The Oratory of the Sacred Heart

“Let those who come after to see it that their names never be forgotten.”

In July 1847, a group of six Dominican nuns arrived in Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) from Cabra Convent. Their job was to open schools in the town so that the young would be educated. They took possession of a house, known as Echo Lodge, and moved into it making it their new convent. The house and grounds were given to them by a woman, Mrs Daly. The grounds consisted of six acres. Many of the nuns showed great talents in music, art and needlework. Among them was, Sr Concepta Lynch, who taught in the schools. She was born in 1874 and she joined the community in 1898. She taught the boys in the primary school and later taught oil painting and illumination in the boarding school.

A hidden gem of Celtic revival art, The Oratory of the Sacred Heart, is a tiny chapel in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin. It has won numerous architectural awards and was built to commemorate the end of World War I and contains decorative murals by Sr Concepta Lynch.

At the end of World War I, a statue of the Sacred Heart was donated to the parish now Dún Laoghaire to commemorate the many local Irishmen who had fought and died in Flanders during World War One. Irishmen who fought in the British Army during World War I did so for a wide variety of reasons, reasons which included the promise of Home Rule as a limited form of Irish Independence. While World War I raged on, the Easter Rising of 1916 took place in Ireland and led to the Irish War of Independence against Britain. Returning Irishmen in British Army uniform were now treated with suspicion while a new war was fought on Irish soil, waged by the IRA against the forces of the British crown: Black and Tans, Auxilliaries, British Army and RIC. Of these returning Irishmen some joined the IRA, some fought again for the British forces, while most simply hid their medals and got on with their lives.

In the new political climate the subject of commemoration of their sacrifice became contentious. The statue was offered by France and refused by the Christian Brothers and also the local parish church. Finally accepted by Sr Concepta Lynch in the Dominican Convent the statue was placed in the Oratory. Sr Concepta Lynch hand painted the wall behind the statue and the results were so impressive that she was asked to complete the rest of the Oratory, which she proceeded to do from 1920 until 1936. The seven stained glass windows were provided by the famous Harry Clarke Studio of Dublin. This building is now preserved within an outer shell and is open to the public for a very limited period of time each year – visitors are only permitted during local council heritage seasons in the spring and summer. It sometimes opens in October for an open house.

The oratory remains well-preserved and has won numerous architectural awards. There is also peace garden on the grounds, designed by Marcus Thonett, a native of Cologne, Germany. The inside walls are covered with a series of intricate decorations which recall motifs from the “golden age” of Celtic design found on the Book of Kells and elsewhere.

Sr Concepta Lynch was a skilled calligrapher who learned her craft from her father, Thomas Lynch, who in 1880 illuminated an 11 page vellum address which was described as “a complete and perfect renovation” of the ancient Irish tradition.

During the second half of the 19th century, “Celtic style” art was being consciously revived, with imitations of work from the Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow and artefacts such as the Ardagh Chalice and the Cross of Cong. By the early years of this century, however, some artists felt confident enough to experiment with their own contemporary adaptations of the tradition.

Two books were published about her works by the Order, the illustrated A shrine of Celtic art (1977) and The Lynch method of Celtic illumination (1986). Funds were provided in 1996 by the Department of Arts, Culture, and the Gaeltacht to renovate the oratory.

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