A Surprise



Yet another of Ireland’s pocket cathedrals can be found at Ardmore, County Waterford. A religious settlement is said to have been established here by local saint Declan, one of a small number of missionaries who are supposed to have preached the Christian message before the arrival of Saint Patrick. An 8th century oratory is supposed to be Declan’s burial place. The cathedral stands immediately adjacent to it, and dates from the 12th century.


The remains of Ardmore Cathedral look much like those of other Irish Romanesque churches, but the surprise lies on the west gable. A long blind arcade here features various Biblical scenes, and although some of these are well-worn, or now blank, it is still possible to work out certain images, such as those showing Adam and Eve on either side of the Tree of Knowledge, and the Judgement of Solomon. The same site also contains one of the country’s tallest Round Towers, of the same date as the cathedral.


Hard Going on a Soft Day


A midsummer visit to the cathedral in Ardfert, County Kerry took place on what in Ireland is known as a ‘soft day.’; In other words, it was teeming with rain, which made the experience hard going. A village of some 750 persons, there is some discussion about what are the origins of the name Ardfert. It could mean a place on an eminence, or perhaps Ardfert derives from ‘Ard Ert’, meaning the high place of Ert or Erc, since a 5th century saint called Erc supposedly made this the seat of a bishopric, hard to imagine today in such a small spot. But the size of the cathedral remains testify to Ardfert’s former importance, as do the nearby substantial ruins of the former Franciscan friary (see An Incomplete Story, https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/11/13/ardfert).






One of Ireland’s most famous saints, Brendan is said to have founded a monastery in Ardfert in the 6th century. Believed to have been born about six miles south of here, at the age of 26 Brendan was ordained a priest by the aforementioned Saint Erc. As well as Ardfert, he established monasteries in a number of other locations but most famously his restless spirit is said to have led him, accompanied by 16 followers, across the Atlantic Ocean to the ‘Isle of the Blessed’ (what is today North America): the earliest known account of this epic journey was written around the year 900. Hence the saint is known as Brendan the Voyager. More information on his life and travels can be found in a piece written here four years ago (see The Traveller’s Rest, https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/12/14/clonfert).






Although the present cathedral at Ardfert was begun in the 11th century, the greater part of it dates from the 13th century, with battlements added to the exterior walls two centuries later again. An important surviving feature is the doorway at the west end of the building: it is a fine example of Hiberno-Romanesque decoration, with outward pointing chevrons around the doorcase flanked on either side by paired blind arches in the same style. Similar features can be found in what remains of Temple-na-hoe, a small church to the immediate north-west of the cathedral. Those battlements added in the 15th century indicate how turbulent were the times, and so it remained for almost 200 years. During the Desmond Rebellions of the 1570s and ‘80s, the building was attacked and severely damaged, but appears still to have been used for services. However, in 1641 during the Confederate Wars, the cathedral was gutted by fire and temporarily abandoned. Some thirty years later, the south transept was restored and used by the Church of Ireland congregation for services until 1871 when a new church was built in the village. Ardfert cathedral is now under the care of the Office of Public Works, with the south transept used as a visitor centre and display area for some items found on the site. It also provides welcome shelter on a soft day…

A Maharajah Remembers


From the exterior, the Church of the Ascension in Timolegue, County Cork looks a typically modest product of the early 19th century. The original place of worship here is first mentioned in 1291, and in the Middle Ages much of the land in this part of the country was under the control of the Barrys, subsequently Earls of Barrymore. The notoriously spendthrift habits of the final holders of this title obliged them to sell their property, which then passed into the possession of the Tonsons, the first of whom had been granted land in Ireland in the mid-17th century. They too were eventually ennobled as Baron Riversdale, and it was the second holder of that title who in 1811, with assistance from the Board of First Fruits, commissioned a new church in Timoleague as the old one had become dangerously dilapidated. The third and last Lord Riversdale died in 1861, by which time the Travers family, who lived beside the church in Timoleague House, were involved with the building. No doubt the interior was still relatively plain, because around this date some controversy arose when, as part of additions to the church – including a new chancel and vestry – a large stained glass window designed by the firm of William Warrington was installed above the altar. Opposed to graven images, the then-Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, William FitzGerald refused to consecrate the chancel unless the window was first covered with a cloth. One suspects he would not have cared for work subsequently undertaken inside the church.




In 1894 Robert Augustus Travers commissioned the decoration of the church’s chancel in memory of his wife Alice. What makes this work exceptional is that it is all in mosaic, supposedly thanks to Italian craftsmen who first laid out each section on the lawns of Timoleague House. The latter building was burnt in December 1920 during the War of Independence, and material relating to the chancel decoration was probably then lost. As a result, today the designer is unknown, but the late Jeremy Williams proposed William Henry Hill of Cork who had earlier served as Diocesan Architect for Cork, Cloyne and Ross, and therefore would have been well-known in Church of Ireland circles. Whoever was responsible displayed tremendous flair. The walls are mostly covered in abstract and floral patterns, with the Greek letters for Alpha and Omega set in oval frames on either side of the East window and elsewhere the Paschal Lamb. Meanwhile the ceiling is likewise decorated, this time a set of eight painted panels each featuring an angel carrying an appropriate text of mourning. In most churches, this might have been deemed sufficient, but more was to follow in due course.




