Bringing St Doulagh’s back to life

Categories: News

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of the Fingal Independent.

Fingal Independent reporter Ken Phelan spent an afternoon in the company of Ken McAllister in St Doulagh’s recently where he heard all about the plans to restore the site

1 Ken McAllister, the church keeper at St Doulagh’s






June 29 2019 12:00 AM

Medieval St Doulagh’s Church in Kinsealy hides a number of dark secrets from the unsuspecting pilgrim, making it all the more interesting to visitors and offering ample material for children’s tales.

Medieval St Doulagh’s Church in Kinsealy hides a number of dark secrets from the unsuspecting pilgrim, making it all the more interesting to visitors and offering ample material for children’s tales.

The 1150AD Church of Ireland building holds features that one would believe unbecoming of a Christian place of worship, making it perfect fodder for ghouls and a tourist attraction in its on right.

The cheerfully named ‘Lepers Window’ sits at the back of the ancient chapel, and offers a glimpse into life during the middle ages, and how churchgoers treated those with medical complaints.

Leprosy was quite common in the middle ages, apparently even in the Kinsealy/Balgriffin area. Lepers, of course, would need to be segregated from the general townsfolk, with their living quarters, if they had such, being kept away from the rest of the population.

The dermatologically challenged of Kinsealy/Balgriffin were no less holy than other churchgoers, and provision was therefore made for them to ‘attend’ service by standing outside of the church building, gazing in through the ‘Leper’s Window’ onto the priest.

More macabre perhaps was the ‘Murder Hole’, situated two floors above the church entrance. Unfortunate intruders were subjected to ‘The Murder Hole’ when boiling oil or water was poured from above on top of their heads. The multi-functional hole could also be used for dropping arrows from on high.

Another feature you wouldn’t expect to find in St Doulagh’s are holes in the upstairs walls, where arrows could be shot at invaders, who apparently were quite common in their day.

High up in St Doulagh’s towers was the luxury of the priest’s quarters, a not too unpleasant room where he could sit and read, and pray that attackers didn’t venture in.

A deliberately uneven staircase leading to the tower, however, meant that if the priest were caught unawares, he could give one strong push to the intruder, who would lose his footing and hopefully meet his untimely demise.

By all means pay a visit to the magnificent St Doulagh’s but be warned – it’s not for the fainthearted!

Resting between Kinsealy and the village of Balgriffin on the Malahide Road, a medieval church and its ancient graves sit silently and ominously behind overgrown trees, enticing visitors to venture in for a piece of its history.

Just visible from the roadside, the tower of St Doulagh’s stands peering above the trees, offering just a glimpse of what lies within.

The ‘old’ church, as one walks in, is in slight disrepair, but stands proud against the evening sky.

Here, one can sense St Doulagh’s gravitas, its imposing walls and holy presence inviting the devout to come in and pray.

And yet, it is also clear that some attendance is needed, the discoloured limestone and moist floors betraying its centuries old age.

The church’s keeper, Ken McAllister, a former Glebe Warden and now member of the Select Vestry, explained his plans to bring the old church back to its former glory: ‘There’s the medieval part of the church, and there’s what we call the modern part of the church, which is about one hundred and fifty years old.

‘The old part dates from about 1150, and there’s five churches that we know of in Ireland that are very similar to it.

‘What makes it unique is the stone roof, it’s slabs of stone for the roof, and there’s only St Doulagh’s, Cormac’s Chapel in Cashel, St Kevin’s in Glendalough, St Columba’s House in Kells and St Mochta’s in Louth that have a stone roof.

‘At the moment, we’re concentrating on restoring the medieval part. It’s leaking, and it’s letting in a lot of water and it’s washing out the water between the stones. It’s not unstable, but as it goes on, it could become so, and if we don’t do something now, it’s going to get worse.’

So far, with an estimated €80,000 needed to carry out this year’s preliminary work, the parish has raised €30,000-€40,000 towards the restoration of St Doulagh’s. Ken has applied for heritage grants to subsidise the remainder, which he said should be around another €40,000.

Grants are awarded through Fingal County Council from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, while other heritage grants are also available for the restoration work.

Funds have also been raised through local tourism and Heritage Week in particular, and the project was finally underway last week.

Ken explained: ‘Before they built the modern church, one hundred and fifty years ago, their aim was to conserve this church.

‘The clergyman that was here in the 1850s decided that something better be done about it, like we’re doing now.

‘It’s probably one of the oldest churches in continual use in the country. There’s a question over the 1600 period, a very turbulent period in history, as to whether it was in use then or not, but it certainly goes back to the 1700s.

‘The church is well known in the area, and it’s better known now. There’s a small congregation, you might get twenty or thirty people, mostly older people, but now we’re getting a lot of non-nationals too, Polish, Israeli and people from a lot of different backgrounds. It’s no longer the old congregation, there’s new people coming in, so it’s very diverse.’

In 1989, former Taoiseach Charles Haughey facilitated a FÁS scheme which carried out significant maintenance and landscaping work on St Doulagh’s. Work included the refurbishment of the crenulation stone work of the medieval tower, replacing the stone flooring of the vestry and the rebuilding of the graveyard walls and avenue walls. The almost derelict baptistery was also excavated and meticulously conserved to its original form.

Ken said: ‘I would hope that the leaking would be fixed this year, then next year will get into the cleaning up of inside of it. There’s a lot of rooms in the building. One of the rooms is being used now as a vestry, where the clergy robe and that sort of thing, but my feeling is it should be more than that.

‘There’s another room there, what they call the hermit’s cell, a tiny little room on the ground floor, and that could be used as a children’s area during service. It could be used for something like that if it was floored, but it all has to be done sympathetically. We’re not going to bring in plasterboard and modern materials, we’ll keep it the way it should be.

‘People describe it as ‘The Jewel in Fingal’s Crown’, but it should be gaining more attention. I think it’s very important for Fingal, as a tourist attraction. It’s not going to be as attractive as Swords Castle, but it’s one of the best medieval buildings still standing.’

Church of Ireland St Doulagh’s is adminstered locally by the United Parishes of Malahide, Portmarnock and St Doulagh’s.

Fingal Independent