12 February 2020

A glimpse of four more
churches in Cork and Cobh

Trinity Presbyterian Church, Cork, is set back from Summerhill North on top of a grassy bank (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

While I was in Cork and Cobh last week, I visited a number of cathedrals and churches, including Saint Fin Barre’s Catherdral (Church of Ireland) and the North Cathedral (Roman Catholic) in Cork, Saint Colman’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Cobh, and two of the oldest churches in Cork, the Unitarian Church in Prince’s Street, Saint Anne’s Church (Church of Ireland), Shandon, and the former Methodist Church in Cobh.

But, of course, there were other churches that I saw briefly, although I had little time to arrange to see inside them.

Cork Trinity Presbyterian Church is on Little William Street, Summerhill North. The church is set back from Summerhill North on top of a grassy bank. Reputedly the site was once used as grazing grounds by drovers, staying at the Grosvenor Inn in MacCurtain Street and bringing cattle to the docks.

The first Presbyterian congregation in Cork dated back to 1675 when a meeting house was built in Prince’s Street. This was rebuilt in 1717, and for many years it now Cork Unitarian Church.

The Prince’s Street congregation split in the 1840s, between the ‘New Light’ or Non-Subscribing Presbyterians and the ‘Old Light’ or Trinitarian and Calvinist Presbyterians, who formed a new congregation.

A new Presbyterian church was commissioned by the new congregation and was designed by John Tarring (1806-1875), the architect of many non-conformist church buildings in England. The builder was Richardson of London, and work was completed in 1861.

The church is the only known work in Ireland by Tarring, who has been styled ‘the Gilbert Scott of the Dissenters.’ Tarring was born at Holbeton, near Plymouth, and worked as a carpenter and a plasterer before studying to become an architect. He worked principally in London, where his practice was known variously as ‘John Tarring, Esq,’ ‘Tarring & Jones’ and ‘J Tarring & Son.’

Tarring was the first architect to design a spire for a nonconformist church in London, and this is thought to have influenced the Baptists and Congregationalists to begin building churches in the Gothic style.

Most of his commissions were nonconformist churches, although he had one remodelling commission for an Anglican chapel. He rebuilt George Whitefield’s chapel in Tottenham Court Road in 1856 after fire destroyed the previous chapel. Tarring’s chapel had a dome 38 metres high. It was closed in 1889 due to subsidence and was demolished later.

Tarring’s other churches in London included the Westminster Chapel, Buckingham Gate (1841), and Chelsea Congregational Church (1858-1860). He also restored Combermere Abbey, Cheshire, and Thornton Hall, Buckinghamshire. He built a large mansion block in an Italianate style at Queen’s Gate, Hyde Park, in 1860.

He returned to Devon and died at Torquay on 27 December 1875. He is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, London. His son Frederick William Tarring (1847-1925) continued his practice.

Tarring designed Trinity Presbyterian Church, Cork, in a Gothic style with a distinctive spire. It was built in 1860-1861 on a cruciform plan with shallow transepts, broach spire, buttresses and large windows.

The interior has a gallery to the rear, where a pipe organ was installed by the Cork firm of Magahy in 1904, and seats for a choir. The rest of the interior, with a central pulpit, no central aisle and no pillars, reflects Tarring’s work on nonconformist churches and chapels in England. Other features include the three stained-glass windows that represent the Trinity.

The spire has a distinctive kink and legend says the workers did this deliberately to spite the architect … or that it was an accident caused by their drunkenness. There is also a gruesome legend that the architect hanged himself in the tower … but this too is pure fiction.

The disused schoolhouse at the gates of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The disused schoolhouse at the church gates is an integral part of the Trinity Church complex. This small, single-storey school was built in 1865, using the same materials and quality of building found in the church.

Most of the original features have been retained, including the cast-iron railings, gates and windows. There are gabled projecting wings, a low copper sheeted spire, limestone walls with cut stone details, gate piers, and small pane leaded windows.

Members of the congregation try to have Trinity Presbyterian Church open for visitors each weekday morning, with guided tours on Wednesday mornings.