Following the death of Robert Augustus Travers in 1904, the Timoleague estate was inherited by his elder son, another Robert. He decided to continue the decoration of the Church of the Ascension, initially in memory of his father. However, in August 1915 his son Spenser, a Lieutenant in the Royal Munster Fusiliers, was killed at Gallipoli, and so he too is commemorated in a mosaic frieze running beneath stained glass windows on the south wall. Much of the rest of the space is filled with further geometric shapes, along with stylised plants and flowers. As has been widely noted, only on the west wall does the design falter. Here above the entrance door a large panel depicts the Ascension of Christ, eleven Apostles gathered below him and a view of Jerusalem and its Temple shown behind. Both in colour and form, the result is somewhat insipid, a contrast with the boldness found everywhere else in the building. However, all the work might not have been realised, had it not been for assistance from an Indian Maharajah.




Born in 1876, Sir Madho Rao Scindia was ten when, on the death of his father, he became fifth Maharajah of Gwalior. As an adult, one of his closest friends was a man born in the Timoleague area, Aylmer Martin Crofts. The latter studied at what is now University College Cork and became a doctor before joining the British army where he saw service in Afghanistan and Egypt, finally settling in India. For the last twenty years of his professional life, Surgeon-General Crofts acted as chief medical officer for the state of Gwalior, hence his links with the Maharajah. Crofts died in 1915, and it was in memory of his ‘faithful and devoted’ friend that Madho Rao Scindia paid for the remaining decoration of the Church of the Ascension in Timoleague. Work here only finished in 1925, the year in which the Maharajah himself died. A section of the mosaic on the north wall of the nave provides testimony of his support, and the reason he gave it. His involvement helps to explain why much of the semi-abstract floral designs found in the main body of the church is reminiscent of Mughal art. As Jeremy Williams rightly noted, the building is a monument to ‘a living friendship that is being recorded in an extraordinary blend of the European and the Islamic – a hidden masterpiece of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Ireland.’ It is one which ‘transcended the sectarian divide between Irish Catholic and Protestant, The Indian Muslim and Hindu, personal friendship breaking up distinctions of caste and colour.’


In memory of the late Robert Travers. 

Mutilated Remains


Inside the ruined church of Kilcredan, County Cork can be found what was evidently once a fine tomb, its remains protected from the elements by a corrugated tin roof. This marks the final resting place of Robert Tynte, a Somerset-born soldier who came to Ireland in the late 16th century and settled in Youghal, where a late-mediaeval tower house is still called Tynte’s Castle. In 1612 he married Elizabeth Spenser, widow of the poet Edmund Spenser who is said to have begun work on the epic The Faerie Queen while staying in Youghal with his friend Sir Walter Raleigh. Tynte died in 1663 and the tomb has since been much mutilated, both his head and those of the mourning figures who kneel on either side (presumably his wife and daughter) are missing – together with their hands and the commemorative plaque formerly beneath the family coat of arms. Similar butchery has taken place on another memorial tomb high on the facing wall, this one commemorating Edward Harris, a Devon-born lawyer who became Chief Justice of Munster and was buried here, together with his wife Elizabeth, following his death in 1636.

Celestial Sounds


Set into the estate walls of Castle Durrow, County Laois, the little church of St Fintan’s dates from the late 18th century when built either by, or with the support of, William Flower, third Viscount Ashbrook. Internally the building is plain, but distinguished by the presence of this organ which was originally installed in the chapel at Trinity College Dublin in 1797. The manufacturer was Samuel Green, ‘Organ builder to their Majesties Isleworth Middx 1797’, the instrument commissioned at a cost of five hundred guineas by George III who then donated it to the college. Forty years later William Telford made a new organ for Trinity College, this one being brought to Durrow in 1842 and placed inside St Fintan’s by the fourth Lord Ashbrook: he had to add a transept to the south side of the building to accommodate the instrument. Today the only Green organ in Ireland, it sits inside a case which looks to date from the installation in Durrow: pipes at either end rest on piers that feature angels carrying the Flower family crest.

Towering Over the Scene


Two adjacent ecclesiastical ruins at Taghadoe, County Kildare, that to the left being a truncated round tower. A monastic site us believed to have been established here in the 6th century, its foundation attributed to a Saint Tua. From this evolved the Irish name Teach Tua (House of Tua) which eventually became anglicised as Taghadoe. The tower is all that remains of that religious settlement; rising some 20 metres, it has lost the original conical top.



