KT

Agustus Pugin ­and Eamonn Casey had different design ideas

As it was: The main altar of the cathedral with seating to the sides

THESE strikingly contrasting images highlight the changing face of St Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney over the years.

The black and white snapshot, taken at a wedding, shows the original altar and its stunning ceremonial backdrop with feature pews, on both sides, immediately in front.

The second photograph shows the cathedral as it is now following a complete overhaul and revamp in the 1970s.

In 1840 a local committee commissioned Agustus Welby Pugin ­– who had converted to Catholicism seven years earlier – to design a neo-Gothic-style cathedral and, it was later suggested, the Killarney project was his tribute to his own favourite cathedrals in Sailsbury and Ely in England.

The foundation stone was laid in 1842 and although work was suspended during the Famine, when it was used as a refuge for the sick, it resumed in 1853 under the direction of Pugin’s associate JJ McCarthy.

The church was consecrated on 22 August 1855 and dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The pontifical High Mass, presided over by Bishop David Moriarity, is understood to have continued for five hours.

Work commenced on the construction of the landmark 285-ft spire, rising spectacularly into the Killarney skyline, in 1907 and the side aisles and nave were extended prior to 1912.

As it is: The altar of the cathedral as it is now

In 1972 and ’73 the cathedral was extensively – and controversially – redesigned and refurbished during Eamonn Casey’s tenure as Bishop of Kerry in response to the new liturgy.

The work, often since criticised, involved the removal of Victorian plasterwork and Pugin-designed coloured tiles and stencilling, the stripping of original brass work and wrought iron and the exposure of bare stone.

The work involved the construction of a new altar, the erection of a pulpit and a limestone font on a raised floor area with new Tasmanian oak seating for the bishop and the celebrant.