Kilmainham Congregational Church was the last surviving and longest surviving Congregational Church in Dublin when it closed to worship in 1999. It is one of the few remaining physical remnants of the Congregational tradition in Dublin. The church building was constructed in 1814 by Obadiah Willans, a wealthy mill owner from Leeds, to cater for the spiritual needs of the community of highly trained artisans from Yorkshire who worked in the adjacent Hibernian (Woollen) Mill, and lived in “Albion Terrace”, a row of two-storey houses opposite the church that was also constructed by Willans at about the same time.
The Willans’ developments at Kilmainham – including the Mill-Owners house – could be seen as an attempt to create a model industrial village on the outskirts of Dublin with purpose-built housing, mills, factories and a chapel catering for all the needs of its specialist workforce, a model further developed by the Inchicore Railway Works to the west.
Obadiah Willans himself was a significant social figure in the Dublin of this time. He supplied cloth to Kilmainham Gaol, sat on the first Grand Jury on the opening of the Kilmainham Session House in 1820, and hosted an extensive visit of his operations by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Henry Paget in 1828.
The church itself is a fine example of the modest dissenter style with simple but well-judged geometrical proportions and plain detailing. Its pure geometric form and fine Georgian Gothic windows make Kilmainham Congregational Church one of the finest remaining examples of an early 1800’s dissenter meeting house in Ireland. These impressive windows – measuring almost 4 sqm. in area with 34 individual glass panes each– are original and retain a large proportion of the original crown glass glazing. The windows are up and down timber sashes with a 10 over 10 rectangular glazing pattern and semi-circular top sash and a fine switched gothic timber tracery at high level.
Sensitively converted into a house in 2009 by John J O’Connell Architects, the chapel occupies a raised piece of land above Inchicore Road and looks out over the remaining vestiges of its original industrial context of mill buildings, mill owner’s house and the purpose-built workers’ housing.
The elusive and special character of Kilmainham Congregational Church is rooted in its history – architectural, industrial, cultural and social. The story of this small chapel is the story of the rise and fall of the milling industry in Dublin, the specialist migrant labour brought in to drive the industrial revolution in Ireland, (Yorkshire mill workers and Welsh railway workers), the drive for Irish Home Rule and Independence and the later displacement and marginalisation of all things socially and culturally British.
Annette Clancy & Ronan O’Connor
Image right: Kilmainham Congregational Church. Image supplied by Annette Clancy.