The History of Gort Muire - 1944-1994

Peter O’Dwyer, O.Carm.
This is an abridged version of the history prepared for the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Gort Muire which took place in 1994.

Early History
On March 20, 1944, which was the feast of St Joseph that year, the purchase of Gort Muire was agreed upon and signed, a deposit of £1,500 being made as a bond of security. The present year, 1994, is the fiftieth anniversary of its existence as a Carmelite friary.

Prior to the coming of the Carmelites the house had quite a number of owners. A press notice on the occasion of the blessing mentions that earlier it was the site of a pre­-reformation church, called Holy Trinity, but there are no indications of this, to my knowledge, in historical sources. The Irish Countrywomen’s Association has published an interesting book – Sandyford, Dundrum, Ballawly and Surrounding Areas from Times Past (ICA) – which devotes a few pages to Gort Muire. It is difficult to know how reliable this book is.

Gortmore, which was the original name, was designed in 1860 for a special client by the architect John Skipton Mulvaney. It was almost ten years before it was completed (ICA 43). The Land Valuation Books (LVB) name a Dr Scriven as lessee of the property in 1865-66. The building was completed in 1870 with Richard Atkinson and his wife being the first residents. Its valuation then was £70 for the house and £123 for the land. The reason given for the ten years period before it was completed was that Mulvaney had many contracts. The ICA account says that he built Mount Anville Convent for William Dargan (p.43) but the oldest section of Mount Anville, which is the present convent, was built in the late eighteenth century and was sold by Baron Trimbleston on October 14, 1799, and changed hands a few times in the first half of the nineteenth century. The occupant who sold it to the Sisters of the Sacred Heart in August 1865 was William Dargan, who was a road-builder. He also built the first railway in Dublin which ran from Dublin to Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) on which the first train travelled on 17 December, 1839 (Ide Ní Riain, R.S.C.S., A Short History of Mount Anville, Naas, 1988). Mulvaney designed some railway stations including Broadstone in Dublin and also The Royal Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire. (ICA 43).

Richard Atkinson died in 1877 and his wife outlived him by three years. In 1880 Gortmore was bought by a wine (or more likely a spirit) merchant, Edward Frederick Burke whose premises were at 16, Bachelor’s Walk, Dublin. I suggest that he was a spirit merchant since he was an exporter. He changed the staircase into the present ornamental one which has E.B. inscribed several times on the banister. He also added a wood-panelled study, said to be ornamented with choice wood that was used to make the special barrels in which he conserved his liquors (ICA 43). This would seem to be the present recreation room for visiting groups and the room with the glass panels and wooden ceiling near the conservatory.

Burke died in 1893 and the house passed to John Gardiner Nutting who was chairman of Burke’s Company. On taking up residence he was made a Justice of the Peace and in 1895 he was appointed High Sheriff for County Dublin (1895-6) and later Deputy Lieutenant for County Dublin (ICA 44.). During his period of residence in Gortmore, probably until 1897, the beautiful wrought-iron walkway at the rear of the house, and the conservatory were completed. The formal garden was laid out with the rockery and the artificial pond. He was knighted and made a Baronet in 1902. (ICA 44).

The Land Valuation Books name a Richard Macready as the occupant in 1897 and it would seem from this book that the house was vacant from 1906 until 1909 when it was bought by Dr. Joseph Michael Redmond, F.R.C.P.R.C.S.I., who was Physician to the Mater Hospital, Consulting Physician to the Coombe Hospital, and to St. Michael’s Hospital, Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire), Co. Dublin. In 1916 he was made President of the Royal College of Physicians. The title ‘Sir’ went with that office. He never used it but his wife, Lady Oswaldine Redmond, did. They had an oratory in the house which was the room above the main entrance where Jesuit Fathers from Milltown Park offered Mass occasionally. The water-tower was occupied by Irish soldiers during the “troubles.” They were accustomed to make their way across the fields to Byrne’s lodge for food as they were a great cause of anxiety to the Redmonds. Lady Redmond embellished the present entrance to the house by putting lights on the pillars as the long avenue was bordered with trees and was very dark. Though the ICA book states that she died in 1924 the Land Valuation Books show that she was paying them for the property until 1928. There is a mystery as to who occupied the house after her death. The ICA account (p.45) says that Oswald Hegarty, B.L., a barrister, bought it in 1924 and sold it to the Lefroy family in 1930. Hegarty’s name does not appear in the Land Valuation Books. They state that Hubert Dudgeon was the proprietor in 1930 and Arthur St Huet in 1931. The latter’s name is still remembered by the Byrne family. The same books name the Lefroy family as the owners in 1932. They remained there until 1944.

