FOR TEN years and more of the happiest days of my life, I was a parishioner of the church of St Maur, in Rush 17 miles north of Dublin city.
How the market garden of Ireland came to have a Benedictine saint as its patron is an unusual story. Tradition says Breton fishermen, caught in a fierce storm off Lambay island, three miles off the strand of Rush, vowed to set up a chapel in honour of their patron, St Maur, if he permitted them to land in safety. They were cast up on the shore at Rush and kept their promise. Hence the church of St Maur, and his charming statue as a cowled monk at the entrance.
The sixth century Saint Maur was an obedient disciple of Saint Benedict at Monte Casino, so obedient that on one occasion, at Benedict's command, he leapt into the water and saved the life of the boy Placid from drowning, without realising that in so doing he had walked on the waters like his Master before him.
The parish church of today dates from the 18th century, and is the oldest parish church in Fingal the Land of the Fair Strangers that land north of Dublin settled by the Vikings in the ninth century, and from whence the industrious folk of Rush today are descended. Rush in Irish "Ros Eo" the "Peninsular of the Yew", is said to have provided many of the bows for Agincourt.
Once, when sailing off Lambay Island, (bought by Maurice Baring, and now the mediaeval castle home, restored by Sir Edwin Lutyens, of Lord Revelstoke) 1 came near drowning in a sudden storm. 1 remember that the people of Rush, seeing me adrift with a broken mast two miles out at sea, knelt down in the harbour and said the Rosary. When the storm had blown itself out over the Mountains of Mourne, I managed to make the harbour of Rush by nightfall.
1 was not the first to have problems at sea off Lambay. St Patrick, and his monkish companions, hugging the coast on their way up North from Wicklow, in 432 AD, put in for fresh water at the island now called St Patrick's island, just off Skerries, and north of Rush. I have landed there and seen his foot print on the rocks! While drawing water, the people of Skerries stole his goat, killed it, cooked it, and ate it. The Rush men have ever since called the men of Skerries, "Skin-thegoats". So sensitive are the feelings of the locals that when, in modern times, a new church was built, and the architect incorporated a statue of St Patrick with a goat at his feet, at the entrance to the church, the indignant parishioners had the offending animal chiselled off.
The men of Skerries, in retaliation, call the men of Rush "Ray Eaters", to remind them of their more frugal days when they earned their living by letting down their nets off the coast of Newfoundland, and many of their families were obliged to live through the winter on ray nailed to the rafters of their cottages.
The controversy in Rush today is not the historic one of goats and ray, but does concern history, in the form of the fate of the church of St Maur.
According to official Church sources, their Lords Spiritual of Dublin, their local Reverences, and "the 26 member committee freely elected by the parishioners," have decided that the old church is to be left unroofed (as a "Clonmacnois"), and a new pyramid style modern church erected alongside it at an estimated cost of some £650,000. With bank interests this figure could escalate to
£800,000, and the final figure could reach the £1 million mark.
The Archdiocese of Dublin decided to close the existing church in 1985, when the roof was declared unsafe. While their Lords Spiritual of Dublin, their local Reverences, and the "26" have voted not to restore the old church but to build a new one, there are those who agree to differ with them.
These preservationists I am told include the Diocesan Commission of Sacred Art and Architecture, An Foras Forbartha, the Office of Public Works, the National Monuments Service, and eminent architects and engineers and men of distinction in the field of environmentalism.
The conservationists contend that it is a feasible proposition to restore the old church, complete with a new roof, at a cost of between £150,000 and £200,000.
To an outsider looking on the inside, the central issue would Ail appear to be that there has been no clear answer to date to the proposition of the conservationists that the old church can be restored, and for considerably less than the cost of a new church.
Therefore, before the first sod is turned on the proposed new site, could not an independent body of experts examine the claims of both sides? A start could be made with the study of the yet unpublished report of the County Council.
Before the controversy escalates, could not both sides, even at this late hour, pause and reflect, and pray, and give themselves time to think again? St Maur has been around for 1500 years or so, and another few months would be neither here nor there in the time warp of the Holy Spirit.
And lest I be accused of not knowing what it is like to worship in a church which is in urgent need of repair, let it be said, that on one occasion, after a pilgrimage to Lough Derg, 1 served the mass of my fellow pilgrim, a Monsignor from the University of Notre Dame, in the old church of Gortahawk, in County Donegal, which was, at that time, in a genuine state of collapse,
All during mass there were ominous creaks and groans in the roof, and after Mass, in the comparative safety of the sacristy, the celebrant remarked, "Gee! you'd need to be in a state of grace to say mass in a church like this!"