St Patrick’s Collegiate Chapel, Maynooth, Co. Kildare

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Features, Issue 2(March/April 2011), Volume 19

St Patrick’s Collegiate Chapel —the foundation stone was laid on 15 October 1875; the chapel (right) was consecrated and opened for worship by Cardinal Michael Logue on 24 June 1891; the tower and spire (left) were completed in 1901. (NIAH)

St Patrick’s Collegiate Chapel —the foundation stone was laid on 15 October 1875; the chapel (right) was consecrated and opened for worship by Cardinal Michael Logue on 24 June 1891; the tower and spire (left) were completed in 1901. (NIAH)

St Mary’s Square was designed by the notable architect A.W.N. Pugin in the 1840s at the height of the ‘Gothic Revival’, extending west of St Joseph’s Square to what is now the south campus of NUI Maynooth. Owing to the limited grant of £30,000 for its construction, Pugin agreed to omit designs for the chapel, infirmary and great hall (aula maxima) until funds should become available. As a result, it was 1875 before J.J. McCarthy (1817–82), a prolific ecclesiastical architect often referred to as ‘the Irish Pugin’, was employed as architect of St Patrick’s Collegiate Chapel. Following Pugin’s death in 1852, McCarthy had taken over some of his unfinished churches, and although the Maynooth chapel was built on Pugin’s site, his designs for a plain east end and chapels along the northern side of the nave were not used. It is suggested that Pugin’s son claimed copyright, and that McCarthy designed a pentagonal east end with projecting chapels instead.

The Lady Chapel, the central of the five chapels, was decorated and furnished by the firm of prolific church architect G.C. Ashlin in 1908–11. He also designed the alabaster altar and reredos. (NIAH)

The Lady Chapel, the central of the five chapels, was decorated and furnished by the firm of prolific church architect G.C. Ashlin in 1908–11. He also designed the alabaster altar and reredos. (NIAH

The Lady Chapel, the central of the five chapels, was decorated and furnished by the firm of prolific church architect G.C. Ashlin in 1908–11. He also designed the alabaster altar and reredos. (NIAH

The foundation stone was laid on 15 October 1875, and by 1880 the cost of the build had reached £26,242. By McCarthy’s death in 1882 only the shell had been built; the president’s report for 1885–6 appealed for the ‘useless empty shell’ to be completed as ‘a splendid, fully furnished collegiate chapel’. In 1887 seven leading Catholic architects were invited to complete the chapel, with William Hague (1836–99) emerging as the winner. The chapel was consecrated and opened for worship by Cardinal Michael Logue on 24 June 1891. Hague designed the tower and spire in 1895, and following his death it was built to his designs in 1899–1902.
On the exterior, the chapel consists of eleven bays in three storeys attached to Pugin’s building in the north-east corner. Stepped buttresses on the north-west and south-east walls mask an internal corridor allowing circulation around the south, west and north sides. The square-plan tower is attached to the north-west corner of the chapel, with carved busts flanking the entrance to the north side of the tower. The entrance at the west end consists of two square-headed door openings in a shared pointed-arch frame, surmounted by carved polygonal finials, profiled string-courses and a moulded cut-stone cornice. Internally, the nave comprises ten bays in full height to the painted ceiling, with a single bay apse to the east. The central of the five chapels, the Lady Chapel, was decorated and furnished by the firm of prolific church architect G.C. Ashlin in 1908–11. The alabaster altar and reredos were also designed by Ashlin at a cost of £3,000.
The most striking feature on entering the nave is the vibrant colour and detailing of the mosaics, frescos and stained glass windows, all indicative of the high standard of craftsmanship employed. The stained glass windows were supplied by three firms: Mayer (Munich), Lavers and Westlake (London) and Cox Buckley & Co. (London). The rose window features Christ the King in glory as its centrepiece. The large windows in each bay of the nave and apse depict scenes from Christ’s public ministry. Westlake was commissioned to paint the frescos of the Stations of the Cross in 1891, and also designed the procession of saints and angels that fills the ceiling, reputedly one of the largest painted ceilings in Britain and Ireland. The Gothic-style carved timber pews and choir-stalls were produced by a Dublin firm, Connollys of Dominick Street, and the massive organ and carved wooden altarpiece were produced by Michael J.C. Buckley of Bruges. HI

Eilíse McGuane is Historic Collections Surveyor, Office of Public Works. Series based on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage’s ‘building of the month’, www.buildingsofireland.com.

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