Collegiate Church of St Mary Youghal

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Coordinates: 51°57′18″N 7°51′13″W / 51.95503°N 7.85358°W / 51.95503; -7.85358

Collegiate Church of The Blessed Virgin Mary, Youghal
St. Mary's Collegiate College Church, Youghal, Co. Cork.JPG
St Mary's Collegiate Church, Youghal
DenominationChurch of Ireland
ChurchmanshipHigh Church
DedicationSt Mary
DioceseDiocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross
Priest(s)The Reverend Edwin Hunter, who is also a Minor Canon of Cork

St Mary's Collegiate Church, Youghal, County Cork, Ireland is a Church of Ireland Church in Youghal, east County Cork and part of the Diocese of Cloyne, which is a constituent diocese of the United Dioceses of Cork, Cloyne and Ross.[1]

Historical Overview[edit]

Early days[edit]

The church is likely to have been a monastic settlement of Saint Declan of Ardmore (c 450). It was rebuilt in Irish Romanesque style (c750) and the Great Nave was erected in the year 1220. The roof timbers have been carbon dated by Queen's University Belfast to the year 1170. There was an early 13th century re-building and this was under the direction and hand of the Masters of four local guilds of operative masons, whose marks are still to be found on the pillars of the gothic arches.[2]

The earliest entry in the vestry book of Youghal is a statement of parish accounts for 1201. Pope Nicholas IV, in the taxations of 1291, described Youghal as being the richest benefice in Cloyne. The list of clergy can be traced back to this date.[3]

Formation of the Collegiate Church[edit]

On St John's day (27 December) 1464 St. Mary's was made a Collegiate Church, with the foundation of Our Lady's College of Yoghill by Thomas FitzGerald, 7th Earl of Desmond (proprietor of Youghal and Lord Deputy of Ireland), for the purpose of training seminarians. It was served by a Warden and Clerks consisting of eight Fellows and eight singing men.


Following the English Reformation, the church and its assets came into the control of the Established church. The majority Roman Catholic population was obliged to quit the church and to conduct their services elsewhere in private accommodations. Due to the Penal Laws, it was not possible to construct another church until 1796 when St. Mary’s parish church was built.[4] That church remains the oldest Catholic church in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cloyne still active as a parish church. The last Catholic warden was Thomas Allen (1533); Roger Skiddy was appointed by King Edward VI of England. He is described as "Warden of Youghal" in 1567.[5] Sixty years later all the endowments were acquired by the Earl of Cork, and in 1639 the rectory was united to the wardenship. A Catholic succession of wardens was maintained as late as 1709, when Father Richard Harnet held the position, which by then was merely titular. In the Anglican succession, the Bishop of Cloyne was and is deemed to be the Warden.

In 1597, the college house was plundered and laid in ruins by the insurgent forces of Gerald FitzGerald, 15th Earl of Desmond, who, among other acts of desecration, unroofed the beautiful High Chancel.

Sir Walter Raleigh was Mayor of Youghal in 1588 and lived in the Warden's Residence (now known as Myrtle Grove). Having bought Sir Walter's land for £1,000 in 1596, Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork, bought the church on 29 March 1606. Two years later, at the cost of £2,000, he rebuilt the church making good the devastation of the Desmond Rebellion. He endeavoured at the same time to increase the population of the town by infusion of "an active and enterprising race of English inhabitants". In the civil war or 1641, Richard Boyle added two large towers to the house, built five circular turrets to around the park and cast a platform of earth on which he placed ordnance to command the town and harbour. He erected a marble monument for himself and his family which almost reaches the roof of the chapel. In 1649, during the Commonwealth, Oliver Cromwell conducted his campaign from Youghal and delivered a funeral oration from the top of a chest which is still preserved in the church.

In 1782, the house passed to Nicholas Giles who converted it for use as a dwelling. It is this house that is seen today surrounded by just two of the original defence towers, the rest having been removed in 1782.

George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne and philosopher, took up residency as Warden of the College in 1734 and conducted services in the church. John Wesley, also visited Youghal in 1765 and attended Divine Service in St. Mary's. Large-scale works of restoration, including the re-edification of the Chancel, were carried out between 1851 and 1854. In 1833, £200 was given to the parish for slating the church roof and the present roof was accordingly put in. A restoration of a remedial nature was carried out between 1970 and 1973. In the late 1980s a Chapel in the North Transept, using the furnishing of the closed church of Templemichael, was created.[6] This is not a 'Lady Chapel' as the Church itself is dedicated to Our Lady, Saint Mary the Virgin.

National Monument[edit]

The Collegiate Church is a building of historical importance for Ireland. It is now a National Monument of Ireland. The Collegiate Church is under the care of the government, by way of a lease between the Church of Ireland Representative Church Body, and the Youghal Urban District Council.[7]


Burials in the church's graveyard include Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork, who died 1643.[8]


Rectors of Youghal[edit]

In 1827 the Bishop of Cloyne obtained an act "for the incumbent of the rectory to have the cure of souls in the said parish".


There has been a long history of music in the church. From 2005, music was provided by "The Clerks Choral", which sang traditional Anglican repertoire throughout the Irish academic year. The then Organist and Master of the Clerks Choral, was Ian Sexton. The Clerks continue, but sing more often now in Cloyne Cathedral and other venues. The Collegiate Church is still used for recitals, concerts and festivals, including for some concerts in the East Cork Early Music Festival.[9] Due to a decision in the 1970s to remove the lime plaster from the rubble walls, the acoustics of the building are less than ideal for choral music. It is, however, a good venue for instrumental music as well as folk, etc.[original research?]


In 1812 an organ was purchased and a gallery erected for it at the western end of the nave.[10] In 1861 a new organ was procured at a cost of £300 from Telford and Telford Organs Builders of Dublin. The organ was removed in 1965 as it was in a very poor condition and the ongoing costs seemed impossible at the time.[11]

In 2007 a much larger instrument was procured, moved and restored from the Closed Church of St. Michael-on-the-Mount-Without in the City of Bristol, England, by an Irish firm of organ builders. It was installed on to the North Bay of the Crossing of the Great Nave.

Photo gallery[edit]


  1. ^ Official website
  2. ^ "St. Mary's Collegiate Church Youghal". Ireland Cork. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  3. ^ "History of the College Church, Youghal". Youghal.Cloyne. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  4. ^ Youghal Catholic Parish website.
  5. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia - Youghal.
  6. ^ "History of the Collegiate Church, Youghal". Youghal.Cloyne. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  7. ^ Mingren, Wu. "800-Year-Old Church in Ireland Survives Viking Presence, an English Invasion and War". Ancient Origins. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  8. ^ Webb, Alfred. "Richard Boyle". Library Ireland. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  9. ^ "East Cork Early Music Festival – J.S Bach's St.John Passion". Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  10. ^ Clerical and Parochial Records of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross, Taken from Diocesan and Parish Registries, Mss. in the Principal Libraries and Public Offices of Oxford, Dublin, and London, and from Private Or Family Papers edited by William Maziere Brady. Published by Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1864, p.419
  11. ^ Clerical and Parochial Records of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross, Taken from Diocesan and Parish Registries, Mss. in the Principal Libraries and Public Offices of Oxford, Dublin, and London, and from Private Or Family Papers edited by William Maziere Brady. Published by Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1864, p.421