Buildings At Risk: St Columba’s Church, Swords
St Columba’s Church, Swords
St Columba’s Church, Swords
Why is it of interest? St Columba’s Church is an interesting example of early 19th-century Georgian churches. It was designed by Francis Johnson in the Gothic style of the Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle. The noteworthy external features are the stepped buttresses, pinnacles and crenellated parapet – all in limestone. The interior has simple elegant plasterwork, carved timber pews and cut stone memorials which pre-date the building. The stained glass East window by Joshua Bradley is deemed to be one of the oldest stained glass windows in Ireland. A medieval square tower and an intact 10th-century round tower are among the ecclesiastical monuments in the church grounds. Brian Boru was waked in the abbey church which adjoined the medieval tower. St Columba’s is on the list of protected structures in Fingal County Council as well as being on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.
What state of dereliction is it in? A section of the ceiling collapsed in April, 2013. There are also many instances of dry rot on the ceiling and internal walls. The church was closed for use following the partial collapse of the ceiling and church services are currently held in the nearby parish centre. The West window was bricked up when a tree fell through it.
What repairs have been carried out? The church was re-roofed in 2007 – sadly not before water seeped through into the ceiling and internal rubbled walls causing extensive dry rot throughout the interior. Complete restoration costs including electrical work, conservation plasterwork and re-painting of the interior are estimated at €500,000.
Who is championing its cause? The parishioners of St Columba’s have established building and fundraising committees to work towards the repair and re-opening of the church. Campaigning websites savesaintcolumbaschurch.org and helpusmakehistory.org and a restoration fund has already raised €9,000. Fingal County Council has pledged €15,000 once matching funds are available. Primrose Wilson, board member of the Irish Georgian Society and contributor to New Life for Churches in Ireland – good practice in conservation and re-use (Ulster Historic Churches Trust) says that Georgian churches are scarcer than Victorian churches and therefore all the more important. “I consider churches to be important public buildings for their iconic positions in the streetscape or landscape,” she says. Well known Georgian style churches in Ireland include St George’s Church in Hardwicke Place and St Stephen’s (Pepper Cannister) Church on Mount St , both in Dublin, and St Peter’s Church in Drogheda.
“Ideally, churches should remain in use as churches and most Georgian churches in Ireland are in good repair,” adds Wilson. St Columba’s have applied both to the Irish Georgian Society and the Representative Church Body of the Church of Ireland for grants towards the cost of refurbishment. What happens next? Fingal Chamber Choir will perform at a fundraising concert in Christ Church Cathedral on Saturday, May 24 at 7.30pm. The committee hopes that cumulative funds will then allow investigative work to begin on the church. The discovery of a gravestone to the Russell-Cruise family of Drynam has led some parishioners to speculate these are the ancestors of American actor, Tom Cruise, whose Irish connections were recently established by genealogists. Don’t be surprised if they invite him over to assist their fundraising efforts.
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