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Building of the Month - September 2007

Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, POLLAGH Td., Pollagh, County Offaly

Saint Mary's Catholic Church, Pollagh 01 - Representative View 

Figure 1: A view of Saint Mary's Catholic Church showing the distinctive plan form with converging transepts centring on the chancel.  A central tower permitted access to each transept: the left reserved for women and the right reserved for men

Saint Mary's Catholic Church, overlooking the Grand Canal, ranks as one of the most curious churches in County Offaly (fig. 1).  Begun in 1906 and completed in 1910, it was erected under the aegis of Reverend Matthew Columb PP (b. 1839-40) who also served as its architect.

The most striking feature of the church is the inventive V-shaped footprint, deviating from the then-standard "barn" or cruciform plan forms, with converging transepts allowing for the segregation of male and female worshipers: it is believed that Columb may have been inspired by a similar church seen during his time spent in the Pyrenees on health grounds.  Colloquially titled "The Trouser Church" by its parishioners, the void was subsequently infilled in 1959 and a gallery inserted.  It was also at this time that the yellow brick surface finish was concealed by a coat of render.

Saint Mary's Catholic Church, Pollagh 02 - Interior 

Figure 2: A view of the fan-shaped vaulted interior

The resulting fan-shaped interior boasts a pair of jewel-like stained glass windows supplied (1936) by the Harry Clark Stained Glass Studios (closed 1973) of Dublin: the original alignment resulted in male worshipers facing the Sacred Heart Window, female worshipers facing the Blessed Virgin Mary (fig. 2).

Saint Mary's Catholic Church, Pollagh 03 - Interior 

Figure 3: A view of the sanctuary showing the sinuous bog yew altar fittings crafted by Michael Casey (b. 1932) of the Celtic Roots Studio (established 1991) of Athlone, County Westmeath.  Through the process of carbon dating it has been estimated that the timber, extracted from the Bog of Allen, is 4,800 years old

The sanctuary underwent a refit in 1992 when sinuous bog yew fittings were installed by Michael Casey (b. 1932) of the Celtic Roots Studio (established 1991) of Athlone, County Westmeath (fig. 3).  The dark colour of the timber contrasts magnificently with the radiant tones of the flanking stained glass (figs. 4-5).

Saint Mary's Catholic Church, Pollagh 04 - Sacred Heart (1936) Saint Mary's Catholic Church, Pollagh 05 - Blessed Virgin Mary (1936)

Figures 4-5: A view of the jewel-like stained glass supplied (1936) by the Harry Clarke Stained Glass Studios (closed 1973) of Dublin depicting The Sacred Heart and The Blessed Virgin Mary

All photography by Nutan Photography from the NIAH publication An Introduction to the Architectural Heritage of County Offaly

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