Farewell Strand Street
In 1764 the Protestant Dissenters of the old Wood Street Meeting House moved across the river Liffey to a new Meeting House on Strand Street. The building, which was largely financed by the generosity of Joseph Damer, was to be the congregation’s home for the next ninety nine years. Two years before the move Wood Street had been joined by the Dissenters of Mary’s Abbey and it was the minister of that congregation, Rev. John Mears, who had the honour of preaching the sermon at the first service to be held in the new Strand Street premises. In 1787 the Cook Street congregation left their home of 120 years to amalgamate with the Strand Street meeting
These various congregations were part of the general Presbyterian body in the city and their Meeting Houses are described as such in maps, books and records of the time. It was only towards the latter end of its stay in Strand Street, following a divergence between the theological branches of Presbyterianism, that the Meeting House would be listed in street guides as Unitarian. Below is an engraving of the Meeting House and a description of the building provided by a visitor to Dublin in the early part of the 19th century.
Strand Street Meeting House – situated in a retired street, chiefly occupied by merchants’ stores, and recedes a few yards, having in front a small court, with two gates. The front of the building is of brick, two stories in height, without any ornament and the interior is spacious; but quite plain. There are two congregations united in Strand-street Meeting, viz. Wood-street and Cook-street, which were both erected at the period of the secession of Provost Winter.
Attached to this meeting is a Poor-school, where 23 boys are clothed, fed, and educated, and afterwards apprenticed to different trades. (This school was established by the Misses Plunket, whose father was many years minister of the meeting). With the exception of about 30/. per annum, a donation, this school is entirely dependant on the results of an annual charity sermon, preached by one of the ministers of the Church, on the last Sunday in February. But from the great respectability of the Strand-street congregation, this collection may always be calculated upon as ample for the support of the charity; besides this, a collection is made every Sunday, which is appropriated to the use of a number of distressed widows. Adjoining to the meeting-house there is a library of divinity, where the members of the congregation are permitted to read, but owing to its inconvenient situation, it is seldom visited.
The meeting house is shown clearly in a map of 1846 Dublin
The ninety nine years spent in Strand Street coincided with major events in national and international history some of for which members of the congregation were centre stage. Throughout that time the congregation was in good health and it almost always had two ministers and at one stage it had three. The ministers who served in Strand Street were, in order of appointment; the Revs Samuel Bruce; John Mears; John Moody; Thomas Plunket; William Dunne; William Bruce; James Armstrong; William Hamilton Drummond and George Armstrong. It is worth bearing in mind that the congregation at Eustace Street, just a few hundred yards away, also supported two full time ministers during this period.
As the 19th century progressed and with the freedoms gained through the lifting of legal restrictions, congregations of Roman Catholics and Protestant Dissenters of every hue were leaving behind their chapels and meeting houses in the side streets and building new places of worship in prominent locations across the city. The Unitarians were late coming to this programme of church construction as, due to a landmark legal case, their funds had been of uncertain ownership until the passing of the Dissenters Chapels Act in 1844. With the confidence in the ownership of their funds which the Act brought, and with Thomas Wilson as a benefactor, the Strand Street congregation commenced the search for a site for a new church. Two sites were considered, one on Middle Abbey Street and one on Stephen’s Green. Put to a vote, the Stephen’s Green site was selected by a margin of 27 votes to 5.
The site for the new church was secured in 1860; Lanyon Lynn and Lanyon won an architectural completion to design the building and construction work commenced soon afterwards.
As moving day approached the Managing Committee of 150 years ago must have been very busy arranging the removal from Strand Street to Stephen’s Green of the library, portraits of ministers, baptismal and marriage registers, congregational records, communion silver, collection plates, school equipment and the many other items which had accumulated in Strand Street or travelled around Dublin with the congregation since its earliest days in the city. With everything packed and accounted for there just remained the small but important task of notifying the world that the congregation was on the move. Then as now the Irish Times was the paper that carried our notices and on Friday 5th June 1863 the following announcement appeared in the Church Notices section of the paper
The Eustace Street congregation was no doubt impressed with the ‘New Church’ and just four years later and after two centuries as a separate body it too amalgamated with the descendants of the Wood Street congregation.
The Unitarian ministers of Dublin at the time of the opening of our present day church are remembered in different places around the building. A large portrait of Rev Drummond of Strand Street and Stephen’s Green hangs in the vestry and there is a memorial to Rev Armstrong, also of Strand Street and Stephens Green, directly behind the reading desk. Rev Daniel Jeremy of Eustace Street and Stephen’s Green is remembered in a memorial to the right side of the pulpit. In this the 150th anniversary year of the opening of our home on the Green we should give over a little time to remembering these ministers and all the women and men who preceded and followed them who through their time and effort and vision bequeathed us the beautiful building we have today.