The Revd Richie Cronin from Donoughmore, Co Cork, who became the minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Cork, in 2018, was the first Cork-born person to become the minister of the church since it opened in 1861.

The Baptist Church opened on MacCurtain Street, Cork, in 1892 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

There has been a Baptist Church in since the 17th century. It was originally organised by Edward Riggs of Rigsdale, Ballinhassig, MP for Bandon and a Commissioner of the Peace.

The church met at different locations throughout the city during its history, starting in Coleman’s Alley in the Cornmarket Street area. The first building was erected in Mill Street, afterwards known as Fishamble Lane, now Liberty Street. This building was later used by the Augustinians and the Franciscans.

The second Baptist Church in Cork was built on the south-east marsh, known as Dunscombe Marsh, now Marlboro Street, parallel to Prince’s Street where the Unitarian Church stands. This site on Marlboro Street later became the site of the Cork YMCA.

The present Baptist Church opened in King Street, now MacCurtain Street, in 1892. The church was designed by the Dublin-born architect George Palmer Beater (1850-1928). Beater’s father, Orlando Beater of Glenarm, Terenure, was the chairman of Arnotts.

Beater was articled to the architect to Alfred Gresham Jones. Beater’s other works included the former Baptist churches on Harcourt Street and North Circular Road, Dublin, the former Baptist Church in Limerick, the Fetherstonhaugh Convalescent Home for the Adelaide Hospital, now the Church of Ireland Theological Institute – where I was lecturer until 2017, the Slievemore Hotel, Dugort, Achill Island, and the Northern Bank in Bray, Co Wicklow.

Beater also designed much of the work on Arnott’s premises in Henry Street, Dublin, many of the premises rebuilt on Sackville Street (O’Connell Street), Dublin, after the 1916 Rising, and some of the houses on Grosvenor Road, Rathmines.

Beater was identified with many charities, and was a Governor of the Royal Hospital, Dublin, and the Old Men’s Home on Leeson Park. Beater died at his home at 9 Brighton Road, Rathgar, on 8 February 1928, and was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

The front elevation of Cork Baptist Church, designed by George Palmer Beater (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The front elevation of the Baptist Church on MacCurtain Street, Cork, has a brickwork façade, while the other walls are built from random rubble masonry. The roof is supported by pitch pine queen post trusses.

The main architectural features include the unusual tower and carving over the entrance, the pitch pine doors with ornate metal work, and the leaded windows facing the street. Electricity was installed in 1908 at a cost of £9, paid in 12 instalments of 15 shillings.

The interesting internal features include the pulpit, the table located in front of the pulpit upstairs and the baptistery located in the main hall downstairs. The upper floor was installed in 1979 to allow for greater use of the building and to provide extra facilities.

Holy Trinity Church, also known as Father Mathew Memorial Church, on Father Mathew Quay (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Holy Trinity Church, also known as Father Mathew Memorial Church, is a Gothic Revival church and Capuchin friary on Father Mathew Quay, on the banks of the River Lee. It belongs to the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin and is the only church dedicated to the temperance campaigner Father Theobald Mathew (1790-1856).

The church is a Regency Gothic-style church with a Gothic-Revival portico, and is one of the first large churches in the south of Ireland built in this style.

The Capuchins arrived in Cork in 1637, 13 years after the first Capuchin community in Ireland was established in Dublin. The Cork friary was destroyed in 1644 but reopened in 1649. It may have stood on the same site as the later South Friary, on Blackamoor Lane, in what is now Cork’s South Parish.

The South Friary was built in 1771 by Father Arthur O’Leary, who described this church as ‘remarkable for its dwarfish dimensions, its utter want of architectural grace, and its perfect seclusion from the public gaze.’

Theobald Mathew arrived in Cork in 1814 and became an active social crusader, working among the city’s poor. He decided to replace the cramped South Friary with a new church. The plan by the architect George Richard Pain – who also designed Blackrock Castle, nearby Christchurch and the courthouse on Washington Street – was chosen in 1825. Pain, a former apprentice of the architect John Nash, was awarded the contract for £50.

