The parish of St Ann was created in 1707

The Historical Background

The parish of St Ann was created in 1707 at a time when the eighteenth-century suburbs were beginning to envelop the site provided for the church by Sir Joshua Dawson, from whom the name of the street is derived. Together with Viscount Molesworth, he was responsible for creating some of Dublin’s most fashionable streets. Dawson Street (1709), Grafton Street (1713), Ann Street (1718), and Molesworth Street (c. 1725). The rapidly evolving suburb attracted members of the aristocracy, the gentry, professional classes, and prelates of the Church, including the Anglican Archbishops of Dublin. There were private pews in the church to accommodate distinguished residents like the Duke of Leinster, the Archbishop, and the Lord Mayor. The Huguenots, many of whom lived within, or just over 500 metres outside the parish boundaries, also feature in parish records: names like Hautenville, Angier, Vandeleur, and la Touche. The Huguenot Cemetery is in Merrion Row, some 300 metres from the church.

The Fabric

Although the parish was established in 1707, the building did not commence immediately. It was described as being well advanced in January 1721. The intended grandiose baroque west front never rose above the first floor. This was replaced in 1868 by the present imposing Neo–Romanesque front, designed by Sir Thomas Deane, the distinguished architect of the museum at Oxford. The Georgian interior was designed by the architect Isaac Wills, who is also credited with the design of St Werburgh’s Church (1715), Werburgh Street, Dublin.

Wills was closely associated with the work of the great Thomas Burgh, who was engaged in building the magnificent library in Trinity College during the period when St Ann’s was being built. The style of the architecture owes much to the new churches built by Sir Christopher Wren following the Great Fire of 1666 in London, with some Irish variations (e.g. the shortened columns supporting the galleries).

The Windows

The original 18th century clear glass windows were subsequently replaced by Victorian stained–glass. The loss of light is compensated to some extent by the peaceful and reflective atmosphere stained–glass creates for people seeking refuge from the noise and bustle of the street outside. Some windows are more notable for those whom they commemorate than for their quality – e.g. Felicity Hemans, Alexander Knox, and Archbishop Richard Whately – but three in the south aisle by Wilhelmina Geddes and one in the north aisle (by Geddes and Rhind) merit particular inspection. Both Wilhelmina Geddes (1887–1955) and Ethel Rhind (c.1879–1952) were members of a distinguished school of internationally recognised stained–glass artists, known as An Tur Gloine (The Tower of Glass), inaugurated in 1903 by the painter Sarah Purser. Included in this group were Harry Clarke and Evie Hone. Craftsmanship and artistic individuality were the hallmark of their work. There is more stained glass per square metre in St Ann’s than in any other church in Dublin.


Alexander Knox (1757–1831)
World renowned theologian (commemorated in the east window and in a mural tablet in the porch). A friend of John Wesley, he was admired by the Tractarians, including Pusey and Newman and, indeed, by Wilberforce. He lived in Dawson Street and is buried in the church.

Felicia Hemans (1795–1835)
Poet (memorial window in the chancel and mural tablet in the south aisle). A prolific poet, hymn writer and essayist, and one of the most popular poets of her day. She is perhaps best known for her poem Casablanca, composed in 1823, of ‘the boy stood on the burning deck’ fame. She spent her latter years in Dawson Street and was buried in the churchyard.

Richard Whately (1787–1863)
Archbishop, scholar and eccentric (memorial window in south gallery). Archbishop of Dublin 1831. A brilliant, eccentric and courageous churchman, friend of Edward Copleston and Thomas Arnold. He was famed for his eccentricities and contempt of convention, and was disposed to tutoring students while hiking or climbing trees, a skill he successfully imparted to his favourites spaniel, Sailor. Residing in the parish, he would have attended services in the church on many occasions.

Sir Hugh Lane (1875–1915)
Art collector (mural tablet in north gallery).Third son of The Revd James William Lane, Rector of Ballybrack, Co. Cork. His mother, Frances Adelaide, was the sister of Lady Gregory, and through her he met W.B.Yeats and other leading figures of the Irish literary revival. Lane set out to create a parallel revival in art by creating major collections of modern art, now housed in the National Gallery of Ireland and the Dublin Gallery of Modern Art. Besides his French Impressionist collection, for which he is best known, his gifts included works by French, Flemish and Dutch artists. Tragically, he perished in the Lusitania when she was torpedoed on 7 May 1915. His single–handed contribution to art in Ireland is inestimable: one wonders how much more he might have achieved as director of the National Gallery of Ireland, a position to which he was appointed in March 1914, had he lived longer. His memorial, erected in 1929, is no empty eulogy.

