Renowned architect Arthur McClean.

Arthur McClean: Designer of Cavan and Canadian buildings

This week's Times Past column by historian Jonathan Smyth recalls Arthur McClean an architect from Belturbet...

I saw a photograph of Arthur McClean the other day and thought, now there’s a man with a scowl that could drive rabbits from a carrot field, a frown most likely brought on by hours of intense concentration. The perfectionist, they say, is rarely a happy creature.

McClean the architect was born in Belturbet, Co Cavan, in 1779 and he had some prominent buildings to his credit within the county. Eventually, leaving the island of Saints and Scholars, he took-off to Ontario, Canada to further ply his trade. He is noted in the Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada 1800 to 1950 as ‘builder and architect’ in an interesting biographical piece.

Reared in Belturbet, McClean was evidently clever, and just aged 14 years, he enrolled at Dublin’s Royal Society School for Drawing and Architecture. His name was first entered in the school’s register on December 5, 1793.

As mentioned, McClean’s early work can be found in his native county. Firstly, in Ballyjamesduff, there is the Market House, today used as a Chinese takeaway and for a time was a hair salon. It is a beautiful building and McClean evidently was very gifted. The Market House, built in 1813, is a handsome structure and experts at the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage have described it as a ‘detached classical style five-bay two storey’ building, ... with ‘three central recessed bays beneath oversailing roof, two-storey extension to rear.’

A nod to colonial times can be found on a central limestone plaque under the eaves which informs the passer-by that the building was: ‘Erected in MDCCCXXXIII (1813). A year memorable for the Glorious Achievement of Marquis Wellington.’ a property designed by a celebrated architect to mark the achievements of a celebrated historical figure. I cannot think of a more elegant place to eat a takeaway.

This year, the Church of Ireland church in Virginia marked its 200th anniversary. Sadly, graffiti was painted on the walls afterwards which was not a very nice thing to do and must have been upsetting for both church and towns people.

The architectural designs for this church were drawn up in 1818 by Arthur McClean and three years later, the builders completed their task. The church is one of most distinctive architectural features in the town of Virginia and my earliest memories are of passing it on the way to visit our relation at St Joseph’s nursing home, and then later of the many times my mother and I visited Pergola Nurseries when they opened.

McClean’s son the Rev. Booker McClean wrote a piece in his diary about the church and Samuel Lewis recorded that the place of worship ‘was erected in 1821, at a cost of £2, 492. 61 ¾ of which £1, 8:46.3.1 was a loan from the Board First Fruits’ and the remaining was raised by the parishioners. The building underwent some damage in 1830 and the costs were shared between the bishop and parishioners. The building underwent some damage in 1830 and, the costs again were shared between the bishop and flock.

Again, the heritage experts in their national inventory tell us that the church serves ‘as a symbolic focal point in the former plantation town’ ... enjoying ‘monumental setting which is enhanced by its ample grounds and mature trees.’ McClean’s edifice, is situated whereby ‘the plan is simple but effective, placing focus on the church tower and spire, which can be seen from a distance, and which stands in axial relationship to the entrance of the hunting lodge demesne of the Marquis of Headford.’

Today, the lodge is known better as the Virginia Park Lodge, a fine Hotel.

McClean’s last known Irish project were plans he drew for Kell’s gaol, but these plan were not used.

In 1825, McClean emigrated from Ireland and settled in Brockville Ontario. In Canada, he designed three Anglican churches: St Peter’s, Brockville; St James, Maitland; and Christchurch, Burrit’s Rapids, Ontario.

In 2016, Thousand Islands Life magazine’, noted the 190th anniversary of St James’ Church, Maitland. In 1825, 90 subscribers gave towards the construction costs of a new Anglican church on a one-acre site which was provided by a resident named George Longley. Arthur McClean was selected to design the new building and for his services he received £3.

Local tradesmen were employed to carry out the work and by 1826 St James’s was finished, a basic ‘Georgian style’ church with decorated Gothic features. The stonemason was John Sheperd, and the carpenter James Howard. The magazine recorded that the design by McClean was intended to be functional, yes impressive enough to catch the eye of the person on the street.

At St Peter’s Church, Brockville Heritage erected a plaque to McClean. It reads ‘St Peter’s Church of England. Built to the design of Arthur McClean an Irish architect who settled in Brockville.’ The cornerstone for the church was put in place in 1826, however, the project suffered from financial problems and took five years to complete. It was designed and built under the direction of McClean according to the website,

Since 2007, the congregation at the church became known as St Lawrence’s when the former congregations of Trinity Anglican Church and St Peter’s Church amalgamated. Now, they meet each Sunday in McClean’s architectural gem, formerly called St Peter’s.

Arthur McClean died in 1864. He was survived by his wife Elizabeth; sons Arthur (1828-1881); and James, born 1827.


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