30 October 2019

Saint Dominic’s Friary,
an early Dominican
foundation in Cashel

Saint Dominic’s Friary or Abbey, 300 metres south-east of the Rock of Cashel, was founded in 1243 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Cashel is mainly known for the Rock of Cashel and Hore Abbey, founded for the Cistercians, and as visitors walk back into the town, many miss Saint Dominic’s Friary or Abbey in a housing estate 300 metres south-east of the Rock of Cashel.

Saint Dominic’s Abbey was founded in 1243, during the reign of Henry III, by the Archbishop of Cashel, David mac Cellaig Ó Gila Pátraic, probably a member of the MacGillapatrick (FitzPatrick) dynasty of Ossory and a key figure in building the cathedral on the Rock of Cashel.

Cashel Priory was the third foundation of the Dominican order in a borough in Ireland, following Mullingar, Co Westmeath (1237), and Athenry, Co Galway (1241).

Bishop David mac Cellaig is thought to have joined the Order of Preachers or Dominicans at their priory of Cork. He later became Dean of Cashel before 1237, and Bishop of Cloyne soon after the friars came to Ireland.

He became Archbishop of Cashel in 1238, and supported the candidature of another Dominican friar, Ailim O’Sullivan, as Bishop of Cloyne in 1240. He founded the Dominican friary in Cashel in 1243, and the Dominican community in Cork supplied the friars for the new priory in Cashel, which was dedicated to Saint Dominic.

As Primate of Munster, the archbishop ordered the Bishop of Limerick to resign, accusing him of simony, illegitimacy and ignorance, a decision eventually enforced by the Pope.

King Henry III wrote to the Archbishops of Dublin and Cashel in 1250, asking that the Crusades be preached in Ireland and to allow royal officials to collect money for the Crusades. He also told the Archbishop of Cashel that after the publication of the Pope’s letters, which Walter Maunsel is bringing to the archbishop, it is placed in the custody of the Friars Preachers of Cashel.

The archbishop died on 2 March 1253 and was buried in a chapel in the cathedral on the Rock of Cashel. Some sources suggest that the carving of the bishop now on Miler McGrath’s tomb was originally on the tomb of Archbishop McKelly.

Cashel Abbey was rebuilt by Archbishop John Cantwell of Cashel at his own expense in 1480 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Irish Dominicans held their provincial chapter in Cashel on 30 June 1256. The monastery church was expanded around 1270, and provincial chapters were held there again in 1289 and 1307.

John O’Grady, Archbishop of Cashel, was buried in the abbey on 15 July 1394.

After a fire destroyed the abbey, perhaps during an armed conflict, it was rebuilt and refurbished by John Cantwell, Archbishop of Cashel, at his own expense in 1480. Archbishop Cantwell was named both patron and co-founder of the abbey in a document signed at a chapter meeting in Limerick ca 1480. The chapter also declared that Cantwell and all assisting his work would be beneficiaries of all the prayers of the Dominicans in Ireland.

At the Dissolution of the monastic houses at the Reformation, Edward Brown, the last Prior of Cashel, surrendered Cashel Priory on the Vigil of Easter, 8 April 1540. Cashel Priory was then leased to Peter Kelly and Walter Fleming. It included a church and belfry, a dormitory, a chamber with two cellars, a cemetery, two orchards, and two parks or gardens containing two acres.

A court sitting in 1541 found that the priory buildings had been sold, and that other possessions of the priory included an orchard, three gardens and a cemetery, as well as nine tenements or cottages with six gardens within the precinct, and two messuages with four gardens outside of it. The convent precinct or the walled site and surrounding gardens extended to two acres. By comparison, Trim Priory in Co Meath had four acres, while Waterford Priory had only half an acre.

Saint Dominic’s was granted to Walter Fleming, a merchant of Cashel, in 1543-1544 for £46 and an annual rent of half a crown (2/6) in Irish money.

Cashel Priory was once regarded as the most beautiful Dominican building in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

In its day, Cashel Priory was regarded as the most beautiful Dominican building in Ireland. What remains today are the massive central tower and the main walls with traceried windows in the east and west gables and in the south transept. These windows were probably inserted in the 15th century, during the rebuilding.

The priory church, was dedicated to Saint Dominic, survives in its entirety, including the south transept and side aisle. The south transept was built in 1270.

The abbey is quasi-cruciform in plan with a high tower over the crossing. It has only one aisle and transept.

In the mid-13th century, a ‘Cashel School’ of masons was active, with a single mason’s mark identified in five of the most important buildings built in the mid-13th century: Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, Cashel Cathedral, Athassel Priory, Youghal and Cashel Priories. Cashel Cathedral and Dominican priory share similar design features, suggesting the same work force was employed on both.

