31 May 2019

Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin
Group of Parishes: Church
Services in June 2019

Pentecost or the Descent of the Holy Spirit, by Titian in the Church of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Sunday 2 June (Easter 7, White):

9.30 a.m.: the Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton

11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert)

Readings: Acts 16: 16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22: 12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17: 20-26.


92: How sweet the name of Jesus sounds (CD 6)
34: O worship the King all-glorious above (CD 2)
532 (Askeaton): Who are we who stand and sing (CD 30)
518 (Tarbert): Bind us together Lord

Sunday 9 June (The Day of Pentecost, Whit Sunday, Red):

9.30 a.m.: Pentecost Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Castletown Church

11.30 a.m.: Pentecost Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale

Readings: Acts 2: 1-21; Psalm 104: 26-36, 37b; Romans 8: 14-17; John 14: 8-17.


386, Spirit of God, unseen as the wind (CD 23)
294, Come down, O Love divine (CD 18)
293, Breathe on me, breath of God (CD 18)

Sunday 16 June (Trinity Sunday, White):

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton

11.30 a.m.: the Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert)

Readings: Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5: 1-5; John 16: 12-15.


321, Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty (CD 19)
323, The God of Abraham praise (CD 19)
468, How shall I sing that majesty (Track 25, Disc 2, Life of Faith)

Sunday 23 June (Trinity I, Proper 7, Green):

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Castletown Church.

11.30 a.m.: the Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

Readings: I Kings 19: 1-4 (5-7), 8-15a; Psalms 42, 43; Galatians 3: 23-29; Luke 8: 26-39.


325, Be still, for the presence of the Lord (CD 20)
218, And can it be that I should gain (CD 14)
549, Dear Lord and Father of mankind (CD 32)

Sunday 30 June (Trinity II, Proper 8, Green):

11 a.m.: United Group Service (The Parish Eucharist, Holy Communion 2), Saint Mary’s Rectory, Askeaton, with parish barbecue in the rectory garden.


Readings: II Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77: 1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5: 1, 13-25; Luke 9: 51-62.


421, I come with joy, a child of God (CD 25)
652, Lord us, heavenly Father, lead us (CD 37)
643: Be thou my vision (CD 37)

Saints Days in June:

10 June: Saint Columba (transferred)
11 June: Saint Barnabas
24 June: The Birth of Saint John the Baptist
29 June: Saint Peter

Tuam Town Hall recalls
four centuries of civic life
and major Tuam figures

The Town Hall in Tuam is a reminder of 400 years of civic life (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The Town Hall on the Market Square in Tuam, at the corner of Vicar Street and High Street, stands in the heart of the mediaeval Galway town and is a reminder of more than four centuries of civic life.

The Market Square marks the east end of the monastic settlement at Temple Jarlath, associated with Saint Jarlath, and markets were held here in mediaeval times at the Market Cross.

King James I granted Tuam a royal charter on 30 March 1613. The charter gave Tuam borough status and established a town council with an elected mayor or sovereign and 12 burgesses.

The charter enabled the burgesses or senior citizens of Tuam to begin building a new town on the ruins of a decaying Gaelic settlement, and as a reminder of that connection the sovereign of Tuam was sworn into office at the site of the Chair of Tuam, believed to be situated within the remaining tower of Rory O’Connor’s castle.

The royal charter also made Tuam a parliamentary constituency that elected two MPs to the Irish House of Commons until the constituency was abolished in 1801 with the Act of Union. One of the best-known MPs for Tuam was Sir Jonah Barrington (1756-1834), who sat for Tuam in 1790-1798. He was known for his amusing and popular memoirs of life in late 18th-century Ireland, his opposition to the Act of Union, and his removal from the judiciary by Parliament.

The corporation laid out Tuam as a market town on its present plan, with the streets converging on the central square. A market house was built in the Square in 1700. This was a small, two-storey building, and the corporation met upstairs while food and produce was sold on the ground floor.

The town hall was built in 1857 and rebuilt after a fire in 1884 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A board of commissioners replaced the town council in 1843, and the town commissioners demolished the old market and built a new town hall in 1857. The new town hall was built on land leased from John Stratford Handcock, and the foundation stone was laid by Mrs Handcock on 24 September 1857.

The architect James J Boylan worked as an engineer and architect in the 1850s and 1860s and was an assistant engineer in the Board of Works.

An accidental fire destroyed the town hall in 1884, and it was rebuilt by Andrew Egan.

The town hall is a complex building and a good example of how municipal affairs developed in importance in Ireland in the late 19th century. It is located in the centre of the town as an expression of a vibrant local democracy.

The tower of the town hall has a clock face on each main façade (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The main section of the town hall has a pitched slate roof with a four-stage tower at corner. The central section of the façade has five bays and two storeys. There are wide windows with transoms and two mullions in each in the early 17th-century style. The main entrance is in a single-bay section and it has a pedimented panel that sits on top of a parapet, with a commemorative plaque, cross and crossed swords in the tympanum.

To the south are two further bays with a carriage arch with a segmental head and a keystone and transomed and mullioned windows.

The tower of the town hall has a clock face on each main façade, and there are cornices, a parapet and urns. On top is an octagonal, louvered lantern.

The High Street façade is of two bays with narrow windows with transoms in the first floor windows, and doorcase with a chamfered dressing.

The town hall was gutted in another fire when the Black and Tans rioted in Tuam in 1920, but the building was restored in 1926.

Bobby Burke was a radical Christian Socialist, a senator and an Anglican mission and development worker (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

There are four plaques on the town hall. One recalls John J Waldron, a member of the Old Tuam Society who was responsible for installing many of the monuments and plaques on historic sites around the town.

A second plaque commemorates people from Tuam who died in all wars.

A third plaque remembers Bobby Burke (1907-1998). Robert Malachy Burke (1907-1998) was a Christian Socialist and philanthropist, a Labour member of Galway County Council, and a Senator from 1948 to 1950.

When Bobby Burke came to live on the family estate in the 1930s, he established an innovative co-operative farm there. Later, he made a gift of Toghermore to the health authorities for use in the struggle against tuberculosis.

Bobby, his wife Ann (Grattan) and their daughter Patricia went to Nigeria in 1951 to work as development workers with an Anglican mission agency. The Church Mission Society (CMS) sent them to Kenya in 1970. Later, they worked with Concern in Yemen. The couple retired to Belfast, and he died in 1998.

