Church Monuments

By Philip Ward-Jackson

Since the term ‘church monument’ covers a number of different sorts of memorial, it may be desirable at the outset to establish what the most common varieties are. Most, though not all, may be found in Ireland. The commonest are those raised by family members to deceased relatives. However, since descendants could not always be relied on to do the right thing, some monuments were raised, particularly in the seventeenth century, by living persons to themselves or to their dependants during their own lifetime. A frequent occurrence in the eighteenth century was the ‘end-of-line monument’, raised as an expression of gratitude by a distant relative or by a person not connected by blood, who had been appointed heir to a deceased person’s estate. Quite distinct from these are what might be termed public church monuments. Sometimes these were funded by the state and commemorate members of the ruling house, national heroes or prominent politicians. Such British monuments of this type as were raised in the period under consideration tended to be located in London. Dublin, however, can boast a limited national pantheon in St Patrick’s Cathedral, where some of the memorials were erected by public subscription. Others raised there and elsewhere were funded by the subject’s friends and supporters, or, in the case of regimental memorials, by members of the regiment. 

Up to, and probably for some time after, the Catholic Relief Act of 1793, all church monuments in Ireland with a sculptural dimension were raised to persons belonging to the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy. Furthermore, skilled sculptors of Irish birth began to make a contribution in this field only after 1770, and among the pioneers, only Edward Smyth (qv) was resident in Ireland. The others, John Hickey and Christopher Hewetson (qqv), were active in London and Rome respectively. After the end of the eighteenth century, the field became progressively more open to indigenous artists and craftsmen. 

The heritage from the mid-sixteenth century up to the later seventeenth has suffered at the hands first of Cromwell’s men, then from rearrangements made by church restorers. As it has come down to us, this heritage may not be belittled by being viewed from the perspective recommended by art historian, Nigel Llewellyn (Funeral Monuments in Post-Reformation England, Cambridge, 2000), for whom these monuments can be more profitably viewed as enactments in the social ritual sur- rounding death, rather than as works of art, let alone as expressions of feeling. From the 1580s, the stock recipes for what were principally displays of dynastic power and continuity were developed. The ingredients – figures kneeling or reclining, heraldry and inscriptions – are set within classical or artisan mannerist architectural frameworks. The more grandiose monuments are in alabaster. Smaller ones may be in marble or freestone, but, occasionally, all or parts of a monument could be in plaster. The impression we have of this heritage being generic, rather than artistically distinguished, has been bolstered by the destruction during the Commonwealth of two important examples. One, Nicholas Stone’s monument to Thomas Earl of Ormonde (1614) in Kilkenny Cathedral, was reputed to have been ‘most elaborate and magnificent’. The other, the monument to Donough, Earl of Thomond (d. 1624) in St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, was probably more remarkable for its size than for its quality (White, ‘A Biographical Dictionary of London Tomb Sculptors’). 

The approach to these monuments of Irish art historian Homan Potterton was in fact astonishingly prescient of Llewellyn’s. He proposed that many of the monuments erected in this period were designed by the College of Arms. An important evidence for this practice was the Earl of Cork’s record of having paid ‘40 shillings to Roger Leverett Athlone Pursuivant of Arms for drawing the Module of my dear wives Tombe’. Thereafter the design was entrusted for execution to a ‘stonemason’, Edmund Tingham (qv), who has been described by art historian Anne Crookshank as ‘one of the very few men who attempted sculpture in Ireland at this date’ (Country Life, 27 May 1971, 1288–90). The Countess of Cork’s memorial [300], erected in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, by her husband in 1631, famously provoked ire in the English establishment. At some point early in 1634 it came to the attention of Archbishop Laud that this vast structure had been erected where the high altar used to be. The Lord Deputy, Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, confirmed Laud’s worst fears, writing to tell him that, as a visitor to the cathedral, he could not ‘do reverence to God’ without also ‘crouching to an Earl of Cork and his Lady … or to those sea nymphs his daughters with coronetts upon their heads their haire dishevelled, down upon their shoulders’ (W. Gardner, Baroness Burghclere, Strafford, I (London, 1931), p. 318). At Strafford’s bidding, and confronted by a group of leading churchmen, the Earl of Cork was persuaded to move his monument to the side wall of the chancel, from where, in 1863, it was demoted still farther to the western end of the nave. 

