Journal Volume 5 2006

A Church for Rathdrum (continued/4)

Temporary Halting Place

Again that night after dinner with the P.P., and two curates (Fr. H ------ , just back from Rome, and Fr. F ------ , a huge man, who thought nothing of riding to Aghavannagh in the sleet and storm of a winter’s night), as guests of Mr. Comerford with music, discussion and song, the conversation returned to the Flannel Hall.

‘No bishop would think of consecrating such an edifice as this; we Catholics regard it merely as a temporary halting place for the ark of our passage,’ said the big curate. ‘Although our churches lack sculpture, paintings, mosaic, they witness the same prodigy that is wrought under the gigantic bronze baldachino of St. Peter’s. We hope for better times, when the piety of the people will build an edifice more suited to the requirements of our religion. Meantime, we must be content with what we have. We must do as well as we can with Clara, Moycreddin and the Flannel Hall … . ‘A few years hence,’ he prophesied, ‘when our eyes have grown accustomed to the light – for you know that the gloom of political and religious servitude to which we were consigned for centuries had well-nigh blinded us – we will raise the Cross and fill the lamp with temples, such as would rejoice our ancestors, if they could leave their graves to visit them, temples worthy of that religion which has made art her anointed servant.’

Next day, while Fr. Doyle was hearing confessions in the Flannel Hall, ‘Mr. O’Toole’ tells us that he crossed the fields to get a look at this place, which he found to be a large square building, without any pretensions to architecture, but well suited for a great mart. The aspect of the place was chilling, and suggested decayed trade and bankruptcy. An old man whom he addressed told ‘Mr. O’Toole’ that it had been a busy place before the Union; that he remembered when it was filled with blankets and cloth and wool annually, and buyers used come to it from England, Dublin and all parts, ‘and spent a power of money in the town. Not a yard can you get for love or money now … sure the Union knocked up all that.’

Asked what did the place serve now, the man replied: ‘the Protestants have the upper part of it, while their church yonder is repairing, and there is a man in the town has got up a sect – he calls them the New Lights – and they have another corner of it. The Catholics, God help them, have to ‘scruge’ themselves as well as they can into the corridors on the left there on Sundays and holy days.’

Young Theologians

‘At nine o’clock next morning (Sunday),’ wrote ‘Mr. O’Toole’, ‘I set out for the Flannel Hall whither a large crowd was hastening to assist at Mass. The Pastor had risen early in order to hear Confessions … and was robing at the Altar (vestry there was none), when I entered that temporary church. It was crowded to inconvenience by a devout congregation, many of whom had to kneel outside the doors. Here is simplicity enough, as far as church adornment is concerned, but after all, is it not true that a crowded and pious assemblage is the highest adornment that a place of this kind can have?’

‘Breakfast over, my host asked me to accompany him to the Flannel Hall “where,” said he, “I will show you my young theologians whom I am indoctrinating in the rudiments of faith.” And indeed it was a pleasant sight to see the crowd of rosy children, boys and girls, filling the benches there. The latter had, for their instructors, several young ladies … while some stout young men … did the same for the boys. As we entered they all uprose, and when they resumed their seats, the Pastor went from form to form questioning this and that on the Sacraments, their obligations to God and their neighbour … thus dispensing, as it were, drop by drop to those babes of faith, the milk of an instruction, tender, simple and suited to their capacity. When time for dispersing sounded, all knelt and joined the priest in a prayer … , and oh, the glee of those unsullied young hearts as they scampered off … . During dinner, the curate related the day’s experiences, and made their amiable superior acquainted with the names of parties they had baptized, married or attended in their last illness during the week. There was nothing concerning his flock that was not thus brought to his notice.’

Obviously, as there is no mention of any other place, the Flannel Hall continued to do service for Catholics until the Saints Michael and Mary church was erected. It also served as the Petty Sessions building where magistrates and the Resident Magistrate of the British regime sat monthly to deal with local cases, until, after 1921, when the Irish Free State was set up, it was altered to the District Court. In addition its utility changed again in 1926 when pictures began to be shown there, and in the early 1950’s it became known as the Ormonde Cinema, after extensive alterations and conversion into a regular cinema.

‘Mr. O’Toole’ bade his friends goodbye, including Fr. Grant in Wicklow, who mentioned in the course of his conversation at his house in the Abbey that he had to go collecting for his new church, St. Patrick’s, Wicklow, which celebrated its jubilee in 1944. ‘Mr. O’Toole’ then went travelling on the Continent, remaining away for over 20 years, and he records with regret having, in mid – October of the same year, 1834, received word from the young curate of the death of Fr. Doyle from fever, which he had contracted attending a poor man. In 1846 he learned, while in Pisa, of the death of Fr. Grant. Coming back finally to Ireland, he visited Kilbride, Wicklow where the remains of the parish priest of Rathdrum were buried. He wrote:

‘Passing thence I made my way to Rathdrum, but as I turned down the road that leads to the Presbytery, I could not repress the joy I felt at seeing a beautiful church and convent schools in progress of erection, on the eminence from which I got my first view of the Vale of Clara and the Avonmore.’

He tells how he approached the Parochial House to go see the little study and the dining room of his late friend, but his courage failed him. He went to Clara Vale Church, where the big curate, Fr. F ------ , was buried, and then decided to call on Mr. Comerford, only to find that, in the 20 years interval he too had died. He met Mrs. Comerford and asked her who was in Fr. Doyle’s place. She answered: ‘Fr. Galvin, a most energetic and exemplary priest has succeeded your old friend’s immediate successor (Fr. McGrath). He has laboured hard to raise our new church and the convent schools.’

The Flannel Hall was closed – ‘all dead’, he thought, as he looked at the last rusted spike on the parapet. In Glenmalure he found a handsome new hotel which replaced the old public house, and only wished ‘some gentle soul would erect a little oratory in the glen, were it for nothing else but to have the Angelus tolled out at the rising and setting of the sun.’

In subsequent years ‘Mr. O’Toole’ lived in Enniskerry, where he found the first stone of St. Mary’s Church in that village laid and blessed by Cardinal Paul Cullen in 1858, and the church dedicated on Sunday, October 2nd 1859. In 1960 the parishioners celebrated its centenary.


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