Quick Facts:

  • Commissioned in 1927 by Rev Daniel Cohalan D.D., Bishop of Cork
  • Designed by Chicago Architect Barry Byrne
  • Built through 1929-1931 by John Buckley
  • Opened on the Feast of Christ the King, October 25th 1931.
  • Cost £30,000
  • The first & remains one of a few Irish churches to be designed by a foreign architect
  • The first Irish church to be built from concrete instead of brick
  • One of the largest suspended-ceiling churches in Europe.
  • Seating Capacity of 1200


By the mid 1920’s, the South Parish of Cork city, had grown in both population and area to a point where it could no longer function with a single church. In an effort to address the situation, the bishop of Cork, Rev. Daniel Cohalan D.D designated Turners Cross as the location for a second parish church to serve the ever growing congregation.

According to the Cork Examiner article on Monday 26th October, 1931, “Christ-King New Church Turners Cross”, Dr. Cohalan was quoted as having originally decided on a more standard design from Irish & U.K. architects but the cost had proved “well nigh prohibitive”. It was the result of reading an article by Barry Byrne that his lordship’s attention was caught.

By the late 20’s Byrne, a former student of Frank Lloyd Wright, had already designed three Catholic churches in the US, all of which received acclaim and criticism for their bold and innovative designs. He was also well known among the Catholic clergy for regular contributions on church design to publications such as Commonweal.

Looking back at the 1920’s in Ireland, the society and Catholic church would today be regarded as inward looking and very traditional. The idea of a futuristic design by a foreign architect would alone have fuelled strong opposition toward Dr. Cohalan. This, as it turned out was only the start of many problems to come.

First sketch of the church design made en route to Ireland

Prior to construction, Barry Byrne and his wife, Annette Cremin Byrne visited Cork to view the site and meet with Dr. Coholan to discuss the final details of the project.

The first model of the church had the same octagonal shape as we see today but was based on a brick exterior/interior and featured a suspended wooden ceiling. It was a larger-scale development on a previous Byrne design in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1926).

However this Turners Cross commission was subject to an overall cost restriction of £30,000 with £20,000 allocated for the building and the remaining £10,000 kept for the inner furnishings.

After some investigation, site supervising architect J.R. Boyd Barrett reported that a brick and wood building could not be accomplished on a £20,000 budget and suggested that a complete concrete construction with plaster ceiling would be more realistic.

Although somewhat reluctant to sacrifice the brick and wood design, Byrne reworked his solution to use concrete as the main construction material. The result would involve the use of large sections of cast and steel re-enforced concrete. Decorative features around doors and windows would all be made from cast stone. Basically, the stone mason was not a consideration.

Architect Barry Byrne poses alongside a wood and plaster model of the initial design for a concrete church.

The reissued model, depicted a new departure in Byrnes style and the Church of Christ the King, became the first Irish church ever built from concrete. The innovative design and its use of concrete, was very likely the first large-scale application of re-enforced concrete construction in Ireland. However the same techniques were being commonly used at this time during a large-scale construction of social housing in Cork and around the country.

Work began in March 1929 with foundations being blessed on 21st July of the same year by Dr. Cohalan. Initial problems were mostly in relation to the foundation. The soft marsh-like terrain of the site was no match for the heavy foundation. Before any walls could be erected, the building contractor, John Buckley, had to sink foundations some fifteen feet to reach a solid base, well above the 5-6 feet estimations of Byrne. Other issues included a strong opposition from the Society of Stone Cutters and Marble Masons. Their anger related to the selection of concrete as a base material and instructed that the foundation stone “..shall not be worked, as the building of the said Church is detrimental to our trade”

A general building trade strike took place the following year from May to August causing significant delays in the project. The church did however open on time on the Feast of Christ the King, October 25th 1931. The selection of this date was likely to have been influenced by the previous Byrne church of Christ the King, Tulsa OK. It too was consecrated on the feast day of the same name. However a hasty completion is evident; some of the photographs indicate missing Terrazzo panels on the altar reredos. The Stations of the Cross were also unfurnished and an external fence was not erected for some time.

