"Admirable in proportion, rich and elegant in design, it stands there, lifted up in grace and dignity, linking as it were the loveliness of nature with the beauty and sublimity of the Creator’s praise..."
Thus the Cork Examiner described the then recently constructed Church of the Most Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in 1871. Before this time, the parish of Monkstown had no Catholic Church of its own. Indeed, after its separation from the parish of Passage, the parish of Monkstown included Shanbally, Ringaskiddy, Barnahely, Haulbowline and Spike Island. So, in 1862, Canon William O’Connor leased a plot of land on the side of Fairy Hill and commissioned the world-renowned Dublin-based architects, E.W. Pugin & George Ashlin, to design a church worthy of one of the most breathtaking views in Cork Harbour.
The Church of the Most Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary is of French Gothic design and was completed in 1872. Fr. Henry Neville, parish priest from 1867, was responsible for seeing the construction of the church and adjacent presbytery through to finish. Fr. Neville had been a professor in Maynooth College for some time before transferral to St. Finbarr’s in 1875. He was nominated for the bishopric of Cork. So certain was his election that the Sisters of Passage West Convent made a mitre for him. When he was not appointed, the mitre was hastily turned into a tea cosy.
The Sacred Heart Church is built with brown sandstone from Glanmire. The stained glass window over the main door was by Francis Barrett of Edinburgh. Fund raising continued for some years and the spire was completed before the end of the 1870s. Provision for a four-face clock was included in the tower design, although this never materialised. With the help of his parishioners, Fr. Neville raised the estimated £3,000 building costs over many years of effort. But when the costs escalated to £5,000, the decorative works and furnishings characteristic of Pugin & Ashlin churches were left unfinished.
The Stations of the Cross were designed in France, presented by Alderman John Daly, J.P. of Rookhurst, Monkstown, and were hung in the church in January 1878. Fr. John Canon Fahy P.P. paid for the construction of the grotto in the churchyard entirely out of his own funds. Tradition says that the Cork brewing family, Murphys, offered to provide the clock but Canon McNamara, then parish priest and a dedicated total abstainer, refused the offer.
For 133 years, this church has stood watch over Cork Harbour and has played a central role in the life of the Monkstown community. Its architectural merit has won it a place in Cork County Council's Record of Protected Structures. But the church’s easterly aspect has accentuated the ravages of time.