New Entrance For Dublinia

Dublin 8

The former Synod Hall, now occupied by Dublinia, is set in an island position surrounded by High Street to the south, St. Michael’s Hill to the east, Cock Lane (also Cox) to the north and St. Michael’s Lane to the west. Neighbouring to the east is Christ Church Cathedral, which is linked to Dublinia by a stone bridge containing a staircase which leads down to the nave of the cathedral. Integrated into the nineteenth century fabric of the building is the seventeenth century tower of the former St. Michael’s Church, which was demolished when the present building was built between 1871 and 1875.

St. Michael’s Church
The first church or chapel to St. Michael was founded by Donat Bishop of Dublin who died in 1074, although some believe the church was founded by Laurence O’Toole who was Archbishop of Dublin from 1162 to 1182.

In 1630 the Church of St. Michael was described as ‘in very good reparacon and furnished with ornaments befitting’. However by 1667 the south wall of the church was described as being in a ruinous state . On May 14 of that year, at a vestry meeting it was determined to rebuild the south wall of the church together with the porch. However these works did not proceed immediately and at a further vestry meeting held on September 14 1674, further repairs to the church and steeple were called for. Eventually at a vestry meeting held on June 12 1676 it was recorded that repair and re-building works were being carried out by Thomas Monsefield and Hugh Kinder. The works proceeded apace but it is evident that the condition of the building was much worse than initially thought and on October 28 it is recorded that the entire steeple had been taken down to foundation level. The new steeple was built off driven wooden piles, which supported a timber raft, this being necessary because of the poor quality of the ground.

The vestry minutes for June 19 1679 refer to a William Rotheray (Freemason of Dublin) working on the second storey of the steeple. The steeple was left unfinished at a height of only 50 feet in 1679 and on June 15 1694 it was agreed to complete the steeple and raise it by thirty five feet at a cost of one hundred and forty pounds.

It would appear however that the building slipped into decay again as on August 24 1786, the City Grand Jury ordered that the church be taken down as it was unsafe. It is believed that the cause of this decay was poor workmanship during the 1670s rebuilding of the church and it is possible that the timber piles and raft structure employed beneath the building were the contributing factor. The church was indeed taken down at this time although the tower was left standing and an auction was had of the building materials, roof timbers and pews and church fittings. A Wide Streets Commissioners map of 1791 clearly shows the site of the church as being vacant with the tower left as a free standing structure.

Following the demolition of the church, the parishioners of St. Michael’s were actively engaged in raising the funds necessary to build a new church and at the vestry meeting on April 12 1810, the committee were able to announce that they had adequate funds and it was decided to engage Edward Parke, architect, of 31 South William Street, to prepare plans and elevations for the new church. Subsequently these plans were approved.

The church as completed can be seen in part in the watercolour view of the western elevation of Christ Church Cathedral and Christ Church Lane, but which shows the east end of St. Michael’s. The newly built church is typical of the gothic revival style then prevalent.

The Synod Hall
On May 31 1871 that the Archbishop of Dublin received a letter from Henry Roe of Mount Anville House, offering to pay for the complete restoration of Christ Church cathedral. Roe stipulated that Street should be retained as architect. One week after this first extraordinary letter, Roe also agreed to pay for the erection of the Synod Hall. The purpose of the new Synod hall was to accommodate the new General Synod of the Church of Ireland, which had been formed following the Disestablishment of the Church.

Construction on the cathedral and synod hall got under way almost immediately. With regard to the construction of the new Synod Hall there was much debate as to where it should be sited. This was an entirely new building type and there were no historic precedents for its siting in relation to the cathedral. Another concern was the scale of this new building in relation to the cathedral and the fear that it might overpower the cathedral, which in itself is of rather a modest size while others felt that it would be inappropriate to position the building where it would obscure parts of the restored cathedral. Street initially proposed placing the Synod Hall to the south west of the Cathedral over part of the former cloister and prepared an elaborate scheme for such. Some authorities preferred that it was situated in the south eastern part of the cathedral grounds but Street believed that it would be a great mistake to shut the restored cathedral and the new chancel out of sight from the newly widened Christ Church Place.

The Synod Hall opened on April 6 1875 some three years before the cathedral restoration was completed. The building was provided with a fine main hall for the accommodation of the synod itself with division lobbies adjoining and with meeting rooms on the ground floor. The former tower to St. Michael’s was retained to picturesque effect and was ‘restored’ and modified by Street. While the building was an impressive new venue for the synod it was quickly noted that there were some problems with the building. In 1879, it was reported that ‘It would appear that the internal arrangement of the Synod Hall … have never been satisfactory since its erection.’ ‘the hall was at present very unsuitable for the purpose of debate, was very ill-ventilated, and was badly constructed both for the purposes of hearing and admitting of the debates being satisfactorily reported.’ As a result of the above criticisms it was proposed to re-arrange the benches and remove the bishop’s seating from the alcove on the east side of the hall and to place it at the north end of the hall.

Historic/Original Architect(s)