15 July 2021
Kanturk is a busy commercial and industrial town in north Cork. Last month’s ‘road trip’ or ‘staycation’ in West Cork and Kerry was extended with a visit to Kanturk and Kanturk Castle.
Kanturk Castle was never completed and has remained unoccupied for over four centuries, and was handed over to the National Trust, and through it to An Taisce and the Irish people, by the Perceval family, Earls of Egmont and a prominent landed family in that part of north Cork.
It is not surprising, then, that the two parish churches in the town – the Church of the Immaculate Conception (Roman Catholic) and Saint Peter’s (Church of Ireland) – had early connections with the family of the Earls of Egmont.
An earlier Roman Catholic parish church was built on a site on the west side of the town given by Lord Egmont. It was described by Samuel Lewis in 1837 as ‘a remarkably neat cruciform building.’ The Church of Ireland parish church stood on a prominent site on the east side of the town, accessed from Egmont Place.
A new Roman Catholic parish church, beside the Courthouse in Kanturk, was built in 1867 in the transitional Gothic style, designed by John Pine Hurley, an architect who practised in Cork from the 1850s or earlier until the 1870s.
Hurley’s first major commission came in 1856 when Bishop Timothy Murphy appointed him architect for the new Saint Colman’s College in Fermoy. Two years later, he designed improvements to the chapel of Saint Mary’s Convent, Cobh, in 1858, and in 1867 he designed the new Catholic church and convent schools at Kanturk. Nothing is known of Hurley in Cork after the mid-1870s, and he may have moved to Dublin or have emigrated.
Hurley’s church in Kanturk was completed in 1867 at a cost of £11,000. It stands in an extensive church campus with a graveyard, convent and school. The convent and school on the site were built at a cost of £4,000. The builder, JE Devlin of Bantry, later went bankrupt.
This is an imposing Gothic-style church that is oriented on a west-east axis rather than the traditional liturgical east-west axis. It has fine craft work in its exterior details, and retains many original features such as the stained-glass windows, carved limestone detailing and timber batten doors.
The gable-fronted church has a projecting entrance frontispiece, a seven-bay nave, a single-bay chancel, recessed six-bay side aisles with gabled porches at the east (liturgical west) ends, a gabled sacristy, a two-bay transept, and gabled confessional projections.
It is built with cut tooled limestone walls with a moulded plinth, and there are buttresses at the corners and between the clerestory windows.
The church has pointed arch windows, trefoil lights, stained-glass, chamfered limestone surrounds, hood-mouldings and carved tracery. The chancel has a traceried six-light window and rose window, with a trefoil at the top of the gable.
There are latticed lancet windows in the porches with hood-mouldings.
The order arch style entrance doorway, with timber battened doors, has a shallow gable, a tympanum with triangular window opening, and pair of door openings divided by and flanked by engaged colonnettes with decorative capitals and surmounted by a quatrefoil panel with an inscribed date plaque. All this is flanked by paired short lancet windows with hood-mouldings.
A freestanding ashlar limestone bell tower stands to the north-west of the church.
Saint Peter’s, the former Church of Ireland parish church in Kanturk, stands on an elevated and prominent site on a hill above the east side of the town. The church had entrance gates at both Egmont Place in the centre of the town, and on Freemount Road, on the north-east entrance to the town.
This is a Gothic-style church designed in 1858 for the Church Commissioners by Joseph Welland, and demonstrates fine craft work too. Although no longer in use, the character and charm of this building has endured throughout the years. Its features include a decorative bellcote, stained-glass windows and limestone dressings.
The former church stands on a prominent position on a hill at the entrance to Kanturk from the north-east, and it forms a pleasant and dominant feature in both the streetscape and surrounding landscape.
The Kanturk and Churchtown estates passed from Earl of Egmont in the 1840s to Sir Edward Tierney (1780-1856), a prominent solicitor from Rathkeale, Co Limerick.
Sir Matthew Tierney was the physician to King George III and King William IV. When Matthew died in 1844, his brother Edward succeeded as second baronet. Sir Edward Tierney was agent and legal adviser to Henry Perceval (1796-1841), 5th Earl of Egmont.
Lord Egmont was known for his drunkenness and loose living. When he died in 1841, he left all his estates in England and Ireland to his agent, Edward Tierney, while his distant cousin, George Perceval (1794-1874), became 6th Earl of Egmont without receiving one penny from his ancestral estates.
Tierney built a footbridge crossing the River Dalua, close to the mill first built in the 17th century by the Perceval family. Tierney’s new bridge replaced an earlier wooden bridge a short distance upstream and it offered a pedestrian link between the two parish churches in Kanturk, Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland.
