11 August 2018

Finding Harry Clarke windows
and JJ McCarthy’s tower in
Saint Senan’s Church, Kilrush

The sanctuary, reredos and sanctuary windows by Harry Clarke in Saint Senan’s Church, Kilrush, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

On the way to and from Scattery Island on Friday [10 August 2018], two of us took time to enjoy the streets and architecture of Kilrush, Co Clare, one of the listed Heritage Towns of Ireland.

The name Kilrush means ‘Church of the Woods’ and both the Roman Catholic and former Church of Ireland parish church in the West Clare town are named after Saint Senan, the saint linked with the monastic site on Scattery Island.

Saint Senan’s Roman Catholic Church on Toler Street stands on a site donated by the local landlord, Colonel Moore Vandeleur, who also gave a gift of £500 towards building the church.

The church was designed by the Limerick-based architect William Henshaw Owen (1813-1853) began working with his father in the Board of Works. He was sent by the Board of Works to Limerick as its representative in 1836 and as the Shannon Commissioners’ resident engineer. In Limerick, Owen oversaw the building of Thomond Bridge (1836-1840) designed by the brothers James Pain and George Richard Pain, the Savings Bank (1839) in Glentworth Street, designed by Thomas Deane, and designed the Potato Market and the Mathew Bridge (1844-1846). He died suddenly in San Francisco on 1 June 1853.

Meanwhile, the foundation stone of the new church in Kilrush was laid on 1 November 1839 with a reported 10,000 people present.

Saint Senan’s Church, Kilrush, Co Clare, was designed William Henshaw Owen, with later work by JJ McCarthy and GC Ashlin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Saint Senan’s Church was built when Father John Kenny was parish priest, who also received a loan of £1,000 from the Board of Works. It was completed under Father Timothy Kelly, and at the time was the largest church in Co Clare.

The stone for the church was quarried and carted form Moneypoint. It took about 10 months for the main fabric to be completed. The church was dedicated on 1 September 1840 and was opened on Sunday 29 November 1840, with a reported 20,000 people present, including many from Co Kerry who had crossed on the steamer, the Garryowen.

The temperance campaigner, Father Theobald Mathew, was invited to preach the first in a series of charity sermons and Father Thomas Mahony was ordained as part of the ceremony.

As parish priest, Father Timothy Kelly (1799-1868) cleared the debt on the building project. He commissioned Pugin’s Irish successor, the architect JJ McCarthy (1817-1882), to carry out a number of improvements in 1858-1861, including the porch, cut-stone portico, and 230 ft tower and spire (1861). Saint Senan’s is said to be the only Roman Catholic Church in Co Clare with a tower and spire like this.

Inside Saint Senan’s Church, Kilrush, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Other improvements in this phase include the interior ceiling, the interior plastering, altars, floors, seating, and the wall and railing outside. When the seating was completed, a three-week mission held in the church, an event marked by a limestone cross near the entrance to the church.

Father Kelly also introduced the Sisters of Mercy Convent to Kilrush, and their convent was also designed by JJ McCarthy in 1862. When Father Kelly died 150 years ago, on 13 March 1868, he left his home on Frances Street, Kilrush, for a Christian Brothers’ monastery.

The sanctuary dates from 1881, when the old wooden structure was moved to Monmore Chruch. A new organ was installed in 1878.

Ashlin’s carved oak pulpit … now relegated to a transept corner in Saint Senan’s Church, Kilrush, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Dean John McInerney was appointed parish priest in 1906. He undertook a full restoration of both the interior and exterior of the church. He engaged Pugin’s son-in-law, the architect George Coppinger Ashlin (1837-1921), who designed the communion rails, the wooden pulpit and four wooden confessionals, advised on the windows in each transept and in the chancel, and the extension to the priests’ sacristy.

Canon PJ Hogan as parish priest commissioned the three sanctuary windows from the Harry Clarke Studios in Dublin in 1932. The window on the left wall which depicts Saint Brigid and Saint Mel at Saint Patrick’s Synod was also designed by the Harry Clarke Studios. During Canon Hogan’s time, the mosaic floor in the sanctuary was laid and a central heating system installed.

Saint Senan’s is a cruciform-plan, double-height church. It has a three-bay side elevation, single-bay transepts, a single-bay single-storey flat-roofed crenellated side chapel to the left, and a pair of gable-fronted two-bay single-storey sacristies to the rear.

Details of the roof in Saint Senan’s Church, Kilrush, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Inside, the church has a queen post truss timber roof structure with painted ceiling panels, cut-stone arcades to the transepts and mosaic tiles in the passageways between the pews.

The Saint Senan window in Saint Senan’s Church is by FS Barff (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The stained-glass windows are by Professor Frederick Settle Barff (1823-1886), a former Anglican priest who was also responsible for the windows in Saint Catherine’s Church, Meath Street, Dublin, and by the Harry Clarke Studios in Dublin.

The Saint Bridget Window by the Harry Clarke Studios in Saint Senan’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The windows by the Harry Clarke studio include the sanctuary windows and a window on the liturgical north side wall (left) illustrating scenes from the life of Saint Bridget, including receiving a crozier from Saint Mel.

The rose window over the entrance has carved colonnette spokes and stained glass.

The single-bay, four-stage tower and octagonal cut-stone spire was added by JJ McCarthy. There is a gabled porch addition at the entrance gable, and the projecting porches were added to the transepts around 1990. Outside, the priests’ graves are marked by Celtic crosses, there are cut-stone gate piers and a plinth with cast-iron railings, a wrought-iron lantern-holder and cut stone steps.

