The Architecture of George Goldie in Ireland.

This is an edited version of a MA dissertation that was submitted to UCC in 2019. The complete dissertation will be available in the future on the Cork Open Research Archive

It contains some of the discussion from other sections of the website, especially the section on Bandon, but has additional context and expands to include more detailed investigation into the internal furnishings of the churches and Goldie’s ideas on church architecture. There is an extensive bibliography that should be of interest to readers.


Chapter 1: Literature Review:                                                                                           

Chapter 2: Bandon: A Case Study                                                                                    

Chapter 3: Reredos and Ritual: Architecture and Liturgical Change in Goldie’s Irish Work 

Chapter 4: Church Building in the Nineteenth- Century Irish Novel              





Roman Catholic ecclesiastical architecture during the nineteenth-century existed in a state of both evolution and destruction. This continued to be the case during the twentieth-century and maintains so to this day. In many ways the trajectory of the architecture under discussion here is a reflection of the condition of Irish medieval architecture which Niamh NicGabhann described as being ‘a narrative of continual use, adaption and transformation.’(NicGhabhann, 2015, p.136) Unlike NicGabhann, who engages in a thorough investigation of ecclesiastical architecture across a broad timescale but with a focus on physical restoration and preservation of medieval church buildings and its connection with the nineteenth-century, this thesis looks to a narrower focus, in terms of time and subject.

The chronological scope of this thesis is divided into two distinct periods. Firstly, that in which the architect George Goldie was involved in constructing, altering or adding to the ecclesiastical architectural landscape in Ireland, and, secondly a broader period that continues to the present time and addresses the alterations, removals and reconfigurations of Goldie’s work. The initial period begins with the commencement of his first work in Ireland, the Cathedral of St. Nathy, Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon, Ireland 1854-60 and ends in 1879, when he completed alterations to the interior of St. John’s parish church in Waterford. Although dealing specifically with Goldie’s output in Ireland it will not be possible to interrogate his work fully without reference to other architects working during the same period. It is also essential that, given the religious conflicts and debates that had taken place during the eighteenth-century and which continued into the nineteenth-century, culminating in the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, we consider church building in a wider social and political context.

A number of issues can be addressed when charting Goldie’s output in Ireland:

1: The impact of Roman Catholic church building on the landscape both as a topographical intervention in itself and as a means of the Church’s reassertion of its position as the majority religion in Ireland.

2: The architectural and emotional consequences of the interventions in internal church fittings post-Goldie.

3: Considering the large scale church building programme that was undertaken during the nineteenth-century and the debates and reports that surrounded these realignments of the physical landscape, urban and rural, we can also investigate if and how this reconfiguration of the topography of the country is reflected in contemporary literature of the period.

This triad is interconnected by virtue of the public nature of church building. Churches reveal themselves as part of the geography of a place and in doing so identify and imprint identity on a location, parishioners look at and participate in the manifestation of their faith that is the building and finally literature incorporates into itself the quotidian world from which it emanates.

George Goldie offers an opportunity to provide concrete examples to collaborate the assertion found in issue 1 and in this thesis one specimen of topographical realignment will be considered to highlight how Catholic chapels relocated from ‘crouching timidly in the darkest and most loathsome allies and lanes.’(Notices of the life and character of His Grace most Rev. Daniel Murray, late Archbishop of Dublin, as contained in the commemorative oration pronounced in the Church of the Conception, Dublin, on occasion of His Grace’s months’ mind. With historical and bibliographical notes, 2019, p.90).

In the earlier part of the twentieth-century the Catholic Church had begun to celebrate the one-hundred anniversary of Catholic emancipation and, after Ireland gained political Independence from the United Kingdom, began to expand further in its building programme as cities expanded and grew. This resulted in two outcomes, firstly there were a series of internal and external adjustments to churches constructed during the nineteenth-century and, secondly, newly built churches were configured to adhere to the instructions of the Second Vatican Council.(Schloeder, 1998) In Cork city and county these new churches conformed to an expectation of topographical domination while the older churches were internally altered. Goldie’s activities in Cork, and other sites throughout Ireland, permit a close examination of the internal changes that drive, and are driven by, liturgical and somatic encounters with the church.

Figures for upward of two thousand churches have been given for the number of Roman Catholic churches either reconstructed or newly built between 1800 and 1870.(Keenan, 1983, p.119)  This does not infer that there were no Catholic churches being built in the late eighteenth-century nor does the increased output in ecclesiastical building after the Famine imply a lack of building prior to 1845. St. Finbarr’s, (South), Cork was built in 1766, replacing an earlier church of 1728 and St. Patrick’s, Waterford, 1764, and The Holy Trinity, Kildoagh, Cavan, 1796 no longer in use, are still extant pre-Emancipation churches that demonstrate a subdued presence but none the less a re-emerging Catholic impact on the topography of the country. Thomas P. Kennedy suggests that even as early as 1752 ‘registered places of Catholic worship totalled 832 simple Mass houses and 52 private chapels.’(Kennedy, 1970, p.1)  A particular issue that presented itself during the course of this research, and which was of particularly interest, was how, given such a large building programme and in some instances extended over a number of years, churches and church buildings might be interwoven into novels written during the nineteenth-century. William Whyte highlighted instances in English novels that featured vivid descriptions of newly built churches and their interiors; this should not be a surprise given the extent of church building and church repair that was taking place during the second half of the nineteenth-century.(Whyte, 2017, pp.77–9)  One would expect that novelists writing during and about the period that Goldie was building might make reference to churches being built or describe them, even as an aside or narrative embellishment, in their works. It is the case that journals, newspapers and books addressed theoretical and religious concerns about the ecclesiastical building taking place and reports regularly appeared in the press of the day. A survey of contemporary literature of the period under investigation will cast new light on this issue to discover if indeed Irish literature did incorporate the buildings, new or under construction, in to its works.

Literature Review

Any review of the scholarly discussion of George Goldie and his work in Ireland will expose the vast lacuna that exists around the architect and his ecclesiastical output. There has been no single book or article dedicated to him as has been the case with other architects working in Ireland during the period under discussion. A.W.N. Pugin has been the subject of a large collection of scholarly investigations and in 2012 the Irish Architectural Archive held an exhibition of his work and published an accompanying catalogue with essays.(O’Riordan et al., 2012) E.W. Pugin and G.C. Ashlin have been treated to examinations of their output in book chapters and journal articles.(Wilson, 2004),(Dwyer, 1989) J.J. McCarthy was the topic of Jeanne Sheehy’s J.J. McCarthy and the Gothic Revival in Ireland. (Sheehy, 1977) In addition, the work of these architects feature prominently in many surveys of nineteenth-century architecture in Ireland. All of these architects had a presence in the Dictionary of Irish Biography prior to Goldie (Goldie was included in 2015). Basil Clarke’s study of church building in England offers no discussion on Goldie other than a brief three-line biographical entry in the appendix of his book.(Clarke, 1969) Although Clarke examines many examples of church building during the period he mainly concerns himself with Pugin and the theological debates that surrounded ecclesiastical architecture of the nineteenth-century. The omission of Goldie in this discussion reflects his position in Irish architectural history of the period; this is especially revealing as Goldie was also very active in Britain. 

The tendency in Irish architectural books dealing with the period is toward surveying the works, their architects and their styles. Maurice Craig is just one such example of this type of engagement.(Craig, 1982) Although Craig covers a lot of ground in this survey of Irish architecture at times he is sparse in his interrogations of any one particular period,(although he does devote a large part of the book to nineteenth-century architecture and church building). Craig’s discussion of the similarities between Catholic and Church of Ireland buildings during the eighteenth-century is interesting when we consider how some of the more rural churches designed by Goldie retain or jettison such traditions. As with Clarke, Craig rehearses the debate between Classical and Gothic architectural styles – Classical equating with R.C. and Gothic with CofI (239). In chapter 16 of the book Craig deals with nineteenth-century architecture with a particular focus on church building. In Chapter 17 Craig devotes a section to ‘Pugin and His Followers’; notably Goldie gets mentioned and praised for Sligo cathedral. An important aspect of any examination of ecclesiastical architecture, and one that will be investigated in this essay when discussing Goldie, is the location of churches and their relation to the surrounding landscape. Survey books, such as Craig’s, do not engage with the role of the church as a site in the topography of a location.

