John Semple

Life
1801-1882; Irish architect; practised in modified gothic mode; designed St Mary's Chapel of Ease, 1828-29), Dublin, known as “The Black Church” [St. Mary’s Place, Broadstone, above Grantham St.], for patron Archbishop McGee; built Monkstown Church, Co. Dublin, 1825-1830, an edifice much admired by Sir John Betjeman; also St. John’s Church, Coleraine, Co. Derry; he was the namesake son of John Semple, who worked for the Board of First Fruits of the Church of Ireland. [see References, infra].

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Criticism
M. J. Craig, Dublin 1660-1860 (rev. edn. 1980); Etain Murphy, A Glorious Extravaganza: the history of Monkstown Church (Wordwell 2003), 308pp.

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Commentary

See Wikipedia notice on The Black Church: ‘The ground for the church was donated by the Viscount Mountjoy. The church was built in 1830 to designs by John Semple of the Board of First Fruits. He was given many contracts by patron Archbishop McGee, during an intense building period when both denominations vied for control of the population. Amongst the striking features of the church is how the interior is constructed. There are no interior walls but instead the exterior walls are arched towards the ceiling to create an interior of a large parabolic vault. It was the culmination of a series of designs which Semple constructed around Dublin and countrywide over a 12 year period. As you view his work in year-on-year progression, the ideas develop and become more refined. For example, what began as a simple cross type motif over the main door, eventually became the fully expanded Semple 'Rose' window. The main door-way itself became one of his “trademark” features, a tall, ovoidal gothic multi-leaved entrance. There is much symbolism incorporated into his designs, the interpretation of which he left to our imaginations. There are no records of his thoughts. Today, surrounded by paved streets, the striking building still sinisterly looms upon onlookers. Although it has a rather more innocuous aspect, perhaps helped by the fact that it is no longer a house of worship. The church was deconsecrated in 1962. After extensive modern refurbishment, is now occupied as offices [viz., of the Dublin Traffic Wardens/Tractála]. [...] Austin Clarke mentions the local legend of ‘Old Nick’ appearing in his 1962 autobiography titled Twice Round the Black Church. (See online; accessed 7.04.2012.)

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References
Dictionary of National Biography: lists George Semple (?1700-?1782), Irish architect and author of steeple of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, 1749, and Essex Bridge on the Liffey, 1752-54.

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