The Oratory is the ultimate hidden gem of Dún Laoghaire, seeing as most locals probablt don’t have the remotest clue where it is. This tiny building, crammed with highly detailed Celtic revival art, is located behind the Bloomfield shopping centre, and beside a the playground on Library Road, or to be totally precise, right here:
Built in 1919, the Oratory is the only surviving part of the Dominican Sisters Convent at the former site of Echo House, which was demolished to make way for the Bloomfield shopping centre development and multiplex cinema.
A Dominican nun by the name of Sister Concepta Lynch decorated the Oratory between 1920 and 1936 with some of the most stunning and vibrant Celtic revival art to be found anywhere in the world. It has been called Ireland’s hidden Sistine Chapel, and the Book of Kells is another obvious reference point, but Sister Lynch was a true blue original and a daring radical.
Despite its tiny size, the walls teem with Celtic designs, animals, birds and zoomorphic (representing animal forms, or gods of animal form) figures. My personal favourite is the two smiling creatures above. Sister Concepta pushed the boat out and recognised no boundaries. If that wasn’t enough, the stained glass windows by the Harry Clarke studio are also stunning.
The Oratory is open for free tours on Saturdays and Wednesdays until the end of May at 11am, 12pm, 1pm and 2pm. It will be closed for a few weeks, but will re-open for the Summer of Heritage programme. Do check out one of Ireland’s greatest hidden treasures.