08 December 2022
A ‘virtual tour’ of churches
and a cathedral dedicated to
the Immaculate Conception
Earlier this week, I was offering ‘virtual tours’ of cathedrals and churches dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the real ‘Santa Claus,’ whose feast day was on Tuesday (6 December).
Today (8 December) is the Feast of the Conception of the Virgin Mary, known among Roman Catholics alone as the Immaculate Conception.
The Immaculate Conception is the belief that the Virgin Mary was free of original sin from the moment of her conception. The idea was first debated by mediaeval theologians, but was so controversial that it did not become part of official Roman Catholic teaching until 1854, when Pius IX gave it the status of dogma in the papal bull Ineffabilis Deus.
This evening, I invite you to join me on a ‘virtual tour’ of ten churches in Ireland that are dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, including one cathedral (Sligo) and nine other churches: three in Co Limerick, two in Co Clare, and one each in Co Kerry, Co Cork, Dublin and Wexford.
1, The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo:
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Temple Street, Sligo, is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Elphin. The cathedral and its tower dominate the skyline of Sligo, and the chimes of its bells peal out over the city, with Ben Bulben in the background.
The Diocese of Elphin is said to date from the fourth century. According to tradition, Ono son of Oengus offered a house to Saint Patrick ca 450, who renamed it Ail Fionn (‘Rock of the Clear Spring’) and placed his disciple, Saint Assicus, in charge.
However, it was not until the 12th century that Elphin was established as a diocese of East Connacht. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Elphin did not have a cathedral until the mid-19th century, but Saint John’s, a small parish church near the site of the Cheshire Home, had served as the pro-cathedral from 1827.
Bishop Laurence Gillooly (1819-1895) was appointed co-adjutor bishop in 1856 and succeeded George Browne as Bishop of Elphin in 1858. Sligo was then a growing, thriving town, and Bishop Gillooly became the inspiring figure in planning and building a new cathedral there.
A year after becoming diocesan bishop, Bishop Gillooly secured a renewable lease from Sir Gilbert King of two adjacent properties close to the Lungy, and beside Saint John’s Church which would become the Church of Ireland cathedral in 1961. One of these properties, known as the Bowling Green, became the site of the new Roman Catholic cathedral.
The cathedral was designed by the English-born architect George Goldie (1828-1887), who also designed Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church, Waterford (1876-1877). Goldie also remodelled the interior and exterior of Saint Saviour’s, the Dominican church in Limerick, and designed the High Altar and reredos in the Redemptorist Church at Mount Saint Alphonsus in Limerick.
Goldie was born in York, the grandson of the architect Joseph Bonomi the Elder. He was educated at Saint Cuthbert’s College, Ushaw, in Durham, and trained as an architect with John Grey Weightman and Matthew Ellison Hadfield of Sheffield, in 1845-1850, and then worked with them as a partner.
Goldie was joined in his architectural partnership in 1880 by his son Edward Goldie (1856-1921), whose work includes Hawkesyard Priory in Armitage, near Rugeley and six miles north-west of Lichfield, built for the Dominicans in 1896-1914, and which I knew in my late teens and early 20s.
The cathedral was built in a Norman style, and it is the only Romanesque Revival cathedral among the cathedrals of the 19th and 20th centuries in Ireland, built at a time when the fashion was for Gothic cathedrals and churches.
The main contractor was Joseph Clarence of Ballisodare, and Bishop Gillooly took complete charge of the building project when work began in 1869. The cathedral is built of cut limestone and is modelled on a Norman-Romano-Byzantine style.
Goldie designed this cathedral in the form of a basilica. Contemporaries called his design ‘Norman,’ but it is in a round-arched style that includes elements of English, German and Irish Romanesque.
2, The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Lahinch, Co Clare:
Lahinch, Co Clare, featured prominently in the recent RTÉ drama series Smother. The Church of the Immaculate Conception in the centre of Lahinch is similar in design to the Church of Our Lady and Saint Michael in neighbouring Ennistymon, and the two churches form one parish in the Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora.
An earlier church was built on this site in Lahinch by a Father Keane in the period 1830-1840. That church was extended for the parish priest, Canon McHugh, by Thomas Joseph Cullen in 1923, and a new church was planned in the 1940s, with Ralph Henry Byrne as architect.
However, it was another decade before a new church was built on the site of the original church in Lahinch.
