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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 15 Apr 1969

Vol. 239 No. 9

Holycross Abbey (County Tipperary) Bill, 1969: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

This Bill is to enable the ruined 15th century church at the national monument, Holycross Abbey, County Tipperary, to be restored for use for ecclesiastical purposes. The suggestion to restore the church was made to the Government by his Grace the Archbishop of Cashel who offered to bear the cost of restoration.

Holycross Abbey was founded about 1181 by the O'Briens, Kings of Thomond, for the Cistercians. It took its name from a relic of the True Cross which the abbey possessed and which made it a noted place of pilgrimage. The buildings, which contain some 13th century additions, were extensively remodelled about the 15th century. They provide outstanding examples of the distinctively Irish style of Gothic architecture. Noteworthy features include the ornate Butler tomb and Sedilia, the cloister erected in the middle of the 15th century and a fresco in the north transept which depicts a hunting scene.

Certain legal provisions must be made to enable the project to proceed. These are:

(1) The Commissioners of Public Works need to be given legal power to restore the national monument: under the National Monuments Acts, the commissioners have power merely to preserve national monuments;

(2) Doubt requires to be removed as to the power of the commissioners, when granting a lease or licence under section 17 of the National Monuments (Amendment) Act 1954, to require a lessee or licensee to pay the cost of restoration works; and

(3) It is necessary to remove any prohibition against the use of the church as a place of public worship which may be contained in section 25 (1) of the Irish Church Act, 1869, pursuant to which Holycross Abbey was vested in the Commissioners of Public Works.

The proposal to restore the ruined church has been discussed with the authorities of the Church of Ireland who have no objections. The work of restoration will be done under the supervision of the Commissioners of Public Works.

I am sure that it will be accepted that a monument restored for appropriate use as a living thing is to be preferred to a ruin. I accordingly commend this Bill to the House with confidence that it will be favourably received. It is not contentious.

It is a pleasure to see a proposal of this kind brought in by the Minister for Finance. Certainly it will have our support and complete approval. Anyone who has seen Holycross Abbey will appreciate the wonderful history that is in the stones and the structure that now remain. Its restoration will be a source of great pleasure to people concerned with the traditions and the history of our country. This is a Bill which aims at that very desirable object and it certainly is to be commended. I would like to think that more of this kind of work will proceed in the years ahead. There are many historical monuments and buildings throughout the land which are, of course, national monuments and preserved as such but many of them would, in fact, lend themselves to worthwhile restoration. We in this country have a Christian traditional history going back into the early hundreds and much of that traditional history is written in the stones and the structures of ruined churches and monasteries, ruined ecclesiastical settlements. Where restoration is possible it would add to our pride in the history of our people apart altogether from the fact that it would also make it easier for those who come to visit us to appreciate that we are a very old and proud nation with a tremendous history and tradition behind us.

I certainly welcome this Bill. The Minister said that it is a non-controversial Bill. I wish we had more such Bills.

This is a remarkable Bill in that it is the first, as far as I can remember, which will cost the taxpayers very little money, if any at all. I suppose the cost of the administration of the Bill is about the only cost that will be involved as the good Archbishop proposes to pay the cost of doing the job. Naturally we support the Bill. Even if it did mean that the necessary money had to be found it should be supported. This is something which the Commissioners of Public Works have been doing. The only snag is that, as has been stated, they preserve instead of restoring. I often wonder whether the restoration of some of those buildings might cost very little more than their preservation.

In a section of the Minister's brief he says:

It is necessary to remove any prohibition against the use of the church as a place of public worship which may be contained in section 25 (1) of the Irish Church Act, 1869, pursuant to which Holycross Abbey was vested in the Commissioners of Public Works.

Is there any reason why the Irish Church Act, 1869, should remain on the Statute Book? Is this one of the relics of the penal days which have not been removed despite the fact that we did remove many of them?

It is the Act which disestablished the Church of Ireland.

OK but the Minister does know that there are still on the Statute Book Acts which will make it illegal for a parish priest to describe himself as such. I wonder why these Acts have not been removed?

We have taken most of them off the Statute Book.

I know you took a whole bundle of them off last year but you left about four pernicious ones for some reason which makes one doubt you all on that side of the House.

I think we should always leave a few of the Acts of Grattan's Parliament on the Statute Book.

Yes, I agree. I do not want to be misunderstood.

I merely want to follow up one point made by Deputy Tully. I agree that perhaps there are other buildings that could be similarly considered and the lead that has been given here by the Archbishop is very commendable. I would go a little further than Deputy Tully. I think the taxpayer might be prepared to contribute in certain very selective cases and I take Deputy Tully's point about maintenance. I have in mind another monument not far from Holycross, the famous Rock of Cashel. I wonder what would it take to restore the roof of that? You would have to be selective. A few selective ones like that might be of some mundane value apart from the cultural and spiritual value of the restoration.

I would like to add my voice to the welcome for the Bill. It is a very commendable one indeed.

Bring in one about Tara now.

Question put and agreed to.