Beggars and Artisans: A Cultural History of Cork’s Franciscan Friary / From Assisi to Cork: Architecture of the Modern Church of St Francis

Student Exhibition, MA in Medieval History

Beggars and Artisans: Architecture of the Modern Church of St Francis

Nearly four hundred years after the dissolution of the monasteries, the Franciscans in Cork saw the opening of their new church in the city centre. Father Jerome O’Callaghan wrote in Franciscan Cork: A Souvenir of St. Francis Church, Cork: ‘Long expected was the great day; it came – the day of the blessing and opening of the new St. Francis.’ This ‘great day’ took place on 14 July 1953. O’Callaghan continues: ‘We may well call the event an epoch-making event. It is the third ‘permanent’ church of the Order to be built in Cork.’ The first Franciscan house in Cork was the medieval friary discussed in the previous post, the second house was the so-called Old St Francis on Broad Lane, and the third the present-day church.

An image of the old St Francis Church in Cork City with pews in front of the altar. There are statues on either side of the altar and Latin writing over the altar and statues.
By 1950, the so-called Old St Francis on Broad Lane (pictured above) was in a state of disrepair, with one third of the roof and side walls being replaced with a temporary roof of timber and felt. Photograph reproduced in Franciscan Cork: A Souvenir of St. Francis Church, Cork (1953). Special Collections, UCC Library.
Map of Cork in 1801 showing North Main Street and the laneways off that street. Broad Lane is one of these.
Map of Cork, 1801. Broad Lane is seen in the centre of the map. Special Collections, UCC Library.

The opening of the Church was hailed as an event of great importance for Cork city.

A photograph from "Franciscan Cork: A Souvenir of St. Francis Church, Cork " of crowds attending Mass on the day of laying the foundation stone for the new St Francis Church.
Crowds attending Mass on the day of the laying of the foundation stone, 2 August 1949. Photograph from Franciscan Cork: A Souvenir of St. Francis Church, Cork (1953), 62. Special Collections, UCC Library.

O’Callaghan’s description of the completed 1953 church encapsulates a sense of awe and wonderment, not dissimilar to the views of medieval western writers towards ecclesiastical architecture. O’Callaghan states that anybody seeing the church was ‘struck by this immense lofty building of rustic red brick which dominates the surrounding areas. (…) The large dominating tracery window, the artistic portico and graceful flanking towers, invest the whole scene in dignified grandeur.’ His selection of words recalls an account of churches in England, France and Italy that were visited by an early fourteenth-century Franciscan pilgrim from Ireland, Friar Simon. Simon, for example, mentions a ‘wonderfully beautiful’ church in Amiens, the ‘glittering’ shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury and the Church of Notre Dame in Paris ‘furnished with lofty towers’.

A model of the new Franciscan friary which is to the left of a model of St Francis Church.
Model of the new Franciscan friary reproduced in Franciscan Cork: A Souvenir of St. Francis Church, Cork (1953), 16. Special Collections, UCC Library.

The façade of St Francis Church is flanked by two towers and adorned with a large stained-glass window, above which is the life-size replica of the famous San Damiano Cross. The cross seems to crown the entrance to the church and is a reminder of a seminal story in the life of St Francis. Bonaventure’s (c. 1217-1274) Life of St Francis also known as the Legenda Maior, recounts a time when Francis, still a merchant, visited the San Damiano church outside Assisi. There, he heard a voice speaking to him from the painted cross. According to Bonaventure, the voice told Francis ‘go and repair my house which, as you see, is all being destroyed.’ The use of this particular image on the façade of Cork’s friary alludes to the Franciscan ideals of spiritual renewal and restoration, as well as the actual act of building a church.

A photograph showing the facade of the St Francis Church in Cork with the San Damiano Cross in the centre.
View of the façade with the image of the San Damiano Cross, St Francis Church, Cork. Photo: Małgorzata Krasnodębska-D’Aughton.

