The destruction of the open-air pulpit at St Mark’s
U 6.183-4: They went past the bleak pulpit of saint Mark's, under the railway bridge, past the Queen's theatre: in silence.
At first glance it may seem odd that you could see the ‘bleak pulpit of saint Mark’s’ when you were passing along Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street) in Dublin. St. Mark’s is noted – surprisingly – for two pulpits. The main pulpit was said to have been constructed from the wood of a ship sunk in Dublin Bay in the 1750s. But Joyce is referring here to the pulpit outside the church, in the graveyard.
Dignam's funeral cortege moves along Great Brunswick Street, past the Antient Concert Rooms,
past the remains of the open-air pulpit (which was in the south-east corner of St Mark’s graveyard),
under the railway bridge, and past the Queen's theatre. (Courtesy: Ian Gunn)
In 1890, St Mark’s was lucky enough to attract Edmond Robinson as its vicar. The church was languishing, and the parishioners by all accounts too poor in general to be able to finance the necessary improvements. It was a bleak church, surrounded by a bleak, high wall.
Edmond Robinson was the man for the job. He immediately started to work with the Vestry Committee on plans to improve the church, both inside and out. In 1891 he appealed to the citizens of Dublin for funds towards the work, and he was successful:
Since then, owing to the generous response to that appeal, the interior walls have been newly painted, the ceiling whitened, the interior woodwork painted, new matting laid down, and the tower repaired, &c. The Select Vestry have now accepted a tender for the repairing and alteration of the outside wall, part of which is in a dangerous condition, and the building of a new porch to the entrance facing Great Brunswick street.
1892 Irish Times 5 January, p. 6
Edmond Robinson was not only active on the funding front. He was a staunch advocate of outdoor preaching and honorary secretary of the Open-Air Mission for Ireland, a relatively short-lived organization which promoted open-air religion. Hence his interest in an outdoors pulpit.
The high wall of St Mark's fronting on to Great Brunswick Street
Shaw's Dublin Pictorial Guide & Directory of 1850
The dangerous outside wall of St Mark’s was soon pulled down:
In 1892-3 the wall surrounding the graveyard was removed, and a railing substituted, the ground being put in order. This has been a great improvement. At the same time an open-air pulpit was erected at the south-east corner.
E. M. Cosgrave and L. R. Strangways Dictionary of Dublin (1895), p. 218
Now that the church was renovated inside and out, the Reverend Robinson turned his attention to fund-raising for a School House and a Parochial Hall in Westland Row. Things were moving fast in the parish.
The Irish Times advertises an open-air meeting in May 1897:
St. Mark’s Church. – Open-air meeting in the churchyard, 8.15 p.m.
Irish Times (1897) 15 May 4
More work was planned for the church, and in July 1899 Morning Service was temporarily moved to the Antient Concert Rooms nextdoor, with Evening Service taking place in the Parochial Hall. By September the Vestry Commitee could look back with some satisfaction at what they had achieved:
The old dead wall round the church has been taken down, and in its place iron railings, which are freshly painted, have been substituted. The churchyard, in which parishioners for close on two hundred years have been interred, has been levelled and planted, and, viewed from Great Brunswick street, the luxuriant foliage of the trees forms a highly attractive picture, while the grounds are beautifully kept, and the numerous graves preserved in admirable order.
Irish Times (1899) 4 September, p. 3
But then disaster struck in November:
Great Storm in Dublin. Considerable Damage... The establishments round this scene appeared to suffer the full force of the gale. The open air pulpit in the centre of the burial ground around St. Mark’s Protestant Church was blown down, its pedestal snapping in two with a loud report, and the body of the pulpit being broken to pieces. Several trees around it were blown down, and their branches were blown off and carried down Great Brunswick street for a considerable distance, many of them striking passengers and vehicles in the street. Several of the monuments to the dead were injured.
Freeman’s Journal (1899) 4 November
The Irish Times corroborates:
Great Storm in Dublin. Much Damage to Property. Houses Blown Down... In St. Mark’s Churchyard the wind created great destruction, blowing open the vestry door, uprooting a large tree, and completely wrecking the pulpit which had been used in the graveyard for open-air preaching.
Irish Times (1899) 4 November, p. 6
By the time of which Joyce was writing, 1904, the open-air pulpit had in fact disappeared, and all that remained were the foundations, bleak enough no doubt:
St. Mark’s, up to the turn of the century, had an open-air pulpit in the church grounds. The open-air pulpit is no longer there, but the foundations are visible and are used as a flower bed. Until 1900 there used to be open-air religious meetings at the church, and they attracted very large crowds.
Irish Times (1958) 16 October, p. 3
After the devastation caused by the storm there was more bad news for St Mark’s, as Edmond Robinson moved on in mid 1900 to the incumbency of St. Thomas’s in Dublin, and then on to Glengeary in 1902, where he remained until his death in 1929.
A photograph of the old pulpit is said to survive:
Mr Robinson removed the high wall which then divided the churchyard from the street and he erected an open-air pulpit in the churchyard of which a photograph still survives but its use did not continue beyond his incumbency.
Robert MacCarthy and John Paterson, Saint Mark's: the history of a Dublin parish (1971), p. 34
The photograph is not reproduced in this booklet, which does however include a photograph of the 'Reverend E. Robinson, M.A.’ following p. 16 (with acknowledgements to Gerry O'Flaherty).
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