Cork's landmark angel restored to its former glory


Ecumenism has scaled new heights in Cork. The story began shortly before Christmas, when someone scaled the face of St Fin Barre's Cathedral and removed the golden trumpets which had been held in the hands of the golden angel - the resurrection angel - for more than 120 years. The angel and the trumpets were a gift to Cork by the renowned architect Burges, who designed the cathedral and marked its completion by the donation. Aloft, the angel and its trumpets proclaimed the Church of Ireland's presence in the city and its Christian message. The "goldie angel", as it became known, came to be recognised as a defining landmark in Cork.

Following their disappearance, the stolen trumpets were recovered from waste ground close to St Patrick's Catholic Church, on the other side of the city, within 48 hours. Yesterday, fully restored, they were replaced in their original position.

The Dean of Cork, the Very Rev Dr Michael Jackson, a man with a head for heights, thought it appropriate to invite Bishop John Buckley, the Catholic Bishop of Cork and Ross, to join him in a little expedition, the better to celebrate the restoration of the angel and the return of the trumpets.

When the Bishop's car pulled up in front of the cathedral it was met by the Dean. "How are you, Michael. What's the plan?"

"Well, Bishop, I thought we would climb the scaffolding on the outside face of the cathedral up to the angel. Everyone else can use the inside access route to go up and meet us there."

Bishop Buckley, somewhat ruffled by this statement, declared that it was just as well he had completed a novena and had been on retreat recently. It was fine for the Dean, he said, who is overseeing the £5 million restoration of the cathedral - "he's an old hand at the scaffolding" - but it was "all new" to him.

The Dean led the way. Like two human flies, they edged their way up the east face of the cathedral towards the goldie angel. The ladders inside the scaffolding provided some margin of safety, but when he came back to terra firma after the 160-foot climb Bishop Buckley said: "Never again." However, he conceded afterwards that the climb had been a "magnificent experience".

Just looking up at the spires of St Fin Barre's is enough to make anyone dizzy, but the Bishop and the Dean gamely climbed all the way up. Before they set off on the climb someone had remarked that the media would have a very good news story if two senior churchmen fell from the scaffolding. "I hope to disappoint you on that one," said Dean Jackson.

The restoration of St Fin Barre's is being carried out in three phases. Phase one involves restoring the exterior fabric of the building, including its stained-glass windows. The second phase involves an interpretative centre which will tell the story of the reputed site of St Finbarr's monastery in Cork, which led to the foundation of the city. Finally, the inner fabric of the cathedral will be restored and enhanced.