The fourth plaque is to Major Richard W (Dick) Dowling (1837-1867), who was born near Tuam. When his family was evicted from their home in 1845, they moved to New Orleans. He was a Confederate army officer in the American Civil War, when he repulsed two attacks on Houston, Texas. After that war, he started the first oil company in Texas, and he died of Yellow Fever at the age of 30 in 1867.

The plaque was placed on the town hall in 1998. But following the racist rallies in Charlottesville, an independent local councillor, Shaun Cunniffe, recently told the Connacht Tribune in 2017 that he wants this memorial removed from the Town Hall. ‘The whole point of the Confederate war was to support slavery in the South,’ he said.

The plaque commemorating Major Dick Dowling was placed on the town hall in 1998, but is not without controversy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

30 May 2019

How Shop Street Bridge
in Tuam acquired
an unusual balustrade

Shop Street Bridge in Tuam, Co Galway, is said to have been first built in the early 17th century by Archbishop William Daniel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Shop Street Bridge in Tuam connects Shop Street with the north part of the town and has been an important commercial route in the Co Galway town for more than four centuries.

An earlier bridge in Tuam, Bishop Street Bridge, was built between 1609 and 1629 by William Daniel, Archbishop of Tuam. Archbishop Daniel, who was born in Kilkenny, was one of the first scholars of Trinity College Dublin, and later one of the first elected fellows.

At TCD, he became involved in translating the New Testament into Irish. The project was commenced by Nicholas Walsh, Bishop of Ossory, John Kearney, Treasurer of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, and Nehemiah Donnellan, Archbishop of Tuam, and their translation was printed in 1602.

William Daniel also translated an Irish version of the Book of Common Prayer, published in 1608. He was appointed Prebendary of Stagonil in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, in 1591, and Treasurer of the cathedral in 1609. He became Archbishop of Tuam in 1609.

Archbishop Daniel died in Tuam on 11 July 1628, and was buried in in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Tuam, in the same tomb as his predecessor and brother-in-law, Nehemiah Donnellan.

The balustrade on Shop Street Bridge is said to have been first commissioned by the Blake family for Menlo Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Shop Street Bridge was built in Tuam in 1735 by Timothy Dunne, Sovereign (Mayor) of Tuam. This is a low, three-arch limestone bridge, built with coursed rubble limestone walls and with round arches flanking the wider and taller round middle arch.

However, the glory of the bridge is its balustrade, which was added in the 1820s. It is said this balustrade was commissioned for Menlo Castle by Charles Blake who owned the brewery in Tuam. His wife was one the Blakes of Menlo, who are one of the 14 ‘Tribes of Galway.’ However, when the balustrade was installed, she did not like it and it was moved to the bridge in Tuam.

This balustraded parapet has intermediate cut-stone plinths and piers with square recessed panels decorated with fans in each corner and plain piers at the ends. The balustrade supports limestone copings.

Below the bridge, the River Nanny and its ribbon of biodiversity is the habitat of a trout nursery, and it is a true wilderness of biodiversity.

The park area below the bridge been the mill pool until 1961, and the mill with its millwheel operated as a corn mill from 1720 until 1964. The watermill is unusual in being built over a river and supported by arches that could have served also as mill races.

The mill with its millwheel operated as a corn mill from 1720 until 1964 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Corrib Drainage Scheme lowered the riverbed of the River Nanny by 1.78 metres at Bishop Street Bridge and upstream. This dramatically cut power to the existing mills along the river, and as a result an electric engine was installed to power the ‘Little Mill.’

The mill closed in 1964. The ‘Little Mill’ was turned into a museum in 1978 on foot of a heritage project by Saint Patrick’s Secondary School and the teacher Tony Claffey. The project later received the ‘Best European Project’ award in Brussels. Today, it is the only fully preserved corn mill in the west of Ireland.

The Mill Pool was redesigned as a two-stage channel in 2007, the park was laid out as King Ruairdrí O’Connor Park, named in honour of the Last High King of Ireland, and the Miller’s Cottage with its Victorian facade was rebuilt in 2016.

The park is now a peaceful area by the River Nanny.

King Ruairdrí O’Connor Park is a peaceful area by the River Nanny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

How the Moon Landing
50 years ago changed
our view of the Ascension

The Ascension Window in the North Transept (Jebb Chapel), Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Ascension Day, Thursday 30 May 2019:

11 a.m.: The Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.

Readings: Acts 1: 1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1: 15-23; Luke 24: 44-53.

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Did you go to see the recent exhibition in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing?

We all know stories of elderly people who, half a century ago, refused to believe there had been a moon landing in 1969. They were the modern equivalent of ‘flat-earthers.’

But I remember sitting up to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the television on the night of 20/21 July 1969, and to hear Neil Armstrong’s words: ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’

It was a giant leap for humanity. We all became rocket scientists that night, because it changed our ideas of the shape of the universe, how we could travel through it, our understanding of the cosmos, and the place of our small planet in the universe.

Our view of the universe, our understanding of the cosmos, shapes how we image and think of God’s place in it, within it, above it, or alongside it. And, sometimes, the way past and outdated understandings of the universe were used to describe or explain the Ascension now make it difficult to talk about its significance and meaning to today’s scientific mind.

The Ascension is one of the 12 great feasts of the Church, coming 40 days after the Day of Easter. In the Orthodox Church, this day is the Analepsis, the ‘taking up,’ for by ascending into his glory Christ completed the work of our redemption.

On this day, we celebrate the completion of the work of our salvation, the pledge of our glorification with Christ, and his entry into heaven with our human nature glorified.

Today we celebrate the culmination of the Mystery of the Incarnation.

On this day we see the completion of Christ’s physical presence among his apostles and the consummation of the union of God and humanity, for on this day Christ ascends in his glorified human body to sit at the right hand of the Father.

The Ascension is the final visible sign of Christ’s two natures, divine and human, and it shows us that redeemed humanity now has a higher state than humanity had before the fall. That is the theological explanation, in a nutshell. By how do you image, imagine, the Ascension?

When we believed in a flat earth, it was easy to understand how Christ ascended into heaven, and how he then sat in the heavens, on a throne, on the right hand of the Father. But once we lost the notion of a flat earth as a way of explaining the world and the universe, we failed to adjust our images or approaches to the Ascension narrative.

Ever since, and especially after the moon landing, intelligent people have been left asking silly questions:

When Christ went up through the clouds, how long did he keep going?

