Princes Street Unitarian Church

Address:39 Princes Street

The Unitarian Church is in the heart of the city on Prince’s St. When building work began in 1711, the area was a marsh located outside the city gates. The dissenting protestant congregation had outgrown its previous church in what was then Watergate St and the new church opened on 4th August 1717 with the first service being led by its minister, The Rev. Samuel Lowthian.

The buildings to either side of the church were the minister’s manse and a school. Like all dissenting churches or chapels, the interior design was simple, lacking the ornate design associated with contemporary Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. The church was designed for the congregation to hear the minister, in the era before microphones and speakers. The church included a balcony, which ran three sides of the building. It could seat up to 800 people.

In 2017 the church which is still a Unitarian place of worship celebrated its 300th anniversary. The year was marked by a visit from President Michael D. Higgins, an anniversary service attended by civic and religious leaders in the city and the ordination of a new minister; The Rev. Michael O’Sullivan, who became the first Cork man to hold the position in 198 years. The church also hosted a specially commissioned play to celebrate the visit to the church in 1845 of the anti-slavery campaigner, orator and author Frederick Douglass. Over the past year the church has undergone a lot of renovation work, including the opening of the “South Chapel” where services are held every Sunday. The church was also gifted a pulpit from the Church of Ireland diocese of Cork Cloyne & Ross.

Famous Cork Unitarians include Rev Thomas Dix Hinks, the artist Daniel MacAlise and Mayor of Cork, Richard Dowden (the title Lord Mayor had not yet been bestowed upon the city). The Temperance Agreement was signed in the church in 1839 by catholic priest, Fr Matthew, OFM, Cap.

The original pews, pulpit and organ were sadly removed in the late 90s, even so the church remains one of Corks religious architectural gems, steeped in history and still a vibrant part of our city centre.