05 August 2017

Visiting the other Saint Mary’s
on Athlunkard Street, Limerick

Saint Mary’s Church, Athlunkard Street … the other Saint Mary’s in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

It is just a short stroll from Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, to the other Saint Mary’s, and so recently, after dropping in to the cathedral, I visited this other Saint Mary’s on the Island.

There has been a Saint Mary’s Church on Athlunkard Street since the 18th century. This site on the Sluice or Little Island was first leased from Alderman John Ingram and a former Malt House improvised as a church.

John Ingram was the father of Canon Jacob Ingram, Chancellor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral in the 18th century, and grandfather of Canon John Hoare, Chancellor of Saint Mary’s and Rector of Rathkeale.

Work on building a purpose-built chapel on the site began in 1746-1748, and the first Mass was celebrated there on 10 December 1749. This was a cruciform-plan church, and there was a handsome altar donated by John Kelly, a Limerick merchant.

The present church was designed by the Dublin-based architectural partnership of Ashlin and Coleman, where George Coppinger Ashlin and Thomas Coleman were the heirs to the church building programme in Ireland of the great AWN Pugin. Their other works include many of the great contributions of the early 20th century to the Gothic Revival in Ireland, including Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Armagh, and they also designed Clery’s Department Store on O’Connell Street, Dublin, in 1918-1920.

The new Saint Mary’s Church in Limerick was built by the Dublin-based builders Maguire and Shortt at a cost of £40,000 on the site of the former Saint Mary’s. The foundation stone was laid on 11 May 1930 by the Bishop of Limerick and the first Mass took place in 1932.

This church is a good example of 20th-century Hiberno-Romanesque church architecture. The church and tower are important elements in the streetscape marking entry and exits point in the city. The design of the tower is particularly strong, working well with the nave elevation.

The main door is set in a Romanesque-style round-arched door opening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The church is built in limestone, with a seven-bay aisle and clerestorey side elevations prolonged by a slightly recessed chancel elevation, and a three-stage tower to the south-west corner, which was added in 1940.

The church is built on a rectangular plan, with a double-height nave flanked by single-height aisles. The pitched slate nave roof has crested ridge tiles, and there are slate roofs on the lean-to aisles. There is a limestone chimneystack flush with the chancel elevation.

The three-stage square-plan tower has a smooth limestone ashlar base, an elongated intermediary stage, with smooth limestone ashlar sides projecting from the rock-faced limestone elevation. There is a smooth limestone ashlar belfry stage with triple-arched openings rising from the plinth course. A smooth limestone ashlar cupola rises from the machicolated parapet. The ogee cupola over the square-plan tower lantern tapers to a cruciform finial, with patinated copper laid in a herringbone pattern, and trefoil vent openings.

There are round-arched lancet window throughout the church. These are grouped in pairs to the clerestorey, and in threes to the aisle elevations.

There is a rose window above the gabled entrance filled with geometric tracery and leaded stained glass. There are oculi to the tower aisle and the chancel elevation with leaded stained glass.

The main door is set in a Romanesque-style round-arched door opening with engaged colonnettes, cushion capitals, and stripped chevron archivolts.

Inside Saint Mary’s Church, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Inside, the nave is separated from the aisles by arcades made of polished marble columns with rendered capitals and flat squat impost block.

A full-height round arch separates the chancel, with the High Altar raised on a marble-faced platform. There is an arcaded marble and mosaic reredos beneath a triple arched window.

The different floor coverings including patterned tilework to the nave and aisles; timber boards laid in herringbone patterns in the pew areas; modern replacement tiles on the nave side of the altar; and mosaics with classical patterns.

The church stands on a prominent corner site where Athlunkard Street, Island Road and Saint Mary’s Place meet. The early 19th-century former parochial house is to the north-east and the foundations of the earlier church form and interesting feature in the church gardens.

Angels on the reredos in Saint Mary’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

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