22 September 2017

A friary that remains
part of the Pugin
legacy in Killarney

The Franciscan Friary on College Street is part of the Pugin legacy in Killarney (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

At the beginning and the end of our journey out into the Dingle Peninsula in Co Kerry this week, I stopped briefly to admire the Franciscan Friary on College Street in Killarney, which was completed 150 years ago and is one of the few works in Ireland by AWN Pugin’s son, Edward Welby Pugin (1834-1875).

Following the death of his father in 1852, Edward Welby Pugin was involved in completing some of AWN Pugin’s works in Ireland, including the High Altar and reredos (1854) in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney.

He returned to Killarney a decade later to design the Franciscan Friary, where work in 1854. On the feast of Saint Patrick, 17 March 1864, Bishop Moriarty laid the foundation-stone of the church. The stone was taken from the ruins of Muckross Abbey and was carried through the streets of Killarney by young boys wearing the Franciscan habit.

The site was cleared for the Friary in 1865, with many local people volunteering for the digging, excavating and levelling work. In one week alone, more than 200 men were engaged in such generous work.

By the end of July 1867, the church was ready for use, and a Solemn High Mass was celebrated Pugin’s new friary church on the feast of the Portiuncula, 2 August 1867. The liturgical life of the Friary had begun.

However, the church was not consecrated not until the following year, on l8 February 1868, when Bishop Moriarty was assisted by the Bishop Butler of Limerick. The new church was dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity, the title of the old Muckross Abbey.

The church is simple in style with a lofty arched ceiling and strong oak panelling. The ornate high altar is Flemish in style. It was designed by J Janssen of St Trond, Limbourg, Belgium, and was erected in 1871 in memory of Father Patrick Verherstraeten, the first Guardian of the Friary.

The two side-altars, erected in 1872, are the work of the same Belgian craftsman. He also designed the communion-rail that was presented the friary as a gift by the women of Killarney. The church also has a window from the Harry Clarke Studios dated 1930.

Meanwhile, Edward Pugin formed two successive partnerships with Irish architects: the first around 1857-1858 with James Murray as Pugin and Murray, and the second in 1860 with George Coppinger Ashlin as Pugin and Ashlin. Ashlin married Pugin’s sister Mary in 1867, and opened an office in Dublin and managed the firm’s Irish business. However, the partnership of Pugin and Ashlin was dissolved late in 1868.

Although severe damage has been done to the integrity of Pugin’s work at Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney in a wave of liturgical enthusiasm after Vatican II, the friary in Killarney remains an interesting part of the Pugin legacy in Ireland.

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