God save all here!
A phobail Dé, idir chléir is tuath, cuirim fíor chaoin fáilte róimh go dtí Ardeaglais Deastógala na Maighdine Beannaithe inniu. Is mór dom is agam sibh go léir bheith farainn ar an ócaid stairúil seo, athoscailt na h-Ardeaglaise tar éis a
h-athnuacha. Mar is ceart agus is cóir tá daoine anseo ó gach parósite den Arddeoise agus níos faide ó bhaile.
The most famous of all monumental inscriptions is that over the tomb of Sir Christopher Wren in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. He had been the architect of St. Paul’s during the thirty-five years of its construction. He was buried there twelve years later. His son placed this inscription: “Si monumentum requires, circumspice”, “If you seek his memorial, look around you”.
The inscription would be very apt also on Archbishop Patrick Leahy’s tomb here in the sanctuary of this cathedral. It is due to his vision, courage and taste in architecture and art that we owe this splendid building. On his own, he undertook the daunting task of building “a cathedral worthy of the Diocese and its Metropolitan status”, as he put it.
Because the existing church, the “Big Chapel”, was considered more than adequate by both priests and people of the day, he was faced with the task of winning them round to the idea. Next, there was the problem of collecting £30,000, a huge sum then, in the very straitened economic circumstances of the time.
A priest of the Diocese, Fr. James O’Carroll, who kept a private diary – and kept it private until he died – described the project as, “Utopian”. “It was unnecessary”, he said, “it was an attempt on Dr. Leahy’s part to super-immortalise his memory with generations to come. He will not live to see his hopes realised”, he concluded darkly. It reminds one of the rueful prognostications concerning the proposed National Stadium in Abbotstown a few years ago!
The Archbishop was not to be deflected from his purpose. He threw himself into the planning and the collection of the funds. He went on rounds of the churches and made his appeal to the priests and people. He was successful because, as he said himself, “the people, gentle and simple, contributed cheerfully as an act of religion”.
He could be said to have been part-time architect and full-time clerk of works while the building was in progress. He had a family background in engineering and had more than a layman’s knowledge of art and architecture. The evidence for this is all about us here. Fr. O’Carroll was correct only on one point – he did not live to see the cathedral fully completed. It was his successor, Dr. Croke, who presided at the consecration on June 21st 1879. By coincidence, Dr. Croke had collected money for the building of a cathedral in Auckland, where he was Bishop, before he left New Zealand to come home in 1875.
The critics from the world of architecture have not been overly impressed by the cathedral. They tended to, “damn (it) with faint praise”. The Shell Guide described it as, “a pedestrian essay by J.J. McCarthy”. Jeanne Sheehy said that, “we should be thankful that at least the cathedral does not have a leaning tower”. This is a reference to the fact that the cathedral is modelled in part on the cathedral of Pisa which consists of three separate buildings in a line – a baptistery, the cathedral and the famous Leaning Tower which is the campanile or bell tower. Dr. Leahy grouped the three separate buildings into a unity and he set the tower firmly between the wall of the church and the Ursuline Convent – just in case!
James O’Toole is somewhat fairer; “Certainly not McCarthy’s best work”, he says. “It is constrained and hemmed in by the side and the façade, has too much detail which diminishes the scale, making it look smaller than it is. On the other hand, the interior is much more successful. It is spacious and well lit. The chancel is exceptionally large, having a length of roughly half the nave’s. Thurles is not an exciting building but with its handsome interior and some superb furnishing it is far from a failure”.
Kevin Myers wrote a very positive article in the Irish Times The Irishman’s Diary in the early 1990’s. He expressed his envy of the Archbishop of Cashel at his good fortune in presiding over such a magnificent building. This is the last recorded instance of anyone being envious of an archbishop!
The critics have their job to do and they are entitled to their opinions. But the ordinary faithful in this town, archdiocese and further afield have always been proud of Dr. Leahy’s building. It was to give Thurles its title, “The Cathedral Town”. Successive generations have worshipped here. They have received the Sacraments, attended Sunday Mass and were brought here for their funeral liturgies. I met a girl here one evening recently who told me that I had baptised her, given her First Communion and Confirmation here. Please God, she will continue to come here regularly to receive the Sacraments. She is one of the young generation so crucial to the future of the Church. Priests and bishops have been ordained here down the years. Sisters have been professed and couples have had their marriages solemnised before this altar. The Cathedral has a unique place in the affections of the faithful here in Thurles and beyond.
When the building closed for renovations before Christmas last, parishioners felt a palpable sense of “homelessness”. They wandered about to the Premier Hall and the neighbouring churches for Sunday Masses for nine months. When the cathedral re-opened in early August they hurried back. They were delighted to be in their familiar surroundings again. They were amazed at the transformation which had taken place in their absence. They admired the brightness, the colour and the warmth. Nothing had been added, nothing had been taken away except the dampness, and yet, it seemed like a new creation!
It is very satisfying to have restored Dr. Leahy’s vision to its original splendour. This generation, like its predecessors, has proved both faithful and generous. I should like to thank all of the parishes and the many individuals who contributed so readily, those who arranged special events and who organised or participated in the Cathedral Draw. They have ensured that those who come after them will have a cathedral of which they can be proud. The work of conservation of church buildings is our duty but the renovation of this cathedral has been truly a labour of love.
Archbishop Leahy rests under the sanctuary between the tabernacle of Giacomo Della Porta, pupil of Michelangelo, in which he took so much pride, and the altar which was, “without exaggeration the finest from this to Rome” as he put it. We owe an immense debt to him and to the people of his time, the gentle and the simple and the poor who contributed their pennies when pennies were very scarce. We could repay them best by being as faithful to the practice of our faith as they were. Now that we have restored the physical building, it is now our challenge to step up our efforts at the spiritual renewal of the Diocese. Parish Renewal is ongoing and only two weeks ago over sixty lay people began a three year BA course in Theology in St. Patrick’s College. A parish centre is under construction across the road. Níor dhún Dia doras amháin raimh nár oscail Sé ceann eile – God never closed one door but He opened another.
This Cathedral which we reopen officially today, embodies the inspiration of past generations, the faithfulness of the present and the hopes for the future. Our ancestors had a little prayer entitled, “Ag dul isteach san eaglais – Going into the church”. We can adapt it for today:
Umhláim duitse, a Íosa Críost;
Umhláim duitse, a Mhaighdean ghlórmhar;
Umhláim duitse, a eaglais Dé;
Umhláim duitse, a Árdeaglais na Deastógála.
My respects to you, Jesus Christ;
My respects to you, glorious Virgin;
My respects to you, church of God;
My respects to you, Cathedral of the Assumption.
Most Rev. Dermot Clifford, DD,
Archbishop of Cashel & Emly.