The History of Christianity & Portmarnock

In 1934 Portmarnock celebrated the opening of Saint Anne’s church, its first Catholic church in centuries. In the 1930’s this was a country village with a population of about 300 residents. Life was tranquil even though times were hard and money scarce. Most people relied on the land for their income. The church was built at a cost of £1800, which meant people no longer had to make the long walk to Baldoyle church every Sunday. The church was more commonly known as the “tin church” and the inaugural blessing was done by Archbishop Edward Byrne. By the 1940’s changes were staring to occur with road widening, electricity and public sewerage being installed in homes. The new Taoiseach, John A Costello was invited to open Portmarnock’s first parish carnival in July 1948, the event raised £1,000 for parish funds.  Portmarnock parish was a sub-parish of Baldoyle. The first dedicated priest for Portmarnock was appointed that year, Father Gerard Haugh, who served in the parish until his death in 1984. By the 1950s Portmarnock was beginning to develop more quickly. While many people still lived in temporary dwellings, plans were afoot to build 60 houses at an estimated cost of £39K to Dublin County Council.  The housing estate Saint Anne’s Square was constructed in 1952. Portmarnock continued to expand at a fast rate with new housing developments springing up close to the beach. Developers bought up tracts of land, especially the vast Willan estate, which was sold off in 1972, more housing estates were built. The event which made Portmarnock a proper townland occurred in 1972, when it became a parish in its own rite and no longer being resourced and managed from Baldoyle. 

Saint Marnock’s Church Ruins: Saint Marnock, who arrived in the 6th century, established his church on the dunes. The entire parish area was eventually named after him (Port Mearnóg - The Landing Place of Marnock).  He may thus be regarded as the founder of the distinct entity which evolved as Portmarnock. Saint Marnock’s church, the stone church on the dunes, off Strand Rd., now in ruins, dates from the twelfth century. It is believed to have been preceded there by at least one earlier church, probably built of wood. The church had triple bell-arches, arranged ‘one-above-two’. Although it was a long time ago and historical records do not all agree, the story is now part of Portmarnock folklore. Saint Marnock, came to Ireland as a disciple of St Patrick. After being refused admittance to Wicklow, St Patrick sailed further up the coastline until he came to Dublin Bay. When he saw Portmarnock beach he decided to land there. St Marnock asked permission of St Patrick to stay on there and set up a church. He built the church and started to baptize the local people at a nearby well.  Beside the holy well, St Marnock’s well, which was accessed by sixteen steps leading down, was a pillar stone. The pillar stone had ogham inscriptions and symbols on its angles. The stone was supposed to have been incorporated in the masonry of the well when it was closed in the eighteen hundreds. The well was about 40 feet in circumference and 11 and a half feet in diameter. Up to a hundred years ago the locals used to make the rounds at the well on a day in August, which is called ‘Patron’s Day.’ They used to tie ribbons on a nearby bush to remind St Marnock of the favours they asked for. But all this stopped when Mr. Jameson filled in the well and diverted the water to a nearby cattle pond. St Marnock’s Church and churchyard burial-ground, the Ogham Stone, and St Marnock’s Well, are all included in Fingal County Council’s list of protected monuments and in the National Monuments Service’s list of monuments. 

In the early ninth century the Norsemen arrived, and it may have been they who built the original tide-mill. The last Danish King of Dublin, Hamund Mac Turcaill, held lands in Portmarnock until the late 12th century, when the Anglo-Normans ousted him. Members of the Talbot family then had a motte and bailey base constructed at Wheatfield. Later, they built Malahide Castle and moved there. The surviving earthen motte and bailey mound at Wheatfield remains and is a protected monument. The Normans had introduced rabbits to Ireland and a commercial rabbit warren was operated in Burrow over ensuing centuries. 

