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History of Johns Lane

Even by human standards the story of John's Lane is a remarkable one.  It begins about 1180, in the time of the Normans, and runs on through war and peace, joy and tears, foundation and expansion, consolidation, suppression, emancipation, liberation and so to our own day and the Irish Republic.  History does not just happen, determined by some inner force.  People make it so;  in the case of John's Lane it was men impelled by the grace of God.  It begins with Aelred the Palmer, a Norman living in Dublin, grateful to God for a safe home-coming from an ardous pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but keenly aware from his travels of the untended ills of men and women.  He had seen them at every stage of his slow journey to Jerusalem and back, human beings made in the likeness of God, but so many of them sick, fevered, thirsty, hungry and dying.

So, he founded a monastery of Crossed Friars under the Rule of St. Augustine who would also manage a hospital close-by.  The monastery was dedicated to St. John the Baptist and stood just outside the city walls, the remains of which are still visible today. Over the years and centuries the monastery prospered and the hospital expanded, though they also knew days of violence, terror and desolation. Just as today the John's Lane steeple is one of the stand-out landmarks in the city, so in medieval times the tower of John the Baptist, or the Magdalen Tower as it was called, at the New Gate caught the eye of every visitor to Dublin. It was sited, almost to the foot, at where the present high altar is now positioned...


Under the leadership of Fr. Martin Crane, a Wexford man, the work of building this church began in 1862. The architect for the project was Edward Welby Pugin who came from a famous family of architects. In this work he was assisted by his partner and brother-in-law George C. Ashling a native of Cork. His father was Augustus Welby Pugin (1812-'52) one of the chief revivers of Gothic architecture and ecclesiastical art in Great Britain and Ireland. The design was 13th century French Gothic, influenced no doubt by Pugin's French Huguenot background. Michael Meade, J.P. of Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street) was the initial contractor and he also built the O'Connell Monument and Vault in Glasnevin cemetary.


In 1874, with the roof and tower in place, the church opened for public worship.  When the second phase of the building was undertaken in 1892, the architect was William Hague, J.P. from Cavan who had a business in Dawson Street. The contractor for this phase of construction was William Connolly of Lower Dominick Street.  It took until 1895 before all the exterior was complete and the solemn opening took place on 15th December of that year...


The estimated cost at the time of construction was £60,000 ... a terrifying sum then. The site was purchased for £3,000. Much of the funding came from local contributions and the fund-raisers on the home front were Brothers Stanislaus McCarthy and Nicholas O'Neill, they collected some £6,000 locally. Monies were also collected from England, the United States, Australia and Canada. Frs. Edward Mooney and Henry Allen spent six years in Australia and managed to collect over £9,000 between them.  To  America and Canada went Fr. Martin Crane, as Provincial, and Fr. Henry Williams, Prior of Dungarvan.

Fenian Connection

John's Lane Church was begun when many of the senior citizens of the congregation could still vividly recall the events of 1798 and the trial of Robert Emmet in 1803.  Many of them had lived through the dreadful times of the Great Famine. The men who laid the stones you see today and who laboured on the site met by night at the house of their foreman, Denis Cromien, in Pimlico to drill in the use of arms and learn the ways of revolution. Denis Cromien came from Carnew, Co. Wicklow and from a family dedicated to Fenianism. His two brothers Joseph and Laurence, served prison sentences as political prisoners, but he himself avoided arrest. One young man died in a fall from the scaffolding during the early construction... this was the only serious accident among the workmen on the church.