03 January 2018
The area behind Barrington Street and Saint Joseph’s Street in Limerick is a colourful mixture of side streets and laneways where a colourful splash of paint can be a surprising delight to come across but also illustrate the civic pride to be found in this corner of Limerick.
Before Georgian Limerick was developed, this was an open area with green fields. But it was transformed by the development of Newtown Pery in the Georgian era at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century.
The streets and laneways around Barrington Street were first laid out in the 1830s and the 1840s. The laneways served the streets, allowing access to the coach houses, stables and kitchens behind the houses.
At one time, an observatory stood behind one of the houses on Little Barrington Street. This can be seen on maps from around 1850, but it was later replaced by a scout hall, and in time it became the premises of John Raleigh, a builder, plumber and sanitary engineer.
In time, a number of artisan dwellings were also built along these laneways, so that by 1840 there 32 cottages in the area around Little Barrington Street, Schoolhouse Lane and Carrol’s Row, behind Barrington Street and Richmond Street.
These were mainly single-storey houses, with two or three small rooms and tiny outdoor yards, sometimes with up to 10 people living in each house. The 1901 census shows that 200 people were living in these 32 cottages.
The names of Little Barrington Street and Schoolhouse Lane have been used interchangeably over the years, and the lines of these two small streets have changed with the changing times.
Schoolhouse Lane led to the rear gate of an old school that stood on Richmond Street, now Saint Joseph’s Street. The laneway does not exist anymore, and the houses that lined it were demolished in the 1970s, but it stood behind the rear entrance to Saint Joseph’s Church.
Carrol’s Row takes its name from Martin Carroll, a Limerick builder and developer, who built and developed 16 houses on Carroll’s Row and four houses on Richmond Street, now known as Saint Joseph’s Street.
Little Barrington Street is the original name given to the laneway running behind the houses on Barrington Street. It takes its name from the Barrington family, who were involved in much of the Georgian development of Limerick, and who also gave their name to Barrington’s Hospital.
By the 1930s, the site of the former observatory at the end of Little Barrington Street was the premises of John Duggan, glazier and glass merchant. The business had been established in Nelson Street (Parnell Street) in the 1870s, and moved to Roche’s Street in the 1950s. Later, the premises were used as a workshop by Ter Bussoli, originally from Italy, who manufactured statues and religious goods.
Ter Bussoli’s workshop and the 32 cottages in this area were demolished by Limerick Corporation in the 1970s, and the cramped and overcrowded conditions came to an end in this part of Limerick after 130 years.
In recent years, the lane has been repainted by members of the South City Residents’ Association, showing civic pride and pride of place are still alive in this part of Limerick.
At one time, there was a large number of Church of Ireland parish churches in Limerick’s city centre. They included Saint George’s, Saint John’s, Saint Munchin’s, Saint Nicholas Church, and Trinity Episcopal Church. Although many of these buildings survive, today, apart from Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Saint Michael’s is the only working Anglican church in Limerick City.
Saint Michael’s Church, which is part of the cathedral group of parishes, is in the heart of Georgian Limerick. The church stands at the top of Barrington Street, at the south end of Pery Square, facing Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church at the opposite, north end. The original Neo-Georgian façades of Pery Square give balance to the urban composition of two similarly scaled and styled churches that enclose the vista of the street to the north and the south.
The Anglo-Normans probably built the first church in Limerick dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel (feast day, 29 September). This church stood on an island where the Abbey River spreads out above Baal’s Bridge. From old maps and drawings, this island was between Englishtown and Irishtown. This area was outside the city gate called West Watergate.
Saint Michael’s is first referred to in the Black Book of Limerick in 1205. It was originally a prebendal church, but by 1418 it was attached to the Archdeaconry of Limerick. The church fell into disuse after the Reformation. By the early 17th century, it was in ruins, and it was totally dismantled at the time of Cromwell’s siege of 1651.
The present Saint Michael’s Church in Pery Square replaced an older church, Saint George’s Church on George’s Street, now O’Connell Street, which was built in 1789.
Between 1831 and the completion of Saint Michael’s Church in Pery Square, there was no Church of Ireland church in the Parish of Saint Michael except Trinity Church in Catherine Place, and some of the parishioners met in the Primitive Methodist Preaching House until 1843. This meant that the rector of the parish had the spiritual care of the parishioners but was without a church.
The walls of Saint Michael’s Church were built from the money received by the sales of Saint George’s Chapel. However, the Methodists gave notice in 1843 that they would withdraw the privilege granted to Saint Michael’s parishioners, and so an application was made to the Church Commissioners and a sum of money was granted to complete the church.
Saint Michael’s was designed around 1836 by the Limerick-based architect James Pain and his brother, George Richard Pain, and was built by William Wallace. The church was consecrated when it was completed in 1844. It was also known as ‘the sinking church’ as it was not built on bed rock and has sunk ever so slightly over the years. It is located at the end of Barrington Street and Pery Square.
The church was designed in a late Georgian Gothic Revival style, but was built in a simpler form than the original design and without the spire.
The site is much deeper than the street level, and this allowed the provision of a crypt beneath the buildinf. The church has a north-facing limestone façade, comprising a three-stage tower with a crenallated parapet with corner and intermediate pinnacles. The tower is flanked by lancet windows and contains the main entrance.
The gates to the left of the church once led down to a number of tennis courts and recreation areas for the parish and the schoolmaster’s Victorian Gothic residence.
The windows of the church are pointed-arched openings with elaborate Gothic style tracery that mirrors the pointed-arched door openings.
Inside the church, plain plastered walls emphasise the unusual hammer beam roof structure with arch braces encased by tongued and grooved panelling. Originally, the church had galleries on three sides and could hold 2,000 people.
The interiors also include polished marble columns, limestone arches, stained glass windows and an encaustic tile floor in the nave aisle flanked by early box pews. The richly carved mahogany pulpit with Gothicised panelling was donated by Thomas Revington and made by Todds.
Joseph Fogerty & Son carried out improvements to the church in 1877, when the tower was raised and additional pinnacles were added, helping it to break forward from the façade.
As well as an extra stage to the tower, other additions at the time included a new forecourt and a new chancel. The new chancel was added at a cost of £2,000 by William and Robert Fogerty and the two side balconies were removed, reducing the seating capacity of the church to 800.
The East Window, which was designed by James Pain for Saint Mary’s Cathedral, was reduced in size to fill the space in new chancel area.
The church re-opened on 18 November 1877, and new stained glass, illustrating the Parables, was erected the following year . Further work was carried out by Charles W Harrison of Dublin in 1883 with the design of the mural monument in memory of Mrs Purdon Wilkinson.
A hall was built behind the church in 1980, further reducing the seating capacity to 600 and a new roof was erected in 1997.
Saint Michael’s was completely restored in 2013, and continues to provide a vibrant Anglican presence in the heart of Limerick.
For Saint Michael's Roman Catholic parish church on Denmark Street, Limerick, visit here.