Saint Mary's Abbey
Saint Mary's Abbey
The 8th section of Wandering Rocks takes place in the
chapter house of "saint Mary's abbey," the only
remaining building of what had once been a large complex
housing the wealthiest abbey in Ireland. By 1904 the noble
building had descended to serving as a warehouse for a seed
business. There, Ned Lambert is giving a historical tour to
the Reverend Hugh C. Love, a visitor to Dublin from a town
about twenty miles west.
The chapter house on Meetinghouse Lane was built ca. 1200 as
part of what was then a Cistercian abbey, which ceased to
exist in the late 1530s with Henry VIII's Dissolution of the
Monasteries. Stones from the abbey buildings were gradually
salvaged for other purposes, including the construction of the
Essex (now Grattan) Bridge across the Liffey in the 1600s. In
1904 the chapter house building was owned by the Alexander
& Co. seed merchants, whose offices were around the corner
at 2-5 Mary's Lane. The remains of the abbey were declared a
national monument in 1941, and the chapter house can now be
visited from mid-June to mid-September.
Gifford quotes from D. A. Chart's The Story of Dublin (London,
1907): "The Chapter House, which must have been a lofty and
splendid room, has been divided into two stories by the
building of a floor half way up its walls. In the upper
chamber, a loft used for storing sacks, the beautifully
groined stone roof remains intact, looking very incongruous
amidst its surroundings. The upper part of an old window is
still visible. In the lower story the ancient architecture is
concealed by the brickwork of wine vaults" (276-77).
Chapter houses were spaces where all the members of a
monastery (or the clergy of a cathedral) could meet to conduct
business. In medieval times it was common for monarchs and
other nobles to commandeer them for affairs of state, and this
one was no exception. The Reverend Love has come to visit the
St. Mary's chapter house because of his interest in the
history of the Irish aristocracy, and Ned Lambert proudly
describes it as "the most historic spot in all Dublin."
It was indeed here that "silken Thomas proclaimed himself a
rebel in 1534," renouncing his allegiance to the English
crown on the basis of a mistaken
report that his father, the 9th Earl of Kildare, had
been executed by Henry VIII.
The clergyman plans to make a return trip to photograph the
vaulted roof over the room where the grain sacks are stored.
Ned Lambert promises to clear some bags away from the windows,
and suggests a couple of "points of vantage" where a
camera could be set up. Today that task has been admirably
accomplished by Andy Sheridan, in the photograph reproduced