Unitarians hope to rebuild links

 

A campaign is under way to bridge a 75-year gap by re-establishing a Unitarian Church presence in Clonmel. The man behind it is Dr Martin Pulbrook, a member of the Unitarian congregation in Dublin, who has succeeded in restarting Unitarian services in Cork, where a small but "viable" group now meets.

He is now turning to the Tipperary town where the finances - if not, as yet, the people - exist to help turn his ambitious project into reality. The money, in the form of a £66,000 trust fund, is a legacy of the Unitarians' previous long-term presence in the town.

A Dissenters' and Unitarian meeting existed in Clonmel between 1666 and 1924. The Unitarian chapel between 1789 and 1924 was in Nelson Street, where the South Tipperary Arts Centre, which incorporates part of the old back wall and stairs of the chapel, now stands.

The last three members of the Clonmel Unitarian congregation were Miss Jane E. Orr, Mrs Mary Day and Miss Margaret Bradford, who lived together latterly at Miss Orr's house in the town. After Miss Orr's death provision was made for a future time when it might be possible to re-establish Unitarian services in the town - hence the substantial trust fund.

Dr Pulbrook, however, does not underestimate the task ahead if he is to reverse a trend which has seen the number of active Unitarian congregations drop from 20 in the early 1800s to just those in Dublin and Cork today.

"Re-establishing in Clonmel will be a very, very difficult thing to do," he says. "To be quite frank, even some Unitarians think I'm completely mad."

"My own feeling is that there is a very deep spirituality in Irish society. People do want religion and they do want spirituality to be an important part of their lives, but after a 75-year gap it will be a very slow, long-term project."