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Parish History

The new parish

The ancient parish of St Mary’s {i.e. Old St Mary’s in Mary Street} was an offshoot of the Augustinian priory of Athassel, the superior of which house nominated the vicar (parish priest) of Clonmel.
After the siege of Clonmel those Irish living inside the walls were required to leave the town and they made their way to Irishtown.
With the parish church taken over by the English Protestants they built another church or chapel in Irishtown where they could practice their faith. The present St Mary’s, Irishtown holds half of the old St Mary’s and the ancient parish of inislouanaght. The other half of the old parish became the parish of Ss Peter & Paul’s in 1836.A church was already on the site, built in 1810 as an auxiliary to St Mary’s Irishtown. As a result of Ss Peter & Paul’s being the larger a more important part of the town it now took over the status of vicariate parish.

The first parish priest

The very Rev Michael Burke was appointed to the new chapel as its first parish priest. It was Fr Burke who introduced the sisters of charity to Clonmel.
The convent, the 10th foundation of Mother Mary Aikenhead, was opened on the Feast of the Angels Guardian, 2nd of October 1845. The impoverished convent, in Morton Street, was furnished through the kind exertions of Mrs. J Hacket and Mrs. Lacey of Clonmel. Four sisters were sent from Dublin to form the new community. The Present chapel was added to the convent in 1892.
Fr Burke was responsible for extending the then chapel and added a pointed tower {replaced by the modern one today}. The bell, which was installed in the belfry, is the same one that is heard today. Rev Dr Burke was succeeded by Fr Power, but before his time in Clonmel had ended he was instrumental in bringing the Christian Brothers to the parish.
The school was opened in 1847 in Blind St {Kickham St} and was capable of holding 500 pupils. The first superior of the school was Brother Francis Thornton, a native of Clonmel. Rev Dr Burke, the mayor Alderman Hackett and the members of the corporation were present at the opening when 300 boys were admitted. Fr Burke was parish priest of Ss Peter & Paul’s for 30 years, he died in 1866.
Fr Burke was succeeded by Fr John Power until his appointment as bishop of Waterford & Lismore.
A new church is planned

Fr Power’s place was taken by his brother Fr Roger Power, who stayed just 2 years before leaving for Tramore. During his time in Clonmel, Fr Roger Power planned a comprehensive scheme of church building. He obtained a design from an eminent Dublin architect Mr. O Callaghan, for the contemplated work but he left before the plan could be put into effect. The plan, however, remained, and it has been carried out. The plan envisaged the substitution of a practically new church for the building that was there before him. The plan was to be carried out in successive steps, the work being so arranged that each step should leave the church with a tolerably finished appearance and in fair working condition. When finished, therefore, the church was to be entirely new, to have new aisles, new transepts, a new apse, a new and more elevated roof, a cloister, and finally a grand façade consisting of an ornamental front porch flanked by a baptistery on one side and a lofty campanile on the other.
On transfer of Fr Power to Tramore in 1876 Ss Peter & Paul’s became one of the Bishop’s mensal parishes under the directions of administrators, namely:
Rev Cornelius J Flavin 1876 – 1883
Rev Thomas Mc Donnell 1883 – 1886
Rev John Everard 1886 – 1888
Architectural note

The building as mentioned above was Designed in 1875 by J.J. O’Callaghan but not completed till 1934, by which time its second architect, George Ashlin, has long since died. The Romanesque style was an unusual choice for O’Callaghan, but not for Ashlin, whose Germanic square tower crowned with a curvilinear dome is instantly recognizable, since he deployed it elsewhere, such as Limerick and Newry. The mosaic decoration in the chancel is also characteristic of Ashlin, executed as always by Ludwig Oppenheimer of Manchester. Interior not improved during 1974, when the pulpit was dismantled and re-used to support the tabernacle. Ironically the austere and neoClassical basilica of 1810 that O’Callaghan replaced was far closer to present-day religious sensibility.
Taken from: Companion guide to architecture in Ireland 1837-1921. M Girouand

