Ladychapel Maynooth – 150 Years

“This monument was erected by the parishioners of Lady’s Chapel in grateful remembrance of Mr John Dillon of Carton, Steward of the Duke of Leinster at whose sole expense this handsome church was built for the accommodation of the parishioners d. 26 January 1839 – dedicated June 1863 – May he Rest in Peace”.

(Plaque in Ladychapel Church, Maynooth, County Kildare)

Today, Ladychapel is situated near the ruins of the eighth century monastic settlement founded by Saint Tua (Ultan) at Taghadoe. The name Taghadoe comes from the Irish ‘Teach Tua’ – the House of Tua. According to tradition, Saint Tua died in 770AD. In earlier times, his feastday was celebrated on 22 December. In the twelfth century, Taghadoe was a medieval parish in the diocese of Glendalough and was mentioned in a letter dated April 1179 from Pope Alexander III.

In 1248, almost eighty years after the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in Ireland, Maurice FitzGerald, second Baron of Offaly granted the benefices (revenue raised from various assets) of the church at Taghadoe to the monastery of All Saints (All Hallows), near Dublin, for the good of his soul, and the souls of his wife Juliana and of his predecessors and successors.

This situation continued until the suppression of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the early sixteenth century when patronage passed out of Catholic hands. In recognition of their loyalty to the Crown, Taghadoe passed into the hands of the members of the Corporation of Dublin. After a thousand years of worship, within a century, Taghadoe church had become a ruin. When the patronage was restored to the Duke of Leinster, a new church for the Church of Ireland community was built in 1831, which in the shorter space of half-a-century, again became a ruin, having been unroofed by the duke after Disestablishment in 1871when the Church of Ireland ceased to be the state church and government funding was withdrawn from all churches.

Although the Catholic community had lost its church, according to tradition, the people of the district continued to worship in the remains of a medieval building in what is now Ladychapel Cemetery. Local tradition also states that this was once a site that had been occupied by the Dominican Order. While this cannot be proven, in a book entitled Earls of Kildare and Their Ancestors from 1057 to 1773, Charles William FitzGerald, 4th Duke of Leinster states that in 1216, Maurice FitzGerald, mentioned above, introduced the order of the Dominicans (then known as The Order of Preachers) into Ireland. The name ‘Ladychapel’ has a medieval ring to it and it may well be that it is from the Dominican monastery that the name comes from. It is likely that we will never know for certain.

Whatever buildings existed at Ladychapel, they were destroyed during the Cromwellian Wars of the 1640s. Again, according to tradition another building, now disappeared, on the opposite side of the road was used as a Mass-house up to the time of the building of the new church at Ladychapel in the nineteenth century.

In spite of the turmoil that has been part of Irish history, Catholic worship continued to flourish during the following centuries. In 1704 when by law every priest in the country had to be registered, Francis Welsh [Walsh] who lived in Rathcoffey and who was 50 years of age at the time was registered as parish priest of ‘Tatoo’. He had been ordained by John Fredrick Waldesteine, Archbishop of Prague in 1677 at Prague in Bohemia which is now part of the Czech Republic. Francis Welsh needed two ‘sureties’ to guarantee his ‘good behaviour’. Colonel John Wogan of Rathcoffey and William Luttrell of Belgard signed on his behalf. By the early 1800s new legislation had swept away many of the old prejudices and a new church-building era was about to commence and John Dillon contributed to that phenomenon.

According to one source, when John Dillon, steward to the Duke of Leinster died in January 1839, under the terms of his will he left £1,500 to build a Catholic Chapel at ‘Taptoe’; £600 to the parish priest for Masses; £500 to the ‘nunnery’ and £50 to ten widows in the Parish. Many years after his death his house, Crom Abú Lodge became part of the convent run by the Order of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the Presentation Sisters) who came to Maynooth in 1823.

At the time of John Dillon’s bequest, work had already commenced (1834) on a new parish church for Maynooth which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary in 1840. Prior to that, the Catholic Chapel had been situated in a building to the north of the Main Street and when that was vacated it became a boys’ school. In his will, John Dillon also left money for the completion of the church in Maynooth.