When did he stop?

And where?

But the concept of an ascension was not one that posed difficulties in Christ’s earthly days. It is part of the tradition some of the prophets, Elijah and Enoch, were lifted up from the Earth before they died and were buried.

But Christ is not taken up to the Moon like some Biblical Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin. Our first reading tells us ‘he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight’ (Acts 1: 9).

In the Bible, the cloud is not a weather warning, but symbolises the presence of God: think of the ‘pillar of cloud’ that leads the freed slaves from Egypt through the wilderness into the Promised Land; how Moses climbs Mount Sinai to stand before the Lord, who descends in a cloud; the cloud that becomes a sign of God’s presence in the Temple in Jerusalem; or the cloud the covers the mountaintop at the Transfiguration.

As Dom Erik Varden of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey wrote in The Tablet last week [25 May 2019], ‘The cloud is glory. The glory is presence. It tells us that the Lord, the Father of all, is there.’

It is not that Christ vanishes beyond earth’s orbit, but that Christ enters the Father’s glory, which is set to fill the earth (see Numbers 14: 21).

So, where are we to see the Risen and Ascended Christ today?

Instead of keeping my head in the clouds, can I do what the disciples do immediately after the Ascension, as we hear in the Gospel reading?

They walk back into Jerusalem, the city. But this is also a journey into the New Jerusalem, which we have been reading about in our readings from the Book of Revelation these Sundays.

As we walk towards that New Jerusalem, as we hope for the New Heaven and the New Earth, can I see Christ’s footprints in the wilderness?

Can I see Christ walking on the wrong side of the street with the wrong sort of people?

Can I see Christ walking up to the tree, looking up at Zacchaeus in the branches (Luke 19: 1-10), and inviting him to eat with him?

Can I see his feet stumbling towards Calvary with a cross on his back, loving us to the very end?

Am I prepared to walk with him?

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Christ the Pantocrtator, or the Ascended Christ in the Dome of the Church of Analipsi (Church of the Ascension) in Georgioupoli, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Acts 1: 1-11

1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7 He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

Luke 24: 44-53

44 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

The ‘Museum of the Moon’ installation in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical Colour: White, or Gold.

The Greeting (from Easter Day until Pentecost):

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Penitential Kyries:

God our Father,
you exalted your Son to sit at your right hand.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
you are the way, the truth and the life.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit, Counsellor,
you are sent to be with us for ever.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.


Grant, we pray, Almighty God,
that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ
to have ascended into the heavens;
so we in heart and mind may also ascend
and with him continually dwell;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Jesus said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives (John 14: 27, 28)


Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who after he had risen from the dead ascended into heaven,
where he is seated at your right hand to intercede for us
and to prepare a place for us in glory:

Post Communion Prayer:

God our Father,
you have raised our humanity in Christ
and have fed us with the bread of heaven.
Mercifully grant that, nourished with such spiritual blessings,
we may set our hearts in the heavenly places;
where he now lives and reigns for ever.


Christ our exalted King
pour on you his abundant gifts
make you faithful and strong to do his will
that you may reign with him in glory:

Dismissal: (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

Go in the peace of the Risen Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!


281, Rejoice, the Lord is King! (CD 17)
634, Love divine, all loves excelling (CD 36)

The Ascension depicted in the East Window by Marion Grant (1951) in the Church of Saint George the Martyr in Southwark (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

Tuam’s closed railway
station is a reminder
of an industrial past

The abandoned railway station in Tuam, Co Galway … the arrival of the railway in Tuam inspired the building of third version of Saint Mary’s Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

With the arrival of the railway in Tuam in 1860-1861, the Anglican population of Tuam more than doubled from 310 to 640. The 14th century cathedral was no longer large enough to accommodate the growing congregation, and Charles James Seymour, the Dean of Tuam, was inspired to commission a third cathedral on this site, the present Saint Mary’s Cathedral, in 1861-1878.

The former railway station in Tuam, despite its present sad state, is a handsome villa-style building. It is a fine building in the tradition of railway architecture and is enhanced by the retention of most of its original fabric and details. The water tank is also a good structure in the engineering tradition.

This is a detached nine-bay single-storey building. It has a five-bay central section with a projecting gable-fronted porch, and this is flanked by slightly recessed two-bay sections.

The station has a pitched slate roof with six ashlar limestone chimneystacks, and wide eaves with carved timber brackets. There are painted rendered walls, and the front elevation has rusticated limestone raised quoins at all its corners and cut limestone skirting.

The building had square-headed windows with limestone sills and two-over-two pane timber sliding sash windows.

The doorway had a moulded limestone surround. The square-headed doorway had a cut limestone doorcase with imposts, plinths and brackets supporting a heavy cornice, with glazed timber panelled double-leaf doors and a plain overlight, and it was approached by limestone steps with metal rails.

The platform façade of the building was obscured by modern additions. To the east, a cast-iron water tank was signed ‘B Graham Waterford.’ It stood on a limestone base built of large blocks of roughly finished limestone, some with natural vermiculation, and rusticated raised quoins on the corners and on the central round-headed arch.

The platform shelter, which is now disused, is a fine example of cast-iron work and railway engineering.

It has a pitched corrugated-iron roof on light steel trusses with braces, supported at the rear by a brick wall that has a rendered base and rectangular panels with moulded brick surrounds, and at the centre of the plan by cast-iron brackets supported on round cast-iron columns with Corinthian capitals. The spandrels to the brackets have ornate vegetal decoration.

The station also has a three-bay double-height goods shed that is a very good example of railway goods shed.

The railway footbridge, built ca 1870, is highly decorative and a good example of the quality of iron casting in the 19th century.

The station opened on 27 September 1860, serving the line from Tuam to Athenry. The Tuam to Claremorris extension opened in 1872.

Some sources say the station may have been designed by John Skipton Mulvany (1813-1870) who designed an extension to the hotel at Salthill, Monkstown, for the Dublin and Kingstown Railway Company. Between 1837 and 1841, he designed stations at Salthill, Blackrock and Kingstown for the same company, and he later became architect to the Midland Great Western Railway Company and to the Dublin Trunk Connecting Line, designing the station at Broadstone in Dublin (1841-1851) and stations in Mullingar, Dalkey, Galway, Ballinasloe, Moate and Athlone.

