Cathedrals and Parish Churches


It was the influence of the Normans and the Cistercians that changed Irish churches from using the rounded Romanesque arch to the pointed arch of the Gothic, which then continued to dominate church architecture in the country until the Reformation (and again in the nineteenth century). It is thus not surprising that the medieval urban Cathedrals are in the Gothic style, built to provide space for an ever-increasing town population. Prime among these are the two Dublin Cathedrals of Christ Church and St. Patrick's  which, though heavily restored in the nineteenth century, are both essentially products of the thirteenth. But other towns and cities also benefited from this new building wave, including Kildare, Kilkenny and Limerick, and it is good to see these Cathedrals still being used for divine service by the Church of Ireland, to whom they passed at the Reformation.

Other towns built major parish churches comparable to those in England, and here St. Multose in Kinsale, St. Mary's in Youghal, St. Mary's in New Ross and St. Nicholas in Galway may be cited as being among the best representatives in the country. By far the most common late medieval churches in Ireland are the local parish churches, but these rarely have any architectural pretensions.

Tomb Sculpture

An important feature of later medieval Cathedrals, abbeys and friaries, is the richness of the funerary sculpture they contain. This includes many effigies of knights both Norman and Hiberno-Norman, as well as of bishops and lay-men, often laid on top of a box-like tomb, the supporting surrounds of which are frequently decorated with 'weepers' - figures of apostles and other saints. St. Canice's Cathedral in Kilkenny has one of the finest selections of such sculptures, particularly of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, but noteworthy also are the tomb and altar figures at Strade in Co. Mayo , and the Passion panels and other figures on the Creagh tomb in Ennis friary. Less conspicuous, but very typical of the West of Ireland, are tomb-niches in walls.

Strade Abbey

An example of altar figures at Strade Abbey, Co. Mayo

Image courtesy of Dept. of Environment, Community and Local Government


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