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Two of the most prolific Irish architects of the nineteenth century, Thomas Duff and William Barre, were both born in Newry and had their practices in the town. They created some of the most iconic buildings in the area and further afield and were connected through William Barre being a pupil of Thomas Duff.

Thomas Duff was the architect of Newry Court House which opened in 1843. Seen here c.1900, the Court House was damaged by a bomb in 1972 when the gates and railings were destroyed. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
Thomas Duff was the architect of Newry Court House which opened in 1843. Seen here c.1900, the Court House was damaged by a bomb in 1972 when the gates and railings were destroyed. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Thomas Duff was born in 1792.  Although it is not clear where he received his training, it is believed that he trained first in London, then at the Dublin Society's School of Drawing in Architecture.  He established himself as an architect in Newry by 1813, when he took over the supervision of the construction of St Mary's Church of Ireland. He opened an office in Belfast in 1822.  He was described by the local historic architecture enthusiast, Myles Gilligan as “the most important figure in the early development in the architecture profession in Ulster”.

The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church was William Barre’s first major commission in Newry. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church was William Barre’s first major commission in Newry. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Although the bulk of Thomas Duff’s clientele was from the mercantile and landowning classes, his iconic works include Newry Cathedral, Newry Court House, the Savings Bank (now The Sean Hollywood Arts Centre) and also Narrow Water Castle, near Warrenpoint. 

The Italianate architecture of the Riverside Presbyterian Church designed by William Barre makes it one of the most original and distinctive buildings in Newry. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection.
The Italianate architecture of the Riverside Presbyterian Church designed by William Barre makes it one of the most original and distinctive buildings in Newry. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection.

As well as the Cathedral of SS Patrick and Colman, Newry, Duff designed St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral in Armagh and St Patrick’s Pro-Cathedral in Dundalk.  Influenced by a drawing he made of Kings College, Cambridge, he was praised for his choice of Gothic architecture rather than Classical architecture which was the usual choice for Catholic churches at the time. 

In 1847 Duff took on a seventeen year-old William Barre as a pupil, influencing and inspiring his work.  Duff died of a stroke in 1848 and Barre finished his architectural training under Edward P Gribbon in Dublin. He returned to Newry in 1850 to set up his offices at 2 Marcus Square

Much of his work, like Duff, focused on the Gothic style.  He was described by Myles Gilligan as “the evangelist of ornament and of the decorated Gothic style.” Like Duff, Barre worked on, and designed, many churches, becoming the architect of twenty-four throughout Ireland.  His earliest work recorded in the Irish Architectural Archive’s Dictionary of Irish Architects is ‘improvements’ at the Cathedral of SS. Patrick and Colman in Newry, continuing Duff’s work. 

Barre’s first major commission came from the Non-Subscribing Presbyterians in Newry to build their new church at Needham Place, now John Mitchell Place.  Completed in 1853 using local granite, the church was built in a style known as “Geometric Decorated Gothic.”  It has been recognised ever since as one of the finest Presbyterian churches in Ulster because of its compact structure and aesthetic proportions, inspiring a new style for dissenting communities all over Ireland.

A good quality photograph taken c.1890 of Narrow Water Castle which Thomas Duff designed in the Elizabethan revival style. The building was completed in 1836.  Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
A good quality photograph taken c.1890 of Narrow Water Castle which Thomas Duff designed in the Elizabethan revival style. The building was completed in 1836. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

William Barre also designed the Riverside Presbyterian Church in Newry which opened in 1865. An 1866 article in The Newry Almanack reported that “The style of architecture will be Lombardo – Venetian, and among it’s external attractions is a handsome steeple intended to be 90 feet high”.

Barre entered and won various competitions for many famous Ulster buildings and, in 1865, famously beat seventy-six entries, including one from Charles Lanyon, to build the Albert Memorial, a clock tower in central Belfast popularly known as the ‘Albert Clock’. Barre died 1867 and was buried at St Patrick’s Church in Newry.  

Newry and Mourne Museum is temporarily closed.

by Noelle Murtagh

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