30 December 2017

Former dispensary is
an unusual religious
building in Limerick

The Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Limerick is the former City Dispensary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

The Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses on the corner of Lower Gerald Griffin Street and James’s Street, may be one of the more unusual looking religious buildings in the heart of Limerick’s city centre. But this is because it was built originally as a dispensary around 1890.

As the old name suggests, the City Dispensary was the focal point of dispensed prescriptions and medical care in Limerick for much of the 20th century. There were dentists and doctors here, and people who gave coal and food vouchers to the cold and the hungry.

In the 1940s and 1950s, this was a place too for food parcels for impoverished people in Limerick City.

The City Dispensary was made famous by Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes. It was here that the writer came with his mother Angela to beg for shoes and grocery vouchers.

This is a detached building on the corner of Lower Gerald Griffin Street and James’s Street, and it is a seven-bay, two-storey, red-brick, east-facing late Victorian building.

The central, raised, single-bay, gabled breakfront has a large pediment with a natural slate covering and a terracotta dentil cornice supported by a pair of red brick pilasters flanking a recessed frame with an egg-and-dart frame and a modern inscribed panel.

This breakfront has a single round-headed window opening with red brick voussoirs and a terracotta fluted keystone and a uPVC window on a nosed limestone sill course to the entire breakfront.

There is a similar round-headed door opening with a terracotta rosette to either side and a modern hardwood double-leaf timber-panelled door opening onto three limestone steps.

The building is flanked by a low rendered wall with a red-brick plinth course and a moulded limestone coping supporting wrought-iron railings and a pair of wrought-iron gates.

The red brick walls are laid in stretcher bond with a red brick pilaster flanking each bay.

The camber-headed window openings have a fluted terracotta keystone and a terracotta cyma reversal stringcourse. There are nosed limestone sills and the original windows have been replaced with uPVC windows.

At the north side, on the front facing James’s Street, there is a second, round-headed door opening with a keystone and a timber-panelled door. This is flanked by a pair of round-headed window openings with one-over-one timber sash windows on limestone nosed sills.

After the establishment of the Limerick Health Authority in 1960, the building fell into dilapidation. It was restored in recent years by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have a congregation here of about 70 people. The Witnesses do not use altars, and their Kingdom Halls are devoid of religious symbols or decorations.

The former dispensary remains a pleasant building with its slender, yet dramatic, pedimented breakfront. The sober red brick façade is enlivened by the double-height pilasters, and the string and sill courses add a decorative element to this narrow street in the city centre.

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