Church alterations ‘should not have been made’

Architect’s son criticises new look of church in Knocnanure

Dónal Nolan

The son of leading Irish 20th Century architect Michael Scott has criticised recent alterations to the Corpus Christi Church in Knockanure as having 'degraded' the building's effect as originally conceived by his father. Knockanure/Moyvane Parish Priest Fr Kevin McNamara, who oversaw the recent work, said that the alterations were both 'necessary' and 'enhancing'.

Corpus Christi was opened in 1963 as one of the first and finest examples of modernist architecture in a religious context in Ireland; containing works by many well-known Irish artists.

Listed in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, the beamed, concrete-slab roofed structure was a treasured part of architect Michael Scott's agency portfolio.

Regarded as one of the most exciting architects of his era, he established firm Scott, Tallon and Walker and personally won the commission to construct the North Kerry church; with partner Ronald Tallon designing it.

Michael's son Niall Scott said his father and Ronnie Tallon held Knockanure Church in deep affection. Niall is also an architect, who is now retired from the family firm and living much of the year in his ancestral home of Sneem, where he is chairman of the local Sneem Digital Hub.

"He was so delighted with it. I remember all of us being at its Consecration. Indeed, I was the first to be married in the Church. It's a beautiful building, containing priceless works of art which include the incredible Last Supper panel by Oisín Kelly, a wood sculpture of the Madonna and Child by Imogen Stuart and the Stations of the Cross tapestries by Leslie McGreaney, which sit over special acoustic absorbtion panels," Mr Scott explained.

The Church underwent renovations prior to Christmas that included the painting in white of the teak screen into the Sacristy, the addition of a dove and sacred heart emblem to the baptismal font and altar, respectively, as well as electrical  work which has seen wire conduits running clearly on the walls - alongside the Imogen Stuart on one side of the Church.

"It is very sad to see such changes and in my mind amounts to spending money to deface such an important work of architecture," Mr Scott said. "For instance the teak screen on the Sacristy was intended to remain that way in order to highlight the altar by contrasting with the white screen behind it."

Mr Scott said the new emblems attached to the altar and font are completely out of place with the overall aesthetic. The electrical conduits were also criticised as detracting from the works of art - in particular Imogen Stuart's Madonna and Child. 

But Fr McNamara - who led much-needed renovation work at the neo-classical sister church in the parish, at Moyvane - said the electrical works at Corpus Christi were very necessary. "The electrical upgrading of Corpus Christi Church was necessary and vital for Health and Safety reasons as the electrical system hadn't been touched since the church was opened in 1963. The old electrical system had been holding on by a wing and a prayer," Fr McNamara explained.

"As for the other changes I would view it that they have been undertaken to enhance the space as a place of worship for people and they weren't undertaken to insult the architect or anyone else.

"The new emblems are simply attached to the altar and baptismal font in order to provide a point of focus for worshippers who had been looking at bare marble. "No damage has been done to the Church as there's no structural change involved at all. And I haven't heard any criticism of the new measures by any parishioners. These weren't so much changes, but a project of refurbishment the Church needed," Fr McNamara said.