Post-Restoration England witnessed the introduction of novel church monuments by the sculptors Caius Gabriel Cibber and John Bushnell, among others, in which dramatic figure groups attempt to express the grief of bereaved family members or friends. This development found no echo at the time in Ireland, which, even after the arrival there of the London- trained sculptor William Kidwell (qv) in 1711, remained conservative, despite an increasing conversance with classical and more recent baroque formal and sometimes figurative conventions. The Kilkenny area, with its wealth of stone-quarrying activity, spawned a late seventeenth-century school of masons, who showed in a number of idiosyncratic commemorative monuments their skill in combining architectural features such as obelisks, scrolls and scalloped pediments. Kidwell brought greater refinement. His grand and gloomy combinations of black and white marbles sometimes incorporate figures that are competently executed, though remaining very much within the conventions of Flemish derivation. His later monuments indicate a shift towards a classicism stripped of baroque features. 

From the 1730s more sophisticated and ambitious monuments, whose figurative component is more noteworthy than the architectural ensemble, begin to appear in Ireland. A key date in this respect is 1731, the year that saw the completion of the monument to Dean Peter Drelincourt (d. 1720) in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh. In that year, the Dean’s wife, described in the inscription as she ‘who shared his bed and mind’, paid for a railing to surround the monument (James Stuart, Historical Memoirs of the City of Armagh, Newry, 1819), which consists of a recumbent effigy by the London-based Flemish sculptor, John Michael Rysbrack, in a restrained architectural setting by W. Coleburne of London. The same local historian who records the payment for the railing was still, nearly a century later, extolling the grace and dignity of the figure, and the quality of the portrait, which he found ‘strikingly expressive of intelligence, mild- ness and benevolence’. Though formulaic to the extent that it resembles Rysbrack’s other effigies of such personages, the Drelincourt effigy nevertheless conveys a feeling of life and mature individuality peculiar to this artist. Five years later, in 1736, another London sculptor, Thomas Carter, sent over similarly relaxed and naturalistic effigies of Speaker William Conolly and his wife for their monument at Celbridge, Co. Kildare. The classical framework of this monument has been attributed to William Kidwell. If this is correct, it must be almost his last work, since he died in 1736. 

These monuments revitalized the reclining effigy, but the following decade saw more circumstantial contemporary detail included in tombs. Peter Scheemakers, Rysbrack’s chief rival in London, produced three monuments for Ireland, two of which commemorate dignitaries of the Irish judiciary. The second of these, to Marmaduke Coghill [365] in the parish church at Drumcondra in north Dublin, though now deprived of much of its original architectural setting, still lives up to the puff for it published in the London Daily Post (3 May 1743), when it was first sent over to Ireland. This claimed that it was ‘the most exquisite piece of workmanship of that kind to have been executed in this Kingdom’. On his tomb, Coghill is represented in his role as Judge in the Prerogative Court, seated at a small table, as if just interrupted while writing. He is flanked by female personifications, an alert Wisdom in the guise of Athena, with a finely carved relief of Medusa’s head upon her shield, and Religion shown in a traditional mourning posture, her index finger hooked into her veil. These allegories proclaim Coghill’s dedication of his intellect to the public service and to the maintenance of moral standards, while the whole ensemble is a clear indication of the wealth he had acquired in doing so. 

365. Peter Scheemakers, Memorial to Marmaduke Coghill (d.1738), marble, Church of Ireland, Drumcondra, Dublin. © Denis Mortell Photography.

Wealth is also clearly announced in the sheer size of the monument to the 19th Earl of Kildare [366] in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, urbanity in the fashionable clothing paraded by its figures. Yet, despite this show, the monument’s chief claim to attention is its display of feeling. The extravagant scene of mourning over the dead Earl was executed by Henry Cheere, and rejects all the Flemish baroque conventions of preceding monuments. Cheere had travelled to France in company with the painter William Hogarth, and it has been suggested that the grouping and gestures of his figures are derived from late medieval groups of the Entombment of Christ, such as can be found in many French parish churches. If this is correct, and it seems very probable, the derivation is successfully disguised by the elegant costume and refined deportment of the participants. The fact that this monument had no immediate following has been ascribed to its avoidance of any reference to the after-life. The Earl had famously requested that his body remain unburied ‘for as many days after my decease as it can, without art or cutting open’, which may have inspired Cheere’s depiction. Although the monument did not have an immediate following, such death- bed scenes were to be of frequent occurrence among nineteenth-century Irish church monuments (see Craske; Bindman and Baker). 

