In 1919, the Dominican Sisters of St Mary’s Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) dedicated their newly built Oratory to the Sacred Heart. It was built to commemorate 490 local Irishmen from the area who had fought and died in the Great War; many of these soldiers received their early education from the nuns. It was also built as a place of reflection where the nuns could pray for peace.
The aims and objectives of this initiative were to highlight the Oratory not only for the local community but for a national and international audience, to promote the work of the artist Sr Concepta (Lily) Lynch, whose stunning work in the Oratory from 1920-1936 is a highly-regarded and unique example of the Gaelic Revival style, and to foreground the emphasis on peace and hope during a troubled period of the Decade of Centenaries in Ireland.
All these aims and objectives were achieved through the publication of Divine Illumination, a centenary book specially commissioned by New Island Books, new exhibitions at dlr LexIcon and at the Oratory, a series of talks, a seminar, workshops and tours and community involvement with past pupils and present-day pupils, the latter through the creation of a new mural in the grounds of the Oratory on Library Road, Dún Laoghaire. dlr Libraries led the project, working closely with dlr Heritage Office and dlr Parks.
The book sold out at the launch which was attended by Minister Josepha Madigan and An Cathaoirleach Cllr Shay Brennan. It is now available via https://www.newisland.ie/
Partnerships and programme
The exhibition and publication used archival records and original research to provide a comprehensive account of Sr Concepta’s artistic achievements and revealed new details about her life alongside previously unseen reproductions of her work. It was the first full-length book on the Oratory and the work of Sr Concepta Lynch and many key authors contributed to the publication and exhibition including Sr Margaret Mac Curtain, Prof Deirdre Raftery, Dr Síghle Bhreathnach-Lynch, Sr Frances Lally and Veronica Heywood.
To quote the Minister:
This was a major project typifying the collaborative approach between my Department, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and community groups under the Community Strand of the Decade of Centenaries Programme. I am pleased to see such important partnerships such as with our national institutions, especially the National Gallery of Ireland and also with Cabra Dominican Archives, Dún Laoghaire Borough Historical Society, UCD, TCD, the National Library and National Museum, the Irish Architectural Archive and many more.
The exhibition at dlr LexIcon mirrored the Oratory layout to heighten the experience of entering the space and a short 3D film of the Oratory was produced by dlr Heritage Office to provide an immersive virtual experience. dlr Parks revitalised the Peace Garden, an innovative collection of plants whose initial letters spelled out Síocháin in Ogham letters – meaning Peace.
The following videos provide an excellent introduction to the Oratory.
The Mural at the Oratory Video
3D virtual tour of the Oratory
The development of virtual tours of the Oratory, creative video records and the online exhibition further exemplified the inclusive and accessible nature of the project and has given it a longevity beyond the initial exhibition and programme of events.
From the outset of the project, we had a callout for personal stories, photos or connections with the Oratory. This generated interest, excitement and personal reminiscences. One chapter of the book entitled ‘The Spirit of St Mary’s’ included many of these photos, poems and memories from past pupils and former teachers as did several panels of the exhibition.
The local community in Dún Laoghaire was heavily invested in the promotion of their beautiful Oratory and they spread the word widely. Individuals with relatives who were past pupils or former teachers contacted us, including Fr Myles Healy who was presented to Sr Concepta when he was one day old, several days before she died of cancer in 1939.
Pupils from local schools benefited from workshops on Sr Concepta’s ‘Lynch Method of Celtic Illumination’ with artist Mags Harnett of the National Gallery of Ireland. She also provided workshops for adults and coordinated the creation of the Oratory mural with pupils from the Dominican National School.
To quote County Librarian, Catherine Gallagher, this initiative was to promote a unique building and a priceless work of art in the heart of the Dún Laoghaire community – This collaborative project spoke to the ethos of commemoration being inclusive, appropriate and sensitive.
Spreading the word
- 71 tours of the Oratory were advertised during October and November, these included class visits, evening visits and weekend tours each Saturday. These tours were attended by capacity audiences.
- The average daily footfall in dlr LexIcon in 2019 was over 1,600. This means that for the 3 month period from October-January, in excess of 150,000 had the opportunity to visit the exhibition at dlr LexIcon.
- The launch of the exhibition at dlr Lexicon on 11 October attracted a capacity audience of 150 people and the seminar on 23 October sold out with 140 people. Other events such as the workshops with Mags Harnett and talks on 12 October and 4 December were fully booked.
- Due to the popularity of Divine Illumination, a Christmas finale event was hosted in dlr LexIcon with seasonal music by cellist Gerald Peregrine, further talks with Veronica Heywood and Ruairí Ó Dúlaing and the very popular La Religeuse cakes (éclairs in shape of nuns!)
- Specially designed Christmas cards based on Oratory designs were sold. Free Oratory bookmarks were also widely distributed.
- Several designers (books, jewellery, art) have contacted us to request permission to create work inspired by the work of Sr Concepta in the Oratory.
- The Oratory featured on Sunday Miscellany on 10 November and RTÉ’s Nationwide on 11 November 2019 and the editors gave a talk in Nano Nagle Place in Cork on 30 November.
As a result of the events of 2019/2020, we are hopeful that, as a lasting memorial to the fallen of the Great War, the Oratory will continue to inspire future generations through the beauty and originality of Sr Concepta’s lasting legacy. The project focus has renewed interest in the Oratory, resulting in an increase in visitor numbers, which has assisted in attracting the culturally curious to Dún Laoghaire.