19th Century Carysfort

The writer of this narrative has, perhaps, started at the “wrong end” in describing the demise of Carysfort Church, Blackrock.  Indeed, he does not attempt in this book to go into great detail of Carysfort’s history as it seems fit for a story on its own and one which will no doubt emerge in the future.  Nonetheless, some facts about the Church and its early years are so interesting that they simply cannot be left out of this tale.  F. E. Ball in his “History of Co. Dublin” records briefly, of Carysfort Church “at the beginning of the 19th century the religious edifice now known as Christchurch, Blackrock was built and opened as a Dissenting Chapel”.

Therein lies a tale and we come now to the story of Thomas Kelly, a man for various reasons important in Church of Ireland history.  Thomas Kelly was the son of Thomas Kelly (Judge of the High Court of Common Pleas) residing at Kellyville House, Athy, Co. Kildare.  Young Thomas, born in Dublin on 13th July, 1769, was educated in Portarlington and TCD, where he graduated Bachelor of Arts.  He originally studied for the Bar, entering the Temple in London for the purpose, but in 1792 underwent a religious experience and proceeded to Holy Orders.

A man of considerable personal wealth, he engaged in earnest evangelical preaching of a kind which the Lord Archbishop of the day, Dr. Fowler, strongly disapproved to the extent that Kelly was eventually refused permission to preach in the City pulpits of Dublin.

Nothing daunted, he preached in several unconsecrated buildings in the City, notably the Bethesda Chapel in Dorset Street, now Dublin’s Wax Museum, formerly the Plaza Cinema.  His enthusiasm for evangelism grew with opposition from the Established Church to the extent that he seceded from it and formed his own sect, or splinter group, the “Kellyites”.  Churches were erected in Athy, Portarlington, Wexford and … Blackrock!

Kelly, with his own personal funds built the edifice later to be called Christchurch, Carysfort, Blackrock – of which we have just read.  But Thomas Kelly in 1984 is not remembered for his fervent evangelical zeal – his name lives on in music, as we shall see.  Miller, in his “Songs and Singers of the Church” (1869) says of this man –

“Mr. Kelly was a man of great and varied learning, skilled in the Oriental tongues and an excellent Bible critic.  He was possessed also of musical talent and published work that was received with favour, consisting of music adapted to every form of metre in the hymn book.  Naturally of an amiable disposition and thorough in his Christian piety Mr. Kelly became the friend of good men and the advocate of every worthy, benevolent and religious cause.  He was admired alike for his zeal and his humility, and his liberality found ample scope in Ireland, especially during the years of the famine.”

The Kellyite sect was short-lived and his chapel, which formed part of the subsequent Carysfort Church (the transepts in fact) was bought by Trustees for the use of the Established Church.

Kelly married at the age of 30, Miss Tighe of Rosanna, Co. Wicklow, of a wealthy family of landowners and died on 14th May, 1854.

The writer has left Rev. Thomas Kelly’s major fame to the last, as a superb hymn writer.  In fact, he composed 765 of them.  Eight are still extant in the Church of Ireland hymnal.  Here is a list of them and their numbers.

Number Hymn
286 Zion’s King shall reign victorious
366 Glory, Glory everlasting
368 Hark, ten thousand voices sounding
378 Look, ye Saints, the sight is glorious
384 The Head that once was crowned with thorns
398 We sing the praise of Him who died
460 Saviour, send a blessing o’er us (a favourite hymn nowadays at weddings)
514 We’ve no Abiding City here

Kelly lived in an era of great hymn writers; so, in our district we remember with pride a man who has left us, and the Church worldwide, a legacy of hymns the equal of any, even those of his contemporaries, Henry Francis Lyte (of “Abide with Me” fame) and the immortal Mrs. Cecil Alexander.

A final word, before we close the curtain on Carysfort Church.  Surely the English example should be followed and a plaque erected by the Dun Laoghaire Borough Council to record the existence of a historic church such as this, or are we (as George Orwell forecast we would be) devoid of sentiment in 1984?

Before the church was demolished circa 1961, the beautiful marble pulpit and Reading Desk, with Caen stone inset, erected in memory of Rev. E. M. Rambaut, Incumbent 1871-1893, were given as a gift to the little church of Drumcar, Co. Louth as a token of friendship.  They were dedicated on their new site by the late Most Rev. James McCann, then Lord Primate, at a special Service attended by many Booterstown and Carysfort parishioners, an event which the writer of this history well remembers.  And who can forget James McCann, of the splendid voice and commanding presence!