07 October 2021

A visit to Rathdowney,
Saint Andrew’s Church,
and an interesting fountain

Saint Andrew’s Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Rathdowney, was built in 1818 on the site of an earlier medieval church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

The summer ‘road trip’ this year also took two of us through interesting parts of Co Laois and Co Kilkenny, including the Midlands town of Rathdowney, Co Laois.

Rathdowney is about 30 km south-west of Portlaoise, in a south-west corner of Co Laois. It is squeezed between the M7 and M8 motorways, where the Abbeyleix to Templemore road crosses the road from Borris-in-Ossory to Johnstown, and has a population of about 1,300.

The story of Rathdowney dates from at least the 9th century. The ringfort that gives its name to Rathdowney, Ráth Domhnaigh, ‘Ringfort of the Church’, is mentioned three times in the Annals of the Four Masters, in the years 874, 909 and 1069. But the rath or ringfort was levelled in 1830.

Queen Victoria passed through Rathdowney during her first visit to Ireland in 1849. In a letter to her elder half-sister, Princess Feodora of Leiningen, she described Rathdowney as ‘a quaint village, surrounded by hills’ and ‘an idyllic small town.’

The east end of Saint Andrew’s Church, Rathdowney, Co Laois (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

I was in Rathdowney particularly to see Saint Andrew’s Church, the Church of Ireland parish church on Church Street. The church overlooks the town’s square, and was built in 1818 on the site of an earlier medieval church.

This Georgian Gothic church is known for its tower and needle spire and for its pointed-arch windows and doors. A carved plaque on the north porch reads: ‘AD 1818/Revd Marcus Monk Vicar/William Quinn/John Patterson/ C[hurch] Wardens. Rich[ar]d Dowling Sculpt[or’ Kilkenny.’

The church was renovated in 1865, when a projecting porch and a chancel were added, and it was extended in 1990.

The clock and tower and the west end of Saint Andrew’s Church, Rathdowney, Co Laois (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The surrounding churchyard contains 19th century headstone, most of them upright, and only few leaning and damaged. The mediaeval graveyard includes the possible site of castle-ringwork.

Saint Andrew’s Church celebrated its bicentenary in at a special service led by Bishop Michael Burrows of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory. Those present included Canon George Salter, Rathdowney’s last-ever full-time curate, who started in Rathdowney in 1949, the Revd Tom Sherlock, Archdeacon John Murray and the Revd Baden Stanley.

The Revd Richard Seymour Whiteley is the Rector of Rathdowney Union of Parishes.

The former bank on Church Street has an integral carriageway, a dormer attic, and a carved heraldic plaque (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Across the street from Saint Andrew’s Church, the premises of PP Ryan is one of the many architecturally interesting buildings on The Square. This terraced, four-bay, two-storey former bank was built ca 1875, and has an integral carriageway, a dormer attic and a carved heraldic plaque.

Eastholme Lodge is a Tudor Gothic gate lodge on the Square dating from ca 1865. Eastholme was once the home Captain Alfred Strode Pim, MC, who was managing director of Robert Perry and Son, brewers and maltsters, for 35 years and died in 1953.

A son of Richard Pim, a Dublin stockbroker, he was educated at Cheltenham and Oxford, where he was a contemporary of the Duke of Windsor, then Prince of Wales. When World War I broke out, he joined the Royal Irish Rifles, took part in the retreat from Mons, was badly gassed at Ypres and was reported ‘killed in action’ three times.

On the wall of Eastholme Lodge, the Perry Memorial is a limestone memorial fountain. The moulded base bears an inscription: ‘In memory of Geraldine wife of Alfred William Perry, Erkindale, Rathdowney, died June 1918.’

Geraldine Perry (née Radcliff) was a daughter of William Henry (Geoffrey) Radcliff, who was born in Wilmount, Kells, Co Meath and the widow of John Wallace of Knockfinn, the neighbouring farm, who died in 1900 at the age of 29 in Dublin. She married Alfred William Perry in March 1902.

Eastholme Lodge and the Perry Memorial in Rathdowney (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Alfred William Perry (1861-1942) bought Erkindale, also known as Erkina House, after Charles White died in 1895.