The architects of the Church of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception were the Derry-born architects, William Henry Dunlevy McCormick (1916-1996) and Francis Michael (Frank) Corr, who also designed the new church for Ennistymon in 1947.
Liam McCormick was one of the founders of modern Irish architectural movement and also one of the most important church architects in Northern Ireland. He was responsible for designing 27 church buildings and many commercial and state buildings. These include the iconic Met Éireann building in Glasnevin, Dublin, and Saint Aengus’s Church in Burt, Co Donegal, was voted Ireland’s ‘Building of the 20th century’ in 1999.
The church in Lahinch was built in 1952-1954 by Farmer Brothers of Dublin at a cost of £38,000. The cornerstone was laid in November 1952 and the church was opened in March 1954.
The church is oriented south/north rather than east/west, and faces onto to the Main Street in Lahinch.
Today, the church looks the worse for wear, and has suffered over the past half century. But inside the church has an impressive three-light stained-glass window by George W Walsh, depicting the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Presentation, in memory of the Dixon family, and a circular window by Walsh above the entrance depicting the Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception. Both windows date from 1995.
3, The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Bruree, Co Limerick:
Bruree, Co Limerick, is best-known as the childhood home of Eamon de Valera. The Church of the Immaculate Conception was built in 1922-1925, when Father John Breen was the parish priest, and was officially opened on 26 April 1925.
The foundation stone to the left of the main door of the church was laid by Bishop Denis Hallinan of Limerick on 8 December 1922. The inscription says Samuel Francis Hynes from Cork was the architect and Jeremiah J Coffey from Midleton, Co Cork, was the builder.
The church is built in the Hiberno-Romanesque style, with limestone from nearby Tankardstown, in Kilmallock.
This church is oriented on a north-south axis, instead of the traditional east-west liturgical axis. It has a fine interior with stained-glass windows, a well-carved timber roof and marble colonnades. These features add architectural significance to the church and are a testimony the skilled craftsmanship used in its construction.
This is a gable-fronted church, with a seven-bay nave and six-bay side aisles, two transepts, and gable-fronted porches that have chamfered corners, and a distinctive, square-plan three-stage tower at the front, to the right of the main door, with a battered base, a large open bell chamber and a short spire.
The snecked limestone walls have a stringcourse and an inscribed plaque at the front.
There are four, round-headed lancet windows above the double-leaf, timber battened front doors, with a stained-glass oculus above them. There are stained glass oculi in the nave too.
4, The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Kanturk, Co Cork:
The Church of the Immaculate Conception, beside the Courthouse in Kanturk, Co Cork, was built in 1867 in the transitional Gothic style, designed by John Pine Hurley, an architect who practised in Cork from the 1850s or earlier until the 1870s.
Hurley’s first major commission came in 1856 when Bishop Timothy Murphy appointed him architect for the new Saint Colman’s College in Fermoy. Two years later, he designed improvements to the chapel of Saint Mary’s Convent, Cobh, in 1858, and in 1867 he designed the new Catholic church and convent schools at Kanturk. Nothing is known of Hurley in Cork after the mid-1870s, and he may have moved to Dublin or have emigrated.
Hurley’s church in Kanturk was completed in 1867 at a cost of £11,000. It stands in an extensive church campus with a graveyard, convent and school. The convent and school on the site were built at a cost of £4,000. The builder, JE Devlin of Bantry, later went bankrupt.
This is an imposing Gothic-style church that is oriented on a west-east axis rather than the traditional liturgical east-west axis. It has fine craft work in its exterior details, and retains many original features such as the stained-glass windows, carved limestone detailing and timber batten doors.
The gable-fronted church has a projecting entrance frontispiece, a seven-bay nave, a single-bay chancel, recessed six-bay side aisles with gabled porches at the east (liturgical west) ends, a gabled sacristy, a two-bay transept, and gabled confessional projections.
It is built with cut tooled limestone walls with a moulded plinth, and there are buttresses at the corners and between the clerestory windows.
The church has pointed arch windows, trefoil lights, stained-glass, chamfered limestone surrounds, hood-mouldings and carved tracery. The chancel has a traceried six-light window and rose window, with a trefoil at the top of the gable. There are latticed lancet windows in the porches with hood-mouldings.
The order arch style entrance doorway, with timber battened doors, has a shallow gable, a tympanum with triangular window opening, and pair of door openings divided by and flanked by engaged colonnettes with decorative capitals and surmounted by a quatrefoil panel with an inscribed date plaque. All this is flanked by paired short lancet windows with hood-mouldings.
