Postcard from Downpatrick. Then and Now

In the last post I included a scan of a newly acquired postcard of Newry Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. It is one of only a handful of Edwardian postcards featuring Non-Subscribing Presbyterian (NSP) churches. In this post I include a scan of a postcard which I purchased a few years ago but which is one of the rarest to feature NSP churches:

Downpatrick Postcard

I have never seen another example of this postcard of the First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick. It has not been posted but was published by Lawrence Publisher of Dublin, probably c.1905. It is a colourised image, although it is not badly done, but that does suggest that there may also be ‘Real Photographic’ copies of the same postcard. The same publisher also produced postcards of the Cathedral and St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Downpatrick. Not surprisingly the various views of the Cathedral are very common, it being a popular tourist destination because it houses St Patrick’s grave. The postcard featuring St Patrick’s Catholic Church is far less common but not as rare as the picture of the nearby Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.

The archive of the publisher of this postcard is held in the National Library of Ireland (NLI) in Dublin. There they hold 40,000 glass plate negatives made by the Lawrence studio between 1870 and 1914 of places all over Ireland. Over 19,000 images in the Lawrence Collection have been digitised and can be viewed online. The Collection includes six images that are labelled as depicting Unitarian churches. This is how most of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches would have been known at the time but although this list includes Downpatrick, Newry (a different, wider view than the one in the previous post by an unknown publisher), Comber and Dromore, it also includes pictures of what the catalogue claims to be the Unitarian churches of Kilkeel and Portadown, indeed Unitarian is written on the photographic plate of the Kilkeel image. However, since there has never been a Unitarian/Non-Subscribing church in either place this is clearly an error. In fact the Kilkeel church has a visible date stone of 1832 which also names it as The Church of the United Brethren. However, in addition to the four correctly identified churches there is also a fifth example of an NSP church in what the catalogue calls the Presbyterian Hall, Larne but which is labelled on the plate as the ‘Old Presbyterian House, Larne’.

The image of Downpatrick which is now held in the National Library of Ireland was reproduced in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine of July 1909 where it was attributed to Baird of Belfast:

Downpatrick July 1909

Inevitably, because it is taken from a magazine, this image is a lot less clearer than the image held in Dublin but it is an identical picture, even including the same title and identification code of ‘1697 W.L.’ which is cropped from the printed postcard. It also has an addition in the bottom right hand corner where the words ‘Baird, Belfast’ have been added.

The online digital image which can be seen on the NLI site is mostly very sharp (there is some blurring of the foliage) but you can clearly see the eighteenth-century foot scraper on the main steps into the church. However, in the colourised postcard and the magazine image this kind of detail is lost. But still the original is not a bad image. It is strange though the degree to which the ivy was allowed to run riot on such an ancient building. All of this was removed a long time ago. It is amazing how much cleaner the meeting-house looks without ivy creeping around it and these following photos, taken in 2008 (above) and 2017 (below), give a good contrast to the Edwardian postcard and show details such as the foot scraper and some of the other changes that have taken place around the building in recent years.

Downpatrick ext 2008

The Church in 2008

Downpatrick26Nov2017 02

The Church in 2017

 

Downpatrick Postcard crop

Detail from the postcard c.1905

Downpatrick entrance gates September 1909

The view from the gates to the church. From the ‘Non-Subscribing Presbyterian’ magazine, September 1909

 

Raising the Cross in Down

On Tuesday, 15th September the new Downpatrick High Cross Extension was opened at Down County Museum. I was pleased to be amongst the large crowd who were present to see the new premises.

The High Cross
The High Cross

 

 

The main attraction of the extension is, of course, the High Cross itself which holds centre stage in the main room. It’s quite dominant in the room and is exceptionally well lit so you can appreciate the detail in a way that just wasn’t possible when it was in its original position outside the Cathedral. Out of doors you had to take on trust the various illustrations that were said to be carved on its surface, now you can make them out and have some idea of the stories it intended to convey. In addition these are well explained in the exhibition.

 

The Cross in its new location
The Cross in its new location

 

Raising the Cross in Down “tells the story of the Downpatrick High Cross and its place in the early Christian tradition of County Down” using artefacts, reconstructions and interpretative panels. It’s a good exhibition which takes the visitor through Christian history in the locality right up to a nicely inclusive panel covering the various traditions in Downpatrick today.

 

Downpatrick's Christian Heritage
Downpatrick’s Christian Heritage

 

Elsewhere in the extension the new café will be run by the local charity Mainstay DRP. The tearoom has tremendous views across the rolling countryside. Downstairs Harvests from Land and Sea is an exhibition telling the story of farming and fishing in County Down which contains machines, tools and artefacts which will be familiar to many local people.

