“Ours is but a small contribution to its long history; ours are but some of many prayers that have been, and will continue to be, placed before the Lord in this magnificent place. We shall pass, and generations of people will pass after us, and still these stones and timber will be standing here, an enduring memorial of our brief stay on earth but our abiding and enduring faith.”- Bishop Nulty
St Mary’s Cathedral Kilkenny, 162 feet in length, 100 feet wide and 186 feet tall, has stood over the city of Kilkenny for 165 years. The Cathedral tower stands proud over the city of Kilkenny a familiar landmark which can be seen from many parts of Kilkenny City.
There have been a number of times in its rich history when the interior has been transformed: in the 1890s Bishop Brownrigg significantly changed the sanctuary; in the 1930s Bishop Collier added the mosaics and a new organ; in the 1970s Bishop Birch oversaw the re-ordering of the Cathedral in accordance with the changes in the celebration of Mass following the Second Vatican Council. Bishop Freeman commenced the present phase of work in 2011 when the sanctuary mosaics and windows were cleaned and restored.
In January 2019 Bishop Farrell invited liturgical architect Paul O’Daly to visit the Cathedral. Paul, a native of Dublin, has vast experience in the restoration and reordering of many churches and religious houses in Ireland and has designed several new churches. Paul brought an understanding of liturgy and the concept of ‘sacred space’, including the interaction between language, ritual, and the appropriate furnishing of a church. Paul met with local architect Brian Dunlop of Kilkenny and together they began the planning and design process that culminated in the celebration on Sunday 27th March.
Bishop Denis Nulty, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese, was the chief celebrant at Mass in the Cathedral on Sunday 27th when the Altar was consecrated and the Ambo was blessed. Bishop Denis was joined by 20 priests of the diocese including four previous administrators of the Cathedral: Canon Pat Duggan, Fr Noel Maher, Fr Oliver Maher and Mgr Kieron Kennedy.
The new altar and ambo are in integral part of the celebration of Mass. The Ambo, or often called the Lectern, is the place where the Word of God is proclaimed. The Altar is the place of sacrifice where the Bread and Wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.
The new altar and ambo are the work of Mr Thomas Glendon and his son Philip. Thomas is a renowned Irish craftsman specializing in in sculpture, letterform, ecclesiastical work and design in stone, wood and bronze. St Mary’s Cathedral is the second cathedral where Thomas’ work can now be seen; he is the sculptor of the new altar in St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford. Thomas visited St Mary’s Cathedral numerous times and took his inspiration for the new altar and ambo from the curves and designs of its magnificent pillars. Listening to Thomas speak of stone and its form is poetic. Watching him at work in his workshop in Loughrea and in the Cathedral was magical: carving, chiseling, shaping, curving – the chisel in his hands used with the ease of years of experience.
Locally Kevin Moore and his team provided services to the work over the past three months. Local stonemason Donal McDonald restored the side altars reinstated the marble reredos that have been cleaned and repaired. Jody O’Dwyer repaired the mosaic floors and Pat and Robert Walsh restored the magnificent black and white tiles of the centre nave.
Bishop Denis welcomed all to the Cathedral for the blessing and consecration commenting that
“Ours is but a small contribution to its long history; ours are but some of many prayers that have been, and will continue to be, placed before the Lord in this magnificent place. We shall pass, and generations of people will pass after us, and still these stones and timber will be standing here, an enduring memorial of our brief stay on earth but our abiding and enduring faith.”
At the beginning of the Mass water was brought from the River Nore, the Breagagh, the fields of Clonmoran, Kenny’s Well and the Well of St Kieran in Seir Kieran. As the water was poured into the Baptismal Font in the Baptistery Ger Cody, Commentator of the Liturgy, remarked:
This evening water is brought from where we live. The water from these wells and rivers represents our backgrounds, our stories that become one when we gather as the people of God, water from holy places where our stories and lives are blended.
Bishop Denis blessed the water which was then sprinkled upon the new ambo and altar.
After the homily Fr Richard Scriven intoned the litany of saints. Bishop Denis poured the Oil of Chrism upon the altar and he was assisted by Lucy Culleton (St Canice’s Parish), Dwayne Joyce (St John’s Parish), Kyle Tanap (St Mary’s Parish), Orla Dowling (St Patrick’s Parish) all who have been confirmed this year. A brazier of charcoal and incense was placed on the altar symbolically representing our prayers which ascend to heaven.
Sacred Music was provided by the Cathedral choir under the leadership of John O’Neill and organist Joy Bibby. Readings and prayers were read by Tina Lawler and Michael Whelan who are regular readers in the Cathedral; Pat O’Neill sang the psalm. The offertory gifts were presented by the O’Neill family; Rebecca was the bell ringer for the Mass.
After communion the choir sang the anthem to Our Lady: The Ave Maria. During this hymn the new lighting in the side chapels of Our Lady and St Joseph was lit. The sacristans lit two candles in the Lady Chapel recalling those who had died of Covid in the past two years and also the people of Ukraine at this time.
At the end of the Mass Fr Scriven, Administrator of the Cathedral, saluted the work of the various tradespeople and in particular the architects Brian Dunlop and Paul O’Daly for their work and dedication to the project. He acknowledged the work of Bishop Farrell, now Archbishop of Dublin, who during his time in Ossory had initiated this phase of work. Fr Scriven thanked Bishop Denis for his time and energy in this interregnum period as we await the appointment of a new bishop. He invited all present to take some time to stroll around after Mass to admire the work and then to gather for a cup of tea in the Chapter Room of the Cathedral.
Two months on and the new sanctuary is a wonderful sacred space in which to celebrate the sacraments. Already five of the seven sacraments have been celebrated: Confirmation with the boys and girls of the parish schools; Eucharist each day and on special days such as First Communion in this month of May; The Sacrament of Penance during Holy Week, two weddings since the dedication ceremony has taken place and four baptisms using the font which is now relocated in the Baptistry.
The cathedral has welcomed visitors from all over the world. Each day visitors from near and far come to stroll around the beautiful building that sometimes we may take for granted: St Mary’s Cathedral in the heart of our city and the heart of our diocese.