A freestanding ashlar limestone bell tower stands to the north-west of the church.
5, The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Knightstown, Valentia Island, Co Kerry:
The Church of the Immaculate Conception on the Promenade in Knightstown was paid for by the people who worked at the Cable Station on Valentia Island and by local people.
The church was designed in the Gothic-revival style by Ashlin and Coleman, the architectural partnership of George Coppinger Ashlin (1837-1921) and Thomas Aloysius Coleman (1865-1950). Ashlin was noted for his work on churches and cathedrals throughout Ireland, including Saint Coleman’s Cathedral, Cobh, and was AWN Pugin’s son-in-law.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception was built in 1914 and dedicated on 1 August 1915. This is a cruciform-plan, double-height, Gothic Revival church. It is oriented on a west/east axis instead of the traditional east/west liturgical axis, but this gives beautiful views of the sea to people as they leave the church by the front door.
The church has a three-bay nave, single-bay transepts at the north and south sides, a two-bay chancel at the west gable end, a two-bay single-storey sacristy projection, an entrance bay at the east gable end, and a single-bay, two-stage corner turret at the north-east, with an octagonal plan, a limestone ashlar open belfry at the upper stage and a spirelet above.
The roofs, appropriately, are of pitched Valentia slate. There are decorative ridge tiles, cut-stone coping at the gables with finials, a coursed rubble stone chimneystack and a limestone ashlar flue.
The coursed rubble stone walls have a continuous cut-limestone sill course and cut-limestone brackets at the eaves. There is a base batter at the plinth of the turret with cut-stone coping and the cut-limestone open belfry at the upper stage.
The church has lancet arch windows with limestone sills, cut-limestone block-and-start surrounds, and metal-framed diamond-leaded windows.
The lancet arch door at the east gable end (the liturgical west end) has a cut-limestone, block-and-start, fielded doorcase with timber double doors. There are paired lancet arch window openings and a rose window over the entrance.
Inside the church, the full-height interior opens into the open scissors-truss timber roof. There are decorative tiles on the floor, timber pews, carved timber Stations of the Cross, a pointed-arch chancel arch on moulded corbels, and an organ that came from an opera house in Piccadilly, London. The sanctuary was refurbished in the 1960s to meet the needs of the liturgical reforms introduced by Vatican II.
The five-light traceried window above the altar in the west end (liturgical east) is filled with a stained-glass window made by the Earley Studios in Dublin 1916-1917. The window was donated to the church by the Galvin family of the Royal Valentia Hotel in Knightstown.
6, The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Ballingarry, Co Limerick:
The Church of the Immaculate Conception in Ballingarry is one of a handful of churches in Co Limerick designed by AWN Pugin’s Irish successor, James Joseph McCarthy (1817-1882).
McCarthy’s other churches in Co Limerick include Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church in Baker’s Place, Limerick; Saint Senanus Church, Foynes; Saint Mary’s Church, Rathkeale; and the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Kilmallock. He also remodelled and enlarged the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Newcastle West and designed Cahermoyle House for the family of William Smith O’Brien.
McCarthy completed Pugin’s work at Maynooth and Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney, and his other cathedrals and churches include Saint Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, Saint Macartan’s Cathedral, Monaghan, the Cathedral of the Assumption, Thurles, Saint Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh, the ‘Twin Churches’ in Wexford, Saint Catherine’s Church, Dublin, and the Passionist Church in Mount Argus.
The spire of McCarthy’s church in Ballingarry can be seen for miles around. This is a fine late 19th century church, prominently sited, and it continues to have a strong presence in the Ballingarry streetscape, providing a focus in the area.
The church was built on the site of an earlier T-plan Catholic chapel in Ballingarry, and was dedicated in 1879. The coherent decorative scheme is marked by its elaborate tower that unifies the Gothic style of the building. The rusticated masonry, which was popular in church architecture of the time, adds a textural interest, balanced by the tooled limestone dressings.
The interior reflects the Gothic style of the exterior and is also highly decorative, with ornate tiling on the floor and sophisticated carpentry in the roof. The mosaics on the chancel walls and the ornate corbels further enliven the interior. The arcade of finely carved marble columns adds another element of richness and colour to the interior of the church. The piers and gates at the front of the church are highly ornate and continue the Gothic Revival idiom of the site.
