Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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'Dublin Docklands - An Urban Voyage is a work in progress, commissioned by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, and due to be completed in the autumn of 2008. The following tale represents research I have undertaken for the project which may or may not be used in the final book.

St Barnabas Church

The parish of St Barnabas was established in 1866 and named for St Paul’s Jewish companion, Saint Barnabas, stoned to death in Cyprus in 61AD. The first parson appointed to the parish was the charismatic Rev J Grainger from the parish of St Thomas. His brief was to look after the Protestant families of English and Welsh men employed by the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) at the company’s facilities on the North Wall Quay and on the trains and boats operating, via Holyhead and Liverpool, between Dublin and London. The East Wall at this time was a rough and grimy landscape largely comprised of docks, railways and steamers. By holding services in private houses in the area – primarily at 7 Seaview Terrace and on Albert Avenue – he managed to increase his congregation from 800 to 2000 in 3 years.

Among Grainger’s early fans was a Miss Shannon of Rathmines. When this wealthy lady died, she left sufficient money in her will for the founding of three churches for needy people. St Barnabas was one of the lucky recipients and, by 1869, the Rev Grainger was addressing his parish from the pulpit of a brand new Gothic £4000 church, designed by Alfred Jones of Molesworth Street who also designed the Davenport Hotel. It was built on a site donated by a solicitor, Charles Gaussen. Jones also oversaw the construction of the adjoining St Barnabas School, paid for with a £400 donation by Mr J Ball Esq. On account of the large number of dockers, the church became known as the Mariner’s Church. Those awaiting the boat and staying at the redbrick LNWR Hotel on the North Wall Quay were often to be found on bended knee within, praying for safe passage across the Irish Sea.

Grainger was switched to Co Antrim before the church was finished and his place filled by the Rev William Daunt who donated a fine toned bell to the church now found in Portarlington. In 1872, Daunt was replaced by the Rev Harry Fletcher who lasted 27 year and improved the church considerably with money donated by the LNWR. In 1899, Fletcher was obliged to leave the parish because of opposition to his high-church principles.

Into the pulpit stepped the Rev EM Griffin, a kindly bearded parson who, clad in black, always sported a green scarf and carried a walking stick. He steered the church through the General Strike, the Easter Rising and First World War, during which twelve of the 27 parishioners serving on the Front were killed. Sean O’Casey is said to have been baptized in the church. As a young man he sing his hymns in Irish before heading off to play hurling in the Phoenix Park. O’Casey seems to have been extremely fond of Griffin. His play ‘Red Roses for Me’ is centred upon a church called ‘Saint Burnupus’ and a liberal Protestant clergyman, the Rev. Clinton, who is clearly based upon Griffin. Indeed, O’Casey not only dedicated the second volume of his autobiography to Griffin but, in 1946, published ‘The Biography of Rev E M Griffin, Who By Refusing to Be Either an Orangeman Or Freemason, Kept the Door to the Church Open for All to Enter’.

The Rev DH Hall, aka the Building Parson, succeeded Griffin in 1918 and held tenure until 1929. [See separate section]. His successor Canon Shortt remained Rector until the parish was closed down in 1965.[1] The church had fallen into considerable disrepair after the Second World War. Film director Jim Sheridan recalls attending one of many fund-raisers at a time when pigeons were flying through a large hole in the roof. The remaining church members were integrated into the United Parish of Drumcondra, North Strand and Saint Barnabas. The shell of the church remained for four years and was finally demolished in 1969, exactly 100 years after its foundation.

See: Garrett, A. (1970) From Age to Age, History of the Parish of Drumcondra, North Strand, St Barnabas. Dublin: Blackrock Printers.

[1] In 'Enjoying Plainchant', David McConnell writes: 'Even as a beginning organist, plainchant fascinated me. My formal introduction was the course of church music lectures given in the early 1960s to divinity students (as they were then known) in TCD by Canon J. Purser Shortt, who was responsible for the wealth of plainchant in CH4. Most of the students seemed bored by these dry presentations by an elderly and somewhat eccentric priest but a young organist who sat in on them lapped up what he said. The Canon used an excellent teaching method for both anglican and plain chant'.




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