Standing at the top of St Nicholas Street (and of course outside The Liberties – in that part of the Dublin called ‘the city’!) lies the curious little ruin of St Nicholas Within. Its ignominious namesake ‘Without’ originally lay within the precincts of St Patrick’s Cathedral before its parish merged in the 18th century with the adjoining parish of St Luke’s on The Coombe (ironically, which itself had been originally carved out of the old parish of St Nicholas Without). The posher Catholic version – St Nicholas de Myra – lies on Francis Street and is one of the area’s finest churches, built in the great wave of church-building that followed Catholic Emancipation in 1829. That church regales in its stunning classical interior, Harry Clarke windows and John Foley-sculpted ‘Pieta’ altarpiece.
But how long has this St Nick’s stood as a ruin on the street?
It seems a church of St Nicholas was first built here in the 12thC, however this building dates from 1707 (interestingly also the date of the nearby Tailors’ Hall). The architect was Sir William Robinson, although the church was completed by Thomas Burgh – prolific in the city at the time, given that he was Surveyor General. The church was never considered particularly fine or elegant, or well used, and its small congregation diminished as the area’s fortunes waned.
The steeple was removed in 1825 and the church fell into disuse shortly afterwards. It was closed and by the end of the 19thC it was enough of a ruin to be considered for removal as part of Lord Iveagh’s major works to improve housing in the area and widen St Nicholas Street. It seems that Lord Iveagh’s aesthetic sensibilities got the better of calls for its removal, and he instead had the ruin set back from its original location.
And here it sits today. A shell of a space. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what else could be done with it?