J.J. McCarthy was born in Dublin in 1817, the son of a Kerry couple, who had settled in Dublin. He attended the Christian Brothers, O’Connell School and went on to study Architecture. He became famous for the number and beauty of the buildings mostly ecclesiastic, which he erected all over the country.
The church designed for Glendalough in 1846 was his first great venture. It is interesting to note that at the laying of the foundation stone the sermon was preached by Fr. Theobald Mathew, who took the opportunity to administer the pledge to the large congregation. Unfortunately the Great Famine intervened, and the completion of St. Kevin’s was delayed. Among the many churches McCarthy erected, as well as St. Joseph’s, are St. Macartan’s Cathedral, Monaghan and St. Patrick’s, Armagh.
He was an intimate friend of Charles Gavan Duffy, the Monaghan born leading member of the Young Irelanders, and of the other leaders, Thomas Davis and John Dillon. In fact, he himself was also a party member though he took no very public part. It was Duffy who wrote of him as “an architect who has built more churches than any man of Irish birth since the Goban Saor taught our ancestors to construct the Round Towers”. When Duffy returned to Ireland from his 10 years enforced exile in Australia in 1865, McCarthy was prominent among the welcome home committee. For a short time in the 60’s he formed a partnership with Daniel O’Connell, grandson of the Liberator.
When he died in 1882, the work on St. Joseph’s was completed by his son C.J. McCarthy. His grave can be seen in Glasnevin Cemetery not far from the Mortuary chapel, which he himself designed.
Referring to St. Joseph’s, The “Irish Builder” in 15th March 1888 says:
“The church was begun many years ago from the plans of Mr. J.J. McCarthy, 12 Westland Row from whose designs have been executed the high alter and reredos, the side altars, the Communion rail, the baptismal font, organ gallery and all other fittings and furniture”.
For further information on JJ McCarthy’s work: http://www.archiseek.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=4693&p=64382
Photo: St. Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney, Co. Kerry. The interior decorations designed by JJ McCarthy.