The adjacent church is presumably on the site of an older structure, of which there are no visible remains. It was built in 1831, likely as part of the church rebuilding programme undertaken by the Church of Ireland’s Board of First Fruits. This must have suffered from a severe shortage of parishioners as it closed for services after just forty years and now stands a roofless shell. The building’s distinctive feature are the four octagonal towers, one at each corner. These lean out at a slight angle, as though in imitation of the older round tower which does likewise.

More Good News



St John’s church in Clonmellon, County Westmeath featured here three years ago (see Community Spirit, March 28th 2016). A couple of pictures above give an idea of its appearance then. At that time the building was in a state of serious disrepair, but plans were already afoot for its restoration, thanks to a local initiative.



Since 2016, major work has been undertaken to St John’s and the building has now been fully restored and brought back for a wide variety of community uses. It’s hard to believe that as recently as 2016 it looked beyond salvation, but this is another example of how, with sufficient determination and imagination, none of our architectural heritage need be lost. Congratulations (and thanks) to those responsible.


Entombed


The church at Dunfierth, County Kildare dates from c.1500 and is associated with the de Bermingham family which at the time was still the dominant family in this part of the country. In 1548 a tomb to Walter de Bermingham was built inside the church, and this featured a number of fine carvings.



In 1815 the de Berminghams had long since gone from the area, and the Hamilton family constructed a vaulted mausoleum inside the former chancel of Dunfierth church. This incorporated a number of carvings from the older tomb, such as a Crucifixion scene, and bands of ‘keeners’ on either side of the structure. Inside the rear wall features the carving of an armoured knight, only really visible if the natural light is sufficiently good. There are other fine pieces of work elsewhere on the site, such as this window on the south wall.

Overlooked


Preoccupied with inevitable traffic jams, the many motorists using Dublin’s Pearse Street are unlikely to throw a glance at the old church on their right-hand side. This is St Mark’s, which dates from the early 18th century when a new parish was created separate from that of St Andrew’s. Building work began in 1729 but the church was only roofed 23 years later. The architect responsible is unknown, but in any case the building is notable primarily for its want of external ornamentation, with sturdy limestone rubble walls. The entrance at the west end has a substantial cut-granite door with a smaller Diocletian window above: the arrow slits on either side, now blocked, once held glass to admit light to the interior spaces. The sides of the building have five tall and five short windows, one above the other and the east end has a Venetian window to light the chancel. Much altered in the 19th century, the interior retains its galleries supported by Corinthian columns. Unlike many other Church of Ireland churches in the city, St Mark’s is still in use, now by an evangelical Christian group for services.

The Advantages of Generous Patronage


It is difficult to visualize today, but the mediaeval friary in the centre of Ennis, County Clare originally stood on an island at a point where the river Fergus divided. The exact date of its establishment is uncertain, but the Franciscan order is believed to have been invited to open a new house here towards the middle of the 13th century: Donnchadh Ó Briain, King of Thomond is often credited with being responsible for this shortly before his death in 1242. Thereafter the friary and its grounds became the preferred burial place for generations of O’Briens and MacNamaras, the two ruling families in this part of the country. Frequently in reparation for their misdeeds over the next three centuries they gave the friars, who had little source of income, many gifts such as vestments, chalices, stained glass and books.




The advantages of having rich and generous patrons can be seen throughout what remains of Ennis Friary. As the community expanded, so the building work continued. In 1314, for example, Maccon Caech MacNamara added a sacristy and refectory to the site. And a the start of the 15th century, the handsome cloister – only sections of which survive – was constructed along with the south transept: the belfry tower dates from around 1475.




Ennis Friary contains many fine limestone carvings, mostly dating from the 15th and early 16th centuries. One of these depicts St Francis, founder of the Franciscan order, with his stigmata on display. Another shows the Virgin and Child, and a third is an affecting image of Ecce Homo, the words uttered by Pontius Pilate in St John’s Gospel when Christ, having been scourged and crowned with thorns, was presented to a hostile crowd. One of the most interesting features in the building is a series of carved panels with scenes from Christ’s Passion dating from a late-15th century tomb erected by the MacMahon family and recycled in the 1840s for a monument to the Creagh family. Unfortunately this has been placed behind glass and spotlit – making it almost impossible to photograph. A copy of the tomb stands on the site of the original in the former chancel.




Ennis Friary, like other such establishments, was suppressed in the 16th century but seemingly members of the Franciscan order continued in residence until at least 1570, thereafter being obliged to remain secretly in Ennis. In the early 17th century, Donough O’Brien, fourth Earl of Thomond handed over the site to the Church of Ireland, and services began to be held in the old church. Other parts of the site were used for legal proceedings, the former sacristy becoming a courtroom. The Church of Ireland remained here until 1871 when a new church elsewhere in the town opened and within a couple of decades the friar’s church had lost its roof. It was returned to the Franciscan order in 1969 but is now managed by the Office of Public Works which ten years ago embarked on a somewhat controversial programme of restoration when the decision was taken to re-roof the main body of the church and, as mentioned, to place the MacMahon/Creagh Tomb behind glass.