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The History of St. Colman's Cathedral
The Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Colman in Cobh is a large, elaborately detailed neo-Gothic building. It is prominently sited overlooking Cork harbour and visible for quite a distance. Local people are generally very proud of it and tourists often climb the steep hill to admire and photograph it. The historian Emmet Larkin has called it "the most ambitious building project undertaken by the Church in nineteenth-century Ireland", and Frederick O'Dwyer states that it was "certainly the most costly Irish ecclesiastical building of the Victorian era".
Facts about the Cathedral's Construction
Style of Architecture Early French decorated gothic: example of gothic revival in 19 century
Architects E.W. Pugin, G.C. Ashlin and T.A. Coleman
Clerk of Works Charles Guilfoyle Doran
Period of building 1868-1915: 47 years
Foundations stone laid September 30, 1868, by Bishop W. Keane
First Mass in Cathedral June 15 1879 by Bishop J. McCarthy
Cathedral roofed 1879
Building of spire Last of major external building works. Completed in March 1915
Ground Plan Latin cross with long arm extending from east to west
In 1868, when the Cathedral was begun, Cobh or Queenstown as it was then called, was a relatively prosperous place. This was because it was Ireland's principal emigration outlet. More than five million people emigrated from Ireland in the nineteenth century - mainly to the United States, Australia and Canada and a large proportion of them left from Queenstown. The town's existing Roman Catholic Church which was constructed in 1808 and added to afterwards, began to seem inadequate. A meeting of the Queenstown parishioners was therefore called in January 1858, and the following resolution was passed:
Considering the very insufficient and in several respects unsatisfactory accommodation which our present parish church is capable of affording; and considering also the rising importance and increasing respectability of this town, it is incumbent on us as Catholics who revere our religion and are anxious to see it respected to provide a more suitable Church for the celebration of the Divine Worship.
By 1864 it had been decided that the proposed building would function not only as a parish church but as a cathedral for the Diocese of Cloyne. The original thirteenth century cathedral of the diocese, situated in the small east Cork town of Cloyne, was owned by the Church of Ireland. Queenstown, as the largest town in the diocese, seemed a better location for the Roman Catholic Cathedral. The building would be dedicated to the diocesan founder, St. Colman (522 - 600).
The old church was demolished, and construction of the new building was begun in February 1868. The preparatory work was difficult and expensive; the widening of the roadway on the seaward side required the construction of a "high, long, and thick wall of solid mason work" and because the foundations were dug from steeply sloping rock, "it was necessary in some parts to sink 24 feet below the level of the future floor of the church, while in other parts a firm bottom was found at a depth of only 4 feet". The first sod of the foundations was turned on 25 April 1868 and the foundation stone was laid on 15 July 1868. The foundations were completed by June 1869.
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