 

Wrought iron gate made by Hugh Magilton of Ballybranagh
Wrought iron gate made by Hugh Magilton of Ballybranagh

Another room includes the At Present Confined: Life in the Old Gaol exhibition which tells the story of many of those who were imprisoned in the gaol between 1796 and 1830. On show in here is a display of hand-made bonnets made by many schools and local groups as part of the ‘Roses from the Heart’ project, run by Tasmanian artist Christina Henri in 2013. A number of local groups took part in this project which was international in its scope and which commemorated the thousands of women and children who were transported to Australia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

 

Display of bonnets
Display of bonnets

While some of the people who were transported to Australia were hardened criminals many of them, and many of the woman, had done things which we would regard as quite trivial today. So in 1820 Jane Armstrong at the age of 16 was transported for seven years for stealing two spoons. In 1832 Mary Burns, who was born in Downpatrick, was transported for seven years on a charge of vagrancy, which today we would probably call homelessness. Quite a few women were sent away simply for vagrancy. Altogether something like 25,266 women were transported from Britain and Ireland to Australia and the artist Christina Henri has been trying to commemorate them both here and in Australia by getting people to make bonnets. Children in local schools were encouraged to make bonnets with the name of each woman on as well as the name of the ship she was transported on. Along with Canon Rogan I was very pleased to be asked to take part in a ‘blessing of the bonnets’ in the Museum at the time.

Down Museum has long been an excellent Museum but the new extension is a very impressive addition to its display that fits in well with the Museum’s care and appreciation of local history and its engagement with schools and the wider community.

 

Replica in sandstone of a medieval carving of St Patrick's hand by Claire Sampson
Replica in sandstone of a medieval carving of St Patrick’s hand by Claire Sampson

Downpatrick High Cross

With the forthcoming opening of the extension to Down Museum to house the Downpatrick High Cross in a new interpretative centre I thought it might be appropriate to say something about the old cross.

The view from behind the old cross looking along the Mall
The view from behind the old cross looking along the Mall

If you have been to Down Cathedral then you will have walked past the High Cross that sits just outside the Cathedral. This is very old – or to be exact it is a copy of something that is very old, because in December 2013 it was taken down and replaced with an exact copy. The original cross is about 1,100 years old and was put up in about 900 AD. This has now been taken down to be conserved and protected from the elements and has been replaced with a new one, an exact replica in Mourne granite weighing in at one tonne. Using modern technology the weathered design of the old cross was exactly replicated on the new cross.

The view of the new cross in front of the cathedral
The view of the new cross in front of the cathedral

Through the kindness of the Dean of Down, the Very Rev Henry Hull, who is always so inclusive in all the special and civic events in the Cathedral, I was privileged, along with all the local clergy, both to be present at the removal of the old cross and to take part in the blessing of the new cross that was put in its place before Easter last year.

Politicans, museum staff and clergy, just prior to the removal of the old cross
Politicans, museum staff and clergy, just prior to the removal of the old cross

The original cross stood outside the ancient monastery established in Downpatrick in the centuries following the death of St Patrick. It stayed there until the Reformation when it was taken down and used as the town’s Market Cross, located outside the Market House. Over time it was damaged and its pieces dispersed around the town until the 1890s when Francis Joseph Bigger, the famous antiquarian, reconstructed the cross and had it placed outside the Cathedral.
These ancient high crosses carried a lot of information. Although now difficult to make out in any detail they tell the Christian story. The Downpatrick Cross carries an image of the crucifixion as well as Jesus entering Jerusalem on donkey on Palm Sunday. The Cross is also believed to show the heads of Adam and Eve and Cain about to slay Abel. To me though the most interesting images on the cross are those of St Anthony and St Paul. It is very hard to make out but at the top of the shaft on one side of the cross there are two figures sat facing each other. Between them is a circle and above them something else that may be a bird. These two saints (who lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries) were important in the spread of monasticism and scholars suggest that the image represented is that of their meeting at the hermitage at Mount Colzim in Egypt, a meeting that reputedly took place in AD 347. According to the story a raven flew down and deposited a loaf of bread between them, paralleling the story of Elijah being fed by ravens in the Old Testament. The two holy men then disputed over who should have the responsibility of breaking the bread, each of them deferring to the other, until eventually they both picked up the loaf and pulled together, neatly representing the sharing of the Eucharist.

Local clergy in front of the old cross
Local clergy in front of the old cross

All the detail is very worn now, and it is very hard to make out. But it is good to know that the same ancient cross that has been in the town since before the end of the first millennium is now being preserved.

After the blessing of the new cross
After the blessing of the new cross