This week marks the 150 Anniversary of the consecration of Holy Trinity in Westport, County Mayo, thought to be the last church to be built prior to the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1871, and therefore acting as a last hurrah of the old ecclesiastical order in this country. Designed by Thomas Newenham Deane and constructed on a site provided by the third Marquess of Sligo, the building replaced a late 18th century church (now ruinous) elsewhere on the estate. The work is thought to have cost more than £80,000, this high price explained by the exceptional craftsmanship evident throughout, not least the elaborate carvings around all doors and windows on the exterior; these were the work of one William Ridge, about whom it appears little else is known. The interior is just as generously decorated with stained glass provided by Alexander Gibbs and Company of London, the windows frames in mosaic supplied by another London firm, Clayton and Bell. But the most notable feature of the interior are the inlaid murals covering large areas of the walls. Mostly representing scenes from the Gospels (including a depiction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper over the west door), these are made from white marble with traced designs outlined in dark cement; the backgrounds are of gold leaf. These murals were made for the church by Samuel Poole of M.T. Bayne and Company of Westminster.
Tucked down a minor road north of Drogheda, this is St Nicholas’s church, Ballymakenny, County Louth. It was designed by Thomas Cooley for his patron, Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh, whose country residence, Rokeby Hall, stands a few miles further still further north. Cooley died in 1784 before the work was executed and therefore the job passed to the young architect Francis Johnston, then just on the onset of his career. This charming little rural church is 18th century Irish Gothic at its best, a simple design with the tower at the west end flanked by modest vestries and then the main body of the building being a long, plain hall. The most notable feature of the exterior is above the entrance, the archiepiscopal insignia and Robinson’s arms in beautifully crisp limestone (just look at those ribbons ending in tassels). In recent years, the church has been used by a local Baptist group, although it is a pity that much of the glass on the north side (where the latticed windows are actually blind) has been broken and not repaired.
Not too far from Termonfeckin Castle, seen here earlier in the week, stands St Fechin’s church, alas now standing forlorn and neglected in the midst of a graveyard. Here can be found a sandstone High Cross, some nine feet tall and somewhat weathered but with an unbroken nimbus ring. Above a tapered shaft decorated on all four sides with abstract, interwoven patterns, the centre of the east face shows the Crucifixion, while the west face depicts Christ in glory.
The skeleton of a former parish church at Rathbarry, County Cork. It dates from 1825 when constructed at a cost of £1,900, of which £1,000 was provided by John Evans-Freke, sixth Baron Carbury who lived in nearby Castle Freke: the family mausoleum is immediately south of the church. The building is more elaborate than most such structures erected at the time with help from the Board of First Fruits, the three-storey buttressed tower finished with a slender pinnacle in each corner, and the main entrance on the west front being via a projecting narthex. Inside the chancel and below the east window are the surviving portions of late-19th century mosaic work provided by the ninth baron and his wife. The church ceased to be used for services in 1927, just over a century after it had been finished.
On the south wall of the chancel in a now ruinous late-medieval church in Ardrahan, County Galway can be found a monument to the Taylor family who for many centuries lived nearby in Castle Taylor, a house abandoned in the 1930s and now just a shell. The inscription reads: ‘This monument was erected by Capt. John Taylor and Walter Taylor Esq. for them and their posterities, 1747.’
Built close to the shoreline of the river Shannon 210 years ago in 1812, only the three-stage tower remains of a little Church of Ireland church at Mount Trenchard, County Limerick. In the immediate grounds are the graves of Mary Spring Rice, a daughter of the second Lord Monteagle, who was among the group responsible for bringing a large number of rifles for the Irish Volunteers from Germany on board the Asgard in July 1914. Also buried here is her cousin, Conor O’Brien, grandson of William Smith O’Brien: a keen sailor, he also helped bring arms to Ireland at that time and then in 1923-25 circumnavigated the world in his yacht Saoirse. A plaque on the gateway into this peaceful little site records their names and those of others from the area involved in gun-running activities during the same period.
Described by William Butler Yeats as ‘the drunken man of genius’, architect William Alphonsus Scott was mentioned here earlier this year, with regard to his designs for the model village of Talbot’s Inch, County Kilkenny (see An Act of Philanthropy « The Irish Aesthete). Born in 1871, Scott was the son of an architect who established his own practice in Drogheda, County Louth; after finishing at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin, Scott worked for a time in his father’s office, and then in that of Thomas Newenham Deane (where his father had also once worked). He spent a further six years with his father and in 1897 the two men won a commission to design the new town hall in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. Scott then moved to London for several years, where he absorbed the influences of the arts and crafts movement, being particularly inspired by the work of Philip Webb and Charles Voysey (the latter apparent in his houses at Talbot’s Inch). Returning to Ireland, he spent a further brief time with his father before establishing his own practice and in 1903 was asked to design a new country house, Killyhevlin on the outskirts of Enniskillen. It appears to have been in consequence of this that Edward Martyn, a key figure in the Irish literary revival, heard of Scott and so recommended him to Martin Morris, future second Lord Killanin, who was seeking an architect to design a new Roman Catholic church in Spiddal, County Galway.
