Archive of the Month
Commemorating Church of Ireland Church Buildings
By Sylvia Turner
On Monday evening, 19 September 2022, the Ardfert Historical Society held a small gathering to mark the date, 80 years ago, of the last service at the former Church of Ireland in Ardfert. The first service took place on 1 January 1871, by coincidence the same date as the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland took effect. Today, there is no evidence of the church. It was demolished in May 1945, the building materials repurposed and artefacts distributed to other churches. There has been no functioning Church of Ireland in Ardfert since 1922 when it joined Tralee, yet this act of commemoration acknowledges the village’s past and those who worshipped there.
Ardfert is just one of the many churches that no longer exists. Others have been repurposed as meeting places for a variety of organisations, whilst others have been left in a ruined state. According to Thomas Olden, in his book The Church of Ireland (1892), more than 500 churches and 172 licensed schoolhouses for divine service were erected in the first half of the nineteenth century ( p395). The work was funded largely by the Board of First Fruits, a Church of Ireland institution, established in 1711 by Queen Anne, to build and improve churches and glebe houses from taxes on clerical incomes that were funded by tithes on the population. The collection of tithes was resisted in the 1830s as most of the population were not members of the Church of Ireland. By the time the Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1871, the congregations of these churches had significantly reduced.
By 1832 there were almost 1,300 Church of Ireland churches, administered within the diocesan structures of some 32 dioceses. Today, the extent of the Church has reduced to 11 diocesan centres, reflecting the significant reduction in Church of Ireland membership. According to the Representative Church Body, it has around 345,000 members, 219,000 in Northern Ireland and 126,000 in the Republic of Ireland.
A number of documents held by the RCB Library give a comprehensive view of these churches, particularly when supplemented by the Architectural Drawings Catalogue and the Church of Ireland Gazette. Below are examples of Church of Ireland buildings from each of the current eleven dioceses which have been demolished, are in ruins or have been repurposed. These examples are illustrated with extracts about their history.
Province of Armagh
· Diocese of Armagh
St Luke’s, Meigh, Co. Armagh, would seem to have a short and chequered life. It was built in 1831, closed on 6 August 1972 and de–consecrated on 1 February 1973. It is now in a ruinous state. The Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette of 21 February 1880 announced improvements to be made to the building following its temporary suppression:
On 4 June 1881, its opening was announced:
· Diocese of Clogher
Broomfield Church, County Monaghan This church is on the main road between Carrickmacross and Castleblaney. The church building is now a farm shop. The adjoining graveyard is in good condition and still used for burials. The Church of Ireland Gazette 7 February 1975 reported the de–consecration of the church
You can see what the RCB Library holds for this parish here.
· Diocese of Connor
Cushendun Old Church, Ballymena, Co. Antrim. The church was originally built in 1840 by Michael Harrison for the benefit of Protestant gentry who previously had no Church of Ireland church in the vicinity. It was used until 2003 when it was deconsecrated. The Church of Ireland Gazette of 1 September 2006 reported on the work of the Cushendun Building Preservation Trust. In 2019, the building opened as a Heritage, Arts and Community Centre to serve the local community.
· Diocese of Derry and Raphoe
St Peter’s, Derry Dockyard. The Church of Ireland Gazette, 20 February 1959 gave notice of the de–consecration of the church. Its role as a church would seem to have ceased ten years previously to its de–consecration , being used by the Third Training Squadron. The reduction in ships using the port had led to a decline in its congregation.
Today, there is no evidence of the church. The dockyard has been moved further down river and the former site has been repurposed for commercial and residential use.
· Diocese of Down and Dromore
Old Kilmore church, Crossgar, Co. Down, has an unusual history. The first Church of Ireland building was erected in 1792. The current church in Kilmore, Christ Church, was built in 1870 to cope with a growing congregation. The architect was Thomas Drew. The old church was used as a school and parochial hall. In 1976 the old church was dismantled and rebuilt as part of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra alongside a school from Ballycastle, a rectory from Duneane, Co. Antrim and a row of houses from Sandy Row, Belfast.
· Diocese of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh.
St Paul’s Kiltoom, Co. Roscommon, was funded by the Board of First Fruits and the architect was Joseph Welland. It was built circa 1850. The church was in use until the early 1940s when the Church of Ireland congregation declined in the area. The graveyard contains modern day burials and others that predate the church. Although a ruin, there is a modern sign at the entrance to the church off the N61 just outside the village. The architectural drawing by Welland and Gillespie, dated 1 March 1869 shows proposed additions and alterations to the church.