‘On reaching the church proper the impression we receive, is one of beauty, dignity and even grandeur.’ It is clear from O’Callaghan’s words that the interior of the church building was planned to reflect the grandeur and wonder of the building’s exterior. Mosaics and stained-glass windows adorn the walls of the church and will be examined in the following sections of this exhibition.

A view of the apse of St Francis Church in Cork showing Christ in majesty.
Apse mosaic, St Francis Church, Cork. Photo: Małgorzata Krasnodębska-D’Aughton.

To finish this post, we may quote again from Father O’Callaghan’s Franciscan Cork, in order to convey the impression, which the church left on its visitors in 1953: ‘Almost invariably one hears a first-time visitor uttering the spontaneous whisper: “Oh how beautiful!” and beautiful it is indeed in every line and feature.’

Morgan Hole

Further reading

Bonaventure, The Major Legend of Saint Francis, in Regis J. Armstrong, J.A. Wayne Hellmann and William J. Short, eds, Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol.2 (New York, 2000), 525-683.

Esposito, Mario, ed. and trans., Itinerarium Symonis Semeonis ab Hybernia ad Terram Sanctam (Dublin, 1960).

O’Callaghan, Jerome, Franciscan Cork: A Souvenir of St. Francis Church Cork (Killiney, 1953).

St Francis Church: An Illustrated Guide (Cork, 1961).

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Beggars and Artisans: A Cultural History of Cork’s Franciscan Friary / A Lost Medieval Friary

Student Exhibition, MA in Medieval History

Beggars and Artisans: A Lost Medieval Friary

Historical maps of Cork city give a clear indication about the location of the medieval Franciscan friary. UCC’s Special Collections houses a copy of the Civitates Orbis Terrarum or Cities of the World, a six-volume work, first published in Cologne and Antwerp between 1572 and 1618. The publication presents bird’s-eye views, maps and plans of all major cities of the world and its sixth volume contains a page with maps of the four Irish cities, namely Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Cork, the latter is pictured below and was the subject of the online exhibition created by the MA in Medieval History students in 2020.

A map of Cork from the early 17th century. The map is oriented west-east. The city is walled and surrounded by marshes and river. The city encompasses North Main Street and the various laneways.
Map of Cork, Civitates Orbis Terrarum, Cologne, 1618, edited by Georg Braun, engravings by Abraham Hogenberg. Special Collections, UCC Library.

The Civitates map of Cork marks the Franciscan friary with number 3 and shows it as being positioned on the north bank of the river Lee, in the vicinity of the bridge. The map is oriented east-west, so the Franciscan church features on the left, which is north, with two other mendicant churches of the Dominicans (number 4) and Augustinians (number 9) being located on the right side of the map, which corresponds to the south side of the city.

The size of the medieval Franciscan friary was restricted by topographical features of the river to the south and the red sandstone cliff to the north of the friary complex. Evidence concerning the medieval structure of the friary is limited, but its size and appearance can be discerned from documentary sources, archaeological excavations and early modern maps.

A 17th century map of Cork oriented west-east. The Franciscan friary is on the right of the map. The city is walled and surrounded by river.
Map of Cork, published in Pacata Hibernia, London, 1633 (detail). The text of Pacata Hibernia deals with the Elizabethan wars in Ireland. The map of Cork is oriented west-east with the city’s north side shown on the right side of the map. The Franciscan friary (‘Sanden Abby’) is on the right side of the map. Map from the 1810 reprint, Special Collections, UCC Library.

On the Pacata Hibernia map, the church of St Francis is visible on the north side of the city (right side of the map), where it is labelled as ‘Sanden Abby’ meaning Shandon Abbey. As on the Civitates map, here the church also appears as a simple structure, possibly having one nave. The Civitates map displays a side transept and the Pacata Hibernia map indicates the existence of a tower. Early modern sources, such as Annales Minorum compiled by a Franciscan historian Luke Wadding (1588-1657) state that the church was a notable one, divided in two parts by high columns, which may imply that columns separated the nave from the transept. In 1541, following the dissolution of the monasteries, the church and its tower were to be demolished: this confirms that the friary indeed had a bell tower, which was a typical architectural feature of mendicant Irish churches. The seventeenth-century Pacata Hibernia map retains the tower, in spite of chronological discrepancies regarding the tower’s demolition.

