During the Penal Laws and before Catholic Emancipation in Ireland (1829), Catholic churches could not be built on or near the King’s Highway. Instead, small churches, known as penal churches, were hidden in side streets or alleys. At the turn of the nineteenth century, most Catholic churches were in very poor condition.
The Diocese of Cloyne and Ross decided to rectify this and build new, impressive churches. When Catholic Emancipation, was granted in 1829 it gave Catholics new rights and confidence and this helped the process of church-building.
Buttevant’s penal church was down Mill Lane, near the Mill. During a visit in 1828, Bishop Collins said “the chapel was almost a ruin.” It was decided to build a new church and St Mary’s was built and completed in two distinct phases between 1824 and 1864. Fr. Cornelius Buckley, Jordanstown was a driving force in this project.
It was difficult to find a suitable site. A church site without freehold status could not be consecrated as holy ground and a church could not be built on it. John Anderson had owned the manor of Buttevant and his bankruptcy had caused confusion regarding the ownership and ancient rights of the property. However, by 1831 Lord Doneraile had purchased the manor of Buttevant and given the committee a site for the new church. This was the ruins of the Franciscan friary with its graveyard to the north of the friary, in what had been its cloister, as well as the ruins of the Desmond tower and the vacant lots on the main street between two existing terraces.
First Building Committee: 1829 – 1847
In 1829 a building committee was formed to help raise funds:
Solomon Mulqueen, John Hutch, Thomas Blake, William Linehan, Michael Rogers, James Connors, Thomas Linehan, Snr., Michael Madden, Thomas Hayes, William Walsh, Edmond Fitzgibbon, Cornelius Corbett, John Upton Supple, and E. M. Darce (secretary).
Methods of Raising funds:
- An applotment on farming land = 1 shilling per £ paid in rent
- An applotmet on the farming land of Lisgriffin parish (a loan, later repaid)
- Celebrity Sermons e.g. Fr. Theobald Mathew in December, 1842.
Charles Cottrell was retained to design and oversee the building of the church. He was an accomplished architect who had mastered the principles of the Gothic revival of the early nineteenth century. The initial estimate of £3,000 underestimated the scale of the project and merely built the walls and roof. However, the Church was consecrated in 1836, which means the works were executed largely debt free.
Second Building Committee: 1853 – 1864
The famine, an Gorta Mór (1845-49) intervened and the project stopped for several years. In 1853, a second Building Committee was formed to complete the church. In June, 1855 Richard Brash contracted to execute works for the completion of St Mary’s interior. This included: building the sacristy and completing the interior by laying out the chancel, installing the ceiling and providing tracery and glass for three of its main windows. Other additions were made to his contract: two side altars, 12 gothic seats and removing the bell from the new tower to the old one. The Committee also enclosed the church grounds.
The material for St Mary’s Church and the Windows of St Mary’s relies on the research and writing of Rt. Rev. Msgr. James O’Brien P.P.
See the following for a comprehensive study of the subject:
O’Brien, James, “St Mary’s Church, Buttevant 1828-1886: Notes on its Building
History” in Eamonn Cotter, Buttevant: A Medieval Anglo-French Town in Ireland.
Cork: Litho Press, 2013. 143 – 193.