An article in the Church of Ireland Gazette, 15 March 1946, gives an account by the Revd Perdue, Rector of Roscrea, concerning the history of the church and restoration of the tower of a previous church on the site. The positive effect of its repointing led to the plaster being removed from the church and it being repointed also. Sadly today, the church is derelict.
You can see what the RCB Library holds for Kiltoom parish church here.
Province of Dublin
· Dioceses of Tuam, Limerick and Killaloe
Chapelrussell Church, Co. Limerick. The church was built in 1822. The Church of Ireland Gazette, 16 November 1956, gave notice of a service of de–consecration of the Church on 9 December 1956 and demolished in 1959.
Architectural drawings by James Pain, dated 1835 show the south elevation of the church.
You can see what the RCB Library holds for Kilcornan parish church here.
· Diocese of Meath and Kildare
Kilmessan , Co. Meath. The church dates from 1731 and was renovated c.1820. An article in The Church of Ireland Gazette, 21 February 1975, discussed how it closed in 1966 and had been repurposed as a library. Although no longer a library, the church and its surrounding graveyard are in a fair state of repair.
You can see what the RCB Library holds for Kilmessan parish church here.
· Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough
St Mary’s Church of Ireland was located on the corner of Mary Street and Jervis Street, Dublin and consecrated in 1701. Wolfe Tone was born locally and baptised in the church. The church closed in 1986 and the building de–consecrated and converted into commercial premises. Today, it is used as a bar and restaurant. The graveyard was converted into Wolfe Tone Square, a public park where the gravestones are stacked at the southern end. The parish also had a Chapel of Ease located off Dorset Street. It has been converted into commercial premises also. It was designed by John Semple, a Board of First Fruits architect and its structure is unusual as there are no interior walls but instead the exterior walls are arched towards the ceiling to create a large vault. It is known as the ‘Black Church’ as it is constructed of local stone which takes on a dark hue when wet. In an article in the Church of Ireland Gazette, 21 November 1980, concerning Bishop Peacock and his tenure at Mary’s, the fashionable, wealthy nature of the St Mary’s congregation is mentioned.
The ‘Black Church’ is a Dublin landmark and is frequently mentioned in the Church of Ireland Gazette. For example, the edition of 10 July 1987 gives historical detail about its closure in 1962 and the whereabouts of its fixtures and fittings.
You can view the extensive collection for St Mary’s, Dublin that is held in the RCB Library here.
• Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory
Affane Church in Co. Waterford was built using funds from the Board of First Fruits. The design is common to many rural churches built at this time. The architect was James Pain. The Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette of 29 June 1888 indicates when the church was consecrated.
The church is now closed and various creeping plants are overwhelming the building. Its surrounding graveyard has graves dating up to 1920, indicating a Church of Ireland community in the area until the early 20th century.
• Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross
St Mary’s Church, Cobh, Co. Cork. This church would seem to have declined in use as it was too large for the shrinking population and Rushbrooke Church, of a more appropriate size, was nearby. An article in the Church of Ireland Gazette, 10 November 1967, explained. the reason for its closure and de–consecration. Today the building no longer exists. The Church of Ireland graveyard in the area lies just off the Tay Road, Cobh.
This small survey of eleven churches identifies five churches still standing in various states of disrepair, four repurposed churches and two churches that have been demolished. Their congregations, always the minority of the population, were decimated by waves of famine and emigration, with the break–up of the Anglo–Irish estates reducing them further. However, evidence of their ancestors remains in graveyards. This sample of closed churches might be extended. Such developments can only complement the work of historical and genealogical researchers as they reach out on a global scale through technical innovations. Commemorating and cataloguing the history of these old churches enriches the complex history of the island of Ireland and its people.
Murphy, J.A. and Chamberlain E., The Church of Ireland in Kerry: A Record of Church and Clergy in the Nineteenth Century (e–book available at www.lulu.com)
Olden Thomas, The Church of Ireland (Dublin, 1892).
RCB Library – Architectural Drawings, https://archdrawing.ireland.anglican.org/items, accessed 1 November 2022,
RCB Library Church of Ireland Gazette search engine, https://esearch.informa.ie/rcb, accessed 1 November 2022