‘St Patrick’s, Ardragh, County Monaghan – This church, or rather part of a church, has just been consecrated and has been built by Mr. E.P. Shirley from Messrs. Slater and Carpenter’s designs. It is a simple oblong building, with an apsidal sanctuary opening out of it by an arch at the east end. The whole is to form the chancel of a much larger church, but for the present it will be used for the parishioners. It is four bays in length, and has lancets moulded on the inside. The chancel arch is built up in the west wall, and encloses a traceried rose-window, with a temporary door and porch under. The roof is of timber, with arched principals. The sanctuary is apsidal, with a moulded lancet in each side. The roof is of solid stone, arched on the inside and weathered on the outside.’ (The Builder, 9th January 1869).
St Patrick’s, Ardragh was built on the initiative of Evelyn Philip Shirley, owner of the Lough Fea estate some six miles to the south-west of the church. It has been proposed that the building was, at least in part, intended as a mortuary chapel for the family, since a vault was placed beneath the sanctuary but this was more likely due to the fact that the ground outside drops steeply at this point. Just as significantly, neither the building’s first patron, nor any of his descendants, have been buried in the church, making the argument for the building being their mortuary chapel even less likely. On the other hand, it does appear that the initial plan was for a much larger church, of which the present one would have served only as chancel and choir, but the reality of attendance numbers at Church of Ireland services probably put paid to that idea. In any case, a foundation stone was laid here in November 1865 and work on the site began the following May, the church being consecrated in October 1868. Designed by London architect William Slater (who specialised in such religious buildings), it is situated amid a grove of beech trees on a rise, so that the church can be seen from some distance. The exterior takes the form of a four-bay gabled hall with a bellcote above the western gable front and a polygonal apse at the east end with an ashlar roof, which, as has been often noted, looks like a miniature baptistery. The four drop arched lancets of the nave are framed between off-set buttresses which continue around the chancel. While locally-quaried limestone was used for the main body of the building, a pinkish sandstone was employed for decorative features such as the window surrounds (linked by bands in the same material) and quoins on the buttresses and little entrance porch. In addition to the bellcote, the roofline also carries a slender round chimneystack in the north-west corner.
The interior of St Patrick’s reflects the simplicity of its exterior, although a key feature has since been lost. As originally decorated, the walls of the apse were lined in blue and red alabaster mined from a quarry on the Shirley estate and worked by the Dublin firm of Sibthorpe & Son; this has since been removed owing to incursion of damp. Alabaster from the same quarry can still be seen in the shafts of the columns of the chancel arch. These terminate in carved capitals of stone from Lough Fea, also used for the surrounds of the windows and western door. The windows throughout the church were made by the London firm of Clayton & Bell, those on the north and south sides simply decorated with shamrocks, roses and acorns, those in the chancel showing Christ as the Good Shepherd, the True Vine and the Light of the World, while the small rose window at the west end contains scenes from the life of St Patrick. The chancel floor carries Minton tiles showing the various Shirley coats of arms. Architect William Slater was also responsible for designing the furnishings, not least the reading desk of blue alabaster, its front carved into multiple panels containing shamrocks. Note too the octagonal baptismal font of Caen stone with more alabaster for inlays and Connemara marble for the shafts. St Patrick’s remains beautifully maintained to the present time, and still in use for services.