St Macartan’s Cathedral in Monaghan is the mother-church of the Diocese of Clogher and the seat of the Bishop of Clogher. The word ‘cathedral’ is derived of the latin word ‘cathedra’, which means a chair. The Cathedral is, therefore, the church containing the chair of the bishop.
The location of St Macartan’s Cathedral, on an eminent site on the outskirts of Monaghan town, is due entirely to its founder, Bishop Charles McNally, Bishop of Clogher from 1844 until 1864. It was his decision in 1851 to move the episcopal see from Clogher to Monaghan and to make Monaghan & Rackwallace the bishop’s parish that began the process which led to the building of the Cathedral. On Sunday, 3 January 1858, he presided at a meeting of the Catholic inhabitants of Monaghan town and vicinity where it was decided to begin the project. An eight-acre site was purchased by the bishop from Humphrey Jones of Clontibret, for the sum of £800 and the renowned architect of the period, James Joseph McCarthy was engaged to draw up a plan.
The foundation stone of St Macartan’s Cathedral was laid by Bishop McNally in June 1861. Following Bishop McNally’s death in November 1864, his successor, Bishop James Donnelly continued the work, often amidst great economic and political trials. The architect, McCarthy, died in 1882 and was succeeded by William Hague, a native of Butlersbridge, Co Cavan. Hague was responsible for the design of the spire, the organ gallery and the gate lodge. He also designed the Bishop’s House, which was built in the years 1900-01. St Marcartan’s Cathedral was solemnly dedicated to the service of God on Sunday 21 August 1892.
The architectural style of St Macartan’s Cathedral is French Gothic of the fourteenth century, sometimes known as ‘decorated-Gothic’. The revival of the Gothic style in Ireland corresponded with the period of Catholic Emancipation and the subsequent rise of Catholics in the public life of the country. This is reflected in the imposing walls and the emphasis on height. The large rose and lancet windows, the pointed arches and doors and the buttresses are also distinctive features of this. The interior is cruciform in shape. The nave is divided by two sets of columns which are surmounted by gothic arches. The hammerbeam roof is particularly noteworthy.
Today, the Cathedral reflects the call of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) for ‘full, active and conscious participation’ by all the People of God in the liturgical celebrations. This is evident in the extensive refurbishment which was begun in 1982 under the direction of Bishop Joseph Duffy. The artist responsible for the scheme was Michael Biggs of Dublin, in consultation with local architect Gerald McCann. The altar, hewn from South-Dublin granite, is the central focal point of the Cathedral. The sanctuary crucifix, made of Irish oak and bronze, is by Richard Enda King,
Both the nave and the transepts open up to the sanctuary area in a way that maximises light and space. From this area one is led visually to the cathedra – the bishop’s chair – and to the side chapels, which link together the sacraments of the Church. The walls surrounding the bishop’s chair and the side-chapels are decorated by a series of tapestries, designed by Frances Biggs and woven by Terry Dunne.