366. Henry Cheere, Memorial to the 19th Earl of Kildare, (d.1744), marble, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. © Denis Mortell Photography. 

The most distinguished sculptor of church monuments in England at the mid-century, Louis François Roubiliac, is not represented in this form in Ireland. His distinguished statue of Sir Thomas Molyneux (1752), which was finally erected in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, in the 1840s, was originally to have been placed in a pavilion on the family estate at Castle Dillon, Co. Armagh. However, some of the spirit of Roubiliac may be found in the numerous church monuments erected in Ireland by John van Nost III (qv), and Nost made plain, when he represented dying figures on his tombs, that his subjects, though bearing on their bodies all the marks of mortality, were dying in expectation of a life hereafter. Even as far back as the 1630s there had been a fashion in England for church monuments with bod- ies shown rising at the latter day, but the drama with which Roubiliac’s figures occasionally burst from their graves comes rather from more recent French examples, with which he would have been familiar from his youth. Some of van Nost’s Irish work makes use, in a more modest vein, of the response of the deceased to the last trump as found in Roubiliac’s memorial to General Hargrave (1757) in Westminster Abbey. 

In general a tendency to religiosity may be noted in many church monuments of the second half of the eighteenth century. An example, perhaps unequalled on either side of the Irish Sea, of this pious sensibility interpreted in sculpture, must be Joseph Wilton’s memorial to Lady Anne Dawson [367] at Dartrey, Co. Monaghan. Erected within its own purpose-built mausoleum in 1774, this represents Anne’s husband and son impelled by grief towards her urn, but at once startled and reassured by a youthful angel, descending to confirm to them her soul’s salvation. Roubiliac’s stagings of death and redemption had been commended by John Wesley, and works by Roubiliac’s successors, employing similar themes and playing on the same emotions, were coloured by the ‘enthusiasm’ that Methodists brought to matters of faith, whether or not the sculptors or the persons commemorated were themselves strictly of that per- suasion. Of the two pioneer contributions to the genre of tomb sculpture made by Irish-born sculptors in the later years of the century, Christopher Hewetson’s monument to Doctor Baldwin (1771–84, TCD) [147] conforms to this pietistic model, whereas the splendid monument to David Latouche (1787–90) by John Hickey [149] at Delgany, Co. Wicklow, though stylistically most up-to-the-minute, in terms of content appears to be a throwback to the dynastic and hierarchic tombs of earlier times, with their heraldry and ranks of praying offspring. The difference is that here the offspring are represented as heroic semi-nude mourners, in pensive postures, while, in place of heraldry, a figure of Fortune indicates that Latouche had been a man of substance. 

367. Joseph Wilton, Memorial to Lady Anne Dawson, 1774, marble, Dartrey, Co. Monaghan. Hugh Doran Collection, © Irish Architectural Archive.

At the start of the new century, the dual nature of Irish church monuments, the Protestant and the Catholic, manifests itself. The passing of earlier Catholic Relief Acts, particularly that of 1793, appears to have facilitated a greater demonstrative- ness among Catholics in this respect, before the passing of the more comprehensive Emancipation act of 1829. Neoclassicism as an artistic movement was for Ireland reinforced by the sense that Rome was the capital of the faith. The imagery of the early specifically Catholic monuments in Ireland consists in the simplest type of affirmation, with an august female personification of Religion, holding a cross, and sometimes presiding over, if not herself practising, charitable acts. Monuments of this sort were produced by Peter Turnerelli, John Carew and John Hogan (qqv). Another early Catholic memorial, that by James Heffernan (qv) to Dr McCarthy, vicar general of the Diocese of Cork (d. 1810) [368], in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork, despite its strictly classical format, uses imagery derived from the eighteenth-century tradition of sensibility. It shows the priest about to be laid low by a skeleton wielding a dart, while he is ministering to the sick, his ultimate salvation announced by a descending angel. 

