Tuesday, 16 May 2017

A Victorian vision of Venice
on a street corner in Limerick

The building on the corner of Patrick Street and Ellen Street was inspired by the vision of Victorian visits to Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Early one morning last week, in the middle of commercial Limerick and just a few steps from the River Shannon and the Abbey River, I came across a surprising taste of Venice on the corner of Patrick Street and Ellen Street.

No 9-11 Patrick Street stands on the corner of Ellen Street, two streets that are said to have been named after members of the Arthur family, once one of the leading merchant families in 19th century Limerick.

The building has been redeveloped in recent decades, so that the original large shop premises at the street level has been subdivided into multiple units, while the upper stories have been gutted and subdivided into apartments.

But this former 19th century commercial building still exudes its former Victorian grandeur. Although I have not yet identified the architect, this building was inspired by the palazzi of Venice, and – despite recent alterations – its Italianate style is still impressive, and it continues to reflect a style that was inspired by Victorian visitors to the Veneto.

This colourful and engaging building, standing on a prominent corner site, is a terraced, seven-bay, three-storey, former commercial building. It dates back to 1872, when it first opened in 1872.

At ground-floor level, there are limestone ashlar Corinthian pilasters that bring a delightful touch to the limestone ashlar shopfront arcade.

The limestone ashlar shopfront to both elevations forms a seven-bay arcade of elliptical arches with profiled soffit and reveals, glazed with fixed timber-framed display windows on a profiled limestone plinth course.

The arched blind corner wraps around the side elevation. There is a small recessed medallion to each spandrel. The dentil enriched shopfront cornice that also acts as the first-floor sill course.

The round-arched window openings at the first-floor level form arcades of two and three (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Superimposed rusticated stucco Corinthian pilasters rise from the sill course at the first-floor and second-floor levels, where there are two paired end bays and three bays to the centre.

At the second-floor level, you can see a supporting limestone ashlar dentil and an enriched parapet entablature.

The round-arched window openings at the first-floor level form arcades of two and three, each with polished granite outer pilasters and an inner three-quarter engaged column joined by elaborate running mould stucco archivolts with panelled soffits and vermiculated keystones.

The balcony balustrades enclose recessed glazed elevations, dating from around 1990. There are square-headed window openings at the second-floor level with shared limestone sills, and a stucco architrave with rounded corners.

The recessed glazed elevation inside is illuminated by these unglazed window openings.

A flat roof to the recessed top floor was added during the renovations in the early1990s.

The building was almost entirely rebuilt inside around 1990, and is now in use as apartments on the upper floors, while the ground floor continues to be used as retail shops, and retains much of the original street façades.

Part of the building is now known as Ormston House, a cultural resource centre in the heart of Limerick. Ormston House opened in 2011 to support creative practices and to provide the opportunity to develop challenging and experimental work.

Through a programme of exhibitions, events and residencies, Ormston House offers a physical and intellectual space to encourage active participation in the arts. Ormston House strives to grow audiences for contemporary art and to build an international network for cultural exchange and engagement.

Despite the recent renovations and large-scale alterations, this building and its façade retain the original architectural significance and it continues to occupy a prominent place in the streetscape of Limerick.

A vision of Venice on Patrick Street, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

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