The Carmelites in Gort Muire
The Carmelites had been living at Ardavon, Orwell Road, Rathgar, since the early years of the century and by 1943 the number of students and novices had increased. In that year there were also eleven novices in Kinsale. As the Second World War had suspended the sending of students to Rome to study theology more rooms were needed for the House of Studies. A search for another property suitable for this purpose produced no results so plans were drawn up to extend Ardavon. They were to occupy part of the site on which Mount Carmel Hospital is now situated. The name Ardavon had been changed to Mount Carmel by Fr William J. Brennan, O.Carm., who was Prior there from 1937 until 1940.

Before proceeding with the actual building a novena of Masses and prayers was offered in Kinsale and in Mount Carmel. On November 23, 1943, Fr O’Shea, O.Carm., then Provincial, decided to make a last enquiry to see if there was any house suitably situated near Milltown Park and University College, Dublin (which was then in Earlsfort Terrace). On February 2, 1944, he received a letter from Battersby Auctioneers indicating that a property – Gortmore – was available on the basis of a private sale. Having visited the house with its approximately fifty acres of land, the Provincial and Definitory were unanimous in deeming it most suitable for their purpose. Dr John Charles McQuaid, then Archbishop of Dublin, gave his consent as did the Curia in Rome on March 12, 1944, with the purchase being made on March 20 that year (the transferred feast of St Joseph). The figure agreed on was £12,000 with a deposit of £1,500 being paid on the signing of the agreement. Mr B. St George Lefroy asked for reasonable time to find new accommodation for himself and his family.

On August 14, Mr St George Lefroy handed over the keys to Fr Emmanuel McGrath, O.Carm., and two days later Fr O’Shea, O.Carm., took possession of the house at 6p.m. He sat up a temporary oratory in the present community recreation room and at 9p.m. he blessed the whole house and night prayers were said at 10.30p.m. The house was consecrated to St Joseph and placed under his protection. Some students were recalled from the holiday house in Wicklow and B. Clinch, O.Carm., took charge of the kitchen until a more permanent arrangement could be made. The Blessed Sacrament was reserved on August 19 and a vigil was observed from midnight until 3a.m.

Fr D.C. Kiely, O.Carm., who had been appointed Prior, arrived and took up duty on August 21 with part of the student-body taking up residence on August 30. They were B. Hearne, J. Clarke, J. O’Sharkey, P. O’Dwyer, A. Clarke, M. Ahearne and G. Fitzgerald. Another group followed towards the end of September – F. Hegarty, S. Grace, E. Maguire, I.S. Coughlan and B. McGivern. The rooms were divided with curtains so as to provide for three or four students. On September 26, Fr B. Foster, O.Carm., moved from Kinsale to join the community and take charge of the music while Fr P.E. O’Dwyer, O.Carm., Master of the laybrother novices in Moate, came to stay on October 3 while undergoing medical treatment in a Dublin hospital.

The first solemn professions took place on October 15: F. Hegarty, S. Grace, I.S. Coughlan, E. Maguire and C. Lawlor took final vows in the new Oratory, which had been called the music room and is now the recreation room for visiting groups. The first Oratory had, in the meantime, become the study-hall. It was partitioned with the larger part being for the students and the smaller became the priest’s recreation room. The refectory in the early years was the room looking out on the fountain and tennis court. Outside the area opposite the garden and near the farmyard was a wood.

The scholastic year began on October 17. Philosophy was taught partly in Mount Carmel and partly at Gort Muire by Emmanuel McGrath, O.Carm., and Brocard Taylor, O.Carm., (commonly known as the Doc) and a Maltese Carmelite, Fr Hilarion Spiteri.

