St Mary's Church

St Mary Church 1

Although the present St. Mary’s Church dates to the 19th century, Roman Catholics in Mallow worshipped at a number of more modest churches and Mass houses for many years prior to this date. Work on St. Mary’s was by all accounts slow and tortuous spanning a century from site acquisition to completion of the building.

Early in the 18th century the people of Mallow worshipped in a Mass-house located in Fair Lane. This was probably built by Fr Owen Mullane who registered as Parish Priest (P.P.) of Mallow under The Registration Act (1704). He had received Popish Orders at Dublin from Patrick Plunket, Bishop of Armagh in 1668. In 1704, the early years of the Penal Laws, the only priests who could remain in the country were diocesan clergy below the rank of dean. A registered priest was generally allowed to say mass without interference.

By 1732 the congregation had moved to the newly built thatched Chapel of St Mary that was situated in Chapel Lane well off the present Main Street. This, according to the Report on the State of Popery, was under construction in November 1731. As the dates of succession of clergy for this period are uncertain it is not clear whether this chapel was built by the above mentioned Fr. Mullane – who at this date, if still alive, would have been 84 years of age – or by his successor Fr. John Everard. The Marriage Register began in 1757 during Fr. Everard’s tenure as P.P.

Origins of St. Mary’s Church

In 1817 circ Fr. Thomas Barry, “the protestant priest”, (P.P. of Mallow 1780 to 1828) was presented with a site for the new church by Charles Denham Jephson-Norreys, an extremely generous gesture 11 years before Catholic Emancipation. The new church was Cruciform in plan including a nave with side aisles and shallow transepts with galleries. Initially it had an earthen floor and no seats. It was described by Bishop Collins in 1828 as being very large and badly designed. He also maintained that construction was poorly executed and that much remained to be done. When he visited it two years later he found that it was not yet finished.

In1859 Bishop Keane described it as a handsome building, clean and well kept. Much later, however, Wm. O’Brien M.P. wrote that it was “as barn-like as humility could make it, in order to soften the wrath of the ascendency.” Of course in those days the site wasn’t as impressive as it is today. For many years it was hidden behind a row of houses and access to it was through a narrow lane between the present Credit Union and Mallow Park Hotel.

Extensions and alterations

During the first two decades of the 20th century Canon Wigmore (P.P. 1881-1917) had the church enlarged and some of it rebuilt. He employed the services of Messrs. Ashlin and Coleman architects to carry out this work. Two bays, including an apsidal baptistery, the façade and campanile were added. The extension is in the Lombardo Romanesque style of architecture.

It is polychromatic in design. Three different types of stone were used in its construction limestone and sandstone with Bathstone used in the tympana over the doorways. It was this combination of contrasting coloured stone used in the façade and campanile that transformed it from a “barnlike structure” into the most impressive building in the town.

The interior was also embellished with a beautiful rib vaulted plaster ceiling and fluted columns this was the work of the Orangie family from Italy. These alterations were completed by 1913 at a cost of over £7,000 (€8,900). The next phase, including the sacristy and vestry were built during 1916 and 1917. The mortuary which was erected as a memorial chapel to Canon Wigmore was built in 1921 by Canon Corbett (P.P. 1917 – 19??) to the design of Samuel F Hynes, architect.

The exchange of bells

Up until the early 1900s the bell had been mounted on a timber structure at the back of the church. When this bell was transferred to the new campanile it was found to be unsuitable so it was exchanged for one dating from 1842 that had been in use for some time in the steeple of the Church of Ireland, church of St. James. So contrary to popular belief the bell in St Mary’s today is not the old St Anne’s bell, which was cast in Glouster for the Rev William King Rector of Mallow in 1784, and still hangs in the tower of St Anne’s. The St. Mary’s bell that was exchanged for the St. James’ one was never by the Church of Ireland.
Renovations in the 1960s and 1990s

In the early 1960s, with the growing population a decision had to be made whether to extend St Marys or to build a second church. The decision was to build a second church.

When the Church of the Resurrection, was completed in south Mallow, further renovations and alterations were carried out to St. Mary’s. The galleries were removed and the sanctuary was reordered to facilitate the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council.

In the 1990s the roof was found to be unsafe and it was completely reroofed. Unfortunately, the ceiling executed by the Orangie family earlier in the century was unable to be saved. The ribbed vaulted portion over the nave was replaced by a plain tunnel vault.

Mural Memorials

St Mary Church 2

There are many mural memorials in St. Marys to priests who served in the parish through the years. Most notable among these are those erected to Fr. Justin McCarthy P.P. midway on the south aisle and Fr. Denis Collins P.P. at the top of the north Aisle.

The McCarthy monument which has a life-size alabaster statue executed by Messrs Hardmann, Dublin, was erected in 1864 at a cost o £164. It carries the following inscription: Erected by a grateful flock, and sorrowing friends of every class and creed, to the memory of a zealous and devoted Priest, a true patriot and a good and noble-minded man, The Rev’d Justin Canon McCarthy, P.P. of Mallow whose body reposes at the Gospel-side of the Sacred Heart Altar. He died March 3rd.1862, aged 52 years

The Collins’ memorial bears the following inscription: This spot is consecrated to the remains of a martyr of charity. The Rev’d Denis M. Collins P.P. of Mallow, who died on 5th. Day of July 1847 of pestilentious fever caught in the discharge of his minitry to the suffering poor of Christ. Born in the town of Clonakilty in 1786.

St Mary Church 3


He received Holy Orders in 1819: was appointed as curate to his brother the Right Rev’d Dr. Collins the distinguished bishop of Cloyne and Ross then P.P. of Skibbereen in the same year: and subsequently in 1830 the Pastoral Charge of Mallow: a bright but glorious record of self devoted labour, love and suffering : combing the heroism of the Apostle with the over-flowing tenderness of the Pastoral Heart : the unworldy Spirit of the Gospel with the most practical prudence in his intercourse with society, the elegant attainments of the accomplished scholar with the solid acquirements of professional knowledge: He made upon the altar of Charity an offering of as noble quality and as useful talents as ever adorned the sacerdotal ministry, and consummated the offering by the sacrifice of his life.