368. James Heffernan, Memorial to Dr McCarthy, Vicar General of the Diocese of Cork (d.1810), St  Finbarr’s South Church, Cork. Photo © Dara McGrath.

Mid-nineteenth-century Irish church monuments are as varied as their English counterparts from the same period, involving, when they are not simply tablets with or without symbolic emblems, different combinations of portraiture and reliefs, either historic or allegorical, as well as full-blown free- standing figures and groups. Even in the case of John Hogan, the most thoroughgoing of Irish neoclassical sculptors, his multiple experiences, both of homeland traditions and of the extended historical past as revealed to him in Rome, resulted in an eclectic range of monumental types. At one extreme, as in the Jeanette Farrell Monument (1841), in St Andrew’s, Westland Row, Dublin, his work is indistinguishable from that of his fellow Neoclassicists John Gibson, Pietro Tenerani and Bertel Thorvaldsen, in its calmness and purity of outline, while a little later, in his William Beamish Monument (1844) at St Michael, Blackrock, Cork, he revives the faintly macabre rising body tradition of Roubiliac and van Nost. However, in respect of the Irish national consciousness, the most crucial of Hogan’s church monuments was his memorial to Bishop Doyle (1839) for Carlow Cathedral, a freestanding group in which the bishop succours a fainting figure of Erin. This, as well as being a patriotic gesture, was also in defiance of what, in the Victorian period that was just beginning, became an orthodoxy and a taboo. Very shortly before the erection of the Doyle Monument, Tractarian authors, who might probably best be described as Protestant fundamentalists, had insisted on a return to Gothic and true Christian principles in architecture and church monuments. They prescribed as the model tomb type the recumbent effigy with hands clasped in prayer. This prescription was to be understood to extend to all commemorated subjects, but in practice it was applied with the greatest strictness to commemorations of churchmen. 

Amongst Protestant monuments, E.H. Baily’s monument to Bishop Jebb (1836) in Limerick Cathedral is probably the last of the non-recumbent Protestant churchmen. Examples in Ireland of the recumbent type are Carlo Marochetti’s monument to John George Beresford, Archbishop of Armagh (d. 1862) in Armagh Cathedral and that to Archbishop Richard Whateley (1865) by Sir Thomas Farrell (qv) in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin [311]. The appropriateness of the recumbent effigy in an Irish context was most conspicuously proclaimed in relation to Edward Richardson’s monument to a civil subject, the Marquis of Ormonde (1855), in Kilkenny Cathedral. The exemplary status of this monument was proclaimed first in the Art Journal (1856, 382), and then in the Rev. Graves’s guide to the cathedral in 1857. Certain Irish sculptors – Hogan, Farrell and James Cahill (qqv) – neglected to follow such supine models in their memorials to Catholic churchmen, employing instead the traditions of baroque and neoclassical church monuments, usually with specifically Roman resonances. 

Not all effigies were of the strictly gothic type. Most were characterized by corporeal and vestimentary realism. For female subjects, a more lyrical type had been introduced into Ireland by John Flaxman, with his sleeping effigy of the poet Mary Tighe (1814/15) at Inistioge, Co. Kilkenny. This example was to be followed mainly by London-based sculptors such as Thomas Campbell, Richard Westmacott the younger and Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm. A particularly affecting example of this type is the memorial to Dorcas Fitzgerald (d. 1876) by the Belgian sculptor Louis-Auguste Malempré at Collon, Co. Louth. Malempré was a London resident, and, possibly through the influence of Dorcas’s husband, Percy Fitzgerald (qv), was to be commissioned to do two memorials there in memory of the Irish composer Michael William Balfe (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and Westminster Abbey). 