The city offered a site on Sullivan’s Quay, but Theobald Mathew opted for a site on Charlotte Quay, now Father Mathew Quay. This required draining the marshy ground on Morrison’s Island and a building a foundation that would bear the weight of the church building.

Holy Trinity was designed by Pain in a simple English Gothic Revival, or Regency Gothic, style. Pain made extensive use of arched windows, flying buttresses and columns, culminating in a tapering ‘lacy Gothic spire, seemingly more air than stone.’

The preparation of the site cost almost £1,600, and the estimated cost of building the church was £10,000. Two other churches – Saint Patrick’s, Lower Glanmire Road, and Saint Mary’s Dominican church on Pope’s Quay – were being built in the city at the same time and so there was a competition for funds at a time when the city was stricken by an outbreak of cholera.

The foundation stone was laid on 10 October 1832, Father Mathew’s birthday. Pain died in 1838, and Thomas Coakley took charge of the project. The cost of the church had spiralled to £14,000 by 1840, and work stalled in 1841.

Following the Great Famine, a public meeting in Cork agreed to continue work on Holy Trinity. The architect Thomas Deane was chosen to complete the church without its portico and spire; William Atkins took responsibility for the interior.

The church finally opened on 10 October 1850. But the interior was only completed 10 years after Father Mathew’s death, about 1866, and the portico remained unfinished. The sculptor John Hogan produced two carved heads flanking the main door.

There were several suggestions over the following two decades for completing the façade. Eventually, a design by Dominic (or Dominick) J Coakley was selected. This design has similar to Pain’s but on a smaller scale. The construction work was carried out by John Sisk of Cork.

The work on Holy Trinity was completed in time for the centenary of Father Matthew’s birthday and the church reopened on 13 October 1890.

The north window, behind the high altar, is dedicated to Daniel O'Connell and was installed in 1850, three years after his death. Two other stained glass windows, likely by the same artist, depict the Virgin Mary and the coat of arms of Pope Leo XIII.

A stained-glass window in the east wall, commissioned by the Cork and District Trades and Labour Council, was produced by Joshua Clarke to a design by his son Harry Clarke. Two other windows were also commissioned from Harry Clarke and his brother Walter.

The church was entirely renovated at a cost of £500,000 in 1982. This included replacing the casings around the cast-iron columns with slender wooden casings and removing the original pulpit, high altar and confessionals. The interior porch was extended in 2013.

The friary on the west side of the church was designed by Robert Walker in the Venetian Gothic style and was completed in 1884-1888.

The Scots Church, a former Presbyterian church, is now the Cobh Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The Scots Church, a former Presbyterian church, rises above Cobh harbour and is a feature on the skyline of Cobh, above the WatersEdge Hotel, where I was staying last week.

The building is a former Gothic Revival church, with three-bay nave, single-bay vestry to the east and a three-stage, stepped tower with an octagonal limestone spire with consoles on the south side.

Tenders were invited for a new church in April 1851, it was designed in the Early English style by the Cork-born architect Henry Hill (1807-1887), and it was completed by October 1855.

Henry Hill was the second surviving son of the architect Thomas Hill and a younger brother of William Hill. Henry may possibly have received part of his architectural training in London, and he returned to Cork in 1827.

He probably worked for a time in George Richard Pain’s office after his return to Cork, and his brother William Hill may also have worked for Pain.

Henry Hill died at the age of 80 in 1887 and was buried in Cloyne Cathedral on 30 May 1887. His pupils and assistants included his nephews William Henry Hill and Richard Arthur Hill, and he was the great-grandfather of Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe House, Co Cork.

The Scots Church in Cobh closed in 1965, and it was gifted to Cork County Library in 1973. Cobh Museum opened in the former church in 1973. It tells the social and commercial history of Cove, Queenstown and Cobh, Great Island and Cork Harbour, with a focus on maritime and military history, and the exhibits include artefacts from the RMS Lusitania.