The treatment of Goldie in survey works is a consistent one and adheres to that of Craig where an example is provided but not explored beyond that of style and as a comparative when discussing works of other architects, such as Pugin, McCarthy, Kearns Deane and George R. Pain. Churches do not exist in isolation. Church buildings intervene in the landscape and are potent symbols of power, status and authority. This is especially true of ecclesiastical architecture in Ireland during the nineteenth-century and is an area of investigation that is largely neglected in Irish architectural scholarship. It is the intention of this essay to address this lack by examining one important location of Goldie’s churches within their historical context while further exploring this in the digital artefact through discussion of his overall oeuvre.

Richard Morris’ Churches in the Landscape addresses the issue of churches and their locations in the English landscape.(Morris, 1997) Morris traces a history of religious sites and allows for the establishment of a lineage that sees nineteenth-century ecclesiastical church settings as the product of an archaeology of landscape going back over one-thousand years. While it may not be possible to create such a trajectory for Goldie’s churches in Ireland, Morris offers insights into the role of the landscape in the siting of churches and points to the building being viewed as an object rather than an object in a particular location. Taking this insight and applying it to examples of Goldie’s output in Ireland should provide a novel intervention in the examination of nineteenth-century church building with specific reference to Bandon in this thesis but expanded to other locations as part of the digital artefact. Kevin Whelan, in his recently published book on the subject, seeks to perform a similar function to that of Morris but focussed on Ireland.(Whelan, 2018) Whelan does engage with the church in the landscape but much of his concern revolves around settlement and site without fully engaging with elevation and domination in terms of contra-positioning of opposing churches, a situation that can be rectified by interrogating the churches of Bandon. Christopher Tilley’s A Phenomenology of Landscape allows us to build upon the concept that drives Morris’ book. Tilley looks to prehistoric man-made sites and suggests that they played a part in creating meaning in the landscape; in other words human intervention creates the landscape to its own ends.(Tilley, 1994) Henri Lefebvre has argued that ‘(Social) space is a (social) product’, that space is a ‘means of control, and hence of domination, of power’ and that ‘space embodies social relationships.’(Lefebvre and Nicholson-Smith, 2011, pp.27, 27, 36) In looking to Goldie’s buildings in Ireland we can see that his interventions acted to provide an expression of Catholic intention and to carve that intention into the landscape as a social statement and as restructuring of the landscape as a location of religious conflict.

Churches are not only locations in the landscape; they also are enclosed locations that act as containers for ornamentation, decoration and performative practices. Alterations in practices alter the function of the internal decoration and, similarly, ornamentation and decoration can be altered with the aim of changing practices. Bruni Zevi has said that ‘it is the interior space, the space which surrounds and includes us, which is the basis of our judgement of a building’ and that ‘architecture is…the stage on which our lives unfold.’ (Zevi and Barry, 1993, p.32) If Zevi’s assertions hold true then they become more robust when we move from the generalities of architecture to the specifics of ecclesiastical architecture and even more so in Ireland. Roman Catholic Church architecture in Ireland has, like Great Britain, a trajectory that moves from the monumental of the medieval period to appropriation and decline to revival and renewal. This is accounted for by the relationships between politics, society and religion that developed in the aftermath of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the introduction of the Penal Laws and the easing of these Laws towards the end of the eighteenth-century and eventual removal in the third decade of the nineteenth-century. The changes in status and the later changes in liturgy leading to recalibrations of the ‘stage on which our lives unfold’ impact the form and function of the church interior and this will be seen in our readings of the altars and reredos designed by Goldie in Ireland with specific reference to Cork and the south-east of Ireland.

Writing in the early twentieth-century, the Canadian architect Percy Nobbs discussing the description of architecture in literature stated that ‘[O]n the spirit of the building, the soul of its builders, the real fundamental subject matter of the monument, there is silence.’(Nobbs, n.d., p.344) Yet, if we look at English literature of the nineteenth-century we will find examples where not only is architecture described, it can often form the core of the material. The author John Mason Neale wrote two novels that focused specifically on architecture of the nineteenth-century Ayton Priory or The Monastery Restored,(John Mason Neale, 1843) and Hierologus, (Neale, 1843). Charles Dickens often referenced the contemporary architecture of his London to create symbolic meaning or to enhance the environment of his characters and their narratives.(Spurr, 2012, p.84) Many of the illustrations in editions of Dickens’ works show interiors and exteriors of churches that present an awareness of the church as a contemporary building in the life of his novels and can be reflective of  his texts, one example from Hard Times serves to illustrate this point, ‘The solitary exception was the New Church a stuccoed edifice with a square steeple over the door, terminating in four short pinnacles like florid wooden legs.’ and ,again from the same novel, ‘and when it came, there were married in the church of the florid wooden legs – that popular order of architecture’ (Dickens, 1854, p.36). Illustrations by Phiz, figures 1 to 3,for Bleak House, David Copperfield and A Christmas Carol located the churches for the reader as part of their own world.

Fig.1  Phiz, The Little Church in the Park, from Bleak House.

Fig. 2 Phiz, Our Pew at Church, from David Copperfield.

Fig. 3 Phiz, Trotty at the Church, from A Christmas Carol.

Thomas Hardy had trained as an architect and architecture features in many of his novels and this is especially true of Jude the Obscure where the titular protagonist is a stonemason by trade and the novel makes references to the replacement of the old buildings with the new:

Above all, the original church, hump-backed, wood-turreted, and quaintly hipped, had been taken down, and either cracked up into heaps of road-metal in the lane, or utilized as pig-sty walls, garden seats, guard-stones to fences, and rockeries in the flower-beds of the neighbourhood. In place of it a tall new building of modern Gothic design, unfamiliar to English eyes, had been erected on a new piece of ground by a certain obliterator of historic records who had run down from London and back in a day.(Thomas Hardy, 1895, p.6)


Making inquiries she came to a hoarding, within which were excavations denoting the foundations of a building; and on the boards without one or two large posters announcing that the foundation-stone of the chapel about to be erected would be laid that afternoon at three o’clock by a London preacher of great popularity among his body.(Thomas Hardy, 1895, p.367)

The churches on the Irish landscape, in major towns such as Cork, Bandon, Waterford and Dublin along with more rural parish communities might be taken to provide similar opportunities for Irish writers of the same period and this is a theme that will be addressed further in this essay.

Bandon: A Case Study in Topographical Domination.

In most towns and cities in Ireland there is a dominant architectural feature in the landscape and that is often a church. In the larger cities like the capital, Dublin, the increased inner city development has visually altered the landscape so that churches are not as significant a feature as they might once have been. Nonetheless, even the ,now, Church of Ireland, Christ Church, cathedral still greets the visitor to the city as they travel along the quays and along the way they will see Roman Catholic Churches, such as St. Paul’s, that retain a façade facing the river Liffey.

Outside of Dublin there has been less of an impact on the topography by large scale development in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Cork city is one large urban location that still displays a Church seeking to overlook the city and assert its presence in the navigable world of the citizens. This is best demonstrated with a visual reference. Figure 4 shows a view of Cork looking toward the north-east of the city. 

Fig. 4: View of Cork city looking north-east and showing St. Vincent’s and Church of the Ascension.

The large red-brick building in the central third of the image is St. Vincent’s Roman Catholic church and Presbytery; St. Vincent’s was built between 1851, when the foundation stone was laid, and 1856, when it was officially opened, although alterations continued to be made to the church well into the twentieth-century. At the time the church was at the edge of the city and very little of what we now see in the upper third of the image existed. The church commanded the view over the south and central areas of Cork and still is a feature readily viewed from across the city and from approaches along the north channel of the River Lee. As the city expanded northward and above the level of St. Vincent’s church, a new church was planned and completed in the middle of the twentieth-century. The Church of the Ascension is uppermost in the image and dominates the skyline in much the same manner as St. Vincent’s had throughout the latter half of the nineteenth and on into the twentieth-century.

While St. Vincent’s was built during a period of immense change in the status of the Catholic Church in Ireland and the Church of the Ascension was constructed in the midst of major social and economic change after the achievement of independence for Ireland, they both stand as assertions of the Roman Catholic church seeking to dominate the social fabric of the country and it chooses to use these buildings as a concrete expression of this position.

In this chapter the town of Bandon is looked to as an example of how this drive for topographical control can be imposed upon, read and visualised in the landscape. Bandon is chosen as it had a history of conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism and this conflict took place through exclusions and inclusions in the landscape of the town and its environs. During the nineteenth-century the supremacy of the Protestant faith in Bandon was replaced by that of Catholicism and as this change in the demography of the town was taking place so too was an altering of the topography as a means to inscribe this change in the landscape. The history of the religious conflict will be outlined to give a context for the architectural alterations that occur in three examples of ecclesiastical buildings. The locations of the buildings will be discussed in terms of Henri Lefebvre’s concepts of the social production of space and with implicit reference to Tilley, Morris and Whelan.