According to Patrick J O’Connor, in his Exploring Limerick’s Past, the first Roman Catholic Church at Ballingarry stood on the same site from the early 18th century.
When Father James Enraght was appointed parish priest of Ballingarry in 1851, he was in America raising money to build a new church in his then parish of Askeaton. He then started building a new church in Ballingarry, and the foundation stone was laid in 1872. The church was completion of the church was supervised by his successor, Father Timothy Shanahan, and the new church was consecrated on 7 September 1879.
The High Altar is the work of Edmund Sharp (1853-1930), and in 1890s Pugin’s son-in-law George Coppinger Ashlin (1837-1921) drafted proposals for a ‘throne’ to the High Altar. The builder was Michael Walsh of Foynes, who also worked with McCarthy on this churches in Foynes, Rathkeale and Kilmallock.
The church has an eight-bay nave, two transepts, a hexagonal turret, a gable-fronted porch, a four-stage square-plan battered tower, and a gable-fronted chancel with flanking side chapels. There is a four-bay side aisle, a single-storey over basement sacristy and a canted side chapel.
The pitched slate roof has a fish-scale pattern, cast-iron ridge crestings, limestone brackets and limestone copings with cross finials. The sacristy has a limestone chimney-stack.
The church has rusticated sandstone walls with tooled limestone quoins, buttresses, limestone plaques, trefoil-headed lancet stained-glass windows with limestone hood-mouldings, and Corinthian style columns with banded marble shafts, timber panelled doors with ornate cast-iron strap hinges, and a timber scissors truss ceiling.
The chapels and transepts have oculi, the entrance has a timber gallery, and the floors have geometric tiles. The sandstone and limestone tower has limestone turrets and a cast-iron spire.
Father Ronald Costelloe restored the church in 1991.
7, The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Newcastle West, Co Limerick:
The Church of the Immaculate Conception in Newcastle West, Co Limerick, was built in 1828 on a site donated by the Earl of Devon along with a sum of £1,400, which covered half the costs of the original church.
The church was extended in the 1860s, when the Gothic style façade with its impressive rose window was erected, and a new sanctuary and Lady Chapel were also added.
The architect James J McCarthy designed the extension and façade. The bell tower was raised in height in 1885.
The stained glass windows depicting the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in the centre lancet, and Saint Bridget and Saint Ita in the two lancets on the right, and Saint Munchin and Saint Patrick in the two lancets on the left, were put into the large Gothic window behind the High Altar in 1894 in memory of Dean O’Brien.
The interior details include diverse forms of plasterwork on the ceilings. These are of considerable artistic achievement, and are highlighted by an ornate plaster medallion and pendant.
8, The Franciscan Church of the Immaculate Conception, Merchants’ Quay, Dublin:
The Franciscan Church of the Immaculate Conception on Merchants’ Quay, Dublin, is better known to Dubliners as ‘Adam and Eve’s’ or simply as ‘Merchants’ Quay.’
The Franciscans have been in the south side of Dublin since mediaeval times. At the dissolution of monastic houses during the Tudor Reformation, King Henry VIII, the Franciscan Friary at Francis Street, on the site of the current church of Saint Nicholas of Myra, Francis Street, was confiscatedca 1640, and the Franciscan community was dispersed.
A new friary was built on Cook Street in 1615, and was Ireland’s first post-Reformation seminary. A chapel on the site was destroyed in 1629, and the friars did not return to the area until 1757, when they bought a house on Merchants’ Quay. At first, the Franciscans secretly said Mass in the Adam and Eve Tavern, giving the present church its popular name. A newer church was built in 1759, and this was later replaced by the current church.
After Catholic Emancipation in 1829, the friars set about building a new church and laid the foundation stone of the current church in 1834. The church was designed in 1852 by the architect Patrick Byrne, who planned a tower at the Merchants’ Quay entrance. However, because of financial problems, the church was built without a nave or tower.
The church was originally dedicated to Saint Francis, but was rededicated to the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady in 1889.
The church was reorganised after 1900 by moving of the altar to the left wall and the original sanctuary was changed into a transept and an entrance from Cook Street. A small nave was added to the right and a dome built over the sanctuary.
A shrine to Saint Anthony, designed by the architects Doolin, Butler and Donnelly, was built in 1912. To mark the seventh centenary of Saint Francis in 1926, the friars built a circular apse, remodelled the transepts and extended the nave with an entrance to Skipper’s Alley. This work was designed by JJ O’Hare.
