For three centuries St. Anne’s Church and the ‘Bells of Shandon’ have dominated the skyline of Cork city. Mary Rose McCarthy traces the history of the iconic building, described as ‘the most important ecclesiastical structure within the city of Cork and environs’.


St. Anne’s has been described as, “the most important ecclesiastical structure of any period, within the city of Cork and its immediate environs, it is also one of the most important early 18th century churches in Ireland and one of a small number which still retains their original 18th century bells” – (2001 Architectural & Archaeological Appraisal – Colin Rynne for Southgate & Assoc.).

The church of St. Anne’s, Shandon dominates the Cork skyline and is synonymous with the city. ‘An Sean Dún’ means The Old Fort. A ring fort of the Irish family, MacCarthaigh, who lived in the area around 1,000 AD. The settlement was one of approximately twenty-eight such settlements of medieval Cork. The present church is built on a prominent hill overlooking the city.

The red sandstone and white limestone tower is thought to have given Cork its red and white county team colours. Known locally as ‘de goldie fish’ or the ‘four faced liar’ it is an inclusive church at the heart of the community and city that has been in existence for over three hundred years.

Sadly, while it is known that building commenced on the church on the 2nd of February, 1722, no date as yet has been confirmed as to when it was consecrated and open for worship. This is due to the destruction of parish records during the civil war at the Public Records Office Dublin.

Earlier this year Bishop Paul Colton, bishop of the diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, launched the ‘Shandon Mystery’, an appeal to historians, archivists, and the local community, for any confirmed source as to the date when the church officially welcomed worshippers.

There has been a church on the site of Shandon since medieval times. Pope Innocent lll, writing in the 12th century, described it as ‘St. Mary’s on the hill’. St. Mary’s church was destroyed during the Williamite wars in the Siege of Cork in 1690, by English forces. Another St. Mary’s church was erected near that original site until the decision to build St. Anne’s as a chapel of ease was taken.

By the early 1770s St. Anne’s, Shandon had become a parish in its own right. Rev. Arthur Hyde was appointed as the first rector in 1772. He was the great-great-grandfather of Ireland’s first President, Douglas Hyde.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own