Bandon: An Outline History

By the beginning of the seventeenth-century native Irish Catholics that had lived in the Bandon area were excluded from the town and its hinterland after they had lost their lands to the English Crown Forces following the Desmond Rebellions of 1579-93. The redistribution of land taken from the rebels led to the plantation of English, Protestant settlers that would alter the landscape from one dominated by the native Irish to one re-ordered by the new inhabitants.

An indication of the engineering of the demographic make-up of Bandon can be gleaned from the following statement reputed to have been attached to the walls of the town:

“A Turk, a Jew, or an Atheist, May live in this town, but no Papist.”(George Bennett, n.d., p.303)

George Bennett’s History of Bandon is a source that can provide us with a view of the status of the ‘papist’ from the early years of Bandon’s establishment as a town.(George Bennett, n.d., p.303) The Earl of Cork, Richard Boyle (1566-1643) claimed to have built Bandon as a town but in fact he had purchased the lands following the death Henry Beecher, son of Phane Beecher, who in turn had been granted the land by the Crown.(George Bennett, n.d., pp.5, 26) Attached to the grant of land to Beecher, and to others, was the condition that the lands be settled with ‘English Protestant families.’(George Bennett, n.d., p.5) After the town Charter awarded to Bandon in 1613 the progress towards an exclusively Protestant town continued.(The greatest gerrymander in Irish history? James I’s 40 boroughs of 1612–13, 2013)

 One of the first acts of the burgesses of Bandon Corporation said that ‘no Roman Catholic be permitted to reside within the town.’(George Bennett, n.d., p.29) Boyle begun and completed the walling of the town of Bandon and by 1642 was able to state that ‘there is neither an Irishman nor a Papist within the walls.’(George Bennett, n.d., p.67)

The seventeenth-century in Ireland was a time of persistent violent outbreaks that pitted Catholic against Protestant and Royalist against Parliamentarian.[1] This national turbulence was reflected in Bandon. Bennett painted a picture of savage behaviour by Catholic rebels near Bandon during the 1641 rebellion that led to the Confederate War; a ‘Scotch minister’ was forced to eat his own ‘broiled’ flesh by some members of the uprising.(George Bennett, n.d., p.61) As a result of the hangings, murders and other atrocities committed by the Irish against the settlers, Bennett stated that no less than ‘eleven hundred women and children’ sought refuge within the walls of Bandon town and that ‘no less than one thousand funerals took place in the first twelve months of the rebellion.’(George Bennett, n.d., pp.63–5) By the end of the Confederate War and with the arrival of Oliver Cromwell in Ireland the distance between the Protestants of Bandon and the native Irish Catholics had changed utterly. Land ownership had shifted from one of largely Catholic to almost exclusively Protestant and the domination of Protestantism in Ireland and its continuation in Bandon.(Historical Context | The Down Survey Project, 2018) The status of Cromwell as a figure of hate for the Irish, that maintains to this day, and Bandon’s warmth towards him during his conquest of Ireland stands to place in context the challenges that the Catholic Church would encounter in re-establishing itself in the town.(George Bennett, n.d., pp.150–4)

Before the closure of the seventeenth-century Bandon Protestants would again find themselves, as did the rest of the country, taking a position that conflicted with that of Catholics. The Williamite War in Ireland presented Bandon with the choice of supporting their King, James II a Catholic, or William of Orange, William III a Protestant; the town opted for William.(Dickson, 2005, p.56) William would eventually prove to be the victor after the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, an event seen as the turning point against James. Relatively speaking, the earlier part of the eighteenth-century was peaceful in Ireland; there were active groups of agitators such as the Whiteboys but wholesale violence did not emerge until after the rising of 1798 led by Theobald Wolfe Tone. There were a number of Acts passed during the century that eased the plight of Catholics – the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1791 being the most far-reaching in its improvements. The founding of the Orange Order, in part as a response to the improvements for Catholics, in 1795 was embraced by the Protestants of Bandon and by 1834 it had seven Orange Order lodges in the town.(Doyle, 2016, pp.38–9) In 1800 effigies of King James and Queen Mary were ‘hanged, shot at and consigned to flames’ while one of King William was placed on the church spire.(George Bennett, n.d., p.362) However, Bennett also refers to the donation of land by the Earl of Bandon and support from other Protestants for the building of a Catholic church at Gallow’s Hill in 1796, just one year after the founding of the Orange Order.

The Churches

The Roman Catholic church at Gallow’s Hill stood in the shadow of the nearby Church of Ireland church of 1614 that would be rebuilt in 1847/9 as St. Peter’s.(Costecalde, 2013, p.364) The Catholic church was described in bleak terms by a correspondent to the Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Courier in 1855.(Notes From Bandon. | Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Courier | Thursday 30 August 1855 | British Newspaper Archive, 2019) The writer pointed to the elegance of St. Peter’s and said that it was ‘the most attractive building in the place [Bandon]’ but the ‘Roman Catholic chapel was a rather mean-looking edifice, situate in a back street and not erected like the fine buildings of a similar kind that I have seen in the south, in the most prominent places, so that they generally attract the attention of all who pass by.’(Notes From Bandon. | Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Courier | Thursday 30 August 1855 | British Newspaper Archive, 2019) At a meeting held in June of 1855, in the church, to discuss the erection of a new Catholic church, St. Patrick’s, it was described as ‘inferior in every respect- it was not only inferior to the chapels of towns that were far inferior to Bandon in wealth and respectability, but it was inferior as a building, it was inferior as a house of worship, to almost every house of worship that was to be met with almost in every country parish, not only of this diocese but every diocese of Munster.’(Erection Of A Catholic Church In Bandon’, Cork Examiner, Monday 11 June 1855., 1855) The same meeting heard of the perseverance of Catholics around Bandon who had maintained ‘their fidelity under many a severe trial’ but ‘now that they were rising, as it were from the earth, and looking round them, it was time that they should no longer be satisfied with such a building, it was time that they should make themselves not only equal but be expected superior to any other parish in the building they were about to erect.’(Erection Of A Catholic Church In Bandon’, Cork Examiner, Monday 11 June 1855., 1855) This was a clear statement of the circumstance of the Catholic Church’s demoted status as reflected in the older building and the aspiration to change and to reassert itself in a new, more ‘prominent’ and ‘superior’ edifice. The report of the meeting points to the status of the Church and the appearance of the church as being co-mingled and adhering to Lefebvre’s insistence that ‘social space’, here Bandon and the places of worship, could indeed embody and act as a visual expression of the power relationships between the two faiths.

In comparison to the church at Gallow’s Hill even the original Church of Ireland building, that had been financed by Richard Boyle, the Earl of Bandon, was described as ‘large and commodious, though a heavy and inelegant structure’, certainly the more dominant of the two houses of worship.(George Bennett, n.d., pp.30–1) The foundation stone for the new St. Peter’s was laid in 1847 and the consecration ceremony took place in 1849. According to one report there was an extremely large attendance for the ceremony and that an additional train had to be provided for visitors travelling from Cork city for the occasion.(‘Consecration of The New Parish Church’, 1849) Located as it was on an elevated site in the town, the church and its accompanying tower would have been a commanding structure in Bandon’s landscape.

The church, (Fig. 5), was designed by Joseph Welland in the Gothic Revival style and its bell tower, standing at 110 feet, adds to the impressive visual impact of the building. Welland was architect to the Board of First Fruits and its successor the Ecclesiastical Commission.(welland, joseph – Dictionary of Irish Architects, 2018)

Fig.5. St. Peter’s Church of Ireland church, Bandon.

The large attendance at the opening of the church points to its importance for the members of its congregation and its location in the landscape reinforces the strength of the faith in the town, in accordance with the history of Bandon outlined earlier. But, this dominance would soon be challenged by the building of two new Catholic churches.

