Rathfarnham – Early Days
The history of Christianity in Rathfarnham goes back to the 6th century, when the local bishop, Naithi, later St Naithi, established seats of learning at Donnybrook, Kilgobbin, Dundrum and Rathfarnham. It is believed that Naithi converted the local chieftan, Farnham, to Christianity, and asked him for a site on the rath overlooking the bend in the River Dodder, to establish a church. Hence the name – Rath-Farnham.
This church, under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury was dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. This was located in the old graveyard at Rathfarnham village, close to the Texaco garage. A later church was built of stone in about the 16th century and part of that structure still exists.
Later in the 17th century, with Catholic religious practice gone underground, there were Mass Houses in ‘Ballynescorney, Balliman, Killinarden and Jobstone.’ Mass priests were reported to be lodging in the houses of ‘Adam Talbot, Barnaby Rely of Finnin, Mrs. Ellenore Talbot of Templeogue and Pierce Archbold of Knocklin’.
The first reference to a Mass House in Rathfarnham was ‘in 1697 the Mass House at Rathfarnham was served by Timothy Kelly, then living in Oldcastle’.
Rathfarnham Parish Church 1730 – 1875
The first priest mentioned as living at Rathfarnham was the Rev. Nicholas Gibbons in 1730. It was he who acquired the cottage by the Abhainn Dohair (Owendore) river which was probably an old Mass House. This cottage was on the site of the present St. Mary’s Presbytery, but was set back from the road and was not visible from the Willbrook Road. The approach to this Mass House was by a ‘Mass Path’, shown on old drawings of the time which ran from the then Butterfield Lane, behind what is now Glenbrook, and which crossed over the river at that point.
Around 1730, Fr. Gibbons transformed the cottage into a chapel and it is thought likely that it was he who removed the ancient granite holy water font from the derelict chapel of Saints Peter and Paul at Rathfarnham village and placed it at the entrance to his new chapel. This is the font which currently stands at the entrance to our present parish church. It was decided, about 1870, to erect a new parish church on a prominent site, where the Willbrook Road connected with Rathfarnham village – and where, some decades earlier, was believed to be the original location of ‘The Yellow House’ . The site was donated to the parish by a local landowner, Mr. Henry Hodgens J.P. and there is a brass plate to him on the first pew in our parish church.
THE RATHFARNHAM HOLY WATER FONT
Rathfarnham Parish Church 1873 – Present
The launch of the Church Building project is reported in the Saturday 12 July 1873 Edition of the weekly Irish Star and Catholic Record newspaper in which it is recorded that a meeting of the Catholic inhabitants of Rathfarnham, – with Father Michael O’Connor the Parish Priest as Chairman – was held in the (then) parish church “for the purpose of originating a fund and to adopt other means for the erection of a new parochial church for the parish.; …..subscriptions to a considerable amount had been handed in”. It was stated at the meeting that “Mr Hodgens had offered a site for the new chapel”.
In July and August 1873 advertisements appeared in the newspapers advertising a “Bazaar and Grand Drawing of Prizes” in aid of the finds for the erection of the new Church to be held on 25 & 26 August in the grounds of the “Church of St. Joseph, Roundtown. The first of the 14 prizes listed was “a useful horse trained to harness and quiet to ride” with the second prize being “a mantel piece clock on a massive marble pedestal”. The Irish Times carried a report on the first day of the Bazaar stating that “the tables were supplied with various and costly ornaments and were, we are glad to know generously supported by the large and fashionable attendance that crowded the grounds”.
The church was dedicated to the Annunciation and the foundation stone was laid by Cardinal Cullen on 29th April 1875, Easter Monday.
Monday 29 April 1875. The Freeman’s Journal reported on the ceremony in which “His Eminence..was assisted by a large number of clergy and a crowded assemblage of the parishioners, including many ladies and gentlemen residing in the neighbourhood…At the proper time the foundation stone, which was suspended from a shears was slowly lowered and His eminence the Lord Cardinal was handed by the Rev. Robert Meyler, the worthy pastor, a beautifully designed and manufactured silver trowel It was also stated that “a glass jar containing a parchment scroll on which was inscribed the date of the ceremonial and the names of those who prominently took part in it and the current coins of the realm were deposited in the place prepared to receive it”.. The Cardinal told the crowd that “a great work for the promotion of religion and the glory of God had been commenced ” and that he was “sure that all that will be required for its completion will be generously subscribed by the parishioners whose children’s children from generation to generation will receive countless and priceless blessings in the church”.
