Floating faithful

An entry in J W de Courcy’s The Liffey in Dublin (Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 1996) alerted me to the existence of the Port of Dublin Society for the Religious Instruction of Seamen. It bought, he tells us, the hull of the appropriately named Danish vessel the Prince Christian, and used it as a floating chapel.

The National Library has an engraving of the vessel. I haven’t seen it, but de Courcy says it shows the chapel moored at the corner of Hanover Quay and Grand Canal Quay in the Grand Canal Dock, Ringsend.

In 1833 the Society moved ashore to the new Mariners’ Chapel in Forbes Street. That was sold to the Gas Company in 1889; the 25″ Ordnance Survey map shows tanks on the site.

The Mariners' Church, Forbes Street, Dublin (OSI ~1838)

The Mariners’ Church, Forbes Street, Dublin (OSI ~1838)

In The Picture of Dublin or Stranger’s Guide to the Irish Metropolis. Containing an account of every object and institution worthy of notice, together with a brief description of the surrounding country and of its geology. New Edition. With a plan of the city and thirteen views (William Curry, Jun and Company, Dublin 1835) we read this:

MARINER’S CHURCH — In the year 1822, the Episcopal Floating Chapel, for the especial use of seamen, was fitted up and opened under the sanction of the late Archbishop of Dublin, and a Chaplain appointed, whose duty is not only to perform divine service, but to visit the vessels frequenting this port, and otherwise to attend to the spiritual wants of seafaring persons.

The Floating Chapel being old and decayed, and requiring frequent and expensive repairs, it was at length determined to substitute for it a Chapel on shore, to be built in the immediate neighbourhood. The first stone of the Mariner’s Church was accordingly laid by Vice-Admiral Oliver, July 18, 1832, in Forbes-street, Sir John Rogerson’s Quay.

This neat and commodious edifice, capable of containing 500 persons, cost, including school-rooms, &c, about £2000. It was opened for divine service, Sept 15, 1833. Hours of service on the Sunday, half-past ten AM, four PM; Lectures on the evenings of Wednesday and Friday, at seven o’clock. In winter there is a daily evening school for seamen, and a Sunday-school throughout the year.

It is in contemplation to erect another Mariner’s Church at Kingstown, immediately.

The National Archives have the society’s regulations, from October 1822, amongst the Chief Secretary’s papers [Record 3435]; the National Library has a report of proceedings from 1824 and another for the years 1837 to 1842. I found various items, mostly ads seeking funds, in Dublin newspapers of the 1860s; I found none for earlier years, which may suggest that a different variant of the name was used — or that the society was in less need of assistance.

In Britain, the Boaters Christian Fellowship keeps the faith afloat on the inland waterways; some of the Canal Ministries boats are pictured here. I am not aware of any similar organisation or activity in Ireland.

My OSI logo and permit number for website

2 responses to “Floating faithful

  1. Brian

    Central to the Welsh church was the Welsh language and that was why they had their own chapel.

    A chapel was later established in Talbot St whose survives as an internet cafe. http://www.draigwerdd.org/Features.htm#Section2 http://www.flickr.com/photos/photopol/6848489513/

    There is a long account by Howell Evans, February 1981 at http://www.draigwerdd.org/Newsletters/Capel%20Cymraeg.rtf A SHORT HISTORY OF DUBLIN’S WELSH CHURCH, 1831 – 1939

    which says … in 1838 another foundation stone was laid nearby in Talbot Street, at this time a very rundown district. The founding of the first Welsh Church in Ireland. Its original intention was not for the Welsh in Dublin, but mainly for the Welsh visiting the city.

    At this time sailing ships came to Dublin from most of the Welsh ports, bringing coal and steel from South Wales, and slates and building materials from North Wales, and returning with flour, butter, potatoes, cattle etc….

    There were many sea captains who really cared for their crews and gave heed to their welfare at the various ports.

    Notably among such captains were Israel Matthews of Holyhead, John Williams of Chester and William Evans of Aberdaugleddau, who when in port in Dublin went from ship to ship and pub to pub, inviting sailors to a sing-song and prayer meeting on their ships.

    Welsh people living in the city heard of these meetings and joined in. The majority of these city people would have been in the building trades, some were craftsmen in silver and leather.

    These meetings became very popular, so that the need for a regular meeting house was urgent, and before long they got help from the Dutch Lutherans who had a chapel in Poolbeg Street – a prominent city street. [I saw a trawler

    The Welsh were given use of the hall on condition that the collections went to the Dutch.

    It was reported that every Sunday in Cork over 100 Welsh sailors wandered about the city pubs; indeed they had no inclination towards local churches as most of them did not understand English.

