12 February 2020

A glimpse of four more
churches in Cork and Cobh

Trinity Presbyterian Church, Cork, is set back from Summerhill North on top of a grassy bank (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

While I was in Cork and Cobh last week, I visited a number of cathedrals and churches, including Saint Fin Barre’s Catherdral (Church of Ireland) and the North Cathedral (Roman Catholic) in Cork, Saint Colman’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Cobh, and two of the oldest churches in Cork, the Unitarian Church in Prince’s Street, Saint Anne’s Church (Church of Ireland), Shandon, and the former Methodist Church in Cobh.

But, of course, there were other churches that I saw briefly, although I had little time to arrange to see inside them.

Cork Trinity Presbyterian Church is on Little William Street, Summerhill North. The church is set back from Summerhill North on top of a grassy bank. Reputedly the site was once used as grazing grounds by drovers, staying at the Grosvenor Inn in MacCurtain Street and bringing cattle to the docks.

The first Presbyterian congregation in Cork dated back to 1675 when a meeting house was built in Prince’s Street. This was rebuilt in 1717, and for many years it now Cork Unitarian Church.

The Prince’s Street congregation split in the 1840s, between the ‘New Light’ or Non-Subscribing Presbyterians and the ‘Old Light’ or Trinitarian and Calvinist Presbyterians, who formed a new congregation.

A new Presbyterian church was commissioned by the new congregation and was designed by John Tarring (1806-1875), the architect of many non-conformist church buildings in England. The builder was Richardson of London, and work was completed in 1861.

The church is the only known work in Ireland by Tarring, who has been styled ‘the Gilbert Scott of the Dissenters.’ Tarring was born at Holbeton, near Plymouth, and worked as a carpenter and a plasterer before studying to become an architect. He worked principally in London, where his practice was known variously as ‘John Tarring, Esq,’ ‘Tarring & Jones’ and ‘J Tarring & Son.’

Tarring was the first architect to design a spire for a nonconformist church in London, and this is thought to have influenced the Baptists and Congregationalists to begin building churches in the Gothic style.

Most of his commissions were nonconformist churches, although he had one remodelling commission for an Anglican chapel. He rebuilt George Whitefield’s chapel in Tottenham Court Road in 1856 after fire destroyed the previous chapel. Tarring’s chapel had a dome 38 metres high. It was closed in 1889 due to subsidence and was demolished later.

Tarring’s other churches in London included the Westminster Chapel, Buckingham Gate (1841), and Chelsea Congregational Church (1858-1860). He also restored Combermere Abbey, Cheshire, and Thornton Hall, Buckinghamshire. He built a large mansion block in an Italianate style at Queen’s Gate, Hyde Park, in 1860.

He returned to Devon and died at Torquay on 27 December 1875. He is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, London. His son Frederick William Tarring (1847-1925) continued his practice.

Tarring designed Trinity Presbyterian Church, Cork, in a Gothic style with a distinctive spire. It was built in 1860-1861 on a cruciform plan with shallow transepts, broach spire, buttresses and large windows.

The interior has a gallery to the rear, where a pipe organ was installed by the Cork firm of Magahy in 1904, and seats for a choir. The rest of the interior, with a central pulpit, no central aisle and no pillars, reflects Tarring’s work on nonconformist churches and chapels in England. Other features include the three stained-glass windows that represent the Trinity.

The spire has a distinctive kink and legend says the workers did this deliberately to spite the architect … or that it was an accident caused by their drunkenness. There is also a gruesome legend that the architect hanged himself in the tower … but this too is pure fiction.

The disused schoolhouse at the gates of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The disused schoolhouse at the church gates is an integral part of the Trinity Church complex. This small, single-storey school was built in 1865, using the same materials and quality of building found in the church.

Most of the original features have been retained, including the cast-iron railings, gates and windows. There are gabled projecting wings, a low copper sheeted spire, limestone walls with cut stone details, gate piers, and small pane leaded windows.

Members of the congregation try to have Trinity Presbyterian Church open for visitors each weekday morning, with guided tours on Wednesday mornings.