Around the 12th century the lands of Portmarnock and all surrounding parishes were granted by King Henry II to the Cistercian monks of Saint Mary’s Abbey, in Dublin. A new church was built on the site and the church was used up until c.1615 and has been in ruins since. Locally very little information has survived about these times. On the northern side of the well grew an old willow tree, long since cut down. The tree used to bend over towards the water on the approach of a storm and acted as a warning to local fishermen. After the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century, the Barnewall family of Turvey gained the lands of Burrow and the tide-mill. Later the mill was let to several different operators, before eventually falling into disuse in the 19th century. Its stonework remains visible near the bridge on Strand Rd. This was to bring about the monastic ‘Grange of Portmarnock’, comprising the western portion of the parish. In the 15th century, a village was established in an area straddling the present Station Road and this existed until the late 17th century. The abbey held Portmarnock until the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century. Subsequently, Portmarnock was divided between members of the Barnewall family - Robswall and Burrow - and the Plunkett family - Grange/Carrickhill/ Portmarnock. In the 17th century, Walter Plunkett had his Grange lands confiscated for siding with the 1641 rebellion. Those lands were eventually, subdivided into the modern townlands of Grange, Hazlebrook, Broomfield, Saint Helens and Beechwood. The Plunkett's in Portmarnock House, however, managed to retain their lands, which they held until the mid-20th century. 

In the 17th and 18th centuries, penal times, many of the country’s churches were in ruins.  Mass was said in people’s houses or at mass rocks in isolated spots where the priest often would come disguised. Despite hardship the Catholic faith survived. In Baldoyle records show that between 1654 and 1656 over 80 couples were married and 600 children baptised. Records also show that Father Anselm lived in the caverns and rocks of Baldoyle from 1656, travelling about in disguise to say mass. In 1829 when the Catholic Emancipation Ace was granted the Catholic church slowly began to re-organise itself. By the late 1800s the parish of Baldoyle which included Portmarnock had succeeded in building a church. The church has the distinction of being one of the oldest surviving churches to the north of the Liffey. 

By this time the Protestant church in Portmarnock had a very small congregation. In 1843, records show that there were 83 Protestants and 300 Catholics in Portmarnock. In 1881 the Protestant church in Portmarnock was united with Malahide. The protestant church was consecrated on the 26th of May 1790. In Baldoyle the building of the church was soon followed by the setting up of a convent by the Irish Sisters of Charity. The sisters visited the sick and poor in both Baldoyle and Portmarnock. They also came to the Jameson School in Portmarnock twice a week to give religious instruction. Shortly after the Irish Christian Brothers arrived and opened a novitiate in Baldoyle. It was there that the postulants entered to become Christian Brothers. One such postulant was Michael Hayden; his father was the schoolmaster of the Jameson school in Portmarnock. In 1929 Father Carrick’s replacement, Canon Field started the discussion the possibility of getting a chapel of ease built in Portmarnock. A curate, Father Camac, covered the vast parish of Baldoyle, stretching from the Old Shieling in Raheny to the Hill of Malahide. With Father Camac’s support, the local Portmarnock parishioners met at Comerford’s Hall. The attendance was overwhelming and anew committee set a task to build a church. The area was divided into districts and a weekly collection was arranged for one shilling per week. This lasted up until 1948. In 1933 Canon Field announced officially the building of the new chapel and a site was being sought. Larry O’Neill, a former Lord Mayor of Dublin and resident of Portmarnock, donated a site for the church in the centre of the village. His only request was that the church be dedicated to Saint Anne to whom he had a great devotion. And so, Saint Anne’s ‘tin church’ came into being.  St Anne’s was to be a temporary church, built at a cost of £1,800, it was guaranteed to last twenty years. It was a great tribute to the builders, McInerney's of East Wall, that the was in use for fifty years. Sunday, 23rd of July 1934, was a proud day for Portmarnock. Dr. Byrne, Archbishop of Dublin, blessed and dedicated the new church. As a chapel of ease to Baldoyle parish, it was a long time before ceremonies such as baptisms, weddings and confirmations were held in Portmarnock. St Anne’s at that stage only offered the celebration of mass and confession. Carol singing was a popular method for raising funds in the 1950s. Ther ambition of the church committee was to raise funds for a crib, which would cost the sum of £30, which was almost prohibitive. The US Ambassador, John Matthews, was staying in the Country Club hotel while his residence was being renovated. He heard of the children’s carol singing and invited them and their teachers, P. J. Ryan and Maureen Dillon to the hotel on the Saturday before Christmas for a recital. He donated £1 for every child carol singer and a cheque for £50 was given which was used to purchase a crib. The ‘tin church’ was the centre of local life through the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. In 1972 Portmarnock became a parish in its own right.  

