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Blackrock College Chapel, Blackrock, Dublin

RegionCo. Dublin - Dublin city
Uploaded byRay O'Donnell
Kenneth Jones & Co. (1984)
Trevor Crowe Ltd (1994 ff)
Trevor Crowe Ltd (2011)

David Forde writes:

"This organ is the third organ to have been built for Blackrock College. It was built following a fire which, in 1982, destroyed the elaborate 'Gothick' style chapel and left the organ in an unsalvageable state. Most of the college archives were destroyed in the fire (the archives were located in a room just of the organ loft) so the information about the earlier organs is very scant. A picture, from the early 1950s, survives of the first organ which appears to have been a sizeable two-manual mechanical organ complete with artisan Gothic case, probably by Telford or White. This organ was subsequently rebuilt in the late 1950s by the dying Evans & Barr firm of Belfast - in house style with electro-pneumatic action. The Irish Organ Company (?) later moved the console down from the loft to the nave.

"The current organ was commissioned from Kenneth Jones following the fire and represents a compromise between two different schools of thought. The late Rev. Father Joseph Corless, Dean, Principal and President of the college and most accomplished and refined musician was responsible for the commission. A man respected and feared in equal measure, he compiled the once popular Holy Ghost Hymnal amongst other work. Those familiar with the style of arrangement in this volume (expertly executed) would understand the school of organ playing which Fr. Corless would have most appreciated. He insisted on having a console in the nave of the chapel so he could direct the singing whilst playing. This of course would have dictated the use of electric action, which had all but been eschewed by the builder, Kenneth Jones. Legend has it that both equally forceful men refused to budge on this issue so the consultant, Prof. Gerard Gillen, with customary diplomacy, suggested a compromise - the result being an organ with two consoles - the nave played with electric action, the loft being partly mechanical.

"The organ is largely new though there is some pipework from the previous organ (which did not completely perish) and other sources. The instrument is housed behind two façades (rather perfunctory in design and construction) with the manuals on the south west side and the pedals on the north west. With the appointment of the author, David Forde, as Musical Director, maintenance passed to Trevor Crowe. Although the solution was largely successful, particularly from the nave, there were aspects of the organ design which were not; so, with David Forde as advisor and Trevor Crowe as builder, a programme of modifications has been put in place. So far the bass chest of the pedal division has been rebuilt with electro-pneumatic action as the heavy duty magnets used originally proved noisy and unreliable. The loft console originally had electric couplers which made play at this console an unsettling experience as there was no synchronisation whatsoever between an of the division - this was particularly noticeable with the pedals. These electric couplers have now been replaced with new mechanical action transmission which makes the loft console very pleasant to play. The swell pedal on the loft console used to operate the electro-pneumatic whiffle tree engine - this has been replaced with a mechanical connection. Further enhancements are planned as funds become available.

"The organ is musically quite interesting, if very loud - Trevor Crowe relates that the voicing brief was to make the organ as loud as possible and, even as it is, full organ struggles to accompany the phenomenally strong singing of a capacity church of school boys. The Great organ is very successful with individual ranks, particularly the Great Open Diapason, being very refined and musically the organ is a good representative of some of the best Jones organs of the period, though it needs a soft 8' stop (Dulciana etc.) - a common fault with Jones' great organ schemes. The tonal schemes of the Swell and Pedal are, perhaps, not as well considered as the Great - the mutations do not substitute for a mixture and the lack of an Open Diapason 8 seriously hinders the effectiveness of the Swell chorus. The pedal desperately requires an Open 16' as the bass disappears when the church is full.

"In general the organ is satisfying and easy to live with and first impressions improve with increased playing."

