Monday, 5 August 2019
As two of us were exploring the villages, country lanes and crossroads of East Co Limerick during this bank holiday weekend, curiosity made it impossible not to follow the signposts from Pallasgreen that pointed to Nicker and Nicker Church.
Nicker is just four minutes or 1.6 km from Pallasgreen, Co Limerick, just off the Limerick-Tipperary road. The name Pallasgreen means ‘the Stockade of Grian,’ and refers to a mythological Irish goddess of love who was said to have her home on the nearby Hill of Nicker.
Nicker Hill is the highest of the local group of volcanic hills that extends into Kilteely-Dromkeen. This is one of the most important carboniferous volcanic districts in these islands.
Nicker Church is a stylised, neo-Gothic church built in the mid-19th century. Nicker Church is one of two churches in Pallasgreen, the other being Saint Brigid’s Church at Templebraden.
The Church of Saint John the Baptist is a striking church standing on a prominent height in the small village of Nicker and is visible across the surrounding countryside, making it a focal point on the landscape in this part of East Limerick.
The cross-shaped church was built ca 1820, making it an early example of a Roman Catholic church built in this part of Ireland in the years before the enactment of Catholic Emancipation. It is also part of a cluster of parishes in this part of Co Limerick that are in the Diocese of Cashel and Emly rather than the Diocese of Limerick.
The church is oriented on a west/east axis rather than the traditional, liturgical east/west axis. It has a gable-fronted, double-height nave and a square-plan, four-stage bell tower at the east (liturgical west end). The other notable features include the render stringcourses and the hood mouldings.
There are single-bay transepts, an entry porch on the south (liturgical north) side, two single-storey flat-roofed aisle extensions and gabled end bays on each side.
There is a single-bay lower gabled chancel at the west (liturgical east) end, and flat-roofed sacristy extensions on each side of the chancel.
An oculus window at the west end (liturgical east) chancel has render hood-moulding, limestone crossed mullions and stained-glass windows depicting the Four Evangelists.
There are double-leaf timber battened doors, pointed arch openings, hood-mouldings, timber pews, rendered octagonal-profile columns supporting pointed arches that separate the central section of the church from the side aisles, a timber gallery, side altars and arch brace trusses.
The outdoor ‘Way of the Cross’ at Nicker Church climbs up the hillside that loom above the church and is said to be an exact scale replica of a similar set of Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem. But Stations I and II were never delivered and remain missing, while Station XIV, ‘Jesus is laid in the Sepulchre,’ is without any sculpture and represents the empty tomb.
Below the Stations of the Cross, a grotto has been opened into the sheer cliff-face.
Nicker Church was renovated extensively in 2011-2013, when it was upgraded, repaired and refurbished, redressing a number of inappropriate interventions over the years that left the church in a poor state of repair and following a serious outbreak of dry rot in the kingpost roof trusses.
The parish priest in Nicker is Father Patrick Burns. Masses on Saturday evenings are at 6.30 and on Sunday mornings at 11.30 a.m.
Two of us travelled through East Co Limerick at the weekend, looking for hidden churches, ruined castles, crumbling tower houses and old thatched pubs in the country lanes and at the crossroads.
At Kilduff, south of Pallasgreen, we stopped for coffee in a most unusual coffee shop: the High Nelly Centre Coffee Shop and Bar, on the main road from Limerick to Waterford.
High Nelly Bikes was set up as a family business many years ago to refurbish vintage bicycles from scrap condition, bringing them back to the splendour of the day they came out of a country hardware store, 60 to 100 years ago.
The ‘High Nelly’ bicycle was more than a popular of transport in Ireland until the late 1950s, but was also part of family life for many people, even in my childhood.
The Mannering family business began restoring, touching up and selling ‘High Nelly’ bikes in Cappamore. The business expanded, developing a reputation as electric bicycle specialists, and adding other specialist areas, including Flooding bikes such as Bromptons and Moultons.
For the past three years, the coffee bar in an old pub in Kilduff has been developing and thriving. The pub was bought to house the family business in 2016, the function room converted into a workshop, but the bar continued to function.
Since then, the place has developed its own reputation for afternoon teas, all within the context of an intriguing bike museum, and live music on Saturday nights. The bar is stocked with a large range of non-alcoholic beers and wines, so that beer and bike provide a real, sociable alternative to drink and drive.
Later this month (23 to 25 August), the pub with a vintage bicycle museum is hosting the Pallasgreen Summer Music Festival, with an exciting weekend of live music at the High Nelly Coffee Bar. The performing artists include Denis Allen, writer of ‘Limerick you’re a Lady,’ John Spillane, two-time Meteor award winner, and Luke Bloom.