We were driving through the Cavan countryside last weekend, and whizzed past this little gem! We almost crashed whilst we did a double take, then turned around and drove back to have a closer look.
St Fethlimidh’s Cathedral is only located a few kilometres outside of Cavan town on a beautiful wooded hillside close to Lough Oughter, but if felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, it was closed and locked up, so we weren’t able to go inside.
St Fethlimidh was the son of Carill, and great-great-great grandson of Nial of the Nine Hostages. His mother was Dediva, whose grandfather was Dubhthach moccu Lughair, Chief Ollamh of Ireland, and royal poet to High King Lóegaire mac Néill, so he was descended from an illustrious lineage. He also had seven brothers and sisters; all of them bar one were also saints, the one exception going on to achieve the position of Chief Ollamh himself.
Little is known about Fethlimidh; his name in ancient Irish means ‘the ever good’. He was born in Co Meath in the mid C6th, and became a priest and hermit, settling near Kilmore in Co Cavan, where he founded his church. He became patron saint of the Diocese of Kilmore, and his feast day is celebrated on 9th August.
In 1152AD, the original building was replaced with the first cathedral. The current building, designed by English architect William Slater, was constructed in 1860 in Middle Pointed Gothic style (I’m not even going to pretend to know what that means ☺).
One of the most interesting features of the church is the C12th Romanesque doorway in the outside wall of the vestry. Click to see more detailed close up images of the C12th door. Although the main entrance is impressive in scale and grandeur, this one immediately strikes you as something special when you see it, it is so obviously much more ancient and feels like it’s sitting in the wrong place.
The stained glass windows are said to be quite striking, but as we couldn’t get inside, we couldn’t see them. Inside, there is also one of the first ever organs made by Charles Brindley, which was recently restored in 2011… it’s HUGE! Another treasure secreted inside that we didn’t get to see is an original copy of the first ever translation of the Old Testament into the Irish language. This was made by William Bedel (1571-1672), who was Bishop of Kilmore for thirteen years. He rests now in the graveyard there.
There is history in the grounds, too, with the remains of an Episcopal house built in 1620, an C18th ice house, a Holy Well dedicated to Fethlimidh himself, and a motte and bailey. This was constructed by Walter de Lacey in 1211 as the Anglo-Normans pushed into Ireland, and then later dismantled by Cathal O’Reilly in 1224.
The O’Reillys were the ruling clan of the kingdom of Breifne, which is now known as Cavan.
Incidentally, it was Cathal O’Reilly who founded the original abbey on Trinity Island in Lough Oughter, from which the twelfth century Romanesque door was later removed and inserted into the Cathedral.
The abbey had fallen into a seriously ruinous state by the 1800’s, even though there were still monks living there at the time.
I guess we’ll be returning another day to see everything we missed… when they’re open, that is, but we’ll probably have to sit through the service first!