Sir Edward Tierney died in 1856 leaving the Egmont estates to his son-in-law, the Revd Sir William Lionel Darell (1817-1883). In the early 1860s, the 6th Earl of Egmont took a legal action to regain the Egmont estates which was settled out of court. The estates, including Kanturk Castle and Liscarroll Castle in North Cork, were returned to Lord Egmont and Sir Lionel received £125,000 and costs.
During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:
1, photographs of a church or place of worship;
2, the day’s Gospel reading;
3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).
This week, my photographs are from seven cathedrals or former cathedrals in the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe. Earlier in this series, I have looked at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, and Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert. My photographs this week are from Aghadoe, Ardfert, Emly, Gort, Kilfenora, Kilmacduagh and Roscrea.
Since my appointment as Precentor of Limerick, Killaloe and Clonfert in 2017, I have tried to visit all the cathedrals and former cathedrals in the diocese. This morning (15 July 2021), my photographs are from Saint Fachan’s Cathedral, Kilfenora, Co Clare.
Kilfenora is in the centre of the Burren, about 28 km from Ennis and 5 km from Ennistymon. Although Kilfenora has a cathedral, it is a small village, and it is more likely to be associated in Irish minds with the Kilfenora Ceili Band, founded in 1909, than with a mediaeval cathedral and diocese was once described as the ‘poorest see in Ireland.’
The name Kilfenora may mean the Church of the White Brow or Meadow, or Fionnuir’s Church. In either case, the story of Kilfenora dates back to at least the sixth century when, according to tradition, Saint Fachan, also known as Saint Fachanan, Saint Fachtna or Saint Fachtnan, first built a church here.
This saint has also been identified with Saint Fachtna, the founder of Rosscarbery in Co Cork.
The first church building here was probably of wood and was followed by a stone building. But the early church was burned down in 1055 by Murtough O’Brien. It was rebuilt in 1056-1058, only to be plundered in 1079 and then destroyed in an accidental fire in 1100.
Kilfenora was recognised as a diocese at the Synod of Kells in 1152, when a new diocese was one of three carved out of the Diocese of Killaloe. The smaller dioceses of Roscrea and Scattery Island lost their diocesan status within a short time, but Kilfenora remained the centre of a diocese that corresponded with the ancient territory of Corcomroe.
By the 12th century, there were six or even seven high crosses on the site at Kilfenora, forming one of the largest collections of high crosses in Ireland.
Nevertheless, over the centuries, there were few able candidates who were willing to become Bishop of Kilfenora. An unnamed Bishop of Kilfenora took the oath of fealty to Henry II in 1172, but his two successors are known only by their initials.
The first names Bishop of Kilfenora, Bishop Johannes, was appointed in 1224, but even then many of his successors are only known by their first name alone.
In time, Kilfenora was the second smallest diocese in Ireland, with Waterford the only diocese that was smaller. The Diocese of Kilfenora is 29 km long, 14.4 km wide, and extends to 55,000 ha (135,700 acres). It is slightly smaller than the adjacent Diocese of Kilmacduagh; the three Aran islands – Inisheer, Inishmaan and Inishmore – were also included in Kilfenora.
The list of Bishops of Kilfenora is still not clear in the immediate post-Reformation period, and it is still not clear whether the loyalties of Bishop John O’Neylan (1541-1572) were to Rome or to the Anglican Reformation. The crown made no appointment to the diocese between 1541 and 1606, and from 1606 to 1617 Kilfenora was held with Limerick.
Because Kilfenora was remote, impoverished and insignificant, it was difficult to attract bishops in the 17th century. When Richard Betts arrived in 1628, he declared ‘I have no wish to become bishop of the poorest see in Ireland’ – and he promptly returned to England.
Ten years later, Bishop John Bramhall of Derry, later Archbishop of Armagh, told the Lord Deputy in 1638 that Kilfenora was so poor that no-one wanted to go there. Robert Sibthorpe would only accept a nomination if he was allowed to remain Dean of Killaloe. He was the last separate Bishop of Kilfenora, and after his death in 1661.
Kilfenora continued to be regarded as an impoverished diocese throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and its survival depended on being united with various dioceses, including Limerick, Tuam, Clonfert, Killaloe (1752-1976) and Limerick and Killaloe (since 1976).
Richard Mant, Bishop of Killaloe and Kilfenora (1820-1823), visited Kilfenora shortly after becoming bishop in 1820, and described it as ‘the worst village that I have seen in Ireland, and in the most desolate and least interesting country’ – a reference to the Burren and not to Ireland.
Saint Fachan’s Cathedral dates from 1189-1200, when it was built in the so-called Transitional style with a nave and a chancel, and the early building may have been aisled.