Nave Console:

  • 4 adjustable pistons to Great
  • 4 adjustable pistons to Swell
  • 2 adjustable general pistons
  • 1 reverser piston to each coupler
  • 1 to General Cancel - not functioning (the piston setter board does not have a dedicated cancel function)
  • 4 adjustable toe-studs toPedal
  • 1 reverser toe-stud to each coupler
  • Pistons adjustable at a plug-link setter board
  • Balanced swell pedal (electro-pneumatic 16 stage whiffle tree engine)
  • Detached stop-tab console
  • Electric/electro-pneumatic (pedal basses) action
  • Direct electric stop action
  • Solid State transmission

Loft console:

  • No pistons
  • Balanced swell pedal (mechanical)
  • Attached drawstop console
  • Mechanical action (manuals and couplers); electric/electro-pneumatic pedals
  • Direct electric stop action
  • Solid state transmission
Open Diapason8
Rohr Flute8
Wood Flute4
Nazard2 2/3
Wide Octave2
Tierce1 3/5
Mixture III-IV2
Voix Celeste8
Harmonic Flute4
Larigot1 1/3
Bass Flute8
Choral Bass4
Couplers & accessories
Swell to Great
Swell to Pedal
Great to Pedal
Tremulant (affects both manuals)


Rónán Murray's picture

Article about this organ and its revised specification


A great privilege in my life has been to play and make music. Any artist who is afforded the opportunity to earn a crust from doing the thing they love most is truly fortunate. Anyone who has the means to transform their life experiences, feelings, ups and downs, etc into creative expression is doubly blessed. In my own musical career, I keep the wolf from the door by being a Jack-of-all-trades. Playing piano, writing songs, accompanying singers and traversing as many genres of music as I can. However, although I like to think of myself as an artist, I'm unashamedly pragmatic in giving voice to that art. Pretension and affectation are no substitute for creating something of beauty, integrity and enduring quality. For this reason, a special place will always be reserved in my heart for the pipe organ - a musical instrument that has historically (mainly in its religious use, I concede) had a didactic and practical application in addition to its expressive, artistic function. It really is an "instrument" on several levels.

Since I was a baby and first heard my lovely, late dad playing the organ, I've been hooked, awe-struck and intoxicated by the sheer freedom to improvise and display a vast range of ideas that a pipe organ affords. As such, the design and tonal characteristics of organs fascinate me. Whenever I play a pipe organ, I always try to envisage as many colours as possible and often think of what could be done to improve a given instrument's specification and musical effect. This is always influenced by my belief in art being a potent, practical force. Therefore the organ must, first and foremost, fulfil its routine task of filling the building with beautiful sounds of varied colour and dynamic level in order to serve the musical needs of the church, concert hall, conservatoire or whatever home in which it's situated. The amount of times I've played organs that were poorly designed because some organ builder, consultant or other wanted to replicate squeaky historical sounds or failed to take into account the actual musical requirements, is legion. So it's with great pleasure that the chance has arisen for me to walk the walk, so to speak.

My alma mater is Blackrock College, a large private school located by the sea in south County Dublin. The school was founded in 1860 by French priests and has many fine buildings on campus, the most beautiful being, undeniably, the school chapel. This small, elegant church with its plain exterior but exquisite, glittering jewel box of an interior has been home to three pipe organs in its lifetime. The first was built in around 1870 by John White of Dublin, a builder who was deeply indebted to the French tradition and whose surviving instruments are generally very fine feats of artistry and craftsmanship. It was a two manual, mechanical action(1) instrument of about 16 speaking stops. By the late 1950s, the White organ had fallen into disrepair and was in need of restoration or replacement. This occurred in 1960 when the Irish Organ Company of Belfast installed a new organ, utilizing much of the old organ and augmenting it with some second hand material. It had electro-pneumatic(2) action and was spread across the rear of the choir gallery, dipping in the centre to reveal the pretty rosace window high on the chapel's (liturgical) west wall. Unusually for this particular firm, the organ was quite good musically and rather versatile in its central role of accompanying a church full of young lads singing their hearts out. It had around 25 stops and, intriguingly, had two open wood stops on the pedal - a 16' Open Diapason (from the White organ) and a 16' Violone. This was quite a clever idea, as the chapel really eats up bass tone. Consequently, an organ rich in foundation(3) stops with a fairly low tonal pyramid and with reasonably fiery (though not aggressive) reed(4) stops seems the ideal for the room. So far, so much common sense. But then disaster...