The Revd Richie Cronin from Donoughmore, Co Cork, who became the minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Cork, in 2018, was the first Cork-born person to become the minister of the church since it opened in 1861.

The Baptist Church opened on MacCurtain Street, Cork, in 1892 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

There has been a Baptist Church in since the 17th century. It was originally organised by Edward Riggs of Rigsdale, Ballinhassig, MP for Bandon and a Commissioner of the Peace.

The church met at different locations throughout the city during its history, starting in Coleman’s Alley in the Cornmarket Street area. The first building was erected in Mill Street, afterwards known as Fishamble Lane, now Liberty Street. This building was later used by the Augustinians and the Franciscans.

The second Baptist Church in Cork was built on the south-east marsh, known as Dunscombe Marsh, now Marlboro Street, parallel to Prince’s Street where the Unitarian Church stands. This site on Marlboro Street later became the site of the Cork YMCA.

The present Baptist Church opened in King Street, now MacCurtain Street, in 1892. The church was designed by the Dublin-born architect George Palmer Beater (1850-1928). Beater’s father, Orlando Beater of Glenarm, Terenure, was the chairman of Arnotts.

Beater was articled to the architect to Alfred Gresham Jones. Beater’s other works included the former Baptist churches on Harcourt Street and North Circular Road, Dublin, the former Baptist Church in Limerick, the Fetherstonhaugh Convalescent Home for the Adelaide Hospital, now the Church of Ireland Theological Institute – where I was lecturer until 2017, the Slievemore Hotel, Dugort, Achill Island, and the Northern Bank in Bray, Co Wicklow.

Beater also designed much of the work on Arnott’s premises in Henry Street, Dublin, many of the premises rebuilt on Sackville Street (O’Connell Street), Dublin, after the 1916 Rising, and some of the houses on Grosvenor Road, Rathmines.

Beater was identified with many charities, and was a Governor of the Royal Hospital, Dublin, and the Old Men’s Home on Leeson Park. Beater died at his home at 9 Brighton Road, Rathgar, on 8 February 1928, and was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

The front elevation of Cork Baptist Church, designed by George Palmer Beater (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The front elevation of the Baptist Church on MacCurtain Street, Cork, has a brickwork façade, while the other walls are built from random rubble masonry. The roof is supported by pitch pine queen post trusses.

The main architectural features include the unusual tower and carving over the entrance, the pitch pine doors with ornate metal work, and the leaded windows facing the street. Electricity was installed in 1908 at a cost of £9, paid in 12 instalments of 15 shillings.

The interesting internal features include the pulpit, the table located in front of the pulpit upstairs and the baptistery located in the main hall downstairs. The upper floor was installed in 1979 to allow for greater use of the building and to provide extra facilities.

Holy Trinity Church, also known as Father Mathew Memorial Church, on Father Mathew Quay (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Holy Trinity Church, also known as Father Mathew Memorial Church, is a Gothic Revival church and Capuchin friary on Father Mathew Quay, on the banks of the River Lee. It belongs to the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin and is the only church dedicated to the temperance campaigner Father Theobald Mathew (1790-1856).

The church is a Regency Gothic-style church with a Gothic-Revival portico, and is one of the first large churches in the south of Ireland built in this style.

The Capuchins arrived in Cork in 1637, 13 years after the first Capuchin community in Ireland was established in Dublin. The Cork friary was destroyed in 1644 but reopened in 1649. It may have stood on the same site as the later South Friary, on Blackamoor Lane, in what is now Cork’s South Parish.

The South Friary was built in 1771 by Father Arthur O’Leary, who described this church as ‘remarkable for its dwarfish dimensions, its utter want of architectural grace, and its perfect seclusion from the public gaze.’

Theobald Mathew arrived in Cork in 1814 and became an active social crusader, working among the city’s poor. He decided to replace the cramped South Friary with a new church. The plan by the architect George Richard Pain – who also designed Blackrock Castle, nearby Christchurch and the courthouse on Washington Street – was chosen in 1825. Pain, a former apprentice of the architect John Nash, was awarded the contract for £50.

