It was the year of my first communion, the event was approaching fast and my thoughts were on a new dress. I wanted something snow-white, full enough to twirl round in I decided, so sparkling and fairytale, even Marguerite Comerford, the class show-off would stand back in awe.
“I heard Mammy ask Auntie Vera could she lend her a communion outfit for you” my sister informed me shortly before the big day and my heart fell. I wasn’t going to be decked out in a beautiful frilly concoction I’d spied in shop window. Instead I’d have to make do with a cousin’s limp hand me down. “Who cares?” I pretended and returned to play but already I could imagine my so called friends sniggering at my rig-out, flocking round the prettiest of us dressed in something so puffed out and lacy she’d seem to glide.
The testing day dawned but despite my worst fears my communion dress, when it was unwrapped from folds of tissue was new looking and pretty. It had pearl buttons on narrow cuffed sleeves and the bodice was criss-crossed in front with satin ribbons. Even if the skirt was flattened if I lifted it up and fluffed it out every now and then nobody would notice, I decided.
The ceremony progressed and inside the church we children shuffled dutifully to the alter. A cloudy dream floated past I couldn’t see properly. Coughs and babies’ cries emanated from the packed pews. Finally it was all over and we filed towards the smooth convent lawns outside. Groups gathered and chatted, sunshine bathed the well tended flowerbeds but I kicked my sister sharply.
”Look over there. I can’t believe my eyes” I groaned because that glow of white in the church had materialised into just what I feared The minx Marguerite was holding court right beside me in a brilliant white dress touching the ground. I had never heard of such height of fashion. To make matters worse, ignoring us, a bevy of girls flew towards her with silly cries.
After the ceremony our local Suir Valley creamery had sponsored the communion breakfast in the nun’s parlour with a consignment of ice-cream and we children queued for the first delicious slices. Up ahead snowy blocks of ice-cream melted lazily.
I was hungry and not caring what happened to my hand me down dress wriggled to the top. It was a dangerous manoeuvre because instead of being first in line somebody pushed from behind and I had to dive for safety underneath the icecream table. Here was recompense indeed as my eyes feasted on box after box of heavenly treat-filled tubs.
Marguerite Comerford, hadn’t been so lucky I saw when I had satiated myself and wiping my hands on a useful skirt, gazed beyond my den. In the rush to the top she had been knocked to the ground. Shoe stains were stamped on her dress like black clawmarks.
It isn’t fair, the spiritual nature of the day was returning to me at last. Charity begins at home, the priest had intoned and now I saw a way of applying it. “Have a tub of icecream” I whispered to the unfortunate girl and reached out the last unwanted one, graciously.
All characters in the story are entirely fictitious.
Strolling through a city a pretty building always attracts the eye and the Pepper Canister Church, Mount Street Crescent, Dublin, easily viewed from either the South Side of Merrion Square or Upper Mount Street, is no exception.
Completed in 1824 the Pepper Canister Church as it is affectionately known, has been a landmark for Dubliners ever since. Erected on the grounds of the Earl of Pembroke, it was one of a series of Protestant churches put up to accommodate a growing Anglo Irish community for an in important city of the Empire. Even still you can imagine it back in that time.
The Pepper Canister, really St. Stephen’s, got its name from the appearance of a cupola perched on top of a tower, neatly balanced over a column-fronted entrance. The overall effect is a splendid little building, making you smile at how it copies a Greek Temple an affection that surely lends it the charm it has for us today
Anyone who has ever walked down Merrion square to the south east corner or look to it from Fitwilliam Place East will be struck by how boldly the church is placed and what a commanding view it holds over the streets around it.
Nearing the Pepper Canister the elegant proportions of this gracious building, those slim columns, the trim appearance and stone steps leading up to a tall wooden door make you want to explore inside. The main chapel while feeling roomy is pleasantly small. In it’s original form the Pepper Canister was rectangular. The Victorian Apse or alter area was added in 1852. Dome shaped and coloured a heavenly blue this apse displays a row of large than life gilded angels painted across the back like a welcoming committee. It is time to pray or just sit in silence. ‘The Earl of Pembroke’ you read the small plate on the pew you slip into. There are name plates on other pews too, Robert Graves, the man who identified Graves heart disease is recorded in the Gallery.
An exquisitely carved wooden pulpit rears up before you. It is made of Italian rose wood and the hand -worked swirls and embellishments hold your gaze. Opposite at the other side of the apse the pulpit is complimented by an equally intricately carved prayer desk made from Italian walnut, inscribed with the words; Siena 1891 Cambi fecit (St. Cambi made it)
The stained glass windows behind the alter and at the top of the church shine out like jewels. Their glow warms the heart, telling of the need deep inside us for beauty as well as spiritual themes. There is more brightness too, from the plain glass windows, a regular feature of protestant churches.
Soon the ghosts of those gone by who sat and knelt in this gracious church suggest themselves. Time to think of the rustle of crinoline and see stiff shirt collars and obedient children. Many famous people have worshipped here, the leaflet you picked up inside the church door tells you and music and stories probably occupied their minds far more than preaching.. Oscar and the Wilde family at 1Merrion Square attended the church. A long service gave time to daydream to Charles Villiers Stanford, distinguished composer and teacher of music of No. 2 Herbert street, and the surroundings must surely have provided rich food for thought to another author; Sheridan Le Fanu of 70 Merion Square and later Warrington Place. Perhaps the peace of this pretty chapel gave some consolation to William Butler Yates of 82 Merrion Square when he attended his brother painter Jack Yates’s funeral in 1947. Elizabeth Bowen famous Irish novelist was known to frequent here when she resided in 16 Herbert place and the poet Thomas Davies who died at his mother’s house at no. 67 Lower Baggot street would no doubt have sought it out too.
There are other reminders of the past too in this place of quiet contemplation. Dedications can be read remembering deceased family members and past clergy and war memorial plaques erected to list the names of the brave men of the parish who faced the horrors of the first and second world wars. The sweet sounding organ was once the property of Lord Mornington, father of the Duke of Wellington, the information leaflet also tells us.
The Pepper Canister is still used for worship. Anglican by denomination it is open to all who wish to attend its Sunday Service starting at 11.30am. A small group of volunteers keep the church open for visitors between 12.00pm and 2.30pm. on Easter week and for the month of July. The church is used as a venue for fundraising concerts for the restoration of the building and other charity events. Your help in keeping this old landmark of Dublin open for visitors from at home and abroad and future generations would be much appreciated.
Please contact Peter McCrodden 0868433923 if you would like to find out more.