Today we look back to consider aspects of our ‘grey’ past and present. The grey of which I speak is a capital Grey as in Greyfriars. I recently attended the opening of a fine art exhibition at the art centre there. A question posed as to the history of the area sent me in search of its story. This is a very ancient part of the oldest city in the country. People have lived here, trodden its ways, traded and prayed and sought alms and refuge here for over 1200 years. Today it’s a fine open thoroughfare leading from the Quay to Cathedral Square. This whole area is now being promoted as the Viking Triangle. One of Waterford’s treasures still stands proud here, indeed, it has conferred its name and character on the area, we speak of course, of the French Church – named for the French Huguenots who were invited to the city in 1693. The street we see today dates from around 1870 following completion of work by the Wide Street Commissioners which entailed demolition of French Church Street plus Paul’s Square. An older name again for this street was Holy Ghost Lane where the original Holy Ghost Foundation/hospital was established under the grant and patronage of Henry the Eight – a charitable trust that continues its work down to this very day.
The new name of Greyfriars was used in honour of the old Franciscan foundation which was established here in 1240 by an Anglo-Norman Knight, Hugh Purcell. Grey was then the colour of the Franciscan order. (The Dominicans were known as the Blackfriars- which bestows its name elsewhere). The Friary flourished here – the friars today are not too far now from this their original location as even after the ‘dissolution’ they stayed among the people of the area. The Friary established a reputation as a holy place and many miracles were associated with it during the medieval period. Again my guide is Daniel Dowling’s wonder book –Waterford Streets , Past and Present and he tells us that many of the celebrated Waterford families were buried here including those of the Waddings, Lombards, Walshs, Whites and Gavles and in later times members of the Roberts family. Indeed Walter Wadding, the father of the famous Luke Wadding is buried here. So it is extremely appropriate that the latter’s statue, now graces this venerable and historic site. Greyfriars continued its spiritual and temporal ministry for 300 years until it had to surrender and confiscation to the crown in 1540.
The Ghost House Story
The Holy Ghost Hospital foundation was established here and at other nearby locations and incorporated under a charter in 1544 to its first Master and Waterford merchant Henry Walsh. It was to provide shelter and sustenance for at least 60 poor people, both men and women including ‘the sick and infirm found wandering in the city’. The City corporation/council played an important supportive role then and ever since over the centuries. The maintenance and support of the House- or the Ghost House as it was known locally- was mainly derived from rents of lands and other properties. The hospital (in the old meaning of that word) continued here at Grey friars until 1882 when it was replaced by the imposing building built on its lands on the Cork Road.
Meanwhile as we have previously alluded to, the Huguenots were invited here in 1693 and as many as 50 families settled in Waterford and were granted the freedom of the city. It was that most influential bishop Dr Nathaniel Foy, protestant bishop of Waterford who secured and had converted part of the old friary into a church for their use. They continued there until 1815 by which time they had merged with other Protestant congregations in the city.
From Chapel to Gallery
Another denomination which began to flourish in the city from the beginning of the 19th century were the Methodists, it being the faith of many of the ships’ masters whose trade brought them to Waterford. Subsequent to this increasing contact with Waterford a goodly number settled here with their families (attracted by the delights of the Sunny South-East, no doubt!) and their industry brought them prosperity and an esteem in the city. In 1812 they had acquired a lease on a site of part of the Holy Ghost Hospital on which to build a chapel. Their numbers continued to grow during that century and in 1882 they decided to build a new chapel. They acquired a plot of ground between the back of this chapel and the then French Church Street. The new chapel was designed by a relation of the Denny family who later became known as Sir Thomas Drew and it stands today alongside the ruins of the French Church. It was a late Victorian church in gothic revival style with a fine façade of rough hewn limestone with granite dressing and curved features. The central composition of windows is particularly striking.
The new chapel opened in 1885 the then preacher was John Powell, one of their most senior men in Ireland. Incidentally Tom Fewer’s excellent book -I Was a Day in Waterford tells of John Wesley’s famous visit to Waterford. Valuable services were rendered during the First World War and the chapel continued to serve its own community. With emigration after the Second war numbers declined with the late 50’s seeing great financial difficulty. The situation was never really reversed and by 1979 the congregation had fallen below twenty it was agreed to bring the Methodists and Presbyterians together in an ‘Alternating Ministry based in St Patricks on Patrick’s Street. The chapel at Greyfriars was eventually sold to Waterford Corporation in 1989 for £55,000 and was adapted for use as a heritage Centre. Following the opening of Waterford Treasures at the Granary in 1999 it was decided to convert the building to provide a permanent home for the Municipal Art Collection. It still serves as a very attractive gallery and venue for art related events.
Go Seachtain Eile, Slan