12 November 2019

Compass Rose Society visit:
5, Bunratty Castle

Bunratty Castle stands out on the landscape in south Co Clare, close to the estuary of the River Shannon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Bunratty Castle is a large 15th-century tower house in Bunratty village, off the road between Limerick and Ennis, near both airport and Shannon Town. The name Bunratty (Bun Ráite, or Bun na Ráite) refers to either the ‘river basin,’ or the River Ratty, the river that runs alongside the castle and flows into the Shannon Estuary at this point.

The first recorded settlement at the site may have been a Norse settlement or trading camp that is recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters and said to have been destroyed by Brian Boru in the year 977. Local tradition says this camp stood on a rise south-west of the present castle, although there is no evidence to support this claim.

Around 1250, Henry III granted the area to Robert de Muscegros, who cut down around 200 trees in the King’s wood at Cratloe about a year later. He may have used these trees to build a motte and bailey castle that was the first castle at Bunratty, although its exact location is unknown. Later, in 1253, Robert de Muscegros was granted the right to hold markets and an annual fair at Bunratty.

The lands later returned to Henry III, and they were granted to Thomas de Clare, a descendant of Strongbow, in 1276. Thomas de Clare built a second castle that was the first stone castle in Bunratty. This large stone tower stood from about 1278 on or near the site of the present Bunratty Castle.

In the late 13th century, Bunrattty had about 1,000 inhabitants. The castle was attacked several times by the O’Briens and their allies. While Thomas de Clare was away in England, the site was captured and destroyed in 1284.

When Thomas de Clare returned to Ireland in 1287, he rebuilt the castle with a 130-metre fosse around it. The castle was again attacked but it did not fall until 1318, when Richard de Clare was killed at Dysert O’Dea. Bunratty Castle and the village were burned down and Lady de Clare fled to Limerick. The de Clare family never returned to Bunratty and the remains of the castle collapsed, leaving no traces or remains of this second castle.

In 1353, Sir Thomas de Rokeby led an army against the MacNamaras and the MacCarthys, and a third castle was then built at Bunratty, perhaps on the site of the later Bunratty Castle Hotel. However, around 1355, the new castle fell into the hands of Murtough O’Brien while Thomas Fitzjohn Fitzmaurice was the Governor or captain of Bunratty.

The present Bunratty Castle is the fourth castle on the site and was built by the MacNamara family around 1425.(Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The present castle was the fourth castle on the site and was built by the MacNamara family around 1425.

Bunratty Castle came into the hands of the O’Briens family, the most powerful clan in Munster and later Earls of Thomond, around 1500.

In 1558, Bunratty Castle as taken by the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Thomas Radclyffe (1525-1583), 3rd Earl of Sussex, from Donal O’Brien of Duagh, the last King of Thomond, who died in 1579.

Meanwhile, Bunratty Castle was given to Donal O’Brien’s nephew, Connor O’Brien. His son, Donogh O’Brien, may have moved his family seat from Clonroad in Ennis to Bunratty, and his improvements to the castle included a new lead roof on it.

During the Confederate Wars in Ireland in the 1640s, the Cromwellian commander Lord Forbes took Bunratty Castle in 1646. Barnabas O’Brien, who tried to play off the royalists against both the Irish rebels and the Roundheads, left for England, where he joined King Charles I.

The defence of the River Shannon and Bunratty Castle gave the forces holding the castle a position to blockade access from the sea to Limerick. The castle was held then by Admiral Sir William Penn (1621-1670), father of William Penn (1644-1718), the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania. After a long siege, Penn surrendered the castle to the Irish Confederates and sailed away safely to Kinsale, Co Cork.

After the Civil War in the 1640s and 1650s, Bunratty Castle returned to the O’Brien family, and in the 1680s the castle was the principal seat of the Earls of Thomond. In 1712, Henry O’Brien (1688-1741), the 8th and last Earl of Thomond, sold Bunratty Castle and 191 ha of land to Thomas Amory for £225 and an annual rent of £120. Amory in turn sold the castle to Thomas Studdert who moved in around 1720.

When the Studdert family left the castle, it to fall into disrepair and they moved into Bunratty House, which they built in 1804.

For some time in the mid-19th century, the castle was a police barracks used by the Royal Irish Constabulary. The Studdert family returned to Bunratty Castle at the end of the 19th century, and Captain Richard Studdert was living there in 1894. But the roof of the Great Hall collapsed in the late 19th century.

