The old church of St. Canice’s, Finglas, is accessed through a small gateway off the Wellmount Road, located across the dual carriageway from Finglas village. Originally the residents of Finglas village would have gained accessed to the church via Church Street by crossing the Finglas bridge (both river and bridge are now gone). It was in existence by 1657 however it is obvious from the records that it was standing much earlier than this. This church according to tradition was built on the site of St Canice’s monastery. Saint Canice, born c. 516, having originally trained at Clonard, moved to this site from a monastic settlement located in Glasnevin. Robert Walsh gave a brief description of the church in his Fingal and its churches (Dublin, 1888):
[the] church is situated in the north-west corner of the burying-ground. No record exists of when it was built. It consists of a nave, 48 feet long, divided into two aisles, that to the north being 28 feet wide, while that to the south is 16 feet wide. At the east end of the north there is a chancel 34 feet long by 22 wide, separated by two large semi-circular arches, and each aisle had its own roof and gables. The west gable of the larger aisle was surmounted by a bell-turret, which has disappeared. The church is entered through a stone-roofed porch, opening into the north-west end of this aisle, which is 15 feet wide by 8 feet long. The nave is lighted by 2 west, 1 east and 1 north windows. The walls are very thick, and of plain rubble masonry. In the churchyard many celebrated people have been buried from ancient times.
In addition the grounds of the church contained the supposed cross of Nethercross (from where the Barony that Finglas parish is located in gets its name). According to legend this cross –that still stands in the church grounds- was buried by the parishioners upon the approach of Cromwellian forces and was to remain buried until rediscovered by Rev. Robert Walsh (father of the author of the above extract) early in the nineteenth century.
The history of the parish is well documented with the parish vestry records extant from 1657 to the present. Such records give an insight into the running and maintenance of the church and its grounds. However they are also a valuable resource for the study of the wider history of the parish. This is because the parish vestry was the smallest unit of government and thus the vestry records give much insight into how local government operated in Finglas, particularly prior to the passing of the poor laws in 1838.
As early as 1758 problems with damp appeared to be creating difficulties for the parishioners and by 1840 the church was in poor repair. Following consultation with an architect, the parish decided to seek funds from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to build a new church. This new church, the current Church of Ireland, St Canice’s, was consecrated by the Archbishop of Dublin on the 20 April 1843. However the older church was to retain some usefulness to the parish. As the newer church did not contain a vestry the old church was to remain in use for vestry meetings until the 1870s as the parishioners felt that ‘improper it would be to permit the crowded & mixed meeting who now assemble at vestries to come into the body of the Church for common purposes & not only materially injure but desecrate in varies [sic] ways a sacred edifice.’
Robinson, Theo, The pure stream, the story of St Canice’s parish church Finglas (Kildare, 1993).
Walsh, Robert, Fingal and its churches (Dublin, 1888).