Journal Volume 5 2006

A Church for Rathdrum (continued/5)

Fr. Galvin and His Church

‘The place you have abandoned was unfit for the worship of God. Here, however, you have in your zeal erected this magnificent temple. You have done great things for God. You have made great sacrifices in His name, and you will not be disappointed.’

On Sunday 22nd July 1860 the Archbishop of Dublin Most Rev. Dr. P. Cullen, later to become Ireland’s first Cardinal pronounced the above words which contained, in their fullest meaning, acknowledgement for great deeds accomplished, and rich rewards bestowed upon the Pastor and parishioners of Rathdrum, as, sitting beneath the tall ceiling of the new church of Saints Michael and Mary, they joined in the dedication of the church.

Gone was the Flannel Hall, its misery and horrible history. Now Rathdrum had its beautiful church, so exquisitely sited overlooking the Avonmore’s valley. This accomplishment had been made possible by the dedication of Rev. Richard Galvin, P.P., and the equally earnest co-operation of the parishioners.

Fr. Galvin was a native of Co. Limerick, and he came first to Rathdrum as one of its curates on June 20th 1847. Previous to that, and since his ordination, he had served in Blackditches, Naul and Barndarrig. Ordained by Most Rev. Dr. Murray, Archbishop of Dublin, in 1844, he was ‘promoted to the pastoral charge of Rathdrum by Most Rev. Cullen, Archbishop, in 1854’, in succession to Very Rev. James McGrath.

Fr. Galvin must have been a man of dynamic energy, impressive personality and deeply sincere convictions. As a result of his endeavours, he secured this enchanting site on the eminence that overlooks the Avonmore, on the road to Glendalough, from the Fitzwilliam family, who had a few years previously bestowed a similar fine location on the people of Wicklow for their grand church.

Building Begins

Armed with full authority, and already generously supported by the people from far and near, Fr. Galvin began his building programme, the design for the church having been prepared by a Mr. J. J. McCarthy. The granite and stones used in its building came from the quarries of Ballyknockan, Ballinacarrig, Tinnakilly and Aughrim. Fr. Galvin kept a meticulous record in his diary of everything that concerned his undertaking. Specifications for the church, which were prepared and dated 22nd December 1855, were preserved by him, and work commenced on it in July 1856.

The plan consisted of a nave and chancel with side aisles and chapel porches north and south, and a sacristy south of the chancel. The arch rises from columns of Galway marble, resting on corbels of Caen stone carved into beautiful figures of the patrons, the Blessed Virgin and St. Michael.

Specially to be noted in the plans of the church were the following features:

  • The belfry, which is built upon the wall, being corbelled into the gable;

  • The main door, which is a masterpiece, is a copy of the ‘dog – tooth’ arch in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Glendalough;

  • The tracery window, at the back of the high altar, with four mullions, thirteen feet long, of one single stone which illustrates so graphically the workmanship that was then executed by Irish craftsmen in the building trade.

These three main features have been ever since admired by architects visiting Rathdrum from all parts of the world.

Church, Rathdrum (

Parish Donors

It was stated at the time of the dedication that there had been three beautiful pictures erected behind the altar, pictures which had been specially commissioned by and painted in Italy for Cardinal Cullen, representing the two patrons of the church and St. Kevin of Glendalough, but of these pictures, it was stated as far back as 1950, that there was no trace of them.

Mr. John Farrell, Rathdrum, presented the altar; Mr. J. D. O’Neill, was the donor of the side altars; the stained glass window over the high altar was erected in Very Rev. Carberry’s pastorship in memory of Fr. Galvin; that over the Blessed Virgin’s Altar was erected by Mr. Daniel Tallon, a native of Rathdrum, who rose to become Lord Mayor of Dublin, and his sister, Mrs. Sheridan, about 40 years ago when Very Rev. Canon Staples was P.P.; that over St. Joseph’s Altar was erected in memory of Rev. Fr. Forde, who was a curate of the parish; and the altar rails were the gift of Mr. Patrick Cunniam, Kingston, and were installed by Very Rev. Fr. Kennedy, P.P.

Two bells had been erected in the cupola; years later one of those was erected in a wooden framework in the grounds, erected by Very Rev. Fr. O’Donnell, P.P., but in 1929, Fr. Kennedy, when he was having renovation work carried out on the church, and installed the electric light, had the bell restored to its original position.


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