The main interior features of the church have survived including the pulpit, lectern, harmonium and original Bible.

The WatersEdge Hotel, Cobh, where I was staying last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Time to reflect on the
creative beauty of Saint
Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork

The West Front of Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork … the cathedral was completed in 1879 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

I have visited Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork, periodically, taking part in the installation of clergy (2013), attending ordinations (2009), preaching at the Good Friday Three Hours Devotion (2004), and delivering the annual Dr Webster Sermon (2000), sometimes staying at the Deanery as the guest of previous deans.

During those visits over the past 20 years, I had little time to visit the cathedral on my own or to take time off to enjoy it as a work of architecture and a work of art.

But last week’s visit to Cork and Cobh provided that missed opportunity to take time on my own, away from the busy-ness of church life, in this Gothic Revival cathedral on the south banks of the River Lee.

Although the cathedral was completed less than a century and a half ago, in 1879, there has been a place of worship on this site since the 7th century, when Saint Finbarr of Cork founded a monastery.

Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork … said to stand of the site of a monastery founded by Saint Barre in 606 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

According to legend, Saint Fin Barre came from Gougane Barra, at the source of the River Lee, to the marshes of Cork in 606 and founded a monastery and a monastic school on the site of the present cathedral. He died in 623 and is said to be buried in the graveyard somewhere near the east end of the present cathedral.

An earlier cathedral survived until the 12th century, by when it had either fallen into disuse or was destroyed by the Anglo-Normans and replaced in the Middle Ages.

The mediaeval cathedral was badly damaged during the Siege of Cork in 1690, and after a fire only the steeple remained intact. The crumbing cathedral was demolished in 1735 and replaced that same year by a smaller building, which retained the earlier spire. The new cathedral was newer building than both the Unitarian Church on Prince’s Street (1717) and Saint Anne’s Church, Shandon (1722-1726), which I also visited last week.

However, the Georgian cathedral, was widely regarded as plain and featureless. The Dublin Builder described it as ‘a shabby apology for a cathedral which has long disgraced Cork.’

Inside Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, facing east … the first Anglican cathedral built in these islands since Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The Church of Ireland, then on the brink of disestablishment, agreed in 1862 that Cork needed a new cathedral. The old building was demolished in 1864-1865, and work began on a new cathedral, the first major project for the Victorian architect William Burges (1827-1881), then only 35.

Burges is among the greatest of the Victorian architects, standing within the tradition of the Gothic Revival. His works echo those of the Pre-Raphaelites and herald those of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

This was the first Anglican cathedral built in these islands since Christopher Wren built Saint Paul’s Cathedral after the Great Fire of London. The foundation stone was laid on 12 January 1865, the unfinished cathedral was consecrated on Saint Andrew’s Day, 30 November 1870, and the limestone spires were completed by in 1879.

Inside Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork, facing west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The project constantly ran over budget because of exuberance on the part of Burges. But the Bishop of Cork, John Gregg, was instrumental in sourcing additional money, including local merchants, including William Crawford of the Crawford brewing family and Francis Wise, a local distiller. The original price was set at £15,000, but the total cost came to well over £100,000. br />
The cathedral is mostly built from local stone from Little Island and Fermoy. The exterior is capped by three spires: two on the west front and one above where the transept crosses the nave.

Burges designed most of the cathedral, including the sculptures, stained glass windows, mosaics and furniture. He used earlier unrealised designs for the exterior, including those intended for the Crimea Memorial Church, Istanbul, Saint John’s Cathedral, Brisbane, and elevations for Lille Cathedral.

The spires were finally completed in 1879. When Burges died in Kensington on 20 April 1881, he was only 53. His gift to his new cathedral is the Resurrection Angel, made of copper covered with gold leaf, crowning the sanctuary roof at the east end.

A group of Apostles at the west façade of Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The gilded copper ‘resurrection angel’ has become the cathedral’s most iconic feature locally, and is known to the people of Cork as the ‘goldie angel.’