However, it is more probable that Tuam station was designed by George Willoughby Hemans (1814-1885). He was born in St Asaph, North Wales, the son of Captain Alfred Hemans and his wife, the poet Felicia Hemans, whose grandfather, George Browne, was from Passage, Co Cork.

After three years at a military college in France, Hemans moved to Dublin to live with his uncle, Colonel George Baxter Browne, a magistrate and police commissioner. After working on the Ordnance Survey, Hemans became a pupil of Sir John MacNeill in London.

As MacNeill’s pupil, he worked on several Irish and Scottish railway lines. He then became Resident Engineer in charge of the Dublin end of the Dublin and Drogheda Railway. In this role, Hemans built the first two iron lattice bridges in Ireland on this line. Hemans then took charge of a division of the new Great Southern and Western Railway between Dublin and Cork.

In 1845, the directors of the Midland Great Western Railway invited Hemans to take charge of their proposed new line to Mullingar and Longford. The line to Mullingar opened in 1848 but stopped because of a lack of funds.

As a famine relief measure, the Government loaned the company £500,000 in 1849 to build a railway line between Athlone and Galway, and the company undertook to finance the line between Mullingar and Athlone. The railway pioneer William Dargan was contracted for the project, and the line from Mullingar to Galway was completed in August 1851, five months ahead of schedule and well below the estimated cost.

Hemans continued as engineer to the Midland Great Western railway until 1865. He also became chief engineer of the Waterford and Limerick railway, and during the 1860s he was also engineer to many other lines: Athenry and Ennis Junction; Athenry and Tuam; Dublin and Baltinglass; Enniskillen, Bundoran and Sligo; Inniskeen to Carrickmacross; Kilkenny Junction; Kilrush and Kilkee; Limerick and Kilkenny; from Newry to Armagh, Greenore and Warrenpoint; and the Portadown, Dungannon and Omagh Junction.

Hemans built more railways in Ireland than any other engineer of his time, employing Richard Hassard as his chief assistant for several years.

He was appointed engineer-in-chief to the government of the province of Canterbury, New Zealand, in 1870, and later to the government of New Zealand. He had a paralytic attack in 1872 while he was staying in Wales. He died on 29 December 1885.

At its height in the 1930s, when Tuam was a centre of industry, a total of 102 workers were employed at Tuam railway station. The railway line was used during the filming of The Quiet Man, and can be seen when John Wayne disembarks at Ballyglunin, about 6 km from Tuam.

By 1976, the number of workers had fallen to two – the station master and a porter. Tuam railway station closed to passenger traffic on 5 April 1976 and finally closed altogether on 18 December 1978.

At times, there have plans to reopen the Athenry to Tuam railway line, but they have been put on hold constantly. This would provide intercity services between Tuam and Galway and Dublin, and hopefully it comes in time to save Tuam’s railway station too.

29 May 2019

Three school buildings
enhance the campus
around Tuam cathedral

The former ffrench’s Bank on Bishop Street, Tuam, was an early home for Saint Jarlath’s College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I was in Tuam last Sunday for a funeral in the Cathedral of the Assumption, and spent some time there as well as visiting Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Temple Jarlath and the former episcopal palace.

The Cathedral of the Assumption faces the former Church of Ireland episcopal palace, but it is also surrounded by a number of ecclesiastical and educational establishments that embellish its location, creating a church campus of sorts in this Co Galway town.

Saint Jarlath’s College was first established in a house on Bishop Street that was first built ca 1800 for John Birmingham of Dalgin.

This house became the headquarters of Tuam Bank, or ffrench’s Bank in 1803. But when the bank collapsed in 1813, the house and the 17 acres of land attached to it were acquired for Saint Jarlath’s College, the new diocesan seminary. Three years later, Archbishop Kelly bought the house next door as his residence.

The former ffrench’s Bank is set back off Bishop Street, has five bays, three storeys, a basement and a flight of limestone steps with curving balustrades leading up to the front door.

There is a round-headed carved limestone doorcase with a block-and-start surround with a moulded surround and archivolt, plinths, a triple keystone and a cobweb fanlight. It is considerably enhanced by the ornate railings and gates to the front.

This is one of the largest houses in Tuam and remains part of the Roman Catholic cathedral precinct.

Saint Jarlath’s College emphasises the traditional values of classical education and the authority of the Roman Catholic Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Saint Jarlath’s College moved to a purpose-built college building beside the cathedral in 1858. It was designed in a classical style to emphasise the traditional values of classical education and the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

This H-plan college, built in 1858, has been added to substantially since then. The main façade has nine bays and three storeys with advanced gabled wings of two bays that are the ends of flanking ranges and have oriel windows.

The latter ranges are 11 bays long with a gabled single-bay breakfront on the south-west range. The architectural features include square-headed windows on the main façade and on the upper floors of the west range, oriel windows that are canted and supported on corbels, and a round-headed doorcase with a surround of dressed parallel blocks and a replacement timber door.

An inscribed plaque over the door commemorates the foundation of the college by Archbishop John MacHale in 1858. When this seminary was built, Saint Jarlath's College was an important statement of the confidence and the independence of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. The college remains an important architectural and historical building in Tuam.

Facing Saint Jarlath’s College on the opposite, south-west side of the cathedral grounds, the Presentation Convent is dated 1848.

Bequests from William Burke, who is commemorated in a statue beside the cathedral, allowed the Presentation Sisters to establish their convent here in 1835, and the Sisters of Mercy acquired an adjoining property in 1846.

The Presentation Covent is a very fine composition with good late classical detailing. The architect was Henry Hart of Dublin who was also involved in drawing up plans to improve Saint Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin, including a new design for the windows.

The decorative focus of the Presentation Convent, the entrance breakfront, features a fine limestone doorcase, a simple limestone cornice, a blocking course and a carved limestone cross. This is a detached, two-storey building with a basement, built on an H-plan. It has an eight-bay centre with a two-bay entrance breakfront, and single-bay wings, four-bay side elevations, and various later blocks added at the rear.

A limestone plaque on the first floor of the breakfront records the foundation of the convent by Archbishop MacHale in 1848. The building faces onto lawns and mature trees. The retention of many original features, such as the rear doorway and front railings, enhances the building.