The priory was rebuilt by John Cantwell in 1480, when the central tower was added. During the 15th century renovations, the great east window was replaced. Notable features include the nine lancet windows in the choir, and the 15th-century windows that were inserted in place of 13th-century lancets in the choir, transept and west wall of the nave. These are four- and five-light windows with curvilinear tracery in the choir and the transept, and a four-light window with modified switch-line tracery and round-headed sub-arches in the west wall of the nave.

The south wall of the east section had nine lancet windows, but today only their pillars remain. The north wall in this section shows traces of niche tombs.

A niche in the north wall of the nave has two carved figures. One shows an infant standing, with his arms bent and his hands on his stomach; the slab is broken and the feet are missing. His eyes are closed. The other figure is a head that may have a crown; no face features survive.

Some corbels on the outer side of the north wall may be the remains of the former cloister.

The original 13th century windows were replaced in the late 15th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

After the Reformation, distinguished members of the Dominican community in Cashel included a Father Hackett, who was theologian to Cardinal Emilio Bonaventura Altieri (1590-1676), later Pope Clement X (1670-1676). Hackett is said to have been ‘so humble and poor in spirit’ that he refused to accept a bishopric.

Patrick Hackett, of the same community, studied at Louvain and was later Prior of Cashel.

Dominic Kent from Cashel became Lecturer in Philosophy in Louvain later became a chaplain in the French army. He returned to Louvain, where he died in 1703.

William O’Dwyer studied theology in Portugal and also taught philosophy in Louvain. Back in Ireland, he became Prior of Waterford and was later an army chaplain. He then went to Rome and to Portugal and died at Civita Vecchia.

Mark Boyton studied in Louvain and Cremona, and became a distinguished preacher in Italy, where he was the confessor of the Princess de Vaudimont. He died in Milan in 1704.

Peter Butler studied in Louvain and then became a parish priest in the diocese of Poitou in France. When his father died, he received permission to join the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine.

Peter O’Mulyran from Cashel studied at Louvain and in Spain, and became Prior of Waterford. He later lived in exile at Rouen in France. Anthony Kent studied at Louvain and Tours and spent two years as a French army chaplain. James Stapleton studied in Louvain and became an army chaplain.

Thomas de Burgo, in his Hibernia Dominicana in 1755, described the Dominican houses in Cashel and Ballindoon as the best preserved of all Dominican monasteries in Ireland.

Five Dominican priests were still attached to the convent in Cashel in 1756. But there was only one remaining friar by 1800. The last Dominican in Cashel, Father John Conway, was still there in 1850, without a priory. He was first recorded in Cashel in 1829, later recorded as ‘Prior of Cashel’ in 1844 and 1848, and Prior of Thurles in 1846-1847, although there was no Dominican house in Thurles. He died in Cashel sometime between 1863 and 1866.

John Conway, the last titular Prior of Cashel, died in the 1860s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Cashel Cathedral, the
Georgian replacement
for the Rock of Cashel

The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Patrick’s Rock in Cashel … one of just two Anglican cathedrals built in Ireland and Britain in the 18th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

After visiting the Rock of Cashel on Monday afternoon [28 October 2019], I walked through the centre of Cashel and visited the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Patrick’s Rock, the Church of Ireland cathedral in Cashel and one of the six cathedrals in the United Dioceses of Cashel Ferns and Ossory.

The cathedral forms a nationally important campus with the library, gates and gate lodge. The tall spire makes the cathedral visible from afar and is an imposing part of the townscape of Cashel.

The Church of Ireland continued to use the mediaeval Gothic cathedral on the Rock of Cashel until 1749, when the site was finally abandoned by Archbishop Arthur Price (1744-1752) and the cathedral roof was removed.

The Privy Council by order on 10 June 1749 made the parish church of Saint John the Baptist the new cathedral of the Diocese of Cashel and renaming it the Cathedral and Parochial Church of Saint Patrick’s Rock and Saint John the Baptist.

However, Price’s successor, Archbishop John Whitcomb (1752-1753), was enthroned in both cathedrals in 1752. Nevertheless, the old parish church was razed, the foundation stone of a new cathedral was laid in 1763, and the present Gregorian Cathedral was opened on Christmas Day 1783. It was finally completed in 1788, largely due to the efforts of Archbishop Charles Agar (1779-1801), later Archbishop of Dublin (1801-1809) and 1st Earl of Normanton.

This is one of just two Anglican cathedrals built in Ireland and Britain in the 18th century, the other being Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford. It is said to have been designed by Sir Richard Morrison (1767-1849), but the names of the architects of the main building remain unknown.

The spire was added by William Vitruvius Morrison in 1812 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Georgian style of the cathedral is seen in the regular form, the hipped roof and the round-headed openings, as well as the incorporation of Classical elements such as the aedicule, pediment and pilasters. Indeed, its Classical elegance makes no concessions to the mediaeval past.