Archaeological surveys of Cork’s medieval Franciscan friary are limited, however the findings on the site of the Dominican friary of St Mary’s of the Isle provide important comparative information on the architectural structure and decorative elements of mendicant houses in medieval Cork. In both cases, a friary complex consisted of a church, most likely with one nave and a tower, and conventual buildings that were grouped around a central cloister. Cork Public Museum houses a collection of architectural fragments from St Mary’s Dominican site, such as parts of ornate window arches and funerary stone slabs.

A fragment of a double ogee-headed window, now inserted into the wall of the Distillery House on Wise’s Hill, was found in the nineteenth century near the site of the medieval friary and probably came the Franciscan house.

Drawing of a double ogee-headed window, now inserted into the wall on Wise’s Hill. The letters S, B, M and C are present on the stone.
Drawing of a double ogee-headed window, now inserted into the wall on Wise’s Hill. From Michael Holland, ‘The Monastery of St. Francis at Cork’, The Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 23 (1917), 122.

In 1804, during the construction of houses on the North Mall, which was the site of the medieval Franciscan friary, some stone coffins were found and subsequently recorded in 1852. The description of burials was cited in the 1917 volume of The Journal of Cork Historical and Archaeological Society: ‘The red stone rock which rises perpendicularly at the back of the buildings had on ledges at various heights coffins cut out of the solid stone, and the lid fitting so closely that to the casual observer it would appear to be part of the original rock’. The now-lost medieval Franciscan friary is still remembered in the street names, such as North Abbey Street and North Abbey Square.

By the time Father Donatus Mooney, OFM, Ireland’s minister provincial, visited all Franciscan houses in Ireland possibly between 1615 and 1616, the friary had been mostly dismantled following the dissolution of the monasteries. All that remained by that time were the ruined walls of the church and as Mooney recorded the place was ‘inhabited by an English Protestant, who has erected a dwelling house within the precincts’. As a result of the friary’s destruction, the friars of St Francis were forced to inhabit a rented house in the city.

Later maps of Cork allow us to trace the subsequent history of the friary building. The 1801 map does not show the Franciscan friary, as it was no longer extent at that time, yet it displays the area where it had been originally positioned by retaining the name of North Abbey.

Beauford's Map of Cork, 1801.
Map of Cork, 1801. The site of the medieval Franciscan friary is noted only by the name of North Abbey, seen on the enlarged detail of the map (below). Special Collections, UCC Library.
Detail from William Beauford's map of Cork focusing on the North Mall which includes a reference to 'North Abbey.'
Map of Cork, 1801 (detail). Special Collections, UCC Library.

A sketch pictured below and dated to 1831 shows the remains of the Franciscan friary, which were demolished in 1836 during the construction of buildings on present-day Abbey Square. The arches pictured in the centre of the sketch were identified as remnants of the medieval friary building and may have been part of a cloister arcade.

A sketch showing arches from the old medieval friary on the now North Mall in Cork. These arches are surrounded by buildings.
Sketch by T.C. Croker dated 1831, showing arches that were identified as part of the medieval friary. From Michael Holland, ‘The Monastery of St. Francis at Cork’, The Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 23 (1917), 121.

A map below (created on OpenMap ) shows archaeological sites located in the area of the medieval Franciscan friary. The two red dots mark the sites of archaeological importance: the dot placed closer to the river references the friary, the red dot north of that shows the location of the holy well.

Map created on OpenMap showing archaeological sites in the area of the medieval Franciscan friary. A dot closest the river references the firary and a dot further north references a holy well.

The photograph below, reproduced in the 1953 Franciscan Cork, shows the houses on the North Mall and suggests the location of medieval sections of the friary: number 1 indicates the place of arches noted in the 1831 sketch and number 2 shows the site regarded as the entrance to a Franciscan well.