The Stations of the Cross, donated by the Past Pupils of Terenure College, were erected by Fr Bernardine, O.F.M. A new tabernacle and sanctuary lamp were installed on November 14. Two days later the house was solemnly blessed by Archbishop McQuaid. Fr O’Shea, O.Carm., decided to adapt the name Gortmore to Gort Muire (Maryfield). As there has been some question as to whether the name should have been Gort Mhuire it is well to remember that this alteration took place before ‘standardized’ Irish was introduced and was fully in line with the current practice such as is indicated by names like Kilmurry, Kilbride, Inishmurray, Kilpeddar, Gort Finn, Gort Conaig and many others which are very old names and which show that there was no aspiration on the personal name.

The first canonical visitation was held on December 18, 1944. The priest community consisted of Frs Kiely, O.Carm., O’Dwyer, O.Carm. (who had given up his duties in Moate), Spiteri, O.Carm., and Foster, O.Carm. Bro B. Clinch, O.Carm., was solemnly professed on 20 May 1945. The first students ordained to the priesthood were B.D. Hearne, O.Carm., J. Clarke, O.Carm., and J. O’Sharkey, O.Carm. The ceremony took place in Clonliffe Oratory in July 1945. The first annual retreat for the Province in Gort Muire commenced on August 5, 1945, and was conducted by Fr Sebastian, O.F.M. In September, Fr E. Devane, O.Carm., was appointed Master of Students and Fr Spiteri, O.Carm., transferred to Mount Carmel.

Plans for the construction of a more spacious Oratory or Chapel were drawn up by the architects Messrs Robinson, Keeffe and Devane with Walsh & Company being chosen as the builders. On 8 May, 1946, the feast of the Solemnity of St Joseph, Fr O’Shea, O.Carm., was celebrant of the High Mass at 10a.m. After Mass the foundation of the new oratory was blessed and the first sod was turned by him. Fr Brennan, O.Carm., Prior of Whitefriars, and Fr Kelly, O.Carm., Prior of Mount Carmel, and the whole student-body were present.

The following month (November 21) saw Dr McQuaid lay the foundation stone of the new Oratory. In the stone was placed a glass tube containing the names of the dignitaries present, a medal of the Sacred Heart, one of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Thérèse, tokens to St Patrick, St Brigid and St Jude, coins of the State, a copy of our periodical, The Whitefriars, and of the Dublin papers of the day. There was a large attendance of local diocesan clergy, laity, of Carmelite priests and students. Fr Elias Lynch, O.Carm., and Fr. I. Birthistle, O.Carm., represented the English foundations of the Province.

Work on all fronts was proceeding at a brisk pace. On December 16, 1946, the excavation necessary for an extension behind the church, now known as the middle building, was commenced. The foundation of this extension was laid on March 19, 1947. June 16 was a special day as Fr Kilian Lynch, O.Carm., who had been elected Prior General, visited the community. He was very pleased with the house and the work in progress. The following month on July 14, Fr P. O’Dwyer, O.Carm., offered his First Mass in the new Oratory. It was not ready for use but seats were put on the cement floor, a temporary tabernacle was placed on the altar and the Community, his family and relatives and the workmen engaged in the building of the Oratory were present.

The painting of the Scapular vision is the work of the famous artist Seán Keating. He visualized himself as Elias and it is said that the representation of Our Lady resembles his wife. The two stained glass windows are from the school of Harry Clarke. Fr P.E. O’Dwyer, O.Carm., made the wooden side altars which fitted into the alcoves beautifully. The marble altar, which has been removed from what is now the Blessed Sacrament chapel, was donated by Fr Taylor’s parents to Mount Carmel but was transferred to Gort Muire at his request.

On July 8, 1948, the new Oratory was officially opened by the provincial Fr Conleth Fitzgerald, O.Carm. There was a large gathering of Carmelite priests present and the students sang the Mass. Fr Carmel O’Shea, O.Carm., who was celebrating the Silver Jubilee of his Ordination, offered the High Mass at which the Provincial preached. He paid tribute to Fr O’Shea’s great work for the Order but especially for his wisdom and foresight in acquiring Gort Muire for the Order. Two nights later a vigil of adoration and thanksgiving was kept throughout the night.