The Presentation Convent, dating from 1848, was designed by Henry Hart (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Tuam’s Cathedral of the
Assumption is one of the
finest churches in Ireland

The Cathedral of the Assumption stands at the top of a tree-lined mall off Bishop Street in Tuam, Co Galway (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The principal ecclesiastical sites in Tuam, Co Galway, include Saint Mary’s Cathedral on High Street, at the west end of the town, Temple Jarlath, which is nearby, and the former episcopal palace, the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption and its campus of church buildings and schools at the east end of the town.

I was in Tuam on Sunday for a funeral in the Cathedral of the Assumption, and spent some time there as well as visiting Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Temple Jarlath and the former episcopal palace.

The Cathedral of the Assumption off Bishop Street is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tuam, which includes half of Co Galway, half of Co Mayo and part of Co Roscommon.

This is one of the finest early 19th century Roman Catholic cathedrals in Ireland and one of the finest church buildings in Ireland.

From start to finish, the cathedral design was carried through by the same architect, Dominick Madden.

Dominick Madden or O’Madden was active in Dublin in the early 19th century and in the midlands and the west from 1817 until the late 1820s. In 1802-1805, he was working on several buildings in the Phoenix Park with Robert Woodgate, architect to the Board of Works. In 1808, he succeeded John Behan as measurer to the Board of Works. But he was dismissed in 1810 for irregular conduct, including the theft of furniture from the Vice-Regal Lodge, and was succeeded by Bryan Bolger.

Following his disgrace in Dublin, Madden moved to the West, where he worked for Christopher St George at Kilcolgan Castle, Co Galway (1814), for Martin Kirwan at Dalgan Park, Shrule, Co Mayo (1817-1822), as well as working at Mount Bellew, Co Galway, and Ballyfin, Co Laois.

Madden went on to design three major Roman Catholic churches in the west: Saint Jarlath’s Cathedral, Tuam, Co Galway (1827), Saint Muiredach’s Cathedral, Ballina, Co Mayo (1827), and Saint Peter and Saint Paul Pro-Cathedral, Ennis, Co Clare (1828).

Inside the Cathedral of the Assumption in Tuam, looking east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

However, Madden was dismissed as the architect of Saint Jarlath’s in 1829, apparently after a disagreement over the design of the east end, and Bernard Mullins (1772-1851) of Birr and Dublin was asked to act as a consultant for the completion of the cathedral.

In an anonymous letter to Archbishop Oliver Kelly of Tuam, his nephew and assistant, Peter Madden, accused the building committee and its chair, Martin Loftus, of treating his uncle unfairly and not paying him.

No more works by Dominick Madden are recorded after 1829. One account says he ‘abandoned his Irish practice to become chief engineer of one of the South American republics.’ But by 1832 he was living in Galway, and he died there in March 1837.

After Madden’s dismissal, the architect Marcus Murray of Roscommon was responsible for the ornamentation of cathedral, while the cut-stone work is by his son William Murray. The stucco work is by John Daven of Galway.

The foundation stone of the cathedral was laid by Archbishop Oliver Kelly on 30 April 1827, two years before Catholic Emancipation, and the cathedral was consecrated by Archbishop Kelly’s successor, Archbishop John MacHale (1791-1881), on 18 August 1836.

The coat-of-arms of Archbishop John MacHale on the west front of the tower of the Cathedral of the Assumption in Tuam (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Cathedral of the Assumption is a cruciform-plan gable-fronted cathedral built in 1827-1831, and designed in 14th century Gothic style, with a three-stage tower at the liturgical west end.

Outside, the Gothic plan of the cathedral is emphasised by its rich elaborate Gothic detailw, especially in the great east window, but also in the crenellations of the side chapels, the gable copings of the east gable, and the multiple pinnacles on octagonal turrets flanking the transept gables.

The cathedral has a five-bay nave, a flanking tower, and a rectangular chancel at the liturgical east end flanked by minor chapels.

The ashlar limestone walls have base moulding, with square-plan three-stage clasping buttresses at the corners of building. The buttresses at the west front and the transepts are recessed and are octagonal above the bottom stage, with arcade details at the top stage, and are topped by crocketed pinnacles. The buttresses at the east end are topped with open work and they have cusped heads at the openings set in gablets topped with sculpted finials and flanked by clasping buttresses that having crocketed pinnacles.

The copings at the east end gable are openwork screens with quatrefoil details set in squares. The parapets to the blocks flanking the chancel have crenellations and cusped pointed arch openings with cross finials and quatrefoil details at the bases. The bays of the cathedral are divided by more slender buttresses topped by single crocketed finials.

Inside the Cathedral of the Assumption in Tuam, looking west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Throughout the cathedral there are pointed windows with chamfered surrounds and hood-mouldings, filled with stained glass. The nave and transepts have triple-light windows, and there is a five-light East Window.

This East Window has elaborate tracery and sculpted hood-moulding with a finial. Madden’s design for most of the tracery in the East Window is based on the East Window is based on the Franciscan friary in Claregalway, Co Galway.

The Ascension window in the North Transept (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The side chapels have small two-light windows with cusped heads and with tracery above, and with sculpted hood-mouldings that have finials.

The stages of the tower are defined by string courses. There are octagonal clasping buttresses to the tower, topped by crocketed pinnacles. These pinnacles are linked by openwork screens with cusped pointed arch openings, and the middle pinnacles are supported on moulded corbels.

The tower has Tudor arch recesses at the top stage with cusped detailing, quatrefoils to the spandrels and pointed arch openings with Y-tracery and sculpted heads to the mullioned openings with timber louvers, and hood-mouldings.

The middle stage of the tower has clock faces in oculus-like settings in pointed frames that have four-light windows below with cusped pointed arch heads, and elaborate hood-mouldings with crocketed pinnacles and human head stops.

The doorways at the gable-front have moulded surrounds, hood-mouldings and carved timber double-leaf doors with limestone thresholds.

The doorways at the transepts have Tudor arches with moulded surrounds and label-mouldings, timber battened double-leaf doors and overdoors and they are flanked by stoups. Above the main entrance, Archbishop MacHale’s coat of arms is flanked by two grotesque faces, typical of the creative works and designs of William Murray.

The quality of the stone carving, the consistency of design and the boldness of the detail makes this cathedral outstanding.

The cathedral has pitched slate roofs, and the main roofs have parapets with base moulding and crenellations.

Inside the Cathedral of the Assumption in Tuam, looking towards the North Transept (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Inside, the cathedral displays excellent work in its clustered columns and detailed vaulted ceilings, and it is enhanced by good-quality stained-glass windows.

