Thursday, 3 March 2022

The mediaeval ruins of
Saint Kevin’s Church still
stand near Camden Street

Saint Kevin’s Church on Camden Row, Dublin, dates from at least the 13th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Camden Row is a small street off Camden Street in inner city Dublin. Saint Kevin’s Park is a small park off Camden Row, and here, hidden from the view of many Dubliners, are the ruins of Saint Kevin’s Church, dating from at least the 13th century.

Saint Kevin’s was dedicated to Saint Kevin of Glendalough and was one of the four churches of the Irish settlement on the River Poddle. It was situated some distance from the walls of Dublin, in the Irish part of the city, but close to a monastic settlement in the region of present-day Aungier Street.

The church was granted by Archbishop Comyn of Dublin to the ‘economy’ of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, but the vicarage remained in the gift of the Archbishop of Dublin. From the 13th century, the church and the surrounding area were part of the Manor of Saint Sepulchre, directly under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Dublin.

The church is first mentioned in historical annals in 1226, and in 1277 Thomas de Chaddesnorth was given permission to present a chaplain to Saint Kevin’s Church.

The post-Reformation Church of Ireland parish of Saint Kevin’s stretched as far south as present-day Rathmines and Harold’s Cross.

The grave of Archbishop Dermot O’Hurley at Saint Kevin’s Church on Camden Row (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The church is the burial place of Archbishop Dermot O’Hurley, who was buried there after his execution on 20 June 1584 at Hoggen Green. O’Hurley, who became Archbishop of Cashel in 1581, was imprisoned and tortured by government authorities after he returned from Rome in 1583. His grave became a place of veneration for Roman Catholics for several hundred years.

Because of the throngs of pilgrims visiting his grave, the church was rebuilt in 1609 and a new entrance was made.

The Revd Stephen Jerome, who was vicar of the parish in 1639-1640, was a noted preacher and writer. After 1649, he was appointed a special preacher at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral but was criticised for his controversial Puritan views.

In the early years of the Irish Confederate Wars (1641-1649), bands of Confederate soldiers from Co Wicklow made incursions into church lands surrounding Saint Kevin’s. Trenches were dug near the church to help protect the city, but the marauders were able to make off with cattle, horses and the occasional merchant who was unlucky enough to find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, all of which they transported into the ‘wilds of Wicklow.’

Despite ceasefires, this situation continued until the Battle of Rathmines sealed the fate of the Irish and Royalist forces.

Saint Kevin’s Parish was incorporated into Saint Peter’s Parish when it was formed in 1680. Saint Kevin’s Church became a chapel of ease to Saint Peter’s Church in Aungier Street, and a parish school was set up on Camden Row.

The church was offered to the Huguenot community as a place of worship and cemetery in 1698.

A new Saint Kevin’s Church was built around 1750 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Dean and Chapter of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral retained the right to appoint the parish clergy until 1727. The original church was replaced around 1750 by a new one, which remained a chapel of ease in Saint Peter’s Parish.

The Duke of Wellington, the future victor of the Battle of Waterloo and Prime Minister, was baptised in the new church in 1769.

Until the 18th century, Saint Kevin’s Church gave its name to the neighbouring thoroughfare, recorded in maps as Keavans Port (1673), Cavan’s Port (1709), Saint Kevan’s Port (1714), Keavan’s Port (1728) and Saint Keavan’s Port (1756). It became Camden Street in 1778.

Many notable local residents were buried in the churchyard in the 17th and 18th centuries, and it continued to be used by local Roman Catholic families until the end of the 19th century. People buried in the churchyard include:

• Rev John Austin (1717-1784), a Jesuit pioneer of Catholic education in Ireland.

• Jean Jasper Joly (1740-1823), a captain in the Irish Volunteers in 1798.

• John Keogh (1740-1817), friend of Theobald Wolfe Tone, who once owned the land that became Mount Jerome Cemetery.

• Hugh Leeson, whose family gave its name to Leeson Street and became Earls of Milltown and owners of Russborough House, Co Wicklow.

• The Moore Family, the family of the poet songwriter Thomas Moore, who was born nearby in Augier Street.

The grave of the Moore Family, the family of the poet songwriter Thomas Moore (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

John D’Arcy, owner of Anchor Breweries, the second largest porter company in Dublin at the time, died suddenly in 1825 after falling from his horse. He was to be buried in Saint Kevin’s churchyard, but when his funeral from Francis Street reached Saint Kevin’s, the sexton, under the authority of the Archbishop William Magee of Dublin, met it at the gate and forbade Catholic prayers at the graveside.

The mourners withdrew peacefully, but a political outcry ensued. The Lord Lieutenant, Lord Wellesley, brother of the Duke of Wellington, expressed disapproval of Dr Magee’s order, and despite much opposition tried to alleviate Catholic grievances. Daniel O’Connell used the scandal provoked to push through legislation in establishing Golden Bridge (1829) and Glasnevin Cemetery (1831).

At the start of the 19th century the cemetery, like many others in Dublin, became a target of body-snatchers, although it was surrounded by high walls. In February 1830 a Frenchman named Nagles and his friend were attacked by a group of ‘sack-em-ups’ lying in wait near the cemetery. The criminals’ attention was diverted by the arrival of a cart-load of dead bodies, giving Nagles the opportunity to escape and notify the police at Arran Quay, who apprehended the culprits. On one occasion a body-snatcher was chased as far as Thomas Street, where he finally dropped the body of a young girl.

Saint Kevin’s Parish was separated from Saint Peter’s Parish in 1876, and the Trustees of the Shannon Bequest built a new Saint Kevin’s Church on the South Circular Road in the Portobello area in 1888-1889. The new church was designed by the architect Sir Thomas Drew and was consecrated on 8 April 1889. The old Saint Kevin’s Church finally closed in 1912, when the last service was held on 28 April 1912.

At the time, the Rector of Saint Kevin’s (1910-1919) was Canon Thomas Chatterton Hammond (1877-1961). A controversial evangelical, he later became Superintendent of the Irish Church Missions (1919-1936), and then Principal of Moore Theological College in Sydney and Archdeacon of Sydney, where he was instrumental in the strong evangelical direction taken by the Diocese of Sydney.

When Saint Kevin’s closed in 1912, the font where the Duke of Wellington was baptised was given to Taney parish in Dundrum, and it is now in Saint Nahi’s Church.

An archaeological excavation in 1967 uncovered some mediaeval graves and coins on the site.

The last Rector of Saint Kevin’s was the Revd William Joseph Smallhorne (1914-1980) in 1948-1980. He died on 31 December 1981, and Saint Kevin’s Parish became part of the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Group in 1981. The Victorian church on the South Circular Road was closed after a final Service on 28 January 1983. After lying empty for many years, the church was converted into apartments in the 1990s, and the adjacent church buildings became a community centre.

The last service in the old Saint Kevin’s Church was held on 28 April 1912 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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