On September 6 a new bell, presented by Fr Elias Lynch, O.Carm., to mark Fr. O’Shea’s jubilee, was hung in the belfry. It was blessed on September 8 and from September 12 it was used to call the Community to the various religious exercises of the day.

High Mass was broadcast by Radio Éireann from Gort Muire on January 2, 1949. This practice continued during the Sundays and Holy Days of January for many years. Several congratulatory messages were received from many listeners including the President of Clonliffe College, Fr Cathal McCarthy and also from the Director of Broadcasting in Radio Éireann. Fr Michael Oliver Carroll, O.Carm., (commonly know as ‘Mick’ and one of the characters of the Province) was transferred from Mount Carmel to Gort Muire on January 31, 1949, to teach philosophy. A request for a chaplain to St Anne’s Home, Kilmacud, which housed wayward girls, came on Friday, February 8. It began on February 12 and consisted of daily Mass and a weekly talk to the girls and continued for many years. Fr Paul Barker, O.Carm., became a member of the community on March 29 and Fr Flannan O’Malley, O.Carm., was transferred from Hartley (England) to become Subprior and Master of Students on August 19, 1949. September 5 was the date of the final departure of brothers and students from Mount Carmel, thereby vacating the house for the Blue Nuns (the Little Company of Mary). Fr Emmanuel McGrath, O.Carm., had been Prior there since 1946 and students had been transferring during the intervening years as the young priests who had completed their theology course were moving out into their various apostolates.

By 1949 the new wing was nearing completion and on March 20, 1950, was blessed by Fr O’Shea, O.Carm., at the conclusion of High Mass. This wing was built of solid concrete and provided each student with a room where he could have privacy and an excellent opportunity to study. Class rooms were provided on the ground floor.

Representatives from the community participated annually in the Eucharistic Procession for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in the parishes of Dundrum and Sandyford. From 1950 on they also participated in the processions in the Hermitage (Little Sisters of the Poor), in Sion Hill and also in Loreto Rathfarnham.

On August 26, 1951, an ‘American Tea’ was held in the grounds to raise funds for the Rhodesian Mission. Subsequent years saw this annual gathering (with the name altered to Garden Fête) attract two or three thousand people to enjoy themselves and help our fundraising. It continued for twenty-one years and raised a considerable sum of money which helped to finance the building of the second extension in Gort Muire in the 1960’s.

As the number of students continued to increase a new wing was added to the buildings in 1962-64. The kitchen and refectory were also extended. Tribute and gratitude are due to the people who gave financial aid for this project and especially to the girls who sacrificed so many weekends over those two years to fundraise for this building. The 1961 Provincial Chapter decreed that a theologate be established in Gort Muire. To that end the library was moved from what are now Conference halls I and II to the eastern side of the ground floor in this new building and the archives of the province found a home next door. Frs. A. Ryan, O.Carm., J. Lawler, O.Carm., E. Devane, O.Carm., P. Burke, O.Carm., and P. O’Dwyer, O.Carm., were the main teachers. There were also non-Carmelites amongst whom may be mentioned Patrick Masterson who later became President of U.C.D. and is now President of the European University Institute. Students from the English Commissariate also did their studies here. The Irish Carmelites were especially happy to welcome Spanish Carmelites to the faculty as Spain had been such a great help to Irish Carmelites, novices and students during the Penal days. Two Benedictine students from Glenstal Abbey also followed the course of theology here.

This theologate continued until 1968 when Frs J. Healy and P. O’Connell, Jesuits from Milltown Park, came to Gort Muire and discussed with Frs A. Ryan and P. O’Dwyer the feasibility of the Carmelite students returning to Milltown Park as the number of clerical students had been drastically decreasing since 1964. This was the early stage of what is now The Milltown Institute of Philosophy and Theology. Since then the students from Gort Muire have been pursuing their studies there and a goodly number of Carmelites have been and are lecturing there.