The interior is made spacious by the elaborate details, including the slender octagonal columns. There are pointed arches, facets, moulded capitals and elaborate ribbed vaulting with decorative bosses and masks at the junction of the ribs.

The High Altar area in the Cathedral of the Assumption (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The High Altar area has a carved timber screen and a modern altar. The original marble High Altar was the work of the sculptor Giuseppe Leonardi of Rome, whose other works in Ireland include the monument to Archbishop John Thomas Troy in the Pro-Cathedral, Dublin.

This High Altar was said to be the only item in the cathedral of foreign origin. However, in the wake of the liturgical reforms introduced by Vatican II, it was replaced by a modern altar of Wicklow granite.

The organ gallery is fronted by a baldachino with Gothic detailing (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

At the same time, the elaborate Victorian carpentry by John Burke of Tuam, including the bishop’s throne, communion rails and pulpit, were also removed.

However, Burke’s wood-carving skills can still be seen in his organ loft which survived. The organ gallery is fronted by a baldachino with Gothic detailing.

An image of Michael O’Connor’s East Window, currently being repaired and restored (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

There are stained-glass windows throughout the nave, and the East Window, dated 1832, is particularly elaborate. The East Window and other windows are the work of the Dublin-born artist Michael O’Connor (1801-1867).

O’Connor moved to England in 1842, living first in Bristol and from 1845 on in London. He had a successful career in England, working with some of the leading architects of the day, including AWN Pugin and William Butterfield.

The East Window is currently in Germany for repairs and restoration work. But a banner in front of the tracery shows details of the window, with the Virgin Mary in the centre flanked by the four evangelists, Saint Matthew and Saint Mark on the left and Saint Luke and Saint John on the right.

In the 10 compartments above are the coats of arms of the Archbishop of Tuam and families who were benefactors of the cathedral. They are, from left, St George, Kirwan, Bellew, the Marquis of Sligo (Browne), the Diocese of Tuam, Archbishop Kelly, the Earl of Shrewsbury (Talbot), Handcock, Newell and Burke.

Saint Jarlath in Richard King’s window in the North Transept (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Two modern stained glass transept windows of Saint Jarlath and Saint Patrick were installed in 1961. They are the work of Richard Joseph King (1907-1974), manager of the Harry Clarke studios in Dublin from 1935 until 1940, when he set up his own studios in Dalkey.

Saint Patrick depicted in Richard King’s window in the North Transept (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Stations of the Cross were painted in Italy in the early 19th century. Archbishop John MacHale bought the paintings for £200 and they were erected in the cathedral in 1861. The frames are of oak and gilded.

Some restoration work was carried out on the Stations of the Cross in 1925, and a major restoration and conservation project was carried out in 1998-1999, when the paintings were put on new stretchers, relined, repaired, cleaned and varnished. The frames were repaired, missing and decayed pieces were replaced, and they were treated, cleaned and regilded. The restored stations were rededicated by Archbishop Neary on 31 October 1999.

The baptismal font and the north aisle in the Cathedral of the Assumption (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A framed oil-on-canvas painting of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary dates from 1690 and is the work of Carlo Maratta (1625-1713) of the Bolognese school. The painting was bought in Rome in 1842 and was presented to the cathedral in 1884 by Sir William Gregory, husband of Lady Augusta Gregory of the Abbey Theatre.

The statue of Archbishop John MacHale by Sir Thomas Farrell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Outside, the cathedral is flanked by statues by Sir Thomas Farrell of Archbishop John MacHale and William Burke of Tuam, whose endowments enabled the Sisters of Mercy to establish their convents in the cathedral precincts.

Sir Thomas Farrell’s statue of William Burke was modelled by Thomas Henry Burke, later the Under Secretary of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Interestingly, the statue of Burke was modelled by his Tuam-born namesake, Thomas Henry Burke, later the Under Secretary of Ireland or most senior civil servant. Burke was murdered in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, in 1882, with the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Lord Frederick Cavendish.

The Cathedral of the Assumption in Tuam, Co Galway, seen from the south-west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

28 May 2019

Saint Mary’s Cathedral,
Tuam, is the third
cathedral on the site

The west front of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Tuam, Co Galway … the third cathedral on the site, it was designed by Sir Thomas Deane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The principal ecclesiastical sites in Tuam, Co Galway, include Saint Mary’s Cathedral on High Street, at the west end of the town, Temple Jarlath, which is nearby, and the former episcopal palace, the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption and its campus of church buildings and schools at the east end of the town.

I was in Tuam on Sunday for a funeral in the Cathedral of the Assumption, and after a cursory visit to Temple Jarlath two of us walked on west to Saint Mary’s, the magnificent Church of Ireland cathedral of the Diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry.

From the 12th century until 1839, both before and after the Reformation, this was the seat of the Archbishops of Tuam. Most of the present structure dates from the 1870s, but parts of the earlier 12th and 14th century cathedrals survive on the site.

The founder and first bishop of Tuam is said to be Saint Jarlath, who founded a church here about 501. He is said to have died ca 540-550, but before the 11th century only two other Bishops of Tuam are named: Ferdomnach (died 781) and Eugene mac Clerig (died 969).

The mediaeval importance of Tuam develops only in the 11th century when the O’Connor dynasty of High Kings of Ireland made Tuam their seat, moving there from Rathcroghan, near Tulsk, Co Roscommon.

Boarded up windows above the chancel of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Tuam (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The first cathedral on the present site was built in the 12th century, when Turlough O’Connor (1088-1156) was High King. This marked the establishment of Tuam as the seat of an archbishop following the Synod of Kells of 1152.

This first cathedral collapsed in a fire in 1184, with only the stone chancel arch escaping the fire. The site was abandoned for almost 100 years. A small parish church was built in the 13th century at Temple Jarlath, the site of an old monastery.

A second cathedral was built in the 14th century by the de Burgo family, a little to the east of the original building and incorporating the remains of the 12th century chancel and sanctuary. But this chancel arch was blocked up by a stone-and-wooden structure, with a door in its centre. This structure remained in place for over 500 years, when the chancel arch was exposed to the elements.

When the railway arrived in Tuam in 1860-1861 and the army barracks was enlarged, the Anglican population of Tuam more than doubled from 310 to 640, so that the 14th century cathedral was no longer large enough to accommodate the congregation. This inspired Charles James Seymour, Dean of Tuam, to commission a third cathedral on this site in 1861-1878.

