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Visiting Cork City, Ireland, and the Cathedral of Saint Fin Barre: imposing, towered structure by William Burges

Updated on March 30, 2012
Flag of the Republic of Ireland
Flag of the Republic of Ireland | Source
Cathedral of Saint Fin Barre, Cork City
Cathedral of Saint Fin Barre, Cork City | Source
William Burges
William Burges | Source
Map location of Cork City, Ireland
Map location of Cork City, Ireland | Source

Medieval allusions, completed 1879

It used to be the case that, in Ireland, Roman Catholic and Protestant churches would sometimes outdo each other in seeing how tall their towers and spires could be built. This partly stemmed from the fact the during some of the years of Ascendency rule under the Crown, only Protestant churches were allowed to have tall spires.

For whatever reason, however, the architect of the impressive, Gothic Revival Saint Fin Barre's Cathedral (Irish: Ardeaglais Naomh Fionnbarra ) in Cork City (Irish: Corcáigh ) spared no effort with the design of its not one, nor two, but three towers. In addition to the three towers, several pinnacles are additional features of the towers.

With the tower and spires dating from 1879, its architect was William Burges (1827-1881)(1). The architect was known for the style influence which the Middle Ages exercised upon his designs, particularly 13th century France.

Architect Burges was commissioned for building the Cathedral following successful selection after an architectural competition which received 63 entries. He was appointed in 1862; the foundation stone was laid in 1865; and the building, minus its towers, was used from 1870. The materials with which the building was executed are Cork limestone, with Bath stone lined with local red marble in the interior.

Indeed, it is fair to say, that if a replica of Saint Fin Barre's Cathedral were seen in France, some observers might conclude that its style is such that it might be mistaken for a Medieval Gothic edifice.

This Cathedral is the seat of the Church of Ireland Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross. The site of the Cathedral has had successive church buildings on it since the 7th century.

A strong musical tradition exists at the Cathedral. One of its major features is an organ with 3012 pipes. Its choristers travel widely to give performances, in addition to their programs of choral music at the Cathedral.

The spelling of the name of the Cathedral sometimes varies; sometimes 'Finbarre' is seen rather than 'Fin Barre', but I have simply kept to the spelling which the Cathedral's officials themselves use.

Cork City is the second city in size on Irish territory administered by the government of the Republic of Ireland. The Republic's population is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic in affiliation, while the presence in Cork City of such a striking, Anglican cathedral is a reminder of the multi-confessional character of its people. Interestingly, Douglas Hyde, Ireland's first President (Irish: Uachtarán, 1938-1945) and Erskine Childers, Ireland's third President (1973-1974) both happened to be Anglicans.


(1) Architect Burges was also known for Cardiff Castle, Castell Coch at Tongwynlais, and for many, notable restorations.

Also worth seeing

In Cork City itself, other noted buildings include the City Hall, Shandon Church, with its famous bells, and University College, Cork.


How to get there: Aer Lingus flies from New York and Boston to Dublin Airport, from where car rental is available. Bus Éireann operates bus services to Cork City from Dublin's Busárus (bus station). Irish Rail operates rail services from Dublin Heuston Station to Cork City. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

For your visit, these items may be of interest


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