Edward Pugin. Ashlin is generally regarded as the heir in Ireland to the Pugin tradition, working in the partnerships of Pugin and Ashlin and Ashlin and Coleman.

The new church was dedicated by Archbishop Walsh in October 1886 as a memorial to Father Tom Burke, the renowned preacher who had died three years before, and who was buried in the cloister.

In time, Ashlin’s church proved to be too small for Tallaght’s fast increasing population, and in the early 1970s the church was extended and adapted to the new liturgical reforms.

The priory church was enlarged by a new nave that became the main body of a remodelled church. On the outside, the extension by Edward Brady is in harmony with Ashlin’s older building through the use of rustic limestone and slender gothic arches in cast concrete. This imaginative and innovative work received a European Heritage Award in 1975.

But in the reordering of the church, Ashlin’s rood screen and altar were removed, although the place of the rood screen can be determined by following the decoration on the windows on the original north and south sides of the church.

In the original chancel, six statues remain:

● Saint Anthony – not the Franciscan but Saint Antoninus, a 15th century Archbishop of Florence;
● Saint Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, since known as the Dominicans or Blackfrairs;
● Two Tallaght saints, Saint Maelruain and Saint Aengus;
● Saint John the Divine – a statue that is a reminder of the Dominican emphasis on preaching the Gospel;
● Pope Pius V, a Dominican friar who was later canonised but is probably best remembered in history for his excommunication of Queen Elizabeth I for schism and for his refusal as Pope to abandon his Dominican friar’s simply white habit – a decision that has led to every subsequent pope dressing in white.

The Retreat House opened in 1936 and was rebuilt in 1957. For more than 70 years it has been an oasis of tranquillity for countless people, as Tallaght developed from a small country village into the third largest centre of population in Ireland.

Antoinette Fleming’s Dancers (1988) in the Katharine Tynan Memorial Plot in Tallaght (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

On the way back from Saint Mary’s and the Priory, I stopped to look at The Dancers, a sculpture is by Antoinette Fleming installed in 1988 in the small pocket park in the corner of the Priory grounds and named the Katharine Tynan Memorial Plot.

Katherine Tynan, (1861-1931), a major literary figure associated with Tallaght, was a daughter of Andrew C. Tynan, and at the age of 17 she published her first book of verse, which was followed two years later by her first novel. She was one of a group of Irish writers who lived in London in the 1880s and who came together to make the Irish Literary Movement.

During 1888 and 1889, her home at Cherryfield House on Firhouse Road was a gathering place for the Sunday Literary Society, which included Katherine Tynan, Maud Gonne and Douglas Hyde. Many of the leaders of the emerging cultural movement visited her at her home, and she was a close friend of W.B Yeats and the painter Jack Yeats, who painted her portrait.

Her prolific output included 18 volumes of poetry, 105 novels and 38 other books, including five volumes of autobiography. She also worked for improved conditions for shop girls and single mothers and was an opponent of capital punishment. She campaigned for votes for women, and with Lady Aberdeen she attended the World Congress of Women in Rome in 1914.

President Mary opened this tiny park in Tallaght in 1998. Katharine Tynan’s nephews included the comedian Dave Allen (born David Tynan O’Mahony) and his brother Peter Tynan O’Mahony, who was one of the journalists who recruited me to the staff of The Irish Times in the mid-1970s. Both were born in Cherryfield House, but all that remains of the house today are traces of the stone walls and its gardens.

Earier in the day, I had lunch at the other end of Firhouse Road, in the Riverbank Restaurant Restaurant at the Victory Conference Centre. This restaurant has so much promise it would be good to see it opening late into the evening too..

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

1 comment:

Timothy Belmont said...

Fasinating article. I'm wondering where the official archiepiscopal residence was when they abandoned Tallaght?

Did the archbishops have an official town residence?