HISTORIC BACKGROUND OF
ST JAMES'S PARISH & CHURCH
The two adjoining parishes of St Catherine’s was a subsidiary parish to St James’s until sometime during the 13th century when they were separated into two distinct parishes, both remaining under the auspices of the Abbey of St. Thomas. In 1546, following the dissolution of the monasteries, they were united, long with St John’s, Kilmainham, as part of a rationalization of Dublin parishes by Archbishop George Browne. It appears that St James’s Church then became a ruin for some time, perhaps because St Catherine’s occupied the leading position of the three parishes.
This was a period of upheaval in the church, as the schism between the Established Church and the Catholic Church took place. St James’s was in the process of being rebuilt by 1630 as a Church of Ireland parish, but the intervening time saw the beginning of a long episode of persecution of Catholics, something that lasted until the 19th century. From this time, a parallel Catholic parish of St Catherine’s and St James’s was in existence, with St James’s being dismembered from St Catherine’s in 1724. This parish worshipped in Dirty Lane Chapel before moving to the corner of Watling Street, and then finally to James’s Street, where it remains today.
Image courtesy of Guinness Archives. Taken by A.R. Turner Esquire of Fox Photos Limited. Date: 1948.
Despite the persistence of Catholics in maintaining places of worship throughout the years of the Penal Laws, there was nowhere to bury their dead. Thus, St James’s graveyard remained the principal burial ground for both religious affiliations down through the centuries, those interred including the clergy of both churches. Eventually, following the Act of Easement of Burial in 1824 and Catholic Emancipation in 1829, new cemeteries were established in Goldenbridge and Glasnevin where Catholic burial rites could be performed.
In 1707, by Act of Parliament, the Church of Ireland parishes were divided again and a new church of St James was constructed. This church is described as being, “...a long, low, narrow building, with six windows in each side, with circular heads. The interior is in a corresponding style: one row of pews on each side, of paneled oak, but not varnished, constitutes the accommodation for the parishioners; there is, beside, a small organ loft, with seats for the parish children, and an organ sufficiently large and well toned. The communion-table is in a shell-formed recess, in the back of which is a glory, in stuccowork.” This church fell down in 1761 and the parishioners attended the chapel at Dr. Steeven’s Hospital while reconstruction work was ongoing. It was reported in 1837 that; “The church is a low and very plain building; owing to the small accommodation it affords to the numerous parishioners, it is the intention of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to erect a new one.” This account also describes the graveyard: “The cemetery is very large and situation on the north side of a hill sloping down towards the river.”
Eventually, in 1859-1861 the 1707 church was replaced by the current structure. It was designed by Joseph Welland, who was architect to the Board of First Fruits and subsequently to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and who was, consequently responsible for the design of over 100 new churches throughout the country. Construction took place between 1859 and 1861.
The spire was reduced in height in the 1940s, due to it being in dangerously poor condition; the funds that would have been required to rebuild it were not available to the church authorities at that time. It was recommended in 1956 that the parish be once again untied with St Catherine’s and St James’s Church closed; in 1963 the final service was held there. In 1967 the church was sold for commercial use and until recently it was used as a lighting showroom. The graveyard has been closed for burials to all except those with existing burial rights since 1955.
In 2013, St James’s church was bought by Dr Pearse Lyons, president and founder of Alltech, whose grandfather John Hubert Lyons, who died in 1948 lays buried in St James’s Graveyard. Alltech have developed the church as a visitor centre and micro distillery, the Pearse Lyons Distillery which opened to the public in 2017.
Research and writing extract from DCC Commissioned, St James's Graveyard Feasibility Study, by Bernard Seymour, Landscape Architects, 2010