The Honan Chapel & Collection - Essays and Discussion

This collection of essays about the honan serve to provide a forum for discussion, and facilitate in the gathering of knowledge about the chapel and collection.

Short Essays

Organic change or radical departure?: refurbishing the Honan Chapel, 1983-2001

James Cronin, History of Art & Centre for Adult Continuing Education, University College Cork, Ireland

On Saturday 10th December 1983, a small expert group met to discuss the refurbishment of the Honan Chapel. The meeting was attended by Rev. Fr. Tom Riordan (chaplain); Rev. Fr. Séan Swayne (National Institute for Pastoral Liturgy, Carlow ); Rev. Fr. Gearóid Ó Suilleabháin; Dr. Michael Wynne (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin); Mr. Richard Hurley (Tyndall Hogan Hurley Architects, Dublin) and Prof. Finbarr Holland (Warden, Honan Hostel). The commission was challenging as it involved adjusting the fabric of James F. McMullen’s Hiberno-Romanesque building of 1916 to the requirements of the post Vatican II liturgy. The Governors of the Honan Hostel sanctioned the scheme in February 1984.1 Richard Hurley was appointed supervising architect. The work involved sensitive conservation for which Hurley received a Special Commendation in the Conservation Medal Awards (1987-1992) from the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland. The Honan refurbishment project has been cited as a case-study in conservation best practice; most recently by the Friends of St. Coleman’s Cathedral, Cobh in their submission to An Board Pleanala, March 2006. 2 Rev. Fr. Gearóid Ó Suilleabháin was instrumental in securing the late Rev. Fr. Séan Swayne as the project’s liturgical consultant. It was Swayne who proposed Richard Hurley as supervising architect. In turn, Hurley involved Imogen Stuart in the commission. Rev. Fr. Gearóid Ó Suilleabháin played a central role, with the governors, in commissioning new liturgical art for the refurbished space. These included the baptismal font at the entrance to the chapel designed by Imogen Stuart and installed in November 1996 and the tapestries by Evelyn Ross in the sanctuary completed in 2001 shortly before Rev. Fr. Gearóid Ó Suilleabháin’s death.

In its Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) stressed that liturgical reform was to be an organic development not a radical departure from what preceded.3 Liturgy is the public prayer of the church and involves an interplay between words, actions and movements. The post Vatican II liturgy stressed the communal, rather than clerical, celebration of liturgy.

Richard Hurley was aware of the need to balance conservation with change in the refurbishment of the Honan Chapel. On the one hand, the sanctuary was opened up by the removal of the altar rails, but this was balanced by the conservation of the original sanctuary hangings (dossal and antipendium) by Jane Almsquist. Hurley also planned to restore J. G. MacGloughlin’s grille to the west door of the chapel. The silver sanctuary lamp was removed. It was restored to the sanctuary in 2004 by Rev. Fr. Joseph Coghlan, Dean of the Honan Chapel. The installation of Imogen Stuart’s altar, ambo and presidential chair in 19874 made for a restrained liturgical space. Stuart’s three pieces formed the focus for liturgical performance. They were made of oak and bronze, but alluded to the tradition of early Irish art. In the new liturgy, focus moved between the “Table of the Word” (ambo), “Table of the Eucharist” (altar) and the chair of the presiding celebrant. The ambo was designed by Stuart in the form of a living vine and fashioned in bronze. This gospel symbol alludes to the nourishing power of scripture. The altar, made of oak, features four figures around its base. These doll-like figures are inspired by figures on the early Irish high crosses. They represent the four gospel writers. The ordering follows the historical tradition of the gospel texts. Biblical historians regard Mark’s gospel as the earliest. This is the first figure on the celebrant’s right-hand side. Mark’s gospel is believed to have inspired the gospels of Luke and Matthew. These figures are paired together. John appears on the celebrant’s left side.