    Londonderry had a similar problem, but nine ships, their crews and families were the average attendance to a service in Welsh held on one of the ships in port.

    The arrangement in Poolbeg Street did not last very long, because the money on the plate was rather small, and unfortunately Daniel O’Connell had his Sunday meetings at the same time; so that they had to revert once again to a service on the ships. The support was so enthusiastic that they had 2 services each Sunday.

    In 1832 Captain Evan Lloyd wrote to the Methodist Monthly Journal “Y Drosorfa” that there was a great need by Welsh sailors and by the Welsh residents in Dublin for a resident pastor.

    The Church in Wales felt responsible and accepted the challenge by sending to Dublin Rev. Pobert Williams of Chester. He was popular and ministered here for 9 years. He was successful in gaining once again the favour of the Dutch Lutherans at an annual rent of £12 and to keep the Sunday collections…

    on St David’s Day 1838 the foundation stone of the little Welsh Church in Talbot Street was laid…

    The building was completed by November 1838, and the opening service was at 10 a.m.; sermon by Cadwaladr Williams, Penceint. At noon there was an English Service led by Rev WH Cooper, Dublin. Also, a Temperance Service was held on the Monday by 2 clergymen from Holyhead. Another Service followed during the week. The collection on the Sunday was £24. The Landlord gave £15 towards the £110 which had been collected by the Dublin Welsh.

    The Church was named “Bethel”, being the favourite name for sailors’ churches, and it measured 40′ x 27′, built of brick, with corner stones of cut granite; the total cost being £500. The seating was for 300.

    The congregation was divided into 2 parts. On one side were pews for ladies which had doors, whilst on the order side were the men’s pews, without door.

    The mens’ pews had spitoons for the sailors….

    During these years[1850s] some visiting Welsh ministers came for the day only and the steamers from Liverpool and Holyhead had a special low fare for them..

    In the early 19th century life at sea was extremely precarious. For instance in 1857 1,153 ships were lost around the British Isles alone – 12 out of every 17 sailors were lost annually. The ships were small and lighthouses and lifeboats were scarce indeed.

    These hazards produced sailors who by and large were of a religious and often superstitious nature. But at the same time those were also the days of the religious revivals from which grew societies to aid the impoverished and unfortunate people at home and abroad. One of these was the Sailors’ Society….

    The Chester and Holyhead Railway Co. gave him cheap fares and also allowed the use of the Mail Boat as a Church – services in Welsh by Capt Lloyd, and in English by the local Church of Ireland minister. After paying the expenses involved, the balance was passed on to the Dublin Welsh Church….

    In 1870 the usual 3 services continued each Sunday, attended by approximately 150 sailors, and 80 city members, also a small service was held in Kingstown…

    Sadly the Welsh community dwindled away as a result of the war [WW2], so by 1944 it was decided to sell the Church and house, but in the meantime it was rented out to a small religious community. The books, communion vessels and a few remaining articles were given to some of the small Churches in Anglesey.

    In 1831 the Presbyterian Church on Ormond Quay invited as temporary minister Dr Wm. Roberts of Anglesey and New York. He stayed for a year and gave much of his time to the welfare of the Welsh sailors….

    Earnan P. Blythe has an article The Welsh Chapel in Dublin in the Dublin Historical Record Vol. 14, No. 3 (Jul., 1957), pp. 74-79 available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/30102651?origin=JSTOR-pdf in which he refers to people travelling from North Wales to South Wales via Dublin in 1822 and in 1843. He says there was a smaller “chapel of ease” in what would have been Kingstown.

    There is a building on the west pier at Howth which was clearly once a chapel. I have a recollection of being told this too was for Welsh sailors but I haven’t found confirmation of that. There is a reference to it and a picture by “suvanki” at http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/Europe/Ireland/County_Dublin/Howth-295562/Things_To_Do-Howth-Howth_Pier-BR-1.html

    Regards Antoin

    ps I was on Howth in August I saw a trawler WD 36 Maarten Luther, Wexford-registered, with what looks to me a Dutch variant of the name – appropriate given the Welsh-Irish link with Dutch Lutherans? above.

    pps The Catholic Church in France has a moored barge-church “Je Sers” at Conflans-Sainte-Honorine at the confluence of the Seine and Oise rivers near Paris since 1936 http://www.conflans-tourisme.com/batellerie.htm http://mes-loisirs.over-blog.com/article-le-bateau-chapelle-de-la-batellerie-de-conflans-ste-honorine-56420320.html There are lots of church barges in Russia, this one complete with towers http://journeytoorthodoxy.com/2012/09/20/the-words-first-self-propelled-boat-church/ AD

  2. Very interesting; thank you. One query: “12 out of every 17 sailors were lost annually” sounds very high. Could that be a typo? bjg

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