In 1956, Bunratty Castle was bought and restored by the 7th Viscount Gort, with the support of the Office of Public Works. He reroofed the castle and saved it from ruin. The castle was opened to the public in 1960, decorated and filled with furniture, tapestries and works of art dating from the 17th century.

Today, Bunratty Castle is a major tourist attraction, along with Bunratty Folk Park, and both the castle and Bunratty House are open to the public. The castle and the adjoining folk park are run by Shannon Heritage as tourist attractions.

Bunratty Castle is known for its mediaeval banquets, and Bunratty Folk Park is an open-air museum with an array of about 30 buildings, including traditional farmhouses, churches, schoolhouses and a pub.

By the banks of the Shannon Estuary at Bunratty (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

These notes were prepared for a tour of Co Clare by members of the Compass Rose Society on 12 November 2019

Compass Rose Society visit:
4, Cliffs of Moher and Doolin

The Cliffs of Moher are one of the most visited tourist sites in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Cliffs of Moher on the south-west edge of the Burren form one of the most visited sites in Ireland, and stretch along the coast for about 14 km. The Cliffs of Moher attract about 1.5 million visitors a year.

At their southern end, the Cliffs rise 120 metres (390 ft) above the Atlantic Ocean at Hag’s Head, and reach their greatest height – 214 metres (702 ft) – just north of O’Brien’s Tower, and then continue at lower heights, always with the edge abruptly falling away into the churning Atlantic below.

O’Brien’s Tower was built as an observation tower on the Cliffs of Moher in 1835 by Cornelius O’Brien (1782-1857), a benevolent local landlord who was MP for Co Clare (1832-1847, 1852-1857).

Local stories remember O’Brien as a man ahead of his time, who believed the development of tourism would benefit the local economy and bring people out of poverty. It is said locally he ‘built everything around here except the Cliffs.’

When O’Brien built the tower, he planned it as an observation tower for hundreds of tourists who then visited the Cliffs of Moher, so they could see out to the Aran Islands.

The nearest village, Doolin, is a popular departure point for the Aran Islands and also the village that is at the heart of Irish traditional music. Doolin is a seaside village on the north-west coast of Co Clare, surrounded by the rugged in Burren district and facing out to the Aran Islands and the Atlantic Ocean.

Doolin was once a fishing village, but today it is a base for exploring the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren. It is a busy place in the summer months, with people catching ferries to the Aran Islands or boarding boats for tours of the Cliffs of Moher.

Doolin is also at the heart of Irish traditional music, with a reputation built on the work of musicians like Micho Russell and continuing in the live music and spontaneous singing in pubs and bars. But the range of restaurants, shops and accommodation makes Doolin popular all year round.

Doolin also offers many activities ranging from sea angling, caving and scuba diving to pitch and putt, rock climbing and hill walking. Doolin is also surfing destination, and a break that generates Ireland’s biggest wave, Aill na Searrach, is just off the Cliffs of Moher.

There are many archaeological sites nearby, some dating to the Iron Age or earlier. Doonagore Castle and Ballinalacken Castle are also in the area.

Most of the activity in Doolin takes place in the original areas of Fisher Street and Roadford. The harbour at Doolin is the departure point for boat trips to the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher, and also for trips to Doolin Cave. The Great Stalactite in Doolin Cave measures 7.3 metres. When it was discovered in 1952, it was recognised as the longest stalactite in the Northern hemisphere.

The Aran Islands can be seen further out from the harbour and Doolin is one of three places with ferry services to the Aran Islands – the others are Galway and the village of Rossaveal on the north-west shore of Galway Bay.

Rocks on the coast at Doolin … the harbour offers ferries to the Aran Islands in Galway Bay (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

These notes were prepared for a tour of Co Clare by members of the Compass Rose Society on 12 November 2019

Compass Rose Society
visit: 3, Kilfenora Cathedral

The East End of Saint Fachan’s Cathedral in Kilfenora, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Kilfenora is in the centre of the Burren, about 28 km from Ennis and 5 km from Ennistymon. Although Kilfenora has a cathedral, it is a small village, and it is more likely to be associated in Irish minds with the Kilfenora Ceili Band, founded in 1909, than with a mediaeval cathedral and diocese was once described as the ‘poorest see in Ireland.’

The name Kilfenora may mean the Church of the White Brow or Meadow, or Fionnuir’s Church. In either case, the story of Kilfenora dates back to at least the sixth century when, according to tradition, Saint Fachan, also known as Saint Fachanan, Saint Fachtna or Saint Fachtnan, first built a church here.

This saint has also been identified with Saint Fachtna, the founder of Roscarbery in Co Cork.

The first church building here was probably of wood and was followed by a stone building. But the early church was burned down in 1055 by Murtough O’Brien. It was rebuilt in 1056-1058, only to be plundered in 1079 and then destroyed in an accidental fire in 1100.

The East Window in the ruined nave of Saint Fachan’s Cathedral, Kilfenora (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Kilfenora was recognised as a diocese at the Synod of Kells in 1152, when a new diocese was one of three carved out of the Diocese of Killaloe. The smaller dioceses of Roscrea and Scattery Island lost their diocesan status within a short time, but Kilfenora remained the centre of a diocese that corresponded with the ancient territory of Corcomroe.

By the 12th century, there were six or even seven high crosses on the site at Kilfenora, forming one of the largest collections of high crosses in Ireland.

Nevertheless, over the centuries, there were few able candidates who were willing to become Bishop of Kilfenora. An unnamed Bishop of Kilfenora took the oath of fealty to Henry II in 1172, but his two successors are known only by their initials.

The first names Bishop of Kilfenora, Bishop Johannes, was appointed in 1224, but even then many of his successors are only known by their first name alone.

In time, Kilfenora was the second smallest diocese in Ireland, with Waterford the only diocese that was smaller. The Diocese of Kilfenora is 29 km long, 14.4 km wide, and extends to 55,000 ha (135,700 acres). It is slightly smaller than the adjacent Diocese of Kilmacduagh; the three Aran islands – Inisheer, Inishmaan and Inishmore – were also included in Kilfenora.

The list of Bishops of Kilfenora is still not clear in the immediate post-Reformation period, and it is still not clear whether the loyalties of Bishop John O’Neylan (1541-1572) were to Rome or to the Anglican Reformation. The crown made no appointment to the diocese between 1541 and 1606, and from 1606 to 1617 Kilfenora was held with Limerick.

Because Kilfenora was remote, impoverished and insignificant, it was difficult to attract bishops in the 17th century. When Richard Betts arrived in 1628, he declared ‘I have no wish to become bishop of the poorest see in Ireland’ – and he promptly returned to England.

Ten years later, Bishop John Bramhall of Derry, later Archbishop of Armagh, told the Lord Deputy in 1638 that Kilfenora was so poor that no-one wanted to go there. Robert Sibthorpe would only accept a nomination if he was allowed to remain Dean of Killaloe. He was the last separate Bishop of Kilfenora, and after his death in 1661.

Kilfenora continued to be regarded as an impoverished diocese throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and its survival depended on being united with various dioceses, including Limerick, Tuam, Clonfert, Killaloe (1752-1976) and Limerick and Killaloe (since 1976).

Richard Mant, Bishop of Killaloe and Kilfenora (1820-1823), visited Kilfenora shortly after becoming bishop in 1820, and described it as ‘the worst village that I have seen in Ireland, and in the most desolate and least interesting country’ – a reference to the Burren and not to Ireland.

The West End of Saint Fachan’s Cathedral, Kilfenora, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Fachan’s Cathedral dates from 1189-1200, when it was built in the so-called Transitional style with a nave and a chancel, and the early building may have been aisled.

According to local tradition, the chancel, dating from late 12th to early 13th century, had an oak ceiling decorated in blue with gold stars, and this survived until the end of the 18th century. There is some evidence of alterations and extensions in the 14th and 15th centuries, but little remains of this work.

Today, the church shows a curious mix of styles from a number of periods. The oldest part is probably the rough-cast north wall of the nave with blocks that are now covered with plaster.

The former chancel is now without a roof. It is 10.8 metres long and 6.3 metres wide, and the walls are about one metre thick. The three-light east window is rounded and moulded, with carved capitals. On both sides of the window is a carved effigy: a bishop with his right hand raised in blessing, possibly dating from the early 14th century, to the north, and a tonsured, bareheaded cleric holding a book, possibly 13th century, to the south.

A carved 15th-century Gothic recess, once described as a sedilia, may have been a 15th century wall tomb (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

An elaborately carved and screened recess in the north wall is often described as a 15th-century Gothic sedilia, but the seats between the piers are too narrow and, instead, it may have been a 15th century wall tomb.

