Dome thoughts from abroad – An Irishman’s Diary about a little piece of Dublin 6 that may be forever Russia

 Dome of Church of Mary Immaculate, Refuge of Sinners, on Rathmines Road, Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Dome of Church of Mary Immaculate, Refuge of Sinners, on Rathmines Road, Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

It’s fairly well known by now that the architect of the Russian revolution, Lenin, spoke English with a “Rathmines accent”: the influence of a tutor from that South Dublin suburb. Less well publicised is that, in turn, Rathmines could be said to have a slight Russian accent.  

And albeit indirectly, Lenin is again implicated.

In case you’ve never noticed it, the inflection I’m referring to is a visual one – via the dome of the Church of Mary Immaculate, Refuge of Sinners, on Rathmines Road. This, according to a persistent tradition that it seems nobody can now confirm, was originally intended for an Orthodox Church in Russia, before the Bolsheviks intervened.

Chronology makes it plausible, the dome having replaced an original in Rathmines that collapsed during a 1920 fire. The replacement was also much taller and more ornate that its predecessor, hinting at eastern influence.  

But then again, by one account it was actually constructed in Glasgow. So even if it was commissioned for Russia, the foreign accent may be more imagined than real.

Back in Dublin, the Rathmines accent was considered all-but foreign. It’s probably long extinct now in that multi-cultural (and multi-culchie) suburb 

The revolutionary connections of the Dublin 6 church did not, in any case, begin with that sub-plot. During the Irish War of Independence, apparently, it had not just been the Refuge of Sinners. It was a Refuge of Shinners too: local republicans who, when it wasn’t safe to go home at night, slept there instead.

Nor did they use it merely for accommodation. With the connivance of the church sexton, who was also their assistant quarter-master, the Dublin IRA’s A Company stored weapons and ammunition in the vaults – a conspiracy that went undiscovered until the fire threatened, in an all-too-real sense, to smoke it out. The story was pieced together a few years ago in that very entertaining Dublin history blog, comeheretome.com, with the help of statements from the Military History Bureau and other sources. According to these, hazardous as the fire itself was for those who had to fight it, a further level of danger was added by the “rifles, revolvers, ammunition, hand grenades and military equipment” in the basement, and by the necessity for IRA men to enter the burning building to retrieve them.

But it seems that some material, at least, went unrecovered. And even after the fire was out, there remained the risk that these would attract police notice during the clean-up, with uncomfortable consequences.  

So according to his own MHB statement, one Michael Lynch of the Dublin Brigade’s 4th Battalion, had a quiet word with the head of the city’s fire brigade, Capt Myers – a man mentioned in Joyce’s Ulysses and, inter alia, a great-granduncle of this newspaper’s long-time Irishman’s Diarist Kevin – who dealt sympathetically with the problem.

Lynch describes him as “a very fine fellow and, from the national point of view, thoroughly sound and reliable in every way”. More importantly, from Lynch’s point of view, he was discreet: “He told me not to worry, that nobody would ever know.”

Getting back to Lenin’s Rathmines accent, there are, it appears, no recordings to illustrate the phenomenon.  

The sole source for the claim is Roddy Connolly, son of James, who met the Bolshevik leader in Petrograd in 1920, the same year the church burned down. It does, however, receive indirect support in the memoirs of Lenin’s wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, who mentions that, when they arrived in London in 1902, the couple both thought they could speak English, until realising nobody could understand them. The feeling was mutual until, in a further hint, she recalls an impressive orator they once heard at Speaker’s Corner who had an “Irish accent” and whom they found easier to follow.

The irony there is that, back in Dublin, the Rathmines accent was considered all-but foreign. It’s probably long extinct now in that multi-cultural (and multi-culchie) suburb.  

But it was a more exotic forerunner of what is now derided as the “South County Dublin” accent. O’Casey immortalised it in The Plough and the Stars by having a “Lady from Rathmines” provide comic relief amid the chaos of Easter Week: a southside refugee stranded in the city centre.

That same city centre will this weekend host the 2017 Desmond Greaves Summer School, which will definitely have a Russian accent. It begins with a centenary debate on the October Revolution, then continues with one on the 50th anniversary on the Northern Ireland civil rights movement. There will also be sessions on Syria and Brexit. All events are at the Ireland Institute on Pearse Street, starting on Friday at 7.30pm.  

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