by ehistoryadmin on January 25, 2014

A summer celebration for a picture-postcard Kildare church 

By Liam Kenny

Back in the roaring days of the Celtic Tiger (remember that?) a concept known as “multi-tasking” was much in vogue. The multi-taskers were the leading lights in business and the professions who were vaunted for the way in which they could juggle a multitude of tasks and projects often with the conspicuous help of new technology gadgets such as mobiles and tablets.

But multi-taskers were around long before the late 20th century whizz-kids. In fact back as far as the low-technology years of the mid-19th century there is one example of a man who could juggle numerous high-profile projects with style and aplomb.

The Victorian multi-tasker in question was architect JJ McCarthy (1817-82) who is credited with designing a staggering 124 churches and monasteries throughout Ireland in the course of his professional career.

It was during a particularly intense period for about six years from 1857-63 that McCarthy’s multi-tasking abilities left their mark on the church architecture of Co Kildare.  In 1858 he was overseeing the completion of the steeple of the church of Our Lady & St David in Naas. The same year he was also masterminding the construction of St Patrick’s Church in Celbridge which was completed in 1860.

He travelled from north Kildare to the south of the county supervising the building of St Coca’s church in Kilcock ( started 1860) and St Mary & St Laurence’s in Ballitore (1860-63). Bearing in mind that horse and trap was the main means of transport of the time one can visualise McCarthy shuttling across the plains of Kildare with his rolls of architectural drawings tucked under his arm.

Most of his projects were associated with churches in towns and villages but it was yet another building project in 1863 that saw McCarthy design a church which, at first sight, is planted in green fields with no apparent congregation living near by.

The picture postcard church known as Ladychapel is set among the manicured stud-farm lands on the Maynooth-Rathcoffey road. And despite its rural setting it is at the heart of one of the most Christian landscapes to be found anywhere.  Just a few hundred yards to its west is the ancient church and well of the old Ladychapel from which the 1863 church takes its name. And less than a mile to its east is the 8th century round tower and monastic settlement of Taghadoe or St Tua’s House..

The proximity of these ancient places of worship indicates how worship and liturgy flourished on the plains of north Kildare from the earliest days of Christianity in these parts.

Later centuries were not so kind and both the old Ladychapel and the Taghadoe monastery suffered under the depredations of Henry VIII and Cromwell.

But the tradition of the Catholic religion endured so that when the restrictions were lifted in the 19th century it seemed only natural that a new church should be built on the road connecting monastic Taghadoe with the old Ladychapel.

However church building was an expensive business in the early 1800s and funds were needed. An elaborate plaque in the church reveals how the funding for Ladychapel came about: “This monument was erected by the parishioners of Lady Chapel in grateful remembrance of Mr John Dillon of Carton (steward of the Duke of Leinster) at whose sold expense this handsome church was built for the accommodation of the parishioners …”.   

The striking profile of Ladychapel is enhanced by its lawn-like grounds in which no burials were permitted according to the conditions of the site lease granted by the Duke of Leinster.

Needless to say the architect was our multi-tasking friend J J McCarthy whose stylistic influences were heavily rooted in the Gothic revival tradition (most obvious in his blueprint for the soaring college chapel in Maynooth) — all sharp angles such as lancet windows, spires and castellated ornament.

His treatment of Ladychapel was more restrained and its clean lines devoid of fussy ornament resemble the old Norman churches typical of the south-east of England. The effect is continued in the interior with the open beamed ceiling emulating the timber roofs of the early medieval period.

Construction was by the contractors Beardwood of Dublin under McCarthy’s architectural supervision. The new church of our Ladychapel was finished in 1863 and was dedicated to the Assumption of Our Lady in June of that year. It was fitting then that the 150th anniversary of the lovely Ladychapel should be marked by a Mass and community celebration on the eve of midsummer’s day, June 2013.

A talk and booklet scripted by Ms Rita Edwards of the Maynooth History Group set the scene for an evening of liturgical and of informal celebration on one of the few warm nights so far of the summer of 2013.

A Mass giving thanks for 150 years of worship at Ladychapel was concelebrated by Maynooth Parish Priest, Fr Liam Rigney, and Fr. David Halpin, Curate. Fr Rigney told the congregation of parishioners – some with roots in this settled area going back to the time of when the church was built – of how he had “Googled” to find the formal term for the 150th anniversary and found that  “sesquicentenary” is the dictionary term for a century and a half.

Afterwards in the lawn-like church grounds there was music from St Mary’s Band, Maynooth and the local Comhaltas group while parishioners from the townslands of Derrinstown, Crinstown, Clonfert, Bryanstown and others surrounding Ladychapel enjoyed refreshments and reminisced about the sacristans and clergy who ministered in Ladychapel in bygone times.

J J McCarthy’s designs resulted in what is undoubtedly one of Kildare’s most picturesque churches. It is a favourite backdrop for brides judging from the number of signs which appear at Taghadoe cross on the main Straffan-Maynooth road directing guests to wedding celebrations at Ladychapel. No doubt the multi-tasking architect would approve of such bridal approval for his 1863 architectural gem.

*Sincere acknowledgement to Rita Edwards, Maynooth History Group for the inspiration for this article. Looking Back, Series no: 338. Leinster Leader 1 July 2013.

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