22 October 2019

An exhibition on Limerick’s
Arts and Crafts architect,
William Clifford Smith

Shannon Rowing Club hosted a weekend exhibition on the work of the Limerick-based architect William Clifford Smith(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

As part of the Open House events in Limerick last weekend (19-20 October 2019), I went to exhibition on the work of the architect William Clifford Smith in Shannon Rowing Club at Sarsfield Bridge, one of the many landmark buildings he designed in Limerick.

William Clifford Smith (1881-1954) was included in the ‘Open House’ programme as one of the city’s ‘Historical Visionaries,’ who is associated with the stories of well-known Limerick landmarks and hidden corners and was part of the Arts and Crafts and Modernist movements.

Appropriately, Clifford Smith designed the Arts and Crafts-style Edwardian clubhouse of Shannon Rowing Club. This highly elaborate clubhouse stands out, not only for its architectural beauty, but because of its location on an artificial island between a canal and the River Shannon, connected to Sarsfield Bridge.

Sarsfield Bridge was originally named Wellesley Bridge in honour of the Duke of Wellington, and the island on which the clubhouse stands is known as Shannon Island or Wellesley Pier.

Shannon Rowing Club, the oldest rowing club in Limerick City, was founded in 1866 by Sir Peter Tait, the Limerick entrepreneur who is remembered today in the Tait Clock in Baker Place. The club celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2016.

William Clifford Smith won an international competition in 1902 to design the new clubhouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Clifford Smith was an inventive young English architect when he won an international competition in 1902 to design the new clubhouse. The clubhouse was built by Messrs Gough at a cost of £2,000 and was completed in 1905.

This is a highly elaborate clubhouse in the Edwardian Arts and Crafts idiom. It is such a fine example of Edwardian architecture that, as far as I know, it is the only listed sports building in Ireland.

This detached two-bay, two-storey over basement stone clubhouse stands on a limestone pier to the north-east of Sarsfield Bridge, with a limestone entrance platform bridging at basement level. The variation of the windows, the contrasting façade finishes at each level, and the large-scale massing of the building with its gables, bays and balconies are some of the attractive features in a building that is still in an impeccable condition.

William Clifford Smith’s attention to detail is seen in the interior details in the clubhouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Clifford Smith’s attention to detail is seen in the Art Nouveau repousée metal finger plates on the interior doors. Among his attractive features are the asymmetry of the building, and the corbels, brackets, arches and columns.

William Clifford Smith was born in Poole, Dorset, in 1881 or 1882. In 1901, at the age of 19, he was an architect’s pupil and still living in Poole with his parents, Lucy and John C Smith, a draper.

On winning the competition, Clifford Smith decided to stay to Ireland, and he settled in Limerick. In 1906, he designed a terrace of small dormered cottages at Fair Green in Adare, Co Limerick, for the 4th Earl of Dunraven. In 1907, Dunraven also invited Clifford Smith to design the Village Hall and Clubhouse in Adare in the Arts and Crafts style.

Smith’s design for the Village Hall in Adare is an adaptation of the style of the English architect Charles Voysey (1857-1941), who was influenced by AWN Pugin and William Morris.

William Clifford Smith’s designs for a pharmacy on George Street, now O’Connell Street, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Around 1910, Clifford Smith designed the former Bank and Post Office in Foynes, Co Limerick, the only building to be completed as part of the vision of Inigo Thomas for a Market Square in Foynes, and Creeven Cottages, a row of cottages at the east end of Foynes.

His design for the Shannon Rowing Club gave impetus to an Edwardian freestyle that marked out the building on Limerick’s riverscape. As the exhibition pointed out, It is a style that can be seen too throughout the city in the suburban houses he designed in Ennis Road, O’Connell Avenue and Shelbourne Road.

Some of these houses are three-storied with an assortment of balconettes, oculi and timbered gables. Others have horizontal mullioned windows, and steep roofs with prominent chimney stacks, which owe much to the Arts and Crafts style. Contrasting materials were also carefully chosen – brick, limestone and pebbledash – combined with Art Nouveau-inspired cast-iron railings.

William Clifford Smith’s designs for a shop on Patrick Street, Limerick(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

By 1911, Clifford Smith was boarding in the home of Elizabeth McCarthy on Ennis Road. He may have served in the Royal Engineers during World War I. But he had returned to Limerick by 1917, when he married Jane Downey in in Saint Michael’s Church, Pery Square, on 27 June, and they lived at Northesk, Lansdowne, Limerick, after the war. In 1919 he designed what is now the Belltable Arts Centre at 69 O’Connell Street.

The exhibition panels show how this was the Coliseum Theatre and then the Gaiety Cinema. The former Georgian townhouse was substantially remodelled at ground floor level to accommodate a theatre in the late 19th century, and in the 20th century it became one of the most important venues in Limerick for the performing arts.

The former townhouse is one of the larger three-bay houses in a terrace of 11 houses between Hartstonge Street and Mallow Street, and which has been described as ‘one of the most noble street elevations in the city.’ Clifford Smith designed the limestone front at ground floor level with panache and without compromising the uniform quality of the streetscape. The façade continues to retain his bold elliptical arch and mannered columns.

Clifford Smith worked from 75 O’Connell Street for much of his career. In 1928, he formed a partnership with Edward Newenham, known as Clifford Smith & Newenham.

In 1937, his only child, his daughter Doreen, married Charles Johnston. He died at home on 27 June 1954, and was buried with his wife and grand-daughter, Carys Clifford, at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.

Clifford Smith & Newenham amalgamated with the Dublin practice of Dermot Mulligan in 1968 to become Newenham Mulligan & Associates (NMA), an award-winning practice of architects , master planners, project managers, and graphic and interior designers with offices in Dublin.

Shannon Rowing Club stands on an artificial island between a canal and the River Shannon, connected to Sarsfield Bridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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