The changing apparance of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral

The front of the church building has changed greatly since it was completed in 1847

The front of the church building has changed greatly since it was completed in 1847

The most strikingly different feature of the old photograph printed in last week’s Democrat is that there was no Hamill Belltower. This tower was not completed until 1903, constructed in granite ashlar by local builder James Wynne at the request of Julia Hamill of Seatown House, in memory of her late husband John Hamill. The original church building took ten years to construct and cost an estimated £25,000, an enormous amount of money nearly 200 years ago but paid for entirely by voluntary subscriptions.

There were, however, several other differences to the front compared to the present day structure. For one thing the old Parochial House still stood on the right-hand side as one views it from the Kelly Monument. This house was demolished when the new Parochial House was built by Father J. F. Stokes, Adm. in 1944. He had also demolished a number of old Distillery buildings to make way for the new presbytery on the left and extended the screen in front of it. The old brown screen was erected a few years after the church was completed and was built from what was called Glasgow Stone. This screen was restored a few years ago but, because it was of a soft stone, has not weathered as well as the older church building. The new extension screen is of a white and harder stone which seems to be lasting better, so, maybe it is time for another change.

Another difference from the photo in last week’s paper, which may be hard to spot, is that there are no steps leading up the front doors. These steps were installed in 1915 by the then Administrator, Fr. P. Lyons who was later to become a bishop, built of Newry granite, and, probably, paid for out of the money raised in 1912 by the appeal mentioned in the article of May 12 of that year which is quoted in David Lynch’s notes. According to reports from the time, the new steps were of great benefit to older people in getting into and out of the church and, of course, in those days there was no special provision for people in wheel chairs.

Interestingly, it appears that first time that the front of St. Patrick’s was illuminated by electric lighting was in January 1926. The unusual photograph of this illumination (shown here) was put in place for a Reception in celebration of Cardinal H.E. O’Donnell, then Archbishop of Armagh and Parish Priest of Dundalk, who had just recently been elevated to the Papal College of Cardinals. This illumination must seem pretty feeble by comparison with modern floodlighting but it must have been something of a wonder to the people of Dundalk 86 years ago. After all it was only a few years earlier that electricity had been installed in the Cathedral itself. The light bulbs highlighting the front view would have been powered by the old municipal Power House, off Chapel Street, run by the Dundalk Urban District Council, as the E.S.B. had no yet come to Dundalk to take over the lighting of the town.