Newry Cathedral

Brother Mallon’s final report published here earlier listed buildings/edifices in Newry with dates upon them. We cautioned you then that the list was not exhaustive – and here’s another.

1888 is the date in granite upon our Cathedral …

– which, in answer to a query on Threads is the most impressive building in our entire neighbourhood. Was it erected in 1888? No! Much earlier!

The Cathedral of SS Patrick and Coleman is the Seat of Dr John McAreavey, our present Bishop of Dromore and he was ordained Bishop there a decade or so ago, shortly after the completion of the most recent of several periods of renovation to one of Ireland’s finest Catholic Churches.

It is the spiritual home for more than twenty local parishes whose names are recorded in mosaic fifty feet above the pews and just below the upper windows.  These are parishes in South Down and North Armagh (Lurgan) – the rest of Armagh being covered by the Archbishopric. As I attend service there I often marvel that so massive an edifice in granite and marble sits on top of a marsh! Seymour‘s Green was the name of the original site but it was a swamp – the ‘marshy ground’ that had been carefully avoided when the original town was built!

On 20 September 1823 the Church was granted the ‘site of the swamp beside the Mill Race’ on behalf of the parish. After moneys were raised, Newry’s finest architect Thomas J Duff was appointed architect and the principal building contractor was James Clark also of Newry.

Newry Cathedral boasts the distinction of being completed (if only just, and in its original form) before the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829.

What was there before?

Well the original St Colman’s Cathedral Church was in the town of Dromore (Co Down) which was the Bishop’s Seat but it suffered upheaval in the 16th century English Protestant Reformation. With its passing too went Newry’s Cistercian Abbey and monks: then came the imposition of Anglicism and the suppression of the old religion in the penal laws.

Despite this a Mass House was erected in Newry around 1730 – though this was the era of Mass Rocks in remote areas. These were the only safe place to practice their religion for Catholics – and especially for their hunted Bishop and priests. Bishop Lennon began the construction of St Mary’s Church (the Old Chapel) in 1789. For forty years from then it doubled as parish Church and Diocesan Cathedral, two Bishops being consecrated there.  Even today it is a noble and inspiring edifice.


… more on Newry Cathedral to follow …………….

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