Then, on the Feast of the Annunciation, 25th March 1878, the solemn consecration of the church took place, reported in the Freeman’s Journal of the time, “in the presence of a large body of clergy and a fashionable congregation”. As Cardinal Cullen has since died, the consecrating bishop was Dr Edward McCabe, Bishop of Gadara. The sermon was preached by a well-known Dominican preacher, Fr Tom Burke, who described the new church as a “palace for Jesus Christ”.
Later, an official Correspondent of the Freeman’s Journal wrote an Article following his visit to the new church which was highly laudatory of the building erected “near the Yellow House and on part of the Elysian demesne of Henry Hodgens”. Also highly laudatory was the report carried by the Freeman’s Journal on the Dedication Ceremony in prose such as the following: “The sanctuary yesterday was a picture of brightness and freshness; vases of richly coloured flowers, disposed by a skilful hand stood out against the dazzling pure whiteness of the cunningly carved marble of the altar and tabernacle and the sun borrowing varied tints from the coloured windows through which it shone gave a needed warmth to the mass of marble and stone.
A very similar note was struck in the Sermon of the renowned Dominican preacher Fr. Thomas Burke, given at the conclusion of the Mass, who spoke of the new church as having been built “to be a palace for Jesus Christ” in which every stone had that day been that day “consecrated and blessed and invested by the infinite power of God with a certain sanctity” The church had “begun in prayer and was “built up in hope and holiness”. Not only would the voice of Jesus Christ resound there… but every form of grace that was necessary to fill souls they would find there” and” surely for those who, with kind hearts and generous hands had laboured in this work, ”…God, who is not outdone in generosity, will build and prepare for them a place of everlasting joy and glory in his own bright and everlasting heaven”.
The present parish church was finished in 1879. The architect was Mr. George C. Ashlinn (son-in-law of Pugin) and the building contractor was Messrs. Meade and Sons. The altar, in marble and Caen stone was designed and erected by Messrs. Farrell of Dublin. The newspapers of the day describe the church as ‘Early French, Gothic. The overall cost of the church was £9847 – 7 – 0.
The first baptism, some time later, was of Rose Anne Meade of Willbrook.
At the time the extent of the parish covered, in addition to Rathfarnham, the districts of Ballyboden, Kilmashogue, Kilakee, Harolds Grange, Tallaght, Old Bawn, Tibradden, Terenure and Crumlin. The most unusual feature of the church is the stained glass windows which incorporate the Stations of the Cross and which were put in around the turn of the century. They are the work of Maison Eugene Denis of Nantes and date from a time when there was great enthusiasm for things Breton in Ireland. The colours are bright and over-strong compared with the older glass in the other windows.
The Parish Church shortly after its opening in 1878.
(From the Lawrence Collection, © National Library of Ireland).
Up to the 1950s the parish of Rathfarnham still covered huge areas of South County Dublin. The late Mgr. O’Donnell stated at the time that a rough estimate of the extent could be gauged from a map if the point of a compass was placed at Hell Fire Club and the radius extended to the Dodder at Rathfarnham Bridge the ensuing circle would indicate the parish. At times of First Communions and Confirmations buses would be used to transport people from outlying areas of the parish such as Bohernabreena.
Adjoining parishes constituted from Rathfarnham include – Crumlin (1781), Terenure (1894), Churchtown (1965), Ballyroan (1968) and Ballyboden (1973).
Present day the Church of the Annunciation is grouped with Ballyboden parish, Ballyroan parish and Churchtown.