The debt is reduced

On the death of Bishop John Power in 1887 his successor, Bishop Pierse Power, appointed a parish priest Rev Joseph A Phelan, president for several years of St John’s College, and former principal of the college school, Waterford. His pastorate was unfortunately very brief. When he took charge of the parish, building operations had advanced to a point beyond which further advance was, for the time being, impracticable. The work already done had left a heavy debt, which required to be substantially reduced before another forward step might be prudently taken. The new pastor, therefore, directed his energies towards lessening the parish debt. He reorganized weekly house-to-house collections and contributed generously from his own private resources. He had endeared himself to his parishioners when, after a pastorate of only four years, death came unexpectedly at the beginning of 1892.
Rev Francis O’ Brien transferred from Cappoquin succeeded the Rev Phelan. His term of office was also very brief as he accepted a transfer to Dungarvan in 1894. Rev Thomas Mc Donnell returned to Ss Peter & Paul’s for a second time. During his pastorate he was raised to the dignity of Dean – on revival of the diocesan chapter. He died in July 1906.
The work is completed

Very Rev Cornelius Flavin, transferred from St Mary’s, succeeded. He became Archdeacon in 1911. He carried the church improvements to a point close to completion, besides erecting a beautiful altar and pulpit. Right Rev Monsignor William Walsh, D.D Dean, was transferred from Lismore in 1919. He brought the church improvement scheme to completion, and on Sunday July 1st 1934, the splendid new church was solemnly opened before a great gathering of priests and laity. Archbishop Downey of Liverpool preached the sermon. Most Rev Dr Kinane consecrated the new church.
Dean Walsh, already in failing health, did not long survive the great ceremony. He died in December 1935 and was buried in the church grounds. The Right Rev Monsignor William Byrne succeeded.
Ss Peter & Paul’s was officially established as a Parish on the February 8, l936.

Our thanks to Alex Logue for his research on the above history
The Clonmel Martyrs

The great truth to which all Christians are called to give witness is "that God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life". (John 111,16).

St. Peter remembered the words of Jesus who had said "and you too will be witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning". (John XV, 27). In his first public address as chief of the apostles, Peter spoke of himself and of his companions as "witnesses to the Resurrection". (Acts 1, 22). A witness is a person who gives evidence concerning an event of which they themselves have personal knowledge.

But the disciples were no ordinary witnesses. From the very beginning of the Church, Christians were brought face to face with the possibility of incurring severe punishment, or even death, because of their faith in the Risen Christ. Thus, St. Stephen was a witness who, very early in the life of the Church, sealed his testimony with his blood.

In the course of the first centuries, the term "martyr" came to be exclusively applied to those who died for the faith. Martyrs have always been held in awe because they paid the ultimate price for witnessing to their faith - no greater proof could be given. Every age and every country has its martyrs.
In Ireland, the faith has been nurtured by the blood of its martyrs. A catalogue of Irish martyrs, published in 1896, names 257 Servants of God in the period from Henry VIII to the death of Queen Anne, 1534 to 1714.
On September 27th 1992, Pope John Paul II beatified 17 Irish martyrs, three of whom had been martyred here in Clonmel.
They were:
Fr. Maurice Kenraghty 1585
Fr. John Kearney, O.F.M. 1653
Fr. William Tirry, O.S.A. 1654

In October 2003, a committee was formed in the parish to mark the 350th anniversary of the death of Fr. Tirry and to have a suitable monument erected to his memory and to the memory of the other two martyrs.

Committee members:
Canon Nicholas Power, P.P., Alderman Phil Prendergast, Mayor, Michael Ahern, Fr. John Harty O.F.M., Fr. Malachy Loughran. O.S.A., Michael Murphy, Liam O Duibhir and Margaret Rossiter.

27th May 2004.

