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Dr Comerford’s Memorial Pulpit, Carlow

Dr Comerford’s Memorial Pulpit, Carlow.

Measuring six metres in height, this immensely ornate pulpit created for Carlow’s Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption was unveiled in October 1899. Carved from ‘rose-cushioned oak’ in the city of Bruges, this is the work of Flemish woodcarvers of the Guild of Saint Luke the Artist, a movement founded in 1862 by John-Baptiste Bethune, known as the ‘Pugin of Belgium’. Scholars of the guild also produced the craved oak stalls in St. Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny.

Every panel of the definitively Irish pulpit in Carlow shows somebody preaching, the implication being that it was high time the Catholic clergy began to speak out. Various panel show St Patrick preaching to the high king at Tara, St. Paul waxing lyrical in Athens, St Lazarian addressing the synod of Leighlin and the Sermon on the Mount, while it also includes St. Brigid (with a cow at her feet), the oak tree of Kildare, the Evangelists writing the Gospels, and Saint Patrick’s guardian angel, Victor, holding a scroll with the words ‘Vox Hibernorum’.

The Dr Comerford Memorial Pulpit was actually designed by a chap called Michael Buckley was born in Cahir, Co. Tipperary, in about 1847. His father John George Buckley, of Carrick-on-Suir, had been captured by a French privateer while emigrating to Newfoundland as a young man and spent some time in a French prison.

Michael Buckley was educated at Mount Melleray Abbey School and Louvain. In 1881, while living at 17 Buckingham Street, he became a partner in the Cox & Buckley, specializing in both ecclesiastical and domestic art. The firm was based on Wigmore Street, off Cavendish Square in London.

When Cox & Buckley folded, he returned to Ireland and settled in Youghal where he set up a stained glass and metal works. He also acted as agent and designer for the Decorative Arts Guild of Bruges in which capacity he came up with the Carlow pulpit. He also designed an oakwood Bishop’s Throne for Carlow Cathedral, complete with two side thrones, steps, canopy and a steeple top, all carved by de Wispelacre of Bruges.

Mr. Buckley was preparing to bring some Belgian art workers to Youghal when, following a short illness, he died on 2 August 1905 at his house, Montmorenci, Youghal. He was buried in the North Abbey churchyard, Youghal.

The pulpit was dedicated to the Most Rev. Michael Comerford, the Coadjutor Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, who died in 1895, having ‘done much to beautify the Cathedral’. Sadly, a future Bishop did not share Dr Comerford’s aesthetic tastes and, during a ‘reordering’ of the cathedral in the 1980s, Buckley’s pulpit and thrones were cast out. The pulpit is now free for all to see at the Carlow County Museum on College Street, Carlow. (Tel. 059-9172492, www.carlowcountymuseum.ie)

 

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With thanks to Dermot Mulligan, Peter Walker, Michael Purcell & the Carlow Rootsweb team.

 

Further Notes

 

As for the Carlow pulpit itself, I do not think I could better Fintan O’Toole’s description here in The Irish Times.

It has been said that the pulpit was a gift from the people of Bruges in recognition of the design for Carlow Cathedral by Thomas Cobden being based on the Tour de Beffroi in Bruges. Does anyone know whether this is really the case?

 

Detail of St Patrick preaching to the high king at Tara from the Carlow pulpit.

 

Detail from Dr Comerford’s Memorial Pulpit, Carlow.