31 May 2017

Saint Saviour’s continues
the 800-year Dominican
connection with Limerick

Saint Saviour’s Church stands on an important corner in the centre of Georgian Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

The Dominicans first came to Limerick almost 800 years ago in 1227. When the Dominican friars announced two years ago that they were leaving the city, a Dominican order of nuns based in Nashville, Tennessee, came to the rescue and agreed to keep the church open.

The Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia arrived in Limerick from Nashville last August [2016], and their presence keeps open an 800-year Dominican association with the city, while priests continue to celebrate Mass in the church every day.

Saint Saviour’s on the corner of Glentworth Street and Baker Place is a Gothic Revival Church that has been altered and added to over the past two centuries. But it brings together in one building the work of many of the most important church architects in Ireland, including James Pain, James Joseph McCarthy, William Wallace, George Goldie, and Ashlin and Coleman.

The church in Glentworth Street dates back to 1815-1816, when the Dominicans moved from their Penal-era chapel on Fish Lane under the leadership of the Dominican Prior, Father Joseph Harrigan.

Edmund Henry Pery (1758-1844), 1st Earl of Limerick, donated the land to the Dominicans. The corner site faces onto Baker Place and Dominick Street, and the east end of the church faces directly onto Griffith’s Row. It faces Saint Michael’s Church of Ireland parish church, and the two churches bookend Pery Street, giving these two Gothic-style churches an visible ecumenical impact and an important architectural role in the Georgian area around Pery Square.

The original church was a plain Gothic church designed by James Pain. The foundation stone was laid on 27 March 1815 in the presence of Dr Charles Tuohy, Bishop of Limerick, and the Provincial of the Dominicans, Father Patrick Gibbons, and the church was consecrated on 6 July 1816.

There is no Saint Saviour, needless to say, and the actual dedication is to the Most Holy Saviour Transfigured, a popular dedication for Dominican churches, with similar foundations in Dublin and Waterford, for example.

Father Joseph Harrigan, the main inspiration for building the church in 1816, died on 23 January 1838, and is buried in Saint Saviour’s.

This is probably the Gothic church William Makepeace Thackeray refers to dismissively during his visit to Limerick in 1842.

Inside Saint Saviour’s … the church brings together the work of many key 19th century church architects (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Some repairs and alterations designed by JJ McCarthy in 1860 were carried out by John Ryan. McCarthy's work in Limerick included Saint Mary’s Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, Saint Senanus Church, Foynes, and Cahermoyle House, the home of the family of William Smith O’Brien.

More extensive work was carried out immediately afterwards by the Limerick-born architect William Wallace, who renovated the church in 1861-1864. He added a clerestory, raising the height of the church by 20 ft, and added the rose window.

At the same time, George Goldie (1828-1887) of Goldie and Child designed a new chancel, high altar, reredos, tabernacle and east window in 1863-1666. In 1870 Goldie and Child remodelled the interior and exterior and the work was supervised by Maurice Alphonsus Hennessy of Limerick.

The altar is the work of the Cheltenham sculptor Richard Lockwood Bolton (1832-1905), the only example of his work that I know of in Ireland. The Gothic Revival marble and polished granite reredos, with a centrally-placed pinnacled tabernacle, is the work of the Cork sculptor Patrick Scannell. There is a large mural of the Transfiguration over the altar arch.

The East End stained glass window of the Transfiguration was by William Wailes of Newcastle, and dates from 1866. The communion rails and gates were designed by Ashlin and Coleman in 1927.

To the right of the high altar is the 17th century oak statue of Our Lady of Limerick, brought to Limerick from Flanders by Patrick Sarsfield in 1640 in reparation for the death sentence passed on Sir John Burke of Brittas by his uncle, Judge Dominic Sarsfield. For many years, the statue was buried in a box in the graveyard at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, along with the Sarsfield Chalice.

A three-sided canted choir and organ gallery at the west end of the nave is supported by marbelised cast-iron columns and an elaborate timber pier rising from a limestone base.

The Sacred Heart Chapel off the north aisle is the work of George Coppinger Ashlin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The Sacred Heart Chapel off the north aisle, also called the Carbery chapel, dates from 1896-1899 and is the work of George Coppinger Ashlin. It is enclosed by a wrought-iron and brass balustrade, with a raised tiled platform, mosaic tiled walls, and a plastered groin vaulted ceiling.

The chapel off the south aisle is dedicated to Saint Martin de Porres and dates from 1960.

The stained-glass windows in the south aisle show different religious figures: two Dominicans saints, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Albert; Saint Mary Magdalene and Saint Luke the Evangelist; Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Dominic; Saint William and Saint Margaret; and the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph.

The frescoes on both sides of the centre aisle of Dominicans saints are the work of Father Aengus Buckley, who also painted the fresco of ‘The Triumph of the Cross’ over the chancel arch in 1951.

An oratory in the church remembers Bishop Terence Albert O’Brien of Emly, a Dominican who was hanged in the abbey ruins in 1651 for his resistance to the Cromwellian siege of Limerick. he had received the statue and chalice from Patrick Sarsfield, and was buried with them in the churchyard at Saint Mary's Cathedral. This is yet another reminder of the long connection the Dominicans have had with Limerick over the generations and down through the centuries.