The Lonely Planet recommends visiting Saint Senan’s Church in Kilrush for the rose window and the four windows by Harry Clarke.

The Rose Window in Saint Senan’s Church, Kilrush, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

For Saint Senan’s Church, the former Church of Ireland parish church, visit HERE.

A pilgrim’s quiet time in
the ‘City of the Heavens’
and a haven for refugees

Fishing boats on the beach at Ouranouplis in the summer sun (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I spent some time this week putting the finishing touches to my monthly column in two church magazines, the Church Review in the Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough, and the Diocesan Magazine in the Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Limerick.

In next month’s column [September 2018], I am recalling a visit earlier this year to Mount Athos, which began from the small port of Ouranoupolis, the port from which most visitors begin their journey to the Holy Mountain in north-east Greece.

Ouranoupolis is an interesting place itself, and might have been a topic on its own for this monthly column.

The fishing village was originally known as Prosforion, but changed its name to Ouranoupolis, which means ‘City of the Heavens,’ in the mid-20th century to recall the glory of the ancient town of Ouranoupolis, built around 300 BC by Alexarhos, a brother of the Macedonian king Kassander, in the time of Alexander the Great.

The exact location of ancient Ouranoupolis is not known, although it was located on or close to Mount Athos. It was important enough to have its own coins, which depict an eight-rayed star or the sun on one side and on the other side an image of Aphrodite Urania seated and holding a long, forked sceptre, surmounted by a ring. Next to the sceptre is a conical object surmounted by a star.

The images on the coins indicate a cult that honoured Aphrodite, the goddess of love.

Ancient Ouranoupolis did not survive for very long. A Swedish underwater expedition is said to have discovered monumental walls and possibly the remains of an ancient town in the sea in 1954. But the site has never been explored properly, and little is still known about the ancient town of Ouranoupolis.

The 14th century Byzantine tower is the earliest archaeological site at Ouranoupolis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The earliest archaeological site at Ouranoupolis today is a Byzantine tower on the shoreline built in the 14th century.

By 1344, the tower was the principal building of a metohi or outlying farm that belonged to the monastery of Vatopedi on Mount Athos. In May 1379, the Byzantine ruler, John V Palaeologos, stayed in the tower in May 1379, and issued various concessions in favour of Mount Athos. He removed the obligation for the metohi or farm attached to the tower to pay taxes and the original document is still kept at the Monastery of Vatopedi.

The farm prospered and expanded, taking over all the land in the area, including the lands of the Monastery of Zygou which had gone into decline by then.

The monks who farmed the metohi continued to live in the tower until 1922. It was set on fire in 1821 but was repaired sometime after 1865 when a few other buildings around it were added. These included an olive press with a well, an oven, stables, an ironmonger’s workshop and two large houses where the lay workers lived.

The Greek war with Turkey after World War I ended in disaster in disaster in 1921, and a systematic genocide of Greeks living in Turkey was underway.

Smyrna was burned to the ground and the majority of the Greek people there were killed. Whole Greek-speaking villages in Turkey were uprooted and refugees crammed onto boats and trains heading for mainland Greece. Greece faced a major crisis with the arrival of half a million destitute and traumatised people.

The refugees were first taken to holding areas and then sent to different parts of Greece to begin a new life. In the past, I have told stories of how some of these refugees were housed in Tsesmes, near Rethymnon in Crete.

In response to these demands, the Greek government confiscated the monastic lands around the tower at Prosforion to settle some of the destitute refugees. The monks left promptly for Vatopedi and the first boatload of refugees arrived in 1922.

These first refugees were from Caesarea, and included former merchants and carpet wavers. At first, they moved into the abandoned monastic buildings and used them as communal living quarters until the first houses were built. More refugees arrived each successive year until 1928, and gradually a small village grew up with 90 cottages.

The later refugees were once prosperous fishermen and their families from the Princes Islands off the coast of Constantinople in the Sea of Marmara that connects the Black Sea with the Aegean Sea.

The village name was changed from Prosforion to Ouranoupolis in 1946, and became a village in its own right, separate from the neighbouring town of Ierissos.

The first refugee houses were white-washed, red-tiled, one-bedroom, single-storey houses built by a German contractor, each with a small garden. Each family was given a cottage, a plot of land, some olive trees and 10 sheep. But when the sheep soon died from starvation they were replaced by more resolute goats. The fishermen were given grants to buy boats.

Living conditions were harsh, water was scarce, and the dry land produced little. The only available source of employment nearby was on Mount Athos, and the men often spent months away from home in the monasteries, working as labourers and struggling to support their families.

The village remained isolated from the rest of Greece, there was no road out, and it was a 9 km journey along a mule track through the mountains of Halkidiki to Tripiti. From there, the final leg of the journey involved either walking or taking a boat. An ancient edict prohibited building a road ‘on which a wheel could run’ to Mount Athos and so Ouranoupolis remained without a road and isolated for many years.

After a particularly harsh winter, the villagers, led by Ioannis Tozakoglou, took matters into their hands in 1959, and with spades, shovels and bare hands they built a dirt track that became, the first road to the village. The first car to reach the village was a British Land Rover.

The road was improved soon after, a daily bus service was introduced and with the arrival of tourists the village was gradually lifted out of poverty, eventually becoming the prosperous tourist resort it is today.

But even at the height of summer, Ouranoupolis can remain a relatively restrained place, with the laid-back atmosphere disturbed only in the early morning with the arrival of buses bringing people to catch the ferries to Mount Athos, and returning again in the afternoon in time for lunch.

Lunchtime on a sunny afternoon in Ouranoupolis earier this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)