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St Mary’s Collegiate Church is a large Anglican church in Youghal, County Cork, Ireland. This church is not only the largest and most important medieval building in the town, but also the oldest church in Ireland still in continuous use. It has been a place of Christian worship for over 1,300 years. It is also a national monument of Ireland and a tourist attraction like no other.

The History of St Mary’s Collegiate Church

St Mary’s Collegiate Church was built in 1220 by Meiler de Bermingham, who also founded the Dominican Priory in Youghal. The church was originally a simple cruciform structure, but it was enlarged and embellished over the centuries. It has a 13th century oak roof structure, a 14th century tower, a 15th century nave, a 16th century chancel, and a 17th century transept. It also has a 19th century spire, which replaced an earlier one that was destroyed by lightning.

Some of the notable features of the church include:

  • The 13th century oak roof structure, which is one of the oldest and finest in Ireland
  • The 15th century choir stalls, which are carved with intricate designs and symbols
  • The 16th century tomb of Richard Boyle, the first Earl of Cork, and his family, which is the largest and most elaborate in the church
  • The 17th century alabaster monument of Sir Walter Raleigh and his son, which is located in the south transept
  • The 18th century organ, which is the oldest working organ in Ireland.

The church witnessed many historic events and eras, such as the Norman invasion, the Reformation, the Cromwellian conquest, the Penal Laws, and the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The church survived fires, sieges, plundering, and vandalism, and remained a place of worship and refuge for the people of Youghal.

It also hosted many historic figures, such as Sir Walter Raleigh, who was the mayor of Youghal in 1588 and 1589, and Sir Richard Boyle, the first Earl of Cork, who was buried in the church in 1643. The church has many fascinating plaques and effigies, such as the Boyle Monument, the Raleigh Tomb, and the Power Tomb.

st. mary's collegiate church youghal

Acoustic Jars

St Mary’s Collegiate Church is one of the places where – in the middle ages – ‘acoustic jars’ were used to enhance acoustics. These ceramic vessels were placed in niches above the choir area. The niches are still there but, unfortunately, the vases are not.

High in the chancel can be seen the holes where the acoustic jars were set in the wall. These earthenware pots with their openings flush with the wall were supposed to amplify the voice of the priest but there is some doubt whether they would have really helped. There are very few examples of this practice. The original idea may have come from the Greek or Roman theatres.

Read more on the acoustic jar: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acoustic_jar

Voices of St Mary’s

St. Mary’s Collegiate Church offers a unique visitor experience, called “Voices of St Mary’s”. This is an interpretive installation that tells the story of the church and its people through audio, visual, and interactive displays.

Visitors can choose from three types of tours:

  • A personally guided tour, where experienced and knowledgeable guides take the visitors through the church and highlight its features and history.
  • A self-guided audio tour, where visitors share the emotional reunion of the imaginary Roe family, who talk about the history of the church and their own family memories.
  • Interactive information displays, where visitors can follow a timeline from 1220 to today, and see the exciting action and finds of the church’s archaeological dig. Visitors can also weave a thread in a special Visitors Rug.

Voices of St Mary’s also includes The Graveyard Trail, where visitors can explore the churchyard and see the medieval town walls and the stunning views across Youghal town and estuary.

The Graveyard Trail

Another way to explore the history and heritage of St Mary’s Collegiate Church is to take the Graveyard Trail, which leads you along part of the medieval town walls and offers stunning views across Youghal town and estuary. The trail has interesting information points along the route, where you can learn more about the people who are buried in the graveyard, such as:

  • The Knight’s Tomb, which is the oldest tomb in the graveyard and belongs to a 14th century knight
  • The Chantry Chapel, which is a 15th century chapel where masses were said for the souls of the dead
  • The O’Neill Vault, which is the burial place of the O’Neill family, who were prominent merchants and mayors of Youghal
  • The Tynte Vault, which is the burial place of the Tynte family, who were influential landlords and politicians in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Graveyard Trail is a great way to appreciate the beauty and tranquility of the church grounds, and to discover the stories and secrets of the people who shaped the history of Youghal.

