Parish History

Parish History

From Donnybrook: A History.  By Dr. Beatrice Doran.  Dublin: The History Press, 2013.

There are very few records from 1630 until the eighteenth century in  relation to the development of a Catholic parish at Donnybrook. In 1615  The Catholic Church in Kilkenny held a Provincial Synod where it was  decided, among other things, to re-constitute the parishes in Dublin.  From 1617 to 1787 Booterstown, Blackrock, Stillorgan, Kilmacud and Dundrum, were all pre-Reformation sub parishes of Donnybrook. In the  eighteenth century the Archbishop of Dublin, John Troy, created a  parish consisting of Booterstown, Blackrock, Stillorgan and Dundrum.  Donnybrook retained Ballsbridge, Ringsend and Irishtown, and a  Fr Nicholson was appointed parish priest. Shortly afterwards Archbishop  Troy decided a new chapel was needed in Donnybrook and he appointed  Fr Peter Clinch to the parish. A new chapel for Catholics was built in  1787 beside the Protestant Church of St Mary In Donnybrook Graveyard,  and it too was called St Mary’s. The wall of this church is the wall dividing  the graveyard from the Garda Station in the village. This church remained in use until the Church of the Sacred Heart, the present Catholic Church,  opened in 1866  facing the site of the Donnybrook Fair, now the home of Bective  and  Old Wesley Rugby Football Clubs. During the years when there was no Catholic Church in Donnybrook,the Old Catholic families like the Fitzwilliams, the Archbolds, and the Wolverstons, provided sanctuary for priests who celebrated Mass in the  chapels attached to their homes.

Donnybrook Church

The boundaries of Donnybrook parish have changed dramatically over  the centuries. It once included not only Sandymount and Ringsend, but also  Haddington Road, Dundrum, Booterstown and Blackrock. According to the Census of 1831, the Catholic population of Donnybrook was about 8,000  people, most of them living in great poverty.  In the 1840s it was decided that the Catholic church in the graveyard was not sufficiently large for the growing Catholic population of Donnybrook. Monsignor Andrew O’Connell,  was appointed by the Archbishop of Dublin, to the combined parishes of Donnybrook, Irishtown, Ringsend and Sandymount.  in 1849,  he began a building campaign to replace the old churches with  new ones. Dr O’Connell acquired a new site on the right bank of the River  Dodder, facing the old Fair Green, as a location for the new Catholic Church  for Donnybrook.  Work on the new church, which was to be dedicated to the Sacred  Heart, began in 1860. The foundation stone was blessed and laid on the 12 June 1863 by Archbishop Paul Cullen. It has been said that  it was built in reparation for the sins of intemperance, and the violent  and righteous behaviour which was common at the Donnybrook Fair  over the centuries. The new Catholic church cost approximately £ 7,000  to build. The original architect was Patrick Byrne (1783‑1864), but  he had to resign due to ill health in 1863.  Pugin and Ashlin, a well  known firm of Dublin architects who were in partnership from 1860 to 1868, then took over. Edward Welby Pugin (1834‑1875) was the son of  Augustus Welby Pugin (1812‑1852), the well-known church architect.   George Coppinger Ashlin (1837‑1921) had married Edward Pugin’s sister,  Mary Pugin (1844‑1933), so there was a family connection between  the two. The builder of Donnybrook church was Michael Meade, a wellknown  Dublin builder, who constructed a number of important buildings  around Dublin, together with many houses at the Merrion Road end of  Ailesbury Road.

The Church of the Sacred Heart was built of granite with Bath stone dressings. It was highly ornamental in character and the internal dimensions  are 148ft in length by 58ft in width. The aisles of the church are  separated from the nave by an arcade of six arches that rest on polished  Cork marble shafts, with carved Caen stone capitals. The opening ceremony  took place on 26 August 1866, which was the same date that the  Donnybrook Fair normally started.   The church contains a beautiful rose  window in the west gable and there are some lovely stained-glass windows  (St Malachi and St Bernard) by Harry Clarke and Michael Healy (St Patrick,  St Eithne, and St Feidhlim). A Mrs Jury of Greenfield presented the  Stations of the Cross to the Church in 1887 and Mrs Catherine Dignam  presented the High Altar, in memory of her husband. The Altar of Our  Lady was a gift from William McDermott Fitzgibbon while John R. Corballis  of Roebuck presented the windows over the Sacred Heart Statue. Other  benefactors were the Egan and Martin families who presented the windows  of St Rita and St Bernard.

At a meeting held in 1912 to raise funds for the completion of the  Church of the Sacred Heart, it was decided to erect a tower instead of  the spire that was in the original design of the church. Many might

have preferred a steeple for the top of the church, but a tower was considered  a much safer proposition. The tower was completed at the cost  of £1,200. In 1915, Monsignor Dunne took over the parish building  debt of £3,000. Through the generosity of parishioners, and with the  proceeds of a bazaar, the debt was cleared. There was also money left  over to be used for improvements to the church and, as a memorial to  his predecessor, Cannon Gossan, Monsignor Dunne used portion of this  money to install electric light in the church. It is interesting that the  Church of the Sacred Heart was not consecrated until 1923, when the  parish debt was cleared!

Donnybrook Church postcard

On 19 July 1923, Revd Dr Edward J. Byrne, Archbishop of Dublin, consecrated a stone cross which had been found in the old Donnybrook Graveyard when the road was widened. This probably belonged to the earlier church,which was located in the old graveyard in the centre of the village. In 1936 the old stone cross was incorporated on the top of a wall of the new extension to the church. The architect for the extension was W.H. Byrne and Sons and t it was built by W & J.  Bolger the well known Dublin builders whose family   continue to live on Eglinton Road to this very day. The extension  consists of two transepts, which have a capacity of 700, together with a  baptistery and a mortuary chapel.

The present-day parish of the Sacred Heart extends from the south side of  Ranelagh Road to the RDS Ballsbridge and from Belfield to Leeson Street Bridge.

Parish Priests Since 1849

 Very. Rev.Dr. Andrew (Dean) O’Connell
 Very.Rev.Thomas McCormack
 Very. Rev. Michael (Canon) Doyle
 Very. Rev.Charles (Canon) Horris
 Very Rev. Pierce (Canon) Gossan
 Rt.Rev. James (Dean) Dunne, V.G.
 Very Rev. Daniel (Canon) Molony
 Very Rev. Timothy Condon
 Very Rev. Cyril P. Crean
 Most Rev. Bishop A. Joseph Carroll D.D.
 Rt.Rev.Monsignor Richard Sherry D.D.
 Very Rev. Patrick Carroll
 Very Rev. Martin Clarke

Thank you to Dr. Beatrice Doran for the kind permission to publish this extract from here book ‘Donnybrook: A History’  : The History Press, 2013.