The north transept of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Tuam (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

This third cathedral was designed by the architect Sir Thomas Newenham Deane (1828-1899) was born at Dundanion, Co Cork, the eldest son of Thomas Deane and his second wife, Eliza Newenham. He was educated at Rugby and Trinity College Dublin. After graduating in 1849, he became a pupil in his father’s office in Cork.

Deane and his father’s assistant, Benjamin Woodward (1816-1861), became partners in the practice of Deane and Woodward in 1851, and set up an office at No 3 Upper Merrion Street, Dublin. They developed a Gothic style based on the principles laid down by John Ruskin, and their practice played an important role in the Gothic revival in England. Their two most important buildings are the Museum in Trinity College Dublin (1854-1857) and the Oxford Museum (1854-1860).

Woodward died in Lyons in France in 1862. Deane was appointed the first Superintendent of National Monuments in 1875. In 1890, Deane was knighted at the opening of the National Library and the National Museum in Kildare Street.

Deane died suddenly in his office at 37 Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, in 1899 and his practice was continued by his son, Thomas Manly Deane.

Deane’s best known works include the Museum Building in Oxford and the National Library and the National Museum in Kildare Street, Dublin, book-ending Leinster House. Four of his buildings are among my favourite works of architecture in Dublin: the Museum Building in Trinity College; No 46-47 Dame Street, built in 1869-1871 for the Crown Life Assurance Co; the Allied Irish Bank, formerly the Munster and Leinster Bank, at 7-10 Dame Street; and the former Kildare Street Club on Kildare Street.

Deane’s other works also include the former Stopford House Hotel, or Invermore, in Courtown, Co Wexford, designed around 1860 for the Earl Courtown’s land agent, and at one time was the home of Eva Mary Comerford (née Esmond) and her daughter Maire Comerford (1893-1982); Rathmichael Parish Church (1863), Co Dublin; Turlough House, Co Mayo, built for Charles Lionel Fitzgerald; the façade of Saint Ann’s Church, Dawson Street, Dublin (1866-1869); and the Graduates’ Memorial Building (GMB) in Trinity College Dublin (1899).

Deane’s cathedral in Tuam was consecrated on 9 October 1878, and Robert Gregg, Bishop of Cork, was the preacher.

The tower and spire of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Tuam, are adaptations of the tower and spire of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Deane designed this third cathedral in the Irish pointed style. The building is 46 metres (150 ft) long, and the transepts 23 metres (75 ft) wide.

Deane’s intention – never properly fulfilled – was to complete, to his own designs, the work begun in the 14th century by Archbishop William de Bermingham (1289-1310). To the west of the 12th century chancel he built a choir, north and south transepts, a massive central tower and spire, and an aisled nave of five bays with a clerestory.

The tower and spire are 55 metres high and are adaptations of the tower and spire of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. The chancel has two bays and tall walls and two tall pointed windows.

Deane’s design was inspired in many ways by Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. The nave and choir have a stepped and machiolated parapet. The west door is surmounted by an arcade of seven equal trefoil headed windows, with the central window commemorating Deane.

A south door in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Tuam (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Deane’s cathedral incorporates the 12th century Hiberno-Romanesque arch, the only remaining part of the original cathedral built in the reign of Turlough O’Connor.

The arch is built of red sandstone and has been described as ‘the finest example of Hiberno-Romanesque architecture now extant.’ As this arch has no keystone, the columns supporting the capitals of the arch have a slight inward inclination to bear and support the weight of the structure. This means that the columns are not perpendicular, and the space at the base of the supporting columns is wider than at the capitals.

The arch is 6.85 metres wide at the base and 4.88 metres high. It consists of six consecutive semi-circular arches of elaborately ornamented stonework supported on columns. The capitals are richly sculptured with a variety of interlaced traceries, similar to those on the base of the High Cross of Tuam, and there are carved grotesque faces on the jambs.

A damaged window in the north transept (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The west window, depicting the Transfiguration, dates from 1913. Other windows depict Biblical figures, including Moses, David, Solomon, Ezra, Malachi and Saint John the Baptist. Solomon and Ezra were chosen because of their role in building and rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. A window depicting Christ the King is in memory of the architect Deane.

The oak reredos came from Saint Columb’s Cathedral, Derry. The chancel chairs were presented by Henry Browne, 5th Marquess of Sligo. The Bishop’s Throne, pulpit, font and chapter stalls are made of Caen stone and Irish marble and were donated by Thomas Plunket (1792-1866), Lord Plunket and Bishop of Tuam (1839-1866).

The original organ was the gift of Archbishop Josiah Hort in 1742. But it was severely damaged by damp, and a new organ was bought and installed in 1913.

The High Cross of Tuam was moved to the cathedral in 1992. This High Cross was erected in the 12th century by Turlough O’Connor to mark the completion of the first cathedral and the appointment of the first Archbishop of Tuam. The ornamented shaft of another high cross dating from the late 12th century is in the south aisle.

The Synod Hall incorporates the second, 14th century cathedral … the East Window bears a striking resemblance to the East Window in Exeter Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The second cathedral, built by the de Burgo family and Archbishop de Bermingham, became the Diocesan Synod Hall, Library and Registry. The style of what had been the second cathedral in Tuam is English Gothic, which is rare in Ireland. The five-light east window features geometric tracery that includes two quatrefoil windows under a sexfoil centrepiece. This composition bears a striking resemblance to Exeter Cathedral.

The buttresses here on the south and east walls have niches above the first weathering that reputedly held statues of the four evangelists until the Reformation.

The Synod Hall once included stalls said to have once stood in a monastery in northern Italy. After Napoleon destroyed the monastery, the stalls were hidden in a cellar in Turin for 50 years until they were bought in Nice for £3,000 by Edward Joshua Cooper, MP, of Markree Castle, Co Sligo. He placed them in his private chapel in his castle, and presented them to Saint Mary’s Cathedral in 1882. They were sold in 1984 and returned to Italy.

Some major renovations took place in 1985-1993, and a new central heating system was added in 2000. The synod hall was restored in 1985-1987.

The Dean of Tuam is the Very Revd Alistair Grimason, and the chapter consists of the Dean, the Provost, the Archdeacon, Gary Hastings (since 2007), and the Prebendaries of Balla and Killabegs, Faldown and Kilmainmore, Kilmeen and Kilmoylan, and Taghsaxon and Laccagh.

