14 June 2021

Saint Brendan’s Church,
Loughrea, a former church
and now the town library

Inside Saint Brendan’s Church, Loughrea, Co Galway, designed by James Pain in 1821, stands on the site of a mediaeval church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

The former Church of Ireland parish church on Church Street in Loughrea, Co Galway – like the Roman Catholic Cathedral on Barrack Street – is named in honour of Saint Brendan, the patron saint of the Diocese of Clonfert.

The former parish church, now the town library, and the surrounding churchyard, stand on the site of the earlier pre-Reformation church in Loughrea.

In the early 14th century, the ‘church of Loghre’ is recorded in 1305. Two decorated grave slabs at the back of the church date from the 13th or 14th century, and are regarded as evidence of a mediaeval parish church on the site.

The Revd Walter Shirley (1726-1786), who was the Rector of Loughrea in the latter half of the 18th century, was a descendant of the Ferrers family of Tamworth Castle and was ordained in the Diocese of Lichfield. He is remembered as a Calvinist hymnwriter, a supporter of his cousin the Countess of Hungtingdon, a controversial and divisive figure in the Methodist movement, and for his constant conflicts with episcopal authority in the Church of Ireland.

The Shirley family was rocked in 1760 by one of the great society scandals of the day, when his eldest brother, Laurence Shirley (1720-1760), the fourth Earl Ferrers, was hanged at Tyburn for murdering his steward.

The former chancel in Saint Brendan’s Church, Loughrea (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Although some of Walter Shirley’s children were born in Loughrea, he was often absent from his parish in Co Galway, mainly due to his activities as a revivalist preacher, which brought him repeatedly into conflict with his bishop and fellow clergy. He was also a chaplain to his cousin, the Countess of Huntingdon.

The Bishop of Clonfert, Walter Cope, censured Shirley in 1778 and advised him to abandon his Methodism, and some clergy in the Church of Ireland petitioned the Archbishop of Dublin, John Cradock, to reprimand him for preaching in the Bethesda Chapel and the Plunkett Street Chapel in Dublin.

The Revd Charles Robert Maturin (1780-1824), a former curate of Loughrea (1803), was born in Dublin of Huguenot ancestry, and published six novels. His best-known book, Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) is a Gothic-style novel on the theme of the ‘Wandering Jew’ and influenced contemporary European writing.

Saint Brendan’s is now the town library in Loughrea (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The present church building is a Gothic revival church attributed to the Limerick-based architect James Pain (1779-1877), and was built in 1821-1825 with a loan of £1846.3.1 from the Board of First Fruits.

Originally, the church had a spire, but this was struck by lightning in 1832, two hours before the Advent service was due to begin, and collapsed. The tower and roof were rebuilt at a cost of £169.

The former parish church is a natural focal point in this part of the town. It has retained its original ecclesiastical character to the exterior and much to the interior, despite the change of use. It is enhanced by the finely carved masonry detailing, and the finials to the gables are somewhat unusual.

The church was designed as a cruciform-plan church, with a single-bay nave and transepts, a three-stage tower at the front, and a slightly recessed lower vestry and porch at the corners of the nave and chancel.

Inside Saint Brendan’s Church, Loughrea, looking west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

There are pitched slate roofs with carved corbelled pinnacles at the gables of the chancel and the transepts, carved limestone crenellations and corner pinnacles on the tower tower, and hipped slate roofs on the vestry and the porch.

The building has coursed squared snecked rubble limestone walls, with ashlar walls and stepped buttresses at the tower corners, and a stepped plinth course at the south side of the tower. There are double-light round-headed windows at the sides of the top stage of the tower, with tooled surrounds, hood-mouldings, and timber louvres.

The bottom stage of the tower has lancet window on the south side and a stunted lancet on the north side, with dressed surrounds, tooled hood-mouldings and leaded multiple-pane windows.

There is a triple-light round headed window at the front of middle stage of tower, with two oculi to spandrels, hood-moulding above, and latticed stained glass, with a dressed surround set in a shallow round-headed recess with a hood-moulding, crenellation detail at the base, and a tooled rectangular date plaque with an inscription on the apron.

The pointed arch windows in the nave have dressed surrounds, tooled hood-mouldings and timber windows. The Tudor arch doorway at the front of the tower has a stepped scalloped carved surround, a tooled hood-moulding, and a double-leaf timber battened door.

