IF you are in Ireland this year on holidays, and happen to be in the environs of Dublin, you will come across an interesting and unusual group of people meeting fortnightly on Monday evenings in the back lounge of the Harbour Bar in Rush, in County Dublin, just 17 miles north of Dublin City.
They are members of the St Maur's Catholic Church Restoration Group, and among their numbers are distinguished conservationists, architects of note, and local citizens with a fine sense of taste, history and tradition.
It you want to know which Monday is the "fortnightly" Monday, then telephone C Cusack of the Restoration Group. The number is Rush 437219.
Whether it is Restoration Monday or not, the Harbour Bar is well worth a visit. It graces one of the loveliest fishing harbours in these islands, and I often had the pleasure of crossing the bar, and setting sail on the Irish Sea, and up as far as Skerries, in a twelve-foot boat with a lug sail.
From the harbour wall, with its cobble-stone road, the view is glorious, with the volcanic peak of Lambay Island rising out of the sea due east, the mountains of Mourne sweeping down to the sea, due north, and the Hill of Howth, and then the Wicklow Hills, with the big and small Sugar Loaf Mountains, on the blue horizon, some 40 miles due south, beyond Dublin City.
In their latest newsIetter the St Maur's Catholic Church Restoration Group tells us that, in what appears to be an Irish solution to an Irish problem in the two year old battle to restore the lovely seventeenth century church of penal times, it is to remain, and the Dublin County Council Planning Department has granted permission for the building of the new Church in Rush, subject to 15 conditions.
For those unacquainted with the saga of the church in Rush, the Restorationists, backed by 1600 signatories from people in Rush, maintained that the old church, with a rebuilt roof, could have been restored for a considerably lesser sum than building a new church.
The local clergy and the parish committee, on the other hand, backed by the late Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Kevin McNamara, and his auxiliary bishops, agreed to the building of a new and modern pyramidstyle church at a cost said to be in the region of 050,000.
The Restoration Group appealed to the Primate of all Ireland, Cardinal Tomas 0 Fiaich, Archbishop of Armagh, and successor of St Patrick in that See. He, however, while expressing sympathy with the desire to preserve things historic, gracefully declined to interfere with the decision of the Primate of Ireland and Archbishop of Dublin.
The new pyramid-style church will now arise on the parochial lawn in Rush, on a three acre site just east of the old building. It will accommodate 800 persons, 650 seated and 150 who will stand, in what has become an accepted modern tradition in Irish churches. (In my father's time, in County Kerry, when the smaller parish churches were so overcrowded, those kneeling outside the church on one knee, and flicking pebbles at each other to pass the time of day were known as "sharpshooters"). Which reminds me, that on one occasion when I was at Mass in a church in West Cork, the young curate addressed all the young men standing at the back of the church and invited them to imagine that they were in a pub, and to come up to the altar as if it were a bar counter, and have an eyeball to eyeball confrontation with God!
So far the parishioners of Rush have raised £40,000 towards the new church, a goodly sum in view of the appalling state of the economy in the Republic.
The latest communication from the St Maur's Catholic Church Restoration Group, while announcing the decision of the Dublin County Council Planning Department to agree to the building of the new church, says that at the same time the County Council has insisted on the retention of the old St Maur's Chapel.
It quotes Condition Six: "That the existing St Maur's Church, presbytery and associated buildings on lands outlined in blue on the site location map, be retained and maintained in good condition at the applicant's expense. These buildings shall not be demolished or altered without the prior granting of planning permission and any proposed change of use shall be subject to the granting of planning permission by Dublin County Council, or An Bord Pleanala on appeal".
And goes on to say: "It is now necessary to appeal to An Bord Pleanala to strengthen this guarantee for the future of St Maur's Chapel. A person does not have to be an expert to see that the Chapel is not in 'good condition' as required by the County Council. Also it is evident that the Parish Committee have made no attempt in the last two years to repair the building. 'Good Condition' means that a person can go into the building in safety and use it for the purpose for which it was built. If this guarantee were given two years ago when we approached the Church Authorities all of the subsequent division and disharmony in the Parish could have been avoided".
The Church in Rush was originally dedicated to St Maur, because Breton fishermen, shipwrecked in the treacherous waters between Lambay Island and Rush, vowed to erect a church in his honour if their lives were saved, and they were.
He is a sixth century saint who should appeal to both sides in the present divisions in Rush in the debate on the old or the new, as he once unwittingly walked on the waters, without realising it, in instant obedience to the command of St Benedict to rescue the boy Placid from drowning.
When I worshipped in the old church of St Maur (the parish priest still read out in public the list of Christmas and Easter dues in those days), the cowled statue of St Maur stood outside the entrance door and mingled with the congregation coming out from Mass.
According to the drawing of the new pyramid-style church in the "Bulletin" of the parish of St Maur, the famous Benedictine saint of Monte Cassino appears to have distanced himself somewhat from the entrance to the new pyramid-style church.