Violinist Isabelle Wong plays “Liebeslied” at St. Mary’s Collegiate Church, Youghal, Co. Cork.

The Opening Hours and Contact Details of St Mary’s Collegiate Church

St Mary’s Collegiate Church is open to the public at the following times:

  • Monday to Saturday, from 11:00 am to 4 pm · Sundays 1pm to 4pm
  • The service is on Sunday at 11:30 am and there are no tours during the service
  • Self-Guided Audio Tours:  Monday to Saturday 12 noon to 4pm
  • Sunday Interactive & Audio Tours 1pm to 4pm.

The audio tours last for 30 minutes, and the admission fee is €5 for adults, €4 for seniors and students, and €3 for children. The self guided tours and the interactive displays are free of charge.

The contact details of St Mary’s Collegiate Church are as follows:

St. Mary’s Collegiate Church is a historic treasure in Youghal, and a must-see attraction for anyone who is interested in the rich and diverse heritage of Ireland. It is a place where the past and the present meet, and where the voices of the church and its people can be heard. It is a place of beauty, spirituality, and inspiration.

Location Map

Timeline

1220 Establishment of St. Mary's Parish Church.
1348-1350 The Black Death, or plague, makes its way to Ireland.
1464-1468 St. Mary's Church attains "Collegiate" status upon the creation of the College through Papal approval.
1536 Henry VIII initiates the Reformation of the Church in England, Wales, and Ireland.
1587 Queen Elizabeth grants Sir Walter Raleigh 42,000 acres of the confiscated lands of the Earl of Desmond.
1602-1604 Sir Walter Raleigh sells his Irish estate to Richard Boyle.
1661-1665 The Church of Ireland is re-established, and the clergy returns.
1690-1700 The Bishop's Throne is installed in the Nave.
2005 An agreement between Church Authorities and Cork County Council is reached for the long-term preservation of the Church.

FAQ's

St. Mary’s Collegiate Church is a significant Anglican church situated in Youghal, County Cork, Ireland. It is the largest medieval building in the town and holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously used church in Ireland. The address is: St Mary’s Collegiate Church, Emmet Place, Youghal, Co. Cork, Ireland P36 AH64.

The church was built in 1220 by Meiler de Bermingham, who also founded the Dominican Priory in Youghal.

St. Mary’s boasts a rich history and features including a 13th-century oak roof structure, 15th-century choir stalls, a 16th-century tomb of the first Earl of Cork, Richard Boyle, and an 18th-century organ, which is the oldest working organ in Ireland.

St. Mary’s has witnessed significant events such as the Norman invasion, the Reformation, and the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Historic figures like Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Richard Boyle, the first Earl of Cork, have connections to the church.

“Voices of St Mary’s” is an interpretive installation providing a unique visitor experience through audio, visual, and interactive displays. Visitors can choose from personally guided tours, self-guided audio tours, and interactive information displays.

The Graveyard Trail allows visitors to explore the churchyard, medieval town walls, and enjoy stunning views. Interesting information points include the Knight’s Tomb, the Chantry Chapel, the O’Neill Vault, and the Tynte Vault, providing insights into the people buried in the graveyard.

The church is open from Monday to Sunday, 9:30 am to 5 pm, with a Sunday service at 11:30 am. Audio tours last 30 minutes, and admission fees are €5 for adults, €4 for seniors and students, and €3 for children. Guided tours and interactive displays are free of charge.

Yes, there is a service on Sundays at 11:30 am. However, there are no tours during the service.

St. Mary’s Collegiate Church is a historic treasure offering a rich heritage experience. With its diverse features, historic significance, and “Voices of St Mary’s” experience, it stands as a place where the past and present intersect, allowing visitors to hear the voices of the church and its people.