The largest church in Ireland, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is located in the southwest of the city centre. It is English in architectural style, and measures 300 feet in length. Inside its square medieval tower hangs the largest set of ringing peal bells in the country. Founded circa 450, near the sacred well used by its namesake as he baptized converts, the original structure was made of wood. It was reconstructed with stone in 1192 by Archbishop John Comyn.
From the mid 17th century to the late 18th century, part of the building was used by Huguenot refugees as a house of worship.
The present building serves as the National Cathedral of the Protestant Church of Ireland. Today’s visitors move through a structure that was completed between 1254-1270. Sir Benjamin Guinness patronized extensive renovation to the cathedral in the 1860’s; it was badly needed due to the ravages of time, neglect, and desecration.
Minot’s Tower was restored in 1370 by the Archbishop of the same name, and the cathedral’s graceful spire is an addition from the 18th century. Inside St. Patrick’s, visitors can obtain a pamphlet that introduces and provides information about the many busts and monuments located around the cathedral. Some of the most famous include: Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s in 1713, Douglas Hyde, the first president of Ireland, and the blind harpist Thurlough O’Carolan, the last Irish Bard.
Swift’s grave is also located here, in the south aisle, near his beloved “Stella”, Mrs. Esther Johnson. Swift’s epitaph was hailed by W.B. Yeats as one of the best of all time. It is translated as follows… “Swift has sailed to his rest; savage indignation there cannot lacerate his breast.”
Also of interest inside the cathedral, the choir of St. Patrick, hung with beautiful and varied medieval banners, and the old door at the west end of the nave. Originally part of the Chapter House, it played a role in the resolution of the feud between Lords Ormonde and Kildare in 1492. Ormonde sought safety from Kildare behind the door, and stayed there while a truce was negotiated. Upon reaching agreement, Kildare cut a hole in the door, through which the two men shook hands to seal their pact. The hole in the door is still visible today.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral is adjoined by a small park, which contains the sacred well of St. Patrick and a variety of other statues. A permanent exhibit called “Living Stones” commemorates St. Patrick and his important contributions to the city of Dublin and the entire country.
St. Patrick's Cathedral. Image by Jim Nix.