Saturday, 24 July 2021
Christ Church, Spanish Point:
a ‘Mediterranean Gothic’
church in West Clare
After visiting Spanish Point on the west coast of Clare, and the former Comerford Lodge, now Clare Cottage and once a Comerford family home, two of us visited Christ Church, Spanish Point. This church was built in 1927, and is one of the few Church of Ireland parish churches built in post-independence Ireland.
Although Christ Church is less than 100 years old, the history of the Church of Ireland in Spanish Point dates back to 1780, when Thomas Morony inherited his family’s lands in Miltown Malbay and Spanish Point, and moved from Limerick. He built a new house and turned to developing the area, building several public buildings and amenities.
At the time the first Church of Ireland parish church was in Miltown Malbay, rebuilt in 1804. Tourism was developing in the early 1800s, and people came to stay in Morony’s Atlantic Hotel and in the lodges in Spanish Point, and so a larger Church of Ireland community started to grow.
The parish church at Kilfarboy or Miltown Malbay and the surrounding graveyard were on an eighth century site. A 15th century church was replaced in 1804, but it was burned down in an arson attack on the night of 14 December 1922.
After the fire, rather than rebuild the church, parishioners and visitors formed a committee to build a new church at Spanish Point. While the church was being built, the dining room of the Rectory next door was used for Sunday services. At least two baptisms took place in the Rectory. The new committee included the Rector, the Revd David Elliott (later Canon David Elliott), several vestry members and house owners in the area.
The church was designed by the architect and engineer William Henry Allen for the site in the Glebe Field beside the Rectory. The church was consecrated by Bishop Henry Edmund Patton of Killaloe on a sunny day in August 1927.
The architect William Henry Allen was born in Co Wexford at Merrion Lodge, William Street, Gorey, on 26 May 1871, the son of Dr John Burgess Allen. He studied for five years at the Royal College of Science, and received a Diploma in Engineering. He returned to live in Gorey in the 1890s, but moved to Ennis at the beginning of the 20th century. He was architect to the Diocese of Killaloe and Kilfenora until the 1940s.
Allen’s church in Spanish Point has been described as ‘Mediterranean Gothic’ in style. It has a two-stage tower with a concrete broach spire, a gabled porch, two-bay side elevations, a projecting vestry and a polygonal apse. There is a pitched and hipped clay red tile roof with cut-stone copings and two finial crosses. There are roughcast rendered walls, stepped buttresses, and a plat band.
The inscription over the porch door quotes Psalm 100: 4, ‘Enter into his courts with praise.’ The date inscribed on the vestry gable is ‘1927.’
The church has timber matchboard doors, and the pointed arch openings with render architraves are filled with leaded and stained glass.
Families whose memorial plaques were destroyed in the fire in the old church five years earlier were invited to replace them with pieces of church furniture, stained glass and other items.
And so, apart from the pews, the new church was furnished in this way. For example, the altar was donated by the Morony family, who had donated the altar to Kilfarboy Church.
There are three lancet windows in the chancel apse at the east end of the church, donated by the Wise and Browning families. These are the work of the Jones and Willis studios of Liverpool and London and were installed in 1927. They draw specifically on the account of the Crucifixion and Resurrection in Saint John’s Gospel.
The larger, central window (2040 mm x 520 mm) shows Christ walking on water: ‘It is I, be not afraid’ (John 6: 20). This has been described as a Resurrection window, but Christ is without stigmata and the quotation is from tomorrow’s Gospel reading (John 6: 1-21), a setting long before the passion, death and Resurrection of Christ.
The two smaller windows (1640 mm x 520 mm) show angels with cymbals (north) and a harp (south). The words under all three windows read: ‘He shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee’ (Psalm 91: 11).
The lancet window on the north side of the chancel apse (1940 mm x 900 mm) was donated by the Browning family. It is also by Jones and Willis ca 1930, and shows the Risen Christ (‘I am the Resurrection and the Life’, John 11: 25) with stigmata (John 20: 20, 27).
Christ is surrounded by four symbols of the Passion: the seamless tunic (John 19: 23), four nails, hammer and tongs, and the crown of thorns (John 19: 2).
Two angels below stand by the empty tomb (see John 20: 12).
On the south side of chancel apse, the lancet window (1940 mm x 900 mm) donated by the Browning family is also by Jones and Willis ca 1927. This window shows the Ascension (‘I ascend to my Father and your Father’, John 20: 17).
Christ shows his stigmata and is surrounded by four more symbols of the Passion: three dice (John 19: 24), a whip (John 19: 1), a lance (John 19: 34) and a wine-filled sponge on a branch of hyssop (John 19: 29), and a ladder.
A window on the south side of the nave (1900 mm x 880 mm) was designed by the Harry Clarke Studios in Dublin. It is dated 1959, and is in memory of Canon Elliott’s wife, Nellie (Evans), who died that year. It depicts the ‘Calling of Saint Peter and Saint Andrew’ (see Matthew 4: 18-22; Luke 5: 1-11; John 1: 35-42) – although only one disciple is present!
The words below, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men’ (Matthew 4: 19), are placed above a lobster and a crab.
At the west end of the church, three lancet windows dated 1900 were donated by the Barrington, Morony and White families. The wording on the plaque below indicates they were salvaged from the church in Milltown Malbay.
These windows were made by the Watson studios in Youghal, which also made the windows in Sant Finbarr’s Oratory in Gougane Barra, and the Crowley family windows in Saint Patrick’s Church, Millstreet, Co Cork.
The larger, middle window (2230 mm x 510 mm) depicts Christ as the Light of the World. It is based on William Holman Hunt’s Pre-Raphaelite painting and draws on images in the Johannine writings (see John 8: 12, 9: 5; Revelation 3: 20). Two angels below hold a scroll that says, ‘I am the light of the world’ (see John 8: 12, 9: 5).
The smaller window on the left (1840 mm x 500 mm) shows Christ blessing the Children. The words below say: ‘Suffer little children to come unto me’ (Matthew 19: 14; Mark 10: 13; Luke 18: 15). Christ is blessing one girl, but above his right shoulder adults are following children into the kingdom, and above his left shoulder are some sheep, showing that this too is the Good Shepherd (John 10: 11, 14). In the top panel is an idealised image of the heavenly kingdom.
The smaller window on the right (1840 mm x 500 mm) depicts the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37). The words below say: ‘Go do thou likewise’ (Luke 10: 37).
The spire of Christ Church was repaired in 2014, thanks to generous fundraising throughout the community in Miltown Malbay and Spanish Point.
Canon David William Matthew Albert Elliott (1885-1972), the Rector of Spanish Point when Christ Church was built, was ordained deacon and priest in 1910 and 1911. After curacies in Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary, and Ballingary, Co Limerick, he became Rector of Kilfarboy (Miltown Malbay) and Kilmanaheen in 1922.
Kilfarboy and Kilmanaheen parish was united with Kilfenora, Ennistymon, Lisdoonvarna and Lahinch in 1931, and Canon Elliott was a canon of Killaloe Cathedral from that year until he retired in 1965. He died in 1972.
Later, Spanish Point was added to Drumcliffe Union of churches, centred on Ennis. Today, the Rector of the parish is the Revd Kevin O’Brien.
There is a Sunday service in Christ Church, Spanish Point, every second and fourth Sunday in winter months and weekly in summer months, alternating between Morning Prayer and the Eucharist.
The churchyard at Kilfarboy, with a gate on the Flag Road, Miltown Malbay, is still in use today.