For some reason and it may well be that the country and its people were in such a state of suffering and unrest during and after the Famine years, the building of the new church at Ladychapel did not commence until the late 1850s. In August 1859, The Dublin Builder magazine stated that a new church was to be built at Taghadoe and by November 1860 it was well under way. It was described as being ‘parallelogram in plan’ with a nave of 58 feet, 6 inches by 21 feet, and a chancel of 18 feet by 15 feet. The sacristy is at the south side of the chancel, and a tower (75 feet high) at the north-west corner, set within the walls of the nave, has a slated spire on a timber frame. The builder is a Mr Beardwood of Dublin. The style is described as being ‘early English’.

The interior has an open timber roof and single lancet windows in flanks, three in the east end above the altar and two with a circle in the head at the west end. The interior is provided with open benches, stained and varnished. The altar is of Caen Stone (Caen stone or Pierre de Caen, is a light creamy-yellow Jurassic limestone quarried in north-western France near the city of Caen). It was carved by Messrs Purdy and Co., of Dublin. When all the work was complete, Ladychapel, similar to Maynooth, was dedicated to the Assumption of Our Lady in June 1863.

The architect of the church was James Joseph McCarthy (1817-1882) of Dublin. McCarthy had been heavily influenced by Augustus Northmore Welby Pugin (1812-1852), an English neo-Gothic architect who designed many churches and cathedrals in Ireland, including Saint Patrick’s House in the then Royal College of Saint Patrick in Maynooth. McCarthy, who had been appointed Professor of Architecture at the Catholic University of Ireland in 1857, also designed the exterior of the main chapel at Maynooth College.

When he had finished working on Ladychapel, McCarthy turned his attention to Saint Mary’s, the parish church in Maynooth. In August 1862 it was announced that a tower was to be added to the existing church building. When it was built, it projected from the west front on the south side, and consisted of four stages topped by a saddleback roof. In addition to the tower, the west front was also faced with stone, and the canopied main door is typical of his design.

The ground upon which Ladychapel was built was granted to the Church by the Duke of Leinster. By the terms of the lease, there was to be a pepper-corn rent for ever and while burials could continue at the ‘old’ Ladychapel, no burials were to take place in the grounds of the new church.

The parish priest serving in Maynooth in the 1860s was Reverend Mr John Cainen (d. 1869) and the curate was Reverend Mr James Whittle. At that time it was estimated that there were c. 1,400 parishioners, exclusive of Maynooth College living in the town and c. 600 living in the countryside. The building of the new Ladychapel church was to bring additional duties and responsibilities. Access to the new church in those days was by horse and car and it would prove to be a difficult journey on poor roads during the winter months. By now Reverend Cainen was in his seventies. Reverend Whittle wrote to Archbishop Paul Cullen in August 1861 stating that in the two months since the church at Ladychapel had been finished, no arrangements had been made for another curate to offer additional support. He suggested that as an interim measure, they could get a priest from the Dunboyne Establishment in the College to say last Mass in Maynooth on Sundays. It was to be a further two years before the church at Ladychapel was solemnly dedicated.

Over time, the medieval parish of Taghadoe was never forgotten. Reference was made to it in the enumeration of the different districts of Saint Mary’s parish in the Catholic Directory for 1837, i.e. “Maynooth, Leixlip and Taptoo”. Over twenty-five years later an inscription was etched on the base of a small silver chalice which read: “DOM et B Mariae in Caelum assumptae dicatum ex dono incolarum Taghadoe, MDCCCLXIII”. The translation of which is: “To Almighty God and his most Blessed Mother Mary assumed into heaven [this chalice] is dedicated as the gift of the people of Taghadoe, 1863.”

In addition to the above, the historical link with the eighth century monastic settlement at Taghadoe ‘Teach Tua’ and later with the medieval parish and later again with the old Ladychapel was never broken and almost 1,300 years after Saint Tua established his monastery, thanks to John Dillon, members of the parish community gathered in June, 2013 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the dedication of Ladychapel church.

Rita Edwards
(Maynooth Local History Group, June 2013.)

I would like to express my thanks to Noelle and Peter in the Dublin Diocesan Archives for their assistance in researching Ladychapel and to Maeve O’Brien in the Classics Department at NUI Maynooth for the translation of the Latin inscription.

Main sources include: The Dublin Builder, August 1859, November 1860, National Library of Ireland; Michael McSweeney, The Irish Ecclesiastical Record (1940); Jeanne Sheehy, JJ McCarthy and the Gothic Revival in Ireland (1977); Eamon Kane, ‘Kilkea Church and Rectory’ in Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society (2004-2005)