10 September 2018

The Methodist Church in Roscrea
brings together many traditions

The Methodist Church on the Mall, Roscrea … designed by George Francis Beckett (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

After visiting the two parish churches in Roscrea, Co Tipperary – Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic – that are named after Saint Cronan, and the monastic sites the town, including the ruins of the Franciscan friary, the high cross, round tower, and Romanesque cathedral doorway, I also visited Roscrea Methodist Church on the Mall.

There has long been a strong Methodist presence in North Tipperary, and the appearance of this small but elegant church, with its projecting, three-bay porch with a double bow, pays tribute to the monastic and ecclesiastical heritage of Roscrea.

The church was built in 1902 and retains many of its original features. It is a cruciform-plan gable-fronted church, dated 1902, with five-bay side elevations, a three-bay, projecting bow-plan porch and a single-storey advanced gable-fronted entrance front at the centre.

The dressed limestone date stone, was laid on 26 May 1902 by Mrs Lloyd Vaughan of Golden Grove, Roscrea.

There are cut-stone buttresses, pinnacles, a spiralette, tripled round-headed windows, square-headed and lancet-arched windows, a pointed-arch door opening, a timber battened double-leaf door, and decorative cast-iron gate and railings.

The contractor was a local Roscrea builder, Joseph Day, who also worked on Saint Cronan’s Roman Catholic parish church in Roscrea, carrying out alterations designed by Ashlin and Coleman.

The church was designed by the Dublin-born architect George Francis Beckett (1877-1961), who came from a well-known family of builders and architects related to the playwright Samuel Beckett.

Beckett was born on 15 April 1877, the fourth son of James Beckett, founder of the Dublin Master Builders’ Association, and his wife, Frances (Horner).

When the National Library and National Museum were being built on Kildare Street, Dublin, Beckett, then a boy, was living with his parents at No 7 Kildare Street, close to the site. He admired Sir Thomas Deane’s work at first hand, sometimes wandering onto the scaffolding at night-time when his parents imagined he was asleep. He never lost this early enthusiasm for architecture and once said there was never a time he could remember when he did not want to be an architect.

Beckett was educated at Rathmines School, Dublin, before becoming a pupil of James Franklin Fuller (1835-1924), whose works include the Superintendent’s Gate Lodge in Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, Saint Mary’s Church, Julianstown, Co Meath, D’Olier Chambers or the Gallaher Building, a landmark building on the corner of D’Olier Street and Hawkins Street, Dublin, Farmeligh House beside the Phoenix Park in Dublin, and Tinakilly House, Co Wicklow.

Beckett then joined the office of Thomas Worthington & Son in Manchester. A fellow pupil in Worthington’s office was the English architect John Harold Gibbons, and they went together on a sketching tour in France and Italy.

When he returned to Dublin in 1897, Beckett established an office at 97 Saint Stephen’s Green.

As an architect, Beckett was at his happiest working on churches, and he designed several Methodist churches. He was also concerned with the provision of children’s public playgrounds and the problems of slum clearance. His wife Edith Alice was a daughter of the Revd JO Park, and one of their daughters and her husband became Methodist missionaries in Haiti.

His other works include Blackhall Place Methodist Church (1898), Dolphin’s Barn Methodist Church (1899-1901), rebuilding Abbey Street Methodist Church (1901-1902), Sutton Methodist Church (1903), Dun Laoghaire Methodist Church (1903), Irishtown Methodist Church (1904), Brighton Road Methodist Church, Rathgar (1909), all in Dublin, and the Methodist churches in Portarlington (1904), Roscommon (1904), Killarney (1907-1912) and Dundalk (1916).

Cyril Ashlin Harrington joined him as a partner in the firm of Beckett and Harrington in 1919.

Beckett was a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (FRIAI), honorary secretary (1922-1924), vice-president (1928-1929), and president (1932-1934), and he was twice President of the Association of Architects of Ireland (1909-1910, 1919-1920).

He retired in 1950, and he died on 21 November 1961. He is buried in Dean’s Grange cemetery.

The foundation of Roscrea Methodist Church was laid in 1902 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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