If you’re passing through Dún Laoghaire’s, one place you might want to check out is the Oratory of the Sacred Heart, one of best-kept local art secrets and a low-key national version of the Sistine Chapel.
A tiny chapel hidden behind the main Shopping Centre, the interior is decorated in a Book of Kell style calligraphy created by the very talented Sister Concepta (Lily) Lynch.
Born in 1874, Lily spent much of her childhood learning her father’s calligraphic methods of illumination and decoration (known as the “Lynch Method”). Aged sixteen, she inherited the business when her father died and actually ran it until it was destroyed by fire six or seven years later. At that point, Lily joined the Dominican order at St Mary’s Convent (taking on the name Sister Concepta) and taught art and music at the convent school.
In 1919, when the convent received a donated statue of the sacred heart Lily was asked to decorate the alter of the oratory in which it was placed. When people ventured inside to view the final product, they were astounded to find that she’d transformed the drab, grey structure into a rainbow of colours, designs and motifs, many adopted from ancient manuscripts such as the Book of Kells, but also including a number that she’d created herself.
Impressed by her obvious talent, the convent asked to complete the rest of the oratory which she did, working on it for over sixteen years until 1936, when arthritis finally obliged here to stop. Sadly, she died three years later.
The Dominican Convent was sold in the 1990’s but the oratory, fortunately, was preserved. It’s not always open and a limited number of people can pass through at any one time (15 maximum) but it can generally be accessed twice weekly during the summer. At present, it’s temporarily closed but you can find a nice historical summary of it HERE.