02 August 2018

Saint Columba’s Church,
Ennis, the last church built
before disestablishment

Saint Columba’s Church, Drumcliffe, on Bindon Street, is the Church of Ireland parish church in Ennis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Ennis, Co Clare yesterday [1 August 2018], I was shown around Saint Columba’s Church, Drumcliffe, the Church of Ireland parish church, by Canon Bob Hanna, who retired later this month as Rector of the Drumcliffe Group of Parishes and as Canon Chancellor of the three cathedrals in the diocese, Limerick, Killaloe and Clonfert.

Bob and I have been friends for many years, and he invited me to preach at his Harvest Thanksgiving Service many years. So it was interesting to reacquaint myself with this beautiful parish church close to the town centre of Ennis and the banks of the River Fergus.

The Church of Ireland parish in Ennis retains the ancient parish name of Drumcliffe, and is a small parish within the Diocese of Killaloe in the Church of Ireland. It is an historical curiosity as the last Anglican church built in Ireland before the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland under the Irish Church Act 1869, but is also interesting because of the reredos which is the work of the artist Catherine O’Brien.

Drumcliffe Union covers a vast area from Shannon Airport in south Co Clare to Galway Bay in north Clare and Kilkee and Spanish Point in west, taking in the Burren plateau and including Saint Fachan’s Cathedral Church, Kilfenora, with its Celtic high crosses.

The two parish groupings, Kilnasoolagh and Drumcliffe, sit amid a network of historical and church sites and within a European Conservation Area that boasts breath-taking Atlantic coastal scenery.

Saint Columba’s Church, designed by Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon, is the last Anglican church built in Ireland before the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Saint Columba’s Church was built between 1868 and 1871 as the new church for Drumcliffe Parish. Until then, the main Church of Ireland parish in Ennis had been located in the nave of the former Franciscan Friary church.

Ennis town developed in the area of the mediaeval parish of Drumcliffe, of ‘hill of the basket.’ The Irish names given for Ennis include Inish-Cluain Raamh-fada, meaning the ‘meadow of the long rowing,’ and Inish laoi, meaning ‘Calf Island.’

Drumcliffe was located off the Gort road, where the public graveyard is still located. Drumcliffe Church on Bindon Street stands on the site of an earlier Saint Columba’s Church renovated by the Limerick-based architect James Pain and rebuilt according to plans for the Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle. The old church had been struck by lightning, and the new church was built in 1817-1818.

Bindon Street was planned by Captain Charles Hervey Bagot (1788-1880) and takes its name from the Bindon family who lived in Springfield House into the 19th century. They included David Bindon, MP for Ennis, who died in 1735, and his son Francis Bindon (1695-1765), MP for Ennis, portrait painter and one of the architects who pioneered Palladian-style architecture in Ireland.

The Ecclesiastical Commissioners approved building a new church in 1860-1864, and the church was designed by Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon in 1868. The foundation stone was laid on 24 June 1869, and the church was consecrated on 30 November 1871.

The architectural partnership of Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon was based in Belfast and Dublin. It was formed in 1860, when Sir Charles Lanyon (1813-1889) and William Henry Lynn (1829-1915) took on Charles Lanyon’s eldest son, John Lanyon (1839-1900), as their junior partner. At the same time, the firm opened a branch office at 64 Upper Sackville Street, Dublin, which was run by John Lanyon until 1867.

Their other works at this time included Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Tuam, Co Galway, the Unitarian Church on Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, and Newtownbarry House, Bunclody, Co Wexford. The partnership was dissolved on 1 July 1872, half a year after the church in Ennis opened.

The present Saint Columba’s Church was the vision of Canon Philip Dwyer (1822-1905), the author of several books on local history and church history. He was the Rector of Drumcliffe from 1864 to 1883. His descendants say he later moved with his family to British Columbia in Canada, disappointed that he had not been elected Bishop of Killaloe. He later moved to England and died in Weston-super-Mare in 1905.

The mosaics in the reredos in Drumcliffe are the work of Catherine O’Brien (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Saint Columba’s Church has been described variously as ‘Decorated Victorian’ or ‘Gothic Revival,’ and it presents a high standard of Victorian craftsmanship. It includes some unusual features such as a Celtic cross and Round Tower that shapes the chimney flue in the roof.

The most interesting feature in the church must be the James Leech reredos, containing 24 ceramic biblical figures by Catherine Amelia O’Brien (1881-1963).

The reredos was donated by James Leech as a memorial to members of his family and various rectors and parishioners of Drumcliffe. It has 24 arches supported by marble columns of varying colours, into which Catherine O’Brien’s mosaics are set.

