Movilla, County Down takes its name from the Irish magh bile, which means ‘plain of the ancient tree’ because in pre-Christian times a sacred tree had stood here. A monastery was founded here in 540 by St Finian and grew to be one of the most important in the country. However, after being sacked by Vikings in the ninth century, it went into decline and was eventually re-established as an Augustinian priory. This was closed down during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and today all that remains are the gable ends of a 15th century church, the space between them filled with tombstones.
St Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney, County Kerry was originally designed by Augustus Welby Pugin in 1840, its form a homage both to Ardfert Cathedral, elsewhere in the same county and Salisbury Cathedral. Work paused during the years of the Great Famine, but the building was finished in 1855 under the supervision of James Joseph McCarthy. The cathedral’s superlative mid-19th century Gothic interior survived intact until 1973, when then-Bishop Eamonn Casey commissioned what was called a ‘re-ordering.’ This involved throwing out almost all the decorative features and gutting the space back to bare stone walls. Such an act of desecration, which occurred in other Roman Catholic churches throughout Ireland, was supposedly undertaken in order to comply with new liturgical procedure, but oddly enough the same brutal approach was not undertaken in other countries, where churches were allowed to retain their historical interiors. It deserves to be exposed for what it was: the philistinism of a vainglorious prelate.
The little church at Clonagam, County Waterford sits on high ground almost directly north of Curraghmore, with superlative views from the graveyard down to the house and gardens. The present building dates from 1741 when on the instructions of Marcus Beresford, Earl of Tyrone and his heiress wife Catherine de la Poer it replaced an older building on the site. Although there were subsequent alterations, essentially this is still the same structure, taking the form of a simple Roman barn, the rendered entrance front relieved only by a cut-stone Gibbsian doorcase and diagonal stepped buttresses on either corner topped with crocketed pinnacles. Round-headed windows on either side and on the east front were probably of clear glass originally but now contain some stained glass panels. Otherwise there is nothing to distinguish the church from many others throughout the country. The real interest lies inside, where generations of the de la Poer Beresford family are remembered.
Two of Clonagam church’s most prominent monuments are located at the east end of the building, that on the north wall carrying the following inscription: To the Memory of Marcus Beresford, Earl, and Viscount of Tyrone, Baron Beresford, and Baronet who departed this life on the 4th of April 1763 in the 69th year of his Age, and of Catherine, Baroness Le Poer in Fee, his Countess, Daughter and Heiress to James Power, Earl of Tyrone, Viscount Decies, and Baron Le Poer, who dyed in the 68th year of her Age on the 16th of July 1769 this Monument is Erected by their Son, George de la Poer Beresford, Marquis of Waterford, in Testimony of his Duty, Gratitude and Affection. In front of a polished limestone pyramid, the white marble monument features portrait busts of the couple, similar to those seen in Imperial Roman tombs, their deaths mourned by a pair of disconsolate putti. Unfortunately the sculptor responsible for the work is not known, unlike the monument on the opposite wall which recalls Florence Grosvenor Rowley, who in August 1872 married John Henry de la Poer Beresford, fifth Marquess of Waterford: the following April she died in childbirth. Set into the wall of the church and dramatically lit by a concealed window, the sculpture shows both the deceased marchioness as though asleep and cradling her baby, who also did not survive. This work was created by the Viennese-born Vienna-born Joseph Edgar Boehm, who had settled in London in the early 1860s, exhibiting at the Royal Academy (where he was elected a member in 1782) and becoming the favourite sculptor of Queen Victoria who awarded him a knighthood. Boehm was also responsible for the St Hubert stag that sits atop the façade of the main house at Curraghmore.
The body of the church at Clonagam is dominated by two lifesize recumbent figures, that on the north side representing Henry de la Poer Beresford, third Marquess of Waterford who was killed in a hunting accident in March 1859. In polished granite, it shows the deceased clad in his robes as a Knight of the Order of St Patrick. Since the third marquess and his wife Louisa had no children, the title and Curraghmore estate were inherited by his brother, John de la Poer Beresford. Before becoming the fourth Marquess, he had served as a Church of Ireland clergyman and so the white marble monument shows him in clerical robes; he died just six years after his elder brother. Several other members of the family also became clergymen, and one of them is similarly commemorated in the church: the Most Rev. John George de la Poer Beresford, a younger son of the first marquess. He briefly served as Archbishop of Dublin before becoming Archbishop of Armagh in 1822, holding the position for the next forty years. In Armagh, he was responsible for undertaking the restoration of the ancient cathedral of St Patrick, then in a perilous state of disrepair. There he was buried, but the monument on the south wall of Clonagam church was erected in his memory by the wives of the third and fourth marquesses. Incidentally, he was succeeded as Archbishop of Armagh by a cousin, Marcus Gervais Beresford. Finally, one other curious sculpture deserves attention. This is a semi-recumbent male figure looking to date from the late 17th century, his right hand resting on a knee (from which a stocking has untidily slipped) his left supporting his head as he leans backwards. His present position is on a shelf inside the church’s marble baroque chimney piece, but this appears not to be the original setting. Elsewhere in the building a number of wall plaques were repositioned after the Church of Ireland church in Carrick-on-Suir, their original home, closed its doors in the early 1980s. Presumably this figure was moved here at the same time and tucked inside the chimney piece. Who he represents is unclear but one of the plaques commemorates John Power, second Earl of Tyrone who died in 1693 at the age of 29: might he be the reclining figure? Whatever the answer, like the others inside the church – and indeed in the graveyard outside – he awaits the Day of Judgement.
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.
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…
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.’
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.
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.
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.