Holy Communion is celebrated at 12 noon on Sundays, and the cathedral is open to visitors on Friday mornings and afternoons during the summer months.

Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Tuam, seen from the south-east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Temple Jarlath: a direct link
with Saint Jarlath of Tuam

Temple Jarlath on High Street is said to mark the site of the earliest monastic settlement established by Saint Jarlath in Tuam (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Tuam in Co Galway owes its origins to Saint Jarlath or Saint Iarlaithe mac Loga, a sixth century priest and scholar who is celebrated as the founder of the monastic School of Tuam and he is patron saint of the Archdiocese of Tuam.

The four main ecclesiastical sites in Tuam are Saint Mary’s Cathedral on High Street, at the end of the west town, Temple Jarlath, which is nearby, and the former episcopal palace, the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption and its campus of church buildings and schools at the east end of the town.

Although Tuam traces its origins as a church and diocese to Saint Jarlath, there is no surviving mediaeval life of the saint. The main sources are references in early genealogies, martyrologies, the lives of Saint Brendan of Clonfert, and a 17th century biography compiled by the Franciscan scholar John Colgan.

Indeed, Irish genealogies record the existence of two saints named Iarlaithe: Iarlaithe son of Lugh (Iarlaithe mac Loga), founder of Tuam, and Iarlaithe son of Trian (Iarlaithe mac Trena), third Bishop of Armagh.

Jarlath of Tuam is said to have belonged to the Conmhaícne, the ruling family in the greater part of what would become the parish of Tuam. The other Iarlaithe is said to have belonged to the Dál Fiatach in east Ulster. He is identified as the third Bishop of Armagh, succeeding Saint Patrick’s heir Benignus, and the Annals of Ulster and Innisfallen record his death in the year 481.

In John Colgan’s memoir of Saint Jarlath in his Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae (1645), Jarlath is said to have studied at Kilbennen under Saint Benignus, a disciple of Saint Patrick.

Later, he founded his first monastery at Cluainfois (Cloonfush), near Tuam. His monastic school is said to have attracted scholars from throughout Ireland, including Saint Brendan of Ardfert and Saint Colman of Cloyne. Despite his fame, Jarlath left Cloonfush to study under Saint Enda of Aran around 495.

A poem ascribed to Cuimmín of Coindeire recalls Jarlath’s generosity and piety: ‘300 genuflections every night, and 300 genuflections every day.’ In Ó Cléirigh’s Martyrology of Donegal, he is said to have predicted the names of his successors, including those of three ‘heretical’ bishops.

In the mediaeval Irish Lives of Saint Brendan of Clonfert, Saint Brendan is said to have visited Connacht to study under Saint Jarlath. One day, when Jarlath was in his old age, Brendan advised his mentor to leave the school: ‘Go and where your chariot wheels break, there shall be the site of your new monastery and the place of your resurrection.’

Jarlath’s travels did not take him very far: he had travelled 4 km east when the shafts of his chariot broke at Tuaim da Ghualann (‘Mound of two shoulders’), the site of present-day Tuam, ca 526-527. There Jarlath died, ‘full of days,’ on 26 December ca 540, aged about 90.

The curving enclosure wall to the east along Church Lane and to the south along Sawpit Lane probably preserves the line of an earlier ecclesiastical enclosure (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Temple Jarlath on High Street is said to mark the site of the earliest monastic settlement established by Saint Jarlath in Tuam. However, the Vikings may have plundered this foundation, and little is known about Saint Jarlath or his early church, although it survived in some form into the 11th century.

The exact location of the saint’s original foundation is not clear. The proliferation of religious houses and ecclesiastical foundations in the town under the patronage of the O’Connors of Connacht adds to this confusion and uncertainty.

According to the Archaeological Survey of Ireland, the curving enclosure wall to the east along Church Lane and to the south along Sawpit Lane probably preserves the line of an earlier ecclesiastical enclosure.

Tony Claffey, author of the Tuam Historic Towns Atlas, believes that the site of Temple Jarlath was probably chosen for a re-established settlement built by Áed Ua Conchobair (O’Connor), or ‘Áed of the gapped spear’ in the 11th century.

King Turlough O’Connor extended the site at Temple Jarlath westwards to provide space for the new Saint Mary’s Cathedral. Despite the legends and the myths, Tuam only became the principal see in Connacht only at the Synod of Kells-Mellifont in 1152, while Annaghdown became an independent diocese at the Synod of Dublin in 1192.

But the ruins in the enclosure at Temple Jarlath are of a much later date. They include the ruins of a late 13th century parish church with a fine pointed triple light transitional east window and a later tower to the west, all on the east side of a raised, D-shaped graveyard. A late mediaeval tower stands at the west end of the church.

Following the Reformation, the church at Temple Jarlath was neglected and fell into ruins. However, it as used as the Roman Catholic parish church of the town until a new church was built in Chapel Lane in 1783. The 18th century O’Connor Donellan chapel is attached to the north wall. The surrounding churchyard continued to be used as the town graveyard until it was been closed for burials in 1885.

A late mediaeval tower stands at the west end of the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A large steel and wooden tower has been built on High Street to enable access to the ruined church and graveyard. However, although a sign says the site is opened daily during the summer months, it was locked when I visited on Sunday afternoon. The sign said contact details for the caretaker were available through the Galway County Council offices ‘across the road’ … but it was Sunday, and they were closed too, of course.

Today, depending on your point of view, the graveyard and church look abandoned or like a haven of peace in the heart of the town, with its lines of large yew trees and worn gravel paths.

Saint Jarlath’s feast day is celebrated on 6 June, the date of the translation of his relics to a church specially built in his honour at the east end of Tuam. There, at Teampal na Scríne or the Church of the Shrine, his remains were encased in a silver shrine, and the church became a perpetual vicarage united to the Prebend of Kilmainemore in 1415.

It is said that the relics of Saint Jarlath were hidden after the Reformation but were unearthed by workers threshing corn in 1625. Later, Loughlin O’Connor and his descendants of Kilclooney, Tuam, were appointed custodians of the relics. They remained in the possession of this family ‘until 1831, when they disappeared and were never recovered.’

Saint Jarlath’s broken wheel has become the heraldic symbol of Tuam, and is used by many local organisations, including Tuam Town Council.

The graveyard looks like a haven of peace in the heart of the town, with its lines of large yew trees and worn gravel paths (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)