Clonfert Cathedral & Clonfert Palace, County Galway
St. Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert, is situated close to the Shannon River in East Galway, five miles North-West of Eyrecourt. St. Brendan the Navigator founded a monastery and centre of learning here in 557. None of the original foundation survives. The present day cathedral dates from the 12th century. The west doorway is the largest and most elaborate Romanesque doorway in Ireland.
Measuring four metres in width and almost eight metres in height to its apex, the doorway is considered ‘the crowning achievement of Irish Romanesque work’ and ‘the architectural gem of the West.’ It is set in six orders, carved from reddish-brown sandstone with an inner order of blue limestone, which was inserted in the 15th century. The rich decoration of the doorway is quite wonderful. There are animal heads, human heads, interlaces, zig-zags, floral patterns, foliage designs, circles with beads, chevrons and bosses.
The Irish artist, Louis Le Brocquy, painted ‘Homage to Clonfert’ in 1965. A haunting arrangement of ten heads strongly reminiscent of Clonfert Doorway.
Also of note in Clonfert Cathedral are the fine, paired East Windows. As Maurice Craig remarks, nothing but the best would do for Clonfert. Here the quality of design is matched by the workmanship.
A World Heritage site, the Cathedral is still in use as a place of worship by the Church of Ireland community.
Clonfert Palace, Eyrecourt, County Galway
“The Bishops Mansion” was a long, narrow, two-storey house with an attic of dormer gables dating to the 17th century. Situated close to the Clonfert Cathedral and the Yew Walk, it is now a ruin. Built by Bishop Dawson, it was the Church of Ireland Bishop’s palace/residence for over two hundred years. Rebuilt in the 17th century and again in the late 18th century, it was home to bishops and landlords.
Leased to John Eyre Trench in the 1830’s, he changed the name from Clonfert Palace to Clonfert House. It was later the seat of the Trench Family for over a hundred years, until it was sold in 1947 to the Blake-Kelly Family.
In 1951, the British Politician, Sir Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists, bought and restored the palace. He referred to it as ‘rambling and romantic rather than beautiful’. He had the palace renovated, installing electricity and plumbing. However, the family stayed here only a few years as the house was destroyed by fire in December of 1954. From there, the family moved to County Cork and later to France, where Sir Oswald died in 1980.
Two carved 17th century panels from the Wooley Room are on display in the porch of Clonfert Cathedral. One depicts the arms and motto of Bishop Edward Wooley and the other depicts the arms and motto of the Diocese of Clonfert.
For info on the nearby town of Eyrecourt click here.