"This vast and imposing Mid-twentieth century Catholic church, with tall Italianate campanile tower and copper dome over the crossing, dominates the town of Carndonagh. Its vast scale is a statement of the confidence, power and the authority of the Catholic Church in Ireland at the time of construction.
It retains its original form in its entirety, whilst the high-quality materials, craftsmanship and masonry skills engaged in its construction are all clearly evident. Its plan and the round-headed openings give this building a robust Romanesque Revival character that is unusual in County Donegal. It is primarily the scale of this building that impresses, the building being perhaps a little dull and austere to both the exterior and interior. It was built to designs by Ralph Byrne (1877-1946), a noted and prolific church architect who was noted for his academic, and rather eclectic, approach to design. Byrne brought a range of international influences to his church designs to create a fusion of historical style with a contemporary interpretation, as can be seen in his Italian Baroque-inspired works at Cathedral of Christ the King in Mullingar (see 15310166), SS Peter and Paul’s Church in Athlone, and at the Cathedral of the Assumption, Cavan Town.
Construction work started in 1941 and the foundation stone was laid in July 1942, although works continued into 1945. The estimated cost was £60,000, and the main contractor involved was Murphy Brothers. It is interesting to note that this church was one of the few major commissions for the Catholic Church in (depicting SS. Columcille, Patrick and Brigid and the Sacred Heart) to the crossing tower are by Albert Power (1881-1945). They were erected 10th July 1945, the day on which Power died. The present church replaced an earlier hall-type Catholic church in Carndonagh, which was located a short distance to the west of the present edifice in the site now occupied by the associated graveyard. This church was originally built in 1826 with a new tower (and possibly other works) added in 1875 to designs by William McElwee (1844-1913), a Derry architect who converted to Catholicism in his later life having being born a Protestant. Lewis (1837) records that this earlier church was a ‘large and handsome chapel in the town of Cam [Carndonagh], built in 1826, at a cost of £1200’. This earlier church was demolished sometime following the opening of the new edifice in the mid 1940s. The Church of the Sacred Heart is a landmark feature visible for miles around, and is an integral element of the built heritage and social history of the local area."