24 October 2017

Classical inspiration for
the Georgian doorways
in Limerick’s city centre

No 72 O’Connell Street with its pilasters and caryatids is one of the many interesting Georgian doors in Limerick city centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Back in the early 1970s, a colourful collage of Dublin Georgian doors appeared in the window of the Irish Tourism offices on Fifth Avenue in New York one Saint Patrick’s Day. People on their way to see the parade were stopped in their tracks by the unique and colourful images. There were so many requests for copies that Joe Malone, then the North American Manager of Bord Fáilte, commissioned the poster that has since become one of the icons of Ireland.

All the Georgian townhouses illustrating that poster are in the Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square area of Dublin. But as I walk through the streets of Limerick each week, I realise how a similar poster could have been produced in this city, illustrated with doorways from O’Connell Street and the Georgian houses in the streets off it.

The Tudor-Gothick doorway at 46 O’Connell Street, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

No 46 O’Connell Street, Limerick, is a terraced three-bay four-storey over basement former townhouse, built around 1800. The fine ‘Tudor’ or ‘Gothick’ shopfront was inserted at ground floor level about 1840, and is unique in Limerick.

The Gothick rendered shopfront spans the entire façade of the building. It includes a tripartite window opening with three shallow pointed-arched fixed display windows, and a Tudor-arched door opening with a ribbed surround containing a double-leaf timber door that has Gothick slender flat panels and brass furniture.

There is slender vertical glazing in the overlight above the door, with historic glass. The tripartite window is flanked by a pair of decorative Gothick panels above a similar panel below, and these panels are flanked by heavily moulded mullions with a low gabled pier to the lower panel that is corbelled out below.

The mullions and piers are repeated at both ends of the shopfront and they support an entablature above with a modern fascia.

The door opens onto a limestone threshold step and a limestone platform with six steps bridging the basement area. The steps are flanked by wrought-iron railings and cast-iron corner posts on a limestone plinth that encloses the basement area, accessed by modern steel steps.

The Belltable Theatre at 69 O’Connell Street, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The Belltable Theatre at 69 O’Connell Street is housed in a terraced, three-bay four-storey over basement red brick former townhouse built ca 1825. This former Georgian townhouse was substantially remodelled at ground floor level as the Coliseum Cinema in the late 19th century. It has since become one of the most important venues in Limerick for the performing arts.

The theatre was built around 1890, and the limestone ashlar ground floor elevation dates from about 1900, when the theatre was remodelled by the Limerick-based architect William Clifford Smith (1881-1954).

The redbrick façade is laid in Flemish bond. The limestone ashlar ground floor elevation has two large three-centred door openings, with partially fluted pilasters joined by a fascia with metal lettering reading: ‘Belltable Arts Centre.’

The smaller of the two openings is recessed within a porch reached by a broad flight of limestone steps. Here there are double-leaf margin-paned glazed timber doors, with a moulded architrave and a diamond and circular paned glazed fanlight.

The limestone flagged front door platform is reached by a flight of limestone steps flanked by the original wrought-iron railings with neoclassical cast-iron rail posts that have pineapple finials.

The larger doorway is level with the footpath and is flanked by Tudor-style piers on fluted pedestals. These support a limestone arch with glazed spandrels divided by limestone mullions, imitating the glazing pattern of the fanlight.

The doorcase at 72 O’Connell Street includes pilasters with carved or composite caryatids (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

A highly elaborate, three-centred arch doorcase and fanlight can be seen at 72 O’Connell Street. This is a terraced two-bay four-storey over basement red brick former Georgian townhouse built around 1825. The house is one in a terrace of 11 relatively uniform large-scale houses each sharing a uniform parapet height and window pattern. The terrace is between Hartstonge Street and Mallow Street and forms one of the most noble street elevations in Limerick.

The tripartite doorcase includes four pilasters that are enriched by carved or composite gesso-moulded caryatids to three sides of the pilasters, inspired perhaps by the Caryatids at the Erechtheion beside the Parthenon on the Acropolis Hill in Athens. It is worth remembering that these doorways were produced at a time when Lord Elgin had hacked away large portions of the Parthenon frieze and brought them to London, where they were sold to the British Museum.

The Caryatids at the Erechtheion beside the Parthenon on the Acropolis Hill in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The pilasters at No 72 are further elaborated by egg-and-dart detailing that is joined by timber entablatures.

The frosted glass sidelights over the panelled timber bases survive, and the original flat-panelled timber door leaf has a Wellington door knocker. Above, there is a lead-detailed webbed fanlight.

No 77 O’Connell Street has a fine Georgian doorcase with a rare example of a fanlight lantern (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

No 77 O’Connell Street is another house in this uniform terrace of 11 Georgian former townhouses. It too was built around 1820, and has a broad flight of steps leading up to the three-centred arched front door. The house still has a fine Georgian doorcase with a rare example of a fanlight lantern. It contributes significantly to the architectural character of the streetscape in this part of Georgian Limerick.