Photo of North Mall in Cork. Two points are placed on the photograph to indicate where remains of the old medieval friary were.
Photo taken from North Gate Bridge, c.1953. Number 1 indicates arches seen in T.C. Croker’s sketch (above), and number 2 indicates the entrance to a well. Image from Franciscan Cork: A Souvenir of St. Francis Church, Cork (1953), 10. Special Collections, UCC Library.

Although there is no longer a physical structure on the site of Cork’s medieval Franciscan friary, place names on the North Mall recall this once prominent building that Luke Wadding described as ‘a mirror of the whole Ireland’.

Morgan Hole

Further reading

Cork City Council, Heritage Churches of County Cork (Cork, 2015).

Holland, Michael, ‘The Monastery of St. Francis at Cork’, The Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 23 (1917), 121-125.

Hurley, Maurice F. and Sheehan, Cathy M., Excavations at the Dominican Priory: St Mary’s of the Isle, Crosse’s Green, Cork (Cork, 1995).

Kelleher, Hilary, McCarthy, Fintan and Brett, Ciara, ed., Cork City’s Burial Places: A Study of the Cemeteries, Graveyards and Burial Places within Cork City (Cork, 2011).

Mooney, Canice, ‘Franciscan Architecture in Pre-Reformation Ireland (Part I),’ The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 85 (1955), 133-173. 

Mooney, Canice, ‘Franciscan Architecture in Pre-Reformation Ireland (Part II),’ The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 86 (1956), 125-167. 

Mooney, Canice, ‘Franciscan Architecture in Pre-Reformation Ireland (Part III),’ The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 87 (1957), 1–38. 

O’Callaghan, Jerome, Franciscan Cork: A Souvenir of St. Francis Church Cork (Killiney, 1953).

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George Boole: Academic, Author, Husband and Father

Sepia coloured studio photograph of George Boole in a long-coat suit with dickie-bow tie standing with his hands at his side, his head slightly turned to the left as we look at it.

In 2015 University College Cork and UCC Library celebrated the life and scientific achievements of George Boole, first Professor of Mathematics, Queens College Cork (QCC), with George Boole 200*.

You may wonder why George Boole is the subject of a blog in 2021. UCC Library Archives has recently listed material dating from the 19th and 20th centuries that is now open to researchers as the George Boole Ancillary Collection. It contains Boole-related material that was housed in Special Collections, UCC Library, on permanent loan from the Royal Irish Academy, and original letters by George Boole and related material donated by Emeritus Professor Des MacHale (School of Mathematics, UCC) to UCC library after the main Boole Collection was listed.

The original letters and related material of George Boole (BP/1/A/2) show his dedication to scholarly pursuit and his joy of family.  We learn a little more about his lodgings in Cork close to College when he first arrived in 1849.

Part of a letter written by George Boole in Oct 1849 from Queen's College Cork to his sister, Mary Ann.

“I have got lodgings close by the Colege {sic} in a delightful situation quite indeed like the country”

BP/1/A/2/1

Ever dedicated to his classes he closes this letter with his having to attend to the copying out of papers in preparation of an examination.

There are lecture notes to members of the Lincoln Mutual Improvement Society “On a district in the south of Ireland” published in the Lincoln Chronicle in 1851 (BP/1/A/2/2).

First page of handwritten lecture notes to members of the Lincoln Mutual Improvement Society given by Boole, published in the Lincoln Chronicle in 1851.

“I have selected this subject partly because it is an interesting, and in some respects a misunderstood subject, but still more, because it is one of the very few subjects…of which I possess any personal knowledge.”

Second page of lecture notes by George Boole given to members of the Lincoln Mutual Improvement Society in 1851.

“The lofty Galtee range of mountains protecting the region overlooked by their Southern slopes from the extreme & violence of the north & east winds…the southern & western shores are washed by the warm waters of the Atlantic, which [can] retain some portion of the temperature imparted to them by the Gulf Stream.”

