20 October 2020

The Romanesque church
in Murroe, close to the
gates of Glenstal Abbey

The Church of the Holy Rosary, Murroe, Co Limerick … a Romanesque-style church designed by the Murroe-born architect Joseph P O’Malley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

The Church of the Holy Rosary is a Romanesque-style Roman Catholic parish church in the village of Murroe in East Limerick. Murroe is in the Murroe-Boher Parish, and is one of group of parishes in east Co Limerick that are in the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly and not in the Diocese of Limerick.

After visiting Glenstal Abbey at the end of the last week, I visited both Saint John’s Church, Abington, and the Church of the Holy Rosary in Murroe, both built on sites given by Sir Charles Barrington of Glenstal Castle.

The foundation stone of the church in Murroe was laid on 16 October 1904 by Thomas Fennelly, Archbishop Thomas Croke’s successor as Archbishop of Cashel and Emly. The church was dedicated in October 1906, although it was not consecrated until 1914.

The gable-fronted entrance of the church with carved sawtooth motifs (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The church was designed by the Limerick architect, Joseph P O’Malley, who was born in Murroe, for the parish priest, the Very Revd JJ Duan. It was estimated that the church would cost £7,000, and the contractor was Thomas Williams of Borrisoleigh.

This Romanesque-style church stands on a prominent site in Murroe and is a striking building, with its campanile style bellcote. The combination of red sandstone with limestone produces an attractive textured and polychromatic visual effect, while the delicate carved detailing is the work of skilled craft workers.

The church has a gable-fronted projecting entrance and a carved limestone campanile-style bellcote with marble columns and cross finial at the front (west), a four-bay nave, two-bay transepts, a canted chancel and a two-bay single-storey sacristy at the rear (east).

This entrance has an ashlar limestone surround, paired marble columns with carved limestone capitals supporting a limestone hood-moulding with carved sawtooth motifs. The double-leaf timber battened doors have wrought-iron strap hinges.

Inside the church, facing east … the interior has an exposed timber scissors truss roof (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Inside, the church has a traditional plan, and the interior features with distinctive artistic merit include profiled timber joinery and exposed timber scissors truss roof and the mosaic-tiled panels, stained-glass windows.

James Watson and Co of Youghal, Co Cork, designed 21 windows in the church between 1910 and 1922, including 15 windows with the theme of the decades of the Rosary.

In addition, there are multifoil rose stained-glass windows in the north and south transepts.

The Carrara marble high altar (the ‘Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary’) is the work of the Dublin sculptor Edmund Sharp (1853-1930) for the parish priest, Father JJ Duan.

Other features inside include the geometric tiled floor, a round-headed arcade with marble columns and render capitals, the mosaic tiling in the chancel, and the wooden balcony at the west end.

The pitched slate roofs have limestone copings, cross finials, terracotta ridge tiles and a sandstone eaves course.

Inside the church, facing west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The architect Joseph P O’Malley (1867-1933), was the youngest of the 12 children of Michael O’Malley, a farmer, and his wife, Kate Fleming O’Malley (1820-1901), into a family associated with the Round House in the centre of Limerick for generations.

Kate Fleming O’Malley was the matriarch of the family. Her four daughters became nuns, while the rest of her family and her descendants included three Irish government ministers, Donough O’Malley, the legendary Minister for Education, Des O’Malley, founded of the Progressive Democrats, and Tim O’Malley; two Mayors of Limerick, Dessie and Michael B O’Malley; and two other Limerick Corporation members, Patrick O’Malley and his son Charlie.

Kate’s granddaughter, the writer and educator Dr Pamela O’Malley (1929-2006), moved to Barcelona in 1952, and was imprisoned twice in Spain by Franco’s regime.

‘The Presentation in the Temple’ … one of the windows by James Watson themed on the decades of the Rosary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Joseph O’Malley was born in Murroe, Co Limerick, in 1867. He had BA and BE degrees and became an assistant county surveyor for Co Limerick, engineer to the Limerick Board of Guardians, engineer to Limerick No 2 District Council, and architect to Limerick District Lunatic Asylum.

He married Mary Egan of Pery Square, Limerick, in 1896. She died the following year after the birth of a daughter. He later married Mary Tooher and they had nine children. Their youngest child, Donogh O’Malley, was Minister for Education in the late 1960s.

O’Malley also had a busy private practice in Limerick, working mainly with Catholic churches and convents, including the Mercy Convent in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, as well as domestic work in Limerick, Clare, Cork, Kerry and Tipperary. He was in partnership with Horace Tennyson O’Rourke in 1908-1910.