A Tudor arch former doorway on the north side of the tower, is now infilled to create window, and it has a tooled surround and timber window.

Inside, there are smooth rendered walls and ceiling, some white marble commemorative plaques and slabs, brass plaques, and a gallery.

The O’Grady monument in Saint Brendan’s Church, Loughrea (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The monuments and plaques that have remained in the church include ones that commemorate William Thomas Le Poer Trench (1803-1872), 3rd Earl of Clancarty, and his wife, Lady Sarah Juliana Butler; the Hon and Ven William O’Grady, Archdeacon of Kilmacduagh, a younger son of Standish O’Grady, 1st Viscount Guillamore, and his wife Isabella Sabina; and the Revd Eric Anderson, who died after 10 months as rector of the parish, but who initiated the restoration of the church in 1930-1931.

Two marble plaques inscribed with the Ten Commandments stand on either side of the chancel arch.

Churchgoers here in the past are said to have included Lady Gregory (1852-1932) of Coole Park, Gort, a founder of the Abbey Theatre, a patron of WB Yeats, and a key figure in the Irish literary revival.

Perhaps the most unusual burial in the churchyard is of Djiu Be Fiu, a Chinese circus performer, who died tragically in Loughrea Lake on 27 August 1936.

The church closed in 1990 and was leased to Galway County Council. Like Saint Colman’s Church in the neighbouring town of Gort, also designed by James Pain, Saint Brendan’s Church in Loughrea now serves as the town library.

When it closed, it was intended that occasional services would still be held in Saint Brendan’s Church.

The Clancarty monument in Saint Brendan’s Church, Loughrea (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
16, the Duomo, Florence

The Duomo of Florence and the Palazzo Vecchio seen from the terraces of the Uffizi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

This week my photographs are of seven cathedrals in Italy. This morning (14 June 2021), my photographs are of the Duomo or Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.

With its Duomo and baptistry, palazzi and basilicas, the Uffizi and the Ponte Vecchio, Florence was ‘the engine room of the Renaissance’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I have visited Florence, the city of architectural beauty and Renaissance grandeur, on a number of occasions. With its Duomo and baptistry, palazzi and basilicas, the Uffizi and the Ponte Vecchio, it outdid its rivals and its richest citizens sought to outdo one another. This was ‘the engine room of the Renaissance.’

The cathedral complex in the Piazza del Duomo includes the Duomo, the Baptistry and Giotto’s Campanile. The dome of the Duomo is the city’s iconic landmark and stands, alongside the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Coliseum in Rome as Italy’s three most photographed sites.

Work on building the Duomo or Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower) began in 1296. It was designed in a Gothic style by Arnolfo di Cambio and was completed by 1436 with the dome by Filippo Brunelleschi.

The exterior walls of the Duomo are faced in alternate vertical and horizontal bands of polychrome marble from Carrara (white), Prato (green), Siena (red), Lavenza and other places. The original façade, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio but usually attributed to Giotto, was begun 20 years after Giotto’s death.

The great brick dome of the Duomo is the city’s iconic landmark and stands alongside the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Coliseum in Rome as one of Italy’s three most photographed sites. The dome, built in 1436 by Filippo Brunelleschi, is comprised of two domes – an outer and inner shell bound together with rings of sandstone.

This also the city of Michelangelo, who had a fraught relationship with the Medici family and designed the Medici mausoleum in the Basilica di San Lorenzo. Michelangelo fell from favour when he supported a rebellion against his own masters.

The octagonal, 11th century Baptistry of Saint the Baptist stands across the square in Piazza di San Giovanni. It is older than the cathedral and was built between 1059 and 1128. It has the status of a minor basilica in its own right.

The Baptistry is renowned for its three sets of bronze doors with relief sculptures. The south doors were created by Andrea Pisano and the north and east doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Michelangelo named the east doors the ‘Gates of Paradise.’ Dante and other Renaissance figures, including members of the Medici family, were baptised in the Baptistry.

The original façade, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio but usually attributed to Giotto, was begun 20 years after Giotto’s death (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 5: 38-42 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 38 ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.’

The octagonal, 11th century Baptistry of Saint the Baptist (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (14 June 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the people of Kenya and Ethiopia, whose land is particularly vulnerable to desertification and drought. May we work to improve this situation, becoming more aware of the links between our overconsumption and climate change.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Duomo and the Baptistry of Saint the Baptist … Michelangelo named the east doors of the Baptistry the ‘Gates of Paradise’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org