The convent chapel attached to the Presentation Convent on the hillside, outside of the town but overlooking it is not a large building. It was constructed to designs by George Goldie; the foundation stone was laid in September 1856 and it opened for mass and a profession ceremony in March 1858.(Walsh, n.d.) The Presentation Convent itself had been founded in 1829, the same year as the Catholic Emancipation Bill was passed in Parliament. Like St. Peter’s, the convent chapel is in the Gothic Revival style, although much smaller. There is no direct reference to Goldie as the architect of the chapel but he is mentioned as having designed it in a report in The Cork Examiner.(Consecration of St. Patrick’s Church, Bandon, 1861) Both the chapel and the convent stand out on the north-western horizon of the town and would perhaps have even had a more imposing presence when first built, as the spread of the town up towards the convent’s location had not expanded to the extent it has done today. What is most important to note is that on leaving St. Peter’s one is at once greeted with the sight of the Catholic chapel looking down on the church and the town (Fig. 6); this spectacle would have been even more profound for the Protestant living in a town that was seeing their status undermined by the improvement of the Catholic faith’s situation in Ireland.

Fig. 6 View of Presentation Convent and Chapel from St. Peter’s Church of Ireland church, Bandon.

Although the walls of Bandon town that had sought to exclude and control the Catholic population of the hinterland by exclusion had been demolished in 1689, St. Peter’s and its predecessor had been within the area that had been bounded by them. The Convent chapel, and the later St. Patrick’s, was outside of the town boundary. This physical exclusion is overcome by a visual intrusion into the panorama that greeted the church goers attending St. Peter’s.

As one circumnavigates the exterior of St. Peter’s one meets the imposing edifice of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic church to its south eastern aspect. As we have seen earlier, the building of St. Patrick’s was intended to reinforce the rising status of the Catholic population of the town after Emancipation. The foundation stone for St. Patrick’s was put in place in March 1856, a few months earlier than the Convent Chapel, and was attended by a large crowd of Church dignitaries, members of the public anxious to show their support for the endeavour and by the architect, George Goldie. The Cork Examiner recorded an attendance of over five thousand people for the blessing of the foundation stone and of the site on which the church would be built.(Church Of Our Lady and St. Patrick, Bandon, Laying The Foundation Stone’, Freeman’s Journal, Saturday 22 March 1856.) When the church was consecrated in 1861 the attendance exceeded over four thousand within the church as well as many others who could not gain access due to the limitations of size. Again, The Cork Examiner referred to the large crowds and that half of those attempting to travel from Cork for the occasion could not be accommodated by the train services and they had to be left stranded at the thronged Cork station.(Consecration of St. Patrick’s Church Bandon, 11 June 1861.) The significance of the building and its location in Bandon was not lost upon the newspaper’s reporter who wrote that the church would ‘in another time, mark the epoch at which Catholicism began to lift its head, and show how elastic it sprang from beneath the load of centuries; and it will speak trumpet tongued to the future ages of the zeal of the priest and people of Bandon for the glory of religion.’(Consecration of St. Patrick’s Church Bandon, 11 June 1861.)

The church stands on an elevated site of 32 metres and looks down on St. Peter’s just a short distance away and at a much lower elevation of 27 metres. The tower to the rear of the church was part of the original design but was not constructed until 1920. Figure 7 shows a view of St. Patrick’s from the northern side of St. Peter’s and shows the comparative height and elevation of both buildings, while figure 8 situates both churches viewed together. The aspiration of the Catholics of Bandon to have a ‘more superior’ and ‘more prominent’ place of worship is easily read as having been achieved on the landscape of the town and its horizons when viewed from St. Peter’s. This becomes a more profound recalibration of social position for the Catholics viewing St. Peter’s from their newly established place of worship and is evident in figure 9 that shows a view of the Church of Ireland building from the doorway of St. Patrick’s.


Fig. 7: View of St. Patrick’s from St. Peter’s.     

Fig. 8: View of St. Patrick’s and St. Peter’s.  

Fig. 9: View of St. Peter’s from St. Patrick’s.

The structure of St. Patrick’s has not altered much from the designs of Goldie or from how it appeared on the day of its consecration in 1861, with the exception of the completion of the tower in 1920. The interior has been changed over the years and most especially the removal of Goldie’s original altar in 1929 when it was re-installed in a new church in the nearby village of Gaggin.(Blessing of Gaggin Church, 21 September1929) The year 1929 marked the centenary of the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act and the consecration mass at Gaggin coincided with the Emancipation Centenary Mass at Westminster  Cathedral, an observation made in Gaggin at the time by the celebrant, and Bishop of Cork, the Very Rev. Dr. Cohalan.(Blessing of Gaggin Church, 21 September1929)The replacement altar in St. Patrick’s is a more elaborate design than Goldie’s if we compare the present day altar with an old image of Goldie’s, figures 10 and 11. Sadly, only the altar table remains in Gaggin church, figure 12. The descriptions of St. Patrick’s carried in the press at the time will be more eloquent than those of the present writer [the press statements can be found in links at this page ] and this is especially true when one considers the complex context that surrounded the building of the church and the changed role of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland in the early part of the twenty-first century.

Fig. 10: Goldie’s Altar and Reredos, St. Patrick’s.

Fig. 11: Present Altar and Reredos, St. Patrick’s.

Fig. 12: Goldie’s Altar removed from St. Patrick’s to Gaggin Church.

Reredos and Ritual: Architecture and Liturgical Change in Goldie’s Irish Work.

As we have seen in our discussion of the churches in Bandon there were alterations in the internal fabric of buildings by Goldie that resulted in the removal of parts of his work to other churches. In the case of St. Peter’s the building of the new church at Gaggin saw his altar being transferred from its original setting. This was carried out as part of the centenary celebrations of Catholic Emancipation in 1929 and coincided with the building of the Gaggin church of Lady’s Chapel. This alteration was not a liturgical change and we cannot be sure of the reason behind the decision other than that the centenary year may have been seen as an opportune moment to draw attention to the continued lineage of the Church in the twentieth-century with the reinvigoration that occurred in the nineteenth-century. It can be shown by a visual examination of the changes that this was not as a result of liturgical changes that would occur later in twentieth-century in the aftermath of Vatican II.

Figure 10 depicts the original Goldie altar and reredos in St. Patrick’s, Bandon and figure 11 shows the present reredos. In figure 13 we see the present sanctuary area with the altar table moved closer to the laity as a result of the changes arising from Vatican II.

Fig. 13 Present altar table and reredos, St. Patrick’s, Bandon.

When we view the older reredos and altar table, (figure 10), after its removal to Gaggin, we can see that the table remains attached to the reredos in line with the liturgical practise in the earlier part of the twentieth-century. A close examination of the figures 12 and 14 reveals that the altar table in both circumstances is the same but with figure 12 configured to conform to post-Vatican II demands. Pre-Vatican II configurations of the sanctuary remained the same in Gaggin as they had been in Bandon and it might well be that the maintaining of the reredos and altar table unity coupled with the separation of the congregation from the celebrant of the mass did not affect the practice of the mass, both celebrant and laity faced the altar table and not each other. It is clear that even though the core of the sanctuary had been moved  its form and function could continue as designed by Goldie in the latter half of the nineteenth-century.

Fig. 14 Goldie’s reredos and altar moved to Lady’s Chapel, Gaggin.

However, liturgical changes that would occur later in the twentieth-century would not only change the function of the sanctuary space but would also have negative impacts on the form of Goldie’s works and in some cases complete loss. Gaggin being one example where the reredos that received so much praise when first installed in St. Patrick’s have been disappeared and all that remains is the altar table. To add further support to the contention that liturgical changes impacted upon and disturbed the original function of Goldie’s designs, two examples will be discussed – the Church of the Sacred Heart, part of the Ursuline convent in Waterford, and St. Finbarr’s South Chapel in Cork. Initially some background into the purpose of the liturgical changes and how these changes altered the emotional and physical encounter within the church building will be outlined.

When discussing the interior of the building we are, following Zevi, engaging with the purpose of architecture; that is to contain space and to exclude space, to create space, to separate the exterior from the interior while maintaining a presence in both – ‘architecture is environment.’ (Zevi and Barry, 1993, p.32) In the environment of the church a body is located not only in a physical space but also in a spiritual space and in this environment the combination of both forms affects the emotions.