She studied at the Mercy Convent, Ennis, before going on to the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, where she studied under William Orpen and Alfred E Child. She was a founding member of An Túr Gloine in 1925 with Ethel Rhind, Evie Hone, and Michael Healy.

Her work includes the window depicting Saint Patrick in Saint Edan’s Cathedral, Ferns Co Wexford, three windows in the Honan Chapel in University College Cork, two stained glass windows in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, two pairs of lancet windows in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, commemorating Dean Lucius O’Brien and the Revd James Dowd. One of her last commissions was a pair of windows for the President’s private chapel in Aras an Uachtarain.

She was involved in the life of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, for 40 years, and when she died in 1963 she was buried in Whitechurch churchyard, Co Dublin.

From 1937 to 1947, Catherine O’Brien worked on the 24 opus sectile panels in the church in Ennis.

The central windows in the apse in Drumcliffe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The central windows in the apse were erected by Robert Samuel Gregg, former Archbishop of Armagh, in memory of his father, John Gregg (1798-1878), former Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, and by Frederic FitzJames Cullinan in memory of his father, Dr Patrick Maxwell Cullinan of Ennis.

Moses and Aaron in the north chancel window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The north and south windows in the chancel, by Jones and Wilson, the Birmingham-based partnership, are memorials to a former rector, Julius Henry Griffith, and four of his children. He was the Rector of Ennis and Clare Abbey for 25 years and died in 1907 aged 80. These windows feature Moses, Aaron, Eleazar and Miriam.

Eleazar and Miriam in the south chancel window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Three large figures on canvas in the chancel depict Abraham, Isaiah and Micah. They were painted in memory of Florence O’Brien by the artist Brigid (O’Brien) Ganley (1909-2002), a daughter of Dermod O’Brien of Cahermoyle House, Co Limerick, a former president of the Royal Hibernian Academy.

The canvas in the chancel by Florence O’Brien depicts the prophets Abraham, Isaiah and Micah (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The stained-glass windows in the church include a memorial to three sisters Henrietta, Norah and Beatrice O’Brien, a window with four biblical scenes dedicated to Thomas JP, and a ‘Good Samaritan’ window in the north nave dedicated to James Menzies, for 50 years a bank manager in Ennis, who died in 1880.

The carved chair and reading desk in the South Chancel came as a gift when the Presbyterian Church in Ennis was closed. The choir stalls were donated by local officers and soldiers from World War I in memory of those who died in the war.

The Bindon Blood window at the west end of the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Bindon family married into the Blood family, descended from Thomas Blood, who tried to steal the Crown Jewels in 1671. A large stained-glass window in the church commemorates Bindon Blood who died in 1855 at the age of 80.

A later Bindon Blood was General Sir Bindon Blood (1842-1940), who was a senior officer in the British army in Egypt, Afghanistan, India and Southern Africa. In 1898, Winston Churchill, who served under Blood on the North-West Frontier the previous year, dedicated his first non-fiction book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, to ‘Major-General Sir Bindon Blood, KCB, under whose command the operations therein recorded were carried out; by whose generalship they were brought to a successful conclusion; and to whose kindness the author is indebted for the most valuable and fascinating experience of his life.’

Memorials in the churchyard include a small pyramidal mausoleum to the Blood family and a wooden grave cross from Ypres, a reminder of World War I (1914-1918).

The Bindon Blood pyramid-dhaped mausoleum in the churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

● Sunday services in Drumcliffe are at 11.30 am, alternating between Morning Prayer and Holy Communion.

The cathedral in Ennis is
the work of two architects
and took 70 years to build

The Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, at the junction of Station Road and O’Connell Street in Ennis, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I took the train from Limerick to Ennis yesterday [1 August 2018] and spent the morning in the county town of Co Clare on the banks of the River Fergus, visiting the cathedral, the friary churches and the Church of Ireland parish church.

The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, at the junction of Station Road and O’Connell Street in Ennis, is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Killaloe.

The Roman Catholic parish church originally stood on what is now Chapel Lane, and was built in 1735, and is now used as a community centre.

The chapel was too small for a growing parish and its location made it impossible to extend the building, and plans to build a new church were frustrated by a public dispute – involving the chaplaincy at Ennis jail – between the parish priest of Ennis, Dean Terence O’Shaughnessy (1761-1848), and his curate, Father Patrick McDonogh.

Dean O’Shaughnessy was a nephew of Bishop James O’Shaughnessy of Killaloe and was a difficult but colourful public figure. He had witnessed the execution of Louis XVI in Paris in 1793, and in 1828 he was criticised for not publicly supporting the election campaign of Daniel O’Connell, perhaps because the other candidate, Vesey FitzGerald, had been a generous donor to Ennis parish.