The Perry family was descended from Henry Perry, a Quaker from Shanderry, near Mountmellick, Co Laois. He was the father of five sons, many of whom became successful industrialists. Robert Perry, the eldest son, founded Rathdowney Brewery, of Perry’s Ale fame, and was the father of the Perry Brothers who founded Belmont Mills.

Another son, James Perry, was a director of the Grand Canal Company and was involved with the early development of Irish railways. With the Pims, another Quaker family, he promoted Ireland’s first railway line in Ireland, from Dublin to Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire). He was also director of the Great Southern and Western Railway and the Midland Great Western Railway.

The firm of Robert Perry & Co was founded in Clara by Henry Robert Perry in the 1850s, and was named after his father, Robert Perry, who founded Rathdowney Brewery in 1831.

The Perry Memorial Fountain at Eastholme Lodge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Perry family sold Erkindale to the Thompson family in the early 1930s. But the Perry name can be seen too on the former premises of HG Perry & Sons, a terraced three-bay, two-storey house, built ca 1835, with an integral carriageway. It was renovated ca 1940, when the pub front inserted to ground floor.

In the same terrace, the former premises of Richard Williams & Sons is a terraced, four-bay two-storey house, built ca 1835. It was renovated ca 1890, when the shopfronts were inserted on the ground floor, including the projecting shopfront to the left.

The Meadow Meats plant, part of the Dawn Meats Group, stands on the site of the old Perry’s Brewery.

The former premises of Richard Williams & Sons and HG Perry & Sons (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
131, Saint Theodore Trichinás, the Fortezza, Rethymnon

The Church of Saint Theodore Trichinás is one of two surviving small churches in the Fortezza in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is churches in Rethymnon on the island of Crete, where I spent two weeks last month.

My photographs this morning (7 October 2021) are from the Church of Saint Theodore Trichinás, one of two surviving small churches in the Fortezza in Rethymnon.

Inside the Church of Saint Theodore Trichinás on the Fortezza (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Fortezza towers above the city of Rethymnon. It was built by the Venetians during their rule in Crete (1204-1669) to protect the city and people from Ottoman invasions. It is built on the hill of Paleokastro and the site the acropolis of ancient Rithymna.

During the Ottoman period, from 1646, the form of the Fortezza did not change significantly, apart from minor extensions and additions, and the number of residents increased. During the German occupation of Crete in World War II, the German garrison settled in the Fortezza and turned some of the buildings into prisons and dormitories.

After World War II, the residents gradually started moving from the Fortezza and down into the town below. Today, the Fortezza is managed by the Municipality of Rethymnon. Many of the buildings have been restored, and the Fortezza remains the landmark of Rethymnon.

The Church of Saint Theodore Trichinás is a single-aisle, barrel-vaulted chapel situated between the bastions of Saint Nicholas and Saint Paul.

Saint Theodore Trichinás, a fourth/fifth century monk from Constantinople, is so-called because of his practice of wearing a hairshirt throughout his life. His feast day is on 20 April.

The church was dedicated on 21 March 1899 in the presence of the Russian commander of the allied forces in Rethymnon, General Theodor de Chiostak, during the period of the Cretan State (1898-1913). The general also renovated the bishop’s palace on Mousoúrou Street, near the cathedral, at his own expense.

The biggest bell in Saint Barbara’s Church in the old town also has the name of Theodor de Chiostak, and the other six bells have the names of six Russian regiments.

However, Saint Theodore’s Church was probably not a new church, and the building project may have involved repairing an older, original Venetian church.

Today, many couples in Rethymnon choose a simple, plain wedding in this little church in the setting of a pretty pine copse.

Votive candles burning in the Church of Saint Theodore Trichinás (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Luke 11: 5-13 (NRSVA):

5 [And Jesus] said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” 7 And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

9 ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

The church was dedicated in 1899 in the presence of the Russian commander in Rethymnon, General Theodor de Chiostak (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (7 October 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for Lumad communities across the Philippines. May they be free from persecution and enabled to live as they wish.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The church is a venue of choice for couples in Rethymnon seeking a simple, plain wedding (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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

Rethymnon, with its churches and former mosques, spreads below the fortifications of the Fortezza (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)