Plans revealed for 300th anniversary of one of Cork’s oldest churches

Many distinguished people have worshipped at the Unitarian Church, Princess Street, Cork.

President Michael D Higgins attended the launch yesterday of the 300th anniversary celebrations of one of Cork’s oldest churches.

Mr Higgins visited the historic Unitarian Church on Prince’s St in the heart of Cork City, where details of its year-long tercentenary celebrations were unveiled.

Congregation secretary Fritz Spengeman said they plan to hold a service of commemoration and several cultural events throughout the year. It was announced the congregation is to appoint Rev Mike O’Sullivan as its first minister in more than 50 years next month.

Unitarianism in Ireland grew out of the dissenting Presbyterian tradition which emerged in the mid 1600s. The Cork Unitarian Church was one of the first buildings erected outside the city’s ancient walls on an area then known as Dunscombe’s Marsh, with the foundations laid in 1713. It hosted its first service on Sunday, August 1, 1717, and has been a place of worship ever since. After Red Abbey and Elizabeth Fort, the church is believed to be the oldest structure in Cork.

Many distinguished people have worshipped there over the years, including Thomas Dix Hincks, the congregation’s sole minister from 1792 to 1815. He established the Royal Cork Institution in 1803 to promote education, science, agriculture, and industry. It led to the establishment of the Opera House, Crawford Gallery, UCC, and CIT. His son, Thomas, ministered from 1815 to 1818, before becoming the first professor of natural history at University College, Toronto, and president of the Canadian Institute.

Throughout the 1800s, members of the Cork congregation were active in many social and political movements, including the anti-slavery movement, the Anti-Tithe Association, and the Young Irelanders. The Father Mathew Temperance Agreement was signed in the church in 1839.

Another prominent congregation member, Richard Dowden, supported Daniel O’Connell and Catholic emancipation. While serving as lord mayor in 1845, his work on the anti-slavery movement led to a visit to the city by leading abolitionist and US social campaigner Frederick Douglass. Artist Daniel Maclise and the father of modern computer science, George Boole, also worshipped there.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Higgins opened a major exhibition at UCC celebrating Irish figures who have influenced the development of Latin America.

The Irish in Latin America exhibition honours people like General Daniel O’Leary, and Eliza Lynch, a national heroine in Paraguay. O’Leary, who was born in Cork in 1801 and emigrated to South America in 1817, became the aide-de-camp to the great liberator of the Americas, Simon Bolívar, and helped Venezuela win independence from Spain. Ms Lynch was the mistress of Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano López, and has long been the symbol of Paraguayan pride and resistance.

The exhibition includes displays of emeralds donated to Queen’s College (now UCC) by General O’Leary in 1852. The exhibition opens to the public today in the Aula Maxima, and can be viewed in the Glucksman Gallery from February 7-12 and in the O’Rahilly building from February 16-28.


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