The skyline of Sligo Town is undoubtedly dominated by the imposing structure of The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (co-ordinates 54.26950 -8.47900).
Sligo’s Catholic Cathedral was built in 1874 on land previously owned by a protestant landowner who purchased the land from a previous owner under the pretense that it was to be developed into a garden allotment, in fact the land had been purchased with the sole intention of selling it on to the Catholic Church.
Though when the previous owner of the land became aware of the true purpose for which the land had been purchased, he informed the new owners that he would only sell the land for the purposes of building a Catholic Church on the condition that the main doors of the church faced away from Sligo Town.
And so it was, that the main entrance doors into The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception face away from Sligo Town centre.
The Cathedral was opened in 1874, less than fifty years after the Catholic Emancipation, by Cardinal Cullen, Archbishop of Dublin.
The Renaissance Romanesque style came from a design by one of the most prominent architects of the day George Goldie from London, and was built by the then Bishop of Elphin Laurence Gillooly (1858 – 1895) after whom the Gillooly Hall sited just over the road from the Cathedral was named.
There are 9 bells in the bell tower which were made by Murphy of Dublin and donated by the prominent Sligo businessman Peter O’Connor. The largest of the bells weighs in at 1.5 tons.
When the bells were installed in the Cathedral, they were initially rung rather than being struck as they are today. The practise of ringing the bells had to be discontinued very early on, as the vibrations were so strong and the noise so loud that they could be heard as far away as Grange, 10 miles to the North of Sligo Town.
As the bells were being rung, the campanologists became increasingly afraid that the reverberations would in fact demolish the spire.
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception has a total of 69 stained glass windows which give a magnificent lighting effect inside. The nave and the aisles in this Roman Catholic Cathedral are connected by arches which are supported by eighteen massive stone pillars made from finely chiseled limestone and there is seating inside for 4,000 people.
The final job in the construction of The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was to erect the cross on the top of the spire, this was performed by the steeplejack Mr Steve Scanavan and his son.
They were in the process of fixing the cross in place when the steeplejacks son suddenly shouted that he could not see the fixing holes, Mr Scanavan, realising that his son had “lost his head”, made a grab for the young man, but in the process of trying to prevent his son from falling, lost his own footing and plummeted to his death in the churchyard below.
THE GILHOOLY HALL
The Gilhooly Hall, (co-ordinates 54.26955 -8.47930) which stands in a prominent location across the main road from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, was built to commemorate the deceased Laurence Gilhooly (1858-1895) Bishop of Elphin who was a campaigner against alcohol, as well as being openly opposed to The Land League, even when faced with the hostility of the people.
The Gilhooly Hall was built by the local architect P.J. Kilgallen of Abbeyville. The interior of the Gilhooly Hall is in a Classic Victorian style featuring polished mahogany and leaded glass. However, the exterior is grim and foreboding, and rich in masonry ornamentation crafted to a high standard.
The statue above the main entrance to the Gilhooly Hall depicts Bishop Gilhooly denouncing Ireland – “Ireland sober is Ireland free”.