The house has a three-centred arched door opening, a red brick arch, patent rendered reveals, and an inset tripartite timber doorcase. Here palmette enriched piers divide the flanking sidelights which have panelled timber bases incorporating historic bell ringers. The original flat-panelled timber door has a central horizontal panel. Piers support the frieze and cornice with waterleaf detailing. The original webbed lead detailed fanlight incorporates fanlight lantern.

The door at 87 O’Connell Street is flanked by pair of timber engaged Ionic columns (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

No 87 O’Connell Street is a terraced two-bay four-storey over basement brick former townhouse, built around 1840. Here there is a brick three-centred arched door opening with a rendered reveal and a replacement timber-panelled door.

The door at No 87 is flanked by pair of timber engaged Ionic columns, replacement sidelights and pair of quarter Ionic piers, all supporting a stepped entablature with a replacement fanlight above.

The arched door at 96 O’Connell Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

No 96 O’Connell Street is the offices of Limerick Chamber of Commerce. This is a terraced three-bay four-storey over basement former house, built around 1800. It was refaced in stucco around 1875-1880 and is distinguished by the channel rusticated ground floor elevation, the foliate frieze on the parapet entablature, the cast-iron balconette and the piano nobile window openings.

The segmental-arched door opening has a surround treatment that echoes the window openings at ground level. The inset timber doorframe has a profiled timber lintel separating the plain glass overlight from the flat-panelled timber door. The remains of the brick arch of the original door opening is evident on the neighbouring late Georgian façade.

This fine building is remarkable for the way the early 19th-century interior is intact behind the later 19th-century stucco façade.

The doorway at 97 O’Connell Street recalls one of the great institutions of Victorian Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Next door, 97 O’Connell Street is worth looking at because of its unusual front door. The lettering in the fanlight proclaims that this was once the Limerick Protestant Young Men’s Association.

The association was founded in 1853 to provide and maintain suitable premises and grounds to encourage literary and scientific study, cultivate artistic taste, create good fellowship, and provide spiritual, moral, social and physical improvement among its members. The LPYMA moved to 97 George’s Street (later renamed O’Connell Street) in 1875. A new gymnasium and a lecture hall were added two years later.

The LPYMA was governed by a president, vice-presidents, treasurer, secretaries and a committee of 13 elected. The clubs included hockey, lawn tennis, cricket and bowls, and in 1938 they amalgamated into a unified Sports Club. The association also had a billiards room, and a large library and reading room. Women were eligible and were exempt from the subscription fee if they a male relative was also a member.

The association’s popularity began to wane from the 1960s onwards. It remains in existence but mostly in an administrative capacity to oversee the maintenance of its premises. The archives are now at the University of Limerick, but are purely administrative and reveal little of the association’s temporal and spiritual work.

No 99 O’Connell Street, once the home of the Limerick Institute (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

No 99 O’Connell Street has considerable street presence in the city centre because of its original doorcase and the curved elevated approach. This is a terraced three-bay four-storey over basement former townhouse was built around 1810. For many decades, it was known as the Limerick Institute, a club with its own library and newsroom.

There is a brick three-point arched door opening with the original timber-panelled door. The door is flanked by a pair of engaged timber Ionic columns, the original sidelights and quarter Ionic piers, all supporting a stepped entablature with a decorative webbed zinc fanlight above that still retains some historic glass.

One of the wonders of Georgian Limerick was William Roche’s ‘Hanging Gardens,’ which extended from 99 O’Connell Street as far as Henry Street. Roche erected a series of storehouses behind the house at a cost of £15,000 in 1808.

The gardens were laid out over the vaulted storehouses, and the highest of these gardens was 70 ft above the street and was about 200 ft in length. The top terrace contained hothouses where Roche grew grapes, pineapples, peaches and oranges. The middle terrace included vegetables and hardy fruits. The lower terrace was rich with flowers of every form, scent and hue.

The doorcase at 101 O’Connell Street with its Ionic columns (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

No 101 O’Connell Street is part of a terrace of seven buildings and most of its door surround remains intact. This terraced two-bay four-storey over basement brick former townhouse was built around 1810.

The building has a segmental-headed front door opening, where the original timber-panelled door is flanked by a pair of engaged timber Ionic columns and replacement sidelights supporting a stepped entablature, with a replacement fanlight above.

These are just a few of the former townhouses on O’Connell Street that enrich the streetscape of the Georgian heart of Limerick city centre.

The influences of Pugin and
the Pre-Raphaelites on
Saint Mary’s Church, Killarney

Saint Mary’s Church, Killarney … the ‘Church of the Sloes’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I spent yesterday working in Saint Mary’s Parish Centre in Killarney, Co Kerry, working at a communications training day for people in ministry in the Diocese of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert.