The presidential chair, made of oak, carries on the allusion to early Irish high crosses in the narrow cross-shaft forming its back. The arm-rests, formed in the shape of fish, carry on the motif of the mosaic River of Life, teaming with fish, on the floor. The symbol also alludes to the Greek work for fish ichthus whose letters recall Christ’s identity to early Christians through the form of a prayer: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour”.

Richard Hurley had worked with Eric Pearse and Ken Thompson in the refurbishment of the North Cathedral, dedicated the St. Mary and St. Anne, Cork 5. In the Honan Chapel, Thompson’s work is represented by the Paschal candle stand and Pearse’s work is represented by the concelebrants stools. All pieces are placed within the sanctuary. The rim of the candle stand bears the inscription lumen Christi (the light of Christ) in an Insular script inspired by texts in early Irish illustrated gospel books. Within the chapel, this script was used for texts on the original altar cards and on the mosaic floor.

A new set of woollen vestments was commissioned by Richard Hurley from Cork weaver Mary Barry. Completed in 1988, they were woven in abstract designs inspired by the stained glass windows of the Purser and Clarke studios. The original vestments woven by seamstresses in the Egan workshops in 1916 have been placed in storage. They are now in need of conservation.

The current arrangement of the ambo, altar and presidential chair differs from Hurley’s original concept. Originally, Richard Hurley wished is affirm the strong central axis within the chapel surmounted by the Risen Christ window by Alfred. E. Child of the Purser studio in the sanctuary. He wished to place the ambo, altar and presidential chair along the central axis of the nave. This arrangement was thought of as fusing the communal nature of the new liturgy. Hurley had already successfully employed this arrangement in the National Institute for Pastoral Liturgy, Carlow in the early 1980s. However, this arrangement was seen as impractical. Today the marble baptismal font, comprising cupped hands, is placed at the entrance. This also has a liturgical meaning as baptism is the sacrament through which every Christian must pass through in order to partake in the sacramental life of the Church.

Since 2001, Rev. Fr. Joseph Coghlan and the chaplaincy team have greatly fostered and expanded the ministry of music in the Honan Chapel. In 1999, during the chaplaincy of Rev. Fr. Pádraig Corkery, a pipe organ was installed. This replaced a smaller harmonium and reflected the greater role the ministry of music played in the post Vatican II liturgy. The organ was built by Kenneth Jones, Bray, Co.Wicklow. Music plays a central part in the celebration of the liturgy in the chapel. Sunday liturgy is accompanied by invited choirs. There is sung morning prayer during Advent and Lent. The chapel also hosts concerts throughout the year. A specially commissioned Honan Mass, composed by John O’Brien, was celebrated in the chapel on Holy Thursday, April 13th 2006,

The Honan Chapel is not a static building, but serves the needs of a university faith community. Its refurbishment has been a delicate balance attempting, on the one hand, to accommodate the Celtic Revival tradition while, on the other, fostering a new liturgical art for the needs of a new generation.


1T. O’Riordan, “An up-to-date report on the refurbishment of the chapel” Minutes of the Honan Hostel, August 1989.

2Terry Pender, An Board Pleanala—Oral hearing PL 53.214338, submission on behalf of the Friends of St. Coleman’s Cathedral, Midleton Park Hotel, 1st March 2006.

3Sacrosanctum Concilium, paragraph. 23 reads as follows: "That sound tradition may be retained, and yet the way remain open to legitimate progress. Careful investigation is always to be made into each part of the liturgy which is to be revised. This investigation should be theological, historical, and pastoral. Also the general laws governing the structure and meaning of the liturgy must be studied in conjunction with the experience derived from recent liturgical reforms and from the indults conceded to various places. Finally, there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing."

4Virginia Teehan & Elizabeth Wincott Heckett (eds.) The Honan Chapel: A Golden Vision (Cork University Press, 2004), 235.

5Richard Hurley & Associates, Portfolio, St. Mary’s & St. Anne’s Cathedral Cork, 25th May 2006

Posted 2006-8-25

Does anyone have any comments to add for discussion?

James Cronin, 2006-11-2