On the south wall, there is a double sedilia with a plain dividing shaft, a double piscina, and a square aumbry.

The Blood family monument in the Chancel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

One of the tombs in the chancel is the burial site of the Very Revd Neptune Blood, who received his name because he was born at sea. The memorial in Latin names his seven children, dating from 1683 to 1700. Dean Blood was an uncle of Thomas Blood, who tried to steal the crown jewels of King Charles II in 1671.

A short 15th-century doorway in the north wall of the chancel leads into a rectangular building attached to the north-east of the Chancel. In the 19th century, this was known as the Lady Chapel, although it may have been a sacristy or chapter room, or the O’Brien Chapel mentioned by earlier historians of the cathedral. It may have been built at the same time as the main building, and at first may have served as a transept.

Here there are two lancet-type windows, a broken two-light window, arched recesses and a low double piscina.

The chancel and the nave were separated in 1837 and by 1839, ‘thirty-six feet of the east end’ was without a roof. The nave, which is 20.6 metres long and 6.3 metres wide, was rebuilt and refitted as the Church of Ireland parish church with a grant of £42 from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

‘A pile of emigrants’ luggage, with a rabbit hutch or birdcage overhead’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The west wall of the nave has crude, stepped gable that has been compared to ‘a pile of emigrants’ luggage, with a rabbit hutch or birdcage overhead.’ There is a small bell-turret at the apex that is topped by a small stone pyramid. There is a carved head of a bishop over the door into the south porch.

Two grave slabs that have been moved into the south porch have effigies representing a 14th century unnamed Bishop of Kilfenora, with a mitre, crosier and episcopal ring, and a priest or nobleman of the 14th century, holding a book.

A grave slab in the south porch representing an unknown 14th century Bishop of Kilfenora (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Inside the parish church, the large square stone baptismal font possibly dates from around 1200. The bishop’s throne was donated in 1981 for the enthronement of Walton Empey, Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe, as Bishop of Kilfenora.

Today, the cathedral remains in a partially ruined state. The National Monument Service carried out restoration work in the early 2000s. The ‘Lady Chapel’ or north transept was fitted with a glass roof in 2005 to protect the remains of the three high crosses that were moved there.

The ‘Doorty Cross’ in the Lady Chapel or North Transept (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The finest of these high crosses is the Doorty Cross with a carving of bishop, possibly representing Saint Fachan. The shaft of this high cross was reused in the 18th century as part of the gravestone of the Doorty family. In 1955, it was reunited with the upper part of the cross, which until then had lain in the chancel of the church.

The ‘North Cross’ has survived relatively intact. Unlike the other crosses on the site, it does not have a ringed head, but has distinctive carved ornamentation.

One of the high crosses was moved from to Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, in the 19th century.

The ‘North Cross’ has survived relatively intact (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today, Saint Fachan’s Cathedral is only remaining Church of Ireland parish church in the Diocese of Kilfenora. It is grouped with Drumcliffe (Ennis) group of parishes, where the Rector is the Revd Kevin O’Brien. The Dean of Kilfenora is the Dean of Killaloe, who is also the Dean of Clonfert and the Provost of Kilmacduagh, but this position is vacant at present.

The last Roman Catholic Bishop of Kilfenora, James Augustine O’Daly, died in 1749. A year later, in 1750, the diocese was united with Kilmacduagh. In 1883, Kilfenora and Kilmacduagh was merged with the Diocese of Galway.

Today, the bishops of Galway and Kilmacduagh are styled Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh and Apostolic Administrator of Kilfenora, because Galway and Kilmacduagh are in the Province of Tuam and Kilfenora is in the Province of Cashel. This means that, in Canon Law, the Pope remains the Bishop of Kilfenora.

The carved head of a bishop above the door into the South Porch of Kilfenora Cathedral (Photograph; Patrick Comerford)

These notes were prepared for a tour of Co Clare by members of the Compass Rose Society on 12 November 2019

Compass Rose Society
visit: 2, Ennis Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Ennis, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, at the junction of Station Road and O’Connell Street in Ennis, is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Killaloe. Co Clare also Church of Ireland cathedral at Killaloe and in Kilfenora.

The Roman Catholic parish church in Ennis originally stood on what is now Chapel Lane, and was built in 1735, and is now used as a community centre.

