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December 12, 2006


The original Report on the condition of Kildare Cathedral by George Street in 1871, prior to its restoration - reprinted from CHURCH OF THE OAK; a contribution to the history of Kildare Town, published by The Grey Abbey Conservation Project.

The Restoration of St. Brigid’s Cathedral

 A note by

Mario Corrigan

  By the mid-nineteenth century the ruinous condition of St. Brigid’s Cathedral was a matter of grave concern and in 1871 a decision was made to investigate the possibility of restoring the once great edifice to its former glory. The architect George Street who was supervising the restoration of Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin was approached and he submitted a report, dated 31October, 1871 on the condition of the Cathedral. The Report was printed and circulated with illustrations showing the ruins of the Cathedral and a design for the restoration. While subscriptions were slowly gathered and the cost eventually exceeded Street’s initial estimate, work began in 1875 but was abandoned in 1881. The second phase began in 1890 and the Cathedral was re-opened in 1896. As it stands today it is difficult to visualise the physical ruins that existed at that time and the reprinting of Street’s Report makes interesting reading. It also reminds us of what can be achieved and should serve to spur us to action to see the fallen north boundary wall of the Cathedral rebuilt.




HAVING been requested to examine the Cathedral at Kildare, and to report on the present state of the fabric, and on the steps which it might be necessary to take in order to effect a proper Restoration of it, I have lately visited and made a careful inspection of it.
            This ancient Cathedral appears to have been built in the early part of the thirteenth century. It was a simple Cross Church, without aisles, but with – apparently – a Chapel of some kind opening out of the Eastern side of the South Transept. A Tower rose above the intersection of the arms of the cross; whilst a noble Round Tower stood, and still stands, not far from the Western end of the Nave.
            The state of the fabric at present is this:-
            The Choir is the only part still roofed and used for service. It is fitted up for use as a Cathedral Choir, with seats for the parishioners in the centre.
            Its architectural character is of the poorest description; but it is probable, I think, that the side walls (especially the Northern one) are old, though modernized in all their architectural features. The roof is not in good condition, but is concealed from view by an internal flat and plastered ceiling.
            The rest of the Church is in ruins. The South Transept and the Nave have lost their roofs, but almost all their other architectural features still remain, either intact or in such a state as to make their restoration a matter of no difficulty. The Southern Elevation of the South Transept is one of great simplicity and of good character and proportion. Its window is a well-designed triplet, simple externally, but with shafts and mouldings internally. The side walls of the Nave present a very remarkable design. The windows are simple lancets, separated from each other by buttresses. Between these buttresses bold arches are formed, nearly on a face with the front of the buttresses, and with a narrow space between them and the front of the wall. The effect of this arrangement is to throw a very bold shadow over the window, and to produce a most picturesque effect. But the reason for it is not clear. It looks somewhat as if the men who were building had more acquaintance with military than with ecclesiastical architecture, and as though the defence of the Church from hostile attack was a chief motive in this part of the design – a part which, to me at least, is novel. Whatever the history of the design may be, this at any rate is certain, that the effect of it is very striking and picturesque.
            The West End of the Nave is destroyed, and its place occupied by a modern wall. It probably had a window either of five or of three lights, generally similar in detail to the window in the gable of the South Transept.
            The North Transept has been entirely destroyed, some part of it within a few years, when a new Tower was built in the angle between it and the Choir. This Tower is a poor erection, and most awkwardly placed, just behind the ruins of the noble Central Tower. The Central Tower is a mere wreck; one side only – the South – is fairly perfect; the whole of the rest of it has been destroyed. It is a work of fine design and proportion, not very lofty, but, in its complete state, so large as to give a good deal of the dignity of a Cathedral to what might otherwise have looked somewhat too much like a Parish Church.
            There are various other fragments of great architectural and antiquarian interest in this building; among them I may notice some fine encaustic tiles, and several fine monuments, with sculpture on the sides or slabs.
            Having given this general description of the character of the fabric, it remains for me to indicate what would, in my judgement, be the first steps that should be taken towards its repair and restoration. There appears to be only one course that I can properly recommend. I should advise that for the present the Choir should not be disturbed; it can be rendered weather-tight, and safe for use, and would serve for use of the congregation until such time as some portion of the old building could be put into fit state for their use. I should then propose to take in hand the exact and careful restoration of the whole of the ancient portion of the Cathedral. This would involve repairs of Stonework, re-erection of the Roofs, and flooring of the Nave and Transepts, and the removal of the modern Tower, and the restoration of the old one. Ample authority exists for the whole of this work, so that it might really be a work of restoration, in the best sense of the word. It might easily, if necessary, be divided under three or four heads, e.g., (1) the Nave, (2) South Transept, (3) North Transept, (4) Central Tower – and such a division would not in any way affect the safe progress of the works. When so much of the work had been done, I should propose to remove all the Fittings from the Choir, &c., to fit up the Eastern part of the Nave for the purpose of Divine Service. And then, if means existed , or whenever they could be obtained, the removal of the Choir might well follow. But even if it were never done, the restoration of the part which is now in ruins is a work which may be well recommended, not only from a religious, but equally from an historical point of view.
            A few years more, and what now remains of this interesting Church may have become a thing of the past. Each winter’s rain and frost help to disintegrate the fabric of the walls, and that which is possible now may not be possible ere long.
            I estimate the cost of the work I have recommended at the following sums:-
(1.) Nave … … … … … … … … … ₤1, 650
(2.) South Transept   … … … … …     450
(3.) North   do.            … … … … …   1, 400
(4.) Central Tower      … … … … …   1, 500 – Total, ₤5,000
The amount is not large; but the work is of simple description, very free from ornament, and the cost is therefore moderate when one compares it with the size of the building.
                14, CAVENDISH PLACE, LONDON, W.,
                                                October 31, 1871.





The original Report on the condition of Kildare Cathedral by George Street in 1871, prior to its restoration - reprinted from CHURCH OF THE OAK; a contribution to the history of Kildare Town, published by The Grey Abbey Conservation Project.

Posted by mariocorrigan at December 12, 2006 10:00 PM