29 September 2020

Two Gothic Revival
parish churches in
Buttevant, Co Cork

Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic parish church, the dominant building on the streets of Buttevant, Co Cork, was designed by Charles Cotterel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Following my visit to Liscarroll and Liscarroll Castle at the end of last week, I continued on to the neighbouring town of Buttevant in north Co Cork.

Buttevant has a lengthy and interesting religious heritage. The old Gaelic name for the town, Cill na Mullach, means ‘Church on the Hillcocks’ or ‘Church on the Summits’ and was rendered in Latin as Ecclesia Tumulorum.

The survival of this Irish name indicates a church heritage in Buttevant that long predates the arrivals of the de Barry family and the Anglo-Normans at the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries.

Several other Irish placenames have been assigned to Buttevant by successive officials, including Cill na mBeallach, Cill na Mollach, and, more recently, Cill na Mallach, which might signify ‘the Church of the Curse,’ leading to confusion with nearby Killmallock in Co Limerick.

It was natural that I should visit the main ecclesiastical sites in Buttevant, including Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic parish church, Saint John’s Church of Ireland parish church, and the ruins of the Franciscan and Augustinian friaries.

Saint Mary’s Church stands within the site of the mediaeval Franciscan friary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

One of the principal architectural features on the Main Street in Buttevant is Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic parish church. The foundation stone for this church was laid just two years after Catholic Emancipation in 1829. The Church was built with locally sourced fine limestone and took five years to complete.

The site, adjoining the ruins of the mediaeval Franciscan friary, was donated to the parish by Lord Doneraile, and the Board of Works provided a grant of £600. Saint Mary’s was designed by the Cork architect Charles Cotterel in the Gothic Perpendicular style, similar in style to Saint John’s, the neighbouring Church of Ireland parish church which was built in 1826.

Charles Cotterel – whose name is also spelt Cottrell and Cotterell – was working as an architect in Cork from the 1820s until the 1860s. He may have been the son of Edward Francis Cottrell, architect of Hanover Street, Cork.

He is listed as a builder or architect at Wandesford Bridge in Pigot’s Directory (1824) and as an architect in the Cork Constitution (1831), and in directories in 1842-1843, 1846 and 1863. His other works include a design for a steeple for Christ Church, Cork, and he was the architect of the Franciscan Church in Grattan Street, Cork (1830).

Saint Mary’s Church, Buttevant, was built and completed in two distinct phases between 1824 and 1864 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Saint Mary’s is the dominant building on the streets of Buttevant, standing in an interesting position between two terraces of houses and shops. Cotterel’s design makes full use of the site and incorporates a mediaeval watch tower from the Franciscan friary, at the east side.

Previously, Buttevant’s penal church was in Mill Lane, near the Mill. During a visit in 1828, Bishop Collins said, ‘the chapel was almost a ruin.’

Saint Mary’s was built and completed in two distinct phases between 1824 and 1864, and Father Cornelius Buckley was a driving force in this project.

Father Cornelius Buckley was a driving force in building Saint Mary’s Church, Buttevant (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

It was difficult to find a suitable site for the church. Canon law did not permit a church site without freehold status to be consecrated as holy ground or to build a church on it. John Anderson had owned the manor of Buttevant and his bankruptcy caused confusion regarding the ownership and ancient rights of the property.

However, by 1831, Lord Doneraile had bought the Manor of Buttevant and donated the site for a new church.

The site included the ruins of the Franciscan friary with its graveyard to the north of the friary, in what had been its cloister, as well as the ruins of a Desmond tower and the vacant lots on the Main Street between two existing terraces.

Inside Saint Mary’s Church, Buttevant (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

A building committee was formed in 1829 to raise funds for the project. The initial estimate of £3,000 underestimated the scale of the project and merely built the walls and roof. The foundation stone was laid in 1831, the building was completed by Christmas 1835 and the church was consecrated on 6 October 1836.

The fundraising efforts continued, including a celebrity sermon by the temperance campaigner Father Theobald Mathew in December 1842.

But the Great Famine (1845-1849) intervened and the project stopped for several years.