The chapel was too small for a growing parish and its location made it impossible to extend the building, and plans to build a new church were frustrated by a public dispute – involving the chaplaincy at Ennis jail – between the parish priest of Ennis, Dean Terence O’Shaughnessy (1761-1848), and his curate, Father Patrick McDonogh.

Dean O’Shaughnessy was a nephew of Bishop James O’Shaughnessy of Killaloe and was a difficult but colourful public figure. He had witnessed the execution of Louis XVI in Paris in 1793, and in 1828 he was criticised for not publicly supporting the election campaign of Daniel O’Connell, perhaps because the other candidate, Vesey FitzGerald, had been a generous donor to Ennis parish.

The principal local landlord, Francis Gore, donated the site for a new parish church in Ennis to the Diocese of Killaloe in 1828, the year Daniel O’Connell was elected MP for Co Clare and a year before the enactment of Catholic Emancipation.

Plans for a new church were drawn up later that year, and Dean O’Shaughnessy hoped the new parish church would, in time, become the cathedral of the Diocese of Killaloe.

The winning design was drafted by the architect Dominick Madden, who had been disgraced earlier in his career, accused of stealing furniture from the Vice-Regal Lodge in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, but who had been commissioned the previous year to design new cathedrals in Ballina, Co Mayo, and Tuam, Co Galway.

Madden’s designs for his three cathedrals display a very simple form of Gothic that shows little of the influence of AWN Pugin.

The Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, at the junction of Station Road and O’Connell Street in Ennis, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The foundation stone was laid in June 1828, but progress on building work was slow, and it was further delayed by yet another public dispute – this time between Dean O’Shaughnessy and the Franciscans, who had opened a new church in the town at the end of 1830. In 1837, the dean was suspended from office for denouncing the Christian Brothers, who had been in the town since 1827.

Building work was resumed in November 1836, but proceeded slowly, and Mass was first said in the unfinished church on 4 September 1842. Within six months, the church was dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul by Peter Kennedy, Bishop of Killaloe (1836-1850), on 26 February 1843.

However, both fundraising and building work were set back yet again as the economic consequences of the Great Famine were felt throughout Ennis. Meanwhile, Dean O’Shaughnessy died in 1848, and he was buried in the church without ever seeing either its completion or its dedication as a cathedral.

The 1970s High Altar and the surviving reredos by Hardman and Earley in Ennis Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The interior was completed in 1861 under the supervision of JJ McCarthy, the architect who claimed Pugin’s mantle. The arcades and piers, the panelled ceiling and the gallery at the west end are his work, as were the altars and the reredos.

Work later resumed on the tower and spire, and they were completed by Maurice Fitzgerald in 1874.

The cathedral is built of limestone ashlar and has a crenellated parapet and tall pointed windows with tracery. The original façade is partially obscured by the porches, but the original doorways can still be seen inside. The three-storey diagonally buttressed tower is surmounted by a broach spire and rises to a height of 42.6 metres.

The patterned square panels in the ceiling are the work of Earley and Powell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Inside, there is an aisled nave of six bays with clerestory and transepts, each of two bays. The slender Doric piers with fanciful tracery in the spandrels support a coffered ceiling of floral patterned square panels, painted by Earley and Powell, and divided by white ribs.

The carved stone reredos was designed by JJ McCarthy and executed by the Birmingham-based Hardman partnership, closely associated with Pugin. The reredos includes paintings by John Farrington Earley (1831-1973) of Earley and Powell, the Birmingham-born stained-glass artist who was strongly influenced by Pugin and Hardman.

Saint Senan of Scattery and Saint Paul on the reredos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The paintings on the left (north side) of the reredos show Saint Senan, the patron of Scattery Island, and Saint Paul, while those on the right (south side) show Saint Peter and Saint Flannan, the patron of the Diocese of Killaloe. Two further paintings, over the side doors depict Saint Joseph and the Archangel Michael.

The busts in the upper tier of the reredos depict Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint Bridget and the Virgin Mary, on the left, and Christ, Saint Joseph and Saint Patrick on the right.

Saint Peter and Saint Flannan of KIllaloe on the reredos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When Thomas McRedmond was appointed coadjutor Bishop of Killaloe in 1889 and then bishop of the diocese in 1891, he decided to base the diocese at the church in Ennis, and so the parish church was designated as the pro-cathedral of the Diocese of Killaloe.

