The English architect of St. John’s Cathedral, Philip Charles Hardwick was at work at Adare Manor when he was commissioned to design this Roman Catholic cathedral. the main body of the church was constructed between 1856-61. The spire at 280 feet tall is one of the tallest in the country was completed in 1883 to the designs of local architect M.A. Hennessy.
Unlike other Roman Catholic Cathedrals of the period, the exterior of the church is quite severe, with very little external decoration except around the dooways. The windows are kept small and to a minimum, and there is only one external statue on the façade. This should be compared with the exteriors of Armagh and Monaghan where arcades of statues adorn the exterior. The upper levels of the soaring spire is more decorative than the mainbody of the cathedral, perhaps due to the different architect. The church has a fine interior which has been modernised in line with the Vatican II changes but without undue detrimental effect on the building.
The interior is lit by small windows which send shafts of light downwards – this causes the nave to be relatively dark without artificial lighting and causes the roof to disappear into the gloom above. Because the apse is better lit, this draws the eye forward towards the altars.
The most dramatic feature is the elevated rood screen spanning the arch framing the altar. It is dramatically lit and includes a crucifixion scene. Much of the original fixtures on the altars have survived – with the exclusion of the Blessed Sacrament chapel which now included a horrific structure masquerading as an altar. So horrific that it is worthy of the terrible work carried out at Monaghan which ruined the interior. Some of the original altar rails exist as does the original carved wooden pulpit. The original Bishop’s Throne or Cathedra has been removed.