Building, carving and decoration continued into the 20th century, including the marble panelling of the aisles, the installation of the reredos and side choir walls, and building the chapter house in 1915.

Burges insisted on his overarching control of the design of the architecture, statuary, stained glass and internal decorations, which gives the cathedral its unity of style. The shell of the building is mostly limestone, sourced from near Cork, with the interior walls formed from stone brought from Bath, red marble from Little Island, and purple-brown stone from Fermoy.

The sculptures total 1,260, including 32 gargoyles, each with different animal heads.

The tympanum of the cathedral draws on images in the Book of Revelation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Many of the external sculptures, including the gargoyles, were modelled by Thomas Nicholls. The entrances contain the figures of over a dozen biblical figures, capped by the tympanum.

The imagery of the tympanum is drawn from the Book of Revelation, with the divine on the upper register and mortals below. It shows an angel, accompanied by Saint John the Evangelist, measuring the Temple in Jerusalem, while beneath them the dead rise from their graves.

The designs for the west façade are based on mediaeval French iconography. The theme is The Last Judgement, with representations of the 12 Apostles bearing instruments of their martyrdom, the Resurrection of the Dead and the symbols of the Four Evangelists. On each side of the west door, are figures representing the wise and foolish virgins – the dejected foolish virgins holding their empty lamps – as they approach the bridegroom (Matthew 25: 1-13).

Five wise virgins … (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

… and five foolish virgins, on each side of the west door (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The three doors at the west front lead into the nave, with internal vaulting, arcade, triforium and clerestory, rising to a timber roof. Beyond the nave, the pulpit, choir, bishop’s throne and altar end in an ambulatory. The building is relatively short with a length of 180 ft, but the three spires allow the illusion of greater interior space.

The pulpit was completed in 1874, but not painted until 1935. Five stone relief figures represent the Four Evangelists and Saint Paul.

The pulpit was completed in 1874, but not painted until 1935 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The baptismal font is decorated with a carving of the head of Saint John the Baptist. Brass lettering reads, ‘We are buried with him by baptism into death.’

The brass lectern, a design Burges originally intended for Lille Cathedral, is decorated with the heads of Moses and David. A ‘Heroes Column’ or War Memorial lists over 400 men from the dioceses killed in battle during World War I. A processional cross, completed in 1974, is the work of the late Patrick Pye.

The decoration of the sanctuary ceiling was carried out in 1933-1935 to designs by Willliam Burges (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The elaborate colourful painting on the sanctuary ceiling was carried out in 1933-1935 to designs by Burges.

Burges designed the individual panels for each of the 74 stained-glass windows, and oversaw every stage of their production, although four windows remain incomplete.

There are two rose windows, at the west front and in the south transept The west window shows God the Creator resting on a rainbow and in the act of blessing, surrounded by eight compartments, each inspired by the scenes in the Book of Genesis, beginning with the creation of light, and ending with the birth of Eve and Adam naming the animals.

The Rose Window at the west front shows God the Creator and creations scenes inspired by the Book of Genesis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The rose window in the south transept rose, known as the ‘Heavenly Hierarchies,’ places Christ the King in the centre surrounded by angels, archangels and cherubim.

The organ was built in 1870 by William Hill & Sons.

A major restoration of the cathedral at the end of the 20th century cost £5 million and included reinstating and restoring the twin trumpets held by the resurrection angel that had been vandalised in 1999.

Today, Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral is a living community of liturgy and prayer, enriched by a centuries-old choral tradition. The Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross is the Right Revd Dr Paul Colton, the Dean of Cork is the Very Revd Nigel Dunne, and the Revd Ted Ardis is the Dean’s Vicar.

The Cathedral Eucharist is celebrated at 8 a.m. (said) and 11.15 (sung) on Sundays, Choral Evensong is at 15.30, and there is Morning Prayer and the mid-day Eucharist daily throughout the week. The cathedral is open to visitors daily.

The Resurrection Angel, the cathedral’s most iconic feature locally, was the gift of William Burges to his new cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)