Rev Canon Martin Cosgrove is the Moderator
Extract from The Freeman’s Journal March 1878
THE FREEMAN’S JOURNAL
TUESDAY MARCH 26 1878
THE CHURCH OF THE ANNUNCIATION, RATHFARNHAM
Yesterday, appropriately on the Feast of the Annunciation, the new parish church of the Annunciation, Rathfarnham was solemnly dedicated by the Most Rev. Dr. McCabe, Bishop of Gadara, assisted by alarge body of clergy, and in the presence of a crowded and fashionable congregation. The building is Gothic in its style, and has been erected by Messrs. Meade and Sons, from the design of Mr. G. C. Ashlin. A description of the church has already appeared in these columns, but it may be mentioned that the aisles are separated from the nave by massive columns of Aberdeen granite, one aisle has the Altar of the Immaculate Conception, And the other the Altar of the Sacred Heart. The chancel in which the nave ends is octagonal and lighted by stained glass windows bearing figures of the Virgin and Child, and of St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Joseph, St. Brigid and St. Patrick. The altar is a beautiful achievement in marble and Caen stone and comes from the works of Messrs. Farrell of this city. The communion rails are of Italian marble with brass gates.
The roof is of painted and carved wood. The sanctuary yesterday was a picture of brightness and freshness; vases of richly coloured flowers, disposed by a skilful hand, stood out against the dazzling pure whiteness of the cunningly carved marble of the altar and tabernacle, and the sun borrowed varied tints from the coloured windows through which it shone gave a needed warmth to the masses of marble and stone. To so much inanimate beauty was added the golden robes of the bishop who presided, and of the clergy taking part in the function of the Mass. The white surplices of the assisting clergy, the black habits of the Augustinian Friars, and the black relieved with white of the Dominican order, the lights on the altar the perfume of the incense, and the rich music of the choir going collectively to form the splendid ceremonial with which the new edifice was baptised into ranks of the Catholic churches of the world. When the prescribed circuits of the church walls, externally and internally, had been performed the solemn High Mass began in the presence of Most Rev. Dr. McCabe, Bishop of Gadara, who sat enthroned on the Gospel side of the altar.
The celebrant was the Rev. M. Doyle, Adm., Westland Row; deacon Rev. B. Dennan; sub-deacon, Rev. J. O’Molloy; master of ceremonies, Rev. John Hackett; assistant priests at the throne, Right Rev. Monsignor Woodlock and Rev. Thomas Fagan. Among the clergy present in the sanctuary were the Very Rev. Dr. Verdon, President, Clonliffe Seminary; Rev. Robert Meyler, P.P., Rathfarnham; Rev. P. Hanly C.C.; Rev. J. Keon C.C.; Rev. M. Walsh C.C.; Very Rev. T. N. Burke, O.P. ; Very Rev. Dr. Conway, O.P.; Rev. F. Corcoran, O.P.; Very Rev. John Hutchinson, O.S.A.; Rev. James Murphy, O.S.A.; and a number of students of Clonliffe. At the conclusion of the Mass the Very Rev. Thomas N. Burke preached from the following text in the Apocalypse: – ‘ Behold the Tabernacle of God with men, and He shall dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and He, the Lord, in the midst of them shall be their Father.’ Having shown how this text was first fulfilled in the Blessed Virgin by the Mystery of the Incarnation, and how it was secondly fulfilled in the establishment of the Christian Church by the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, Father Burke said it was a third time fulfilled in the consecration of this new church, which was built to be a palace for Jesus Christ. Many months had passed away in the preparation of it, and to-day He came for the first time from His high place in Heaven, and He had taken up His dwelling on that altar, there to remain. He came as He came to Mary, and as He came to the Church for all the purposes of sanctification. His church, in a certain sense, might boast of its Immaculate Conception, for on the day the earth was opened to receive the first stone of its foundation the earth was sanctified by prayer and with Holy Water, that very corner-stone sunk down deep, never to be seen by man, bore upon it unction and a sign of the cross of Jesus Christ.
Every stone of it had been to-day consecrated and blessed, and invested by the infinite power of God with a certain sanctity which Almighty God was able to communicate even to the material creation. Thus it was begun in prayer, built up in hope and holiness, and to-day consecrated in a solemn manner, blessed and sanctified. But in addition to this, as in the case of the Blessed Virgin and of the church, not only was there the grace of Immaculate Conception and the grace of sanctity, but there were a thousand other graces. All that the ingenious mind of the cultivated child of art could devise was around them – all the beauty that could be brought forth in stone and marble was here – all the beauty that could elevate the heart, whilst it pleased the eye in stateliness and majesty of proportions – all that the blessed light of God’s heaven could render of cheerfulness and joy brightened this church to-day. Those storied panes, which reminded them of the great saints showered blessings down; this beautiful altar, so elaborate in every detail, so exquisite even in points where the eye would rarely feast upon its beauty, told, that it was raised not so much for man as for God.