According to local tradition, the chancel, dating from late 12th to early 13th century, had an oak ceiling decorated in blue with gold stars, and this survived until the end of the 18th century. There is some evidence of alterations and extensions in the 14th and 15th centuries, but little remains of this work.
Today, the church shows a curious mix of styles from a number of periods. The oldest part is probably the rough-cast north wall of the nave with blocks that are now covered with plaster.
The former chancel is now without a roof. It is 10.8 metres long and 6.3 metres wide, and the walls are about one metre thick. The three-light east window is rounded and moulded, with carved capitals. On both sides of the window is a carved effigy: a bishop with his right hand raised in blessing, possibly dating from the early 14th century, to the north, and a tonsured, bareheaded cleric holding a book, possibly 13th century, to the south.
An elaborately carved and screened recess in the north wall is often described as a 15th-century Gothic sedilia, but the seats between the piers are too narrow and, instead, it may have been a 15th century wall tomb.
On the south wall, there is a double sedilia with a plain dividing shaft, a double piscina, and a square aumbry.
One of the tombs in the chancel is the burial site of the Very Revd Neptune Blood, who received his name because he was born at sea. The memorial in Latin names his seven children, dating from 1683 to 1700. Dean Blood was an uncle of Thomas Blood, who tried to steal the crown jewels of King Charles II in 1671.
A short 15th-century doorway in the north wall of the chancel leads into a rectangular building attached to the north-east of the Chancel. In the 19th century, this was known as the Lady Chapel, although it may have been a sacristy or chapter room, or the O’Brien Chapel mentioned by earlier historians of the cathedral. It may have been built at the same time as the main building, and at first may have served as a transept.
Here there are two lancet-type windows, a broken two-light window, arched recesses and a low double piscina.
The chancel and the nave were separated in 1837 and by 1839, ‘thirty-six feet of the east end’ was without a roof. The nave, which is 20.6 metres long and 6.3 metres wide, was rebuilt and refitted as the Church of Ireland parish church with a grant of £42 from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.
The west wall of the nave has crude, stepped gable that has been compared to ‘a pile of emigrants’ luggage, with a rabbit hutch or birdcage overhead.’ There is a small bell-turret at the apex that is topped by a small stone pyramid. There is a carved head of a bishop over the door into the south porch.
Two grave slabs that have been moved into the south porch have effigies representing a 14th century unnamed Bishop of Kilfenora, with a mitre, crosier and episcopal ring, and a priest or nobleman of the 14th century, holding a book.
Inside the parish church, the large square stone baptismal font possibly dates from around 1200. The bishop’s throne was donated in 1981 for the enthronement of Walton Empey, Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe, as Bishop of Kilfenora.
Today, the cathedral remains in a partially ruined state. The National Monument Service carried out restoration work in the early 2000s. The ‘Lady Chapel’ or north transept was fitted with a glass roof in 2005 to protect the remains of the three high crosses that were moved there.
The finest of these high crosses is the Doorty Cross with a carving of bishop, possibly representing Saint Fachan. The shaft of this high cross was reused in the 18th century as part of the gravestone of the Doorty family. In 1955, it was reunited with the upper part of the cross, which until then had lain in the chancel of the church.
The ‘North Cross’ has survived relatively intact. Unlike the other crosses on the site, it does not have a ringed head, but has distinctive carved ornamentation.
One of the high crosses was moved from to Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, in the 19th century.
Today, Saint Fachan’s Cathedral is only remaining Church of Ireland parish church in the Diocese of Kilfenora. It is grouped with Drumcliffe (Ennis) group of parishes, where the Rector is the Revd Kevin O’Brien. The Dean of Kilfenora is the Dean of Killaloe, the Very Revd Roderick Smyth, who is also the Dean of Clonfert and the Provost of Kilmacduagh.
The last Roman Catholic Bishop of Kilfenora, James Augustine O’Daly, died in 1749. A year later, in 1750, the diocese was united with Kilmacduagh. In 1883, Kilfenora and Kilmacduagh was merged with the Diocese of Galway.
Today, the bishops of Galway and Kilmacduagh are styled Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh and Apostolic Administrator of Kilfenora, because Galway and Kilmacduagh are in the Province of Tuam and Kilfenora is in the Province of Cashel. This means that, in Canon Law, the Pope remains the Bishop of Kilfenora.
Matthew 11: 28-30 (NRSVA):
[Jesus said:] 28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:
The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (15 July 2021) invites us to pray:
Let us pray for the young. As they enter a world filled with uncertainty, may You guide them in the right direction. We pray for the educators who encourage them, and the adults who support them.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org