The diocese of Kerry (formerly Ardfert and Aghadoe) was ruled by vicars apostolic from the mid-16th century until the early 18th century, with the exception of a brief few years in the 1640s. The 18th century Bishops of Kerry resided at Dingle, Kilcummin, Tuogh, Listowel and Tralee, from 1720 until 1775. In the latter years Bishop Francis Moylan (1775-87) established the see at Killarney.
Before the construction of Killarney cathedral there was a small chapel in Chapel Lane, of which the font survives in the baptistery of the present cathedral. The idea of building a cathedral was begun by Fr. Joseph O'Sullivan, curate of Dingle, who roused the enthusiasm of Bishop Cornelius Egan (1824-1856) and the 2nd Earl of Kenmare (1788-1853), a local Catholic landowner.
Site and funding
A subscription list was opened in 1828, and a building committee was formed in 1836; Fr. O’Sullivan was transferred to Killarney in that year and placed in charge of the committee. By 1840 they had collected only £900, but, undaunted, they commissioned Augustus Welby Pugin to design a new cathedral. His design drew some inspiration from the ancient ruined cathedral at Ardfert, most notably in the slender triple lancets in the east wall, which are repeated in the west wall and in each transept. Killarney was Pugin's personal homage to his favourite cathedral, Salisbury Cathedral.
A site was acquired from the Presentation Brothers, and the foundation stone was laid in the summer of 1842. Funds were still short, and public appeals were made in Ireland and the US. Work continued under the supervision of Richard Pierce of Wexford (Pugin being unable to undertake personal supervision) until May 1848 when the full effects of the failure of the potato crops in 1846 and 1847 were felt and the Great Famine spread throughout Ireland. No work was done for five years, and during that time the two men who had done so much to produce the cathedral, both died. Fr. O’Sullivan died in Oct. 1851, and Pugin in September 1852.
Construction was resumed at the beginning of 1853, and J. J. McCarthy succeeded Pugin as architect. Two years later, the total cost having risen to £20,000, the cathedral was free of debt, substantially complete, and ready for divine worship.
On 22 August 1855 it was consecrated and dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the presence of McCarthy and Edward Pugin, the architect’s eldest son, who said later that of all the sixty-odd churches designed by his father, Killarney had been his father’s favourite.
Bishop Egan, now elderly and frail, had been taken to the cathedral in a chair on the previous day and was moved to tears when he surveyed the building that he had helped to begin twenty-seven years earlier.
It is built in the first period of the pointed style known as Lancet arched Gothic, and is noted for its long, slender lancet windows and its acutely pointed arches. So beautifully proportioned are all its parts, and so strikingly majestic, that it has been mentioned as the finest specimen of revised Gothic in these islands. Interiorly the Church has a very solemn and devotional appearance, the lofty windows admitting a soft, spectral light. The pointed arches, resting on circular shafts of plain, chiselled limestone, with simple Doric capitals, add stateliness to the structure, while those of the tower, rising almost to the roof, are awe- inspiring in their height and massiveness.
Although the cathedral was now usable for worship, it was still unfinished. Pugin’s design for a great central tower was left for future generations to build. An organ was installed in 1869 and minor additions were made by Bishop Egan’s successors, but the final effort began in 1907. Bishop John Mangan sent priests to the US and to Australia to raise funds to complete the work begun in 1842. The firm of George Ashlin and Thomas Coleman, who had designed Cobh Cathedral, were appointed to complete the work of Pugin and McCarthy. The nave and aisles were extended westwards by 8.2 m to create two new bays; a new sacristy and mortuary were built; pinnacles were added to the flanking turrets at the west end, and a pinnacle at the east end to join one already there; the crossing piers were strengthened, and a great tower and spire, 86.8 m high, were constructed above at a cost of £36,500. The work was completed and the cathedral finished in 1912.
Killarney Cathedral is set in spacious grounds on a level site reminiscent of the plain of Salisbury Cathedral. Pugin used grey, red and brown sandstone with dressings of limestone. This creamy exterior contrasts with the grey of the slate roof, spire and pinnacles and gives the cathedral a softer appearance than it might otherwise have had. The plan is cruciform, with an aisled nave of six bays, clerestory, transepts and an aisled chancel of four bays. The former baptistery, off the north nave aisle, has a double font, mosaic work and a coffered vault with stencil design. The former Mortuary Chapel, off the south nave aisle, lacks the original floor. The gallery at the west end of the nave contains an organ by Telford & Son, erected in 1869. In the early 1970’s it was rebuilt and divided, to reveal the lower part of the west window.