There is an example of student / lecturer difference of opinion on examination results in 1858, the student [Thomas Henry Marmion] and George Boole write to Sir Robert Kane, President of Queens College Cork arguing their case on the matter.

[Marmion] writes “a letter from the Registrar to me intimating that I had received a qualifying mark in Mathematics, Dr. Boole…appears to be under some misconception as he declined to sign my certificate until I should have passed a supplemental examination.”

Extract from a letter from Thomas H. Marmion to President Kane, QCC, questioning the actions of “Dr. Boole” (BP/1/A/2/4)

Boole’s response is fairly matter-of-fact “the value of Mr. [Marmion’s] answering as calculated from the marks which he obtained was 2…as his answering did not appear to me to be sufficiently good to qualify him for passing I added a recommendation for a supplemental examination which I should be ready to give him if [decided] to do so.”

Letter by George Boole in 1858
Extract from a letter from George Boole to President Kane, QCC, on the results of one of his students [Thomas H. Marmion] – (BP/1/A/2/5)

Within a heavily used original copy of Purcell’s Commercial Cork Almanac (1865) is a newspaper cutting in which its author praises Boole’s lecture on Newton to the Lincoln Mechanics’ Institute when Boole was only nineteen years old (BP/1/A/2/6).

I mentioned a little earlier that from this material we also get a deeper insight into George Boole ‘the person’ from a letter addressed to a “dear friend“, who I suspect is Dr. Bury after checking The Papers of George Boole. Boole writes as a proud father and husband, relaying the birth of his eldest daughter, Mary Ellen, in 1856.

First page of a handwritten letter from George Boole to a friend, dated June 1856, announcing that he has become a father for the first time.

“…I am now a father. My little first born – a daughter – came with the [world] two days ago. It is a fine healthy child and its dear mother is wonderfully well”.

BP/1/A/2/3

He describes his wife’s health during the pregnancy “…she was able to take an amount of exercise very unusual for person in her situation up to the very day of her confinement. Her step remained as light as ever…” He goes on to describe her labour, how she was afterwards and breastfeeding “the only sypton {sic} she noticed…was a little giddiness at the moment when the child first began to suck.” He is of the mind that;

Excerpt from a handwritten letter from George Boole to a friend, dated June 1856, describing how well his wife and baby are.

“a great deal of suffering, certainly to mother & probably to child, is due to the neglect of natures [plainest] dictates…my wife took no medicine whatever – nor has she taken any since…”

BP/1/A/2/

If you are interested in learning more about these documents, or any other items in the Boole Collections, please contact specialcollectionsarchives@ucc.ie

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Building Ireland’s Architectural Heritage: The Works of Rudolf Maximilian Butler and James Gandon

UCC Library is pleased to open to the public the R.M. Bulter Architect Collection, a small archival collection relating to prominent architects Rudolf Maximilian Butler and James Gandon.

Rudolf Maximilian Butler (1872-1943)

Rudolf Maximilian Butler was an Irish architect, architectural historian, academic, and journalist. Born in Dublin in 1872, he was educated in both Dublin and Germany. Following his studies, he apprenticed in Dublin under architects James Joseph Farrall, from 1889-1891, and Walter Glynn Doolin, from 1891-1896. After completing his training, he remained with Doolin, first as his assistant and then as his junior partner. With Doolin’s death in 1902, Butler formed an architectural partnership with James Louis Donnelly named Doolin Bulter & Donnelly. The partnership ended approximately five years later with Donnelly’s departure. Butler then operated as Doolin & Butler for several years before finally practicing privately under his own name.

Butler’s most well known architectural designs are Catholic ecclesiastical works. Notable examples include:

He was a member of The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland; a founding member of Architectural Association of Ireland (formed in 1896); editor of the Irish Builder and Technical Journal, from 1899-1935; and professor of architecture at University College Dublin, from 1924-1942.

Title page of R.M. Butler's copy of The life of James Gandon, Esq.
Title page of R. M. Butler’s copy of The life of James Gandon, Esq.

