10 September 2018

How two brothers and a papal count
shaped and designed Roscrea Abbey

Roscrea Abbey was founded in 1878 by monks from Mount Melleray, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

During my recent visit to Roscrea, Co Tipperary, I visited the two parish churches dedicated to Saint Cronan, Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic, the monastic ruins at the site of Saint Cronan’s abbey, including the Romanesque entrance and round tower, and the former Franciscan friary, and Roscrea Methodist Church.

But, perhaps, the best-known monastic place in Roscrea is Mount Saint Joseph Abbey, the Cistercian abbey and school across the county boundary in Co Offaly.

The story of Roscrea Abbey involves an interesting story of the working relationship between a papal count and two brothers, William Beardwood, the abbey architect, and Joseph Beardwood, an architect who became the Abbot of Roscrea as Don Camillus.

For almost a century and a half, the Cistercian monks at Mount Saint Joseph have welcomed guests and visitors who come to experience the peace and prayer of the monastic environment. This monastery of the Order of Cistercians of Strict Observance, or Trappists, was founded in March 1878 when 31 monks from Mount Melleray Abbey in Cappoquin, Co Waterford, moved to Roscrea.

The property known as Mount Heaton Demesne was bought for the monks by Arthur John Moore (1849-1904) of Mooresford House near Tipperary and Aherlow Castle. He was born in Liverpool, was a Roman Catholic landlord and Home Rule MP for Clonmel (1874-1885) and Derry City (1899-1900), and became a papal count in 1879.

Roscrea Abbey was founded on the Mount Heaton Estate in Co Offaly (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Moore was well known to the monks of Mount Melleray and although he was only in his late 20s he wanted to establish a second Cistercian monastery in Ireland. The Mount Heaton estate cost £15,000; Moore paid £10,000 of this himself, and the new community raised the remaining £5,000 with a mortgage.

The Mount Heaton Estate was about two miles east of Roscrea, across the county boundary in Co Offaly. It took its name from the Revd Richard Heaton, who became owner in the 1630s and died there in 1666.

Heaton is recognised as an early Irish botanist, and two of his botanical finds have been commemorated on Irish postage stamps. His son, Francis Heaton, had changed the name of the Ballyskenagh estate to Mount Heaton by 1710.

Dom Athanasius Donovan, from Murroe, Co Limerick, was the first superior of the new community at Mount Saint Joseph. Under his guidance, the old mansion, which is now the guesthouse, was transformed into a temporary monastery.

Inside the abbey church at Roscrea Abbey, designed by William Henry Beardwood (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In 1879, the year after the monks came to Roscrea, work began on building a new monastic church. The architect was William H Beardwood, who practiced in Dublin and Manchester.

The abbey church, built in 1880-1884, was the first structure the Cistercians built when they moved to Mount Heaton to establish Mount Saint Joseph Abbey. The stone for the church was quarried on the land, although some accounts say the stones were taken from the old goal in Tullamore.

The stained glass windows in the apse in the abbey church at Roscrea Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Several monks, as well as many outside masons and labourers, worked on building the church, which was built with a nave, chancel, side aisles. The abbey church was designed by the Dublin-born architect, William Henry Beardwood (1842-1930) the eldest son of William Haughton Beardwood and a brother of John Francis Beardwood.

William Haughton Beardwood was a carpenter and builder originally from Lancashire who converted to Roman Catholicism and moved to Ireland. His son, William Henry Beardwood was practicing as an architect and developer in Manchester by 1875. When his business failed in Manchester, he returned to Dublin in 1880, setting up his own practice but also working for Dublin Corporation, eventually becoming a member of the architects’ department.

Outside, the abbey church has black limestone walls, buttresses, pointed-arched windows and doors, paired windows, lancet windows to apse, a projecting gabled entrance bay, and a broach tower with a belfry and pinnacles. The most significant feature of the church is the carved entrance arranged in three orders. The door surround contributes to the significance of the church.