The main entrance to the cathedral was built in 1894, and the building was redecorated extensively. It had taken two architects and almost 70 years to complete the cathedral.

In the 1930s, a new sacristy and chapter room were added to the building, and the present pipe organ and chapter stalls were installed.

The west gallery and organ in Ennis Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The cathedral was closed for six months in 1973 while it was remodelled in line with the liturgical changes introduced with the Second Vatican Council, and McCarthy’s High Altar was removed, as well as the altar rails and pulpit. The new altar, ambo, font and tabernacle were designed in Wicklow granite by Andrew Devane.

The pro-cathedral was re-dedicated as a cathedral in 1990. After a fire in the cathedral in 1995, the sanctuary was rebuilt and the interiors were redecorated, with work completed at the end of 1996.

The sanctuary was rebuilt and the interiors were redecorated in 1995-1996 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

For Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, the Church of Ireland cathedral in the Diocese of Killaloe, see HERE.

These notes were prepared for a tour of Co Clare by members of the Compass Rose Society on 12 November 2019

Compass Rose Society
visit: 1, Quin Abbey

Quin Abbey … one of the most intact mediaeval Franciscan friaries in Ireland (Photograph courtesy TripAdvisor)

Patrick Comerford

The Franciscan abbey at Quin, Co Clare, is about 14 km from Ennis. Despite its suppression and repeated attacks in the 16th and 17th centuries, substantial remains of the friary survive, making it one of the most intact mediaeval Franciscan friaries in Ireland.

Quin Abbey occupies the site of the Anglo-Norman de Clare fortress that was built in 1278-1281 and destroyed in 1318. An earlier monastery on the site was burned down in 1278.

Thomas de Clare (1245-1287), a powerful Anglo-Norman lord, began building a castle at Quin in 1278. At the time, de Clare was seeking to secure his position in the Kingdom of Thomond as the local O’Brien lords were distracted by internal feuding. One hypothesis says de Clare gave his name to Co Clare. Quin castle was completed in 1281 when the Justiciar of Ireland, Robert of Ufford, marched into Thomond to curb de Clare’s regional dominance.

Richard de Clare (1281-1318) was defeated at the battle of Dysert O’Dea in Co Clare in 1318 by the O’Brien kings of Thomond and their allies, and the O’Briens regained control over Thomond.

The castle was a ruin by 1350, when it was rebuilt as a church by the MacNamara clan, using the south curtain wall of the old castle. Quin Abbey, properly a friary, was subsequently built between 1402 and 1433 by Sioda Cam MacNamara, for two Franciscan friars, named Purcell and Mooney.

The Franciscan chronicler Donatus Mooney records that friary was founded in 1402 by Síoda Cam MacNamara, lord of Clancullen, as his family burial place. The MacNamara tomb survives to this day.

Pope Eugene IV gave Síoda Cam MacNamara’s son, Maccon MacNamara, permission in 1433 to introduce Regular Observance at Quin, although this did not happen for another two centuries.

When the abbey was suppressed at the Reformation in 1541, it passed to Conor O’Brien, Earl of Thomond. After the dissolution, the friars continued to live in Quin under the protection of the Earls of Thomond.

When Sir John Perrot, Lord Deputy of Ireland, arrived in Quin during the Desmond rebellion in 1584, he found the Franciscans still living here. The friary was burnt during an attack, but the MacNamaras regained control of the site ca 1590, and once again set about repairing and restoring it.

Although the friars were forced to leave on a number of occasions in the 17th century, they continued to return to Quin, and the community was reconstituted as Observant Franciscans in 1612.

The building became a college ca 1640, according to local lore, and had up to 800 students. Oliver Cromwell arrived only 10 years later, when the friars were murdered and the friary was destroyed.

After the Caroline restoration (1660), members of the O’Brien family continued to make bequests to the friars of Quin. The building was once again restored in 1671, although the friary never regained its former status.

The friars were expelled again in 1760, but the last friar, Father John Hogan, continued to live here until he died in 1820. He was buried in the east cloister walk. But, by then, the buildings were ruined by neglect.

Although the abbey is mostly roofless, it is relatively well preserved. The foundations of the three corner towers and curtain wall of the castle built by Thomas de Clare can still be seen, surviving to varying degrees. There is an intact cloister, and many other surviving architectural features make the friary of significant historical value.