Bishop Eamonn Casey (1969-76) launched a fund-raising campaign in December 1970 for the restoration and re-ordering of the Cathedral. The work lasted from April 1972 until July 1973 and the total cost was over a million and a half pounds. The designer was Ray Carroll of Glencullen, Co. Dublin, and the supervising architect was Daniel J. Kennedy of Tralee. Carroll adopted a very radical and much-criticised approach to the re-ordering of the Cathedral, and apart from a few small areas, nothing of the former interior remains to be seen. The greatest single change was the removal of all the internal Victorian plasterwork. The original reredos, altar and screens were removed, the floor of the crossing was raised to the level of the former sanctuary, and a new sanctuary was created at the crossing. A new altar, pulpit, throne and chairs, all made of Tasmanian oak, were installed. A new font consisting of a limestone bowl was fitted into the angle between the south-west pier of the crossing and the first pier of the south nave arcade. In the north transept the former St. Patrick’s Altar was removed.
The north chancel aisle was formerly the Chapel of St. Joseph. It was emptied during the re-ordering, and the only indication of its former use is the rather sad plaque on the easternmost column, recording the fact that the chapel was ‘decorated and fitted for divine service’ by John Morrogh Bernard and Francis Maria Raymond, who had bequeathed the 5-acre (20,000 m2) site on which the cathedral stands to the Presentation Brothers. The proposal to build the cathedral technically invalidated the bequest. Bernard stood to inherit the land in the case of such invalidation, but in a rare act of generosity, he drew up new leases, allowing the site to be used for the cathedral. As one author has noted, 'It is one of the sadder results of the renovation that this plaque is all that remains to commemorate him and his family'.
Saturdays and Eves of Holydays 20:00 (and 18:00 June-Aug)
Sundays and Holydays 8.00, 10.30, 12.00 (Sunday evening Mass June-July and August at 18.15)
Weekdays 10:30, 18:15
Aghadoe Church and Round Tower within 3.3 km
Ballymalis Castle Ruins within 12.4 km
Blennerville Windmill within 26.6 km
Carrantuohill Mountain within 17 km
Dunkerron Castle Ruins within 21.6 km
Dunloe Ogham Stones within 8.1 km
Guogane Barra Oratory and Forest Park within 28 km
Holy Cross Church, Roman Catholic, Kenmare within 20.7 km
Innisfallen Augustinian Abbey / Friary, Lough Leane within 3.1 km
Kenmare Stone Circle within 20.8 km
Killagha / Kilcolman / Kilcoleman Augustinian Abbey, Milltown within 17.7 km
Molly Gallivan's Cottage and Traditional Farm within 29 km
Muckross Franciscan Friary / Abbey within 4 km
Muckross House and Gardens within 4.7 km
Parkavonear Castle Ruins within 3.1 km
Ross Castle within 2.3 km
Torc Waterfall within 7.3 km
Beara Peacock Camping, Caravan, Hostel / Mobile Homes within 29.8 km
Black Valley Hostel within 12.4 km
Castle Hostel, Tralee within 26.5 km
Finnegan's Hostel, Tralee within 26.6 km
Fossa Holiday Hostel, Caravan and Camping Park within 5.1 km
Greenwood Hostel within 25.6 km
Kenmare Failte Hostel within 20.7 km
Kenmare Lodge Hostel within 20.5 km
Killarney International Hostel within 4.5 km
Laune Valley Farm Hostel and Camping within 17.8 km
Neptunes Hostel, Killarney within 0.3 km
Paddy's Palace Hostel, Killarney within 0.1 km
Peacock Farm Hostel within 8.7 km
Railway Hostel, Killarney within 0.8 km
Sleepy Camel Hostel and Camping, Glenbeigh within 28.9 km
Sugan Hostel, Killarney within 0.6 km
Donoghue's White Villa Farm Caravan and Camping Park within 4.4 km
Fleming's White Bridge Caravan and Camping Park within 2.7 km
Glenross Caravan and Camping Park, Glenbeigh within 28.5 km
Killarney Flesk Caravan and Camping Park within 2.1 km
Woodlands Camping Park, Tralee within 25.9 km