In 1984 a fire engulfed part of the school, destroying many of the college archives and causing severe smoke and water damage to the chapel. The IOC organ was badly damaged and a decision was made to replace it with a new instrument, again retaining some of what had survived the blaze. The 1980s in Ireland were not good times for organs. Many new instruments were constructed, but mostly in the neo-Baroque(5) idiom then popular. The designers of these organs seldom had respect for the musical integrity of warm, romantic(6) instruments which were all too often thrown out. In many instances, incumbent church musicians weren't even consulted, thereby leading to utterly inappropriate pseudo-historical organs being installed in venues where they proved and, in many cases, still prove unworthy of the task. The firm of Kenneth Jones and Associates from Bray was engaged to build a new organ for Blackrock College and devised a tonal scheme that was fairly enlightened for the time. It maintained some romantic organ features, notably in the fairly warm voicing and the provision of strings(7) on the Swell(8) organ. Indeed, having a Swell division at all was by no means a guarantee with organs of this period. There were several unfortunate compromises in the design. I maintain that compromise in the design of a pipe organ leaves one with a compromised pipe organ. The powers that be wondered how best to proceed. An all-mechanical action organ or an all-electric action organ with detached console downstairs? In the end, a complicated and, in my opinion, not entirely successful third way was found. The organ would have an attached mechanical action console upstairs and a detached electro-mechanical action console downstairs. The cost and complexity of this wasteful arrangement drained funds that would have been better spent increasing the tonal resources on offer. Instead, the current organ lacks any open 16' stops, has no Swell Open Diapason (a major shortcoming, given the chapel's acoustics and the organ's liturgical use) and has unnecessary upperwork on the Swell, though no Oboe 8' or Great/Pedal chorus reeds.

When I was a schoolboy in 'Rock playing for many services in chapel, I often hankered after addressing these anomalies. My chance to advise finally came. Starting in July 2010, the instrument was revised by Ireland's pre-eminent organ builder, Trevor Crowe. The 1985 stop list was:

Pedal Organ: Bourdon 16 Principal 8 Bass Flute 8 Choral Bass 4

Great Organ: Open Diapason 8 Rohrflute 8 Octave 4 Wood Flute 4 Nazard 2 2/3 Wide Octave 2 Tierce 1 3/5 Mixture III-IV Ranks

Swell Organ: Gedeckt 8 Salicional 8 Voix Celeste 8 Principal 4 Harmonic Flute 4 Gemshorn 2 Larigot 1 1/3 Octavin 1 Cornopean 8 Tremulant (affects whole organ, except Pedal division)

There were originally 3 couplers: Great to Pedal, Swell to Pedal and Swell to Great

The current, revised specification follows:

Pedal Organ: Soubasse (acoustic) 32 Bourdon 16 Principal 8 Bass Flute 8 Quinte 5 1/3 Choral Bass 4 Flute 4 Bombarde 16 (Cavaillé-Coll style)

Great Organ: Open Diapason 8 Rohrflute 8 Octave 4 Wood Flute (open) 4 Nazard 2 2/3 Wide Octave 2 Tierce 1 3/5 Mixture III-IV Ranks Trompette 8 (extension of Pedal Bombarde)

Swell Organ: Open Diapason 8 Gedeckt 8 Salicional 8 Voix Celeste 8 Principal 4 Harmonic Flute 4 Mixture II Cornopean 8 Oboe 8 Tremulant (as before)

The key compasses are 56 notes for the manuals and 30 notes for the pedals.

Swell Sub and Super Octave couplers, in addition to Swell Sub Octave and Swell Super Octave to Great, will be added to increase flexibility, useful when playing softly on Swell strings. The Swell Sub Octave to Great coupler will prove especially effective in the tutti for which the absence of 16' manual tone, reeds particularly, can be compensated.

