19 February 2017

An evening in Saint Mary’s Cathedral,
Limerick, for the new Precentor

Inside Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick … I was installed as Precentor at Evensong this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

At Choral Evensong in Limerick this evening, the Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe, the Right Revd Dr Kenneth Kearon, installed me as the Precentor in the Joint Chapter of the three cathedrals of the united dioceses: Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare, and Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert, Co Galway.

The preacher at this evening’s service was the Bishop of Tuam, the Right Revd Patrick Rooke, and at the same service a new Diocesan Guild of Readers was inaugurated and three new diocesan readers were commissioned.

Earlier in the day, I had led and preached at Morning Prayer in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, and presided and preached at the Eucharist in Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, in Tarbert, Co Kerry. So it has been a busy and fulfilling Sunday for me in south-west Ireland, and it was good to see so many friends and parishioners in Saint Mary’s Cathedral this evening.

Saint Mary’s Cathedral , Limerick, was founded in 1168 and is the oldest building in Limerick that is in daily use. But the story of the cathedral stretched back much further.

The Synod of Ráth Breasail agreed in 1111 that ‘Saint Mary’s Church’ would become the cathedral church of the Diocese of Limerick. According to tradition, Domnall Mór Ua Briain, the last King of Munster founded the present cathedral on the site of his palace on King’s Island in 1168.

This palace had been built on the site of the Viking meeting place, or Thingmote – the most westerly Viking European stronghold. This had been the centre of government in the early mediaeval Viking city. Parts of the palace may be incorporated into the present structure of the cathedral, most prominently the great west door. Tradition says this was the original main entrance to the royal palace.

Today, the West Door is now only used on ceremonial occasions. For centuries, the Bishops of Limerick have knocked on the West Door and entered the cathedral here as part of their ceremony of enthronement.

The tower of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, which is 136.58 meters (20 feet) high, was added in the 14th century.

The five large chandeliers that hang from the ceiling are lit only on special occasions. The larger three were made in Dublin and presented by Limerick Corporation in 1759.

The belfry holds a peal of eight bells, six of which were presented by William Yorke, mayor of Limerick, in 1673.

The cathedral’s original 13 ft Pre-Reformation high altar is the largest altar of its kind in Ireland and Britain, and was carved from a single limestone block. The altar was reinstated in the 1960s and is now in the Lady Chapel.

In 1968, two special postage stamps marked the cathedral’s 800th anniversary.

A large £2.5 million restoration programme was undertaken in 1991-1996 and restoration work continues to this day, with the restoration of the carved pulpit completed in recent months. The cathedral is open every day.

Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare … restored in 2001 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Flannan’s Cathedral in Killaloe, Co Clare, dates from the transition between the Romanesque and Gothic periods of architecture. The font is decorated with arabesque ornaments.

A £200,000 restoration project, involving the repair of a Romanesque doorway and the reconstruction of a 12th-century high cross, was completed in 2001. The Kilfenora Cross, embedded in the walls of the cathedral in the 1930s, is an imposing 12-ft monument and now stands in the nave of the cathedral.

The West Door of Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert … the crowning achievement of Hiberno-Romanesque church architecture (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert, Co Galway, was built in the 12th century on the site of an earlier sixth century church founded by Saint Brendan, who was buried here at monastery he had founded.

The earliest part of Saint Brendan’s dates back to ca 1180. The West Doorway is regarded as the crowning achievement of the Hiberno-Romanesque style of church architecture. It is in six orders, and has a large variety of motifs, foliage and animal and human heads.

Above the doorway, a pointed hood encloses triangles alternating with bizarre human heads, and below this an arcade encloses more human heads.

The early 13th century east windows in the chancel is an example of a late Romanesque windows. The chancel arch was inserted in the 15th century, and is decorated with angels, a rosette and a mermaid carrying a mirror.

The supporting arches of the tower at the west end of the cathedral are also decorated with 15th century heads, and the innermost order of the Romanesque doorway was also inserted at this time. The sacristy is also 15th century.

The cathedral had a Romanesque south transept, but this is now in ruins, and a Gothic north transept, which has been removed.

Inside Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick … preparing for its 850th anniversary in 2018 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen vision)

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