08 January 2022

Greek lettering survives on
the last portions of a former
Presbyterian church in Dublin

The ruined former Presbyterian Church on Seán McDermott Street, formerly Lower Gloucester Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Wandering around the north inner city of Dublin last week, between Gardiner Street and Buckingham Street, I came across a number of former and abandoned church, including the former Presbyterian Church, now in ruins on Seán McDermott Street, formerly Lower Gloucester Street, in the heart of the former ‘Monto’ red light district.

The church is an eye-catching, landmark building in this area, and was designed in a Greek revival style by the architect Duncan Campbell Ferguson and built in 1846 at a cost of £1,800.

Until the early 19th century, there were two Secession congregations among the Presbyterians in Dublin, one at Mary’s Abbey and the other at Mass Lane. They united in 1818 and formed the congregation of Union Chapel.

Then, in 1836, the Secession Synod started a mission to form a second Secession congregation in Dublin. The first minister in this new congregation was the Revd William Wilson. Initially, they worshipped in the German Lutheran Church in Poolbeg Street and later hired a room in the Royal Exchange. Then, in 1837, the congregation bought Ebenezer Chapel on the corner of D’Olier Street and Hawkins Street for £600.

Withing a decade, the congregation moved from the Ebenezer Chapel to a new church building on Gloucester Street.

The church was completed by August 1836, and was the first in the Grecian Doric order that has been built in Dublin. It was built in Irish granite with a prostyle tetrastyle pedimented portico with four fluted Doric columns on a stylobate supporting a frieze. The frieze is inscribed in Greek, Μονω Σοφω Θεω Σωτηρi Ημων Δoξh (monō sophō Theō sōtēri hēmōn doxa), ‘To the only-wise God, be glory through the Saviour’ (see Romans 16: 27). Above the frieze is a modillioned pediment with acroteria situated at either end and at the apex.

At the time, the Dublin-based architect Duncan Campbell Ferguson was master of the Royal Dublin Society School of Architectural Drawing (1842-1854) in Molesworth Street. Ferguson, who may have been born in Scotland, entered the RDS School of Figure Drawing in 1826, and was awarded prizes in 1828, 1829 and 1830.

He was appointed master of the School of Drawing in Architecture in 1842, and in that year he designed a new range of glasshouses for the RDS gardens in Glasnevin. They were redesigned the following year, after Richard Turner submitted proposals for building the range entirely of iron.

Ferguson won the competition for designing the RDS natural history museum in 1852, and was also involved in the RDS proposal to establish model lodging houses in Dublin.

When responsibility for the RDS academic programme passed to the Department of Science and Art in 1854, Ferguson was retired. He started teaching classes in architecture and engineering from his own house in Westland Row and continued to practise as an architect.

He had married Eliza Singer Ringland on 26 December 1840 in Saint Mark’s Church, Dublin, and they were the parents of at least four sons: Archibald (1843), Duncan Campbell (1845), John (1850) and Donald (1857). He may have moved from Dublin or died ca 1873.

The Revd William Wilson was succeeded by various ministers. The Revd John Love Morrow was ordained to Gloucester Street in 1884, but this was his first and only ministry.

By the 1880s, many members of the congregation were living in the new suburbs of Fairview and Clontarf. A meeting of Gloucester Street congregation in 1888 decided to transfer the congregation to Clontarf.

The request was approved by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland on 26 July, 1889. A site was found on the corner of Howth Road and Clontarf Road and the new church opened in May 1890. A school was built beside the church and a manse was built on Haddon Road.

The church on Gloucester Street continued to be used for occasional services until 1896, when it became a centre for the work of the Salvation Army among prostitutes in the notorious red light area of ‘Monto’ in inner city Dublin.

The Revd John Love Morrow remained with the congregation through its move to Clontarf and until he died in 1940. He was the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in 1929.

When the former church in Gloucester Street was converted into a flour mill in the early 1900s, the external appearance remained largely intact. The mill was run by AW Ennis Ltd until a fire in the 1980s forced the business to move to Virginia, Co Cavan, where it remains. The building was later used as a grain store.

