St Mary’s Cathedral
St. Mary’s Cathedral is the pinnacle of Killarney’s rich and varied architectural heritage. Rising up from the beautiful backdrop of Killarney’s mountains and lakes, St Mary’s is considered to be one of the most beautiful Gothic-Revival cathedrals in Ireland. The building was designed by the leading architect of the day, Augustus Welby Pugin who was synonymous with the Gothic Revival style that was at its height at the time. Pugin took inspiration from the ruins of the medieval Ardfert Cathedral also in County Kerry, this is particularly evident in the slender triple lancet windows in the east and west walls. It is also believed that this design was greatly influenced by the great Gothic Cathedral of Sailsbury
Having made funding appeals throughout Ireland and in the US, the foundations of the cathedral were laid in 1842. Construction then ceased for five years in 1848 due to the Great Famine. J.J McCarthy, one of Pugin’s most ardent followers, was appointed to oversee the completion of the construction in 1853. Unfortunately, much of McCarthy’s decorative interior plaster-work was destroyed during renovations in 1973. However, the beautiful brick-work exposed as a result, contributes to the cathedral’s imposing atmosphere. From here you will see another building which is locally referred to “The Old Mon”. Built in 1861 it is here that Monsignor Hugh O’Flathery was a student and later a trained teacher between 1909-18. You will hear more about the Monsignor in Track 11.
Across and to the left from the Cathedral you will find one of Killarney’s many lovely old houses. Originally called West End House, this charming late-nineteenth century building was once a school. Later, during the second World War, the Irish army installed themselves here. Perhaps curiosity drove some people to visit West End House more recently. It was, after all, owned by the parents of actor, Michael Fassbender, until they retired in 2016, rumors of his appearances behind the bar abound.
Continuing to New Street, the beautiful, red brick Saint Brigid’s School buildings sit to your left. Built in 1886, these fine Victorian buildings are a far cry from the humble cottage which was provided for the first two Presentation Sisters who came to the town from Cork in 1793.
From the small school that they established, the sisters taught reading, writing, Christian doctrine, needlework and spinning to the girls of the town. As there were no writing materials available, the pupils learned to write by making letters in sand boxes on the floor using sticks. The sisters would go on to set up other schools in County Kerry. In 1878, with much help and encouragement from Lady Kenmare, a lace industry was started at the school. The occupation provided many girls with an income making lace, crochet and Limerick lace, much of it exported to England and the US. The three-storey, limestone convent building which sits to the rear of the schools was also constructed in 1886.