05 April 2019
Saint Michael’s Church is
McCarthy’s Tipperary triumph,
with a High Altar by Hardman
I spent a day in Tipperary last week, visiting the churches and enjoying the architectural heritage of the town.
Saint Michael’s Church on Saint Michael’s Street in Tipperary is an impressive building designed by the celebrated church architect, James Joseph McCarthy (1817-1882), built in 1855-1861 by Doolins of Dublin, and added to half a century later by Ashlin and Coleman.
The church spire is visible from every road approaching the town, and there is fine craftsmanship throughout the church, representing the best of church architecture and decoration in the traditions introduced to Ireland by AWN Pugin.
The size, style and composition of the church is an illustration of the sense of the power of the Roman Catholic Church at the time.
The church was designed by JJ McCarthy in the Early English style for the Parish Priest of Tipperary, Father James Howley, and was built by Doolins of Dublin at an estimated cost of £7,000.
McCarthy claimed Pugin’s mantle and his great works include the Cathedral of the Assumption, Thurles, Co Tipperary, the Church of Our Lady, Ballingarry, Co Limerick, Saint Macartan’s Cathedral, Monaghan, Saint Mary’s Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, SS Peter and Paul Church, Kilmallock, Co Limerick, the Capuchin Church, Church Street, Dublin, and the College Chapel, Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Co Kildare.
The church was consecrated in November 1861. Its spire is visible from every approach road. Fine craftsmanship is seen throughout the building, in the quality of the stonework and stone carving, and the detailing of the various elevations.
The reredoes by John Hardman & Co of Birmingham is an impressive artistic achievement, and the interior is also enhanced by the stone carving at the organ gallery and the attractive glazed screen.
This cruciform-plan, gable-fronted church includes a five-bay nave with side aisles, three-bay transepts, a two-bay chancel, a three-bay projecting porch, a mortuary chapel added ca 1915, a three-stage bell tower with a spire, a lean-to porch on the north side and a sacristy at the north-east.
The broached octagonal spire on the tower has metal cross finial and trefoil and pointed vent-lights with louvres. There are carved limestone crenellations and spires at the octagonal engaged columns on the porch. There are necked dressed limestone walls, limestone dressings, and buttresses at the corners of the church, at the lower two stages of the tower and between the windows of the side aisles. There is a plinth course and moulded string courses at the porch.
A carved limestone statue of Saint Michael the Archangel stands in a gabled niche at the front of the bell tower. Throughout the church there are pointed-arch window openings throughout the church, including a five-light window at the west front, a trefoil-headed five-light east window, three-light windows in the gables of the transepts, two-light windows in the side aisles and the front of the tower, and single-light windows in other parts of the church, with hood mouldings on the windows at the front.
The porch has paired pointed-arch windows with hood-mouldings and engaged colonnettes, and a hexafoil window over the central entrance door, with a moulded limestone surround.
John Hardman & Co of Birmingham, who worked on many of Pugin’s churches, designed the High Altar with an ornate carved marble reredos in 1860. The reredos is an impressive artistic achievement, At the time, the altar was said to be ‘the largest and most elaborate erected in the United Kingdom since the Reformation.’
There are side altars, with figure sculptures, an ornate carved marble pointed segmental arcade at organ gallery with trefoil arcading details on the parapet and polished granite columns.
The boarded timber ceiling and braced truss roof are supported on cut stone corbels in the nave walls. Other details inside the church include pitch pine confessionals and pews, and the timber and stucco Stations of the Cross.
Ashlin and Coleman made a number of additions in 1914, including a new front porch and mortuary chapel commissioned by Canon Arthur Ryan, parish priest of Tipperary (1903-1922). The mosaic work on the sanctuary walls and floor was completed by Ludwig Oppenheimer in 1915.
Canon Ryan was a staunch supporter of John Redmond and encouraged Irish involvement in World War I in support of achieving Irish Home Rule.
During the Christmas season in 1916, Canon Ryan travelled throughout the Western Front in Flanders, visiting and ministering to regiments of the 16th Irish Division on the battlefields.
His niece Philomena was the wife of Major John Carlon Markes of the Leinster Regiment, who was killed in action at the Battle of the Somme on 19 July 1916, aged 36. Major Markes is commemorated in thee stained glass World War I Memorial Window in the side Chapel of Adoration, to the right of the High Altar.
A window in a side chapel depicts Saint Luke, the patron saint of physicians, and is dedicated to the memory of Dr John F O’Halloran, who died in 1969.