ele ant countr church
ST MAUR'S CHURCH at Rush is valuable on at least three counts: it is of aesthetic quality; it is an historic church whose structure in part goes back to the eighteenth century and, as it provides a focus in a community whose visible links with the past have recently been seriously eroded, it has today a considerable environmental importance as well.
These three considerations should, in other parts of Europe, be sufficient to secure a caring future for the fabric of the church and I am confident that its destruction would not be seriously considered elsewhere.
The history of the church is fairly well established. A Mass House is recorded at Rush in 1731. The present church built to replace it in 1760 was at first laid out in the shape of a T, a common plan for that period. In 1833 St Maur's was converted to a cruciform shape by the addition of a sanctuary when a battlemented tower was also added. This work was paid for by public subscription.
The church is recorded as "a neat cruciform chapel, in good condition" in 1838. At the Royal Hibernian Academy Exhibition of 1844, George Papworth (1781-1855) architect of the Carmelite church in Whitefriar St, Dublin, exhibited designs for Rush church. He had worked for the Palmer family at Kenure Park and it seems probable that it was Papworth who was responsible for the next phase in the development of the church which was enlarged again between 1849 and 1851.
The Diocesan records at Clonliffe make it clear that this enlargement left the original nave the leg of the T-plan church of 1760 intact but removed the trancepts and santuary to permit the nave to be lengthened and heightened as in its present form. This work was completed by 1851 and the church was rededicated on 11 September that year.
The final alterations to the church, which gave it its present form were carried out between 1898 and 006 to designs of George Ashlin (1837-1921) the major church architect of his day, a past president of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, son-in-law of A W N Pugin and one of the most sophisticated designers of his generation.
Under Ashlin the old nave of the church, re-roofed in 1849, was again retained while the trancepts, polygonal sanctuary and NW tower were added in an elegant if economical 14thcentury Gothic style. The cusped Gothic detail of the sanctuary and transepts, extending to the nave windows, dated from Ashlin's remodelling and constitutes an unusually early example of the use of composition stone in an Irish building.
The cost of Ashlin's work was .£5,123 with an additional .£500 for the High Altar and the Stations of the Cross. The side altars, communion rails, pulpit and stained glass windows by Earley were installed between 1907 and 1912.
Such is the physical history of the church. It is unquestionally one of the oldest Catholic churches surviving on the same site in the whole of County Dublin. The walls of its nave, its width and the western section date back to Penal times while the building's later development provides in microcosm the whole history of Catholic church building in nineteenth-century Ireland.
This continuity has a value which may be hard to quantify but it is not the less real for that and it is a value that grows with succeeding generations. Age is not always a quality yet St Maur's stands very much as monument to a tenacious faith.
Money has been spent and people's aspirations expressed in this fabric for over 200 years and this tradition is attested by the memorials to some of the parish priests I need not list them here put up in the church. Surviving to 1985 it is an historical complex.
In aesthetic terms, while one must recongnise that St Maur's is a country church built without great expense, there is still much to be saved for its architecture. Its present neglected condition is not calculated to show it off to advantage yet the lines of the church are handsome. For a country church it is very large and to an historian's eye there is a distinctly 1900s feel in the bulk of its exterior.
The long profile of the building, and its reticent, unshowy Gothic detail is peculiarly suited to this flat, seaside country and one would not wish here for one of the more architectural, stone faced Gothic designs of the 1870s which abound in the Irish countryside.
This big church is unusual, almost vernacular in its rendered walls and excellent in its environment. The handling of the interior, a combination of Papworth and Ashlin architecture, has real quality. The spaces are ample and airy and the proportion is fine. The tripartite arcaded screen before the sanctuary is a solution often found in Ashlin's alterations and it works particularly well at Rush as a focus at the end of the succession of shallow quadripartite plaster vaults installed as part of the 1849 alterations.
There are few other country churches of this date and scale with plasterwork vaults of a quality or elegance to match those at St Maur's. They deserve to survive.
In recommending most positively that this church should be retained and its structure secured I would stress that it has value architectually as an entity. This is a building to conserve carefully and with the utmost ingenuity. There must be room in any scheme for liturgical needs, for modern lighting, amplification and heating systems but these can and should be accommodated to. the historic character of the church.
A restoration which was too thorough and which gutted the interior would be as detrimental to the sense of the church, and to the stock of historic buildings in Ireland almost as demolition.
The author is Professor of the History of Art, at University College, Dublin.