14 October 2020

The parish church in Bruree
was built in the 1920s in the
Hiberno-Romanesque style

The Church of the Immaculate Conception in Bruree was built in 1922-1925 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Bruree in Co Limerick was one of the seats for the kings of Munster until the end of the 12th century, according to local lore, and Bruree was the place where Irish bards met twice a year until 1746.

Over the years, Bruree was a seat of the Dalcassians, the Uí Fidgeinte, the O’Briens and the Anglo-Normans. The de Lacys became the principal landowners ca 1290. However, Bruree is best-known as the childhood home of the former Taoiseach and President Eamon de Valera.

I had already visited the former Church of Ireland parish church in Bruree, Saint Munchin’s Church, Ballynoe, built in 1812 and closed in 1969. On my back from Kilmallock to Askeaton at the weekend, I stopped again in Bruree, this time to visit the Roman Catholic parish church.

Inside The Church of the Immaculate Conception in Bruree, facing the liturgical east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The Church of the Immaculate Conception was built in 1922-1925, when Father John Breen was the parish priest, and was officially opened on 26 April 1925.

The foundation stone to the left of the main door of the church was laid by Bishop Denis Hallinan of Limerick on 8 December 1922. The inscription says Samuel Francis Hynes from Cork was the architect and Jeremiah J Coffey from Midleton, Co Cork, was the builder.

The church is built in the Hiberno-Romanesque style, with limestone from nearby Tankardstown, in Kilmallock.

Inside the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Bruree, facing the liturgical west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

This church is oriented on a north-south axis, instead of the traditional east-west liturgical axis. It has a fine interior with stained-glass windows, a well-carved timber roof and marble colonnades. These features add architectural significance to the church and are a testimony the skilled craftsmanship used in its construction.

This is a gable-fronted church, with a seven-bay nave and six-bay side aisles, two transepts, and gable-fronted porches that have chamfered corners, and a distinctive, square-plan three-stage tower at the front, to the right of the main door, with a battered base, a large open bell chamber and a short spire.

The snecked limestone walls have a stringcourse and an inscribed plaque at the front.

There are four, round-headed lancet windows above the double-leaf, timber battened front doors, with a stained-glass oculus above them. There are stained glass oculi in the nave too.

The windows above the High Altar in Bruree (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Inside, the church has a lofty, open timber scissors brace roof. Polished granite columns support the tall rounded arches, with the arcades separating the nave and aisles.

Mr and Mrs Carroll from Fort East erected the High Altar. Miss Mary Dunworth donated the altar rails, part of which remains.

The stained-glass window above the High Altar depicts the Virgin Mary, the Sacred Heart and Saint Joseph. Above these windows, an oculus or round stained-glass window depicts Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid.

To the right of the High Altar is a statue of Saint Joseph and the Christ Child and an altar to the Virgin Mary. To the left, the side chapel now serves as the Baptistry.

The foundation stone names the architect Samuel Francis Hynes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The church was built by the Cork architect Samuel Francis Hynes and the builder was Jeremiah J Coffey from Midleton, Co Cork.

Samuel Francis Hynes (1854-1931), who was a member of an old Cork family, was articled to William Atkins in Cork in 1869 and spent five years as his pupil. He travelled on Continental Europe before opening his independent practice in Cork in 1875.

The Irish Builder in 1877 published two of his designs: for the chapel of the Convent of Mercy in Bantry, Co Cork, and the de Vesci Memorial in Abbeyleix, Co Laois.

Hynes practised from a number of addresses in South Mall, Cork for over 40 years, working mainly on commissions from Catholic parishes and religious orders. He was elected a member of the RIAI in 1878 and a fellow in 1889, and was elected a follow of the RIBA in 1888.

His last works to be recorded in the Irish Builder date from 1921. The church in Bruree was one of his last works. He retired from practice in 1929 and died, unmarried, at the age of 77 on 28 June 1931.

The oculus above the High Altar depicts Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

This church is near the site of the earlier Roman Catholic parish church, Saint Munchin’s, beside John Moloney’s Bar. Saint Munchin’s, built in 1842, was later owned by Billy and Jim O’Connor of the Starlight Showband, who used it was a dancehall and for travelling theatre companies.

The old holy water font from this church is now in the Eamon de Valera Museum and Bruree Heritage Centre, and the former church is now owned by the HSE.

The tower has a large open bell chamber and a short spire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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