Dunmore East is a small fishing village on the south-east coast of Ireland, 16kms from the city of Waterford.It sits on the western side of the Waterford Harbour Estuary, 4.8kms from Hook Head in Wexford.
Dunmore East, Co. Waterford, Ireland
Holy Cross Church Killea
Why ‘Killea' Church ?
Why Killea, and not Dunmore East? The church, being outside the village, is not in Dunmore East, but rather in the
town land of Killea , which gives its name to the church, and also to the parish.
The precise date of the building of Holy Cross Church , Killea, is lost to history.
It certainly dates from the early part of the nineteenth
century, with the date 1817 a definite possibility. Although in
recent times the village has crept up the hill to encompass
the church, as late as the early 1990s it was still ‘out in the
country', with no footpath or street lighting, and few
surrounding houses. Why, like most Irish churches, was it
not built in the village? Local tradition says that it was
because the village had many Protestants, who would not
have been keen on having the new Roman Catholic church
in their midst. Of course, there is another side to that coin.
If there were not many Catholics residing in the village,
then the church was built where the Catholics lived – out in
The church is ‘cruciform' in shape. Cruciform means ‘in the shape of a cross'. The only major alteration to the
original structure is the addition of the entry porch near the sacristy, which was added in the late 1970s by Fr.
James Aylward, P.P. Before that, there was a type of corridor, separated from the church, at this point, which meant
that worshippers leaving by the side door actually exited the church through the sacristy. The window, now in the
porch, was until then part of the outside wall. The small lean-to building near the door of the porch is also not
original, having been added probably towards the end of the 1800s.
The terrazzo floor was installed by Canon Michael Leahy in the late 1960s. It features, in front of the altar, a pelican
feeding its young with its blood, a mistaken belief of the ancients, which made it an appropriate symbol for Christ.
The pelican also features on the old high altar, above the tabernacle.
The church has several unusual, if not unique features. Viewed from outside, the extraordinary raised section of
the slated roof, where the ridge tiles of the main and side aisles meet, is certainly unique. It demanded huge
complexity of construction as opposed to the more normal straightforward, right-angled meeting of the ridge tiles.
Inside the church there are several other features of note. The four walls that surround the centre portion of the
church are all curved. From the inside it looks as if there must be a dome on top of them. This again made for far
more difficult construction, especially where they meet the ceiling, than would have been necessary had they been
straight. The ceiling is also of intricate design, with various facades and slopes. The result of all these curves and
angles is that the church has superb acoustics – a science that would presumably have been unknown to the
builders of nearly two hundred years ago. The unusual upward-pointing structures on the spire above the high altar
are very reminiscent of similar Viking embellishments in old Norwegian churches.
The Ceiling Rose
The ceiling rose is another curious feature of the church. Comprised of concentric circles, the embossed plaster
illustrations represent the symbols of the original British Isles ‘Home Countries' – the shamrock for Ireland , the
English rose, the Welsh leek and Scotland's thistle. Why they are there is unknown. Perhaps it has to do with some
kind of anniversary acknowledgement of the 1800 Act of Union, a political move that was popular with Catholics of
"Going to the Wall"
Like most churches of the nineteenth century, Killea Church was built without seating. The existing seats were
added in the 1890s. The one exception is the fixed seat attached to the walls all around, some of which still
survives. This would have been the only seating in the early years of the church's existence. Elderly people, and
the infirm, would have sat on this wall seat, while everybody else stood for Sunday Mass and the other religious
services. Eventually, as they approached old age, most people would have reached a stage where they would
have been unable to stand for the entire ceremony, and they would have gone to sit by the wall. The old Irish
saying of somebody ‘going to the wall' – meaning that they were not as robust as they once were – originates from
this situation. Holy Cross, Killea is one of the few church buildings which retain this original feature, since the wall-
seat has fallen victim to the advent of radiators and other modern developments in most contemporary churches.