War Memorials

The dead of two world wars are commemorated in two memorials: St Ann’s parish memorial (reredos) commemorating 32 names of men killed in The Great War (World War I), and 5 killed in World War II: St Mark’s parish memorial (Lady Chapel in south aisle) recording the names of 24 men killed in 1914–18. Remembrance Sunday is observed faithfully every year in St Ann’s. Europe Day (9th May) commemorating the birth of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1950 – the origin of the European Union – is also marked each year in St Ann’s. It is right and fitting that we should honour those who built and maintain the peace and prosperity of Europe as well as those who died for it.

The Bread Shelf

Since 1723 these shelves have contained loaves of bread for the poor of the city by bequest of Lord Newton of Newtown Butler. We still maintain this tradition almost 300 years later as the charity still exists. It is a symbol of our ministry to all. Any person may remove the bread without hindrance or risk of question.

The Organ

The first reference to an organ in the church was in 1742, when there was a public appeal for subscription towards the purchase of an organ. The eighteenth-century style organ case in the west gallery is presumably a remnant of the original instrument. The organ was rebuilt in 1834 by William Telford, and has been renovated many times, with the latest updating in 2005.

Famous People Associated with the Parish

General Anthony St Leger (1732–1786)
Founder of the St Leger Sweepstakes. Buried in St Ann’s, formerly in the churchyard. Fourth son of Sir John St Leger, brother of Arthur, First Viscount Doneraile, he was founder of classic racing and attained immortality by establishing the St Leger Sweepstakes at Doncaster in 1776.

Laetitia Pilkington (1712–1750)
‘Adventuress’, writer and wit. Laetitia was for a time a great favourite of Dean Swift. Married to an impoverished ne’er–do–well cleric, Matthew Pilkington, her chief claim to fame lies in her memoirs, published in 1748 following her release from the Marshalsea, where she was imprisoned for debt. Her reminiscences of Swift in his latter years, spiced with scandalous anecdotes, ensured a ready readership.

Oscar Wilde (1854–1900)
Author and playwright. Born on 15 October 1854, he was baptised in this parish in St Mark’s Church (now closed, having been incorporated into St Ann’s parish) as Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills [Wilde]. This record is now in the custody of St Ann’s Church, as St Mark’s parish records passed into our possession when the parishes were united. Educated at Portora Royal School, Trinity College Dublin, and Magdalen College Oxford, Wilde’s literary achievements require no recitation here.

Bram Stoker (1847–1912)
Author of Dracula. Educated at Trinity College Dublin, his main claim to fame was Dracula, published in 1897. He married Florence Balcombe, daughter of Lt. Col. James Balcombe of 16 Harcourt Street, in St Ann’s on 4 December 1878. Bram (short for Abraham) lived at 7 St Stephen’s Green, beside the Hibernian United Services Club, about 250 metres from the church.

Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763–1798)
‘Father’ of Irish republican nationalism, co–founder of the United Irishmen, Tone was deeply influenced by the ideals of the French Revolution. In spite of the collapse of the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland, Tone, with the rank of Adjutant General in the French Army, accompanied an expedition of 10 ships from Brest on 6 September, knowing that certain defeat awaited him in Ireland. The expedition was intercepted off Lough Swilly by a British naval force, and subsequently defeated. Tone was taken prisoner. Condemned to death, he took his own life in prison.

As a student in Trinity College Dublin, Tone fell in love with a parishioner of St Ann’s, Martha [Matilda] Witherington, who lived with her parents in No. 68 Grafton Street. After a short courtship they decided to elope, following a marriage ceremony in St Ann’s on 21 July 1785. At least two members of the Witherington family are buried in St Ann’s.

Thomas Barnardo (1845–1905)
Philanthropist. Born in Dublin, he attended the Sunday School in St Ann’s as a boy. Having already had experience working in the slums of Dublin, he soon became involved in London’s East End slums. In 1867 he founded the London East End Juvenile Mission to care for destitute children. Two years later, he opened a boys’ home in Stepney, which marked the beginning of a vast organisation known as the Barnardo’s Homes in Britain and Canada. It is estimated that he assisted some 250,000 children in 90 homes. His cardinal principle was ‘No destitute child is ever refused admission’.

Dr. Douglas Hyde (1860–1949)
Former President of Ireland. Douglas Hyde was born in Castlerea, Co. Roscommon on 17 January 1860. The family moved to Portahard when his father, The Revd. Arthur Hyde, was appointed Rector there in 1867. From the age of 17 he began to write prose, poetry and plays in both Irish and English. As a lover of the Irish language, Dr. Hyde began to fear the imminent demise of the language and the loss of its wealth of oral folktales and songs. With this in mind, he began collecting this material which he later published in his popular bilingual anthologies such as: Beside the Fire (1890) and Love Songs Of Connaught (1893). These works were acknowledged by W.B. Yeats as major sources for the Irish Literary Renaissance.