The piston system(9) will be upgraded to include more memory levels and a stepper piston and operation of the Swell pedal will be fully electrified (reversing an unsatisfactory state of affairs in which the upstairs console operated half of the shutters mechanically while the downstairs one operated the other half electrically.) The upstairs console will remain in use, but most of the additions will only be available on the downstairs one. This is ideal, as the mechanical console is seldom used.

All in all, the school will have a top class pipe organ of musical integrity worthy of the ambitious music programme currently being fostered there by its talented and dedicated music department. The instrument will prove superb liturgically, as a concert organ and as a wonderful complement to a chapel that is much in demand as a recording venue. The addition of French reeds acknowledges the Gallic roots of Blackrock College in this, its sesquicentennial year.

So there you have it. A happy union of art and engineering. Something beautiful and practical.

The rededicatory recital took place on October 2nd 2011 and featured performances by William Woods, the college's talented organ teacher, two of his students, and was followed by a concert programme given by myself including works by Bach, Mendelssohn, Widor, Whitlock as well as improvisation.

1. Mechanical action is the means by which an organ key is linked physically, via trackers, to the note which it is meant to play inside the instrument. This is considered by many players to be the optimum situation, as the musician can have some influence over pipe "speech".

2. Electro-pneumatic action connects the organ keys with pneumatic machines inside the organ, via electric wires. This is useful in larger organs where a console has to be detached from the instrument and where the pipework is spread out in such a way as would make mechanical action impractical or too heavy to the touch. This is useful in larger organs where a console has to be detached from the instrument and where the pipework is spread out in such a way as would make mechanical action impractical or too heavy to the touch.

3. Foundation stops are those flue voices on an organ which underline the tonal palette. These are usually of 16 and 8 foot pitch, but the term can also apply to 32 and 4 foot pitched stops. The flues on an organ are essentially large whistles in appearance and sound according to the scales, manner of pipe construction, voicing and materials used.

4. Reed stops consist of chorus reeds, such as Trumpets, Trombones, etc or imitative reeds, such as Clarinets, Oboes, Vox Humanas, etc. The construction of these pipes differs from that of flues in that a reed vibrates against a shallot to produce the tone, as against the more straight-forward "whistle" construction of flue pipes.

5. Neo-Baroque organs became popular in continental Europe from the 1930s, making their presence felt in Ireland during the 60s. Typically, they look on paper like organs of the 17th and 18th centuries and try to emulate historical techniques of tonal architecture and design. In practice, the effect of neo-Baroque organs is often a lot more aggressive and uncompromising than the historical models. This greatly limits the repertoire which one can play on them, and the listener's desire to hear them.

6. Romantic organs evolved during the 19th century and sought to emulate the range and scope of a large symphony orchestra. This led to an emphasis on warm foundation tone, lush string effects and imitative reed stops as well as smoother toned chorus reeds. Towards the end of their popularity, many of these organs had become quite decadent musically and were often replaced with the emerging neo-Baroque style of instrument. However, the best romantic organs can play such a huge spectrum of repertoire that there has been a seismic shift in recent years back towards restoring existing ones and building new organs in romantic style.

7. Strings are narrow scaled flue pipes that evoke, but don't strictly imitate orchestral violins/cellos, etc. They find their ultimate expression in the symphonic/romantic organ. When used with Tremulant and Octave couplers, the shimmering effect can be quite seductive. All the more so if the organ is placed in a favourable acoustical environment.

8.The Swell Organ is an enclosed division of stops within the organ which is under expression by means of a pedal operating shutters at the front and sometimes even at the side or on the roof of the enclosure, or Swell box as it is known.

9. Pistons are a means by which an organist can bring on pre-selected combinations of stops. They operate by pressing a button, or piston, below the keys of the relevant keyboard. They are often duplicated by toe-pistons or combination pedals which can be readily accessed by the player's feet. This is very useful in that it obviates the need for an assistant at the console and allows one to perform a whole concert programme without the worry of having to make quick stop changes by hand.

© Rónán Murray

Rónán Murray's picture