In researching a series of articles on the physical Catholic heritage of Kildare and Leighlin for CHRISTVS REGNAT, I have come across a number of Churches in the Diocese untouched - or almost untouched - at least for the moment, by the hand of architectural modernist iconoclasm. This is particularly odd in a Diocese where great zeal has gone into dismantling sanctuaries in the name the liturgical requirements of the Second Vatican Council, despite the words of a certain Cardinal directly addressed to the most zealous Bishop of the Diocese in a letter he was required to produce by the Irish Courts in a case to save the High Altar of his Cathedral from oblivion: "...I could not but acknowledge that in this legislation there exists no mandate, in the primary sense of the term as a command or order, to move the tabernacle from the high altar to another position in the church..."
That zeal seems unquenched but these Churches are the ones that got away - at least for now. This is an account of one, the Church of St. Finian, Kilquiggin (or Kilquiggan), Co. Wicklow, in the Parish of Clonmore.
Kilquiggin was one of those areas devastated by the Great Irish Famine (1845-'49) and the memory of those events is still recalled by the Union Road, a works project of the local Poor Law Union, and spot called the Gate of Tears, where those who could leave took a last look upon their home place.
Cill Chomhgáin in Irish, the nearby ruin of 6th Cent. Aghowle Church, reputed to have been built by St. Finian of Clonard on his way back from missionary work in Wales, gives the title to the Church. The present Church sits on a prominance of land, an early gothic granite structure with small belfrey over a gable containing three lancets and single entrance that leads to a flight of stone steps down to the road.
It is too fine a structure not to have been professionally designed but the only reference I can find is in the Irish Builder for 1st November, 1887, referring to Walter Glynn Doolin, a Dublin-based architect whose practice included many ecclesiastical commissions. His work is found mostly in Waterford and Tipperary and Kilquiggin Church is roughly between the two. Kilquiggan is very similar to some of Doolin's smaller churches, the Church of the Sacred Heart, Killusty, Co. Tipperary (1881-2), and the Church of the Sacred Heart, Dunhill, Co. Waterford (1883-4). It also shares much with his Church of St. Brigid, Templebraden, Co. Limerick (1882), his Church of St. Brigid, Clonakenny, Co. Tipperay (1899), and his Church of St. Brendan, Cloghane, Co. Kerry (1900)
By the time he was working on larger commissions such as Castlebar (1890-1901) and Borrisoleigh (1892), Nenagh (1893-1906), New Ross (1894-1902), his gothic is decorated, using tracery and quatrefoil lights.
The interior is lit by five single lancets on each side of the nave and a further two on the gospel side of the square-ended Sanctuary, with three lancets over the High Altar. The roof of the nave is in white with the rafters left exposed. The projecting stone supports or 'springers' for the wallposts are of the simplest form of 'cyma reversa'. They are at two heights, bewteen and just above the arches of the window spaces, giving an added layer of richness to the design. There is trefoil piercing right across the wooden trace-board along the bottom of the nave roof's interior.
The white marble Altar Rails run the width of the Church mid-way between the last two windows. They are just short of the wall at each side. The Sanctuary gates are missing. Each side of the Altar Rails consists of three solid pillasters with blind lancets between which are four pierced lancets. Half-way into the final bay of the nave, the sanctuary space is raised by two steps. A low, five sided, octagonal marble pulpit sits low upon a pillared base on the gospel side of the Sanctuary, an octagonal baptismal font on the epistle side.
The Novus Ordo Altar rests on this level in the centre. It isn't clear if this is was once part of the High Altar of this Church - which retains a mensa - but the twin pairs of green marble pillars on either side of the front face reflect the green marble panels in the reredos of the High Altar, which the pink marble pillars supporting the present sepulchre under the mensa do not. If it is a coincidence it is a very happy one. The central panel of the modern Altar is a fine white interlaced 'IHS' upon a red marble ground. Beneath is a plaque stating: "Altare Privilegiatum Quotidianum Perpetuum" indicating that this Altar is not new, even if it is not original to this location.
The Sanctuary Arch is simply moulded. The ceiling of the Sanctuary is panelled in diagonal 'criss-cross' panels painted with what appear to be monograms of 'IHS' and Our Lady. A massive Crucifix, about half life-size, hangs from the centre of the Sanctuary roof, requiring the Sanctuary Lamp to hang from the epistle-side wall.
On either side of the High Altar are fine antique statues of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady crowned. The High Altar itself is of a familiar neo-Gothic pattern with three pinnacles, a floreated rather than crocketed pinnacle at either end, and a more slender one topped with a cross over the throne over the Tabernacle with two attendant finials at either side. Between these are panels topped with trefoils consisting of green marble panels recessed into cusped arches in plain white marble with carved white marble spandrels between. The Throne is flanked by red marble pillars with a central collar or 'astragal' in white marble. The Tabernacle has the Holy Ghost in the pediment and two dark red marble pillars on either side of the door. Beneath the mensa is a sepulchre containging a recumbent figure of the dead Christ bracketed by grey marble pillars.
The windows are all in diamond or square lights in clear glass or light yellows and pinks, with a thin border of red glass. They allow light to flood into the interior without dazzling.
Overall, this Church is a gem. It sits discreetly in its surroundings, a well-appointed building well suited to its surroundings. The interior has been sensitively and imaginatively modified in a way that retains the beauty and reverence of the space.
It's our Catholic heritage and we want it preserved!
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