Friday, 17 August 2018

Two curious buildings on
Northgate Street tell of
Athlone’s colourful past

The Masonic Hall in Athlone is a curious building with an inventive façade (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I was discussing Athlone Methodist Church this morning, and its unusual contribution to Northgate Street and the architecture of Athlonem Co Westmeath.

Northgate Street takes its name from a 16th century town gate that formed part of the Town Wall of Athlone. It stretched across the street from where ‘Wheatley’s Gents Hairdressers Salon’ stood until it closed last November.

Northgate Street leads into Athlone from the district of Coosan. It served the Franciscan Abbey and the adjoining graveyard, which for many years was the main Roman Catholic burial ground in Athlone.

The Tholsel or Market House of Athlone once stood at the head of Northgate Street, in what is now called Custume Place. This was the centre of activity in old Athlone – it was here political rallies were held, and it was here too that the stocks stood and where many a local offender was punished.

Two colourful buildings opposite Athlone Methodist Church offer curious insights into some of the unseen stories of Athlone’s architectural past.

The Masonic Hall at No 9 Northgate Street is a curious building with an inventive façade and faces directly onto the east side of the street. The building is dated ‘1810,’ but it is recorded as opening in 1915.

The building has a square-headed doorcase with replacement timber sheet double-doors and an over-light above. The rendered façade has stucco detailing.

On the ground floor there are engaged Doric pilasters and an entablature above. There are square-headed openings with replacement windows, and drip mouldings above the first-floor openings.

The building has a pitched artificial slate roof hidden behind an ornamental parapet and there is a round gablet with Masonic insignia and dated ‘1810.’

This building was the premises of ‘Shamrock Lodge No 101.’ This was originally formed in Athlone on 10 March 1739 and moved around various premises on Northgate Street. The present structure is on the site of a ‘meeting house’ marked on an 1837 map of Athlone. This may have been the site of a previous Masonic hall or perhaps the fabric of this building was used in the present structure.

At the time, Athlone was an important military station and stood at an importance crossing point on the River Shannon.

The original membership of Lodge 101 may have been drawn from local landowners, businessmen and of from the regiments stationed in the town. The lodge was one of the original members of the Provincial Grand lodge of South Connaught formed in 1868.

For more than a century, the lodge has met at the Masonic Hall at 9 Northgate Street, Athlone. The other two lodges – Sussex Lodge No 137 and Roscommon Lodge No 248 – also meet there, as well as a Royal Arch Chapter and a High Knights Templar Preceptory. The premises are also home to the Irish United Nations Veterans Association Post 9 (Athlone).

Shamrock Masonic Lodge No 101 celebrated 275 years of Freemasonry in Athlone with a banquet in the Sheraton Hotel in 2014.

Gainsborough House is a colourful and unusual building on Northgate Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

A few doors to the south, Gainsborough House is another colourful and unusual building on Northgate Street, with its recessed arch and oriel window.

This very individual house has interesting moulded brick detailing. The two-storey recessed arch with an oriel window is a most unique design and together they add curiosity to the streetscape.

This terraced, two-bay, three-storey house was built with yellow brick walls with moulded red brick detailing in 1895 by Robert Smith, a major local builder at that time. Smith also built a number of attractive and inventive buildings along the Ballymahon Road, north-east of Athlone, and possibly another curious brick building at Saint Mary’s Place.

Smith uses an unusual arrangement for the timber-canted oriel or bay window and the shopfront, which are set into a tall flattened archway, flanked by a round headed window. In addition, there is a round-headed doorcase at the south end of the house, with a plain fanlight above, although the door is a replacement timber door.

There is a modern shopfront at street level, and years of tangled wiring detracts from the façade. But with a little attention this building could also be an interesting attraction of Northgate Street.

Today, both these buildings remain important and historically interesting parts of the decorative streetscape of Athlone.

The oriel window and recessed arch at Gainsborough House on Northgate Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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