Tradition has it that St. Marnock, a contemporary of St Patrick, first introduced Christianity to Portmarnock. He reputedly baptised the people of Portmarnock at a well, which was situated near the old graveyard on Strand Road. This became known locally as St. Marnock’s well. Nearby he built a simple church. The Church was long gone by the twelfth century when a new church was built on the site. This church survived until about the sixteen hundreds when it fell into disuse. The graveyard itself dates back to the 17th century and many notable people are buried there, including the Jamesons of whiskey fame, Larry O’Neill, a former Lord Mayor of Dublin and the Plunkett family of which Saint Oliver was a member. Across the road from the railway station was the Plunkett mansion, known locally as Portmarnock House. In the house they had their own private chapel where, it is said, Saint Oliver often celebrated Mass. During penal times a Mass Rock is believed to have existed on the Beechwood estate near the Portmarnock Sports and Leisure Club. This Mass Rock survived until the early nineteen hundreds.
After Catholic Emancipation the Catholic Church slowly began to reorganise itself and by the late eighteen hundreds the parish of Baldoyle, which included Portmarnock, had succeeded in building a church. The people of Portmarnock attended this church right up to 1934, when Archbishop Byrne blessed and dedicated the new tin church as a chapel of ease for Baldoyle. The church was built on a site in the centre of the village donated by Larry O’Neill, the former Lord Mayor of Dublin. His only request was that the church be dedicated to St. Anne, to whom he had great devotion. By a strange coincidence he died suddenly and peacefully on July 26, 1943, the feast day of St. Anne. St Anne’s was to be a temporary church. Built at a cost of £1,800 it was guaranteed to last for 20 years. In fact the tin church was in use for 50 years. Fr Leo Donlon was Portmarnock’s first resident priest. He arrived in 1965 and resided here until his tragic drowning in 1970.
In 1972 Portmarnock became a parish in its own right. The first parish priest was Father Hayes. By the mid 1970’s the small tin church was unable to cope with the growing population and for a time, up to 1979, one Mass each Sunday was celebrated in the ballroom of the Country Club Hotel. In 1979, as a temporary measure, the Church of the Holy Family was built in St. Helen’s at the top end of the parish.
As the population continued to increase it was inevitable that a new permanent church was needed and so, on May 8, 1983 St. Anne’s Church was built at a cost of £374,000 and was designed to seat 800 worshippers. The Church was blessed and dedicated by Archbishop Dermot Ryan.
But times moves on and in 2005, following a public meeting, a “Refurbishment Committee” was formed. The creation of a centre aisle was proposed but with a new seating layout – it was suggested that a semi-circular arrangement would create a more inclusive area, encouraging more participation by the congregation in the liturgy. A survey of the roof revealed that not only did the majority of the tiles and felt need replacing, the roof structure itself had not withstood the winds of Portmarnock’s winters and had warped in some areas. So there was now no alternative but to build a completely new roof.
Many more improvements were made – a new baptistery, centralisation of the tabernacle, new heating and lighting, wheelchair access to the sanctuary, a new shrine area and finally the restoration of the beautiful circular rose window which had been rescued from the tin church, before it was dismantled, by two parishioners, Geraldine Kretch and her husband Noel. It was David Sweeney who made the beautiful frame in which it is set. The centre pane shows the sacred host and the surrounding panes depict symbols of the passion of Jesus.
The altar, tabernacle and lectern have images that are worth noting. The altar has the Holy Spirit, the host and grapes and sheaves of wheat – all symbols of the Eucharist. The lectern has images of the four evangelists: the lion for St. Matthew, the ox for St. Luke, the eagle for St. John and St. Matthew is seen as the tax collector. The tabernacle has the Lamb of God image with a road inviting us to follow him.
The newly refurbished church was rededicated and blessed on September 22, 2007 by the Archbishop of Dublin, Very Rev. Diarmuid Martin.