Journal Volume 5 2006

A Church for Rathdrum (continued/6)


The solemn dedication of the church of Saints Mary and Michael took place on Sunday 22nd July 1860 by Most Rev. Dr. Cullen, and the clergy present included Very Rev. Archdeacon J. Grant, P.P., Wicklow; Very Rev. Canon Redmond, P.P., Arklow, etc. At the ceremony was William Walsh, a young student from Maynooth who had the privilege of taking part in the day’s ceremonies. In 1906 when this student reigned as Archbishop of Dublin, he wrote to Very Rev. J. H. O’Donnell, P.P., Rathdrum, approving of extensive decorative work to be carried out on the church, and recalled that his first visit ever to Rathdrum was on this day of its dedication.

The church was opened for public worship on Christmas day, 1860.

Fr. Galvin had prepared for himself in his own church a vault, and when he died, on 22nd November 1878, he was laid to rest here. Prior to his death, his curate, Rev. Fr. Forde, had died and, with Fr. Galvin’s permission, the curate’s remains were laid in the same vault. During his pastorate, Rathdrum parish was divided, and Aughrim Parish was constituted as at present.

Fr. Galvin was succeeded by Very Rev. P. Carberry, who was transferred to James Street, Dublin, in 1876. The next P.P. was the Very Rev. Canon Staples who, several years later, was transferred to Wicklow, and then came Fr. O’Donnell, who, in 1917, was sent to Ballybrack and was succeeded by Very Rev. Joseph O’Callaghan. In his pastorship, Fr. O’Callaghan had a monument erected to the memory of Fr. Galvin. When he resigned owing to ill-health in 1926, he was succeeded by the Very Rev. P. Kennedy, who died in 1948, and was the first pastor whose remains were interred in the church grounds since Fr. Galvin’s time.

Fr. O’Keeffe was the next P.P., and it was under his supervision, in 1950, that a major renovation took place. The contractors, Messrs John Kane, Wicklow, had to hack off the interior plastering. Their workmen had not proceeded very far with the work of denudation on the walls when it was revealed that the church had been constructed in an especial manner, known technically as ‘random rubble plaster’, which is deemed to be a very uncommon treatment. In this type, the stonemason’s work was carefully executed to give an intricate but not geometrical design, the stones being chosen deliberately to give a lovely over-all effect, somewhat similar to that of the ‘crazy pattern’ garden walks. This unusual vardom-tooled ashlar treatment surprised all concerned – architect, contractors, priests, and there ensued earnest discussions as to whether it would not be more desirable to perpetuate Fr. Galvin’s unique objective and allow this random rubble effect to be displayed, rather than cover it again with plaster, paint and colour.

The discussions ended in a unanimous vote, if one might so term it, to retain this unusual effect and the intended decorative work was altered. Now Rathdrum possesses a church unsurpassed by and unlike to any other church in the country.

Accordingly, all plaster work which had some time since 1860 covered the original craftsmanship on walls, pillars, arches, entrances, etc. was cleaned off carefully; all ‘pointing’ was done with extreme care and skill, and the result is one that must please the most fastidious, as it did a Hungarian architect who happened to come via Rathdrum while the work was in progress, and declared his astonishment to find in Ireland such an architectural Gothic gem.

Other tasks Fr. O’ Keeffe had to assume included fixing the roof of the church, the building of a new presbytery in 1952 to accommodate his two curates at the Fairgreen, new schools at Clash, renovation of schools at Trooperstown and Clara, and renovation at Clara Church.

Very Rev. T. Power succeeded Fr. O’Keeffe on his transfer to Dublin, and during his time he had erected on a site just outside the boundary of the church grounds in 1956 a bungalow residence for the parish priests, as well as carrying out extensive improvements to the grounds of the church, where he provided a second avenue approach from the roadway, and installing electric heating in the church itself.

Fr. Power was transferred as P.P. to Wicklow in the autumn of 1960 and was succeeded by Very Rev. M. Cusack, who celebrated the centenary of the dedication of Saints Michael and Mary Church in the first year of his pastorship.


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