The Welsh Chapel in Dublin

Among the papers of the Cyfarfod Misol Môn (‘Anglesey Monthly Meeting’) in the County Archives in Llangefni is a collection of particular significance relating to the Welsh Chapel in Talbot Street, Dublin. It was the only chapel of its kind in Ireland and it came under the jurisdiction of the Henaduriaeth Môn (the Anglesey ‘Presbytery’).

As one might expect it began as a Mission to the hundreds of Welsh seamen who used to visit the city with the holding of services on the various ships that happened to be in the port of Dublin. These arrangements were considered to be most unsatisfactory and so it was that the chapel was built in 1838, not far from the city centre. With the opening of the chapel the congregation grew as it attracted Welsh people who were living and working in the city itself. But for all that, however, the maritime atmosphere remained strong. The gallery was called the ‘Quarter‑Deck’ and only sailors were allowed to sit there. On the ground floor (or the ‘Main Deck’ as it was called) the men sat on the ‘starboard side’ (the right) and the women on the ‘port side’ (the left). It also included some surprising accessories such as spittoons near some of the men’s seats and in the early years smoking was permitted!

The old chapel was an island of Welshness in the heart of Dublin, something which was a cause of both surprise and envy among the Irish as Ernest Blythe, Minister for Finance in the Irish government in 1951, explains :

When I joined the Gaelic League and began to learn Irish, one of my fellow members told me, almost with bated breath, that the Welsh community in Dublin had its own church in which services were conducted in Welsh. I went there one Sunday morning to revel in the sound of a language closely related to Irish. That little Welsh‑speaking congregation maintaining its individuality in a foreign city, made a profound impression on me.

But, in view of Ireland’s troubled history, there was another side to the story. Although chapel members were never assaulted there was ill feeling against Protestants in Parnell’s time (Parnell himself and Douglas Hyde [1860‑1949], founder of the Gaelic League and later the first President of Ireland, were both Protestants – Ed.) especially after the failure of the Home Rule Bills – the general feeling among the Irish was that it was the Protestants and their opposition that had caused the failure. During that period stones were thrown and windows were broken. One member was so fearful that he used to come to the service with a revolver in his pocket. In the same way the Easter Rising in 1916 created difficulties and the chapel had to be closed for more than a week because of the fighting. It is said of the Minister, John Lewis, that during the Rising a bullet went through the rim of his hat!

Despite going through troubled times the chapel continued to survive even though the number of worshippers was less every year. However, in December 1939 the Cyfarfod Misol (monthly meeting) in Llangefni decided to close the chapel for the duration of hostilities because of the difficulties confronting ministers making the sea crossing to Ireland to conduct the services. In August 1944 it was announced that the chapel had been sold. In this way the story of the only Calvinistic Methodist chapel in Ireland came to an end.

The old chapel building still stands in Talbot Street. For a time it was a shoe shop and later it housed a snooker hall. Perhaps it would be an idea to place a plaque on the front wall to tell of what it has been. What do present chapel goers in Wales think?

©: Einion Thomas,.

Formerly Archivist, Dolgellau Record Office, Gwynedd, our contributor is now based at the University of Bangor.

Translation from Welsh: Wales Famine Forum.

Readers of Welsh may wish to read a fuller account in the book, ‘Wrth Angor yn Nulyn’ (‘At Anchor in Dublin’) by Huw Llewelyn Williams.

Published in The Green Dragon No 10, Spring 2002

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