19 June 2021

Would Marie Antoinette
have eaten cake or bread
if she had fled to Dingle?

The former Rice home in Dingle … fit for a queen facing the guillotine? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Dingle has an interesting collection of plaques placed by Dingle Historical Society on the walls of houses and shops and in the streets, recalling the history of the town.

One sign recalls the early period of the French Revolution, when James Louis Rice, an officer in the Habsburg imperial army, organised an escape for Queen Marie Antoinette from his family home in Dingle.

However, the French queen refused to leave Louis XIV.

Had Rice managed to convince her, and had she escaped the guillotine, Marie Antoinette would have found plenty of cake – and bread – to eat in the colourful shops and cafés on the streets of Dingle.

The Temperance Hall in Dingle … on a site donated by the Earl of Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Across the street, another plaque recalls how the Treaty of Dingle, signed by Marie Antoinette’s ancestor, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, King of Spain, and James FitzGerald, Earl of Desmond, in 1529, gave Irish people citizenship rights in Habsburg Spain, Austria and the Netherlands.

Higher up on the wall, a sign recalls that site of Dingle Temperance Hall was given to the parish priest of Dingle by the Earl of Cork in 1842.

Dingle claims to have the smallest record shop in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Dingle also claims to have the smallest record shop in Ireland: ‘Siopa Cheirnín an Daingin.’

But I was disappointed not to get into the former Presentation Convent, beside Saint Mary’s Church, to see the Harry Clarke windows.

Like Saint Mary’s Church, the Presentation Convent was designed by JJ McCarthy, the architect who assumed the mantle of AWN Pugin in Ireland. The convent was built in 1877 under the supervision of McCarthy’s son, Charles James McCarthy (1857-1947), later Dublin City Architect (1893-1921).

The Presentation Convent, designed by JJ McCarthy, has six pairs of windows by Harry Clarke (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

By 1886, McCarthy, was responsible for the chapel wing and further extensions. Later work by Rudolf Maximilian Butler (1872-1943) completed the convent complex. Local red sandstone has been used for the walls and it forms an agreeable contrast with the chiselled limestone dressings of the windows.

The chapel is 54 ft long, terminates in a polygonal apse with a moulded chancel arch, and has 12 windows by Harry Clarke – six two-light lancets.

The former convent is being transformed into the Dingle campus of Sacred Heart University. However, continuing Covid-19 restrictions mean the chapel is still not open to the public, and two of us had to content ourselves with walking around the former convent gardens and the labyrinth.

The signs or markers on the nuns’ graves resemble the simplicity of a war grave. I wonder whether these signs and the Harry Clarke windows in the former convent chapel are goingto fare well in the future.

The nuns’ graveyard in the grounds of the former Presentation Convent in Dingle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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