Particularly Precious

The gardens of Heywood, County Laois have been mentioned here more than once (see To Smooth the Lawn, To Decorate the Dale, May 12th 2014 and Happily Disposed in the Most Elegant Taste, August 27th 2018). Close by in the village of Ballinakill stands an early 19th century church associated with the families who lived at Heywood. All Saints was built in 1821 – most likely on the site of an earlier building – for the sum of £1,558, thanks to assistance from the Board of First Fruits. When Samuel Lewis visted Ballinakill in 1837 he wrote ‘The parish church, situated in the town, is a handsome edifice with a tower and spire; the east window, which is of stained glass and very handsome, was purchased on the Continent and presented by the late Francis Trench, Esq.’ More likely it was Michael Frederick Trench of Heywood who had acquired the glass, of which more below. He was succeeded by his son Major-General Sir Frederick William Trench who died in 1859. Having no direct male heir, the estate then passed to his nephew, Sir Charles Domville (eldest surviving son of the wonderfully named Sir Compton Pocklington Domville, who had married Trench’s sister Helena). In turn Sir Charles’ niece Mary Adelaide Domville would marry Lt.-Col. Sir William Hutchison-Poë, who at the start of the last century commissioned Lutyens to design the gardens at Heywood.

Much of the interior of All Saints, Ballinakill dates from the second half of the 19th century when the church was enlarged and redecorated by the Domvilles. According to the Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette of March 1868, the building was then restored and beautified ‘chiefly through the bounty of W. Domville Esq., of Ballinakill’ with the installation of new pews, pulpit and reading desk, as well as the gift of an organ, carved stone font, ‘velvet uphostery, pew furniture, coronas & bracket lights.’ It appears that the chancel was added to the existing structure at this time. One of the notable features of the interior is that the walls retain their original stenciled decoration, beginning in the oval entrance lobby where the domed ceiling represents the celestial sky covered in gold stars. In the main body of the church the walls are likewise stenciled or painted with improving texts, each panel of the ceiling carrying the symbol of a different saint. Damp has caused some damage to the work but, thanks to a generous grant from the Heritage Council some years ago, the condition of the church has been stabilized and no further flaking of paint seems likely.

Samuel Lewis mentioned that the church’s east window contained glass ‘purchased on the continent’. When the Domvilles added a chancel, this glass was divided between new windows on the extension’s north and south sides. The windows are of interest since they feature examples of Netherlandish glass dating from between the late 15th and late 17th century. In an article published The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland , Vol. 121 (1991), William Cole examines these pieces (and those in another three Irish churches) and explains how they came to be in this country. As he notes, at least in part due to the French Revolution, ‘there was a general air of unrest in northern Europe at the end of the eighteenth century. Churches were in a bad state financially and the sale of church furnishings and glass helped to remedy this state of affairs.’ Many such items were bought by wealthy landowners in Britain and Ireland to decorate churches on or adjacent to their estates, and this would appear to have been the case at Ballinakill. Originally made in profusion for chapels, cloisters and corridors and customarily in a round or oval shape, the glass was easily transported and helped give an air of antiquity to Irish churches rebuilt or renovated thanks to the support of the Board of First Fruits. In this instance, additional glass was provided in the 1880s by the firm of Cox, Sons, Buckley and Co, which having been established in London, around this time opened a branch in Youghal, County Cork to cater for demand here. Since that time, almost nothing has changed inside the church, which – lacking electric lighting – still sees candles used during services. All Saints is a rare surviving example of a High Victorian religious interior and for that reason particularly precious.

8 comments on “Particularly Precious

  1. Gareth McMahon says:

    Wow some stunning detailing. I think I shall visit when home for Christmas. It’s probably locked up
    during non use I imagine?

  2. Hibernophile says:

    I am totally enchanted by the candles and oil lamps, the soft, mellow glow they emit would greatly enhance the attractive interior. Most churches today have drastically overdone their lighting schemes, with lurid halogen spotlights that resemble something normally seen in a supermarket car park.

  3. Finola says:

    Very interesting post – must try to see these windows.

  4. Gerard Cleary says:

    It was fascinating to see the oil lamps still in place in All Saints church today. Having visited many 18th & 19th C Churches/ chapels in Ireland and GB over the past 40 yrs it was the first time I saw oil lamps with their original sconces in situ,, great photos, thanks Robert. Gerard Cleary.

  5. Marie says:

    What a beautiful gentle interior – a lamp lit service would indeed be something

  6. Karen Sydow says:

    What beautiful church! Is there any way I could find out who the parish priest /vicar / rector would have been in the late 1700s and early 1800s? (I’m in Australia). We have in the family 3 x Rev Sewell Stubber, and the Stubber family lived at Moyne, Durrow, Laois, then the Hamilton Stubbers stayed there, and the Maillard Stubbers moved to Monaclere, but I haven’t been able to pin down where the various Stubber priests served. And also where they had their various families baptised etc. I have a whole generation with no birth dates – we can infer some, and make some educated guesses, but I’d love to know if there is actually any family connection to this church, or if not, to which church in Laois this family might have been associated with.

    • Thank you for your message. Your best option is to get in touch with the Representative Church Body Library ( which holds most extant archives for the Church of Ireland (altho’ be warned that much of this was destroyed when Dublin’s Four Courts – where the material had been stored – was burnt in 1922). Best of luck…

      • Karen Sydow says:

        Thanks for the response. I have already discovered (since I wrote yesterday) from some judicious searching, that the church, when built in 1821, was during the incumbency of our Rev Sewell Stubber (my 4th gt-grandfather), but he died in January 1824. However I can’t find out how long he was there. I have previously contacted the RCB library, some years ago, and it appears that our ancestor was a good law-abiding citizen, and sent all his parish records to Dublin, with the expected result! The RCB library is continually updating their lists of extant Parish records, as more copies such as Bishops Transcrpts etc are discovered, and occasionally, when buildings are being renovated or demolished etc, interesting caches of ancient documents are unearthed in crypts, bellfries, and the like. The RCB Library is also now gradually digitising extant records and putting them on the net, so maybe I might write to them again, and see if things have changed in regard to this branch of the family since I wrote last, about 5 years ago! However records for this parish have yet to re-appear, and it is this Rev Stubber’s grandchildren, who appear to have been born at Moneycleare /Monaclear, that I would like to sort out. They are an interesting bunch of movers, shakers, & iconoclasts, and were chronically getting themselves into the courts and the papers, but I still can’t find any birth or baptism records for them! Tanks anyway, & I’ll try a few other possible avenues. It certainly is an amazing Church, and I’m really glad that it is being restored and preserved.

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