Sunday, March 08, 2015

Book Review: "The Church of Saint John the Baptist" by Michael O'Connell

I'm not the holiest Joe on the planet, but I do take part in the church choir at St John the Baptist church in Blackrock on Sunday mornings. I'm don't even live in the Blackrock parish, I live in the nearby Guardian Angel's Parish. Nevertheless I enjoy singing in the choir. Whether it will get me into heaven or not is another thing. 

Each Sunday I sit in the balcony beside a Harry Clark Studio stained glass window depicting the crowning of the thorns on Christ, and his carrying of the cross to Calvary. Regardless of your religious beliefs (or none) - it is a beautifully painted window. This morning the sun was shining bright so I couldn't resist the photo to the right (before Mass started).

A few Sundays ago I purchased a copy of Michael O'Connell's new book about the history of church. It is an interesting read for anyone interested in the history of Blackrock as it chronicles the development of the church from when it was first blessed and dedicated in 1845. Lord Cloncurry donated the site and much funds to the development of the church in an era when Catholic Emancipation initiated a building boom in churches all over Ireland. It was also a time of Father Mathew's Temperance movement, and O'Connell tells us that an estimated 15,000 people attended a pledging ceremony after the dedication mass in a nearby field (he doesn't say that all 15,000 took the pledge!).

The book documents several of the stories behind the windows, altars, and statues in the church. Perhaps one of the most interesting items is a brass plate on one of the church pews dedicated (in Irish) to Paddy Moran who was hanged in Mountjoy Prison on 14th March 1921 (here is his Wikipedia entry). Moran was convicted of the murder of a British intelligence agent on Bloody Sunday (21st November 1920), despite the fact that he was at Mass in Blackrock at the time of the murder. He was one of the "Forgotten Ten" who were re-interred in a State funeral in 2001 (Kevin Barry was the best known of these ten men). Over 40,000 people prayed outside the prison on the morning that Moran and five others IRA were hanged.

With declining congregations, churches all over Ireland will reverse the expansive trends of the 19th century. I see Catholic parishes and churches merging with each other, even closing, over the next few years. Michael O'Connell's history of St John the Baptist church ensures that it will not be forgotten in years to come.

No comments:

Post a comment