03 October 2016

All Saints’ Church, Blackrock: a suburban
Dublin church in the Tractarian tradition

All Saints’ Church, Blackrock … a Victorian church that continues the legacy of the Tractarians and the Oxford Movement (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

I was invited to preach at the Harvest Eucharists yesterday [2 October 2016] in both All Saints’ Church, Blackrock, and Saint Brigid’s Church, Stillorgan, where the Rector is the Revd Ian Gallagher.

These are two beautiful but very different suburban Dublin parish churches, and while I have been in the parish church in Stillorgan before, this was my first time in All Saints’ Church, Blackrock.

All Saints’ Church was built on Proby Square and Newtown Park in 1868-1870 in the Early English style to meet the needs of a growing Victorian suburb. This part of the Carysfort Estate was developed in 1840-1880, and the parish was created in 1868 from parts of Stillorgan, Kill and Monkstown.

The first Vicar of Blackrock (1870-1898) was the eminent Victorian church historian, Canon George Thomas Stokes (1843-1898). While he was vicar, Canon Stokes was also Assistant Professor (1880-1883) and then Professor of Ecclesiastical History in Trinity College Dublin (1883-1889), the Keeper of Marsh’s Library (1887-1898), and a canon of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin (1893-1898).

All Saints’ Church was designed by John McCurdy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The church was built for a congregation of 250. The foundation stone was laid on 15 September 1868, the new vicar was instituted on 6 April 1870, and the church was consecrated on 21 April 1870.

The architect of the new church was John McCurdy (1824-1884), the official college architect of Trinity College Dublin. He was also architect to the Commissioners for Education of Certain Endowed Schools (1873-1883), and to the Benchers of King’s Inns, and a Blackrock Township Commissioner (1864-1875).

McCurdy, who worked from his offices in TCD and from various offices in Leinster Street and Harcourt Place, was living at The Cottage, Newtown Park, Blackrock, while All Saints’ Church was being built. In his spare time, he was a keen yachtsman and in 1881 he designed a four-ton cutter for fellow yachtsman George Orr Wilson of Temple Road, Blackrock.

McCurdy later lived at 11 Trafalgar Terrace, Monkstown, Chesterfield House, Cross Avenue, Blackrock, and at Elsinore, 25 Coliemore Road, Dalkey, where he was living at the time of his death.

The church was built in rustic granite at a cost of £3,000. The contractors were J & W Beckett of South King Street, Dublin. The Beckett family believed they had Huguenot ancestry. The brothers James Beckett, and William Beckett formed the building company of J & W Beckett, which became one of the leading contracting firms in Dublin. James Beckett was instrumental in reviving the Dublin Master Builders’ Association in 1895, while William Beckett was the grandfather of the Nobel playwright Samuel Beckett.

The west window commemorates the first vicar, Canon George Thomas Stokes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The west window commemorates the first vicar, Canon Stokes. The three-light east window by Heaton, Butler & Bayne of London was installed in 1898, and shows Saint Paul preaching in Athens (left), Christ blessing the Children (centre), and Saint Patrick preaching.

In 1877, the chancel was decorated by Mannix of Harcourt Street. The Caen stone reredos and the encaustic tiling of the east wall and floor beneath the Altar were erected at joint expense of the Wesleyan Connexional School (now Wesley College) and Rathmines School in memory of two schoolboys who were parishioners and who were drowned in 1875.

Saint Columba baptisting a child … a fresco in the Baptistery in All Saints’ Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

One website says All Saints’ Church ‘is nearly a like a miniature Anglican cathedral.’ The church consists of a nave, side aisles and a square tower with a short spire. There is a square apse and transept.

Behind the altar, there are ornate mosaics, there is a hinted-at rood screen in the sanctuary, and large, elaborate frescoes in the baptistery, which occupies the single transept. Yet this is a small church by Dublin standards.

The Resurrection by James Powell and Son, London (1892) … the main windows of the nave are triangular in shape (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The church is mainly lit by the clerestory windows. The main windows of the nave are trefoil or triangular in shape – an unusual feature also found in Christ Church, Dun Laoghaire.

Saint Michael the Archangel … All Saints’ Church has some of the finest stained-glass windows by Wilhelmina Geddes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The church also has some of the finest examples of the work of the stained-glass artist Wilhelmina Geddes (1887-1955), a vital figure in the Irish Arts and Crafts movement and 20th-century British stained-glass revival. The war memorial windows show the archangels Saint Raphael and Saint Gabriel.

Geddes was born in Co Leitrim and was raised in Belfast. She studied at the Belfast School of Art and later in Dublin under the painter William Orpen. She was invited by Sarah Purser to join the Tur Gloine studio and worked there for several years. She moved to London in the 1920s and worked at the Lowndes & Drury’s Glass House in Fulham for the next 30 years where her pupils included Evie Hone.

Her windows depict human figures with deep emotional expression both in their faces and their body language. She also points to multiple references to mediaeval architecture and ancient Irish iconography within the designs on the stained glass. She had a rich knowledge of Biblical stories and the lives of the saints.

Professor Roy Foster of Oxford wrote in The Irish Times: ‘Her sensual men of God resemble no one else’s, powerfully muscled with prominent Adam’s apples and firm jaws, while her female saints and Madonnas are strong individuals who inhabit richly imaginative worlds.’

Many of her windows were commissioned to commemorate young men who died in World War I. She designed two windows in Saint Anne’s Church, Dawson Street, Dublin: a single-light window with the Archangel Michael with Joshua, Gideon, David and Jonathan, Saint Longinus and Saint George, Saint Sebastian and Saint Martin; and a single-light window of Saint Christopher and scenes from the life of Christ.

She also designed windows for Christ Church (Presbyterian), Rathgar, Dublin, and a war memorial window in the Presbyterian Church in Townsend Street, Belfast.

One of her last commissions was ‘Te Deum’, a large-scale war memorial rose window in Saint Martin’s Cathedral in Ypres, Belgium.

The church has a robed choir and the organ, built by the Manchester-based Dubliner George Benson, is a very fine example of a late-romantic English/Irish instrument. It was rebuilt in 1992 by Derek Verso & Co.

All Saints’ Church has a strong liturgical tradition that continues the legacy of the Tractarians and the Oxford Movement.

Inside All Saints’ Church, Blackrock (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

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