Destruction of Neo-Gothic Convent of Mercy Chapel in Skibbereen
Updated: Oct 6, 2020
“The balanced coherent design is complemented by the high quality craftsmanship employed in the execution of the masonry throughout the building.” Convent of Mercy, Skibbereen, Buildings Of Ireland
Last Tuesday, 29th September, a major fire virtually destroyed the former Convent of Mercy in Skibbereen, extensively damaging the building and causing the church roof to collapse. Local residents living nearby in a number of single housing units run by the town's Geriatric Society were evacuated. Cork County Council had recently granted planning permission for a €10 million redevelopment of the site. A planning application for the site had been initially granted in 2007 for a two-screen cinema, 67 apartments and a multi-storey car park. A year later, permission was granted for amendments to that 2007 grant. However, works were promptly abandoned and the site has remained derelict since permission was granted, which often occurs in Ireland.
A document in the planning file, dated August 2019, shows that local developer Bernard Hennessy was the owner of the site. In a handwritten letter, he said he had entered into an agreement to sell the property, with full consent to the applicant and their agent acting on their behalf to apply for planning permission. The 2020 fire broke out less than two weeks after Cork County Council had granted planning permission for this new €10 million commercial and residential redevelopment of the site.
The new planning applicant, Remcoll 3 Ltd, had applied to Cork County Council to redevelop the former convent, which is itself a protected structure, in order to build apartments and office facilities on the site. Planning permission was granted this year for conversion of the chapel into commercial facilities, with the former Mercy convent building to be converted into seven apartments.
Following a technical examination, Gardaí stated that the fire may have been started intentionally.
This Convent of Mercy chapel - designed by English Architect Edward W Pugin - and the convent building were virtually destroyed in the blaze. The fire was noticed at around 3.30pm last Tuesday when flames were seen coming initially from the roof of the former chapel, (which would seem to indicate that the fire had begun in the chapel itself or nearby). The roof then fell inward and the fire spread to the adjacent convent building. Once home to the Sisters of Mercy for over 140 years, both buildings have been unoccupied for 25 years.
The Mercy chapel was lighted by a circular window in the west gable with eight windows with traceried heads in side walls. The wall over the altar was pierced by a five-light window filled with stained glass. This gable-fronted single-cell Roman Catholic French-Gothic style church was constructed in 1867, having a five-bay nave and octagonal-plan north corner tower. The Mercy chapel was regarded as a highly accomplished French – style Gothic style church designed by G.C. Ashlin and E.W. Pugin.
“The use of polychromatic stone gives the building an added textured appearance. The chapel was prominently sited and imposing building, this church forms part of an architecturally significant ecclesiastical complex … This collection of related structures forms a pleasing and historically interesting grouping in the townscape.”
Video of Skibbereen Blaze: