Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

St Patrick’s Church, Dundalk

From the TMO A Dundalk travel guide

Dundalk isn’t necessarily famed for its architecture, but St. Patrick’s church in Roden place is a stunning exception. The church, which many mistakenly term a cathedral, was built between the 1840s and 1860s. In 1842, the English author William Makepeace Thackeray visited the town and noted the new chapel in construction:

“a little way from the inn is the superb new chapel, which the architect, Mr. Duff, has copied from King’s College C Lapel in Cambridge. The ornamental part of the interior is not yet completed; but the area of the chapel is spacious and noble, and three handsome altars of scagliola (or some composition resembling marble) have been erected, of handsome and suitable form. When by the aid of further subscriptions the church shall be completed, it will be one of the handsomest places of worship the Roman Catholics possess in this country. “

This was just prior to the outbreak of the Great Irish Potato Famine, which would devestate much of the country in the mid 1840s, reducing the population by at least two million people (through death and emigration). Dundalk and County Louth in general suffered the famine much less than western counties like Mayo and Sligo, in part because of its more developed industrial and agricultural base, yet its telling that major construction projects like St. Patrick’s would remain unfinished until the 1860s.

Dundalk’s main church serves as an interesting gateway to Irish history. In the 1700s the Penal laws severly restricted Roman Catholic worship. According to local tradition, in 1748 a local commanding officer of the British Garrison, returning from an early morning walk encountered a group of Catholics praying in an old shed at St Helena’s Quay. Impressed by their piety, he went to the Earl of Clanbrassil who effectively ruled the town, and convinced him to grant the Catholics of the town a site for a permanent church – the site that would in the 1800s, with the relaxation of the penal laws, be used to build St. Patricks.

This Roman Catholic church was designed by the Newry born architect Thomas Duff, who also designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh, and the Cathedral Church of St Patrick and St Colman in Newry. St Patrick’s in Dundalk, like his other two famous churches was designed in a gothic style, which is notable because at the time most churches in Ireland were being designed with a classical style. The church’s exterior was modelled on King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, while the interior is modelled on Exeter Cathedral.

Amongst the rich features to view inside are the splendid stained glass windows made by Messrs. Meyer of Munich and W. Early & Son, Dublin, including panels representing the Irish saints St. Patrick, St. Brigid, St. Dympna, St. Malachy, St. Ita, St. Columba, St. Oliver Plunkett, St. Fanchea. The mosaic sanctuary walls, are reckoned to be some of the best work ever done by Ludwig Openheimer & Co.