The choir and organ gallery at the west end is supported by columns and a timber pier (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

How Thackeray found ‘the fragrance
of the Congo on the Shannon shore’

Thackeray was taken aback by his first impressions when he arrived by boat at the quays in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

I was naturally drawn to the war poets Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon when I was writing about Limerick’s literary connections in recent days. Both poets were stationed in Limerick 100 years ago, were strongly critical in their work of modern warfare, and wrote affectionately of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.

Robert Graves was a grandson of Bishop Charles Graves of Limerick, and visited his grave in the cathedral churchyard; Siegfried Sassoon found that ‘by the time I had been at Limerick a week I had found something closely resembling peace of mind,’ and later recalled the ‘bells tolling from Limerick Cathedral; much nicer than sirens from Bryant and May’s factory.’

A very different writer who had a very different impression of Limerick and of Saint Mary’s Cathedral was the 19th century English novelist, William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863).

Thackeray was famous for his satirical works, particularly Vanity Fair, a panoramic portrait of English society. During the Victorian era, he was ranked second only to Charles Dickens, although he is much less widely read today.

In Thackeray’s day, some commentators including Anthony Trollope ranked his History of Henry Esmond as his greatest work, perhaps because it expressed Victorian values of duty and earnestness, as did some of his other later novels.

The Luck of Barry Lyndon (1844) tells of the exploits of a fictional 18th century Irish adventurer. It was filmed as Barry Lyndon by Stanley Kubrick in 1975, starring Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee and Hardy Krüger, with many of the scenes shot on location in Ireland.

In the 1840s, Thackeray had some success with two travel books, The Paris Sketch Book and The Irish Sketch Book (1843). His Irish travel book appealed to British prejudices of the day, and landed Thackeray the position of Punch’s Irish expert, often under the pseudonym Hibernis Hibernior. In this role, Thackeray was chiefly responsible for Punch’s hostile and condescending depictions of the Irish during the Great Famine.

Thackeray had spent four months travelling around Ireland in 1842 and wrote an account of his journey in The Irish Sketch Book, which remains one of the most detailed and colourful surveys of Irish hotels ever written.

In Limerick, he stayed at ‘one of the best inns in Ireland - the large, neat, and prosperous one kept by Mr Cruise.’ This was the Royal Mail Coach Hotel or Cruise’s Hotel. There He was delighted to meet the proprietor, which he claimed was a rare occurrence in Ireland where hoteliers ‘commonly (and very naturally) prefer riding with the hounds, or manly sports, to attendance on their guests.’

He arrived in Limerick by boat, and his first impressions seem to have taken him aback: ‘… you are, at first, half led to believe that you had arrived in a second Liverpool, so tall are the warehouses and broad the quays: so neat and trim a street of near a mile which stretches before you.’

He found the men handsome and the women pretty: ‘If the women of the place are pretty, indeed the vulgar are scarcely less so, I never saw a greater number of kind, pleasing, clever-looking faces among any sort of people.’

‘The great street of Limerick is altogether a very brilliant and animated sight’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

He was overcome by the sight of King George’s Street (now O’Connell Street): ‘The houses are bright red – the street is full and gay, carriages and cars in plenty go jingling by – dragoons in red are every now and then clattering up the street, and as upon every car which passes with ladies in it you are sure (I don’t know how it is) to see a pretty one, the great street of Limerick is altogether a very brilliant and animated sight.’

However, his first impressions soon faded: ‘But even this mile-long street does not, in a few minutes, appear to be so wealthy and prosperous as it shows at first glance: for of the population that throngs the streets, two-fifths are bare-footed women, and two-fifths more ragged men: and the most part of the shops which have a grand show with them, appear when looked into, to be no better than they should be, being empty make-shift looking places, with their best goods outside.’

He contrasted the lives he saw on the streets of Limerick: ‘Here, in this handsome street too, is a handsome club-house, with plenty of idlers you may be sure, lolling at the portico; likewise you see numerous young officers, with very tight waists and absurd brass shell-epaulettes to their little absurd brass shell epaulettes to their little absurd frock coats, walking the pavement – the dandies of the street. Then you behold troops of pear, apple and plum women, selling very raw, green looking fruit, which indeed, it is a wonder that anyone should eat and live.’

Thackeray wrote disparagingly of ‘the nasty streets’ and ‘the still more nasty back lanes’ of Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In Irishtown, Thackeray witnessed a different side of Limerick, and wrote of ‘a labyrinth of busy swarming poverty and squalid commerce as never was seen … Here every house almost was half a ruin and swarming with people.’

He wrote: ‘Look out of the nasty streets into the still more nasty back lanes; there they are, sprawling at every door and court, paddling in every puddle; and in about a fair proportion to every six children an old woman – a very old, blear-eyed, ragged woman – who makes believe to sell something out of a basket, and is perpetually calling upon the name of the Lord … In these crowded streets, where all are beggars, the beggary is but small: only the very old and hideous venture to ask for a penny, otherwise the competition would be too great.’