During the day, there was an opportunity for a brief visit to Saint Mary’s, a beautiful Gothic Revival style parish church in the heart of Killarney, serving a small congregation and the tourists who visit Killarney throughout the year.

This church stands in the heart of Killarney, between the hotel sector and the shopping area. It can be found on Kenmare Place, at the bottom of Main Street, opposite the Town Hall and beside to the Plaza Hotel and the terminus of the jaunting cars.

There is evidence from as early as the 1200s of a church in this place. The name of Killarney in Irish, Cill Airne, means ‘Church of the Sloes.’ This may suggest that an ancient church was built in this area and the presence of the blackthorn tree was significant to local people. An alternative spelling of the name may be derived from an obscure local saint.

Inside Saint Mary’s Church, Killarney (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Killarney’s tourism history goes back at least to the mid-18th century, when the town was first laid out 270 years ago in 1747 by Sir Thomas Browne (1726-1795), 4th Viscount Kenmare, who had an inherited an estate of 120,000 acres. His developments began to attract visitors and new residents to the town.

When Queen Victoria visited Killarney in 1861, she stayed at Muckross Housas a guest of the Herbert family. Her visit brought new attention to the attractions of the town and the Lakes of Killarney and her visit marks the beginning of modern and international tourism.

Muckross House, with 65 rooms, was designed in the Tudor Gothic style by William Burn and was built in 1843 for Henry Arthur Herbert and extensive improvements were carried out in the 1850s in preparation for Queen Victoria’s visit.

The East Windows in the chancel of Saint Mary’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Saint Mary’s Church was designed by William Atkins (1811-1887) and built in 1870 on the site of previous churches. Atkins, who was born in Cork, built in a Gothic revival style, and his other works include the funerary chapel (1845) in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin, said to be the first Pugin-style Gothic church in Dublin, and Saint Mary’s Priory, Cork, built in a Ruskin-influenced neo-Romanesque style.

The church was burnt in 1889 and was extensively rebuilt around 1890, to the designs of the Kerry-born architect James Franklin Fuller (1835-1924). His works include the Superintendent’s Gate Lodge in Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, Saint Mary’s Church, Julianstown, Co Meath, the D’Olier Chambers or the Gallaher Building, a landmark building on the corner of D’Olier Street and Hawkins Street, Dublin, and Farmleigh House beside the Phoenix Park in Dublin.

Some memorials in Saint Mary’s Church date to earlier churches on this site, and the church was enriched by gifts from the Herbert family of Muckross House.

At the beginning of the 19th century, from 1809 to 1834, the Rector of Killarney was the Revd Arthur Hyde, grandfather of Dr Douglas Hyde, the first President of Ireland (1938-1945).

At the East End, the three double windows in the Chancel, with French Gothic Revival style tracery are dedicated to the Revd Edward Herbert, another 19th century Rector of Killarney, and to the Revd Richard Herbert, who was intimately involved in building the church.

The great West Window in the chancel of Saint Mary’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Many of the vibrant stained glass windows in the church are from the studio of William Wailes (1808-1881), who ran one of the largest and most prolific stained glass workshops in Victorian England. He had studied with Mayer of Munich and later worked closely with AWN Pugin. His famous works include the windows of Gloucester Cathedral, the East Window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, and the Transfiguration East Window in Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church in Limerick.

The great West Window depicts images relating to the Eucharist.

‘Behold I stand at the door and knock’ … a window influenced by William Holman Hunt’s painting, ‘The Light of the World’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

A notable and rare stained glass window on the south side includes a panel with the caption ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock.’ This is a copy of the painting ‘The Light of the World’ by William Holman Hunt’s (1827-1910).

Another image in this window is said to be the likeness of Emily Long, the young woman commemorated in the window. She died in 1864 and was a sister of Henry Arthur Herbert MP, Queen Victoria’s host at Muckross House. The window was commissioned by her sister Jane White, Countess of Bantry.

Meanwhile, the cost of Queen Victoria’s visit had contributed to the financial difficulties of the Herbert family, and the Muckross estate became insolvent in 1897. The estate was bought in 1899 by Arthur Guinness, 1st Baron Ardilaun.

In 1911, Muckross House and its demesne were sold to William Bowers Bourne, a wealthy Californian mining magnate. In 1932, the Bourns and their son-in-law, Arthur Vincent, presented Muckross House and 11,000 acres to the Irish nation, and it became Ireland’s first National Park.

In later years, Killarney National Park was expanded by acquiring land from the former estate of the Earls of Kenmare.

The present priest-in-charge of Saint Mary’s Church is the Ven Simon Lumby, Archdeacon of Limerick and Ardfert. The church offers occasional tours on Saturdays in the summer season.

The Emily Long memorial window on the south side of Saint Mary’s Church was commissioned by her sister, Lady Bantry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)