The principal local landlord, Francis Gore, donated the site for a new parish church in Ennis to the Diocese of Killaloe 190 years ago in 1828, the year Daniel O’Connell was elected MP for Co Clare and a year before the enactment of Catholic Emancipation.

Plans were drawn up later that year, and Dean O’Shaughnessy expressed the hope that the new parish church would in time become the cathedral of the Diocese of Killaloe.

The winning design was drafted by the architect Dominick Madden, who had been disgraced earlier in his career, accused of stealing furniture from the Vice-Regal Lodge in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, but who had been commissioned the previous year to design the new cathedrals in Ballina, Co Mayo, and Tuam, Co Galway.

Madden’s designs for his three cathedrals in Ballina, Tuam and Ennis display a very simple form of Gothic that shows little of the influence of AWN Pugin.

Inside the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Ennis, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The foundation stone was laid in June 1828, but the progress on building work was slow, and it was further delayed by yet another public dispute – this time between Dean O’Shaughnessy and the Franciscans, who had opened a new church in the town at the end of 1830. In 1837, the dean was suspended from office for denouncing the Christian Brothers, who had been in the town since 1827.

Building work was resumed in November 1836, but proceeded slowly, and the unfinished church was first used for celebrating Mass on 4 September 1842. Within six months, the church was dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul by Peter Kennedy, Bishop of Killaloe (1836-1850), on 26 February 1843.

However, both fundraising and building work were set back yet again as the economic consequences of the Great Famine were felt throughout Ennis. Meanwhile, Dean O’Shaughnessy died in 1848, and was buried in the church without ever seeing either its completion or its dedication as a cathedral.

The 1970s High Altar and the surviving reredos by Hardman and Earley in Ennis Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The interior was completed under the supervision of JJ McCarthy in 1861. The arcades and piers, the panelled ceiling and the gallery at the west end are his work, as were the altars and the reredos.

Work later resumed on the tower and spire, and they were completed by Maurice Fitzgerald in 1874.

The cathedral is built of limestone ashlar and has a crenellated parapet and tall pointed windows with tracery. The original façade is partially obscured by the porches, but the original doorways can still be seen inside. The three-storey diagonally buttressed tower is surmounted by a broach spire and rises to a height of 42.6 metres.

The patterned square panels in the ceiling are the work of Earley and Powell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Inside, there is an aisled nave of six bays with clerestory and transepts, each of two bays. The slender Doric piers with fanciful tracery in the spandrels support a coffered ceiling of floral patterned square panels, painted by Earley and Powell, and divided by white ribs.

The carved stone reredos was designed by JJ McCarthy and executed by the Birmingham-based Hardman partnership, closely associated with Pugin. The reredos includes paintings by John Farrington Earley (1831-1973) of Earley and Powell, the Birmingham-born stained-glass artist who was strongly influenced by Pugin and Hardman.

Saint Senan of Scattery and Saint Paul on the reredos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The paintings on the left (north side) of the reredos show Saint Senan, the patron of Scattery Island, and Saint Paul, while those on the right (south side) show Saint Peter and Saint Flannan, the patron of the Diocese of Killaloe. Two further paintings, over the side doors depict Saint Joseph and the Archangel Michael.

The busts in the upper tier of the reredos depict Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint Bridget and the Virgin Mary, on the left, and Christ, Saint Joseph and Saint Patrick on the right.

Saint Peter and Saint Flannan of KIllaloe on the reredos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

When Thomas McRedmond was appointed coadjutor Bishop of Killaloe in 1889 and then bishop of the diocese in 1891, he decided to base the diocese at the church in Ennis, and so the parish church was designated as the pro-cathedral of the Diocese of Killaloe.

The main entrance to the cathedral was built in 1894, and the building was redecorated extensively. It had taken two architects and almost 70 years to complete the cathedral.

In the 1930s, a new sacristy and chapter room were added to the building, and the present pipe organ and chapter stalls were installed.

The west gallery and organ in Ennis Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The cathedral was closed for six months in 1973 while it was remodelled in line with the liturgical changes introduced with the Second Vatican Council, and McCarthy’s High Altar was removed, as well as the altar rails and pulpit. The new altar, ambo, font and tabernacle were designed in Wicklow granite by Andrew Devane.

The pro-cathedral was re-dedicated as a cathedral in 1990. After a fire in the cathedral in 1995, the sanctuary was rebuilt and the interiors were redecorated, with work completed at the end of 1996.

The sanctuary was rebuilt and the interiors were redecorated in 1995-1996 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

For Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, the Church of Ireland cathedral in the Diocese of Killaloe, see HERE.