William Burges was appointed architect for a new cathedral in 1862, after a competition for which there were 63 entries. Among the requirements of the competition was that the cost of the building should not exceed £15,000 and Burges was criticised by other architects because the cost of the towers, spires and carving was not included in his estimate.
In the end some £100,000 was spent on the building.
In 1865 the foundation stone was laid by Bishop John Gregg and on St. Andrew’s Day,1870, the building was consecrated.
The towers and spires were not completed until 1879.
The cathedral is built of Cork limestone and the interior of Bath stone and the walls are lined with red Cork marble.
Some of the best stained glass in Ireland can be seen inside, with vibrant unfaded colours throughout.
Burges drew up an overall iconographic scheme for the cathedral windows, and maintained control over all the stages of the work. He also designed all the sculpture, mosaics, furniture and metalwork.
The present cathedral therefore preserves a remarkable unity of style throughout. It has been said that St Fin Barre's may be the most coherent French Neo-Gothic style cathedral in western Europe.