A short architectural tour in the vicinity of Skerries

by Brendan Grimes – December 2021

You might think that a talk by an architectural historian would focus solely on the stones, bricks and mortar that go to make up a building. In Skerries Historical Society’s final presentation of the year, ‘A short architectural tour in the vicinity of Skerries’ by Brendan Grimes, we certainly heard about the use of limestone (from Milverton quarry), types of brick and styles of windows and doors. I picked up a great new word – sneck – which refers to the little stones which get packed around larger blocks in a rubble wall. But it turns out that architectural history is as much about the people who commissioned, designed and constructed buildings as it is about the buildings themselves.

That being so, let’s have a look at three of the individuals who cropped up again and again during Brendan’s architectural tour. First I’m going to mention Sandham Symes who has a great name and who we have met before as the architect of the houses in Holmpatrick Terrace and the Hamilton Monument at the bottom of Strand Street. Brendan pointed out that he was born into a wealthy family and thus had good contacts in the upper echelons of society but that wouldn’t have helped him in the long run if he hadn’t been good at his job. 

Symes was the architect of choice in 19th century north county Dublin (and further afield) and examples of his work which exist to this day are the gate lodges around Milverton Hall (although sadly the hall itself is long gone) and Saint George’s schoolhouse, Balbriggan which, while no longer a school, is still very much in use. He was also responsible for several buildings in the Naul which are in private ownership. All were commissioned by members of the Woods family of Milverton Hall which shows us that not only were his designs good but he must have been easy to work with.

Sandham Symes died in the last years of the nineteenth century and the new man of the hour was George L. O’Connor. He was very busy around Balbriggan in the early twentieth century, designing the beautiful Carnegie Library in St George’s Square with its lovely little turret which made it perfect for the children’s library when my sons were small. At the same time – if you want something done, ask a busy man – he was working on the parochial house beside Saints Peter and Paul Church on Dublin Street, Balbriggan. He also designed St Patrick’s Church, Donabate, using Portmarnock brick and matching terracotta roof tiles. Both architects liked buying local and made good use of the limestone produced by Milverton quarry. Brendan told me after the talk that George L. O’Connor also designed the church in Garristown, but as it was outside the 10km radius he didn’t include it.

I can’t end without mentioning the fact that there are loads of examples of Harry Clarke’s amazing stained glass windows to be found all around us including both the churches mentioned above as well as Saint Macullin’s, Lusk and The Nativity of Our Lady in the Naul. It didn’t get a mention in this talk but let’s not forget that Saint Patrick’s, Skerries, has glass from the Harry Clarke studios – although it isn’t the traditional stained glass window that you can see in these other locations.

So, if you haven’t been to see these buildings already, get on your bikes while the weather is good and go and see them.