One hundred years before the building of the church, the west side of St. Stephen’s Green was known as French Walk because of its many Huguenots residents. The church site was previously occupied by the Synges, a prominent ecclesiastical family who provided five bishops to the Church of Ireland. The site is 60 feet wide with direct street frontage. The houses on either side of the site were at an angle to the street so none of the internal corners of the church are at right angles to each other.
Architect and Builder
The Gothic Revival design by Belfast-based firm Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon, was selected as the winner of an architectural competition to design a new church for the Strand Street congregation. Charles Lanyon was the civil engineer and William Henry Lynn was the architect. Lynn also designed St. Andrew’s Church (Church of Ireland) in Andrew Street in Dublin and one of his major works in Belfast was Queen’s University. In March 1862 the Dublin Builder journal recorded “Messrs Hammond of Drogheda and Dublin have been declared contractors. The expenditure will be about £5,000.00.”
The church is L-shaped and has a one-sided transept with gallery. The roof stands 50 feet above the floor, which is 10 feet above street level. The main body of the church is 58 feet long by 46 feet wide. The spire stands 97 feet above street level. The external walling is of squared granite rubble, and the decorative portions, both external and internal, are of Bath stone from the Box quarries in England. The seating and aisles are designed to give prominent sight of the pulpit from anywhere within the church, in line with the Nonconformist view that the sermon is the most important part of the religious service.
Decorative Features of Note
At the top of each pillar in the main aisle of the church, the roof trusses are supported by carved angels. Those looking down on the transept are acting out the passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians:
Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness, and your feet shod with preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.’
The angel on the south east corner is putting on the “girdle of truth”. The angel on the south west corner is putting on the “helmet of salvation”. The angel on the north west corner is holding the “shield of faith” on which “all the fiery darts of the wicked” can be seen breaking up in pieces, and the angel on the north east corner holds “the Sword of the Spirit” in one hand and “the word of God”, represented by the Bible, in the other.
The Beatitudes (1912)
The six marble plaques on the north wall inscribed with the Beatitudes were the gift of the Right Hon. Sir Andrew Marshall Porter. Link to Notable Unitarians
Communion Table (1940)
The congregation’s 1682 silver communion service, now on loan to the National Museum Collins Barracks was a gift from Rev. Thomas Harrison to his Cook Street congregation.
The Wilson Memorial Window (1918) by A.E. Child An Túr Gloine (The Glass Tower)
Dedicated to Thomas Wilson, head of Thomas Wilson & Sons ship owners of North Wall, Dublin who was one of the prime instigators of the move to St. Stephen’s Green. Link to Notable Unitarians
This window is arranged in five panels: Discovery, Truth, Inspiration, Love and Work. People depicted include Jesus, Florence Nightingale, Galileo Galilei, Christopher Columbus, William Caxton and Martin Luther. Constructed in Sarah Purser’s studio, the window is a fine example of the early 20th century Irish stained-glass revival.
The Hutton Window (1865) by L. Lobin of Tours, France
‘In Deus Incrementum’ – Dedicated to the memory of Thomas Hutton of the famous coach building family of Summerhill which had a long and active association with the Unitarian Church. Link to Notable Unitarians
The Andrews Window (1867) by L. Lobin of Tours, France
Palm Sunday. Dedicated to the memory of Robert Andrews Link to Notable Unitarians
The Gray Window (1866) by L. Lobin of Tours, France
Suffer the Little Children to Come unto Me. Dedicated to the memory of William Smith Gray and Fanny Gray
The Digby Window (1891)
Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Dedicated to the memory of William Arthur Digby
The Huxley Window (1943) by Catherine O’Brien, An Túr Gloine
Courage, Efficiency, Kindness. Dedicated to the memory of Margaret Huxley Link to Notable Unitarians
The West Window (1937) by Ethel Rhind, An Túr Gloine
The Good Samaritan. Dedicated to the memory of Albert Sargent West and Martha Ann West by their daughter Elizabeth West of New York.
The Blackley Window (1868) by L. Lobin of Tours, France
Into His Gates With Thanksgiving And Into His Courts With Praise. Presented by Travers R. Blackley Link to Notable Unitarians
The Organ (1911)
The original organ was installed in the gallery of the church. Following a fire in 1910 it was replaced with the current Walker Organ positioned at the south wall of the church.
The basement level of the church was home to the Damer School. The school provided education for the children of Unitarian families and also for many Jewish children. It closed in June 1954. The Damer Hall, as it became known, hosted a professional and amateur Irish-language theatre from 1955 until the late 1970s. The world premiere of Brendan Behan’s An Giall (The Hostage) took place in the Damer Hall in 1957.
Restoration and Improvement Projects
Buildings of the size and age of the church require ongoing care and attention. Through the efforts of the church community and with the generous support of our friends, well-wishers and state agencies, some important building projects have been undertaken and completed in recent years. A major project to restore the walls and roof of the church was carried out in two phases between 2002 and 2010. A wheelchair accessible lift serving the building at three levels was installed at the north end of the church in 2012. A restoration of the church organ commenced in 2014 and was completed in 2016. A full restoration of the Hutton Window was completed in 2018.