That people are emotionally invested in church architecture of the past can be gauged by their reactions to its loss and to changes within it. As this essay is being written news has come through of the burning of Notre Dame de Paris; across the world there have been reactions of shock and of disbelief. We can only measure this by social media and traditional media where people recount their experiences and their hopes. The attachment of people to Notre Dame and the remembrance of their experiences in the cathedral is, perhaps, an indication of the spiritual encounter via the corporeal presence in a place of worship.[2] The perception of space through the embodied senses affects the body and architecture as space perceived affects the emotion through the body. During the nineteenth-century, the conflict between Protestants and Roman Catholics was also one of the senses, this was a prevalent state even since 1708 when Christopher Wren, (quoted in Whyte) stated ‘The Romanists, indeed may build larger churches, it is enough if they hear the murmur of the mass and see the elevation of the host, but ours are to be fitted for auditories.’(Whyte, 2017, p.72) During the nineteenth-century as emancipation was achieved and Catholic churches were being built they also brought with them the reintroduction of Catholic rituals into the public domain. Ritual involved looking, as the congregation viewed the celebrant and his gestures, from the rear, the performance of assistants that turned the pages of the Bible, lit candles, held chalices and waved censors. Sight and smell played a role in bringing the lay members into the body of the church and the performance of ritual but excluded them from contact with the sanctified area of the sanctuary and the words of the priest. But, even in this exclusion there remains an emotional element that draws its source of inspiration from the collective of ritual and architecture, the mystery of the silence unified with the height and light of the building and the aura of the unseen presence symbolised by ritual and sacred space. Rudolph Otto terms, this ‘most fundamental element in all strong and sincerely felt religious emotion…found in the fixed and ordered solemnities of rites and liturgies and again in the atmosphere that clings to old religious monuments and buildings, to temples and to churches’, mysterium tremendum.(Otto and Harvey, 1923, p.12) The very body of the church takes the form of the crucified Christ in the cruciform shape and the verticality of the building adds to the transcendental that heightens the emotion as the eyes look heavenward.(Rose, 2001, p.17)

Prior to Vatican II, the celebrant and the congregation both faced the altar and, even though the tradition of a coming together of the faithful anchors itself in any setting, this has changed as the Church grew and spread.(Debuyst, 1968, pp.20–1) As we have seen there was a virtual cessation of Catholic church building in Ireland during the Penal Laws period and during that period worship often took place in homes and in the landscape.(Whelan, 2018, p.179) When building recommenced, Ireland adopted that form which had been in place from the Classical period and influenced by architecture in Rome – the basilica – typified by churches like St. Mary’s, Pope’s Quay, Cork, and by the Medieval period, that looked to the Gothic influences and which gained greater acceptance post-Famine. Both genres followed the ritual system that had priest and laity facing the altar, Ad Orientum, and the congregation acting as spectators to the priestly ritual rather than full participants, a situation that Vatican II would change. The primary aim of the liturgical reform was to bring the laity from the role of observer to active participant. This was clearly stated in section fourteen of the Sacrosanctum Concilium:

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people” (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.

In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work.(Sacrosanctum concilium, 2019)

The transition from participant via spectatorship to participant via a shared performance in the ritual of the mass could not take place while the altar remained attached to the reredos and the celebrant remained orientated away from the congregation. In newly built churches after Vatican II there was a transition away from the cruciform shape and older buildings were altered to reflect the changed liturgical demands. The body of the church, the space of performance was realigned and the interactions between the corpus of the congregation and the corpus of the celebrant were redefined by these alterations. Richard Hurley provides a chronology and examination of the influence that Vatican II had on churches built in Ireland from the 1960s that demonstrates the efforts toward architectural conformity to the change in internal layouts demanded by the liturgical renewal that altered both the structure of the church in the landscape and the internal designs that adhered to lay participation.(Hurley, 2001) But, even as these new churches were adding to the architectural landscape, the older churches were being reconfigured in ways that involved removals and alterations that distanced themselves from the original intention of both architect and pre-Vatican II performative ritual. The stage which the bodies sensed ritual becomes a ‘stage on which our lives unfold’ and this unfolding of separation to reveal and encourage participation in turn alter the stage.

In the two churches to be considered here – St. Finbarr’s South Chapel and the Church of the Sacred Heart in Waterford – we are addressing two distinct settings; St. Finbarr’s is a church used by the public laity while the Church of the Sacred Heart operated within the confines of a convent.

St. Finbarr’s South Chapel is the oldest parish church in the city of Cork. Built in 1776 it underwent structural alterations in 1809 and 1866. A report in The Cork Examiner in May 1866 suggests that George Goldie was the architect involved in a major extension to the sanctuary.(Meeting For The Repair and Renewal Of St. Finn Barr’s Church. | Cork Examiner | Monday 14 May 1866 | British Newspaper Archive, 2019) This extension would permit the installation of a new high altar in 1873 by the ‘eminent ecclesiastical architect’ George Goldie. The Cork Examiner dedicated substantial space to its description and praise of the new high altar in January 1874.(st.finbarrs-south.pdf, n.d.) The newspaper report speaks of Goldie personally supervising the work on the altar and of the altar table designed to hold the Dead Christ, by the Irish sculptor John Hogan. The table was of ‘Sicilian white marble’ supported by ‘neatly carved piers of Caen stone.’ The reredos was flanked by pilasters that contained carved angels ‘with the flowing drapery of the early Tuscan school.’ The sanctuary was remodelled in the 1970s in accordance with Vatican II. This involved the moving of the altar table nearer to the congregation while the dome of the tabernacle and the carved angels were removed from the reredos. The Irish Examiner commented on how the alterations ‘achieved a very successful compromise between the old and the new’ but the main concern was about how the Dead Christ would be accommodated by the new configuration.(The Irish Examiner, 1972) When Goldie had constructed the original altar he had received praise for every aspect of his work on the altar and reredos, the sculpture of the Dead Christ being incorporated into the altar table merited just one line in the report.(st.finbarrs-south.pdf, n.d.) The space above the altar used for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament received the highest praise in the same article as the most prominent and most important aspect of the sanctuary. In making this assertion the report confirms the significance of the Body of Christ and the rituals surrounding the performance of the exposition in the centrality of the bodily practice focused on the separated sanctuary space which the laity observed at a distance. In figure 15 the altar can be seen elevated by a series of steps and isolated spatially from the lay members of the congregation by the altar rails that separate the sacred from the profane. The division reiterates Wren’s comments on the visual, gestural and, by inference, elevation of the ritual above the Word. The public body en masse are required to remain remote from the sacred body of the church as a site and to isolate themselves on the profane side of the rail outside of the sanctuary. Simultaneously, the embodied senses remain connected through ocular and olfactory encounter with the performance of the priest and altar assistants. The prominence of the candles and flowers around the altar contribute to the mysterium tremendum, the aura of the religious space in which the body of the church goers are subsumed by the body of the church and the Body of the Church.

The body of the Dead Christ contained in the altar table designed by Goldie is advanced toward the congregation in figure 16. The altar rails have been removed and the height of the tabernacle has been lowered through the removal of two of the, formerly more elevating, three steps up to the altar when incorporated into the reredos. The sacrament of the Eucharist is performed closer to the laity as both celebrant and participant share the performance area without a division between sacred and profane – the laity become ‘fully conscious and active’ participants in the ‘liturgical celebrations.’ The centrality of the Body of Christ held within the ciborium, praised so highly when it was first designed by Goldie, for the purpose of remote exposition is now the Body of Christ at one with the body of the Church that expresses itself with all its members as a united ‘royal priesthood.’ At the time of the realignment removals also occurred. The angels draped in the Tuscan style have been taken down, the candleholders that surround the ciborium have been reduced in size and the ciborium,(this term is used here to describe the canopies incorporated into the reredos that serve a function relative to the Eucharist as that of the ciborium/baldachin to the altar as a whole) itself has been jettisoned. This combination of relocations and removals acts to transfer the sanctity of the distant and isolated location of ritual performance that demanded sensual awareness of the sacred from its space of privilege to an arena that allows the sensual to be replaced by the corporeal participation of the laity who now share the activity within the opened and expanded stage.

When considering the importance of the division between clergy and congregation we must be aware that this division was also an important consideration for Goldie and his fellow architects of the nineteenth-century. In a lecture given by Goldie in Sheffield in 1856 he highlighted the perfection of the separation of the chancel from the nave in earlier architecture and in the case of St. Vincent’s, Sheffield, designed by Goldie, he stated that the chancel was set apart for ‘the special service of the altar’ and would devote a large part of his lecture to how this earlier perfection would be replicated in this new church.(Goldie, 1856, pp.20–2). In the same lecture, Goldie was strident in his defence of architecture of the ‘middle ages’ and of how Catholic architecture of his own time was working in the service of the ritualism of Catholicism and, even though he saw Protestant architecture engaged in the Gothic Revival as praiseworthy,  any other denomination that did any revival that could not ‘by the laws of their own church’ ensure that the performance of ritual, as we have described it here, could be enacted then that architecture was ‘little better than a weak and purile imitation, without an end.’(Goldie, 1856, pp.19–20) Goldie was expressing a sentiment that evoked the ritualism that the body of the church facilitated for the congregation, as observers and emotional receptors of the environment and actions taking place there. But, this emotional involvement could not exist without the architecture directed toward this end and unless both ritual arising from practice and co-existing within  the architectural body of the church functioned in harmony, unlike other denominations, then it was a futile and pointless experience for both architect and religious practice. The very concept and intention of Goldie’s architecture is undermined if this ritual practice is redirected and demolishes the division that it served to enhance as part of the sensual cohesion of the Mass as practiced. In essence, for Goldie the division enhanced the sacramental by ensuring the sanctity of where the sacrament took place, the body of the church building directed the mode of participation and sensorial engagement toward a contemplative silence. The realignments brought about by Vatican II demanded the rewriting of the architectural space, the ‘stage’ flowed outward and engulfed the congregation but in doing so submerged in a destructive way the foundation that had constructed the contemplative arena.