The cathedral is built of grey stone, and it has arched windows and a cushioned frieze supported by Ionic pilasters which, however, are omitted on the opposite, less conspicuous, south side.

The curiously unfinished south side of the entrance front, and the different elevations to the long north and south walls, are all of particular interest and perhaps reflect a desire to lavish attention on the parts of the building immediately visible on the approach from John Street.

A monument on the front wall of building is a composite of a mediaeval crucifixion plaque and an heraldic plaque (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A monument on the front wall of building is a composite of a mediaeval crucifixion plaque and an heraldic plaque with later details.

The spire was added in 1812 by Sir Richard Morrison’s son, William Vitruvius Morrison (1794-1838), who was born in Clonmel, Co Tipperary. The chancel was remodelled in a gilded elaborate Italian Romanesque style by William Atkins.

Although the building is plain outside, it has a pleasant Georgian-style interior, and there is fine stone crafting throughout the building, and the organ was built by Samuel Green in 1786. However, the original interior was remodelled in 1867, and little of it remains apart from the west gallery with its stalls. An unusual legacy of the Victorian reordering is that is one of the few cathedrals with two sets of chapter stalls.

The cathedral stands in a graveyard and on the site of the mediaeval parish church with a variety of mediaeval effigies and grave-slabs, and a fine collection of elaborate limestone tombs.

The Chapter House beside the cathedral once housed the Bolton Library (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Until February 2016, the 19th century Chapter House beside the cathedral was home to the GPA Bolton Library, with a rare collection of books and manuscripts.

The library was founded by Archbishop Theophilus Bolton (1730-1744). The library’s greatest treasures came from the collection of Archbishop William King of Dublin, who had been Bolton’s mentor and who was said to have been the most learned and widely read man of his time.

King had been Bishop of Derry from 1690 to 1703 when he became Archbishop of Dublin. His best-known publication, De Origine Mali (1702) is said to have inspired Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man. Soon after King’s death in 1729, Bolton acquired the bulk of his benefactor’s extensive library.

The library was originally housed in the Long Room, beside the Archbishops’ Palace, built by Archbishop Bolton in 1830. It suffered some damage from soldiers quartered there during the 1798 rebellion, but it survived this and other crises without further incident.

The remains of a mediaeval monument in front of the former Bolton Library (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Henry Cotton, who became Archdeacon of Cashel in 1824, had been the sub-librarians of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, for nine years, and published his Typographical Gazetteer in the year his came to Cashel. Until he died in 1879, he devoted much of the rest of his life to writing and to working in the library in Cashel.

Cotton was alarmed by government plans in the 1830s to suppress the Archbishopric of Cashel. He encouraged the clergy of the diocese to build a new library and chapter house in the grounds of the cathedral. The library moved to its new home in 1837.

Sadly, the books in the library were suffering from the effects of being in a building never designed to provide them with the right conditions. In order to restore and conserve the collection, the Bolton Library was transferred to the University of Limerick in 2016.

The cathedral perimeter walls and Agar’s Lane, leading to the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Saint John the Baptist (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The cathedral perimeter walls date from the 13th century and part of the limestone boundary wall incorporates part of the mediaeval town wall.

Agar’s Lane was built by Archbishop Agar in 1795 to provide access between the cathedral and the new Roman Catholic Parish Church of Saint John the Baptist, built in 1772-1804 on the site of the former Franciscan Friary on Friar Street and re-fronted in 1850.

Archaeological excavations in 1999-2000 uncovered the original cobbled surface of the laneway.

The Cashel Palace Hotel is being refurbished and rebuilt (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The cathedral looks down John Street towards the centre of the town and the Cashel Palace Hotel, built as his episcopal palace by Archbishop Bolton in 1730. It was designed by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce (1699-1733) and was once the home of the Archbishops of Cashel.

Two Mulberry trees in the gardens are said to date from the reign of Queen Mary.

The palace was once one of the finest houses in Ireland. The palace and its gardens were sold in 1959 and it became the Cashel Palace Hotel in 1962. The hotel is now being refurbished and rebuilt and it was not possible to visit it this week.

The Very Revd Gerald Field has been the Dean of Cashel since 2014, the Precentor is the Dean of Waterford, the Very Revd Maria Jansson, the Chancellor is the Dean of Lismore, the Very Revd Paul Draper, and the Treasurer is Canon Patrick Harvey.

The Cashel Group of Parishes also includes the Church of the Holy Spirit, Mogorban, Saint Mary’s Church, Tipperary, Saint Sedna’s Church, Clonbeg, and Saint Mary’s Church, Ballintemple (Dundrum).

The Roman Catholic Cathedral for the diocese is the Cathedral of the Assumption, Thurles, Co Tipperary, designed by JJ McCarthy and built in 1865-1879.

The cathedral was completed in 1788, largely due to the efforts of Archbishop Charles Agar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)