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The use of public spaces is a complex and intriguing notion. When you enter a space subconsciously you act differently. This is something we may not be aware of but it is something we automatically do. Growing up you learn the social etiquette that is expected when you are out in public. The way you behave is dependent on the space and time of day. In a public park you can run about, talk, laugh, and shout. This is the accepted norm, however when you enter religious grounds, a synagogue, mausoleum, church or cathedral you behave completely different. Hushed tones and lightness of foot takes the fore. You would never expect to hear sounds associated with loud talking, chatting or running in places of worship.

I was thinking about spaces as symbols of power recently thanks to my participation in a MOOCS course with Queens University Belfast on Identity, Conflict and Public Spaces. For this course we are discussing places of power and how people interact and engage in different spaces. This made me think of one of the most prominent places in my home town that for me exudes a sense of power. The Cathedral of SS Patrick and Felim in Cavan Town is a stunning building that stands proudly on top of an incline. Its exudes a sense of power and purpose and is a key landmark in the town. It’s gleaming white stone facade draws the eye and pronounces it as having meaning and stature. The cathedral dates from 1942 and is built in the Neo Classical style. It is a catholic place of worship and as such that brings a different meaning and essence of the building.

Cathedral of SS. APtrick & Felim, Cavan Town

I am a huge fan of visiting old churches and cathedrals and adore getting to view the sculptures and stained glass windows that are a staple of buildings such as this. This particular cathedral is extra special in that is houses exquisite Harry Clarke stained glass windows and as such offers itself as a place to go to view art and not solely as a place of worship. Returning to my original point of places as symbols of power, I think that this is never more apparent that with buildings that are attached to different religions. This notion of power can be deemed both positive and negative. Positive in that it invokes a sense of safety and inclusion to those that use the building but then equally as negative in the sense that the building is for the people that practice that particular faith and for those alone. This sense of exclusiveness can be damaging for people. I know personally that I have never been inside a synagogue and would feel quite strange if I were to do so. These are public buildings that should project as sense of togetherness and inclusion and dependent on who you are they can do the exact opposite. A cathedral to some may represent the control of the church, the wrong doings of the church in society and the public dominance of the catholic church on the masses. A beautiful white building may in some instill a sense of fear, hatred and even loneliness.

This then led me on to thinking about a time when the cathedral in Cavan did indeed project a sense of inclusion to all those who wished to enter and engage in the space. In 2012 Cavan hosted the Fleadh Ceoil na hEireann and one of the events that was created to coincide with this festival was a performance piece at the cathedral. It was a piece filled with music, song and dance and was an event that gathered a huge crowd. People from all over the county came to witness this event and it was clear from the crowd that whether you were catholic or not you were present and felt included. This was an indoor performace of ‘Good Works’ and outdoor event ‘Rite of Spring’ held also on the cathedral grounds. I found it quite interesting to see how people then used the space. Gone was the sense of exclusiveness, gone was the need to whisper; shouting, clapping, laughing and cheering were noises that emanated through the space. People were eating and drinking and having fun. This space that had the day before been a space for worship was transformed into a place where people had come together to engage with the arts and enjoy themselves.


The sense of control and power that had previously been projected from the building had been replaced with a more welcoming and entertaining feeling. I found this interesting it that it conveys the power that we attach to structures, spaces and building. The cathedral has no hidden power, it doesn’t speak or refuse entry to people. Any feelings of exclusion are notions that we ourselves attach to these buildings. We as a people had given these spaces power and it is clear that it is a power that can be removed dependent on the circumstances.