Fig. 15: St. Finbarr’s South Chapel, Cork, (1873)

Fig. 16: St. Finbarr’s South Chapel, 2018.

Thus far, we have been discussing an architectural space that had a division between the lay members of the congregation and the priest but what of the convent setting where meaning in the building held symbolic references that transcended the physical division of the sanctuary and the nave? To investigate this we can look to Goldie’s design, (Fig. 17), for the Ursuline convent in Waterford, its original form and the removal of the internal religious furnishings after the chapel was closed. Goldie’s designs show a fourfold division of the spaces within the convent chapel – the sanctuary, a boarder’s chapel, a secular chapel and the nun’s choir. We can see that even as he terms these spaces and as they can be seen in his drawings, (Fig. 17), that there is an immediate hierarchy established in which the nuns are above the boarders and the secular members of the congregation and involved in the spiritual direction of the sacrament but also physically separated. The status of the Sister’s within the chapel building is also emphasised by they having a sacristy within the sanctuary. The central nave and choir are occupied by the nuns but they are also present in the sanctuary area as themselves and through the representations of their saints on the reredos.

Fig. 17: Designs for Ursuline convent chapel, Waterford.

The reredos was designed with the significance to the Order built into it. In the niches stood a  statue of St. Ursula and a statue of St. Angela. St. Angela Merci was the founder of the Order and St. Ursula is their patron. The photograph, (Fig. 18), showing the original interior of the church makes it difficult to identify the saints but this has been verified by Sr. June Fennelly of the Ursuline convent, who also confirmed that the statues were retained by the convent and located within the school buildings.[3] Contained in the annals of the Ursulines in Waterford there is mention of an instruction to ensure that the chapel would have ease of access from the other parts of the convent and also that the plans by Goldie were carefully considered prior to the project proceeding.[4] This shows that the Sisters had an interest in and, perhaps, an input into the design of the chapel to conform to their own spiritual demands. The nuns would not have been unfamiliar with architecture or art in general as one of their number had published a collection of lectures on the subject as early as 1845 and had corresponded with Pugin (Fennelly, 2016, p.12).

Fig. 18: Original Interior of Ursuline convent chapel, Waterford.

The chapel, as designed by Goldie, allowed the Sisters to be close participants in and to integrate themselves closer to the sacred space. We can see that there are areas within the chapel that are clearly identified as the locations of the boarders and the secular and the nuns are not part of this separate arena of worship. The transfer of the reredos and altars to a different site and in conformity with Vatican II requirements changed the meaning and symbolic richness from that which was engrained in the structure designed by Goldie.

The reredos and altar were moved to St. Brigid’s church in Ballycallan, Co. Kilkenny in 1995, after the convent chapel had been closed, (Fig. 19).

Fig. 19: Ursuline convent reredos relocated to St. Brigid’s, Ballycallan, Co. Kilkenny.

Fortunately, unlike at Gaggin, the entire reredos and altar table have been retained. The addition of an altar table closer to the laity and the lack of dividing altar railings adhere to the demands of Vatican II and, in doing so, change the visual and symbolic dynamic that attached to the reredos in the convent chapel. The removal of the statues have altered how the reredos was to be read by the original congregation and instead now acts as mere decoration and an ornate container for the tabernacle. The meaning of the reredos within a structured and hierarchical layout has been lost as the boundaries between sacred and profane have been realigned and the ability of the Order to converse with the sacred performance through their founder and their patron is removed. The extraction of the reredos from the chapel has also extracted from the reredos all intended function and meaning.

Meaning and emotion are linked, the intended reading of internal church furnishing can only retain that reading in its intended setting and in its original form. The relocation of altars and reredos rewrite the architectural plans to suit either liturgical modifications or, as in the case of the Ursuline convent, repurposed as a form of semi-preservation. Neither act serves to preserve the language of the original and both conspire to eradicate meaning and intention. Goldie’s reredos are not unique in being moved or lost but serve as an example of how these destructive interventions have impacted on the textual nature of the internal decoration of the churches as objects that spoke to the emotional and spiritual body of the congregation and how this connection is removed as they move or disappear.

In the examples discussed above we are addressing changes that occurred to existing churches and these changes happened even in churches of the early to mid-twentieth century. We have noted that most churches being built prior to Vatican II adhered to the cruciform shape and, even if materials and means of construction altered, the divisions between the sanctuary and the nave were in most cases maintained. There were exceptions to the rule and this was brought about by the different materials that became available and by the influence of modernist architecture in Europe and the United States as applied to church building.(Hurley, 2001, pp.16–24) Hurley refers to the architect, Brendan O’Connor, who designed the Church at Rossguill, Donegal, that appears to preface the demands of Vatican II but built in 1954 and including an altar that has the congregation on both sides, as well as in the main nave.(Hurley, 2001, p.31) Hurley’s Irish Church Architecture in the Era of Vatican II is, perhaps, the most important investigation of the development of church architecture in Ireland of the twentieth-century and follows an evolution of styles that arise with the fading of the Gothic designs of the nineteenth-century and the attempts to create a uniquely Irish style in the early-twentieth-century. It is possible, using Hurley, to determine that changes in material and technological developments were having an impact on the design of ecclesiastical buildings that would be rehearsed in churches post-Vatican II.

Churches that retained the cruciform shape and built prior to Vatican II underwent realignments post-Vatican II that were largely limited to the removal of altar rails and the bringing forward of the altar table. Earlier, we looked at how Vatican II affected the existing nineteenth-century churches but there was also an immense impact on architectural approaches to newly built churches. This new approach, guided by Vatican II, changed utterly the spiritually inspired spatial relationships so important to Goldie.

Immediately before the commencement of the Second Vatican Council, the interior design of the Catholic church was being discussed at many levels and the integration of the tabernacle into the altar was seen as paramount and the continuation of a tradition that maintained the Ad Orientum arrangement.(Murray, 1962, p.506) However, even at this earlier point in time there was an understanding being voiced that the barrier between the sacerdotal space and the congregation needed to be dismantled in order to allow for and encourage a greater participation by the laity, using the vernacular and active in the Liturgy.(Murray, 1962, p.510) As these ideas were developed and were pronounced at the end of the Second Vatican Council, any new church building would differ greatly from the designs by Goldie and his peers. The function, intention and meaning of the post-Vatican II architecture of the once sacred space would no longer be perceived as a distant physical object that was connected via the emotions and the senses to the community in a spiritual encounter, as was the case with Goldie. From that moment the sacred space was also a secular space in which both priest and laity functioned as deliverers of the Liturgy and, while not equal in the hierarchy of the Church, equal participants in the Liturgical Ritual.

