10 November 2017

Thomond Bridge, crossing
Limerick’s ‘river of billows,
river of old poetic founts’

Thomond Bridge, built by the Pain brothers on the site of Limerick’s oldest bridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I was writing earlier this week about the Limerick Soviet and a plaque on Jack Monday’s coffee shop that recalls the clashes at Thomond Bridge almost a century ago, less than two years after the October Revolution began in Russia on 7 November 2017.

Thomond Bridge links Castle Street and the old mediaeval Englishtown of Limerick with Thomond Gate, High Road and Clancy Strand.

The earliest bridge on the site of Thomond Bridge was built near a fording point of the River Shannon. The bridge was probably built about 1185, making it the first and oldest bridge in Limerick. It was built to link King John’s Castle and the mediaeval city of Limerick Castle with the Thomond or Co Clare side of the river.

This was once the only bridge crossing the Shannon at Limerick. But the original bridge collapsed in 1292, killing 80 people. The bridge was then rebuilt with 14 unequal arches, and over the centuries, the bridge has been rebuilt several times.

In the late 17th century, Thomond Bridge was the scene of a failed defence of the city during the Siege of Limerick. At the Thomond or Co Clare end of the bridge sits the Treaty Stone, which was moved from its original place in Thomondgate and is now a symbol of the city. But despite the legends and myths surrounding the Treaty Stone, the Treaty of Limerick was probably signed in a campaign tent.

The bridge of the 18th and early 19th century had 14 arches. That bridge is the setting for many tales about Limerick told by Michael Hogan (1828-1899), the poet known as the Bard of Thomond. These include ‘The Bishop’s Lady,’ a story of a woman who would throw late-night walkers over the bridge to be drowned in the river.

The poet Aubrey de Vere, who lived at Curragh Chase near Askeaton, Co Limerick, is said to have been inspired by Thomond Bridge when he wrote:

River of billows! to whose mighty heart
The tide-wave rushes of the Atlantic sea –
River of quiet depths! by cultured lea,
Romantic wood, or city’s crowded mart –
River of old poetic founts! that start
From their lone mountain-cradles, wild and free
Nursed with the fawns, lulled by the wood larks glee,
And cushat’s hymeneal song apart –
River of chieftains! whose baronial halls,
Like veteran warders, watch each wave-worn steep,
Portumna’s towers, Bunratty’s regal walls,
Carrick’s stern rock, the Geraldine’s grey keep –
River of dark mementos! – must I close
My lips with Limerick’s wrongs – with Aughrim’s woes?

The inscription on Thomond Bridge, built by the Pain brothers in 1836-1840 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

But the bridge was regularly subject to flooding at high tides, and was replaced by the present bridge, built in 1836-1840. It was designed by the brothers James and George Pain. They designed many other buildings in Limerick at the time, including the County Courthouse, the Custom House and many churches and rectories.

This is a seven-arch rock-faced limestone bridge, with pointed curved breakwaters and short quadrant abutments. The masonry parapet rises from a rock-faced platband, with a hammered limestone ashlar face to the road side, and a rock-faced finish to river side, ending in continuous rock-faced coping.

The bridge has rock-faced voussoirs and spandrels and half conical limestone ashlar breakwaters.

The inscription on the commemorative plaque at the centre of the bridge reads:

This bridge was built AD 1840 at the Expense of the Corporation of the Borough of Limerick. This tablet was placed there by order of the town council AD 1843. The Right Worshipful Martin Honan Mayor John F Raleigh Esq Town Clerk Francis O’Neil Esq Treasurer James and GR Pain Architects.

Beneath the inscription there is a benchmark.

The present bridge, designed by the Pain brothers to replace earlier bridges, is now part of the R445, formerly the N7, carrying traffic through Limerick on the Northern Relief Road.

Thomond Bridge, seen from Jack Monday’s Coffee House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Trying to match Bach and more
with varied academic disciplines

The restored organ in the Public Theatre in Trinity College Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

When I was in Trinity College Dublin this week for the Michaelmas commencements at which 12 of my former students received their masters’ degrees in theology (MTh), some of us were listening to the newly restored organ in the Public Theatre.

The organ, housed in an historic 1684 case, has been overhauled and refurbished, and for the first time since that work was played at this week’s commencements. The organ case is one of the very few surviving organ cases made in the 17th century by Lancelot Pease.

As the academic procession was about to begin, the organist began to play Johann Sebastian Bach’s Air on a G String from his Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major.

The piece only attracted its present name in 1871 when the German violinist August Wilhelmj (1845-1908) made a violin and piano arrangement of the second movement of this orchestral suite. By changing the key into C major and transposing the melody down an octave, Wilhelmj was able to play the piece on only one string of his violin, the G string.

Few of us thought of this, I imagine, or of Jacques Loussier’s arrangement for jazz trio that was used as the background music for a long-running television commercial for cigars. Fewer still would have remembered that Procol Harum borrowed from this piece for their 1960s hit, A Whiter Shade of Pale.

It was, perhaps, my last formal academic role as a professor in Trinity College Dublin. In a discussion with my former colleagues from the faculty from the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, we wondered whether Bach had been chosen because of the number of theology degrees being conferred.

And we went on to wonder which composers suited each academic discipline.

There may be too many nominations for history, given the number of composers across the centuries who are still listened to today. But I suggested Vaughan Williams for English literature, or, perhaps, agricultural science, Mozart for Math, Verdi for Italian, Palestrina for Latin, Debussy for French and, of course, Theodorakis for Greek.

Which disciples and composers would you match?

I could start the ball rolling by suggesting:

Gustav Holst for astronomy (The Planets).

Modest Mussorgsky for the arts and painting (his piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition).

Felix Mendelssohn for Holocaust Studies, given the way the Nazis tried to suppress his work.

Rimsky Korsakov for biology or zoology (Flight of the Bumblebees written for his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan).

Edward Elgar for European Studies … especially Pomp and Circumstance or Land of Hope and Glory if someone has worked on a dissertation on the crisis brought about by Brexit.

Ross Daly for Interfaith Dialogue as part of the MPhil in Ecumenical Studies.

And, as I looked at colours of the academic hoods for Economic Science and wondered whether the colours represented Gold and Silver, or simply emphasised copper for coins, I thought of Abba for Economics (Money, Money, Money). That may sound crass, but then the news from banks over the past weeks has been worse than that.