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.
After Wednesday’s post, here is a somewhat larger memorial, found at Cregaclare, County Galway. This little Gothic mausoleum commemorates John Charles Robert Bingham, fourth Baron Clanmorris who lived in nearby Cregaclare House (since demolished) and who died in 1876. Dating from 1890 and set within the ruins of a late-mediaeval church, the mausoleum was erected by Lord Clanmorris’s widow, Sarah Selina Persse who was also interred there following her death in 1907. The couple’s remains stayed inside the building until 1947 when removed to a graveyard in nearby Ardrahan.
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.
After last Wednesday’s entry about the mausoleum at Fore, County Westmeath (To the Fore « The Irish Aesthete), here is the burial site of another branch of the same family. Located in Killare, this one holds the remains of the Nugents of Ballinacor, a property they acquired in the first half of the 17th century. Although confiscated by the Cromwellian government, Ballinacor was subsequently returned to Edmond Nugent after he had been declared ‘An innocent Papist.’ Indeed, successive generations remained loyal to their Roman Catholic faith, one of them, John Nugent, fighting for the French army and being awarded the Cross of St Louis for his bravery at the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745, when the British and Dutch forces under the Duke of Cumberland were defeated. Nugents remained at Ballinacor, an 18th century house, until the aftermath of the Great Famine when it was sold in the Encumbered Estates Court in 1852. Ballinacor was demolished as recently as 1995, meaning this mausoleum provides the only surviving evidence of the Nugent family’s long presence in the area.
More High Crosses, these ones found in the graveyard of St John’s church in Ballymore Eustace, County Kildare. The first stands to the immediate north of the early 19th century church. Standing 3.4 metres high, it is composed of three elements: head, shaft and pyramidal base. Rather than the usual elaborate carving customary on these crosses, it is relatively plain, perhaps because carved from unyielding granite. The only decoration of note can be seen on the west face which features a central boss with rounded moulding within a solid ring. Possibly dating from the 10th century, the cross’s two arms carry an inscription noting that it was re-erected on the present site by Ambrose Wall in 1689; he would be killed the following year during the Siege of Limerick. What remains of a second cross can be found south of the church; all that survives here is the tapered shaft and, deep in the vegetation, another pyramidal base.
In October 1962 Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council, summoned in order to initiate aggiornamento (or modernisation) within the Roman Catholic Church. One of the council’s decisions concerned the manner in which religious services were held. During mass, for example, the clergy were to use the local vernacular instead of Latin and the celebrant was to face members of the congregation, rather than have his back to them, the overall intention being to encourage greater engagement by laity with what was taking place. In Ireland, many bishops and priests saw these changes as an opportunity to ‘re-order’ their own churches, mainly by stripping out the old features to leave bare interiors. These acts of philistine desecration were supposedly undertaken in order to comply with new liturgical procedures instigated in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, although strangely enough the same brutal approach was not undertaken in other countries, where churches were allowed to retain their historical interiors. One of the worst examples of this iconoclastic treatment occurred in 1973 in St Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney Cathedral, where the then-bishop, Eamonn Casey, tore out almost all the building’s decorative features, leaving just bare stone walls. (see An Act of Desecration « The Irish Aesthete) Killarney Cathedral had originally been designed by Augustua Welby Pugin, as was St Aidan’s Cathedral in Enniscorthy, County Wexford.
Augustus Welby Pugin was born in London in 1812, the son of a French father and an English mother. In 1834 he converted to Roman Catholicism, a reflection not just of his religious faith but also of his passionate interest in the mediaeval Gothic style. While Gothic architecture had come back into fashion in certain quarters during the previous century, it was very much in a bastardised form: Pugin’s lifelong crusade was to encourage a revival of Gothic in its original form, uninfluenced by later architectural movements. While most famous for his work on the Houses of Parliament in London, inevitably much of his work involved building churches, some of them in this country. Pugin’s most important patron was John Talbot, 16th Earl of Shrewsbury, for whom he worked at Alton Towers in Staffordshire. Lord Shrewsbury, an ardent Roman Catholic, numbered among his other titles that of Earl of Waterford, and his father-in-law, William Talbot, lived at Castle Talbot, County Wexford, meaning he had many connections in Ireland; these proved advantageous to Pugin, many of whose commissions in this country were for churches in the Wexford area, not least St Aidan’s, Enniscorthy. Unlike a number of architects who received commissions here during the 18th century, Pugin did not design from afar but visited Ireland on several occasions, although he never stayed very long: among other things, he found the link between Roman Catholicism and national identity difficult to appreciate, since such an association did not exist in England. But he was impressed by the fervour of Irish believers, and the preparedness of even those who had least to contribute to the construction of new churches in the post-Penal Law era. St Aidan’s was one of those churches. It replaced an older and smaller thatched building and, located on a site high above the river Slaney and overlooking the town (including the Church of Ireland place of worship) was intended to celebrate the Catholicism triumphant. Construction began in 1843 and three years later the first mass was said in the completed chancel and transepts; in 1849 the nave was finished, allowing the older cathedral to be demolished. Aged only 40, Pugin died in 1852 and never saw the work completed, having come into conflict with the local bishop who, he wrote ‘has blocked up the choir, stuck the altars under the tower!! and the whole building is in the most painful state of filth; the sacrarium is full of rubbish, and it could hardly have been worse if it had fallen into the hands of the Hottentots.’
St Aidan’s was left incomplete for some years after Pugin’s death but eventually another architect, J.J. McCarthy finished the work, presumably in 1860 when the cathedral was officially dedicated. Built of granite blocks (including some which came from an old Franciscan friary), the building was modelled on the ruins of Tintern Abbey in Wales: St Aidan’s is a three-quarter size version of the church there, and is similarly long and narrow, not least owing to the nature of the site in Enniscorthy, with the land dropping steeply to the river on one side. The cramped site also dictated that St Aidan’s runs north-south, rather than the customary east-west, its chancel is one bay shorter than that at Tintern, and there are no chapels on the transept. The other significant difference is that the mediaeval abbey’s tower had long since collapsed, so Pugin had to imagine what it might have looked like when he designed St Aidan’s.The tower was built in 1850 and then a spire added in 1871-72, but the weight of the latter was too great and, lest it bring the whole thing down, both tower and spire were dismantled and rebuilt. Problems with damp meant there was a programme of restoration over the years 1936-45 and it was only in 1946, 100 years after the first service had been held on the site and with the final clearance of all debt, that St Aidan’s was solemnly consecrated as a cathedral in . Then came the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council which in 1970 led to a ‘re-ordering’ of St Aidan’s, with many of the interior furnishings removed and the walls covered in white paint. Fortunately, in 1994 a programme of necessary repairs led to the building’s interior being brought back as close as possible to how it was originally imagined by Pugin. The old reredos, nine Caen-stone panels showing scenes of sacrifice from the Old Testament, was reinstated, as was the tabernacle and its spired canopy, along with the elaborately carved oak pulpit and bishop’s throne. As much of the original patterned tile floor as possible was put back and on the walls, the former stencilled decoration was recreated, using paint scrapings and earlier photographs. In his book The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture (1841), Pugin stated that ‘all ornament should consist of enrichment of the essential construction of the building.’ Today that is thankfully true of St Aidan’s, Enniscorthy.