Heritage Trail: St Luke’s Church of Ireland

St. Luke's Douglas
St. Luke’s Douglas

The present church was consecrated in August 1875 as the parish church of St Luke’s, Douglas. The previous church, built in 1785, had been demolished to make way for a more impressive building. It was a new church for a new parish: until 1875, Douglas had been part of the chapelry of Carrigaline. It was also a building built by a new type of Church of Ireland, which had been disestablished in 1871. The Church of Ireland was transformed by new governance structures that included the laity, and many parishes responded with enthusiasm to the challenge. Led by Canon Samuel Hayman, a noted antiquarian and historian, the wealthy members of the parish gathered £3000 (£1.3m today) to build their new church. 1 The architect, Osborne Cadwallader Edwards (1822-76), even waived the fee for his services. 2 The church is is built in Early English style, an architectural style that strives for simple, austere lines and elegant proportions.

Communion Table and Burges window, St. Luke's
Communion Table and Burges window, St. Luke’s, Courtesy of Darren Wilkinson

But the church that was consecrated in 1875 was incomplete: original plans had included a spire. Canon Hayman continued to fund raise but he died in 1886 without seeing the tower finished. As the original architect was also dead, another had to be employed and William Henry Hill, former diocesan architect, was engaged. 3 Noted parishioners who fundraised indefatigably until 1889 to finish Hayman’s work included the Reeves sisters – Mary, Henrietta and Susannah – of Tramore House on the Douglas Road. The women donated a fine stained glass window in the North transept, over the organ, to commemorate their family members. 4. The beautiful glass in this church enlivens an otherwise restrained interior with colour and drama. Some windows are attributed to William Burges, the architect of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral. 5 The loveliest contemporary window, showing Christ as the Good Shepherd, is by Túr Gloine (tower of glass) artist Catherine O’Brien. 6

Christ Healing the Dumb Demonic (attrib. W. Burges) Courtesy of Darren Wilkinson
Christ Healing the Dumb Demonic (attrib. W. Burges) Courtesy of Darren Wilkinson

In the parish accounts for 1889-90, the name of Reeves occurs under nearly every heading. The first priority of the Reeves sisters was their own parish church, to whom they gave £60 15s., which would be worth approximately £40,000 today. 7 Henrietta, as Treasurer and Librarian of the parochial library, was the most active in parish activities. 8 Susannah’s largesse was long-standing: when the church opened in 1875, she had donated the Baptistry font of Caen stone with tessellated paving. Her donation was sufficiently impressive to be noticed in the consecration sermon preached by Bishop Gregg in 1875. 9

Baptismal Font, St. Luke's. Courtesy of Darren Wilkinson.
Baptismal Font, St. Luke’s. Courtesy of Darren Wilkinson.

Mary worked hard to raise money to complete the spire, and purchased both the bell and clock at a cost of £100 each. 10 Susannah and Henrietta donated £50 each to the spire fund. However, when it was still not completed, Mary offered £100 on the condition that it be finished by May 1889. 11 Before the spire had even been fully built, the 3 women spent at least £400 of their money on its construction. Using measuringworth.com, when this is converted into sterling values today, it comes to £176,400. 12 This was an enormous donation but how much of the cost of the spire did it represent? The total bill for the spire was £1635, or £722,400 in today’s values. 13 The recorded donations from the Reeves sisters were almost a quarter of this very large building bill. And the spire was a very expensive addition to a church building that had cost more than £3,000 when it was consecrated in 1875.14 Mary’s liberality continued until her death in 1906: she paid for the bas relief of Queen Victorian that adorns the organ and her last gift was the carved walnut altarpiece of the Last Supper that is behind the Communion Table. 15 All three pious sisters were buried in the family vault next to the church they had worked so hard to build.

Relief of Queen Victoria, St. Luke's. Courtesy of Darren Wilkinson.
Relief of Queen Victoria, St. Luke’s. Courtesy of Darren Wilkinson.

Although the Reeves sisters were wealthy, their family is not well-remembered in Cork city. However, some of the other benefactors of the church were members of families whose names are well-known locally and even nationally. Chief among these are the Lane family. In the history of Douglas, the Lanes loom large. By the nineteenth century, scions of the family were living in the Big Houses that encircled the village: Vernon Mount, Frankfield House, Ballybrack House and Clermont (or Claremont). One branch of the family, headed by James Lane of Clermont, was important to Douglas village and its church. A solicitor, James Lane had a successful practice in the South Mall, as well as extensive land holdings in Counties Cork and Limerick. 16 He was also a churchwarden in St Luke’s in 1889-90, at a time when the ambitious spire was near completion. Lane was a generous donor, giving the Communion table and a silver flagon for Holy Communion to the newly consecrated building. His sister, Eliza, lived in Ballybrack House and a window to her memory was placed in the church by Rev. James Lane, her nephew and heir to Ballybrack. 17 This clergyman spent just a few months in Ballybrack, where his wife gave birth to Hugh Percy Lane on 9 November 1875. The infant was baptised in St Luke’s church by his own father. Hugh Lane became nationally known when, following his death on the Lusitania, his will was vigorously disputed by the British and Irish governments, both anxious to secure his art collection for their respective publics. Apart from his Cork lineage and baptism in St Luke’s, Hugh Lane had no personal interest in the city. He is remembered in the church by a tablet erected in his memory by his sister, Ruth Shine.

Hugh Lane memorial. Courtesy of Darren Wilkinson.
Hugh Lane memorial. Courtesy of Darren Wilkinson.
  1. John Harding Cole, Church and Parish Records of the United Dioceses of Cork, Cloyne and Ross (Cork, 1903), p 40.
  2. http://www.dia.ie/architects/view/1751/EDWARDS-OSBORNECADWALLADER accessed 10 November 2014.
  3. http://www.dia.ie/architects/view/2581/HILL%2C+WILLIAM+HENRY+%5B1%5D accessed 10 November 2014.
  4. http://gloine.ie/gloine/diocese/building/3217/ accessed 11 November 2014, W13 is the Reeves window
  5. http://gloine.ie/gloine/diocese/building/3217/ accessed 11 November 2014.
  6. http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/people/amelia.htm accessed 10 November 2014
  7. This is the income labour cost, from measuringworth.com accessed 5 October 2014.
  8. Parochialia: Statement of Accounts for the Year beginning Easter, 1889, and ending Easter, 1890 of the Parish of Douglas (1890), p 7.
  9. Sam McCutcheon, A Church of Ireland Parish in County Cork, p 19.
  10. Cole, Church and Parish Records, p 41.
  11. McCutcheon, p 4.
  12. Labour cost of the project, measuringworth.com.
  13. Cole, p 41; Labour cost of the project, measuringworth.com.
  14. Cole, p 40.
  15. Obituary of Mary Reeves, kindly provided by Monica Butt, a relative.
  16. See http://landedestates.nuigalway.ie/LandedEstates/jsp/estate-show.jsp?id=3041 accessed 1 November 2014.
  17. http://gloine.ie/gloine/diocese/building/3217/ accessed 11 November 2014, W5 is the Eliza Lane window.