St. Mary's Church is the Protestant place of worship in Dungarvan. The churchyard is hidden from view by a very old stone wall that faces on to Emmett Street. On entering through the gate, one is immediately aware of the ancient and peaceful atmosphere of the place. The present church was rebuilt to a design by James Pain, about 1828, incorporating part of an earlier church of C. 1700. The church has a T-plan and is built of limestone ashlar, the windows have simple Gothic style frames in timber. An extension was added to the east end in 1903, and also at this period, new stained glass windows were installed by Watsons of Youghal. On the west gable is a stone inscribed 'J.H. and B.B. C.W. 1827' - the initials stand for John Hudson and Beresford Boate, Church Wardens. In 1795, the old church was repaired and new sets of entrance gates were erected at a cost of £12. These gates still survive today. A curious feature to the west of the church is the old gable wall with its five circular opes. This wall is about 32 feet long and 30 feet high, the windows are of dressed sandstone. The wall has perplexed local historians for many years, however it now seems certain that it is all that remains of the old Pre-Reformation Parish Church 'St. Mary the Virgin' records of which date back to the 1300's. This church is described by Charles Smith writing in 1746 'Formerly the Parish Church was a large building, with a high steeple, but the whole was demolished by Cromwell. It is at present rebuilt ... where the chancel of the old church stood, The banks of the churchyard are washed by the ocean at high water the same being handsomely laid out into gravel walks planted with trees'... The beautiful view from here, much admired by 18th and 19th century visitors to Dungarvan can still be appreciated today. In 1642 during the Civil War, the Irish rebels under a Captain Fennell destroyed the interior of the church and used it as a stable and prison for the Protestant inhabitants.
There is a very large graveyard with many interesting old gravestones. At the back of the church is a box tomb commemorating the Ryland family of Dungarvan, one of whom wrote a History of Co.Waterford in 1824. Nearby is an unusually early headstone inscribed 'Robert Drepers 1685'. On the west side of the cemetery near the pathway is a recent memorial erected by Abbeyside Pattern Committee to mark the site of a mass grave of those who were drowned in the shipwreck of the sailing ship the Moresby in 1895. The pathway through the churchyard was an ancient right-of-way for the fishermen of Boreenatra (English translation "road beside the sea") to their boats on the quay. The little neo-Tudor style house in the corner of the churchyard is the old Church of Ireland school dated 1846.
This text is an edited extract from part of Willie Fraher's "A Guide To Historic Dungarvan" published by Waterford County Museum Society
Author: Willie Fraher