06 September 2018

Saint Patrick’s Church,
Ballyragget, retains many
of its pe-Vatican details

Saint Patrick’s Church, Ballyragget, Co Kilkenny … stands on the site of an earlier, Penal-era chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Both Saint Patrick’s Church, the Roman Catholic parish church in Ballyragget, Co Kilkenny, and Ballyragget Castle are difficult to find, with the church at the end of a side street between the Square and Castle Street, and the castle at the end of a lane behind locked gates.

The obscure location of Saint Patrick’s Church is explained because it stands on the site of an earlier chapel that may have been built first during the Penal days in the 18th century.

The site of the earlier chapel is marked on early editions of Ordnance Survey maps, and the site is evidence of a long-standing church presence in this town in north Co Kilkenny.

Saint Patrick’s is an imposing large-scale church built in 1842 under the direction of William Kinsella, Bishop of Ossory (1793-1845), for Father John Foran, Parish Priest of Ballyragget, who died in 1843, to designs by William Deane Butler (ca 1794-1857).

Butler, who was also the architect of Saint Kieran’s College, Kilkenny, designed the church in Gothic Revival style. It is similar in many details to many contemporary parish churches in the area, including Castlecomer and Freshford, representing a form of brand or house style developed by Butler while he was the resident architect for the Diocese of Ossory.

The west front of Saint Patrick’s Church, Ballyragget … designed by William Deane Butler (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Saint Patrick’s Church is well composed, with a balanced arrangement of the grouped openings for the windows and doors. The expert stone masonry work includes finely-carved dressings that produce a robust frontispiece that maximises the presence of the church in the town, despite the fact that the church is set well back from the street.

This is a seven-bay, single-storey and two-storey Gothic Revival church, with a seven-bay, double-height nave seven-bay single-storey lean-to side aisles on the north and south side, and a two-bay, single-storey sacristy at the east end.

The details outside include limestone ashlar walls, octagonal corner piers, trefoil-headed panelled octagonal pinnacles, octagonal finials, inscribed shield plaques, a recessed niche on the gable with a statue of Saint Patrick, a decorative cross finial, clasping stepped buttresses, and limestone ashlar parapets on console tables.

There are pointed-arch window and door openings, lattice glazing, engaged colonettes supporting hood mouldings, a flight of five cut-limestone steps, Gothic-style timber panelled doors having over-panels, trefoil recessed panels, cut-limestone stoups, and carved cut-limestone coping on portrait stops.

Inside Saint Patrick’s Church, Ballyragget (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Inside, the central aisle has decorative clay tiled floor, timber pews, a timber panelled organ gallery, pointed-arch arcades at the side aisles, cut-limestone piers with chamfered reveals, carved cut-limestone courses supporting the clerestoreys, moulded plasterwork hood mouldings at the window openings, and a groin-vaulted ceiling with moulded plasterwork ribs on decorative corbels.

The reredos and altar in Saint Patrick’s were designed by George Coppinger Ashlin, and the mosaic work in the sanctuary is by Ludwig Oppenheimer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Gothic-style reredos in Caen stone was designed in 1869 by Pugin’s son-in-law, George Coppinger Ashlin (1837-1921) depicts the Sacrifice of Abraham, the Crucifixion and the Sacrifice of Melchizedek. The front of the altar depicts the worship of the Lamb on the Throne (see Revelation 4). The mosaic work in the sanctuary is by Ludwig Oppenheimer Ltd (1915).

The church was renovated in 1924 and again in 1983-1985, and some new windows were added after 2000.

Because the church saw few interior alterations after the Second Vatican Council (1963-1965), it retains its rich interior scheme, with high quality carpentry, decorative plasterwork, and stained-glass windows.

The decorative clay tiles in the central aisle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The churchyard on the north side of the church has many cut-limestone Celtic High Cross-style gravestones dating back to 1842, including the grave of Canon James Comerford, Parish Priest of Ballyragget, who died 70 years ago on 12 June 1948 at the age of 69.

The grave of Canon James Comerford, who died in 1948 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The freestanding belfry dates from 1906, and has grouped cast-iron pillars on a square plan and a cast-iron bell with decorative brackets.

A Mass Rock from the 1640s was moved from Sermon Hill, Odtown, and re-erected here in 2009.

The 17th century Mass Rock in the churchyard at Saint Patrick’s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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