Dr. Hyde later joined with Yeats, Lady A. Gregory, J.M. Synge and others in creating an Irish national theatre. He entered Trinity College Dublin in 1880. An excellent student, he won many prizes for his academic prowess including the gold medal for Modern Literature in 1884. He graduated in 1888 as a Doctor of Laws. He married Lucy Kurtz, from Germany in 1893 and the couple had two daughters, Nuala and Una. Also in 1893, he was one of the seven co–founders of the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) and was elected as its first president, a post he held until 1915.

Patrick Pearse, the poet, educationalist and Irish patriot, wrote: ”The Gaelic League will be recognised in history as the most revolutionary influence that ever came into Ireland. The Irish Revolution really began when the seven proto–Gaelic Leaguers met in O’Connell Street…the germ of all future Irish history was in that back room.”

Dr. Hyde held the chair for Modern Irish in University College Dublin from 1909 to 1932. His tireless work in reviving the Irish language and his contribution to the formation of the modern Irish identity was symbolically acknowledged by the Irish nation when he was unanimously selected as the first President of Ireland in 1938. It has long been acknowledged that the graciousness and gentlemanly dignity with which he conducted his Presidency did much to influence and mould the office of President.

Throughout his life Dr. Hyde was a regular parishioner of St Ann’s and was known to be particularly fond of the liturgy and music in the church. He died on 12 July 1949 and was given a state funeral to Portahard Church, which is now used as the Douglas Hyde Interpretative Centre. He is buried beside his beloved wife Lucy, his daughter Nuala, his sister Annette, mother Elizabeth and father Arthur.

St Stephen’s Church was the last of a distinguished series of Georgian churches built by the Church of Ireland.

The Historical Background

The parish of St. Stephen was carved from the large medieval parish of St. Peter’s. It derived its name from the medieval leper hospital of St. Stephen, which stood on the site of Mercer’s Hospital. With the rapid expansion of the city Suburbs in the 18th century, it became necessary to build new churches to accommodate the expanding population.

St. Stephen’s Church was the last of a distinguished series of Georgian churches built by the Church of Ireland. These new suburbs were built on the estates of families that are now commemorated in the names of the streets and squares of Dublin – names like Gardener (Mountjoy), Dawson, Molesworth, and Pembroke (Herbert). It was on the land of the Pembroke estate – the medieval manor of Merrion – that St. Stephen’s church was built (on ground donated by the family). The Pembroke pew is still identifiable.

The estate was originally owned by the Fitzwilliam family, but as a consequence of marriage Viscount Fitzwilliam bequeathed the manor of Merrion to his cousin, the earl of Pembroke (a member of the Herbert family) in 1816. All these names are reflected in the streets and squares in the vicinity of the church. Two other street names have a curious origin. The name of Mount Street is thought to have been derived from a mound which once stood at the corner of Fitzwilliam and Baggot Street, where a gallows was erected for the execution of criminals. The name Baggot comes from the medieval Manor of Baggotrath, owned by the Bagods.

The Fabric

The church was consecrated by Archbishop Magee on 5 December 1824 as a chapel-of-ease to St. Peter’s. It was designed by John Bowden and Completed after his death by Joseph Welland. In its original form the church was rectangular: the Victorian apse, which clearly owes its inspiration to the Oxford Movement, was added in 1852 (you can still see the tell-tale line of the extension in the external masonary).

The glory of the church’s architecture consists of its careful integrationn with the streetscape. The concentration on the western facade is quite deliberate, because it was intended to close off a perfectly planned perspective extending all the way to Government Buildings. By contrast, the rest of the church externally is quite plain. The tower and portico were consciously modelled on three elegant Athenian monuments, reflecting the shift from Roman to Greek influences in the later Georgian period: the portico (The Erechtheum), the campanile (The Tower of the Winds), and the cupola (Monument of Lysicrates).

The Erechtheum (so called after Erechtheus, a mythical king of Athens) is situated on the acropolis and is deemed to have been one of the most perfect examples of the Attic-Ionic style. It was built by Pericles, but was still not complete in 409 BC.

Tower of the Winds was an octagonal marble tower designed in 159 BC. by the Athenian astronomer Andronicus. It was an ingenious device which indicated wind-direction, acted as a sundial, and contained a water-clock for use when the sun was not shining.