He died in Corbally, Co Limerick, in 1933.

The three-light west window depicts the Crucifixion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Saint John’s Church,
Abington, a ‘mini-cathedral’
near Glenstal Abbey

Saint John’s Church, Abington, Co Limerick … the only Anglican church still open in the historic Diocese of Emly (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

The nearest Church of Ireland church to Glenstal is Saint John’s Church in Abington, close to the village of Murroe, Co Limerick. This is the only Anglican church still open in the historic Diocese of Emly, and today it is part of the Limerick Cathedral Group of Parishes.

Long before the Benedictines moved to Glenstal Abbey in the 1920s, the parish of Abington had an ecumenical reputation.

Dr John Jebb (1775-1833), who was the Rector of Abington in 1810-1822 and Archdeacon of Emly in 1821-1823, had a good working relationship with the Roman Catholic parish priest and together they condemned agrarian violence in 1821. He was Bishop of Limerick (1823-1833), and he is commemorated by an imposing monument in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick. Jebb’s writings laid the foundations of the Oxford Movement.

Caleb Powell (1793-1881) of Barrington’s Bridge, Whig MP for Co Limerick (1841-1847) with William Smith O’Brien and a parishioner in Abington, championed Daniel O’Connell in 1841. He was later High Sheriff of Co Limerick.

Saint John’s Church is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

This church, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, was designed by the Dublin-born architect James Rawson Carroll (1830-1911), was built in 1869-1870, and opened on 7 November 1870.

Carroll had built up a considerable country house practice as well as designing several churches and other public buildings. His works include the Molyneux Church and Asylum, Leeson Park; Saint John the Baptist Church, Clontarf; Sandford Parochial Hall; the Mageough Homes, Rathmines; the Guinness Mahon Bank in Dublin; Sligo Courthouse; Classiebawn House, Mullaghmore; the de Vesci Memorial, Abbeyleix; and many of the houses and the public clock in Ardagh, Co Longford.

Carroll’s pupils and assistants included his nephew, John Howard Pentland, Frederick Batchelor and Frederick George Hicks, who designed Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church (1938), Kilmallock, Co Limerick, which I described last week.

Saint John’s Church was designed by the architect James Rawson Carroll (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The church was financed by donations from Sir Matthew Barrington and Lord Cloncurry, and cost £1,100 to build. It was built in the English Gothic style, with a sandstone and limestone exterior and an ornately painted interior.

This Gothic-style church shows the development of church architecture from the time of the Board of First Fruits single-cell and tower arrangement. The chancel and the porches are distinguished by their ornate entrances, and they enliven the form of the church.

The well-composed fa├žade is enlivened by the use of alternating sandstone and limestone voussoirs, and sandstone dressings, and they provide textural and chromatic variation. The tower with its decorative spire provides a focal point of the Gothic Revival design.

The south porch of Saint John’s Church, Abington … once described as a ‘mini-cathedral’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The church has a four-bay nave, a three-stage square-plan tower at the south with an octagonal-plan at the upper stages, porches on the north and south side, and a chancel at the east.

There is a pitched fish-scale slate roof with cast-iron ridge crestings and limestone copings.

The snecked limestone battered walls have a limestone and sandstone plinth course and there is a sandstone stringcourse at the gable apexes on the west and east ends.

The church has a timber battened door with wrought-iron strap hinges, and the limestone threshold has cast-iron boot-scraper.

The interior of Saint John’s Church, Abington, Co Limerick

Other architectural features include blind sandstone quatrefoil motifs on the tower, a blind sandstone trefoil motif at the apex of the west front, a pointed arch opening at the west end, limestone hood-mouldings, sandstone Corinthian-style engaged columns with limestone plinths and capitals, a rose window with quatrefoil and sexfoil stained glass windows, sandstone trefoil motifs, alternating limestone and sandstone voussoirs, pointed arch openings, stained-glass windows, a shouldered square-headed opening to north porch, stained-glass windows, and an oculus at the chancel.

The tower has a pointed arch opening with sandstone and limestone hood-mouldings, and stained-glass windows, mouldings, and Corinthian style engaged columns.

This church was once described as a ‘mini-cathedral.’ In acknowledgment of the fact that this is the only parish church that remains open in the historic Diocese of Emly, the church was recently rededicated to Saint John and Saint Ailbe.

The Covid-19 pandemic restrictions have dampened many of the events to mark the 150th anniversary, but the celebrations have continued this year.

The church was recently rededicated to Saint John and Saint Ailbe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)