For several years now the North side of Dublin has been my home and amidst the soulless suburban sprawl there are traces of the past which have survived centuries of change. The little known 12th century Church of St Doulagh’s in Kinsealy, just off the Malahide road is one such gem and so much of the medieval period is represented. It is easily recognisable by its stone roof and unusual shape. There are very few churches with stone roofs which have survived the passage of time, Cormac’s Chapel at the Rock of Cashel and St Kevin’s Kitchen at Glendalough being the few examples. St Doulagh’s is however the only one in the country which is still used for religious services and is under the stewardship of the Church of Ireland. The visitor is greeted at the entrance by a sandstone cross which is believed to date from around the 13th century. The choice of stone was unusual choice of material as the local stone would be limestone.
The Church is named after Doulagh who lived in the 7th century but little else is known about him as documents written about his life were believed to have been destroyed in the 17th century. What is known about him is that he was an anchorite. I wrote about anchorites in my book Fadó Fadó Tales of Lesser-Known Irish History. They were common in the early Christian Church, especially in Eastern Europe and the Middle East and were different to hermits as although they also lived alone, they did not move about. Indeed, they never left their cell and were very much anchored to it. They were walled in in a special ceremony and depended on support from the outside world. In a reminder of their mortality they dug their own graves in their tiny cell with a small spoon. The cell had several small windows, one for food, another one looked onto the altar and another one allowed them talk with the public. Anchorites were regarded as living saints and people came to them for advice and to ask them to pray for intercession. There were also anchoresses, usually widows or young girls who wanted to escape an unwanted arranged marriage. St Doulagh’s has an anchorite cell attached to it and these are relatively rare in Ireland. The few other examples that exist are at Fore Abbey in Westmeath and at St Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny. The church is divided into sections from different era, the newest being from 1865. The walls of the oldest part of the church are three foot thick. There is an altar like tomb inside, believed to be the resting place of St Doulagh himself. In the oratory there is a hole which is believed to cure headaches. As you ascend the 15th century bell tower, there is an alcove known as a penitent’s cell. It is just long enough for a man to lie down in but not high enough for him to sit upright. This was where the monks lay for days as part of a punishment. It was also used by lay people and according to one local superstition, if a pregnant woman rolls in it three times, she will not die while giving birth. St Doulagh’s also has a leper’s window or squint, designed for those afflicted to see the altar and receive the sacrament without coming into contact with the congregation. Leprosy was widespread in medieval Dublin and hospitals such as the Hospital of Saint James on Lazar’s Hill now Townsend Street were set up to fight the spread of it. Those afflicted went there to die but as far as society was concerned they were already dead and they lived a purgatory type of existence. The site also contains a holy well, St Doulagh's Well, watched over by a white thorn tree. The well was a cure for the eyes but it was also used for baptizing. Indeed, it is the only free standing external baptismal font in the country and is covered by an octagonal shaped building. In 1609, it was covered in beautiful frescoes, financed by the Fagan family of Feltrim, a nearby village. The frescoes featured Saint Patrick, SBridget, St Columcille and St Doulagh.
Unfortunately, they were destroyed by Sir Richard Bulkeley, founder of Dunlavin, County Wicklow, on his return from the Battle of the Boyne. Crowds assembled there for St Doulagh’s pattern day every 17 November until they were suppressed by the clergy in the late 18th century due to the drunken rowdiness associated with it. Right beside it is a small pool known as St Catherine's pond with stone seating, which some believe was used for baptising girls. St Doulagh’s can be reached using Dublin Bus and is open Sunday afternoons. Admission is free though donations are welcome. Parking is not available.
|A murder hole at St Doulaghs|
|A 19th century bell|
|A cure for headaches|