The mediaeval stone high altar remains in its original position, and to the right of this are the rare remains of an early 17th century stucco crucifixion, on the wall above a tomb. The intimate cloister, the chapter room, kitchen, refectory and dormitories stand almost as they did at the time of the dissolution. The fact that the domestic ranges were not bonded together suggests that they were built over a long period of time, rather than as one continuous building programme.

There is a visitor centre near the building, there is a permanent caretaker at the site, and the graveyard surrounding the friary is still in use. The deserted village associated with the friary is now marked by grassy mounds.

These notes were prepared for a tour of Co Clare by members of the Compass Rose Society on 12 November 2019

The Stephansdom is
the lasting image and
symbol of Vienna

The Stephansdom, or Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, is the most visited site in Vienna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The Stephansdom, or Saint Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna is at the heart of the city and the most visited site in the Austrian capital.

For many, the cathedral in Stephansplatz is their lasting image of Vienna, with its spires, delightful multicoloured roof and bell towers. The most striking parts of the cathedral include the main tower, which rises over 136 metres, and the roof’s 230,000 multi-coloured tiles.

During my visit to Vienna last week [7 November 2019], I returned to visit the Stephansdom, which is the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna. The Diocese of Vienna was founded 650 years ago in 1469. But the cathedral predates the diocese, and was first built in 1137, and the current cathedral dates from 1263.

The Stephansdom has seen many important events in Habsburg and Austrian history. Over the centuries, towers, doors and extensions have been added to give the city the present Gothic building with its sprinkling of baroque features.

The glory of Saint Stephen’s Cathedral is its ornately patterned, richly coloured roof (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Saint Rupert’s Church is considered the oldest church in Vienna – although that claim is contested by the Peterskirche or Saint Peter’s Church. The new church was built on the site of an ancient Roman cemetery.

By the mid-12th century, Vienna had become an important centre and the four existing churches, including only one parish church, no longer met the town’s needs. In 1137, Bishop Reginmar of Passau and Leopold IV, Duke of Bavaria, signed the Treaty of Mautern, which referred to Vienna as a civitas for the first time.

Under the treaty, Leopold IV received large stretches of land, except the site allocated for a new parish church that would eventually become Saint Stephen’s Cathedral.

The north aisle of the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The present Romanesque and Gothic form of the cathedral was largely initiated by Rudolf IV (1339-1365) and stands on the ruins of two earlier churches, the first a parish church consecrated in 1147.

The new Romanesque church was only partially built when it was solemnly dedicated in 1147, at the beginning of the Second Crusade. The first church was completed in 1160, but rebuilding and expansion lasted until 1511, and repairs and restoration projects have continued to the present day.

The first Romanesque structure was extended westward in 1230-1245, and the present west wall and Romanesque towers date from this period. A great fire in 1258 destroyed much of the original building, and a larger replacement, also Romanesque in style and reusing the two towers, was built over the ruins of the old church and consecrated in 1263.

King Albert I ordered a Gothic three-nave choir to be built at the east of the church in 1304, wide enough to meet the tips of the old transepts. His son, Duke Albert II, continued work on the Albertine choir, which was consecrated in 1340.

The middle nave of the cathedral is dedicated to Saint Stephen and All Saints (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The middle nave is dedicated to Saint Stephen and All Saints, while the north and south nave are dedicated to Saint Mary and the Apostles.

Although Saint Stephen’s was still only a parish church and Vienna was not yet a diocese, Rudolf IV established a chapter of canons befitting a cathedral in 1365.

Emperor Frederick III persuaded Pope Paul II to give Vienna its own bishop in 1469, and the Diocese of Vienna dates from 18 January 1469. During the reign of Karl VI, Pope Innocent XIII made Vienna the see of an archbishop in 1722.

The Stephansdom survived the bombings of World War II, only to suffer from mindless vandalism when looters set fire to nearby buildings in April 1945. The fire spread and destroyed parts of the cathedral. But the city and the community came together all the damage was repaired within a few years, and the cathedral reopened on 23 April 1952.

A Crucifixion scene on the west front of the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The glory of Saint Stephen’s Cathedral is its ornately patterned, richly coloured roof, 111 metres long, and covered by 230,000 glazed tiles. Above the choir on the south side, the tiles form a mosaic of the double-headed eagle that is a symbol of the Habsburg dynasty.

The cathedral is oriented toward the sunrise on Saint Stephen’s Day, 26 December. It is built of limestone, is 107 metres long, 40 metres wide, and 136 metres tall at its highest point.

