Earlier this month, one of Cork city’s best-known landmarks celebrated the tercentenary of its construction. Located high above the river Lee and immediately west of Skiddy’s Almshouses (see Alms and the Man « The Irish Aesthete) St Anne’s church dates from 1722 when it was constructed close to the site of an earlier place of worship, St Mary’s, which had been severely damaged in 1690 when Cork was besieged by Williamite forces under the authority of John Churchill, future first Duke of Marlborough. The exterior of the building is rather plain, using a mixture of red sandstone rubble that seemingly came from the mediaeval Shandon Castle which stood nearby, and cut limestone for quoins and the round-arched window surrounds taken from a former Franciscan friary elsewhere in the city. The most notable external feature is the substantial entrance doorcase, approached via two flights of stone steps and comprising a round-arched doorway flanked by Tuscan pilasters supporting a very substantial entablature.
The interior of St Anne’s underwent an extensive refurbishment in the last decade of the 19th century when the pine barrel-vaulted ceiling was installed and much of the chancel panelled in the same dark-stained wood. Either then or at some other date, the customary box pews were also removed from the nave although a version of them survives in the short north transept which also holds a monument incorporating a mosaic panel depicting St George and dedicated to members of the parish who had died during the First World War. Supported on Ionic columns, a gallery at the west end remains from the original design, as do the barley-twist balusters of the communion rail, but the stained glass is predominantly late-Victorian, as are the pulpit and desk, both carved from Devonshire stone.
As mentioned, St Anne’s best-known feature is its bell tower, a sturdy piece of work rising 120 feet with walls seven feet thick: energetic visitors can climb 132 steps to reach this point, which offers spectacular views across the city and surrounding suburbs. In 1749-50, the tower was raised a further 50 feet by the addition of three diminishing stages, clad in limestone and with clasping pilasters in Tuscan, Doric and Ionic orders successively, the whole crowned with a lead dome with a gilded weathervane in the form of a salmon: in Cork parlance, this is known as ‘the goldie fish.’ The city corporation was responsible in 1847 for adding a clock face to each side of the tower. Again, locals have called this the ‘four-faced liar’ since the time on each clock does not always correspond with that of its immediate neighbours. The eight bells within the tower are much loved by Corkonians; they were cast in Gloucester in 1750 and installed two years later, ringing for the first time on 7th December 1752 to mark the marriage of Henry Harding to Catherine Dornan. Each bell carries a different graceful inscription, such as ‘When us you ring we’ll sweetly sing’ and ‘Prosperity to the city and trade thereof’. Shandon’s Bells are synonymous with the city, but a decision not to ring them was taken two years ago at the start of the Covid pandemic, and they have not been heard since. The people of Cork will know normality has returned when the bells of St Anne’s ring out once more.