Kilfenora Cathedral

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Kilfenora Cathedral
St. Fachtnan's Cathedral
Kilfenora Cathedral. The northern transept is on the left, with the glass roof installed in 2005 to conserve the high crosses
Kilfenora Cathedral is located in Ireland
Kilfenora Cathedral
Kilfenora Cathedral
Location in Ireland
52°59′24″N 9°12′36″W / 52.99000°N 9.21000°W / 52.99000; -9.21000Coordinates: 52°59′24″N 9°12′36″W / 52.99000°N 9.21000°W / 52.99000; -9.21000
Location Kilfenora, County Clare
Country Ireland
Denomination Church of Ireland
Previous denomination Roman Catholic
Official name Kilfenora Abbey, cathedral and crosses; Kilfenora church at Kilcarragh
Reference no. 7, 8, 9

Kilfenora Cathedral is a former Roman Catholic cathedral, part of which is now used as a place of worship by the Church of Ireland. It is located in the village of Kilfenora, in the region known as the Burren, County Clare, Ireland. In medieval times it was the episcopal see of the Bishop of Kilfenora.


According to tradition, the ecclesial presence at Kilfenora began with Saint Fachanan, who founded a church here in the 6th century. The first building was probably made of wood and followed by a stone construction. That church was burned down in 1055 by Murchad O'Brien.[1] It was rebuilt between 1056 and 1058, only to be plundered in 1079 and then destroyed by an accidental fire in 1100.[2]

In 1152, the Synod of Kells changed the status of the ecclesial settlement here from monastic to diocesan.[1] The diocese corresponded with the ancient territory of Corcomroe.[3]

Kilfenora Cathedral is dedicated to St. Fachtna (also St. Fachanan or St. Fachtnan) and the present structure dates to between 1189 and 1200. It was built in the so-called transitional style with a nave and a chancel. These were later separated and by 1839, "thirty-six feet of the east end" were roofless.[2]

Part of the Archdiocese of Cashel, the diocese only extended over 200 square miles of very thinly populated land. It was reckoned the poorest diocese, with only 13 parishes. Demand for the position of bishop thus was not great, but for 1189 a bishop is recorded. In 1660, Samuel Pullen was made Archbishop of Tuam and Kilfenora became part of his province.[4]:2,4

The last Bishop of Kilfenora in the succession of the Roman Catholic Church was James Augustine O'Daly (d. 1749). In 1750, the diocese was united with Kilmacduagh. In 1883 "Kilfenora and Kilmacduagh" was again merged with the diocese of Galway. Today, the bishops of Galway and Kilmacduagh are styled "Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh and Apostolic Administrator of Kilfenora"; while the bishop administers the diocese, in Canon Law, the ordinary of the diocese is the Pope.

In the Church of Ireland, Kilfenora was merged in turn with the dioceses of Limerick (1606-07), Tuam (1617-1742), Clonfert (1742-1752), Killaloe (1752-1976) and again Limerick (since 1976).[1][5]


The Gothic sedilia in the chancel of Kilfenora Cathedral
Detail of a pillar on the east window in the chancel of Kilfenora Cathedral

The nave is now used for worship by the Church of Ireland, for which it was reconstructed around 1850.[2][6] It features a bishop's throne, donated in 1981. There is also a large square stone baptismal font (possibly from around 1200). In addition, the church contains various tombs, but the interior is mostly devoid of ornamentation.[2]

According to local tradition, the chancel was roofed with an oak ceiling (blue with gold start) until the end of the 18th century. It is roofless today and features a 15th-century doorway, a 15th-century Gothic sedilia as well as a Romanesque three-light east window with its triangular pillars topped by carved capitals. On both sides of the window is a carved effigy: a bishop with his right hand raised in blessing (possibly early 14th century), to the north; and a tonsured, bareheaded cleric holding a book (possibly 13th century) to the south. The chancel also contains several tombs and the remains of high crosses.[2]

The "Lady Chapel" (sacristy or chapter room) was in a rectangular wing leading to the north of the chancel. It likely shares the building date of the main building and may have served as a sort of transept in the past. Two lancet-type windows and a broken two-light one are left in the eastern wall. There are also fragments of a high cross.[2]

Today, the cathedral remains in partially ruined state, although restoration work was done by the National Monument Service in the early 2000s.[7] The transept was fitted with a glass roof in 2005 to protect the remains of the three high crosses moved there.

Ecclesiastical parish[edit]

In 1837, the nave portion of the cathedral was adopted for use as the Protestant parish church for Kilfenora.[8] It is still used for occasional worship.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the ecclesiastical parish is merged with the civil parish of Kiltoraght. There are two churches in this parish: St. Fachtna's (in Kilfenora) and St Attracta's (Kiltoraght). The former was built either in the 1840s[1] or in 1917.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Korff, Anne (1988). The Burren: Kilfenora - A Ramblers Guide and Map. Tir Eolas. ISSN 0790-8911. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Kilfenora Places of Interest". Clare Library. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  3. ^ Cotton 1851, The Province of Munster, p. 500.
  4. ^ Cunningham, George (1978). Burren Journey. Shannonside Mid Western Regional Tourism Organisation. 
  5. ^ "Kilfernora Historical Background". Clare Library. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  6. ^ "National Inventory of Architectural Heritage: Kilfenora Cathedral". Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  7. ^ "Kilfenora Architectural Conservation Area". Clare County Council. 2005. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  8. ^ Church of Ireland - Kilfenora parish

External links[edit]