The monument of Lysicrates, on which the cupola is modelled, has inspired the nickname ‘Pepper Canister’ by which St. Stephen’s Church is familiarly known to generations of Dubliners. This distinctive feature has a curious history. The monument was erected in 334 BC. in honour of the victory won in a dramatic contest by the Athenian choragus Lysicrates (a choragus was a wealthy patron of the arts who directed the chorus in the Athenian theatre). In the early nineteenth century it stood in the garden of a Franciscan friary in Athens, used by the friars as a summer house. Perhaps its most famous occupant was Byron, who used it as a study. It seems he scratched his name on a marble panel, which was still legible in 1850 (F.M. Tsigakou, The Rediscovery of Greece [1981] )

The Windows

A feature of Georgian churches was their brightness, which was enhanced by the use of plain glass windows. Too often this effect was destroyed in the Victorian period by an over-zealous use of stained glass, frequently of indifferent quality. St. Stephen’s is doubly fortunate in that it retains a sufficient amount of plain glass to make it bright and cheerful, while the stained glass is generally of good quality. (The church is equally fortunate in not being crowded by ugly memorials). While many of the windows are worthy of inspection, you should note the central window in the apse, which depicts the martyrdom, of St. Stephen.

The Organ

Of particular note is the organ casing (facing westwards on the north aisle). It was built in 1754 by John Snetzler, born in Passau c.1710. It is said that Handel was included in his circle of friends. The casework was designed for the Rotunda Hospital chapel, but was never erected there. It is thought to have been the property of Lord Mornington, father of the duke of Wellington, who lived in the parish. Examples of Snetzler’s magnificent workmanship can be seen in Lynn Regis, Norfolk (1754) and St. Martin’s, Leicester (1774).

The Pulpit and Prayer Desk

The magnificent pulpit with canopy is made of Italian rosewood. Its panels bear the symbols of the four evangelists: a man (St Matthew), a lion (St Mark), an ox (St Luke), and an eagle (St John). The prayer desk in Italian walnut comes from Siena, and on it are inscribed the words Siena 1891 S.Cambi fecit (S.Cambi made it).

The Altar Frontals

These are reckoned to be among the most beautiful in the Church of Ireland. We do not know who made them, or even who donated them.

Historical Parish Figures

Sir Charles Villers Standford (1852-1924): distinguished composer, conductor and teacher of music, born at 2 Herbert Street. He began his musical education in St. Stephen’s Church. In 1883 he was appointed professor of composition and orchestral playing at Royal College of Music, London and proffer of music at Cambridge in 1887. Stanford was certainly the most versatile British composer in the latter half of the nineteenth century (Dictionary of National Biography). Among his many distinguished pupils were Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Arthur Bliss and Herbert Howells.

Oscar Wilde (1856-1900): poet, dramatist and wit. Oscar spent most of his boyhood years in 1 Merrion Square.
Joseph Sheridan le Fanu (1814-73): Irish novelist, an Internationally acknowledged master of the ghost story genre. Lived at 70 Merrion Square and 15 Warrington Place. Interestingly, two of his poems were set to music by his neighbour and fellow parishioner, Stanford.

Hon. Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington (1769-1852): victor of the battle of Waterloo. He was probably born at the home of his father, the Earl of Mornington, at 24 Merrion Square.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939): poet, playwright and senator. He lived at 82 Merrion Square between 1922 and 1928. The funeral of his brother Jack Yeats the great artist took place in this church on 30 March 1957.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973): novelist. Lived at 15 Herbert Place, the family’s town house. In her novel Seven Winters she described her childhood days.

Thomas Davis (1814-45): poet. He died at his mother’s house in 67 Lower Baggot St., and no doubt worshipped in this church. He is regarded as the father of romantic nationalism and strove to provide a common sense of nationality Irishmen of all creeds.

Catherine McAuley (d. 1841): Founderess of the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, the largest congregation ever established by an English-speaking foundress. The Sisters of Mercy served the needs of immigrants in Britain, Newfoundland, America, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina. Catherine built the original House of Mercy, which stands about 250 metres from this church on the corner of Herbert Street and Baggot Street. This building was magnificently restored in 1994 and serves as the Mercy International Centre. Catherine’s sister and her husband are buried in St. Mark’s Church, Pearse Street. The parish of St. Mark is today part of the parochial group which includes this church (St. Ann’s with St. Mark and St. Stephen’s). Catherine, whose image is printed on the old Irish 5 pound note, is buried in the grounds of the Mercy International Centre, which is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:30a.m. to 2:30p.m. Guided tours are also available at fixed times. A visit is certainly to be recommended.