The poet Austin Clarke (1896-1974) grew up on Mountjoy Street near Parnell Square on the north side of Dublin a few houses away from the Black Church, which forms an island in the middle of the broad St Mary’s Place. He called the first volume of his memoirs Twice Round the Black Church (1962) for the belief that if you walk three times round the church backwards after midnight under a full moon – or variations – you will see the devil. The children were afraid to go the whole three times.
The 19th-century Gothic Revival church is built of black calp, a local limestone that turns very dark in the rain. It was deconsecrated in 1962 and now functions as an office building. The people who work there told me they had never heard about the association with the devil.
When people ask me where I live, I say just around the corner from the Black Church. The story is so widely known in Dublin that most of the time the questioner knows exactly what I mean.
There is another Black Church in Rathmines on Dublin’s south side with a similar tradition.
As I was taking this photo, Fionn mac Cumhaill happened to be climbing up the side of the National Wax Museum in the background. Click on the photo and you just might be able to make him out on the right side of the photo to the right of the traffic light. He’s wearing a green shirt. More about him in the next post (above).