On completion, the church never provoked much admiration or criticism. Ireland was however, awoken to the Art Deco movement in architecture. In years to follow, many buildings depicting the styles of Lloyd Wright and others would emerge in Ireland. Oddly enough, the church construction practices in the UK & Ireland would largely ignore these new styles. However the choice of concrete as a raw material, would prove to be a major influence.

Such was his delight with the results, Barry Byrne would never again choose brick as his preferred material. His later churches would perfect the use of concrete, not only as a more versatile material, but as a cheap alternative to brick.

Other than the pre-construction visit to Cork, Barry Byrne never saw the finished building in person and it remains the only church of his where he did not personally supervise the construction.

In 1957, Turners Cross was designated an independent parish by Bishop Cornelius Lucey. This coincided with the construction of five new churches under the direction of Bishop Lucey. Among these was a church for the newly formed parish of Ballyphehane.

With the large South Parish now segmented, the Church of Christ the King would never again serve the huge masses for which it was commissioned. However its design excellence and craftsmanship would stand the test of time. Today the church retains most of its original character and layout.

Several Irish architecture publications feature this church and on an international scale, the only two Cork churches to frequently feature in journals and books are the Church of Christ the King and the Protestant Cathedral of St. Finbarr.

The commission and construction of this church met with strong opposition and its opening was received with little or no appreciation. However if the people of Cork or Turners Cross for that matter, can be accused of under-appreciating such an architectural gem, then they have certainly made up for it in recent times with a renovation project costing several million Euro.

Entrance Statue of Christ

Initial sketch of the statue by John Storrs.

American sculptor John Storrs was contracted to design a statue of Christ to stand over the two entrance doors. During the construction stages of the church, Storrs travelled to Cork from his home in France to sign contracts with J.R. Boyd Barrett and made initial sketches for his design.

Over a series of months he would exchange several drawings and photos of the design with Byrne and Boyd Barrett.  Both architects provided feedback until a final design was agreed upon. Most of the contention was in relation to the design of the crown. Storrs had used a small circular rim and frame and both architects felt it looked undignified.

A 7-foot version of the statue was shipped to Cork along with a full-size version of the revised head design.

These were then used by local sculptor John Maguire to render the final version.

Initial plaster render of the statue design 7-foot scale model of the full statue shipped to Cork Full-size version of the head shipped to Cork

Fittings Contracts

The original tender as submitted by the building contractor, John Buckley was for £20,000. Costs relating to the internal furnishings including seats and marble, Terrazzo and other fittings, amounted to £7000 with the total cost at £27,000. A significant contribution of £10,000 from the Geary family foundation provided much needed cash to pay off the construction debts.

Heating was furnished by C. McCarthy & Sons, Emmett Place, Cork. Eustace & Co of Cork provided all wooden seating and also held the contract as supplier for the concrete used (1200 tons of “Condor” brand of Portland cement, treated with “Pudlow” a brand of waterproofing material commonly used at the time).

Marble terrazzo work was carried out by J.J O’Hara & Co. Dublin.. this included the black floor surface and lower wall, beige dado rail and all white marble surfaces used to form the sanctuary and reredos. The Terrazzo work was the first of its’ kind carried out in Ireland.

Sculptor John Maguire also worked on the execution of the marble altars and gold mosaics.

Piggot & Co. 117 Patrick Street furnished the Mannborg Model 40 organ fitted in the concealed choir gallery. The General Electric Co. Ltd., 74 Grand Parade, Cork provided the Osram lamps used in the overhead and side lighting. Electrical contractors were S. Nolan & Bros., 87 South Mall Cork who were responsible for all wiring and the fitting of Holophane prismatic reflectors designed to provide even light dispersal through the ceiling apex.

W.M. Egan & Sons Ltd., 31-32 Patrick Street Cork, furnished the brass sanctuary lamp, monstrance and Benediction cope and veil. Egans also furnished the Stations of the Cross. Both sanctuary lamp and stations were made to the architects specifications.

Glazing & painting work was carried out by J.F. O’Mahony of Cork. The bell was supplied by Gillett & Johnston Ltd., Croydon, Surrey well known for their excellence in carillon design.

>> Architect Barry Byrne