Dons Dublin: St  Catherine’s Church

by Don Cameron
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St. Catherine’s Church on Thomas Street, dates back to the early Norman invasion and was built in 1185. It is located on what was once called the “Slí Mhór” (Great Way) – an important route that ran westwards across Ireland from Dublin. 

The building that stands now was originally built between 1760 and 1769 to the designs of the architect John Smyth (who was also responsible for the interior of St Werburgh’s Church among other works in Dublin at the time). 

A noted authority on Dublin architecture, Maurice Craig, wrote that St. Catherine’s has “the finest façade of any church in Dublin”. Its façade is built of mountain granite and has in the centre four Doric semi-columns supporting a pediment, and at the extremities coupled pilasters. Originally a spire was intended, but this was not completed – due to lack of funds.

St Catherines Church Dublin

Internally, St. Catherine’s is a galleried church (a type common in Dublin from the late 17th century). Architects Curdy and Mitchell restored the church in 1877, and during the following decade an interior reordering was undertaken by architect James Franklin Fuller, during which the old box pews were replaced with open ones.

The crypt contains the remains of several Earls of Meath. Christopher Plunkett, 2nd Earl of Fingal, fatally wounded at the Battle of Rathmines, was buried in St Catherine’s in August 1649.

The church closed in 1966 due to a decrease in the size of the local congregation. The church was de-consecrated the following year, and for a period was used by Dublin Corporation for exhibitions and concerts. After a period of decline, and later of refurbishment, St. Catherine’s was re-consecrated and has been the place of worship for the Anglican “CORE” church (City Outreach for Renewal and Evangelism) since then.

It is, however, most famously associated with execution of Robert Emmet on 20th September 1803. Having led the failed rising in July he and more than twenty others were executed, and his grave is unidentified. 

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