18 April 2018

Retracing the steps of
James Pain, Limerick’s
Gothic Revival architect

James Pain (1779-1877), Limerick’s great architect, spent his final years at 17 Upper Glenworth Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Since moving to West Limerick, one architect seems to have dominated many of my blog postings on the architecture of this part of Ireland. James Pain (1779-1877) was instrumental in introducing the Gothic Revival to Limerick and the surrounding counties, and was, perhaps, the single most influential architect in in this area in the 19th century.

His churches throughout Limerick and Clare include Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale (1825), Saint Michael’s, Pery Square, Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church in Limerick, All Saints’ Church, Stradbally (Castleconnell), Castletown Church, Mungret Church, Drumncliffe Church, Ennis, and Kilnasoolagh Church in Newmarket-on-Fergus. He also worked on Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and Saint Munchin’s Church.

Pain also designed the Old Rectory in Askeaton, and the houses he worked on include the Tontine Terrace in Pery Square, Limerick, Elm Park, Clarina, with its surviving gate lodge, Glin Castle, Castlegarde, Dromoland Castle, Curragh Chase near Askeaton, Adare Manor and the Dunraven Mausoleum in Adare.

His public buildings in Limerick include Athlunkard Bridge, Baal’s Bridge and Thomond Bridge, the Corn Market, the former Exchange in Nicholas Street, the former City Gaol in Saint Augustine Place, the County Gaol in Mulgrave Street, Rathkeale Courthouse, the Custom House on Custom House Quay, Villiers Almshouse and Villers School on Henry Street.

I have written about many of these buildings in recent months, but was reminded when recently passed the site of the house on Glentworth Street in Limerick where James Pain had lived in his closing years that I had written little about the architect himself.

James Pain was born in Isleworth, Middlesex, in 1779, and was living at 17 Upper Glentworth Street at the time of his death in 1877. He was the eldest son of James Pain, a builder and surveyor, and his grandfather, William Pain, wrote a series of builder’s pattern books.

James and his younger brother, George Richard Pain (1793-1838), were both pupils of the great Regency architect John Nash (1752-1835), who was responsible for much of the layout of Regency London under the patronage of the Prince Regent, and during his reign as George IV. When Nash designed Lough Cutra Castle, near Gort, Co Galway, for Charles Vereker in 1811, he recommended that the two brothers should be placed in charge of the work, and so they came to Ireland.

In 1813, James Pain produced a proposal to rebuild Dromoland Castle, Co Clare, for the Earl of Inchiquin. James was granted the freedom of Limerick on 1 July 1816, followed by his brother George Richard on 29 January 1817.

Meanwhile, their work at Lough Cutra Castle continued. However, James was badly injured in 1817, suffering concussion and a broken collarbone, when he fell from a height of four storeys at the castle after scaffolding he was standing on gave way.

When he recovered, James continued in business as an architect and builder in Limerick, while George Richard established himself in Cork. They worked in close partnership until George Richard Pain died in 1838.

Together, these brothers were responsible for a large number of buildings throughout the south and west of Ireland, including churches both Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic, country houses, court houses, gaols and bridges. The Pain brothers also designed Mitchelstown Castle for the Earl of Kingston, and the courthouse in Cork, with its splendid Corinthian portico.

Through in influence of John Nash, James Pain was appointed architect to the Board of First Fruits for the Church of Ireland province of Cashel in 1823. In this post, he was responsible for all the Church of Ireland churches and glebe houses in the province, and George Richard Pain acted as his assistant.

James continued to work for the Board and, following the Church Temporalities Act (1833), for the Ecclesiastical Commission which replaced it, until at least 1843. Six volumes of his survey plans of churchyards, including plans and elevations of the churches, from the 1820s to the 1840s, are in the Representative Church Body Library in Dublin.

While George Richard Pain died relatively young, James Pain lived on in Limerick to the great age of 98. He was living at Upper George’s Street (now O’Connell Street) in 1824, and is later recorded as living at 33 George’s Street (1846-1856) and then at 35 George’s Street (1863-1875).

After the early 1840s, Pain appears to have received very few substantial commissions. In their study of the architect, David Lee and Debbie Jacobs suggest several reasons for this, including the bad publicity associated with building Thomond Bridge, the death in 1842 of his patron and supporter, Lord Gort, the reform of Limerick Corporation that same year, and the centralisation of the architectural department of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1843.

Moreover, during the years of the potato famine, the incomes of many potential clients from the landowning class were much reduced. His last large commission appears to have been the addition of a west wing and other alterations to Knappogue Castle, Co Clare, begun in 1856, while he continued as architect to the Board of Superintendence of Limerick County Gaol until 1863.

James Pain was living at 17 Upper Glentworth Street when he died on 13 December 1877, aged 97. He was buried in the Vereker family vault in the churchyard of Limerick Cathedral on 17 December 1877. He was a widower at the time of his death – his wife Harriet died many years earlier in London in 1834, and they appear to have had no surviving children.

His obituary in The Irish Builder said Pain was ‘one of the oldest, if not the oldest, architect in the United Kingdom.’

In his will, James Pain makes bequests to numerous nephews and nieces in Ireland and England and their children. To his niece Sally, daughter of George Richard Pain and wife of Henry Vereker of Limerick, he left ‘a small marble bust’ of her father, a portrait of himself by Joseph Patrick Haverty, and a bust of himself by Vereker.

His executors were to distribute his library and portfolios of drawings and engravings among his relatives or to destroy them. The drawings included a design submitted by the Pain brothers in the competition of 1836 for the new Houses of Parliament at Westminster.

David Lee’s MA thesis at the University of Limerick was a study of James and George Lee (2003). The study of James Pain by David Lee and Debbie Jacobs, James Pain, architect (Limerick Civic Trust, 2005), is particularly useful for its use of local sources and for general background information.

Today, the house where James Pain spent his closing years is part of Pery's Hotel, an independently owned three star hotel in the Georgian Quarter of Limerick, in the very heart of the city.

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