Bringing the journey of faith to a new height


The steel crane basket carrying Bishop Bill Murphy reaches the top of the 285ft cross on St Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney in May 2004.
Pictures: Tim Clifford

It’s that sort of picture perfect moment that comes around once in a lifetime – if you’re lucky – and when it does, boy, is it worth waiting for.

Back in the summer of 2004, essential repair work was deemed necessary on the feature steel cross at the tip of the spire on Killarney’s St Mary’s Cathedral.

It presented a logistical nightmare given the sheer scale of the task at hand and the incredible height involved and, needless to say, the health and safety professionals were every bit as active during the operation as the architect, engineers and the workmen contracted.

Scaffolding was erected on the landmark stone building – designed by Augustus Welby Pugin and consecrated in 1855 – and protective nets were put in place around the top of the spire to further enhance the vital safety measures being undertaken.

Bishop Bill and architect Harry Wallace get ready for the experience

The work in progress generated enormous public interest for days on end with men, women and children gathering at vantage points all around Cathedral Place and on Port Road to watch the daredevil workmen scaling the heights – often by foot ladder – on their way to carrying out the essential chores.

And then, one day in the middle of it all, a snapshot the likes of which professional photographers could only dream about suddenly presented itself in broad daylight – just like that.

Inquisitive and interested, the then Bishop of Kerry, Dr Bill Murphy, was determined to get as close as possible to the top of the spire for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing such a rare piece of work being conducted up close.

The scene from the grounds of the cathedral

Securely harnessed and fastened into a mechanical cage and accompanied by the architect involved, Harry Wallace, they were hoisted into the air by a giant crane and, slowly but surely, they made their journey to the top.

Monitoring proceedings from just inside the front railings of the cathedral, photographer Tim Clifford had his lens firmly focused on the bishop when the corner of his eye was drawn to a sign that had been erected on the church grounds for the Easter ceremonies.

And there and then the picture perfect moment presented itself.

He is Risen, Alleluia,” the large banner screamed as, the in the immediate background, the steel cage ferrying Bishop Bill was suspended in md-air from the hook of a crane, just feet from the tip of the spire, a full 285ft above ground level.

A dramatic scene as a workman scales the spire of the cathedral on a foot ladder

He had risen alright and, in all probability, to a dizzy height that no bishop before or since had or has ever experienced.

The mission to inspect the restored cross inadvertently created a truly wonderful right-place right-time photograph that will live on long in the memory.

And almost two decades later, the cross is still in perfect condition and Bishop Bill is still regularly celebrating Mass on the altar of the church beneath, with a golden memory of the day he didn’t have to look skywards but merely glanced across at the cross.

Although the foundation stone for the church was blessed in 1842 and the building was consecrated over a dozen years later, the feature spire wasn’t added until 1907 when the architectural firm of Ashlin and Coleman was engaged by the then Bishop, Dr John Mangan, to complete the cathedral.

They designed and built the spire that reached over 86.8 metres into the sky and by 1912 the work was completed and the nave and side aisles were extended westwards. Everyone reads it – ask anyone. Call 087-2229761 to advertise