Writing in The Furrow in 1962, Gerard and Lawrence McConville insisted that ‘a different space in a church was necessary, an arrangement whereby the people would take part in divine worship, not only by seeing and hearing, but also joining with the priest in prayer and action.’(McConville and McConville, 1962, p.650) For McConville and McConville it was essential that a free-standing altar (devoid of reredos and rails) would be orientated toward the congregation and within a crescent shaped space that ensured the laity embraced the formerly isolated sacred space and the introduction of any barrier to participation would be a ‘distortion’ of the intention of the church’s role as a shared arena of worship.(McConville and McConville, 1962, pp.650–1)

In the aftermath of Vatican II, when ideas expressed by the McConvilles and Murray became more widely accepted and applied to practice, architects were afforded a freedom to respond in their own way to a demand that was limited to a ‘free-standing altar and, with the priest facing the people and a gathering of worshippers around the sanctuary.’(Hurley, 2001, p.43) As Hurley pointed out, this new architecture left nothing of the ‘nineteenth-century attempt to recreate medieval symbolism in church buildings’, a symbolism that was for Goldie and his like essential to communicate the divine through the physical, emotional and spiritual conversation of ritual and light.(Hurley, 2001, p.45)

It was this degradation of the symbolic power of the church as a symbol of the Church that would play a major role in the loss of many of Goldie’s work  and  the work of other architects of the nineteenth-century. The Advisory Committee on Church Art and Architecture approached the issue of reredos and the tabernacle from the standpoint that ‘The majority of existing altars cannot be said to have genuine artistic value’, that ‘Their retention can make the planning of a proper liturgical space very difficult’ and that ‘the artistic quality and intrinsic financial value of these altars are often over estimated.’(Advisory Committee on Sacred Art and Architecture, 1977, p.258)  The Advisory Committee were of the opinion that more was required than a simple turning around of the altar and the priest to face the congregation in order to realign the liturgical practice- a wider change was needed and this change demoted the reredos and its symbolic and spiritual import and allowed it to be designated as an unnecessary decoration within the church.(Advisory Committee on Sacred Art and Architecture, 1977, p.258) It was this license to remove that led to the loss of reredos in Bothola, Co. Mayo, the Loreto Convent, in Letterkenny, St. Patrick’s, in Monaleen and St. Saviour’s, in Waterford, (and this is just a short list of works by Goldie alone). It was also the approach that would lead to a neglect of many of the nineteenth-century churches based on a subjective valuation of the artistic worth of the reredos, a valuation often challenged.(Duffy, 2019) An example of the impact of the subjective can be found in a description of a memorial by Goldie built for St. John the Baptist church in Ovens, Co. Cork. When it was built in 1865 the memorial was described as ‘in a pure Italian character after the manner of the mural monuments of Rome’, the report went on to paint a picture of a most elegant and decorous work, however, all that remains after a renovation to the church interior carried out in the mid-1970s is a tablet attached to the memorial, hidden in the sacristy of the church.(Monument To The Late Very Rev. Canon Walsh, P.p. | Cork Examiner | Wednesday 06 September 1865 | British Newspaper Archive, 2019)

The Office of Public Works has, since recognising the destructive nature of the Catholic Church’s reaction to Vatican II, said that such memorials should be ‘protected as important and integral parts of the overall architectural composition’ and, similarly, saw the other aspects of the internal furnishings, such as reredos and pulpits, as ‘part of an overall, unified vision of the interior of a church that should be protected and respected accordingly.’(Howley Hayes Architects and Ireland, 2011, p.55) Unfortunately, for many of these artistic interventions that were an essential part of Goldie’s spiritual vision, this revision of the value of the church interior decoration has arrived too late.

Church Building in the Nineteenth- Century Irish Novel

As we have seen in the introduction and literature review of this essay, there are multiple examples of church architecture and church building being incorporated into the English novel and even being the subject of some novels in their entirety. Considering that a similar expansion of church buildings, and indeed convent and other religious buildings was taking place in Ireland, one would expect that there would also exist a space for the Irish novel of the nineteenth-century to also engage with the architecture of the period as it was being inserted into the landscape. This chapter seeks to examine a limited corpus of novels that might shed some light on this question. The findings, while narrow and perhaps inconclusive, leave open the door for a more in-depth investigation of how Irish literature compares with English literature in its use of church architecture and if there exists a deliberate omission of the phenomena by Irish authors of the period. The investigation was carried out using a combination of Voyant Tools, close reading and digital repositories. An indication of the corpus results are given in the images below (Figs 20 & 21)

Fig. 20 Indicative Corpus Results Using Voyant Tools.

Fig. 21 Indicative Result (Rory O’More) Using Voyant Tools.

Tourists to Ireland of the nineteenth-century recorded their impressions of the architecture that was extant or in the process of being completed. Anna Maria Hall and her husband Samuel Carter Hall visited Killarney and wrote of the new cathedral by A.W.N. Pugin ‘occupying a commanding site’ and how the neighbouring Protestant church was a blot on the landscape by comparison.(Hall, 2019, pp.71–2) Of course, like many tourists to Ireland the Halls were travelling to experience the ‘picturesque’ and their focus is on the landscape and on the ruins there in; just one example of such a description is given from their time around Glengarriff where they encounter ‘the ruins of one of those small ancient churches.’(Hall, 2019, p.45) Thackeray, in The Irish Sketch Book, also engages with the picturesque,(‘the town is most picturesquely situated’) but also mentions ‘an ugly church with an air of pretension and a large grave Roman Catholic church, the highest point of the place.’ (Thackeray, 2019, p.164) Thackeray also mentions a ‘large, dingy, Catholic chapel, of some pretensions within; but as usual there had been a failure for want of money, and the front end of the chapel was unfinished’ presenting the butt-end of a portico.’[5](Thackeray, 2019, p.81) Thackeray, like the Halls, also engages with ruins, of just one example, coupled with the picturesque he writes, ‘Close by the church there are the ruins of a fine old abbey here, and a still finer one a few miles on, at Thomastown, most picturesquely situated amidst trees and meadows, on the river Nore.’(Thackeray, 2019, p.75). Other instances of mentions of Irish churches in the nineteenth-century, of ruins and of their importance to the idea of the picturesque are to be found in many travel books of the period. But, does this awareness transfer itself into the novel? The building of Catholic churches was, as we have discussed, an important part of the Catholic community’s sense of identity and status and it is clear from the two examples given above that it was a visible and knowable community activity. While accepting that the picturesque could lend itself to romantic imagery and the ruin played an active role in this concept for the artist, the architect and the writer, the link with the past and the romantic may well have prevented the writers of the period from engaging with the visible present.[6]

Gerald Griffin, writing in the early part of the nineteenth-century, when some church building was taking place but not to the extent that would occur after the Famine, gives some insight into the manner in which churches were used in novels of the time. In one of his most famous novels, The Collegians, the church or chapel is a location of destination. Characters attend chapel, run into the chapel, went there to pray, wed, or hurried out of, without commenting on the physical presence of the structure.(Griffin, 1829a, pp.12, 13, 29, 312, 317) Gardens can look as grave as a ruined churchyard, but we have no indication of how a ruined churchyard appears.(Griffin, 1829a, p.7) But this lack of description of the churches and chapels is not for lack of architectural vocabulary as Griffin proceeds to paint a picture of Castle Chute in most eloquent language using terms such as ‘Grecian architecture’, ‘heavy Norman archway’ and ‘richly ornamented Gothic archway.’(Griffin, 1829a, pp.156–8) The author does, however, quickly dismiss such language as ‘mere description’ and an interference in the story’s narrative.(Griffin, 1829a, p.157) In volume two of The Collegians we meet a ruined church that, again, acts as a location point, a mere directing reference point on the landscape, while Volume Three maintains a similar approach to church buildings.(Griffin, 1829b, p.22) In his short novel, Suil Dhuiv,The Coiner, we get from Griffin some idea of church architecture that corresponds with our expectation of early nineteenth-century Catholic churches, when he describes a church as ‘a thatched chapel, a plain oblong pile with a small iron cross fastened at the top of the gable, into which the door, an unpanelled plane of timber, marked with the same sacred symbol in red paint, was made to open.’(Griffin, n.d., p.405) In Tracy’s Ambition, the main protagonist sees the ‘magnificent chapel: a vast building…lost and buried among a conflux of miserable lanes and allies.’ and a brief mention of an ivy-clad ruin of an Augustinian friary.(Griffin, 1857, pp.299, 240) The Rivals, in the same volume as Tracy’s Ambition, contained much discussion about Protestantism and Catholicism, about ritual versus scripture, but very little by way of description of the building.

Perhaps, we might suggest that the ecclesiastical building programme taking place when Griffin was writing is a reason for his unwillingness to see that which was part of the community he wrote about and from but there was an expansion of  church building even during the earlier part of the century, as we have learned from Keenan and others. The reasons for this lack of engagement raises problematic questions for literature’s ability to represent the changing topography in which its characters dwelt and needs further investigation; for now the task is to highlight this lack and where it exists within a limited corpus.