As he crossed the river, he noticed Barrington’s Hospital, which he described as ‘a handsome hospital.’ But he was not at all impressed by Saint Mary’s Cathedral nearby. He described it as ‘the old cathedral, a barbarous old turreted edifice – of the fourteenth century it is said: how different to the sumptuous elegance which characterises the English and continental churches of the same period.’

Some years after visiting Limerick, Thackeray caused offence with his comic song ‘The Battle of Limerick,’ which trivialises the Young Ireland movement and mocks and mimics Irish accents – although William Carleton remarked that he ‘writes very well about Ireland, for an Englishman.’

At the height of Young Ireland activities in 1848, the Confederate leaders, William Smith O’Brien and Thomas Francis Meagher, proposed to make a tour of the main towns of Munster to review the local Repealers. The tour began at Limerick, where a soirée was held on 29 April. But the presence among the guests of John Mitchel, who had recently given offence by an attack on the memory of Daniel O’Connell, inflamed the mob, and in the fray which ensued O’Brien was struck by a man who had failed to recognise him.

The Battle of Limerick, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Ye Genii of the nation,
Who look with veneration,
And Ireland’s desolation onsaysingly deplore;
Ye sons of General Jackson,
Who thrample on the Saxon,
Attend to the thransaction upon Shannon shore.

When William, Duke of Schumbug,
A tyrant and a humbug,
With cannon and with thunder on our city bore,
Our fortitude and valliance
Insthructed his battalions
To rispict the galliant Irish upon Shannon shore.

Since that capitulation,
No city in this nation
So grand a reputation could boast before,
As Limerick prodigious,
That stands with quays and bridges,
And the ships up to the windies of the Shannon shore.

A chief of ancient line,
’Tis William Smith O’Brine,
Reprisints this darling Limerick, this ten years or more:
O the Saxons can’t endure
To see him on the flure,
And thrimble at the Cicero from Shannon shore!

This valiant son of Mars
Had been to visit Par’s
That land of Revolution, that grows the tricolor;
And to welcome his returrn
From pilgrimages furren,
We invited him to tay on the Shannon shore!

Then we summoned to our board
Young Meagher of the Sword;
’Tis he will sheathe that battle-axe in Saxon gore:
And Mitchil of Belfast
We bade to our repast,
To dthrink a dish of coffee on the Shannon shore.

Convaniently to hould
These patriots so bould,
We tuck the opportunity of Tim Doolan’s store;
And with ornamints and banners
(As becomes gintale good manners)
We made the lovliest tay-room upon Shannon shore.

’Twould binifit your sowls,
To see the butthered rowls,
The sugar-tongs and sangwidges and craim galyore,
And the muffins and the crumpets,
And the band of harps and thrumpets,
To celebrate the sworry upon Shannon shore.

Sure the Imperor of Bohay
Would be proud to dthrink the tay
That Misthress Biddy Rooney for O’Brine did pour,
And, since the days of Strongbow,
There never was such Congo –
Mitchil dthrank six quarts of it – by Shannon shore.

But Clarndon and Corry
Connellan beheld this sworry
With rage and imulation in their black heart’s core;
And they hired a gang of ruffins
To interrupt the muffins
And the fragrance of the Congo on the Shannon shore.

When full of tay and cake,
O’Brine began to spake;
But juice a one could hear him, for a sudden roar
Of a ragamuffin rout
Began to yell and shout,
And frighten the propriety of Shannon shore.

As Smith O’Brine harangued,
They batthered and they banged;
Tim Doolan’s doors and windies down they tore;
They smashed the lovely windies
(Hung with muslin from the Indies),
Purshuing of their shindies upon Shannon shore.

With throwing of brickbats,
Drowned puppies and dead rats,
These ruffin democrats themselves did lower;
Tin kettles, rotten eggs,
Cabbage-stalks, and wooden legs,
They flung among the patriots of Shannon Shore.

O the girls began to scrame
And upset the milk and crame;
And the honourable gintlemen, they cursed and swore:
And Mitchil of Belfast,
’Twas he that looked aghast,
When they roasted him in effigy by Shannon shore.

O the lovely tay was spilt
On that day of Ireland’s guilt;
Says Jack Mitchil, “I am kilt! Boys, where’s the back door?
’Tis a national disgrace:
Let me go and veil me face;”
And he boulted with quick pace from the Shannon shore.

“Cut down the bloody horde!”
Says Meagher of the Sword,
“This conduct would disgrace any blackamore;”
But the best use Tommy made
Of his famous battle blade
Was to cut his own stick from the Shannon shore.

Immortal Smith O’Brine
Was raging like a line;
’Twould have done your sowl good to have heard him roar;
In his glory he arose,
And he rush’d upon his foes,
But they hit him on the nose by the Shannon shore.

Then the Futt and the Dthragoons
In squadthrons and platoons,
With their music playing chunes, down upon us bore;
And they bate the rattatoo,
But the Peelers came in view,
And ended the shaloo on the Shannon shore.