The city offered a site on Sullivan’s Quay, but Theobald Mathew opted for a site on Charlotte Quay, now Father Mathew Quay. This required draining the marshy ground on Morrison’s Island and a building a foundation that would bear the weight of the church building.

Holy Trinity was designed by Pain in a simple English Gothic Revival, or Regency Gothic, style. Pain made extensive use of arched windows, flying buttresses and columns, culminating in a tapering ‘lacy Gothic spire, seemingly more air than stone.’

The preparation of the site cost almost £1,600, and the estimated cost of building the church was £10,000. Two other churches – Saint Patrick’s, Lower Glanmire Road, and Saint Mary’s Dominican church on Pope’s Quay – were being built in the city at the same time and so there was a competition for funds at a time when the city was stricken by an outbreak of cholera.

The foundation stone was laid on 10 October 1832, Father Mathew’s birthday. Pain died in 1838, and Thomas Coakley took charge of the project. The cost of the church had spiralled to £14,000 by 1840, and work stalled in 1841.

Following the Great Famine, a public meeting in Cork agreed to continue work on Holy Trinity. The architect Thomas Deane was chosen to complete the church without its portico and spire; William Atkins took responsibility for the interior.

The church finally opened on 10 October 1850. But the interior was only completed 10 years after Father Mathew’s death, about 1866, and the portico remained unfinished. The sculptor John Hogan produced two carved heads flanking the main door.

There were several suggestions over the following two decades for completing the façade. Eventually, a design by Dominic (or Dominick) J Coakley was selected. This design has similar to Pain’s but on a smaller scale. The construction work was carried out by John Sisk of Cork.

The work on Holy Trinity was completed in time for the centenary of Father Matthew’s birthday and the church reopened on 13 October 1890.

The north window, behind the high altar, is dedicated to Daniel O'Connell and was installed in 1850, three years after his death. Two other stained glass windows, likely by the same artist, depict the Virgin Mary and the coat of arms of Pope Leo XIII.

A stained-glass window in the east wall, commissioned by the Cork and District Trades and Labour Council, was produced by Joshua Clarke to a design by his son Harry Clarke. Two other windows were also commissioned from Harry Clarke and his brother Walter.

The church was entirely renovated at a cost of £500,000 in 1982. This included replacing the casings around the cast-iron columns with slender wooden casings and removing the original pulpit, high altar and confessionals. The interior porch was extended in 2013.

The friary on the west side of the church was designed by Robert Walker in the Venetian Gothic style and was completed in 1884-1888.

The Scots Church, a former Presbyterian church, is now the Cobh Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The Scots Church, a former Presbyterian church, rises above Cobh harbour and is a feature on the skyline of Cobh, above the WatersEdge Hotel, where I was staying last week.

The building is a former Gothic Revival church, with three-bay nave, single-bay vestry to the east and a three-stage, stepped tower with an octagonal limestone spire with consoles on the south side.

Tenders were invited for a new church in April 1851, it was designed in the Early English style by the Cork-born architect Henry Hill (1807-1887), and it was completed by October 1855.

Henry Hill was the second surviving son of the architect Thomas Hill and a younger brother of William Hill. Henry may possibly have received part of his architectural training in London, and he returned to Cork in 1827.

He probably worked for a time in George Richard Pain’s office after his return to Cork, and his brother William Hill may also have worked for Pain.

Henry Hill died at the age of 80 in 1887 and was buried in Cloyne Cathedral on 30 May 1887. His pupils and assistants included his nephews William Henry Hill and Richard Arthur Hill, and he was the great-grandfather of Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe House, Co Cork.

The Scots Church in Cobh closed in 1965, and it was gifted to Cork County Library in 1973. Cobh Museum opened in the former church in 1973. It tells the social and commercial history of Cove, Queenstown and Cobh, Great Island and Cork Harbour, with a focus on maritime and military history, and the exhibits include artefacts from the RMS Lusitania.

The main interior features of the church have survived including the pulpit, lectern, harmonium and original Bible.

The WatersEdge Hotel, Cobh, where I was staying last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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