Saturday, 18 March 2017

Former Baptist church in
Limerick gives a new
meaning to ‘conversion’

The former Baptist Church on Upper O’Connell Street, Limerick, now serves as a Roman Catholic parish centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

In between catching buses from Askeaton and Limerick and Limerick and Dublin during the week, I stopped for a while to photograph more churches, former schools, buildings and streets.

I had hopped off the bus at the corner of Upper O’Connell Avenue, because I wanted to begin researching the story of Limerick’s Jewish community, which was once based in the street now known as Wolfe Tone Street. But I was distracted by the story of another religious minority in the city, the Baptists.

The former Baptist Church on O’Connell Avenue was built in 1894. It was designed by the Dublin-born architect George Palmer Beater (1850-1928) and was built by a local building contractor, MP Kennedy who lived nearby at 3 Military Road, now O’Connell Avenue).

The new church was built to seat up to 300 people and also included a lecture room and several classrooms under the church. It was built in redbrick, dressed with limestone, and cost over £2,000 to build.

The Irish Builder reported on 15 April 1894: ‘The Baptist Church Limerick is now in course of erection. It is of red brick with limestone dressings. Under the church itself is a fine lecture room, several class rooms, and other minor apartments. The church will seat about 300 and will be heated by a Grundy’s apparatus.’

To the right and left of the front façade, there were separate entrances for men and women.

The architect George Palmer Beater (1850-1928) was born in Dublin, a son of Orlando Beater, of Glenarm, Terenure, who was chairman of Arnott & Co Ltd. He was educated in Dublin and then articled to the architect Alfred Gresham Jones.

In 1880, he married Isabel Stokes, a daughter of William James Stokes, and they were the parents of one son, Leslie Orlando Beater. In 1896, he married his second wife Constance, daughter of R. Middleton Perry, JP, and they were the parents of two daughters and a son, George Perry Beater.

Beater’s career spanned a period from 1873 to 1926, and at various times he worked from Molesworth Street, Dawson Street and Leinster Street. At the time the Baptist Church was built in Limerick, Beater’s practice was based in Lower Sackville Street, Dublin, now O’Connell Street.

He lived at 1 Rostrevor Terrace, Rathgar (1873-1879); Saint Helen’s, Highfield Road, Rathgar (1881-1882), Glenarm, Terenure Road, Rathgar (1883-1896), which had been his parents’ home, Minore, Saint Kevin’s Park, Rathmines (1897-1922), and 9 Brighton Road, Rathgar, from 1927 until his death.

Beater supported many charities in Dublin, and was a Governor of the Royal Hospital for Incurables and the Old Men’s Home on Leeson Park. He was a fellow of the both the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland (member, 1878; FRIAI, 1919) and the Royal Society of Antiquaries in Ireland (FRSAI, 1898).

Beater died at his home at 9 Brighton Road, Rathgar, on 8 February 1928, and he was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery. His obituary in the Irish Builder said he was ‘a kindly, courteous gentleman, liked and respected by all who knew him.’

This ornate red brick Gothic Revival church is enriched with an elaborate façade treatment and its small scale contrasts with the Georgian terrace to the north and the classical style early 20th century Saint Joseph’s Church to the south. This building adds to the variety of this section to the end of O’Connell Avenue and marks the end of the early 19th century city and the beginning of the early 20th century suburbs.

This is a free-standing, rectangular plan, double-height over raised basement, red brick and limestone gable-fronted church, built in the Gothic Revival style. There is a two-storey gabled entrance bay to the north and a single-storey gabled entrance porch to the south, approached by two flights of steps flanked by railings.

About 60 people attended the last service in the Baptist Church on Upper O’Connell Avenue in 1992. A new Baptist church was completed in Caherdavin soon afterwards.

Just a century after the Baptist Church was built, the building was bought in 1995 by Saint Joseph Roman Catholic Church next door and it was turned into a parish centre – which gives a new and unexpected ecumenical dimension to the story of this church building, and gives a new and unexpected dimension to the meaning of conversion.

A carved stone over one of the paired main doors recalls: ‘This centre was purchased by the people of St Joseph’s Parish in 1995 during the administration of Very Rev Donal McNamara.’

Sadly, there is no mention of the past life of this former Baptist Church, or of its architect. Perhaps Limerick Civic Trust may rectify this in the near future.

One of the paired entrance doors in the former Baptist Church on Upper O’Connell Street, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

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