In 1950 Martin Morris’s nephew, the third Lord Killanin, published a long article in The Furrow about St Enda’s church in Spiddal, where his family owned a property. Until the start of the last century, this little town overlooking Galway Bay was just an impoverished hamlet. Nevertheless, as elsewhere across the country, the local Catholic people were determined to have their own decent place of worship; by the 1990s, the existing church was not only too small but in a bad state of repair. The parish priest embarked on a fund-raising campaign, with some £2,725 coming from parishioners, another £1,160 from supporters in the United States and almost £1,300 from the Morris family. Work on the site began in 1904 and was completed three years later; the eventual cost of the building was just over £5,580. As Bridget Hourican has noted in her entry on Scott in the Dictionary of Irish Biography, the architect’s designs ‘were simple, sparing of decoration, boldly executed, and often had a heavy monumental quality.’ These features are certainly apparent in St Enda’s. Constructed from granite with limestone used for the window dressings, the church draws influence from the early Irish Romanesque style, as is especially apparent in the door and window openings, but it is influence not imitation: Scott has borrowed elements from the likes of Cormac’s Chapel on the Rock of Cashel without copying them. As was noted in an obituary following his early death in 1921, his ambition was ‘to strike out for himself a fresh and original type of design.’
Unlike many other Irish Catholic churches subjected to needless alteration in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, St Enda’s still retains much of the appearance it had when first finished 115 years ago. Writing even before that date, Robert Elliott in Art in Ireland wrote of the building ‘Mr. Scott, with his knowledge of good work, took into consideration I fancy (for I have not cared to ask him), the landscape, the material and the type of the people who will worship in his church; who tell beads, and pray simply rather than desire garish light to read bulky manuals of devotion. Necessary walls with a roof and a tower for bells, and a gallery for singing…’ Like Loughrea Cathedral, County Galway, where Scott would design many of the furnishings, St Enda’s is a repository of early 20th century Irish craftsmanship, with the stained glass windows designed in An Túr Gloine (The Glass Tower), the cooperative established by Sarah Purser in 1903. The finest of these is one dedicated to the memory of Col. the Hon George Morris (father of the third Lord Killanin), killed in France in 1914 while commanding the Irish Guards. The Stations of the Cross, unusually in opus sectile, were designed in 1915 by Ethel Mary Rhind, also of An Túr Gloine. Since the church is in a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) part of the country, the inscriptions beneath each station are in Irish.
It is likely that today the majority of visitors passing through Spiddal merely observe St Enda’s as another place of worship, such as are found in every town and village throughout Ireland. But it is something more than that: the church deserves to be seen and appreciated as one of the birthplaces of a new visual identity here, the manifestation of a wish to create a fresh and distinctive architectural language for the country. Whether that wish was ever completely fulfilled is a discussion for another time.
For lovers of old funerary monuments: this one now set into the wall of St Mary’s Church in Magheraculmoney, County Fermanagh. The inscription reads as follows:’
Here lieth intered James Johnston late of Banagh Esq.
Who died April 15, 1757 aged 66 Years’
Originally from Scotland, the Johnston family had settled in this part of the country at the start of the 17th century and came to own over 7,000 acres in Fermanagh.
The surviving walls of a church at Derrygonnelly, County Fermanagh. It dates from 1627 when built by Sir John Dunbar, originally from Scotland who had settled in this part of Ireland in the early years of the 17th century; his arms, along with those of his wife Katherine Graham, can be seen on the north side of the building above the doorway. The latter, regularly studded with diamond-cut voussoirs, indicates Renaissance influences, while the tripartite east window with its diminutive ogee arches, is a throw-back to the Gothic period.
As was mentioned last Monday (see A Rich Man’s Extravagance « The Irish Aesthete), Margaret Henry, wife of the man who had commissioned Kylemore Castle, County Galway, died in 1874 while the family was travelling in Egypt. Her body was brought back to Ireland and three years after her death, work began on a commemorative church in the grounds of the estate. The architect responsible was James Franklin Fuller, who chose to design a 14th century English cathedral in miniature, the exterior of dressed rubble limestone relieved with crisp limestone ashlar for the fenestration and porch as well as such details as the angels which conceal dripstones at the base of the steeply pitched roof.
Inside the building, the three-bay nave rises to an elaborate vaulted ceiling supported by piers featuring differently-coloured Irish marbles. At the west end of the chancel, below a hexafoil rose window over two triple lights, the space is occupied by a sandstone sedilia, delicately carved with flowers and foliage. Finished in 1881, and restored in the 1990s, the Kylemore chapel is unquestionably one of Fuller’s finest works and well worth a visit.