The high altar was consecrated in 1928. The granite bell tower added in 1930 was probably designed by JJ Robinson and RC Keefe, and is crowned by a pedimented temple with columns.
In recent years, the Franciscans of Merchants’ Quay have been closely identified with the work of the Simon Community and addiction and counselling services.
9, The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Ennis, Co Clare:
The old Franciscan Friary in Ennis, Co Clare, is now an archaeological site managed by the Office of Public Works. But the Franciscans maintain a living presence in the town in their friary on Francis Street.
The Franciscans began to return to Ennis in the 18th century, and they were living again as a community in Lysaght’s Lane by 1800. They then moved to Bow Lane, where they opened a new chapel in 1830.
The Franciscan Provincial threatened to close the friary in Ennis in 1853 unless conditions were improved. The Franciscan community in Ennis responded by buying the present site at Willow Bank House on Francis Street and in 1854 Patrick Sexton designed a new, cruciform chapel built by the Ennis builder William Carroll in 1854-1855.
The first Mass in the new church was celebrated on 1 January 1856, and the church was dedicated as the Church of the Immaculate Conception on 10 September 1856.
At the end of the 19th century, a new friary church, designed by William Reginald Carroll (1850-1910) and incorporating Sexton’s earlier church, was built in the Gothic Revival style in 1892. Carroll designed the new friary church in Ennis in the 14th-century Gothic style, with a nave, apse, two side chapels and a tower. The altar was designed by the Dublin-based monumental sculptor, James Pearse (1839-1900), father of the 1916 leader, Padraic Pearse (1879-1916).
The church was built by a local builder, Dan Shanks, at a cost of £11,000, and was dedicated on 11 June 1892.
The church is a T-plan, gable-fronted church, with a polygonal apse, a tower to the west, and a connecting block that leads to the neighbouring friary.
A statue of the Virgin Mary stands in a niche on the façade and is flanked by lancet windows with stone tracery, and with a quatrefoil and hood moulding above. Paired lancet windows are set between the buttresses.
Inside, the church has an open timber roof, with tongue and groove sheeting. There are four polished granite columns with carved stylised ivy capitals that divide the nave from the transepts. The stained-glass windows are by Earley.
The foundation stone of the earlier church on the site is set in the grotto beside the church.
The friary site includes the site of the birthplace of William Mulready (1786-1863), the Ennis-born artist who studied at the Royal Academy and designed the first penny postage envelope, introduced by the Royal Mail at the same time as the ‘Penny Black’ stamp in May 1840.
10, The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Rowe Street, Wexford:
When I was living on School Street and then on High Street in Wexford 50 years ago, I was living within sound of the chimes of Rowe Street church. Until the Theatre Royal on High Street was rebuilt as the National Opera House, the skyline of Wexford was dominated by the town’s great Gothic Revival churches known as the ‘Twin Churches’: the Church of the Immaculate Conception or Rowe Street Church, on the corner of Upper Rowe Street and Lower John Street; and the Church of the Assumption or Bride Street Church, on the corner of Bride Street and Joseph Street.
The twin churches are architectural masterpieces by Wexford’s own Gothic Revival architect, Richard Pierce (1801-1854) from Kilmore. Pierce’s earliest churches include Saint Mary Magdalene’s Catholic Church, Bunclody (Newtownbarry), which was built in 1825-1826 and demolished in 1970, Saint Mary’s Church, Kilmyshall (1831), outside Bunclody, and All Saints’ Church, Castledockrell (1840). By the 1830s and 1840s, he was working closely with AWN Pugin (1812-1852) on his churches throughout Co Wexford, and during that time he developed his own interpretation of Gothic Revival.
Pierce designed the collegiate wing of Saint Peter’s College on Summerhill Road, Wexford, in 1832-1837. While he was completing this collegiate wing, Pugin was invited to Wexford to attend the blessing of the foundation stone of the chapel. Pugin had come to Wexford through the Talbot and Redmond family connections with the Talbots, Earls of Shrewsbury, who were his patrons in Staffordshire. Pugin appointed Pierce as his clerk-of-works to oversee the work on his chapel (1838-1841), which is Pugin’s earliest urban church in Ireland.
From then until 1850, Pierce was Pugin’s clerk-of-works in Ireland, overseeing the construction of all his projects in Ireland in that period, including Saint Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy (1843-1850).