Over the centuries, soot and other forms of air pollution accumulating on the church have given it a black colour, but recent restoration projects have again returned some portions of the building to its original white.

The main part of the cathedral contains 18 altars, with more in the many chapels (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The front of the nave and part of the north side are open to visitors, but everything else requires a ticket or is only open to people attending Mass. The accessible areas give views of the full length of the cathedral and some of the many small side altars.

The massive South Tower standing at at 136 meters is the highest point of the cathedral and a dominant feature on the skyline of Vienna. It is known affectionately to the people of Vienna as Steffl, a diminutive form of Stephen.

It took 65 years, from 1368 to 1433, to build the south tower. During the Siege of Vienna in 1529 and again during the Battle of Vienna in 1683, it served as the main observation and command post for the defence of the walled city. It is a 343-step climb with an observation chamber that offers views of Vienna.

The North Tower has a lift up to a viewing platform and the 21,283 kg Pummerin bell. The north tower was originally intended to mirror the south tower, but the plan was too ambitious and building stopped in 1511. The tower-stump was given a Renaissance cap, nicknamed the ‘water tower top,’ in 1578. The tower is now 68 metres tall, about half the height of the south tower.

The main entrance of the cathedral is known as the ‘Giant’s Door’ or ‘Riesentor’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The main entrance is known as the ‘Giant’s Door’ or Riesentor, referring to the thighbone of a mastodon that hung over it for decades. The tympanum above the Giant’s Door depicts Christ Pantocrator flanked by two winged angels. On the left and right of the door are two Roman Towers, or Heidentürme, each about 65 metres tall. They were built from the rubble of old Roman structures, and with the Giant’s Door they are the oldest parts of the cathedral.

Ludwig van Beethoven discovered the totality of his deafness when he saw birds flying out of the bell tower when the bells tolled but he could not hear them.

A memorial tablet recalls Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s relationship with the cathedral, where had been appointed an adjunct music director shortly before he death. This was his parish church when he lived at the ‘Figaro House,’ he was married here, two of his children were baptised here, and his funeral was held here.

The main part of the cathedral contains 18 altars, with more in the various chapels. The High Altar and the Wiener Neustadt Altar are the most famous.

The marble, baroque High Altar was built in 1641-1647. The Wiener Neustädter Altar at the head of the north nave was commissioned by Emperor Frederick III in 1447. On the predella is his famous AEIOU device. The Wiener Neustädter Altar is composed of two triptychs. Restoration began in 1985 and took 20 years to complete.

The Maria Pötsch Icon or Pötscher Madonna is a Byzantine-style icon of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child, commissioned in 1676 by László Csigri after his release as a prisoner of war from the Turks who were invading Hungary.

The stone pulpit is a masterwork of late Gothic sculpture (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The stone pulpit is a masterwork of late Gothic sculpture. It was long attributed to Anton Pilgram, although it is now believed that Niclaes Gerhaert van Leyden was the carver.
The carvings include relief portraits of the four original Doctors of the Church: Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Ambrose, Saint Gregory the Great and Saint Jerome.

The handrail of the stairway curving its way around the pillar from ground level to the pulpit has fantastic decorations of toads and lizards biting each other, symbolising the struggle between good against evil. At the top of the steps, a stone puppy guards the preacher against intruders.

The handrail of the the pulpit has fantastic decorations of toads and lizards (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Beneath the stairs is one of the most beloved symbols of the cathedral: a stone self-portrait of the unknown sculptor gawking out of a window and known as the Fenstergucker. It may be a self-portrait of the sculptor.

There are several formal chapels in the cathedral, including Saint Katherine’s Chapel, the baptismal chapel, and Saint Barbara’s Chapel.

Saint Eligius’s Chapel is said to hold the body of Saint Valentine – but this is also said to be in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin. The other relics claimed by the cathedral the beard on the crucified Christ and a piece of the tablecloth from the Last Supper. The remains of over 11,000 persons are buried in the catacombs.

A late mediaeval memorial in the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The preservation and repair of the fabric of Saint Stephen’s has been a continuous task since the cathedral was first built in 1147.

The Stephansdom is open year-round, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. (from 7 a.m. on Sundays and holidays). It remains a working cathedral, and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn.

In winter, the square hosts the Stephansplatz Christmas market, although last Thursday the skies above the cathedral were bright, clear and blue.

The Wiener Neustädter Altar is composed of two triptychs (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)