17 October 2020
Saint Mary’s Church, Croom,
from a thatched roof to
a Gothic Revival church
After visiting the Church of Ireland parish church in Croom, Co Limerick, beside Croom House, two of us crossed the street to visit the Roman Catholic parish church, was first built at the beginning of the 19th century on a site that was once part of the grounds of Croom Castle.
The Church of Saint Mary of the Assumption was probably built by Father Laurence Hartnett in 1814-1821, although some accounts say the church was first built in 1808. The confusion is compounded by the fact that there were two parish priests in Croom named Laurence Hartnett, an uncle and nephew.
Before 1641, the area around Croom was known as Ballingaddy parish, comprising the townlands of Croom and Toureen. Before Croom became a parish centre in 1711, the parish church was at Anhid. Only one wall remains of Anhid church, however, in the centre of Anhid graveyard. The old water font was removed from Anhid church in 1969.
The Croker family of Croom Castle donated the site for Saint Mary’s Church. The church was originally rectangular in shape, with a thatched roof and flagged floor. Two wings were later added, giving the church its present T-shape.
According to Samuel Lewis in 1837, the parish of Croom was the head of the Roman Catholic district comprising the parishes of Croom, Anhid, Dunaman, Carrigran and Dysart.
The church was lengthened in the 1850s, and a new slated roof was added. The sacristy was built in 1898. At this time, the Lyons family of Croom House had their own gallery in the church.
The church is a good example of the Gothic Revival style and a striking feature in the landscape. It was rebuilt in 1929-1932, with the addition of the baptistry in 1929 and chancel in 1932. The walls were raised 10 ft all round and buttressed outside. A new roof was laid, and the flagstone floor was overlaid with pitch pine boards. This work was designed by the Dublin architect Ralph Henry Byrne (1877-1946), and the church was solemnly reopened on Sunday 4 April 1932 by Bishop David Keane of Limerick.
Ralph Henry Byrne was born in Largo House, 166 Lower Rathmines Road, Dublin, a son of the architect William Henry Byrne (1844-1917), a former pupil of JJ McCarthy. Ralph Byrne was articled to his father in 1896 for five years before joining him as a partner in 1902. After his father’s death in 1917, Byrne continued the business under the name of William H Byrne & Son.
Byrne’s principal works are churches, convents, schools and presbyteries, along with a number of banks, and he restored the Church of Our Lady of Refuge in Rathmines after a disastrous fire in 1920.
The coherence of Byrne’s decorative theme in the church in Croom is seen in his use of pointed arch windows and a bellcote, while the interesting canted end bays display an innovative interpretation of the Gothic Revival style. The interior is especially rich in decoration, with well-made quadripartite rib vaults and decorative marble fittings.
The church has a three-bay nave, with canted gable-fronted end-bays at the nave, single-bay transepts and a lower sacristy with an addition at the south side.
The other features include pointed arch windows, hood-mouldings, limestone sills, stained-glass windows, including a Y-tracery stained-glass window, double-leaf timber panelled doors with flanking limestone fonts, quadripartite rib vaults with rosettes and foliate corbels, timber galleries with a recessed pointed arch blind arcade.
There is a pedimented altar canopy with fluted Corinthian-style columns and a marble reredos, and there are marble altar railings to altar. The mosaics behind the High Altar were designed by Ludwig Oppenheimer ca 1915.
The pitched slate roof has a pointed arch open-work bellcote at the gable-front, with a render cross finial, and a render bracketed eaves course.
Following the liturgical reforms introduced by Vatican II, the altar, sanctuary and floors were renovated in 1969. More recently, the stonework on the outside of the church was exposed, and the church was painted. The exposed stonework gives an indication of the original height of the thatch before the new roof was laid.
A plaque inside the side door on the right is dedicated to Henry Lyons of Croom House, who died in 1885 aged 57. Inside the side door on the left is a plaque to Lawrence Hartnett, Parish Priest, who is buried in the church.
Stained-glass windows donated by parishioners include windows depicting Saint Anthony, Saint Bridget, Saint Patrick, Saint Theresa and the Holy Family.
Another plaque on the stairs to the right gallery recalls the Lyons family, and the stained-glass window depicting the Archangel Michael in the gallery is dedicated to the Lyons family. The window in the facing gallery depicts the Archangel Gabriel.
Two parish priests are buried within the church: Father Lawrence Hartnett, Parish Priest of Croom and Ballybanogue, who died on 27 August 1861, aged 73; and his successor, Father John Quinlan, Parish Priest for 31 years, who died on 19 May 1892, aged 72. Other priests of the parish are buried in the surrounding churchyard.