and State in the Republic of Ireland
|St Finn Barr's Cathedral, Cork
(Photo: Ryan Mulhall, istock.com)
A young mother
with a bewildered six-year-old held firmly by her side told us
of her astonishment at her son’s perceptiveness. Three nights
before the opening of a new church in their recently established
residential suburb, they had come to take a sneak preview of the
building. Enthralled by the sound of water flowing from the baptismal
font to a pool at its base, the boy had knelt, dipped his fingers
in the moving water and blessed himself.
On 25th November at the
first mass in a newly reordered church, I stood in the welcoming
area as the water in the new baptistery was blessed and then taken
for the blessing of the congregation. An elderly gentleman watched
the ceremony from the rear seat of the nave. When the priests
had moved towards the sanctuary, he slowly walked into the baptistery,
gently caressed the fine stone of the font, blessed himself from
the water, looked about the space with a smile of obvious pleasure
and discovery before returning to his seat.
Two days later the
same community gathered around the table of the Lord for the funeral
mass of a deceased friend in a beautiful gathering space inspired
by the challenge of facilitating the vision of Vatican II. Given
its emphasis on active participation, there is no reason why,
through the medium of good design and sensitivity to the character
of our architectural heritage, our places of worship should not
be capable of inspiring the young, reawakening the curiosity of
the elderly and enriching the faith lives of a worshipping community.
There is no doubt but that these aspirations would be common to
all of the churches in Ireland and while Article 44 of the Irish
Constitution guarantees ‘the rights of every religious denomination
to manage its own affairs’, we are now faced with a dilemma: state
authorities may now hold the view that in certain circumstances
the protection of architectural heritage within a place of worship
would carry greater weight than the need for liturgical development.
Revisions to planning legislation introduced in 2000 as a consequence
of Ireland signing up to the Convention for the Protection of
the Architectural Heritage of Europe, has raised the question
of who has the ultimate authority in determining matters of liturgical
significance, creating tension between Church and state authorities.
ISLAND OF SAINTS AND SCHOLARS
||Clocháns or ‘beehive huts’ near Fahan, Co Kerry: these simply corbelled stone structures are often associated
with early monastic settlements. (Photo: Christy Nicholas, bigstockphoto.com)
From the 5th
century AD Ireland became a dominant force in the early Christian
Church and there were very few parts of the European continent
to which its influence had not extended by the end of the first
millennium. Seats of learning together with extensive communities
were established in many places throughout the country, and there
remains a wealth of archaeological and architectural heritage
ranging from the earliest beehive huts to stone chapels and round
towers, examples of which can be found at Devenish, County Fermanagh;
Ardmore, County Waterford; and Clonmacnois, County Offaly to name
but a few. Examples of the unique Irish style culminated, prior
to the Norman invasions in the 12th century, with the fine examples
of Romanesque architecture as depicted in Cormac’s Chapel, Cashel,
With the Norman invasions in the 12th century
the influence of the European ecclesiastical system began to impinge
on the Irish Church. The Cistercian and Augustinian orders were
introduced with examples of architectural heritage from the period
to be found at the Cistercian Abbeys at Mellifont, County Louth
and Jerpoint Abbey, County Kilkenny. Indeed there are fine examples
of the Anglo Norman influence to be found in Christ Church Cathedral
and St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.
As with all such efforts to
influence the Irish, as time went by, those who sought to overpower
became more Irish than the Irish themselves.
The Reformation brought
an era of attempted change in Ireland: dissolution of religious
houses was accompanied by the destruction of abbeys and friaries.
For the Catholic Church a period of extreme oppression ensued,
yet many of its institutions continued to survive in Ireland.
Throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries church development
in Ireland was generally confined to Anglican or established churches
while the dissenters were tolerated and the Catholics were discouraged.
Following the death of James Stuart in 1766, the last catholic
pretender to the English throne, persecution began to ease, and
in the latter part of the 18th century Roman Catholics began once
again to build churches in towns throughout the country. Catholic
Emancipation finally arrived in 1829, encouraging a tremendous
growth in church building in rural Ireland.
Curiously, the culture
of building maintenance, prevalent in other denominations because
of the freedom they had enjoyed, did not so permeate the Roman
Catholic community. By the turn of the 19th century most of the
new Catholic churches in Ireland would have been built in living
memory, so their historic significance tended to be overlooked.
Furthermore, the priorities for the clergy were the provision
of community infrastructure such as schools, assembly halls
and recreational facilities. The result was that throughout the
20th century Catholic church buildings fell into disrepair. Only
now are these buildings being properly assessed, and maintenance
costs are proving to be excessive.
