St. Mary’s Collegiate Church, set in the historic ‘Raleigh Quarter’ of Youghal, Co. Cork will launch guided tours to both the general public and groups every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 27th June 2014 for the Summer months. Demand for the provision of formal tours has increased significantly over recent years as more and more international ‘culturally curious’ visitors seek out the National Monument.
Recent radio-carbon dating on wood samples in the Church, place the roof in the middle of the 13th Century (AD1223-AD1281). These findings prove that St. Mary’s has the oldest radiocarbon dated roof structure of any Church in Ireland.
St. Mary’s is possibly the 3rd Church on the site; with historical traditions indicating an early monastic church was built there in the mid-5th century by St. Declan of Ardmore. This was replaced by a ‘Romanesque Style’ Church in the mid-8th century and this stood until it was destroyed in the late 12th century. It was rebuilt again in the 13th century which is where the present building stems from. The church has seen building, expansion, destruction and repairs from the 13th Century to today.
Speaking about the announcement of the tours, Catherine Desmond of Youghal’s Municipal Heritage Committee expressed her delight at the prospect. “We are thrilled to finally be in a position to offer both visitors and our local community guided tours of St. Mary’s. This Church has been a constant place of worship for over 1300 years and truly is a place of international historical significance.” Said Catherine. By facilitating guided tours we hope we will open up the Church and the entire ‘Raleigh Quarter’ to a whole new range of visitor as we continue to use our heritage to regenerate the town. This is our first season of tours and is very much a pilot exercise, but we are confident that we can build on this year for future seasons ahead.”
Tour guides have been receiving formal training from both Fáilte Ireland and The Heritage Council of Ireland in recent months and are now eager to get tours underway. The tour will take approximately 30 minutes and will take place at 3.00pm on each of the set days for tours (Friday, Saturday and Sundays). Tours will cost €3.00 per adult, with students and senior citizens charged €2.00. Children will receive free entry. Groups of over 10 people will be accepted on a pre-booked basis (Monday – Sunday). Visitors can also continue to explore the Church by taking a self-guided tour free of charge.
Back in 2006 Youghal Town Council took on a 999 year lease on both the Church and St. Mary’s College Gardens thereby ensuring their future. With the abolition of Town Councils the responsibility of the Church has been passed onto Cork County Council.