11 January 2018

A Limerick office once housed
a Congregationalist chapel

The Arup Offices on Hartstonge Street, Limerick, were first built as a Congregationalist Chapel at the end of the 19th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Across the street from Ozanam House on Hartstonge Street, Limerick, and the offices of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, with the former private chapel of the O’Mara family, the offices of Arup Engineers are in a former Congregationalist Chapel that recalls another forgotten or hidden church building.

The Congregationalists or Independents, as they were originally known, were a group of Calvinists Dissenters who refused to conform to the Church of Ireland. They were the spiritual and theological heirs and successors of the Puritans and Cromwellians. At times, like many other Dissenters, they suffered from legalised discrimination.

The Congregationalists had a meeting house on Henry Street as early as 1816, with the Revd Dr CG Townley as their minister. In 1821, they moved to a new meeting house on Bedford Row. That year, the Wesleyan Meeting Hall opened three doors down from the Independent Chapel.

A glimpse of the structure of the former Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Bedford Row, caught through the windows of a modern building (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In 1824, Pigot’s Directory of Ireland reported ‘the Independent meeting house is a large handsome building in Bedford Row.’ The Congregation Union of Ireland was formed five years later, in 1829.

The Limerick Chronicle reported in 1838 that ‘the Limerick Temperance Society was holding their meetings in Rev Townley’s Chapel, Bedford Row.’

The entrepreneur Sir Peter Tait (1828-1890), who was Mayor of Limerick on three occasions and who gave his name to the Tait Memorial Clock in Baker Place, married Rose Abraham, a Congregationalist, in the Independent Chapel in the 1850s.

It was here too that the great American abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke before a large gathering in Limerick when he was on a speaking tour of Britain and Ireland.

The Independent or Congregationalist Chapel on Bedford Row ceased to be a place of worship around the late 1890s when they began building a new meeting house on Upper Hartstonge Street designed by the Limerick architect Robert Fogerty (1843-1907).

Robert Fogerty, was a son of Joseph Fogerty (1806-1887), and was baptised nearby in Saint Michael’s Church. He worked in India for some years in the Department of Public Works in the Madras Presidency. He returned to Limerick in the 1870s and joined his father in his practice there. In about 1878 he was appointed diocesan architect for the Representative Church Body in the Munster dioceses, except Killaloe.

In Limerick, he lived at Glentworth Street and at Henry Street, where he died. He is buried in the family vault in Saint Mary’s Cathedral.

The chapel on Bedford Row was then used in 1890s by the Baptists Congregation in the 1890s while they waited the building of the new Baptist Church on Quinlan Street.

The former chapel on Bedford Row became Lynch’s Cabinet Factory and in later years was part of Spaights Hardware owned by the McMahon family.

The new Congregationalist chapel on the corner of Hartstonge Street and Catherine Place was a three-bay building and is believed to have been designed by Robert Fogerty. It is designed in the Victorian Elizabethan style, and – like the former Leamy School across the street – it is another essay in the exuberant Victorian style, offering an interesting and curious stylistic contrast to the surrounding Georgian architecture of Newtown Pery.

The name of Fianna Fail is remembered over the door (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The building has bay windows on two sides, large gabled dormers, a pointed-arched door opening, encaustic tiles, a hipped roof finished with terracotta finials, a limestone chimneystack, and wrought-iron railings.

The Congregationalists did not stay here for long. By the 1901 Census, the building was listed as Lansdowne Soldiers’ Home. By the 1940s, the building was the Munster and Leinster Centre for Fianna Fáil, and the name can still be seen over the door.

The building had a number of other uses after that, and it was a scout hall until 1980, when it was renovated. Since 1982, it has been the offices of Arup Consulting Engineers.

Although the Congregationalists have long faded from the denominational array in Limerick, this building remains a reminder of the variety and diversity that make up the colourful mosaic of the city.

A reminder of the Congregationalists and of religious diversity in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Updated 11 January 2018: to clarify the architectural remains on Bedford Row are from the former Wesleyan Methodist Chapel.

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