Londoner, Augustus Pugin, is recognised as one of the foremost architects of the Victorian age. His connection with the Diocese of Ferns came through the patronage of John, 16th Earl of Shrewsbury, Waterford and Wexford. Shrewsbury’s wife was a native of Blackwater, Co. Wexford. Her uncle, John Hyacinth Talbot, was the first Catholic MP for County Wexford after Catholic Emancipation in 1829.
A rich man through his marriage into the Redmond family, John Hyacinth Talbot introduced Pugin to Wexford, where through the patronage of the Talbot and Redmond family connections, he was to gain most of his Irish commissions.
His first parish church in the Diocese was built in Bree. He next designed the chapel in St Peter’s College, Wexford. Other churches were Tagoat parish church, a few miles from Our Lady’s Island, St Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, and St Michael’s Church, Gorey.
Tragically Pugin died in 1852, but his son and son-in-law, E.W. Pugin and George Ashlin, were to continue designing and building Gothic Revival churches and monuments in Ireland. One of the churches designed and built by these was the Church of the Assumption in Our Lady’s Island, which overlooks the lake and the pilgrimage island. While much of the basic architecture is similar to those designed by Pugin senior, they can be distinguished by the curved lines in the arched ceiling.
The foundation stone for the present Church was laid on 11th May 1863 and opened on 15th August 1864. It was solemnly dedicated on 10th August 1881. The church has been described as being ‘an ecclesiastical architectural gem unsurpassed by any other in the kingdom’ (E.Hore 1875).
The Church of the Assumption today.
The external masonry is rock-faced with local Carne granite. The dressings on doors, windows etc. are in Whitehaven red sandstone and bands of the same material are continued at intervals around the walls. The tower and spire with its cross measure 112 feet from the ground. Over the entrance door, there is a large stained glass window. Further up is a niche containing a full-length statue of Our Lady and the Child. Above all is a handsome new clock.
In the entrance porch there is a black marble holy water font dedicated to the memory of Rev. Walter Harpur, C.C., who died in 1868. The white marble Baptismal font near Our Lady’s altar is also dedicated to his memory. Three narrow stained glass windows at either side of the porch contain titles of Our Lady from the Litany of Loreto.
Inside the high vaulted ceilings with ribs of groining in Caen stone are particularly attractive. This stone from Normandy was also used for all the internal corbels. On either side of the nave separating it from the aisles are six arches standing on seven graceful pillars. The bases of the columns are of Carlow granite, the sub-bases white Sicilian marble, the pillars of Co. Cork red-veined marble and the caps of granite with a finely executed medallion head of a saint in Caen stone over each. An arcading of Caen stone panels with shafts of green Connemara marble is continued at the rear of the high altar. A corresponding rail topped with red marble and with brass gates in the centre separates the sanctuary from the nave.
Three pinnacles with floral and foliar decorations form arched canopies over the Tabernacle with statuettes of St. Joseph and Our Lady and the Child at either side. Between the Tabernacle and the statuettes are four elliptical niches with angels, three of whom are holding instruments of the Passion and the fourth, the veil of Veronica. Overhead is written Adoremus In Aeternum Sanctissimum Sacramentum.
The panel at the front of the high altar depicts the Coronation of Our Lady with the Annunciation and the Nativity on either side. Gold leaf has been used to highlight and define certain areas and images in the sanctuary. The Crucifix over the Tabernacle, the six brass candlesticks and the four brass plant stands further enhance the area and contrast effectively with the white marble floor. An old sanctuary lamp holder which lay damaged for several years has now been restored and suspended over the sanctuary.
In the wall high above the altar are three stained glass windows – the Crowning of Our Lady by Christ at the centre, St. James the Apostle and St. Margaret of Antioch on the left and St. Aidan (patron of the Diocese of Ferns) with St. Ibar on the right. The centre quatre foil window over all shows the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, with angels acknowledging Mary as Queen of Angels on the sides. In the square panels below are angels playing the lyre, harp and zither.
On the right side altar is a statue of the Sacred Heart, the ancient Crucifix and a statue of St. Therese with a statue of St. Anthony. Above are stain glass windows with St. Joseph, St. Patrick and Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
On the left side altar is a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. The window behind shows Our Lady Queen under the title Lilium Regis with the Archangel Gabriel greeting Our Lady at the Annunciation on the left and over all the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. The narrow windows to the left of the altar show Saints Joachim and Anne, parents of Our Lady. This area also serves as a Baptistry with a baptismal font and a highly ornamented brass candle holder for the Paschal candle.
On the side altar to the left of the sanctuary stands a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. The window behind shows Our Lady Queen under the title Lilium Regis in the left panel and in the right panel the angel Gabriel greeting Our Lady at the Annunciation.
|The six stained glass windows in each aisle depict scenes from the lives of Jesus and Mary.
Finding in the Temple
Descent of Holy Spirit
In the walls at the end of the Church there are two further beautiful windows which show the Baptism of Our Lord in the Jordan and the Marriage Feast of Cana. From the nave one can see the large window in the gallery filled with stained glass, the cinquefoil, enclosing the Heart of Jesus encircled with thorns, surmounted by a small cross and portrayed as King and centre of all hearts, being the focal point.
The Stations of the Cross have recently been re-framed in handsome parana pine wood. A brass plaque showing a list of Parish Priests who ministered in Our Lady’s Island from 1617 hangs on the wall before the First Station and Father Corrin’s Crucifix after the final Station. The brass lamp-holders on each side of the centre aisle are relics of the time prior to 1952 when the Church was lit by paraffin lamps and candles.