by jdurney on March 1, 2011

‘Living Stones’ tell their tale in Celbridge

As the year draws to a close this column has a little catching up to do regarding anniversaries and publications relating to local history in Kildare. A publication which was launched earlier this year and made a big impact in north Kildare was a book celebrating the 150th anniversary of St. Patrick’s church in Celbridge. The book titled ‘Living Stones’ sets a new standard for local publications with its well-researched content and high production quality. While many such anniversary books are published in time for the anniversary in question the compilers of the Celbridge book decided to leave its publication until after the event so that the anniversary celebrations could be recorded and become part of the text. The book was published in 2010 following the anniversary proper which had taken place the previous year. It includes a report and pictures from the anniversary celebrations and the text of the homily given by the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Dermot Martin, on the occasion. By taking this decision – to publish after rather than before – the Celbridge committee has given ‘Living Stones’ a currency which will last until the next major anniversary in fifty years time.

The design and construction of St. Patrick’s church is of interest not alone to its Celbridge parishioners but has an echo for parishes in other parts of north Kildare. The common link is the architect J J McCarthy who had a prolific output of church design throughout Ireland in the mid 19th century. His most spectacular work was the design of the college chapel at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth where his enthusiasm for the Gothic revival style is amply demonstrated.  He was also the architect for St. Coca’s, Kilcock (1867), Sacred Heart & St. Brigid, Kilcullen (1869), and the small but perfectly formed chapel at  Ladychapel-Taghadoe (1863).

 He was particularly busy in Co Kildare in the years 1857-59. He was responsible for overseeing the building of the 200 feet high Gothic revival spire for Naas parish church, completed in 1858. At the same time he was also architect for the building of St. Patrick’s in Celbridge from the time its foundation stone was laid down in March 1857 to its celebratory opening in 1859. Thus one can picture McCarthy shuttling with his drawings between Naas and Celbridge by horse and carriage, or possibly by train from Sallins to Hazelhatch, as he supervised both projects.

As well as its associations with the leading church architect of its day, St. Patrick’s in Celbridge is notable for its somewhat unusual location, central to the town layout and positioned in its main street. The clergy who built the numerous new churches which sprung up after the penal laws suppressing the Catholic religion began to be relaxed, had to make do with whatever sites were available, no matter how removed from the old town centre,  and that in turn often depended on the goodwill of a local landowner. In Naas for example the De Burgh’s donated a site for the building of the parish church in 1827. . Perhaps the key to the central location of St. Patrick’s is due to the enlightened attitude of the Protestant squires of Castletown, the Connollys, who permitted the continued existence of a chapel at the central location in Celbridge’s Main Street.  This site in turn was likely that of an old chapel established when the site was part of the estate of the previous owners of Castletown, the Dongans, who were Catholics. This is the conclusion reached by historian Seamus Cummins who indicates that there is evidence of a chapel in on the spot from at least 1709: ‘The unusual location of the Catholic church for the time, when most were discreetly located in a side street (such as Maynooth), or on the outskirts of a town or village (such as Leixlip) … is an indication of harmonious relationships between Catholic and Protestant in Celbridge.’   In addition to Seamus Cummins’ wide-ranging article there is a galaxy of contributors to the ‘Living Stones’ including Kathy Sheridan, local resident and an Irish Times journalist; Dr.  Marian Lyons, newly appointed Head of the Dept. of History at NUI Maynooth; and Eoghan Corry, travel writer, historian and broadcaster. There are many other contributors including some long time residents who have reminisced about memories of Celbridge in bygone times when it was a small but vibrant town on the Liffey, a vibrancy it has retained in its modern suburban status.  Series no: 204.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of St. Patrick’s Church in Celbridge Liam Kenny in his column ‘Nothing new under the sun,’ from the Leinster Leader of 25 November 2010 reviews the book ‘Living stones.’ Our thanks to Liam.

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