28 February 2018

The legacy of old
garages and old
names in Rathkeale

O’Grady’s Garage in Rathkeale, Co Limerick … a surviving example of the functional architecture from the last century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I spent the last two working days in Rathkeale, visiting the school, at committee and board meetings and visiting parishioners.

Last night’s sunset, looking west along the River Deel from the bridge that links Main Street and Church Street, seemed so calm and peaceful that it gave no warning of the snows and storms that were about to come today, cancelling my plans to go to Dublin this afternoon and cancelling a conference I was to co-chair in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute on Friday .

Those two days gave me some time to walk through the town and to appreciate more of the domestic and commercial architecture of the town.

Earlier this month, I was quoted in the Guardian for my reminiscences and childhood memories of Lehane’s Garage in Cappoquin, Co Waterford, in a feature on ‘Ireland’s vanishing 'quirky’ shopfronts – in pictures.’ So, it was difficult not to be reminded of that garage once again as I stood outside O’Grady’s former garage in Thomas Street, Rathkeale.

This is an attached, three-bay two-storey garage, built around 1940. It has a stepped concrete parapet with raised lettering in relief on the front (west elevation). There is a rendered wall at the front, square-headed openings with fixed timber windows, square-headed openings on the ground floor with timber battened double-doors, and one with an over-light. The building also has a corrugated-iron barrel roof.

This building, like the former cinema on the Main Street, are surviving examples of the functional architecture that was prevalent in Irish towns in the last century. The stepped gable, with its lettering and horizontal emphasis, are all characteristic features of the architecture of this era.

Welcome to Wolfe’s Burgess in Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Meanwhile, some of the placenames in this part of west Limerick continue to intrigue me. The east end of the bridge on the River Deel and the west end of the Main Street are in a townland with the name of English Tenements, while there are two townlands in Rathkeale named Wolfe’s Burgess or Wolfeburgess: Wolfeburgess West and Wolfeburgess East.

There is a reference to Wolfeburgess during the Elizabethan plantation, when the land belonging to Sir Patrick Woulfe who died in a rebellion.

After the military and political defeat of Desmond power in this part of Munster, Henry Billingsley was granted much of the land in the Rathkeale area. But in 1588, Edmund Wolfe of Ballywilliam claimed these lands as his ancient property, including ‘ten gardens and ten tenements in Rachkelly,’ perhaps including parts of Wolfe’s Burgess. Shane Mac Patrick Voulfe of Co Limerick, who was pardoned in 1590, was pardoned again ten years later as ‘John Woolf of Ballywilliam, Gentleman.’

Patrick Woolf held 50 acres from the Earl of Cork at Moneregan near Rathkeale in 1630. The family probably continued to live in the area into the 18th century, for Francis Woulfe of Askeaton, a merchant, died in 1730. The family is still remembered in the names of the two townlands known as Wolfeburgess.

Sunset in the English Tenements … the River Deel in Rathkeale, Co Limerick, last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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