02 November 2017
The Church of the Immaculate Conception in Ballingarry is one of a handful of churches in Co Limerick designed by AWN Pugin’s Irish successor, James Joseph McCarthy (1817-1882).
McCarthy’s other churches in Co Limerick include Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church in Baker’s Place, Limerick; Saint Senanus Church, Foynes; Saint Mary’s Church, Rathkeale; and the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Kilmallock. He also remodelled and enlarged the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Newcastle West and designed Cahermoyle House for the family of William Smith O’Brien.
McCarthy completed Pugin’s work at Maynooth and Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney, and his other cathedrals and churches include Saint Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, Saint Macartan’s Cathedral, Monaghan, the Cathedral of the Assumption, Thurles, Saint Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh, the ‘Twin Churches’ in Wexford, Saint Catherine’s Church, Dublin, and the Passionist Church in Mount Argus.
The spire of McCarthy’s church in Ballingarry can be seen for miles around. This is a fine late 19th century church, prominently sited, and it continues to have a strong presence in the Ballingarry streetscape, providing a focus in the area.
The church was built on the site of an earlier T-plan Catholic chapel in Ballingarry, and was dedicated in 1879. The coherent decorative scheme is marked by its elaborate tower that unifies the Gothic style of the building. The rusticated masonry, which was popular in church architecture of the time, adds a textural interest, balanced by the tooled limestone dressings.
The interior reflects the Gothic style of the exterior and is also highly decorative, with ornate tiling on the floor and sophisticated carpentry in the roof. The mosaics on the chancel walls and the ornate corbels further enliven the interior. The arcade of finely carved marble columns adds another element of richness and colour to the interior of the church. The piers and gates at the front of the church are highly ornate and continue the Gothic Revival idiom of the site.
According to Patrick J O’Connor, in his Exploring Limerick’s Past, the first Roman Catholic Church at Ballingarry stood on the same site from the early 18th century.
When Father James Enraght was appointed parish priest of Ballingarry in 1851, he was in America raising money to build a new church in his then parish of Askeaton. He then started building a new church in Ballingarry, and the foundation stone was laid in 1872.
But Father Enraght was moved onto Parteen in 1874 before the church was finished, and he was succeeded by Father Timothy Shanahan, who supervised the completion of the new church, which was consecrated on 7 September 1879.
The High Altar is the work of Edmund Sharp (1853-1930), and in 1890s Pugin’s son-in-law George Coppinger Ashlin (1837-1921) drafted proposals for a ‘throne’ to the High Altar. The builder was Michael Walsh of Foynes, who also worked with McCarthy on this churches in Foynes, Rathkeale and Kilmallock.
The church has an eight-bay nave, two transepts, a hexagonal turret, a gable-fronted porch, a four-stage square-plan battered tower, and a gable-fronted chancel with flanking side chapels. There is a four-bay side aisle, a single-storey over basement sacristy and a canted side chapel.
The pitched slate roof has a fish-scale pattern, cast-iron ridge crestings, limestone brackets and limestone copings with cross finials. The sacristy has a limestone chimney-stack.
The church has rusticated sandstone walls with tooled limestone quoins, buttresses, limestone plaques, trefoil-headed lancet stained-glass windows with limestone hood-mouldings, and Corinthian style columns with banded marble shafts, timber panelled doors with ornate cast-iron strap hinges, and a timber scissors truss ceiling.
The chapels and transepts have oculi, the entrance has a timber gallery, and the floors have geometric tiles. The sandstone and limestone tower has limestone turrets and a cast-iron spire.
Father Ronald Costelloe restored the church in 1991. On the inside doors of the church, there are stained glass panels of Saint Patrick and Saint Ita to commemorate the 100th birthday of Archdeacon Patrick Lyons in 1993.
The priests of the parish buried here include Father William Downes (PP 1894-1901), who is buried inside the church, and Canon Thomas Wall (PP 1936-1956), Archdeacon Patrick Lyons (PP 1956-1982) and Father Gerard MacNamee (PP 1982-1988), who are buried in the churchyard.