Inside, the church is devoid of embellishments. There is an arcaded, 11-bay nave, side aisles and an apse, and the wonderful arcading to the side aisles with simple limestone columns makes an appealing arrangement.

The monks’ graves in the community graveyard are marked with metal crosses, but there are some stone Celtic crosses too.

The community graves beside the abbey church, with Roscrea College in the background (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The church was dedicated on 18 September 1881 and opened to the public – an extraordinary achievement in such a short period by a community burdened by a large mortgage. The preacher that day referred to ‘the pious donations that have poured in from benefactors near and distant, the tasteful devotion which has raised these massive columns, and converted the very windows into books of golden instruction’ – a reference to the 11 stained glass windows in place in the church from the beginning.

Three years later, the church was solemnly consecrate on 9 August 1884. By then, the altars, choir stalls, and rood screen were all in place.

Mount Saint Joseph became an abbey at the end of 1886, and in August 1887, Dom Camillus Beardwood, the Bursar of Mount Melleray, was elected Abbot. Dom Camillus was born Joseph Beardwood, and was a brother of the architect of Mount Saint Joseph. Before becoming a monk, he had trained as an architect with Sir George Moyers (1836-1916), who was Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1881.

Under the guidance of the two Beardwoods, abbot and architect, the monastery buildings were completed and a fine farmyard begun. From the beginning, farming provided the main source of income for the community, with many of the monks deeply involved in this work.

Beardwood also designed alterations for the Cistercian Abbey in Cappoquin, Co Waterford, and then designed the secondary school built at Roscrea in 1902-1905.

The college at Roscrea Abbey was also designed by WH Beardwood (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Count Moore, the abbey’s great benefactor, visited Mount Saint Joseph on 4 February 1902, when he, Abbot Camillus and William H Beardwood, chose the site for a new college.

This school was designed by WH Beardwood on a U-plan, with nine-bays, two-storeys and an attic. There are square-headed twin-light windows, limestone surrounds with hood-moulding, pointed-arched window that are both triple-light and twin-light, dormer windows, decorative finials, and limestone steps leading up to a Tudor arched door with timber panelled double doors.

Inside, there is a large stair-hall with an attractive double return stairs.

The cost of the new college buildings was £21,000. Count Moore donated £2,600 towards the costs, and the college opened for the first 50 students in September 1905. But by then Count Moore had died on 9 January 1904. He is buried under the altar in Saint Joseph’s Chapel in the abbey church, and is commemorated in a monument in the church.

A plaque in the abbey church commemorates the benefactor, Count Arthur Moore (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The abbey church is connected to the monastery buildings to the south-west. This is an L-plan, two-storey multiple-bay, Gothic Revival monastery, built ca 1905, with cloisters to the rear and with the addition of an extra wing. This building incorporates outbuildings and yard from the former Mount Heaton House to the rear, built around 1800.

The tower and spire were added to the abbey church in 1938-1940. They were designed by the Dublin-based practice of Jones and Kelly and provide a focal point in the complex, providing a striking addition to the church.

The college chapel was built in the Gothic Revival style in 1940 within the grounds of Mount Saint Joseph’s Abbey. Joined to school by corridor. Four-bay nave with triple-pile transepts, canted-bay A stone plaque outside at the apse reads: ‘Dom Sub Invocatione Deiparae Immaculate Reginae Virginum Ad MCMXL.’

As time went by, the strength of the community at Mount Saint Joseph led to the foundation of other monasteries, including Nunraw, near Edinburgh, in 1946, the first Cistercian house in Scotland since the Reformation, and Bolton Abbey in Moone, Co Kildare, in 1965.

The abbey church at Roscrea Abbey, with the tower and spire added in 1938-1940 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Methodist Church in Roscrea
brings together many traditions

The Methodist Church on the Mall, Roscrea … designed by George Francis Beckett (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

After visiting the two parish churches in Roscrea, Co Tipperary – Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic – that are named after Saint Cronan, and the monastic sites the town, including the ruins of the Franciscan friary, the high cross, round tower, and Romanesque cathedral doorway, I also visited Roscrea Methodist Church on the Mall.

