Saturday, 24 June 2017

Visiting the old
and the new
at Villiers School

The former Villiers School on Henry Street, Limerick … designed by James Pain like a Palladian country villa (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I am in Villiers School on the North Circular Road, Limerick, for most of today [24 June 2017], for the Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert diocesan synod. This is my first time to take part in a synod for this diocese, and it is also my first time to visit Villers School too.

The school was founded from the estate of Mrs Hannah Villiers in 1821, and in 1953 it moved to its present location on the Tivoli campus on the North Circular Road, less than a mile from the city centre.

But, a few weeks ago, I visited the original school buildings on Henry Street in the city centre. The school was founded for Protestant girls and endowed by Mrs Hannah Villiers in her will of 1815. In her will, she also endowed the Villiers Almshouses on Nicholas Street.

Samuel Lewis observed in 1830 that the large schools were being built, and it seems to have been completed around 1837-1839. It is said James Pain, the Limerick-based architect, designed the school building, which was built around 1830 at a cost of £3,089.18s.10d. A generation later, in the 1860s, 94 children were being educated in the school.

The school building compares favourably with the archetypal Palladian country villa, with a central corp de logi flanked by wings linked to terminating pavilions. The quality of the ashlar limestone work gives further distinction to this fine classical building on Henry Street.

The former school building consists of a five-bay, two-storey over-basement central block with a centrally-placed pedimented entrance breakfront. This is flanked by straight single-storey over basement three-bay wings that have blank recessed horizontal panels above apertures. The building comes to an end at two single-bay, single-storey pedimented pavilions with concealed basements.

When the school moved, the old building was bought by Steve Foley in July 1954 for £5,000 and became the Shannon Arms Hotel. The hotel had beautiful gardens that were described at the time as a ‘must’ for the bride and groom at weddings there. In 1974 the hotel was sold to the Kelly family and subsequently to the Ryan family.

The old school buildings on Henry Street now house offices and an apartment building. Meanwhile, the school campus on the North Circular Road has expanded in recent years as the school acquired an adjoining two acre site and two period houses, which I hope to see during a break at today’s diocesan synod.

The portico of the former Villiers School on Henry Street, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

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