Writing later in the century, at a point when much building had taken place, Violet Florence Martin, writing under the name Martin Ross, in collaboration with Edith Somerville, writing under the name Geilles Herring, wrote An Irish Cousin in 1889. In the novel we are often given a sense of the internal setting of the church and the customs attached to seating and, as discussed earlier, the practice focussed on the word.(Herring and Ross, 1889, pp.36–7) However, as with Griffin albeit in a Protestant setting, there is little attention directed to the structure of the church buildings other than one reference, again like Griffin, that describes the church in Rathbarry, Co. Cork as ‘an ugly oblong building.’(Herring and Ross, 1889, pp.3–4) The use of a ruined church is also introduced as a symbol of time passing following an ubi sunt motif.(Herring and Ross, 1889, pp.201–2)

A writer that wrote both before and during the Famine, Samuel Lover in Handy Andy: A Tale of Irish Life tells of his belief that the Irish peasantry had a preference to the ‘half-thatched ruin by a lone hill-side’ than a ‘gorgeous temple.’(Lover, 1842, p.367) This stance is rebuked by a member of the peasantry who says that just because God was born in a stable does not mean that his house should always appear as one.(Lover, 1842, p.371)Nonetheless, he does mention of some building work taking place on the repair of a church tower and the introduction of an altar piece to the Catholic church along with an ‘illigant’ painting of a crucifixion.(Lover, 1842, p.300) In Rory O’More: A National Romance, written in 1837, Lover deals with many of the issues of the day around the conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism in Ireland. Lover does take time to describe  Catholic ritual (Lover, 1901, pp.8–9) and references a small ruined church as telling of ‘decay’(Lover, 1901, p.246) and also hints at some older churches being modified as Protestant churches (Lover, 1901, pp.244–5). However, as with the other writers mentioned, he limits the church to acting as a location, a place to attend, without subjecting the site to any architectural elucidation.

It is interesting to learn that there is very little change across genders as female writers too temper their encounter with churches to a place of happening rather than a place with its own characteristics and ignore the building activity of which they must have been aware, given the extent of construction taking place.

Kathleen O’Meara (1839-1888) might be excused for her novels set in Ireland not conversing with the architecture or the newly constructed churches as she left Ireland for France at a young age and did not return. But, that is not the case, in The Battle of Connemara, she mentions a church that is ‘a beautiful little edifice, pure Gothic’ a style which the character of the novel sees as ‘the only style for sacred purposes’ and which has been newly built.(O’Meara, 1878, p.33) In the final pages O’Meara tells of a new Catholic church about to be built without demolishing an ‘old consecrated barn’ mentioned at the beginning of the novel.(O’Meara, 1878, pp.33, 206) The positioning of the ‘roadside’ chapel as a reminder of the demoted past of the Catholic Church and the new building that replaced it as Catholicism reasserted itself in the novel is reflective of the progress of Catholicism that we have discussed in chapter 2.

Maria Edgeworth rarely uses the word church or chapel in her most famous novel, Castle Rack Rent, but this might well be due to the very early period in which it was written, it being published in 1800, and its chronological setting of before 1772. The same can be said of her final novel, Helen, published in 1834.

And, finally, Margaret White Hungerford, (1855-1897), who was born in Rosscarbery, West Cork, and who lived and died in nearby Bandon, in her most famous novel, Molly Bawn (1878), has ample opportunity to discuss churches and their building, given her upbringing in the area discussed in chapter 2. The church is a site of attendance and primarily Protestant. The church building discussed is ‘Low’, that is conforming to pre-Gothic revival, with high pews, ‘gloomy and antiquated.’(Wofle Hungerford, 1886, pp.215–6)

It is clear that the church as a building in itself is rarely touched upon by the authors examined and is limited to a place of attendance, ritual and activity or a landmark without reference to its own construction or as an entity under construction. Debates take place about religion, society and church officials and allegiances throughout novels of the period but the contentious issue of style and how a church’s form can represent a Church’s status is, on the whole, neglected. While this is a limited interrogation of the theme it does point to a need for a more detailed investigation of church architecture in the nineteenth-century Irish novel.


George Goldie was an architect that had an impact on the Irish landscape through revisions of the topographical appearance of towns that were contentious during the nineteenth-century Catholic revival in the country. His work helped to alter the Catholic perception of self and of the Protestant ‘Other’ during a period of immense social shift. The use of the fabric and location of the church building, its height and its site, imprinted itself into the landscape and the religious and social relationships that were at play in Ireland in the aftermath of Catholic Emancipation. The new found and elevated status of the Catholic Church in Ireland sought a physical expression of this promoted rank, uplifted after the Penal Laws, and as Catholics in society became freer to contribute on a grand scale to the erection of religious edifices. The case study taken here, Bandon, while not unique in Ireland is extremely apt as a focus point for an examination of this manifestation of Catholic resurgence. The instance of Bandon allows us to read the attitude of the Catholics of the town to their own churches, their aspirations and their understanding of how the buildings reflected the change from oppressed to visible section of society. We can also engage in our own visual perceptions of the church buildings of both communities to identify in the present the ocular encounters of the past in the landscape occupied by the different  religions.

As the Catholic building programme expanded during the early twentieth-century, Goldie’s internal furnishings were affected by this expansion through relocation, realignment and removal. These interventions, whether in response to liturgical change, vocational reductions or church and convent closures, altered the intention and meaning of the reredos and altar pieces. Taking Goldie as just one instance, in what were many such revisions of church interiors at the time, we are provided with the opportunity to investigate how internal architectural change can create a spiritual, physical and emotional transmutation in the conversation that exists between the different parts of the church congregation – laity, clergy and Sisterhoods. Erasures took place in a re-writing of the text that was the original reredos and this editing of meaning deprives the present viewer of both context and content in the work as a response to a specific demand that, in the case of the Ursulines, challenged the hierarchical make up of the church layout. In the case of St. Finbarr’s we learn of the way the body of the church and the bodies of the Church experience an alteration in their relationship to each other as the physical structure of the interior is redefined. This has both emotional, spiritual and corporeal affects; the body of the congregation becomes more in contact with the sacred space while the sanctity of the sacred space is secularised. Goldie’s own writing indicates to us that the physical divisions that existed in the church were part of the language of the ecclesiastical architecture that allowed the members of the congregation to participate in the rituals in a deeper and more meaningful way. The movement within the church had as profound an impact on the reredos as did their complete relocation, as in the case of Gaggin and Ballycallan. The result of the realignments denied the reredos of their intent.

As we have seen their was an immense ecclesiastical buildings programme taking place from the mid-1840s onward. If we consider just Bandon, there were two large churches, St. Peter’s and St. Patrick’s built during this period. This was echoed across many parishes, rural and urban, throughout Ireland, as in England. We know that writers in England used churches as sites of activity and reference points but also that there were efforts made to engage with the architecture itself. In Ireland, in the limited examples examined, we find that there is a distinct lack of reference to a phenomenon that was changing the landscape, visually and societally. As the church building programme progressed and the Catholic community saw themselves being more and more represented in the physical fabric of the country there is a noticeable gap in this topographical metamorphosis manifesting itself in the Irish novel of the time. This is an area that is deserving of further and deeper investigation across a number of disciplines – social history, nineteenth-century Irish literary studies, art history and religious studies. There is a need to explore if the lack identified here is indeed representative of the wider canon of nineteenth-century Irish literature and, if so, is this a deliberate omission on the part of the writers or if these buildings were deemed to have no other purpose other than a space in which narrative is located, a vessel for setting rather than an entity deserving of interrogation in itself.

The wider implications of churches on the Irish landscape, the internal configurations of the churches and how these churches were engaged with by the literature of a most contentious century can be used as a means of deriving a deeper understanding of the self-perception and perception of ‘Other’. In this project just one architect and a representative sample of his work demonstrates for us how such an interrogation might function and serve as in inroad to a past that remains as part of our physical present and whose stories have been seen to change in line with societal progressions and regressions.


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[1] For a detailed discussion on this period, the conflicts and their outcomes see: Childs, John, The Williamite Wars in Ireland: 1688-91, (New York: Hambledon Continuum, 2007). Edwards, David, Pádraig Lenihan & Clodagh Tait, Editors,  Age of Atrocity : Violence and Political Conflict in Early Modern Ireland, (Dublin: Four Courts, 2007). Lenihan, P., Confederate Catholics at War: 1641-1649, (Cork: Cork University Press, 2001).

[2] The burning of Notre Dame occurred on April 15, 2019. Social media, traditional press and other media reacted widely to the event. No example from social media is given here as a bibliographical entry as to include an active social media stream may lead to perceptions of imbalance.

[3] In conversion within the present writer.

[4] Annals of the Ursulines in Waterford, 1872. M.S., 71.

[5] This unfinished church might well be St. Mary’s on Pope’s Quay, Cork.

[6] For more detailed discussion of the ruin in the Irish landscape, the picturesque and the romantic see: (O’Kane, 2004) and (Scott, 2017)