The Lord Himself would remain in this tabernacle all day long waiting for His children to come to Him in their joy and sanctify their joy, and in their sorrow that He might help them carry their cross. And throughout the long nights, with the lamp slowly wasting its life away in a golden flame, still He, the light of heaven, remained for our love, and within those silent walls legions of angels would pay their homage to God until the morning broke, and the sound of the bell called faithful souls to take their place. Not only would the voice of Jesus Christ resound there – for no man, unless an anointed and consecrated priest dare speak there – but every form of grace that was necessary to fill souls they would find there. This spot of earth was now consecrated for evermore, this building had now found its proper object for which it was raised. He was come and they had come to offer Him a welcome. Father Burke concluded – Let us rejoice and be glad! When the prophetic eye of David, actuated by love, looked down into the future and saw the Church when he saw it only in that strong fancy of his, he was rejoiced and cried out, ‘I have loved, Oh Lord, the beauty of Thy houses. I have rejoiced in the things that have been told me, we shall go into the house of our God.’ That which he saw only dimly we have beheld to-day. We have saluted our God. He has come to remain with us to make us His people, and let us in the joy of our hearts accept and receive and cherish Him as our God. And surely for those who, with kind hearts and generous hands have laboured in this work which has happily terminated to-day to raise up this beautiful thing for God, I promise them God, who is not outdone in generosity, will build and prepare a place of exceeding joy and glory for them in His own bright and everlasting Heaven.
Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament followed the sermon and concluded the day ceremonial. The music of the Mass and Benediction, which was faultlessly beautiful, was rendered by a large choir led by Mrs. Manly, who was assisted by Herr Elsner, the celebrated violinist, and Mr. Leahy, the organist of Dominic Street.
PARISH PRIESTS OF RATHFARNHAM
To St. Audoens 1781
Appt Bishop of Ballarat 1874
to Donnybrook 1909
to Pastor Emeritus 1986 died 15 April 1994
retired 2008 to Assistant Priest. Died June 2010.
Appointed Moderator of Ballyroan, Churchtown and Rathfarnham.
*Both buried in the grounds of the earlier Rathfarnham parish church and re-interred in the grounds of the current church.
CHURCH OF THE ANNUNCIATION
A BRIEF HISTORY
Compiled by Tony Corcoran
Rathfarnham Parish Liturgy Group.
© Rathfarnham Parish Liturgy Group 2006.
The Building of the Parochial Church in Rathfarnham
By Gregory O’Connor March 2008
Ronan, V Rev Myles, PP, D. Litt, FRHist.S
Collected mss vol 2, written 1953 (not published –
but presented to Dr. Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin)
(Currently in Dublin Diocesan Archives)
The Irish Builder 1877 and 1878
The Freeman’s Journal March 26 1878
Dublin Diocesan Guidebook.
Rathfarnham Parish Newsletter, various dates
Ball: A History of the County Dublin Vol 2. (pub 1903)
O’Riordan, Rev. William: Reportium Novum Dublin Diocesan Historical Records Vol 3, no. 1 (pub 1962)
Ball, Francis Elrington. A History of the County Dublin.
Vol. 2. Published 1903
Dublin Diocesan Archives:
Church Buildings Diocese of Dublin 1800-1916
Irish Catholic Directory February 1869 p296
O’Riordan, Rev. William. Reportium Novum Vol. 3, no. 1 Published 1962.
Visitation Documents 1830 Ronan, V. Rev. Myles, PP, D.Litt, FRHist.S Collected mss, vol 2. written 1953.
Dublin Diocesan Guidebook
Rathfarnham Parish Newsletter, various.
The Fremman’s Journal, March 26 1878.
The Irish Builder 1877 and 1878.
In particular, the assistance and contributions of many parishioners of Rathfarnham is gratefully acknowledged.rrr.
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