Historical snippets from the newspapers of the time

Wednesday February 17th 1813 (The Nationalist)

We feel pride and pleasure in stating, that at a meeting of less than 50 persons, held for the purpose on Monday last at the Catholic chapel in the town{St Mary's}, the sum of £1502 was subscribed in the course of an hour, twords the erection of a commodius place of public worship, such as will fully accomodate the greatly increasing congregation of this prosporous parish , And we have the fullest confidence from the liberality evinced by all denominations of Christians upon this occasion, that in a very short period competent funds will be formed for this very laudable purpose. However men may differ on other subjects, all are agreed upon this, that the promotion of religion is the best work of society.Under this impulse, the most respectable inhabitants of this town and vicinity, of every religious persuasion, have stated their readiness to come forward with their support, in a manner which reflects much honour upon them. And we pledge ourselves that the liberality which will be shown on this, as well as on all similar occasions, will prove, that the rancour ascribed to our country men in general ,is more the idea of a few restless individuals,than the real character of our country.

Wednesday February 24 1813 (The Nationalist)

Yesterday, we understand, a deputation from the committee apointed to conduct the building on the Roman Catholic Chapel waited on John Bagwell, Esq of Marlfield {under whom they have the old chapel at mearly a nominal rent of 6d per year}, who with his usual philanthrophy,
agreed to grant them a very fine central situation at their own proposal.

Wednesday June 10th 1813 (The Nationalist)

On Tuesday June 9th {1813}the building of the new catholic chapel was commenced in Johnson Street {now Gladstone St}. It is in a choice central situation, and on a remarkably good site, and will greatly add to the embellishment of this part of Clonmel, as well as to the convenience of the inhabitants.

Wednesday July 14th 1813 (The Nationalist)

The Roman Catholic Chapel in Johnston Street, from the extensive plan on which it is laid down, will require a considerable sum for it's completion. On this consideration a meeting of the principal parishioners was held on Monday, at which the Right Reverend Dr Power {the bishop} presided - when it was resolved that a deputation should wait on their Protestant friends on Thursday {tomorrow} to solicit assistance to promote the undertaking; and we promise ourselves this application will be attended with complete success. In the construction of a Temple for the worship of him from whom all blessings are derived, every Christian must feel deeply interested; and in contributing a share of his temporal good in honour of that beautiful hand from which it flows, the pleasure of the benefactor thus to add to the comfort of a congregation to which the beauty and splendour of his own parish church is much indebted, will be the genuine test of liberality.

Monday August 25th 1828

On the Monday of 25th of August,1828 and fresh from his victory in the Clare election, "the liberator" Daniel O Connell spoke to a mass gathering in the chapel of Ss Peter & Paul's on the cause of catholic emancipation.
Mr O'Connell was accompanied by his son Morgan (who later married Charles Bianconi's daughter), Richard Lalor Sheil (lawyer/repealer/M.P for Tipperary) the O'Gorman Mahon, Sir Thomas Wyse (from Waterford, Catholic emancipation supporter & M.P for Tipperary) and Dominic Ronayne (later M.P for the Clonmel borough).
Mr Lalor Sheil gave an address on the same subject in the chapel in the spring of the previous year.

November 1844
Now that Daniel O'Connell had achieved his goal of Catholic emancipation, he turned his attention to the repeal of the union of Ireland which had come into being on January 1st. 1801. A national fund was established to finance the aim of repeal. When the priests announced from the altar that the collection for "repeal" would be taken up and the name of O'Connell was mentioned in conjunction with the project military officers ordered their men to leave chapels all over the country while attending Mass, and so it happened at Ss Peter & Paul's chapel.
The Parish priestSs.Peter & Paul's, Johnson St, Clonmel, Fr Burke, has complained to the Duke of Wellington, of the Roman Catholic soldiers having been ordered out of the chapel by a young officer of the 90th, when the O'Connell tribute was announced from the altar.

