Saturday, 28 July 2018
My day-week trip to Thurles, Co Tipperary, was by train and was made easy by the regular train link between Limerick and Limerick Junction that connects with the Cork-Dublin route.
I was surprised to learn there is no direct bus service between Limerick and Thurles, but the train journey also gave me time to appreciate the story and architecture of Thurles Railway Station, which was built 170 years ago, and which was an interesting link with the West Limerick nationalist leader William Smith O’Brien of Cahermoyle House.
The railway station and the footbridge in Thurles were built in 1848. The station is an asymmetrical multiple-bay single- and two-storey building. The entrance façade has three central bays, flanked by slightly projecting gabled bays with projecting bay windows, and with single recessed bays to the north and south.
There are pitched slate roofs, ashlar limestone chimneystacks and timber bargeboards.
The eastern elevation facing the railway tracks has two tall pointed arched openings flanking a lower central one, in turn flanked by a recessed three-bay waiting room and a toilet block to the south and a one-bay office to the north. There are snecked ashlar limestone walls with a plinth.
There are chamfered canted arch window openings and triple square-headed window openings with continuous hood mouldings to the entrance façade, with timber sash windows and some replacement timber windows.
The partly-blocked triangular-headed former door opening in the entrance façade is flanked by carved pilasters. A later ticket office has been inserted inside the trackside elevation.
This building was designed by the English-born architect Sancton Wood (1815-1886), who also designed Colbert Station in Limerick and Heuston Station and Kingsbridge, Dublin, as well as stations in Kilkenny and Portlaoise.
Sancton Wood was born in Hackney, the son of John Wood and Harriet Russell, a niece of the painter Richard Smirke (1778–1815). He first worked in the office of his cousin, the architect Sir Robert Smirke (1781–1867), who rebuilt Covent Garden Theatre in 1809 and who is best known for the General Post Office in St Martin’s-le-Grand and the British Museum.
Later Wood worked for Robert Smirke’s brother, Sir Sydney Smirke (1798–1877), who restored the Temple Church and the Savoy Chapel and completed the British Museum.
Wood studied in the Antique School at the Royal Academy before travelling on the Continent, where he spent much time in Spain and Portugal and made drawings of many significant buildings.
On his return to England, Wood set up his own practice, designing stations for the growing railway networks in British and Ireland. He also designed houses in London, including some at Lancaster Gate.
In 1844, Wood presented drawings for railway stations for the Great Southern and Western Railway Company in Ireland. A year later, in 1845, he won the company’s competition for designing Kingsbridge Station in Dublin. His design was selected unanimously by the company’s London committee, although the Dublin Committee had favoured the design of John Skipton Mulvany.
That year, Wood was also appointed architect to the company. He designed the stations between Monasterevin and Limerick Junction, all in a gabled picturesque Gothic style. He was also architect to the Irish South Eastern Railway, which developed a line from Carlow to Kilkenny in 1848-1850.
The multiple gables and broken massing of his station in Thurles are typical of the Gothic Revival style. The variety of styles of openings is also typical of railway buildings, with his pointed arches, square-headed openings and chamfered openings.
His station in Thurles forms part of an interesting group with the other railway structures built by the Great Southern and Western Railway, including the footbridge, road bridge, workers’ houses, and waiting room.
The railway foot bridge, also built 1848, has a cast-iron depressed-arch with latticed parapets, and is supported on cast-iron columns with ornate foliate capitals. There are cast-iron staircases with latticed sides and decorative stair risers, cast-iron balusters and ball-topped newel posts. The steel girders of a later date support west staircase.
This foot bridge is of high artistic value, with its decorative foliate motifs on the balustrades and the foliate capitals to the cast-iron capitals.
Shortly after Wood’s station opened in Thurles, the Young Ireland leader, William Smith O’Brien (1803-1864), was arrested there at 8 p.m. on 5 August 1848 while he was trying to board a train after leading the failed insurrection in Ballingarry in South Tipperary.
Meanwhile, Wood’s work in Ireland seems to have come to an end by 1856, the same year William Smith O’Brien was pardoned and allowed to return to Ireland.
Smith O’Brien died in Bangor in North Wales on 16 June 1864; Sancton Wood, who had returned to live in London, died at his home at Putney Hill on 18 April 1886.
During my childhood, the two main stopping places on the road between Cappoquin and Dublin were Cashel and Thurles.