In time it was decided that the community would run a Conference Centre. This was opened on Easter Monday (March 31) 1975, with Fr A. Ryan, O.Carm., as Director. The summer was an extremely busy one as the De la Salle Brothers made all their retreats here during July and a considerable numbers of nuns made theirs in August. Fr C. Conroy, O.Carm., gave many successful school retreats, and twilight retreats were provided monthly to give the laity of the local parishes the opportunity of having a few hours of prayer, reflection, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Mass. Courses in ongoing formation were provided to meet the needs of priests and religious.

Great attention was given to the development of the liturgy by Frs J. Keating, O.Carm., and E. Griffin, O.Carm., both in theory and practice. The group known as ‘Folk Gort Muire’ gave a very valuable service to the Sunday Eucharist and to various broadcasts. Quite a number of radio and television Masses and ceremonies were broadcast from the Oratory and members of the community, celebrated T.V. masses and contributed to the programmes ‘Outlook’ and ‘Just a Thought’ over the years.

Groups, such as ‘Marriage Encounter,’ were glad to use the facilities provided by the Centre to exercise their particular apostolates. Choirs, Readers and Ministers of the Eucharist came to prepare themselves for their respective duties. The Carmelite students introduced ‘Prayer around the Cross,’ which is still held every First Friday over many years. During the years the Centre has also facilitated the course for priests which was run under the aegis of the National Council of the Priests of Ireland. When these terminated Fr E. Griffin, O.Carm., undertook courses for priests very successfully. This variety of courses in spirituality, psychology and theology over the nineteen years of the Centre’s existence has proved to be a great boon to the Church. Both the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council and its counterpart in the Church of Ireland use the facilities frequently. It is also very encouraging when R. Patterson and other members of the Presbyterian Church come to Gort Muire or the members in Gort Muire go to them in Belfast to interchange experiences. The clergy of the Archdiocese of the Church of Ireland (Dublin & Glendalough) have held and continue to hold their Annual General Meeting in the Centre.

The scope of the Conference has widened with time and from 1976-79 business groups have begun to use the Centre also. The Medical Board and the Department of Education have been frequent visitors. In addition to the Carmelite Retreats and Chapters other Orders use it also for the same purposes. The C.M.R.S. and local deaneries also meet here. The Samaritans also like to hold their Annual General Meeting with us. The students and brothers make a very welcome contribution to all the events in the Centre in addition to their studies and apostolates.

Fr John Keating, O.Carm., during his priorship (1976-82), removed the choir stalls from the Oratory and installed the present seating in order to accommodate the growing numbers coming to the Eucharist on Sundays. He also removed the altar and tabernacle from the sanctuary. The side-altar was used to reserve the Blessed Sacrament and the present wooden altar in the Oratory was paid for by a legacy from Fr C. O’Donnell’s mother. Miss M. Daly has made a considerable contribution to the liturgy by her gifted use of the organ and by her courses in liturgical music. She and Fr Keating, O.Carm., have produced some excellent liturgical music books and tapes.

In 1976, Fr D. Weakliam, O.Carm., became Provincial and made Gort Muire his residence. He did an excellent job in redesigning the basement of the old house into offices and boardrooms. Fr P. Burke, O.Carm., who had lectured in U.C.D. for many years, on retiring founded ‘The Carmelite Association’ which meets regularly to learn and deepen its sense of Carmelite spirituality. It would be well-nigh impossible to estimate C. O’Donnell’s and E. Griffin’s contribution to the Conference Centre. During its 50 years as a friary the community of Gort Muire have made student formation their chief work and have been glad to serve the parishes of Dundrum, Mount Merrion, Kilmacud, Sandyford, Balally, Ballinteer and the Carmelite churches in the Province and on the missions. They have also served the Sisters in Carmel (Kilmacud), Mount Anville, The Little Sisters of the Poor and the Carmelites in Our Lady’s Manor in Dalkey as well as the Sisters in Notre Dame des Missions in Churchtown.

A novena of prayer led to the foundation of Gort Muire. Various officials, students, brothers and staff have helped in its two-fold purpose of student formation and in developing the Conference Centre. This year, 1994, will be marked by special prayer and activities in keeping with the Carmelite ethos of the friary. It is our hope that the second fifty years will be as fruitful or even more fruitful than the first.