This Greek Revival church is now in a ruinous condition and the remaining façade and the side walls now sit at the front of 2000s apartment development. Recent buildings on have greatly compromised the integrity of the structure or its potential for reinstatement.

All that survives of the church today is its front façade and side walls. It has coursed granite ashlar walls, corner Doric piers, a full Doric entablature and a modillioned cornice, a prostyle tetrastyle pedimented portico with four fluted Doric columns on a stylobate supporting frieze with its Greek lettering and a full Doric entablature supporting a modillioned pediment surmounted by acroteria at the apex and at either end.

There is a double-height square-headed principal entrance with a lugged granite architrave surround and cornice. The lower single-bay wings at either side have tapered square-headed door openings, plain granite architrave surrounds and pediments. But all the openings are boarded up with steel sheeting.

The building’s risk status is currently listed as ‘moderate’ by An Taisce and it is listed on the Record of Protected Structures. Nonetheless, the façade remains an exquisite example of an academic exercise in neo-Classical architecture, and remains a highly decorative element on the streetscape and part of the wealth of architectural heritage in the north inner city.

Meanwhile, the congregation in Clontarf welcomed the members of Ormond Quay and Scots Church in 2003 and it now known as Clontarf and Scots Presbyterian Church.
The frieze is inscribed in Greek, Μονω Σοφω Θεω Σωτηρi Ημων Δoξh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

With the Saints through Christmas (14):
8 January 2022, Saint Albert of Cashel

The Rock of Cashel … was there an eighth century Saint Albert who was Bishop of Cashel? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The season of Epiphany continues, and I have some final details for tomorrow’s Sunday services to attend to later this morning.

But before this day gets busy, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

I have been continuing my Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflections on a saint remembered in the calendars of the Church during Christmas;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

This morning, I am reflecting on Saint Albert of Cashel, an eighth century saint and Patron of Cashel in Co Tipperary.

Saint Albert is said in tradition to have been an Englishman who worked in Ireland and then in Bavaria. Albert went to Jerusalem and died in Regensburg on his return journey.

He was an evangelist working mainly around the city of Cashel, and may have been a bishop there.

In a legendary 12th century biography he is called natione Anglus, conversatione Angelicus – ‘by nationality an Angle, in manners an angel.’ He continued his work as an evangelist in Bavaria with Saint Erhard of Regensburg and is reported to have suffered from arthritis in his back and hips.

He made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, with Saint Erhard of Regensburg but died in 800 AD at Regensburg on the return journey.

Saint Albert’s grave is in Niedermünster in Regensburg. In the mid-12th century, a life was written at the Benedictine monastery of Schotten in Regensburg at Regensburg.

He was canonised on 19 June 1902 by Pope Leo XIII.

However, his existence has been questioned by some scholar. Others question his role as Bishop of Cashel, pointing out that the diocese did not exist until 1118, and the majority of buildings on the Rock of Cashel date only from the 12th century. The Irish Abbot of Regensburg, Dirmicius of Regensburg, sent two of his carpenters to help build Cormac’s Chapel on the Rock of Cashel in the mid-12th century, and the twin towers on either side of the junction of its nave and chancel are strongly suggestive of their Germanic influence. Others ask whether he has been confused with Saint Ailbe of Emly.

The Cathedral, Tower and Saint Patrick’s Cross on the Rock of Cashel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 6: 34-44 (NRSVA):

34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ 37 But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’ 38 And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’ When they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’ 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And all ate and were filled; 43 and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.

The prayer in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) invites us to pray this morning (8 January 2022):

We pray for the World Council of Churches, which seeks to build partnerships across churches, countries and continents.

Yesterday: Saint John the Baptist

Tomorrow: The Black Nazarene, ‘Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno’

King Cormac Mac Carthaigh began building Cormac’s Chapel in 1127, and it was consecrated in 1134 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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