St Colman's Cathedral, Cobh

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St Colman's Cathedral
St.-Colman-Kathedrale Cobh-2.jpg
Cathedral of St Colman
Basic information
Location Republic of Ireland Cobh
Geographic coordinates 51°51′05″N 8°17′37″W / 51.85146°N 8.29359°W / 51.85146; -8.29359Coordinates: 51°51′05″N 8°17′37″W / 51.85146°N 8.29359°W / 51.85146; -8.29359
Affiliation Roman Catholic
Year consecrated 12 August 1919
Ecclesiastical or organizational status Cathedral
Architectural description
Groundbreaking 30 September 1868

St Colman’s Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral located in Cobh, Ireland. It is the cathedral church of the Diocese of Cloyne. The cathedral is a large, elaborately detailed neo-Gothic building, that, overlooking Cork harbour, is prominently sited and visible from quite a distance. Construction began in 1868 and was not completed until over half a century later due to increases in costs and revisions of the original plans.


St Joseph's statue at the west door

Construction commenced in 1867.[1] The architects were E.W. Pugin, George Ashlin and Thomas Coleman. The clerk of works was Charles Guilfoyle Doran. The cathedral was begun in 1868 and finally completed in 1915, a total of 47 years. The foundation stone was laid on 30 September 1868 by Bishop William Keane. The roof was completed in 1879 and that same year the first Mass was celebrated on 15 June by Bishop John McCarthy. Building of the spire, the last of the major external works, was completed in March 1915.

In 1868, when the cathedral was begun, Cobh or Queenstown as it was then called, was a relatively prosperous place. This was because it was Ireland's principal emigration outlet. More than five million people emigrated from Ireland in the nineteenth century - mainly to the United States, Australia and Canada - and a large proportion of them left from Queenstown.[2] The town's existing Catholic church, which was constructed in 1808 and added to afterwards, began to seem inadequate. A meeting of the Queenstown parishioners was therefore called in January 1858. The cathedral committee, composed of respectable local citizens, was the official decision-making body in the building of the cathedral. The bishop usually presided at meetings, the parish clergy attended, and the current administrator acted as secretary.

The committee decided in January 1867 to hold an architectural competition and George Goldie (1828-1887), J. J. McCarthy (1817-1882), and the architectural partnership of E.W. Pugin (1834-1875) and G.C. Ashlin (1837-1921) were invited to submit plans.

This competition took place in 1859 and E.W. Pugin’s office was awarded the commission.[3] E.W. Pugin, eldest son of the famous Gothic Revival architect Augustus Pugin (1812-1852), had taken over his father’s practice after his death, but found Irish commissions difficult to organise from his base in England. George Goldie (who designed Sligo Cathedral) and J. J. McCarthy (who designed St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh, Derry Cathedral, Monaghan Cathedral and Thurles Cathedral) were invited to submit designs, but both spoiled their chances by suggesting amendments to the conditions of the competition.

In 1859, therefore, he decided to take on his young Irish pupil George Ashlin, as a partner, to run the Irish side of the business. The partnership lasted from 1859 until August 1868 dissolving "while the firm was at the height of their negotiations concerning St. Colman’s Cathedral".[4]

After the split, Ashlin took over their unfinished commissions. E.W. Pugin died suddenly in June 1875, aged only 42; Ashlin, however, lived to supervise the building to completion. By 1864 it had been decided that the proposed building would function not only as a parish church but as a cathedral for the Diocese of Cloyne. The original thirteenth century cathedral of the diocese, situated in the small east Cork town of Cloyne, was owned by the Church of Ireland. Queenstown, as the largest town in the diocese, seemed a better location for the Catholic cathedral. The building would be dedicated to the diocesan founder, St Colman (522 - 600).

The bishop patrons involved in the construction of St Colman's Cathedral were Bishop William Keane, Bishop John McCarthy and Bishop Robert Browne.

The old church was demolished and construction of the new building was begun in February 1868. The preparatory work was difficult and expensive; the widening of the roadway on the seaward side required the construction of a "high, long, and thick wall of solid mason work"[5] and, because the foundations were dug from steeply sloping rock, "it was necessary in some parts to sink 24 ft (7.3m) below the level of the future floor of the church, while in other parts a firm bottom was found at a depth of only 4 feet".[6] The first sod of the foundations was turned on 25 April 1868 and the foundation stone was laid on 15 July 1868. The foundations were completed by June 1869.

The original estimated cost was £33,000, but when the walls had reached c. 12 ft (3.5m) Bishop Keane decided on a more elaborate plan at a substantially increased cost. The final cost of the building rose to £235,000. Bishop Keane's (d.1874) successors, Bishop John McCarthy (1874-1893) and Bishop Robert Browne (1894-1935), faithfully continued with the revised plans and enough of the building had been completed to enable Bishop McCarthy to celebrate Mass in the cathedral for the first time on 15 June 1879. No work was done in the years 1883 to 1889 due to lack of funds. The last phase of the building work began in 1911 with the construction of the octagonal limestone spire.

Three years later, on 24 September 1914, a 10.8 ft. (3.3m) high bronze cross, blessed by Bishop Browne, was raised on the pinnacle of the 295 ft. (90m) spire and the cathedral was complete. The last scaffolding around the tower was removed in March 1915 and the bells installed in May 1916. On 12 August 1919, more than half a century after the foundation stone was laid, the completed cathedral was solemnly consecrated.


