St James' Church, Dublin (Church of Ireland)

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St. James' Church and Cemetery
St. James' Church and Cemetery, Dublin.JPG
St. James' Church and Cemetery is located in Central Dublin
St. James' Church and Cemetery
St. James' Church and Cemetery
53°20′37″N 6°17′26″W / 53.34361°N 6.29056°W / 53.34361; -6.29056Coordinates: 53°20′37″N 6°17′26″W / 53.34361°N 6.29056°W / 53.34361; -6.29056
LocationJames's Street, Dublin
Previous denominationChurch of Ireland
DedicationSt. James
Functional statusClosed (private ownership, re-purposed for commercial use)
ProvinceProvince of Dublin
DioceseDiocese of Dublin and Glendalough

St. James' Church (Irish: Eaglais Naomh Séamais) is a former Church of Ireland church in James's Street, Dublin, Ireland. Established in 1707, the corresponding parish, which was separated from that of nearby St. Catherine's, was established in 1710.[1] There had been a shrine dedicated to St. James at nearby St. James's Gate, a stopping-off point for pilgrims, since medieval times. It has been proposed that the current church is near to the site of a church to St. James of Compostella which is first referred to in the mid-13th century.[2]


The existing church building dates from 1859 and was designed by Joseph Welland (1798–1860).[3] It is the burial place of the Rev. John Ellis, for 34 years vicar of this parish, and of William Ellis, governor of Patna, India, who was killed during a war there in 1763.[4]

In 2014, the church was bought by Pearse Lyons and converted into a distillery and visitor centre.[5]

History of the parishes of St. James and St. Catherine[edit]


In 1177 the parish of St. James is mentioned as part of the Abbey of St. Thomas (from which Thomas St. got its name), and the Church of St. Catherine was a chapel-of-ease to the abbey. The boundaries of the parish of St. James were defined by St. Laurence O'Toole and extended right up to the city gate at Corn Market.[6]

By the end of the 13th century the western suburbs had so increased in population that a separate parish was deemed necessary, which was provided for by splitting the parish of St. James and setting up an independent parish for St. Catherine's which was also part of the Abbey of St. Thomas.

Reformation and modern era[edit]

In 1539, Henry VIII dissolved the Abbey of St. Thomas with all other monasteries. In the surrender made by Henry Duffe, last abbot, were included "the Churches of St. Catherine and St. James near Dublin."[citation needed] Both churches, now independent, had new curates appointed by the crown: Sir John Brace to St. Catherine's (which was shortly taken over by Peter Ledwich) and Sir John Butler to St. James.

Over the following hundred years both churches passed over to the reformed Church of Ireland, while Roman Catholic priests led a precarious existence tending to the larger part of the population, which remained faithful to the old religion.[6] The parish of St. Catherine appears to have been the only viable one in the area at that time - Roman Catholics eventually got the use of a chapel in Dirty Lane (now Bridgefoot Street) towards the end of the 17th century.

The Roman Catholic parish of St. James was set up in 1724, while the Church of Ireland parish of the same name came into existence in 1710.[6] Both Church of Ireland parishes corresponded with the civil parishes of the same names.


As of 2019, the cemetery at the church is overgrown and is not accessible to the public. It is owned by the Dublin city council, and community efforts are underway to revive the tradition of annual cleaning and decoration.[7]

In the centre of the cemetery is the monument of Sir Theobald Butler (1650-1720), of the Butlers of Ballyline, a prominent barrister who served as Solicitor General for Ireland and assisted in framing the articles of the Treaty of Limerick in 1691, and who advocated the Roman Catholic cause before Parliament. His monument has a Latin epitaph stating that it was erected by his eldest son "to the best of fathers." Since Butler was a Catholic, it is noteworthy that the Church of Ireland made no objection to his being buried in St. James'. The monument was restored by Colonel Augustus Butler D.L. of County Clare, his descendant in the fourth generation, in 1876.

The "Fountain", built in 1790 by the Duke of Rutland

Sir Mark Rainsford, Mayor of Dublin and owner of the brewery which was sold to Arthur Guinness, was buried in St James in 1709. Also buried here is Sergeant-Major John Lucas, VC, who died 4 March 1892 and Sir William Haldane-Porter founder of the UK Immigration Service, who died in 1944.

Holy well and fountain[edit]

Across the road from the church, in the middle of the road, is the Fountain, an obelisk with 4 sundials with a drinking fountain at its base, built in 1790 by the Duke of Rutland, the Lord Lieutenant. It was an old custom that funeral processions passing the fountain would circle it three times before carrying on to the cemetery. The fountain is said to be located on the former site of one of the holy wells of St. James which were a focus of the Fair of St. James, the Pattern Sunday celebration for that saint.[2]

In his 1610 Protestant critique "A New Description of Ireland", Barnaby Rich records an outline of the holy well tradition which predates the current fountain and obelisk:[8]

The multitude of rascall people that vseth to frequent this faire, are first accustomed to perform certaine ceremonies at S. Iames his well, in casting the water, backward and forward, on the right side and on the left, and ouer their heads; then drinking a draught of the water, they go into the Faire...


Although the present church only dates to the 18th century, there are records of burials as early as 1495 and it is believed that the cemetery may have been in use as early as the 13th century.[2]

Cemetery decoration[edit]

During the Fair of St. James, which was held in James's Street, opposite the church-yard, parishioners and their families cleaned and decorated the graves with garlands and ornaments made of white paper. The fair was banned by the 1730s but continued in a smaller way next to the cemetery.[2] The fair ended by the 1820s.[7] In 1821, G. N. Wright wrote of a custom to "deck the graves with garlands and ornaments, made of white paper, disposed into very extraordinary forms".[9] Nicholas Carlisle's description of the St. James cemetery decoration tradition indicates that it was already considered an old one by 1828.[10]

Notable parishioners[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gilbert (1854)
  2. ^ a b c d Hopkins, Frank (2008). Hidden Dublin: Deadbeats, Dossers and Decent Skins. Mercier Press, Ltd. p. 28.
  3. ^ Casey (2005), p. 625
  4. ^ Wright (1825)
  5. ^ Scales, Joan (8 May 2017). "Irish whiskey flows as new distilleries open in Dublin and around country". Irish Times. Retrieved 28 December 2021.
  6. ^ a b c Short Histories of Dublin Parishes. Part IX. at
  7. ^ a b Murphey, Sean. "The Story of St. James Fair". Fountain Resource Group. Archived from the original on 14 September 2019. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  8. ^ Rich, Barnaby (1610). A New Description of Ireland. London: Thomas Adams. p. 53. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  9. ^ G N, Wright (1821). An Historical Guide to Ancient and Modern Dublin. London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy. p. 164.
  10. ^ Carlisle, Nicholas (1828). An historical account of the Origin of the Commission appointed to inquire concerning charities in England and Wales; and, an illustration of several old customs and words, which occur in the reports. London. pp. 326–327.

Other sources[edit]