With the season of goodwill rapidly approaching, we revisit a controversial, short-lived modern church, built on a 1,400-year-old site of Christian worship. The church won no architectural awards – although it was more than deserving – because it was not eligible, as its author was not then a member of the RIAI. However, it was published internationally and eventually appeared on an Irish postage stamp in 1987, part of that year’s Europa series featuring art and architecture. We spoke to its architect, Noel Dowley.
The locals never took to Curley and Dowley’s monumental, yet intimately scaled, church. A year after it opened, a sympathetic Swiss reviewer took the unusual step of noting that the new work, “with a formal language reminiscent of that of Louis Kahn” (under whom Noel Dowley had studied in Philadelphia in 1963), had evoked “many violent local controversies.”
The parishioners’ hostility to the ‘concrete barn’ was never assuaged. Without a champion, even heroic architecture is fragile. Dowley’s early masterpiece – a rare Irish example of the exquisite layering of light – survived barely 30 years before undergoing a major – extinguishing –‘renovation’ under the direction of the late Andrzej Wejchert.
The site is opposite the back entrance to Ashford Castle, once home of the Guinness family. “At the time it was the main entrance,” says Dowley. “We were working on Ashford.” The monastery of Cong, founded in the early 7th century, was destroyed by fire in the early 12th century. Turlough O’Connor, the High-King of Ireland, re-founded the abbey around 1315.
SCROLL FOR MORE...