24 July 2021

Christ Church, Spanish Point:
a ‘Mediterranean Gothic’
church in West Clare

Christ Church, Spanish Point, Co Clare … designed in a ‘Mediterranean Gothic’ style by William Henry Allen and built in 1927 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

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.

Inside Christ Church, Spanish Point, facing the east end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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.

Inside Christ Church, Spanish Point, facing west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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.

The three lancet windows above the altar in the chancel apse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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 Resurrection window on the north side of the apse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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).

The Ascension window on the south side of the apse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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.

‘The Call of the Disciples’ … a window designed by the Harry Clarke Studios (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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.

The three lancet windows at the west end are by the Watson studios in Youghal (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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).

A vision of the heavenly kingdom in one of the Watson windows (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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.

Looking out from the vestry in Christ Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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 are weekly Sunday services in Christ Church throughout the summer months (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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.

The churchyard at Kilfarboy in Miltown Malbay is still in use (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
56, Saint John’s Church, Valentia Island

The Church of Saint John the Baptist at Knightstown on Valentia Island … built in 1860 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning before the day gets busy 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 USPG prayer diary.

This week’s theme of island churches continues this morning (24 July 2021) with photographs from the Church of Saint John the Baptist in Knightstown, Valentia Island, Co Kerry.

The Church of Saint John the Baptist, Valentia … is this ‘the most westerly Protestant Church in Europe’? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

I returned again to Valentia Island earlier this summer. Mug Ruith, or Mogh Roith, ‘slave of the wheel,’ a mythological, powerful, blind druid of Munster, is said to have lived on Valentia Island. But the first historical, recorded evidence of people living on the island is found in 1291, in the Papal taxations of Pope Nicholas IV, when a church on the island is valued at 13s 4d.

In church records, the parish was also known as Kilmore, but the list of vicars or rectors of Valentia only begins in 1627, when the Revd Donogh O’Giltenan was presented to the parish.

Canon John Warburton, who was Rector of Valentia in 1812-1830, was a younger son of Charles Morgan Warburton (1754-1826), Bishop of Limerick (1806-1820) and Bishop of Cloyne (1820-1826).

While Warburton was Rector of Valentia, he was the very model of a Georgian pluralist, absentee rector. He was, at various time, also Vicar of Kill and Lyons in the Diocese of Kildare, Vicar of Loughill, Limerick, Rector of Drumcliffe or Ennis in Co Clare, a minor canon or vicar choral of Cork and Cloyne cathedrals, and Precentor of Ardfert. He was also one of my predecessors as Precentor of Limerick (1818-1878), while his elder brother, Canon Charles Warburton, was one of my predecessors as Rector of Rathkeale (1813-1855).

Despite John Warburton’s lengthy absences from Valentia during his time as rector, a new Church of Saint John the Baptist was built at Kilmore in 1815, almost a generation before Knightstown was laid out and developed by Alexander Nimmo on behalf of the Knights of Kerry.

This was a Georgian hall and tower church, designed by the Limerick-based architect James Pain, a pupil of the renowned London architect John Nash. The Pain brothers were involved in designing many of the churches in the Diocese of Limerick including, it is said, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, and Castletown Church.

The church could seat a congregation of about 60 people. However, as the Church of Ireland population of Valentia grew with the growth of Knightstown, the expansion of the slate quarry and the arrival of the transatlantic cable, the church became too small for the needs of a growing parish.

A new church, also dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, was built in Knightstown in 1860, when the Revd Edward Lee Sandiford was Rector of Valentia (1848-1869). This is one of the last churches designed by Joseph Welland (1798-1860).

The stained-glass windows are memorials to the Knights of Kerry. The oak panelling and the mosaics in the chancel date from 1925.

The other rectors of Valentia include John Godfrey Day (1830-1847), later Dean of Ardfert (1861-1879), father of Bishop Maurice Day of Clogher and grandfather of Godfrey Day, Bishop of Armagh and Archbishop of Armagh; Abraham Isaac, later Dean of Ardfert (1894-1905); the Revd Alexander Delap, father of the marine biologist, Maude Delap (1866-1953); and George Lill Swain, later Dean of Limerick (1929-1954).

Other clergy on the island also served in developing scientific roles. For example, the Revd Thomas Kerr, who is buried in Saint John’s Churchyard in Kilmore, was also Director of the Meteorological Observatory on Valentia.

The Church of Ireland population on Valentia began to fall in numbers with the loss of British officials in the early 20th century, moving the headquarters of the cable stations to London, and the eventual departure of the Knights of Kerry from Valentia.

Today, a sign claims the church in Knightstown is the ‘most westerly Protestant church in Europe.’ Although the church is closed this summer due to restoration and renovation works, it is normally open in summer from May to September, and the church is also the venue for an ecumenical Christmas service and regular musical recitals and lectures.

The Sensory Garden was designed by Arthur Shackleton to cater for people with disabilities and was opened by Bishop Michael Mayes in 2005.

A sign outside the church claims it is ‘the most westerly Protestant Church in Europe.’ But, of course, that depends on how you draw the boundaries of Europe. No doubt, churches in Iceland could make similar claims, but is Greenland part of Europe of part of the North American continent?

Putting those questions aside, Saint John’s Church is lovingly cared for by the churchwarden, Richard Williams, who also welcomed us to the former church at Kilmore and its churchyard last year, and pointed us to the graves of the Knights of Kerry, the Delap family, and the marine biologist Maude Delap.

The Revd Michael Cavanagh has been the priest-in-charge of Kenmare, Kilcrohane, Dromod and Valentia since 2010.

The sensory garden at Saint John’s Church in Knightstown was designed by Arthur Shackleton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Matthew 13: 24-30 (NRSVA):

24 [Jesus] put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” 28 He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” 29 But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn”.’

A sculptor’s workshop close to Saint John’s Church in Knightstown on Valentia Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (24 July 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for churches, activists and leaders working for gender justice. May we seek to amplify their voices and listen to what they have to say.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Church of Saint John the Baptist, built at Kilmore in 1815, was designed by James Pain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Successive generations of the Knights of Kerry are buried in the former chancel of Saint John’s Church in Kilmore (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)