Aisle leading up to the altar in the cathedral

The Cathedral of Saint Colman is a large and elaborately detailed neo-Gothic building. It is prominently sited overlooking Cork harbour and visible for quite a distance. Local people are generally very proud of it and tourists often climb the steep hill to admire and photograph it. The historian Emmet Larkin has called it "the most ambitious building project undertaken by the Church in nineteenth-century Ireland" and Frederick O'Dwyer says that it was "certainly the most costly Irish ecclesiastical building of the Victorian era".[7] Cobh Cathedral probably enjoys the most advantageous position of any Irish cathedral. Because of its hillside site, it dominates the quay in an imposing way, standing clear of all neighbouring buildings. The exterior detail is intricate, elegant and well proportioned in a way typical of French sophistication. Its south front faces out to the sea and, viewed from the town, it displays its flying buttresses, gargoyles, spirelets and pinnacles, giving the impression of a Bucentaur sailing in state along the horizon.

The building consists of an aisled nave of seven bays with triforium and clerestory, transepts with eastern chapels, an apsidal chancel and a tower and spire at the south-west corner of the nave. The cathedral measures 64m long and 36.5m at the transepts. Large rose windows set within high pointed arches and flanked by octagonal turrets adorn the west front and the transepts.

The basic building material is blue Dalkey granite with cut stone dressing of Mallow limestone. Newry granite is used in the tower, with red Aberdeen granite in the pillars of the west front and the piers at the entrance of the nave. The roof is blue Belgian slate. Bath stone and Portland stone are used to line the inner walls. Red Midleton marble is used in the shrines and in the first confessionals on both aisles; the remaining confessionals are of red Aberdeen granite.

The nave is separated from the aisles by piers of red Fermoy marble resting on bases of white Italian marble and plinths of Liscarroll limestone. The piers have richly sculpted capitals of foliage and human heads and support the tall slender clustered columns of the triforium executed in red Aberdeen granite; they in turn support the springing of the arches of the clerestory windows and the vaulted roof of Californian pitchpine. The Stations of the Cross are of Caen stone. The clustered respond columns at the end of the north aisle are of black Kilkenny marble.

The baptistery, at the entrance to the north side, is enclosed by a low rail of white Italian marble. The octagonal font is of white marble and the cupola-shaped cover is of burnished brass. The windows depict the baptism of Christ in the Jordan by St John and the baptism of the daughters of the King of Ireland by St Patrick. The Mortuary Chapel in the base of the tower has an altar of black Kilkenny marble and displays representations of the instruments of Christ's passion.

The western entrance to the cathedral.

The very high chancel arch is supported by clustered respond columns; the chancel floor is paved with mosaic†, and the sanctuary piers are of green Connemara marble. Italian white marble is also used in the communion rail, which rests on red marble colonettes and in the altar tables. The screens, throne, stalls and pulpit are of Austrian oak. The baptistry window by Mayer & Co in the chancel is flanked by twin chapels on both the north and south. Immediately to the north of the high altar is the Lady Chapel with an altar by Early & Powell and a mosaic floor. Beyond the Lady Chapel is the Blessed Thaddeus Chapel which commemorated Thaddeus MacCarthy, Bishop of Cork and Cloyne (1490–1492), who was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1895.

To the south of the high altar is the Sacred Heart Chapel. The altar is of Sicilian marble; the antependium is of Carrara marble with a background of red marble. The mosaic floor depicts the power of the Sacred Heart, with the encircling inscription Super Apsidem et Basiliscum ambulabis et conculabis Leonem et Draconem ("Thou shalt walk on the Asp and the Basilisk and thou shalt trample under foot the Lion and the Dragon").

Adjacent to the Sacred Heart Chapel is the Chapel of the Pieta, a memorial to Bishop William Keane, which is used as a requiem chapel. The altar is of Sicilian marble and the antependium of Carrara marble. The columns are of black Kilkenny marble. The theme is in the window above the altar, which depicts the raising of Lazarus, and the side windows which show the Sorrowful Mysteries.

The cathedral contains the largest church carillon in the Republic of Ireland, and with 49 bells is one of the largest carillons in the British Isles. An automated system strikes the hour and 15 minute intervals while it also rings the bells in appropriate form for Masses, funerals, weddings and events. The carillon is also played on special occasions and generally every Sunday afternoon by its current carillonneur, Adrian Gebruers.


  • Patrick Thompson, Guide to St. Colman's Cathedral, Cobh, revised edition,Carraig Print,Cork.
  • Jeremy Williams, A Companion Guide to Architecture in Ireland 1837-1921, Irish Academic Press' 1994.
  • Paul Atterbury and Clive Wainwright, Pugin, Yale University Press 1994.
  • Paul Atterbury, A.W.N. Pugin: A Master of Gothic Revival, Yale University Press 1995
  • Bernard J. Canning, Bishops of Ireland 1870-1987, Donegal Democrat, 1987


  1. ^ "The Friends of St. Colman's Cathedral". February 1, 2012. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Cobh Cathedral". Retrieved 24 Dec 2013. 
  3. ^ "St Colmans Cathedral". Retrieved 14 Dec 2013. 
  4. ^ Wilson, Ann (2007). The Gothic Revival in Ireland: St Colman’s Cathedral,Cobh (1868-1916). p. 16. 
  5. ^ Wilson, Ann (2007). The Gothic Revival in Ireland: St Colman’s Cathedral,Cobh (1868-1916). p. 15. 
  6. ^ Wilson, Ann (2007). The Gothic Revival in Ireland: St Colman’s Cathedral,Cobh (1868-1916). p. 15. 
  7. ^ Wilson, Ann (2007). The Gothic Revival in Ireland: St Colman’s Cathedral,Cobh (1868-1916). p. 1.