Meanwhile Cheere’s Kildare Monument, with its emotional and veristic portrayal of mourning over the dead, reinforced no doubt by more recent treatments of this theme by John Bacon the elder and Sir Francis Chantrey, had become one of the favoured themes among Irish sculptors of church monuments. Reversing what had in the past been the usual practice, one of the most spectacular deployments of this theme was carved in Dublin for export to England. This was Terence Farrell’s (qv) memorial to Countess de Grey (d. 1848) for Flitton, Bedfordshire. Here the representation of the subject takes on almost choral proportions, with the three-dimensional mourners around the coffin supported by a crowd in lower relief, while the soul of the departed is carried aloft by an angel. The specifically Catholic feel of this memorial has been commented upon by Nicholas Penny, though the heavenly apotheosis of the soul, which in this case does look very much like an Assumption of the Virgin, had been familiar territory in English church monuments for some time. Certainly another deathbed scene, that of the young Earl of Belfast (d. 1853) by Patrick MacDowell (qv) [199], originally in Belfast Castle Chapel, but now rather incongruously placed in the City Hall, carries something of the sentimental charge of similar scenes in the memorials of Italian cemeteries in the later nineteenth century. 

The recording of the demise of commemorated subjects takes a spectacular turn in some of Ireland’s military memorials, a reminder of the contribution of Irishmen to the British colonial project. In the strange double memorial to the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment (1842–53) in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, by Terence Farrell, two death scenes in relief are used to illustrate the participation of the regiment in the China [102] and Burma Wars, each scene in its own different way conventionally enough staged. In the former, Colonel Tomlinson’s last moments, witnessed by comrades, are depicted from close range, in a composition clearly derived from religious lamentation scenes. In the latter, the death is anonymous, the body of the unknown soldier lying small and insignificant, though conspicuous by its centrality, on the steps of Rangoon’s bell-shaped ‘Shoe Dagon Pagoda’ (inscription on the monument), which the man’s comrades are in the process of storming. The detached viewpoint, exotic architecture and vegetation, and the impassive winged figure of a Chinth, or temple guardian, on the steps close to the dying man, all contribute to the terror and poignancy of this depiction of death in a far-off land. A decade later, the sculptor John Henry Foley (qv) respected the family’s desire for discretion in his monument to Brigadier General Nicholson [115] in Lisburn Cathedral. Nicholson himself does not appear in the monument’s relief, even though it illustrates the action in which he died in 1857: the storming of the Cashmere Bastion in Delhi during the Sepoy Rebellion. This scene is far more suggestive of the chaos of battle, with its tangle of bodies sprawled among the tumbled masonry, and yet, in the background, dominating this naturalistic image, and central to it, is the renaissance-style dome of St James’s Church, a recognizable Delhi landmark, sur- mounted by a cross. Its presence, and that of the Union Jack, flying just off centre, reminds us that this scene is just as staged as Farrell’s, if less transparently. 

Although the custom of raising sculpted monuments in churches to the memory of individuals declined from the middle of the nineteenth century in Ireland, regimental memorials continued to be raised. In St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, for example, there is a bronze relief erected around 1905 in a distinctly symbolist style by the distinguished Manx sculptor Frank Mowbray Taubman, commemorating the men of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars who were killed in the Boer War. Exceptionally, another memorial there, dating probably from immediately before World War I, is to an individual, the original ‘modern major general’, Field Marshal Sir Garnet Wolseley, who died in 1913. Adorned with a bronze bust and military trophies, its author remains to be identified, but it was raised by the Royal Irish Regiment as a tribute to its colonel-in-chief. Otherwise, by this time the locus for such commemorations had definitely moved to the urban cemeteries.

SELECTED READING Homan Potterton, Irish Church Monuments 1570–1880, Belfast, 1975; Nicholas Penny, Church Monuments in Romantic England, New Haven and London, 1977; D. Bindman and M. Baker, Roubiliac and the Eighteenth- Century Monument, New Haven and London, 1995; Adam White, ‘A Biographical Dictionary of London Tomb Sculptors, c. 1560 – c. 1660’, Journal of the Walpole Society, 61, London, 1999; M. Craske, The Silent Rhetoric of the Body: A History of Monumental Sculpture and Commemorative Art in England, 1720–1770, New Haven and London, 2007. 

The Royal Irish Academy has kindly granted permission to Sculpture Dublin to reproduce a number of texts from Sculpture 1600-2000, Volume 3 in the Royal Irish Academy’s 5-volume publication Art and Architecture of Ireland (Yale, 2014). The book, edited by Paula Murphy, comprises introductory essays, biographies and thematic essays.