St. Malachy's Church

[Extracts from the Joy Street list by C E B Brett and R McKinstry, published by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society in 1971.]

A splendid building by any standards. The site was acquired by Dr. Denvir in 1839, and was originally proposed as the site for a Roman Catholic cathedral for Belfast. An architectural competition was held; there were 14 entries; that of Thomas Jackson was chosen. His design clearly owes a good deal to the original design of his former partner, Thomas Duff of Newry, for Armagh Cathedral. The church was consecrated by the primate, Dr. Crolly, in 1844. The central tower seems to have been added later - it does not appear in the engraving of 1848. See O'Laverty, 'History of the Diocese of Down and Connor', Vol II, pp 424-427; and 'Buildings of Belfast', p. 23: "The finest late-Georgian building in Belfast is St. Malachy's Roman Catholic Church in Alfred Street, completed in 1844 by Thomas Jackson. It is a superb example of Sir-Walter-Scottery at its most romantic. The exterior, though of rather dingy brick, is fine and dignified, soaring upwards in cruciform to lofty turrets and an oak tower (from which the spire was removed, with advantage; it is said because the tolling of the great bell in it interfered with the satisfactory maturing of the whiskey in Messrs. Dunville's adjacent distillery). The interior is enchanting: it is as though a wedding-cake had been turned inside-out, so creamy, lacy and frothy is the plasterwork. The ceiling is fan-vaulted in imitation of Henry VII's chapel in Westminster Abbey. The high altar is placed in one of the short arms of the cross to make more space - an extremely unusual departure from the traditional arrangement. Altar, reredos and pulpit are all pale and delightful. The altarpiece is by one of the Piccioni family, refugees to Belfast from Austrian Italy."

Refs: Brett, p 23, pls. 18 and 19; Centenary booklet, passim; O'Laverty, Vol.II, pp 424-427; BDP Report, Windsor Ward, No 12.

For more extracts from the Joy Street list, see 4-32 Joy Street.

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