The first parish priest was Father Hayes and from then on, all the services of the Catholic Church were carried out in St Anne’s. In 1979, with the rapid expansion of the parish another temporary church was built in Martello, called Holy Family. Meanwhile plans were afoot to build a more modern and larger church. After 9:00 a.m. mass on the first Sunday in May, the communicants would be taken in their finery for breakfast at Mrs O’Hagen’s tea rooms at the junction of Carrickhill Road and Strand Road.  Mrs. O’Hagen provided the breakfast free of change, the tea rooms closed c.1964. He grandson, John Farrelly, was the first native of Portmarnock to be ordained a priest.  Two year’s earlier St. Anne’s had its first local ordination, P.J. Somers had spent most of his life living in Portmarnock and was ordained by Bishop James Kavanagh. Father Leo Dolan was Portmarnock’s first resident priest and lived in a house built for him on the site of the Jameson School, which was demolished, in 1965. Tragically he accidentally drowned in 1970, having served the parish for five years. The new St. Anne’s Church was blessed and dedicated in 8th May 1983 by Archbishop Dermot Ryan. The cost was £374,000 and designed to seat 800 people. An interesting link between the tine church and the new one is the church bell which was originally donated in 1954 Mr. And Mrs. John Foy. John was a native of Portmarnock and they had both emigrated to the U.S.A.. When visiting in 1954 he offered to purchase the bell, which cost £80, from the Protestant Church in Castleisland, County Kerry. In 1982 the bell was transferred to the new church belfry.   

Since the mid-20th century, different factors have possibly tended towards altered perceptions of Portmarnock parish area. Those factors include changed postal addressing, revised church parish areas and new housing developments around the edges. In the 19th century, the Ordnance Survey set out the boundaries of the Civil Parish and its ten internal townland divisions, on which subsequent local taxation and electoral arrangements were based. These townlands are Beechwood, Broomfield, Burrow, Carrickhill, Glebe, Grange, Hazlebrook, Portmarnock, Robswall and Saint Helens. 

But time moves on and in 2005, following a public meeting, a “Refurbishment Committee” was formed.  The creation of a centre aisle was proposed but with a new seating layout – it was suggested that a semi-circular arrangement would create a more inclusive area, encouraging more participation by the congregation in the liturgy.  A survey of the roof revealed that not only did most of the tiles and felt need replacing, but the roof structure also itself had not withstood the winds of Portmarnock’s winters and had warped in some areas.  So, there was now no alternative but to build a completely new roof. 

Many more improvements were made – a new baptistery, centralisation of the tabernacle, new heating and lighting, wheelchair access to the sanctuary, a new shrine area and finally the restoration of the beautiful circular rose window which had been rescued from the tin church, before it was dismantled, by two parishioners, Geraldine Kretch and her husband Noel.  It was David Sweeney who made the beautiful frame in which it is set.  The centre pane shows the sacred host, and the surrounding panes depict symbols of the passion of Jesus. 

The altar, tabernacle and lectern have images that are worth noting.  The altar has the Holy Spirit, the host and grapes and sheaves of wheat – all symbols of the Eucharist.  The lectern has images of the four evangelists: the lion for St. Matthew, the ox for St. Luke, the eagle for St. John and St. Matthew is seen as the tax collector.  The tabernacle has the Lamb of God image with a road inviting us to follow him. The newly refurbished church was rededicated and blessed on September 22, 2007, by the Archbishop of Dublin, Very Rev. Diarmuid Martin.