Early 19th century churches
and community halls of the Catholic Church were generally simple
barn-like structures but as time went on the awareness of English
and European architectural styles began to be reflected in the
buildings. The use of English Gothic and particularly the Gothic
Revival style of AWN Pugin (1812-1852) came to the fore in the
latter part of the century.
Following, the second Vatican Council
there was a period of uncertainty within the Catholic Church in
Ireland. The establishment by the Irish Hierarchy of the National
Institute for Liturgy in the 1960s provided a forum for change
and emphasised the need for sensitivity when working in the areas
of art and architecture. However, the impact of change on architecture
was not fully thought out. As a result many fine interiors were
destroyed through the well intentioned but misguided desire to
respond to a poor interpretation of the aspiration of the Vatican
LEGISLATION AND PLACES OF WORKSHIP
||Old round tower and church in Glendalough
(Photo: Simon Jeacle, istock.com)
theory, Irish legislation as it applies to architectural heritage
is excellent. In practice it is a different matter. In 1990 the
National Inventory of Architectural Heritage was established to
commence the work of preparing a detailed inventory and categorisation
of Irish architectural heritage. For many years significant architecture
had been given superficial protection or ‘listed building’ status
in local authority development plans. The potential of the National
Inventory as a means of separating the wheat from the chaff was
to be of benefit to both the authorities and building owners alike.
As a consequence of Ireland signing up to the Convention for the
Protection of the Architectural Heritage of Europe planning legislation
was implemented in January 2000 which took greater account of
historic value. Buildings identified as being of significance
were given protected status and graded according to whether their
significance was local, regional, national or international.
as the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage was still
in the early stages of its work and with many years work ahead
of it, an interim measure was put in place whereby local authorities
and the Department of the Environment, in conjunction with the
National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, were designated
as appropriate authorities to determine which buildings were to
receive protected status. The result has been that many buildings
now have a protected status without having a sound basis for such
Those responsible for protected structures must consult
with local authorities prior to undertaking any work and where
the proposed works would involve the material alteration of the
structure, planning permission is required.
Each local authority
is required to engage the services of a full time professional
conservation officer for the purpose of reviewing and monitoring
works related to protected structures. The conservation officer
is also required to advise on the protected structure grant system.
These grants are offered to the owner of a protected structure
up to a maximum of €12,500 (£8,700) or 50 per cent of the value
of any conservation work in any given year. Additional grants
for protected structures may be sought from the Heritage Council
of Ireland and from the Department of the Environment.
very few local authorities have sufficient resources available
to enable them to employ conservation officers, and pre-planning
consultations on conservation projects are not always possible.
Planning legislation provides for the making of guidelines related
to the protection of architectural heritage, and excellent advice
on producing these guidelines has been published by the Department
of the Environment.
The legislation also refers to the need for
specific separate guidelines for protected structures which are
normally used as places of worship. It also includes the requirement
that when considering projects on such buildings those deciding
on planning applications must ‘respect liturgical requirements’.
Church authorities in Ireland, conscious of the need to care for
the protected structures in their charge, are also conscious of
the need for continual change and adaptation to facilitate liturgical
development. Consulted on the drafting of the planning legislation,
it was the understanding of the church authorities that the requirement
to ‘respect liturgical requirements’ would give precedence to
such requirements. On the other hand the state authorities saw
no such obligation. This impasse led to considerable pressure
for the drafting of the guidelines related specifically to places
of worship, and these were finally produced in late 2003. Unfortunately,
the guidelines still leave the final decision to the planning
Structures set up under the guidelines included the
establishment of ‘diocesan historic churches advisory committees’
to assess the merits of each church project prior to planning
submission. These committees are also to be the first point of
contact between local authorities and the Church when interpreting
Once again the principle is sound but
its interpretation continues to cause problems. In the case of
St Coleman’s Cathedral in Cobh, for example, the planning authority
granted permission for reordering works. However, following a
public enquiry at which the inspector for planning appeals board
(An Bord Pleanala) recommended approval of the project, the board
itself decided to overturn the planning permission. This disappointing
outcome to a prolonged planning process has left Bishop Magee
with a serious problem and once again raised the question as to
who ultimately has the authority to decide what is or is not liturgically
acceptable in a place of worship: the state or the Church?
process of resolution is, as they say, ‘to be continued’. In the
interim we must ensure that our places of worship continue to
provide the gift of discovery for the young, the reassurance and
sense of joy for the elderly, and the enrichment of the faith
lives of the worshipping community.
|St Coleman's Cathedral, Cobh (Photo: Asa Jernigan)