Nicknames are something that Dubliners are good at handing out, usually to friends and acquaintances, but it is rare that buildings are so honoured. So, I was really looking forward to visiting St Stephen’s Church, a place that I had passed many times but never entered and, like most people, called ‘The Pepper Canister’.
By the early 1800s with the city spreading out into new suburbs there was a need for a church to serve the growing community beyond Merrion Square. The Earl of Pembroke, a significant local landowner, gave the site for the church for free and an additional £700. And he, like many other parishioners, had their family pew, indicated by a brass nameplate. Over the years some of the well-known church attendees included; the poet and Senator WB Yeats, writer Sheridan La Fanu, a young Duke of Wellington, wit and dramatist Oscar Wilde and Thomas Davis who founded The Nation newspaper and wrote the ballad A Nation Once Again. The church’s address is Mount Street Crescent and this too has an interesting story to tell. The word mount is derived from the mound at the junction of Baggot Street and Fitzwilliam Street where a gallows once stood!
St Stephen’s was one of the last Georgian churches built in Dublin and was designed by John Bowden who also responsible for the church of St Philip & St James, Booterstown. Sadly, he died during construction and the work was completed by Joseph Welland. It was consecrated by the Archbishop of Dublin, William Magee on 5th December 1824 and the final cost was £5,169!
The original building was rectangular and the colourful apse (East end) was added in 1852. But it is the front (West end) that is the most attractive and giving an unbroken view, across Merrion Square south side, to Leinster House. It is a beautifully realised feature, unchanged in almost two centuries. The cupola at the top of the church is a model of the Choregos of Lysicrates in Athens and where we get the familiar nickname.
Inside, there are wonderful stained glass windows which were not original features but added in Victorian times. A piece by the renowned Beatrice Elvery and another in honour of Dr Joliffe Tufnell, a former President of the College of Surgeons, look great in the sunlight. The organ dates from the 1750s and the carved rosewood pulpit is particularly attractive. Upstairs I noted a plaque in honour of Captain Charles King a man who survived the Battle of Balaclava (1854). I definitely hadn’t been expecting that. Wonderful.