Religious Buildings

In every part of the world and in every civilization the human race has sought to enshrine its ideas on what is eternal, on God and the world of the spirit, in a form of architecture that is monumental, set apart from everyday experience and special. Most of the greatest buildings of the world are dedicated, in some way, to religious purposes. Many have come to be seen as structures that make a definitive statement in the development of world architecture. Our ideas on an after life, coupled with the ambition to devise great architecture to give them expression, have always called forth the constructive genius in mankind.

As a Christian country, Ireland fits easily into the pattern of European religious architecture. There are divisions to be made according to the different historic periods, for the nature of worship changes at different times, and there are important distinctions to be drawn between buildings that were erected for the use of men and women in religious orders - the regular clergy - and those who lived in the ordinary, outside world - the secular clergy. The regular clergy follow a particular rule as, for example, the Augustinian, Benedictine and Cistercian fathers or Dominican or Franciscan friars. There are too convents founded for women who wish to be nuns.

The clergy living in monasteries needed many different types of buildings to cater for their needs. In the middle ages, when the practice of living in a religious community was widespread throughout Europe, people might join an order in early adolescence and spend the rest of their life in different monasteries of their order. As well as an abbey church everything that was required to support life from farms to schools and hospitals would be part of a large monastery.

The secular clergy provided the priests who staffed and ran the parish churches. They were not members of any order but were organised territorially under a bishop who had jurisdiction over a large part of country, know as a diocese. Each bishop had a cathedral at the centre of his diocese while the priests worked in and from a parish church. When a man had responsibility for a large rural parish a Chapel of Ease might be built to make the work load easier. These systems of ecclesiastical organisation and administration, brought to Ireland at the time of the Norman conquest, still regulate the affairs of the church today.


Convent of Mercy Birr

This building was built as a convent for the Sisters of Mercy in Birr in 1840. It was designed by Agustus Welby Pugin (1812-1852) and built in stages over the period 1845-56. It is situated beside the Catholic Church on Wilmer Road Birr. This building is now the property of Offaly County Council. Pugin's most famous work may be the Houses of Parliament in London. He also designed St Michael's Church, Gorey, Co. Wexford. More information on Pugin can be seen at

Convent of Mercy Birr -

St Brendan's Catholic Church Birr County Offaly

This is a view of St Brendans Catholic Church Birr situated on a natural weir on the banks of the river camcor at Birr County Offaly. This Church was built under the partronage of the second earl of Rosse . Work was begun in 1817

St Brendan's Catholic Church Birr County Offaly -

Cathedral Old Leighlin

The Cathedral at Old Leighlin is said to have been built by Donatus circa 1230. It was thought to have been the successor of a wooden structure which had been destroyed by fire. It is composed of a square tower with belfry which is about 60 feet high. The walls are solidly constructed throughout. The Gothic windows vary in size and design and feature delicate tracery. The print shown here is from one published by S.Hooper in September, 1792.

Carlow County Library

Cathedral Old Leighlin - Carlow County Library

The Crotty Church Birr County Offaly

The Crotty Church, built in 1842

The Crotty Church Birr County Offaly -

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