22 April 2019
JJ McCarthy’s church in
Kilmallock has many
Harry Clarke windows
On the way to Fermoy, Co Cork, recently, two of us stopped to visit the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the Roman Catholic parish church in Kilmallock, Co Limerick. Kilmallock is an impressive walled mediaeval town, just a 30-minute drive from both Limerick City and Adare. But it is often overlooked by many visitors.
The church, built in the 1870s and 1880s, stands on a height overlooking the town and has an almost cathedral feel created by its size and its dominant location. This church replaced an earlier church built in 1814 to replace a Penal-era Mass house in the town.
The church has fine mosaics, vibrant stained windows, including windows from the Harry Clarke studios, and it is an important example of Gothic Revival church architecture in Victorian Ireland.
The Gothic Revival church was one of the last designed by the architect James Joseph McCarthy (1817-1882), who claimed Pugin’s mantle in Ireland, and was completed by Pugin’s son-in-law, George Coppinger Ashlin (1837-1921).
McCarthy’s other churches in Co Limerick include: Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church, Limerick; Saint Mary’s Church, Rathkeale; Saint Senanus’ Church, Foynes; the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Ballingarry; as well as Cahermoyle House and Croom House.
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, Co Wexford, 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, the Passionist Church in Mount Argus, Dublin and Saint Michael’s Church, Tipperary.
His elaborate, monumental church in Kilmallock is of architectural importance, and it is one of the later churches designed by McCarthy. McCarthy is said to have designed the church to harmonise with the ruins of the mediaeval Dominican priory in the town. When he died in 1884, Ashlin became the architect for the church, and it was completed in 1889.
Tenders to build a new church were invited in June 1877, and the foundation stone was laid on 29 June 1879. The contractor was Walsh of Foynes, and the decorative work was completed by Eugene Daly of Cork.
The church, which is oriented west/east rather east/west, has a six-bay nave with side aisles, a gable-fronted porch, transepts, a two-bay two-storey sacristy, an inset rose window with carved quatrefoil motifs, timber battened double-leaf doors with wrought-iron strap hinges, and a tall, square-plan four-stage tower with an elegant spire.
Inside, there are pointed arch openings, limestone engaged columns, oculi in the clerestory, stained-glass lancet windows and hood mouldings.
The pillars of the nave are of red marble, on high limestone bases and ornamented with limestone rings half-way up. They have elaborate, carved capitals and the pointed arches of the nave have linked hood moulds with carved stops.
The fine roof is framed and panelled in pitch pine.
The elaborate ornamentation belies the simple plan, of the church, which has an organ loft, nave and chancel beneath one continuous roof contrasting with the off-centre tower and spire. br />
Ashlin’s work in 1887-1893, in 1900, and again in 1910-1911 includes designing the church tower and spire, the benches, the holy water stoup, hinges on the outside doors, the Communion gates, the Baptism Font, the baptistry screens and mosaic work, as well as the High Altar, Communion rail, mosaic pavement, two side altars, a new sacristy, and the tower and spire.
The High Altar and interior carvings were the work of Edmund Sharp, and Ludwig Oppenheimer carried out the mosaic work in sanctuary and side chapels, including the striking Crucifixion mosaic with its bright blue sky, ornamented with gold stars.
The present altar was made from the remains of the original altar. The central pinnacle has been retained as a freestanding tabernacle flanked by a pair of dislodged marble angels.
Most of the stained-glass windows were designed by Mayer of Munich and Earley of Dublin. The design of the chancel window was inspired by the chancel or east window in the ruined Dominican priory church.
One pair of lancet windows has stained-glass designed by the Harry Clarke studios, depicting four scenes: on the left the betrothal of Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary (top) and the Visit of the Magi (below); and on the right the Nativity (top) and the Flight into Egypt (below).
The five-light window in the Lady Chapel was inspired by the 14th century window in the south transept of the Dominican priory church.
The Harry Clarke Studios also designed two scenes inserted in this window in the Lady Chapel: the Presentation in the Temple, and the Coronation of the Virgin Mary.
Among the many other windows in the church, one pair of lancets commemorate William Turner from Kilmallock who became Bishop of Buffalo in New York.
The window depicts Saint Munchin, the patron of the Diocese of Limerick, and Saint William of York, the bishop’s patron. There are images too of Saint John’s Cathedral, York Minster and the Dominican priory in Kilmallock. In the corners are images of the heraldic arms of the dioceses of Limerick and Buffalo.
Father Thomas Downes (1841-1890), the parish priest who was the driving force behind building this church is buried in front of the High Altar.
This church remains an important component of the townscape of Kilmallock, and it stands out against the skyline and the surrounding landscape because of its elegant tower and spire.