The Sacred Heart Oratory is one of Ireland's loveliest and yet scarcely known treasures. It is a very small building (6m by 4m) in the port town of Dun Laoghaire (pronounced dun leery), which lies a few miles south of the country's capital city of Dublin. Though the outside of the building is unremarkable, the interior walls and ceiling are completely illuminated with intricate and brightly coloured Celtic design of the highest quality.
The Oratory was built in 1919 in the grounds of a Dominican Convent to commemorate the ending of the First World War. Many young men of the area had fought and lost their lives in that terrible war.
The then sub-prioress of the convent, Sister Margaret Mary Keefe, had a large statue of the Sacred Heart shipped over from France to be the centre piece in the little Oratory. Another resident nun, Sr. Concepta Lynch, painted Celtic designs on one portion of the end wall to act as a backdrop to the statue.
Sr. Concepta's artwork was so admired that she was encouraged to decorate the remaining walls and ceiling in a similar fashion. Alongside her other duties, she applied herself to this task, and for sixteen years worked at least four hours each day on the decoration of the Oratory. The result is a contemplation expressed with a pictorial cycle of beasts and birds singing a hymn of praise forming a circle to the left and to the right resplendent with gold and luminous colour – the vibrations of colour and light are marvellously harmonised.
Sr Concepta died in 1939, three years after the completion of the decoration of the Oratory.
The old convent buildings, pictured to the right, have since been demolished but the Sacred Heart Oratory still survives and is now encased in another building to preserve it for posterity. It is open for viewing by appointment with Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council (Phone 2054 700 ext. 4555).
Click here to see designs from the Oratory
Click here to read about Sr Concepta (Lily Lynch), and examples of her teaching charts.