The Ecclesiastical Landscape

Several fine church buildings representing many religious denominations now survive in Birr. This is due in part to the positive patronage of the 2nd Earl of Rosse and his interest in architecture.

Politically, the Earl was an ardent opponent of the Act of Union and an advocate of Catholic emancipation. He supported the building of a Catholic Church in 1817 in a prominent position in the town over twenty years before the passage of Catholic Emancipation.

St. Brendan's Church of Ireland Church

St. Brendan's Church was begun in 1815 on a site donated by Sir Lawrence Parsons. It was built in the Gothic style designed by John Johnson. Its situation at the end of Oxmanstown Mall enhances its prominence in the landscape of the town. One of its main features is the 100ft high tower which is supported by buttresses each of which terminate at the pinnacle.

St. Brendan's Catholic Church

This Church was begun in 1817 on land provided by the second Earl of Rosse. It was designed by Bernard Mullins who had designed the army barracks at Crinkle, just outside the town eight years previously.

Sir Lawrence intended that the proposed Catholic Church would occupy a site as impressive as its Protestant counterpart. At this time also he also intended to develop the town eastwards towards the town of Kinnity and the new army barracks at Crinkle. To do this it would be necessary to cross the River Camcor. A bridge was built in 1817 at the point of the artificial weir and a new road named Wilmer Road opened the town eastwards. The new church was built to the north of the river beside the new road. Sir Lawrence gave the site the quarry for the stone and 100 towards the cost of its erection. The chapel is of cut stone in the form of a latin cross at the foots of which is the steeple. The spire rises to 124ft over the principal entrance.

Convent of the Sisters of Mercy

The Convent of Mercy in Birr was designed by the renowned English architect Agustus Welby Pugin. This convent was begun in 1846 and finished in 1856. A further extension was added in 1865 by Pugin's son-in-law. Pugin wanted the design of the building to reflect elements of the ancient Christian traditions in Ireland. The belfry of this building comprises of a turret with spiral stairs and is reflective of the monastic round tower, which is an integral element of Irish ecclesiastical architecture.

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