Visitors to the Cathedral of St. Mary & St. Anne, Cork (The North Cathedral) may be struck by the scale and tone of a large sculpture in bronze which sits atop a plinth at the edge of the Cathedral’s car park.
It’s the work of sculptor John Lawlor (1820-1901) and is a memorial statue to Bishop William Delany, who was Bishop of Cork from 1847 – 1886. It was made in 1889 and was placed in the centre of the plaza in front of the Cathedral’s main door where it remained until the Cathedral was extended and reordered in the 1960s and was moved to make way for motor cars.
John Lawlor at this point was a well-known Irish sculptor. He had modelled many of the statues adorning the new Houses of Parliament, as well as the group representing “Engineering” on the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens. In Cork, apart from the statue of Bishop Delany, Lawlor produced several statues for the new cathedral in Queenstown (Cobh).
As a student, Lawlor had studied in Rome, and had known another sculptor John Hogan (1800–1851) whose set of statues and saints adorn the ceiling of the Cork Cathedral.
Lawlor modelled the statue in wood and clay at the Cork School of Art and then made a plaster cast. The casting in bronze had to be made in London as there was no Irish foundry capable of doing such a large figure.
The scale of the figure is echoed by that of the headstone over his grave in the cemetery of the Ursuline Convent, Blackrock. (Delany was buried here because his sister was a member of the Ursuline community.) The enormous Celtic Cross headstone is in sharp contrast to the small headstones that mark the burial places of the nuns.
Delany was born in Bandon. His mother was attending Mass in the chapel at Kilbrogan on Christmas Day when she gave birth to William in the sacristy of the chapel. Later in life, Delany was to return to solemnly dedicate a new church for this native parish. The stained glass windows behind the main altar in St. Patrick’s Church, Bandon, record that he paid to have these windows installed.
Delany was ordained Bishop of Cork just as the country was in the shadow of the Great Famine. Much of his diocese was ravaged by death and emigration. Those who survived and remained were drifting from the desolate countryside into towns and the city of Cork.
It fell to Delany to lay the foundations for a renewed diocese which was finally able to begin to respond to the new found freedoms for Catholics resulting from Catholic Emancipation (1829).
He spearheaded a building programme to help parishes replace the dilapidated chapels which were built in Penal times. Many of the resulting structures still serve their parishes today.
A report prepared for Rome in the months before Delany died in 1886 illustrates some of the fruits of his ministry.
“There are 114 priests as well as some chaplains for convents of nuns. There are 32 regulars (religious order priests), 70 churches and also some rural chapels. There is a diocesan grammar school and there are other similar schools run by the good Brothers. At the same time, there is a sufficient number of primary schools which have a larger number of religious teachers and there are others (religious) serving in pious institutions. It can be seen, therefore, that the only thing lacking is a good college doubling also as a diocesan seminary.“– Persico’s visitation