19 September 2020

Saint Mary’s, Mallow,
a 200-year-old church
redesigned by Ashlin

Saint Mary’s Church, Mallow, Co Cork … the façade and belltower were designed by George Coppinger Ashlin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

During last month’s road trip, as I was on the road from Valentia to Cappoquin, along the banks of the River Blackwater, I stopped one afternoon in Mallow, Co Cork, for lunch and to see Saint Mary’s Church, the 200-year-old Roman Catholic church that celebrated its bicentenary in 2018.

I stopped again in Mallow yesterday [18 September 2020], on the road back to Askeaton from Cobh, where I was visiting Spike Island and revisiting Saint Colman’s Cathedral.

Saint Mary’s Church was built in 1818 on a site donated by the local landlord, Sir Charles Denham Jephson Norreys (1799-1888) of Mallow Castle, who was later MP for Mallow (1826-1859).

The belltower and façade at Saint Mary’s Church, Mallow, were added in 1900 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

In a critical observation, a later Nationalist MP for Mallow, William O’Brien (1852-1928), said the church was built ‘as a barn, like as humility could make it, in order to soften the wrath of the Ascendancy.’

But the appearance of today’s church is due to rebuilding work and renovations in 1900, transforming its impact with the addition of a new façade and belltower.

At first, the church was hidden behind a row of houses on the Main Street in Mallow. But when the houses were removed and the church became open to view from the street, Canon John Wigmore, the parish priest, built a new, Romanesque-style façade and laid the foundations for the campanile or belltower.

This church stands on a prominent site, set back from the Main Street of Mallow, and its large scale makes it a very notable feature within the town. This is heightened by the decorative emphasis of the Romanesque-style façade and the tall belltower.

Inside Saint Mary’s Church, Mallow, facing the apse in the south or liturgical east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The frontispiece and tower, added in 1900, were designed by the architect George Coppinger Ashlin (1837-1921), were added in 1900. Ashlin was AWN Pugin’s son-in-law – his wife was Mary Pugin (1844-1933) – but also had many family connections with Co Cork. His notable works in Co Cork include Saint Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh.

The symmetry of Ashlin’s façade at Saint Mary’s Church is followed through in the well-executed decorative scheme, that incorporates many features typical of Romanesque churches, including the tympanums, rose window, arched openings and arcaded cornices, and door and window openings.

This is a T-plan gable-fronted church, built in 1818. However, it does not follow the traditional, liturgical east-west axis, and instead faces north and has its apse at the south.

A 19th century monument inside Saint Mary’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The church has four-bay nave elevations, two-bay transepts, a shallow gabled chancel at the south or liturgical east end, and a three-stage, square-plan tower to north-west corner.

Inside Saint Mary’s Church, the interior retains many original features of interest and artistic quality. These include the Corinthian-style columns and a marble wall memorial designed by the architect JJ McCarthy.

The arcade in the churchyard, with English and Irish lettering within the arches, is another notable feature. This arcade and the entrance piers enhance the setting of the building.

The arcade in the churchyard in front of Saint Mary’s Church, Mallow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

When the church was 150 years old in 1968, a professional survey indicated the church needed to be reroofed.

The church was closed on 1 May 1996 for a year and major restoration and renovation work was carried out on the main structure and on the interior at a cost of over £1 million.

Saint Mary’s Church celebrated its bicentenary in 2018. I had anotherf opportunity late yesterday to see the church and to walk around the town.

Inside Saint Mary’s Church, facing the north (or liturgical west) end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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