In my search for the former parish churches within the boundaries of this group of parishes, I visited Ballingarry last weekend [29 October 2017] and found the former parish church in the heart of the village.
There is no apparent trace of the original mediaeval church, although Ballingarry was once the most important parish in a mediaeval Deanery of Garthe in the Diocese of Limerick.
The Limerick historian, Thomas Johnson Westropp (1860-1922), mentions a church in Ballingarry since 1172. This church stood near the site of the Church of Ireland parish church. According to the Limerick church historian John Begley, a part of the east gable and two rounded-windows remained at the old church in Ballingarry. This church was dedicated to Saint Evanjanus, whose feastday is on 1 August.
The mediaeval parish church may have been replaced in the 17th century when John de Lacy surrendered Ballingarry Castle and his lands in 1607 to Richard Boyle (1566-1643), Earl of Cork.
The de Lacy family seems to have continued to live in the castle under terms of surrender and regrant. The Earl of Cork leased Ballingarry Castle, as well as the lands, rectory and tithes, to David de Lacy, son of John de Lacy, for 21 years at a rent of £75. But Boyle reserved the patronage of the living to himself, and granted it to his cousin, Richard Boyle (1574-1645), Archdeacon of Limerick (1605), Bishop of Cork (1620) and Archbishop of Tuam (1638).
Until the early 19th century, the de Lacy castle served as the glebe house in Ballingarry and was lived in by the Rectors of Ballingarry, giving it the alternative name of Parson’s Castle. It must be the most unusual former rectory within my parish.
The Board of First Fruits provided the funds for building a new Church of Ireland parish church in Ballingarry in 1820, and the church may have been designed by the Limerick-based architect James Pain.
Samuel Lewis notes soon later in the 19th century that the parish is a rectory and a vicarage in the Diocese of Limerick, and that the living was in the patronage of the Earl of Cork. The church was ‘a small but very neat edifice in the early English style, with a lofty square tower.’
The church is typical of churches throughout this diocese designed for the Board of First Fruits. It is designed in the Early English Gothic style, and the tower provides the main architectural and decorative focal point of the building. The sandstone crenellations on the tower enliven the roofline and emphasise the vertical thrust of the tower.
The church has a four-bay nave and a three-stage square-profile tower to the front or west elevation. The tower has sandstone crenellations.
There is a pitched slate roof with cut limestone copings and roughly dressed sandstone walls. There are paired lancet quarry glazed windows in the nave, with tooled sandstone surrounds.
There are pointed arch openings in the nave, west elevation and the ground floor of the tower. The west elevation has quarry glazed windows and sandstone voussoirs.
The tower has pointed arch openings with timber vents on the first and second floors. The triple lancet window at the east end has a limestone surround, and limestone and sandstone voussoirs. The pointed arch opening on the south side of the tower has sandstone voussoirs and a timber battened door.
The church has been closed for many years and now belongs to Manutec Ltd of Ballingarry, and is fenced off from the surrounding graveyard. There is a pair of square-profile sandstone piers at the west entrance to former churchyard.
The graveyard on the north side of the church has limestone grave markers and a mausoleum. The graveyard contains some elaborate monuments and barrel-roofed vaults. The graveyard on the south side is walled off separately.
The nearby glebe-house was built in 1822 with the assistance of a loan of £500 from the late Board of First Fruits. The Revd John Graves (1751-1820) was probably the last Rector of Ballingarry to live in Ballingarry Castle or Parson’s Castle as his glebe house.
The Revd John Graves was twice married, had 13 children, and has many descendants. His father, the Revd James Graves (1713-1783), was the Rector of Kilfinnan, near Kilmallock, in the Diocese of Limerick for 38 years.
John Graves was a brother of both the Very Revd Thomas Graves (1745-1828), Dean of Ardfert (1802) and later Dean of Connor (1811) and the Very Revd Richard Graves (1763-1829), Professor of Divinity in Trinity College Dublin and Dean of Ardagh. Dean Thomas Graves was the grandfather of Bishop Charles Graves (1812-1899) of Limerick and Ardfert, and he in turn was the grandfather of the poet Robert Graves (1895-1985), who was stationed in Limerick during World War I.