There has long been a strong Methodist presence in North Tipperary, and the appearance of this small but elegant church, with its projecting, three-bay porch with a double bow, pays tribute to the monastic and ecclesiastical heritage of Roscrea.

The church was built in 1902 and retains many of its original features. It is a cruciform-plan gable-fronted church, dated 1902, with five-bay side elevations, a three-bay, projecting bow-plan porch and a single-storey advanced gable-fronted entrance front at the centre.

The dressed limestone date stone, was laid on 26 May 1902 by Mrs Lloyd Vaughan of Golden Grove, Roscrea.

There are cut-stone buttresses, pinnacles, a spiralette, tripled round-headed windows, square-headed and lancet-arched windows, a pointed-arch door opening, a timber battened double-leaf door, and decorative cast-iron gate and railings.

The contractor was a local Roscrea builder, Joseph Day, who also worked on Saint Cronan’s Roman Catholic parish church in Roscrea, carrying out alterations designed by Ashlin and Coleman.

The church was designed by the Dublin-born architect George Francis Beckett (1877-1961), who came from a well-known family of builders and architects related to the playwright Samuel Beckett.

Beckett was born on 15 April 1877, the fourth son of James Beckett, founder of the Dublin Master Builders’ Association, and his wife, Frances (Horner).

When the National Library and National Museum were being built on Kildare Street, Dublin, Beckett, then a boy, was living with his parents at No 7 Kildare Street, close to the site. He admired Sir Thomas Deane’s work at first hand, sometimes wandering onto the scaffolding at night-time when his parents imagined he was asleep. He never lost this early enthusiasm for architecture and once said there was never a time he could remember when he did not want to be an architect.

Beckett was educated at Rathmines School, Dublin, before becoming a pupil of James Franklin Fuller (1835-1924), whose works include the Superintendent’s Gate Lodge in Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, Saint Mary’s Church, Julianstown, Co Meath, D’Olier Chambers or the Gallaher Building, a landmark building on the corner of D’Olier Street and Hawkins Street, Dublin, Farmeligh House beside the Phoenix Park in Dublin, and Tinakilly House, Co Wicklow.

Beckett then joined the office of Thomas Worthington & Son in Manchester. A fellow pupil in Worthington’s office was the English architect John Harold Gibbons, and they went together on a sketching tour in France and Italy.

When he returned to Dublin in 1897, Beckett established an office at 97 Saint Stephen’s Green.

As an architect, Beckett was at his happiest working on churches, and he designed several Methodist churches. He was also concerned with the provision of children’s public playgrounds and the problems of slum clearance. His wife Edith Alice was a daughter of the Revd JO Park, and one of their daughters and her husband became Methodist missionaries in Haiti.

His other works include Blackhall Place Methodist Church (1898), Dolphin’s Barn Methodist Church (1899-1901), rebuilding Abbey Street Methodist Church (1901-1902), Sutton Methodist Church (1903), Dun Laoghaire Methodist Church (1903), Irishtown Methodist Church (1904), Brighton Road Methodist Church, Rathgar (1909), all in Dublin, and the Methodist churches in Portarlington (1904), Roscommon (1904), Killarney (1907-1912) and Dundalk (1916).

Cyril Ashlin Harrington joined him as a partner in the firm of Beckett and Harrington in 1919.

Beckett was a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (FRIAI), honorary secretary (1922-1924), vice-president (1928-1929), and president (1932-1934), and he was twice President of the Association of Architects of Ireland (1909-1910, 1919-1920).

He retired in 1950, and he died on 21 November 1961. He is buried in Dean’s Grange cemetery.

The foundation of Roscrea Methodist Church was laid in 1902 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)