It was a journey of perhaps 240 km journey, and although Cashel is only 52 km from Cappoquin and Thurles about 75 km, they seemed to mark the halfway mark. I have vivid memories of being brought through the ruins on the Rock of Cashel and picnics that seemed to mark the beginning and the end of summer.
Thurles was a very different place to break the journey. We usually stopped in the car, but I can recall occasional stops during long journeys. The treat on those days was being brought into Hayes Hotel on the main square in Thurles, and seated to lunch at an hotel table. These occasional stops were made to feel like true occasions.
I readily recall fair days in Thurles, with the cattle, the farmers, the dealers and the smells. For a boy in the 1950s and the early 1960s, a town like Thurles seemed to be nothing less than a bustling metropolis.
Walking through Liberty Square this week, it had lost none of its feelings of being a broad square surrounding by elegant Victorian and premises. The sounds and smells of market days came back to my mind, and I knew immediately where to look for Hayes Hotel – still pronounced by all as ‘Hayses Hotel’ – and the statue of Archbishop Croke and the 1798 Memorial.
But, truly, is it a change for the better that this square, planned as a broad open space, is now used as a car park that serves as a traffic island. Had I not known this town as a child, I imagine, it would have been difficult to appreciate the breadth and majesty of the hotel.
Hayes Hotel is a five-bay, three-storey hotel on the north side of the square, built around 1840. It has a pitched artificial slate roof with rendered chimneystacks, a moulded eaves course and a central pediment. There are rendered walls with quoins on the upper storeys. The ground floor had rusticated concrete block cladding and a black marble plinth, and there is a glazed cast-iron entrance canopy.
Hayes Hotel has a claim to a special place in Irish history and culture as the place where the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) was founded by Michael Cusack and Maurice Davin at a meeting on 1 November 1884.
At the time, this was known as the Commercial Hotel. It remains the single most important building in Thurles today, and remains as a popular meeting place. Although the ground floor has been extensively remodelled in recent years, the upper storey retains many of its original ornamental features.
At the west end of the square, the Archbishop Croke Memorial was erected in 1922 to commemorate Thomas Croke (1824-1902), Archbishop of Cashel (1875-1902).
Croke, who was born in Co Cork and educated in Paris and Rome, and was a professor of theology in Saint Patrick’s College, Carlow, and President of Saint Colman’s College, Fermoy, before becoming Bishop of Auckland in New Zealand.
On his return to Ireland, he became Archbishop of Cashel, and became known as a strong supporter of the Land League and the Home Rule politics of Charles Stewart Parnell. He also became a leading supporter of the new GAA after it was founded in Thurles in 1884, and Croke Park in Dublin was named in his honour. In honour of Croke, his successors as Archbishop of Cashel were invited to throw in the ball at the start of All-Ireland finals.
The high-quality, larger-than-life bronze statue of Archbishop Croke was cast by the sculptor Francis William Doyle Jones (1873-1932). Doyle Jones was born in Hartlepool in 1873, the eldest son of Francis Jones (1846-1918), a stonemason and sculptor from Co Monaghan.
Doyle Jones initially worked for his father and then studied in Paris and London in the 1890s. He worked principally as a sculptor of portraits, and also made a large number of war memorials. He died in Saint Luke’s Hospital, Chelsea, in 1932.
A few steps east of Hayes Hotel, the Rexall Pharmacy or Devlin’s Medical Hall is a landmark with its elaborate Italianate façade, including the parapet with raised lettering, the plinth, arched window openings, paired pilasters, keystones and timber-framed plate glass windows. Inside, the shop retains many of its original features.
But the façade, which is dated 1889, hides the fabric of an older structure. The ornamental colonnade and arcade may have been influenced by the then new Cathedral of the Annunciation.
Across from Devlin’s, on the south side of the square, First Editions at No 19 is now closed and the building is on the market. This terraced, two-bay, three-storey former house was built around 1890.
The building has a pitched slate roof with rendered chimneystacks and a distinctive curvilinear gablet with a ball finial. The shopfront has a plate glass window flanked by recessed doorways that have timber panelled doors with overlights, flanked by carved timber pilasters.
This is an unusual building in Thurles, and its design seems to have been informed by Dutch influences. The decorative gablet and the brick detailing with the oversize keystones show a high degree of craftsmanship.
The doors flanking the plate glass window are reminders of the days when shopkeepers lived over the shop – the days when I was a boy on the road between Cappoquin and Dublin, and when we stopped in Thurles to be treated to a fine lunch in Hayes Hotel.