The R.M. Butler Architect Collection primarily relates to Butler’s work as an architectural historian, containing correspondence, press cuttings, and other material, concerning his research into the renowned English-born architect James Gandon, best known for his design of Irish public buildings including the Custom House, the Four Courts, and King’s Inns in Dublin.

James Gandon (1743–1823)

James Gandon was born in London in February 1743. He was educated at Shipley’s Drawing Academy before apprenticing under the Scottish architect William Chambers, designer of the Casino at Marino and Charlemont House in Dublin, from 1758-1765. Following his apprenticeship, he set up an independent practice in 1765.

Portrait of James Gandon from The life of James Gandon, Esq.
Portrait of James Gandon from The life of James Gandon, Esq.

The collection includes correspondence from individuals such as Walter G. Strickland, author of A Dictionary of Irish Artists, and W. J. Jessop of Jessop & Son in Nottingham, touching on different periods of Gandon’s career. Early projects referenced include his engravings for Colen Campbell’s Vitruvius Britannicus, a book of plans and drawings of Palladian revival buildings, and his design for the Shire Hall in Nottingham (built 1769-1772).

Gandon’s first major Irish commission came in 1780 when he was hired to design and superintend the construction of the Custom House in Dublin. It was a controversial project, receiving considerable opposition from the Corporation of Dublin, city merchants, and the public, largely due to its high cost and location. Despite the hostility, the project led to Gandon settling in Ireland where he was to remained the rest of his life.

Print of The Four Courts, Dublin [IE BL/CV/TP/DublinCity/39]
Print of The Four Courts, Dublin [IE BL/CV/TP/DublinCity/39]

Of Gandon’s other Irish projects, the collection includes two letters from R.M. Butler to the editor of the Freeman’s Journal, one in draft form and the other as a press cutting, concerning his work on the Four Courts and Parliament House in Dublin. In the draft letter, Butler outlines the design of the Four Courts by Gandon and Thomas Cooley (1740–1784). Cooley was the original designer but died after the western and southern portions of the quadrangle were finished. Gandon was then hired to complete the project and was responsible for the central part containing the Four Courts proper leaving “the impress of his genius on the whole beautiful edifice.” However, as with his other projects, things did not always run smoothly, with Butler noting that Gandon was forced to change his design for the portico by the Earl of Portarlington, which Gandon much regretted.

Writing in 1922, Butler ends the letter by laments the recent destruction of some Dublin’s most notable buildings, including the Four Courts, “which contributed so much to give it architectural dignity and charm as a metropolis.” He concludes: “It would be well if the Government would, when we once again enjoy the blessings of peace, appoint a commission to ascertain and report to what extent these beautiful buildings may, by careful restoration be recreated in whole or in part.” These restoration efforts are touched on in other items in the collection, including a notice from the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland containing a paper titled ‘Some Reconstruction Work at the Four Courts, Dublin.’ by T. J. Byrne from 1929.

The collection also includes a short article by Butler, from the Irish Builder, discussing Canonbrook House in Lucan, County Dublin, Gandon’s residence following his retirement in 1805. Canonbrook is described as a rural Georgian house “designed and embellish by Gandon himself.” While retiring from the stresses of large scale schemes, Gandon remained active, designing upward of forty residences in Lucan and putting forward a range of projects in connection with public improvements and national memorials. He died at Canonbrook on 24 December 1823.

The R.M. Butler Architect Collection is now fully listed, with further details and the complete listing available at https://libguides.ucc.ie/RMBulterArchitect

Bibliography

Butler, Rudolph Maximilian, Irish gothic architecture (Dublin : Sackville Press [c1916])

Duffy, Hugo, James Gandon and His Times (Kinsale : Gandon Editions, 1999)

Gandon, James, The life of James Gandon, Esq. : with original notices of contemporary artists, and fragments of essays (Dublin : Hodges and Smith, 1846)

Williams, Jeremy, A companion guide to architecture in Ireland 1837-1921 (Dublin : Irish Academic Press, 1994)

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