September 15th 1900 (The Nationalist)

The re-flooring of the church of St's Peter & Paul's, Clonmel, has been satisfactorily completed. The work was found nessacery owing to the growth of a kind of dry rot in the old flooring, which even attacked the pitch pine side railings, and all the woodwork was gradually crumbling away. The church committee secured the services of Mr Byrne, architect, Dublin, and on his plans etc the tender of Mr Neil Boles, Clonmel, at £600, was accepted for the work. Operations commenced about 5 months ago with the removal of the old flooring and the sinking of the foundations 50 inches. Six inches of broken stone and four inches of cement were laid down, and on this came three inches of a special preparation of cement and "breeze" or fine coke cinders. The top got a coating of pitch and tar, on which was laid the grooved and tongued flooring of pine wood. About 8,000 square feet of flooring in all was put down, and it now presents a very neat and compact appearance, the workmanship being most creditable to Mr Boles and his staff. A substantial system of drainage for the church was also laid down by Mr Boles. The works gave employment to 15 to 20 men while in progress. The above improvements and others carried out in recent years add greatly to the appearance of this fine old church.

September 29th 1900 (The Nationalist)

A suitable man to take up the weekly collection of Ss Peter & Paul's Parish.
Weekly wages - 10 shillings. Apply Dean McDonnell.

Early 1907

On Monday February 2nd Messrs John Hearn & Son, Waterford, the contractor for the extensive improvements in the church of Ss Peter & Paul's, Gladstone St, commenced operations. The necessary scaffolding etc was put on the ground and other arrangements made to accommodate the work. They began by providing a temporary sacristy, and then the old sacristy and altar walls will be pulled down. A temporary roof will be erected and the old roof taken off to permit the elevation of the building. The works during the next 18 months will give a lot of employment locally, and it is the intention of the contractors to engage a good deal of skilled and unskilled labour from the town. Mr Murray will represent the contractors here.

Week of Jan 20th -27th 1917 (The Nationalist)

The Rev Monsignor Flavin P.P, V.F officially opened the new Ss Peter & Paul's church, the contract to build the new church (over the old one, which was , dismantled as the other was being built over it) was awarded to mess'rs Ahearn, contractors, Waterford for £8000.
The high altar, made of pure caerera marble cost £800, Miss Murphy, 27 Gladstone St, Grocer & spirit shop, made a gift of £250 towards it. The Tabernacle door, gift of Mrs Cooney, Davis Road, £100. Altar rails a gift of the late Richard Murphy, station master. Sanctuary lamp, 6 large brass candlesticks for the altar, gift of Mrs Eliza M Stokes and her sister, Miss Helena Hackett presented the shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
Side altars:
Sacred Heart, presented in memory of her husband by Mrs Ellen M Daniel (nee Hackett)
Blessed Virgin, presented by Mrs Mary Fitzgibbon in memory of her late husband Dr Fitzgibbon and her brother Mr J O'Neill, and her children John, Mary and Laura.
Decoration of the Apse and the lifelike statues of the apostles, (and the 12 nicles and 5 mysteries of the Rosary), and the stained glass windows of the Immaculate Virgin, presented by the late Mr E Phelan, T.C, (16 Mitchel St, Grocer and spirit shop)
Mosaic flooring of the sanctuary, £35 each from Monsignor Flavin, J P Morrissey, JP Queenstown, and J.J Anthony, manager of the Munster & Leinster bank.
The parishioners offered Monsignor Flavin a presentment on his Jubilee, and he devoted the money, £400 for the pulpit (decorated by Messrs Early, Dublin)
Though now in his 87th year Monsignor Flavin is still happily hale and active, and his one ambition is to replace the present spire (stunted by the increasing size of the new church) with a handsome tower suitable in every way to set off the exterior beauty of the noble pile.
(Note: The present tower was erected in 1934/35 during the tenure of Dean Byrne)

November 1925
Proffesor Percy P.Rogers, organist fo Ss Peter & Paul's, Gladstone St and proffessor of music at Mount Mellary, passed away on the evening of Sunday, November 15th, he filled several proffessorial chairs in Waterford before coming to Clonmel, where he presided at the opening of the new organ at the Franciscan Abbey.On the retirement of Proffessor John Power, he was appointed at Ss. Peter & Paul's and also succeeded Proffessor Power as proffessor of music at Mount Mellary.(He spent some time at De La Salle college, Waterford, and became a prominent figure in local musical circles)

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