The chancel window in Saint Mary’s Church, Buttevant (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

A second building committee was formed to complete the church. Richard Brash was contracted in June 1855 to complete the interior of Saint Mary’s. This included building the sacristy and completing the interior by laying out the chancel, installing the ceiling and providing tracery and glass for three of the main windows.

Other additions included two side altars, 12 gothic seats and removing the bell from the new tower to the old one. The committee also enclosed the church grounds.

Due to the constraints of the site, the church is aligned on a north-south axis rather than the traditional east-west liturgical axis.

Saint Mary’s has a three-stage bell tower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Saint Mary’s has a three-bay nave, a three-stage bell tower to street, west elevation, a 15th-century tower to the east elevation and a gable-fronted sacristy addition at the west elevation.

The features include the clock on the west tower, pointed arch windows with chamfered surrounds, sills, hood-mouldings and stained glass. There is panelled tracery in the windows in the transepts and the south gable, double-light windows in the nave, lancet arch windows in the tower, timber louvers blind windows, pointed windows, pointed arch chamfered door openings with carved timber panelled doors, and a Tudor arch door opening.

The Tudor arch door at Saint Mary’s Church, Buttevant (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

There are decorative floor tiles, a limestone threshold, a marble altar, altar rail and steps, and a mosaic floor, and a ribbed depressed Tudor arch ceiling with gold-leaf render decoration.

The retention of original features such as the carved timber panelled doors, the stained-glass windows and the intricate stonework, add character and charm to this building and to the town.

Saint John’s Church, beside Buttevant Castle, stands on the site of two earlier churches – one dedicated to Saint Brigid and the other to the Virgin Mary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The earlier and now-closed Church of Ireland parish church, Saint John’s Church, is at the south end of the town, just off the Main Street and close to Buttevant Castle.

Saint John’s was built in 1826 and was designed in the Gothic Perpendicular style by the Limerick-based architect James Pain (1779-1877) and his brother George Richard Pain (1793-1838), who was based in Cork.

The church stands on a site that has been of religious significance in Buttevant for centuries, with the ruins of not one but two previous churches on the site – one dedicated to Saint Brigid and the other to the Virgin Mary.

Saint John’s Church was built in 1826 on the site of an older church, Saint Mary’s, that was built ca 1698.

Saint John’s was built at a time when John Anderson (1747-1820) and his son, James Caleb Anderson (1792-1861), were responsible for the increased wealth and redevelopment of Buttevant.

Saint John’s cost £1,476 18s to build and was financed by local contributions and a loan from the Board of First Fruits.

In his Topographical Dictionary (1837), Samuel Lewis describes Saint John’s: ‘The church is a handsome structure in the later English style, with a square embattled tower surmounted by a finely proportioned spire: it is situated near the river and within the castle demesne, and was built in 1826, near the site of an ancient church, of which there are still some remains, and on the site of another of more recent date …’

Saint John’s Church was built in 1826 in the Gothic Perpendicular style, designed by the brothers James Pain and George Richard Pain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Saint John’s became the church for the larger Buttevant Union, and Bregoge, Kilbroney and Cahirduggan had joined the Buttevant Union in 1820. Several families from Doneraile, including Viscount Doneraile, the Revd F Crofts and James Grove White, joined the Buttevant community following an argument with their rector in Doneraile, the Revd H Somerville.

The south-facing window depicting the Sermon on the Mount is said to be the work of Stephen Adams Junior, whose father was a renowned stained-glass artist and designer and co-founder of the School of Arts and Crafts at Glasgow. The window is dedicated to those ‘who formerly worshipped in this Church,’ and contains a section of the window from Rheims Cathedral that was destroyed during World War I.

Saint John’s Church also has an early 18th century hatchment that was have originally in the now demolished church in Kilbolane, near Milford. The Kilbolane Hatchment has been identified it as the impaled arms of the Very Revd Jonathan Bruce and his wife, Mary (Prytherick). Bruce was curate of Kilbolane from 1708 to 1729, and also Dean of Kilfenora. Mary Bruce, for whom the hatchment was made, died in 1731.

Saint John’s continued in use until it was partially closed in 1980. It is now under the care of the Friends of Saint John’s who maintain it and use it for community events.

Saint John’s Church is under the care of the Friends of Saint John’s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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