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Visiting the Cathedral of St Macartan, Monaghan Town, Ireland: vertically defying the former rules of the Ascendancy

Updated on September 11, 2013
Flag of the Republic of Ireland
Flag of the Republic of Ireland | Source
 St Macartan's Cathedral, Monaghan
St Macartan's Cathedral, Monaghan | Source
Drawing of St. Macartan's Cathedral in Monaghan, as planned by J. J. McCarthy, 1868; JSheehey: 'JJMcCarthy & the Gothic Revival in Ireland', in: 'The Builder',12.9.1868, p. 675
Drawing of St. Macartan's Cathedral in Monaghan, as planned by J. J. McCarthy, 1868; JSheehey: 'JJMcCarthy & the Gothic Revival in Ireland', in: 'The Builder',12.9.1868, p. 675 | Source

Gothic features in abundance rising to 76.2 metres

Before Victorian times, when the rules of the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland were somewhat relaxed, it used to be that Roman Catholic church buildings could not be as tall as Protestant ones. Thus it happened that, when this rule was rescinded, great efforts were made to 'reach for the skies' with tall, spired buildings which were supposed to outclass Protestant church buildings in their height and grandiosity.

The Cathedral Church of St. Macartan, Monaghan (Irish: Muineachán)(1), Republic of Ireland, was built between 1861 and 1892. Not only does its tower rise to an impressive height — 76.2 metres — from its base, the building also stands upon a hill overlooking Monaghan Town.

Interestingly, its height is broadly comparable with that of Trinity Church, 79 Broadway, New York City, which at 86 metres was the tallest building in New York City between 1846 and 1890.

It is executed in Gothic style.

We thus see in this striking structure repeated pointed arching and a profusion of pinnacles. The whole constitutes a quite spectacular display of this Medieval style revived optimistically in the 19th century.

The building's architect was J J McCarthy (1817-1882)(2). I have included a 19th century drawing of the building's design, as planned by the architect. St Macartan's Cahtedral is thus undoubtedly one of the most impressive buildings in Ulster (Irish: Ulaidh)(3).

September 11, 2013


(1) Both county town and the county itself are called Monaghan; hence differentiation is sometimes made between Monaghan Town and County Monaghan.

(2) Architect McCarthy was known for his ecclesiastical building designs; he specialized in Gothic style, especially popular during the Victorian era. His designs are often conpared with those of Augustus Pugin, who pioneered the Gothic Revivial in the 19th century.

(3) The term 'Ulster' is sometimes used to refer to Northern Ireland, but Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal — all situated in the Republic of Ireland — classify as three of the historic counties of Ulster.

Map location of County Monaghan, Republic of Ireland
Map location of County Monaghan, Republic of Ireland | Source

Also worth seeing

In Monaghan Town itself, the Rossmore Memorial was built to remember a local landowner who tragically died young; other noted structures include Monaghan County Museum, located in Hill Street; St Patrick's Church and Monaghan Courthouse.

Clones (distance: 21 kilometres) is known for an impressive, old market cross, a ruined abbey and its Celtic round tower.


How to get there: Aer Lingus flies from New York and Boston to Dublin Airport , from where car rental is available. Distance from Dublin by road to Monaghan Town is 125 kilometres; Bus Éireann maintains a service on this route. 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.

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    • MJFenn profile image

      MJFenn 4 years ago

      pstraubie48: Ascendancy Ireland was a very different sort of place!

      (Angels? Hebrews 1 speaks of angels: read it and see!)

      Thank-you for your comment.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      Very interesting. I did not know they had such rules about heights of buildings. thanks for sharing.

      Angels are on the way to you this evening. ps

    • MJFenn profile image

      MJFenn 4 years ago

      cfin: It, and other sights in Monaghan, are certainly worth seeing. Thank-you for your comment.

    • cfin profile image

      cfin 4 years ago from The World we live in

      I never heard of this. It looks really nice :)