13 January 2018

An old boat club is on the site
of the Viking port of Limerick

The slipway at Curraghgour Boat Club … the site of the Viking port in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

As I was wandering around the back of the Courthouse and the Potato Market on Merchant’s Quay on the banks of the Shannon in Limerick earlier this week, I came across the Curraghgour Boat Club and a site by the river’s edge that is said to date back to the very beginnings of the city in the Viking age.

The boat club was founded almost a century and half ago in 1877, and the signs on the railings and at the boathouse spell the name Curraghgour, although there is a number of local variants, including Curragour, Curragower and Curraghgower.

This is the place where the Nordic Vikings landed their warships off the River Shannon to invade Limerick City.

The gate at the boat club appeared locked, but there were a few boats on the slipway, and as I began to photograph the area the door opened, and I was invited it.

I found I was standing on the very site of the ancient port of Limerick, known as Luimneach na Loinge or ‘Limerick of the Ships.’

The Curragour or Curraghgower Falls derive their name from a derivative of Corach Dhobhair, meaning the moving, eddying or whirling water, Cora Dhobhair, the water weir, or Carraig Dhobhair, the rock of the water.

Inside the boathouse at Curraghgour Boat Club (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The mediaeval harbour was the economic heart of the city, accommodating ships weighing up to 200 tons. This harbour was defended by two great stone towers, linked by a great iron chain that was vital to the defence of the city during the many sieges over the centuries.

Two mills called the King’s Mills, stood side by side between the weir and the rock, on the falls in the middle of the river, and were there in 1615.

The south tower was also a gunpowder store, and violently exploded in 1693. Over 240 people were killed in the huge explosion, and many were killed over a mile away by the falling stones and debris.

The mill was acquired by James Fisher, who went into partnership with Larry Quinlivan, and they set up a company known as Fisher and Quinlivan. The mill was destroyed by a fire in 1850, and the site fell into a ruin and was abandoned.

Meanwhile, the Potato Market was built nearby in 1843 on the site of the Long Dock, but in time it failed become a general market area.

Later in the 19th century, the site of the South Tower became the home of the Curraghour Boat Club when it was established in 1877.

The club members represent generations of boatmen and their families who claim to trace their ancestry back to the times of the sieges of Limerick. They cherish the history and the heritage of the river, carrying on the ancient traditions of boat making and fishing.

The slipway still marks the site of the ancient Viking port of Limerick.

The Curraghgour Boat Club has been on the site of the Viking port of Limerick since 1877 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Saint Joseph’s, a Limerick church
that features in ‘Angela’s Ashes’

Saint Joseph’s Church in Limerick features throughout Frank McCourt’s ‘Angela’s Ashes’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Saint Joseph’s Church on Quinlan Street and O’Connell Avenue in Limerick, features throughout Angela’s Ashes. Here the author Frank McCourt made his first Confession, here he stands clutching his father’s hand as he is refused his request to become an altar boy and the door is closed on him, and here he is shocked to see his mother begging in front of the church, which is, in his own words, ‘the worst kind of shame.’

Saint Joseph’s Church stands beside the former Baptist Church, which is now Saint Joseph’s Parish Centre. Together, these two buildings mark the end of the larger-scale Georgian streetscape of Limerick, developed in Newtown Pery at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century.

Saint Joseph’s was built in 1904 on a site donated by a Mr Byrnes. The site was originally a quarry with a natural spring. It was first used as a chapel of ease for Saint Michael’s Parish Church.

William Edward Corbett (1824-1904) was the architect of the church and John Ryan and Sons were the builders. Corbett was born in Limerick on 19 April 1824, the son of Patrick Corbett. He was the architect and borough surveyor of Limerick City from 1854 until 1899, and lived at Patrick Street (1856), Glentworth Street (1863-1898) and Lansdowne Road, until he died on 1 February 1904 at the age of 79.

Corbett’s other works in Limerick city and county include the former Franciscan Church on Henry Street, the former Jesuit church on the Crescent, Saint Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Castleconnell, and the Tait Memorial Clock in Baker Place. Earlier, Corbett had worked with Hardwick on Adare Manor and at Mount Saint Alphonsus.

The church has acquired the nickname ‘the church of the spite’ because it is situated across the street from the Jesuit Church of the Sacred Heart in the Crescent.

At the time Saint Joseph’s was being built, Bishop Edward O’Dwyer of Limerick objected to the Jesuits’ two-tier system for worshippers in their church, so that the wealthy sat at the front while the less affluent sat at the back. Despite Bishop O’Dwyer’s protests, the Jesuits refused to change this system, so he decided a new church was needed in the area so that churchgoers were not segregate worshippers in this manner.

Saint Joseph’s Church was consecrated in April 1904 as a chapel of ease for Saint Michael’s Parish Church, and opened on 24 April 1904. William Corbett had died a few weeks earlier on 1 February 1904.

The mosaic on the tympanum depicts Saint Joseph carrying the Christ Child (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Saint Joseph’s is a very late example of a classical church and it has an exaggerated pediment. The church is designed in the Italian neo-classical style and is cruciform in shape. It was built using Limerick limestone with three-bay pediments façade within its own walled grounds.

The front mosaic, along with the architecture, reinforces the Italianate style and impression of the church. This elaborate mosaic on the tympanum, dating from 1926, shows Saint Joseph carrying the Christ Child.

There is three-bay pedimented façade, a square plan three-stage tower to the south-west, a five-sided apse to the rear and a three-bay single-storey vestry to the south.

There is a central Venetian window opening at the front with architrave surrounds. The square tower between the south transepts and the nave has an additional door opening at the front elevation and a louvered oculus opening at the third stage.

The church still has all its main internal features (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The church still has all its internal and external features, including some fine stained-glass windows, in particular a late Harry Clarke Studio window on the south elevation of the nave.

The high altar is the work of Edmund Sharp in 1903. The story is told that before Saint Joseph’s opened in 1904, the architect William Corbett arrived to view the high altar. Until then, the altar was concealed by scaffolding, and this would be his first opportunity to view the finished product.

As he sat in the front pew, he is said to have been moved to tears as he saw for the first time, the beauty of his design, so brilliantly carried out by Edmund Sharp. He died a short time later.

The Romanesque-style windows inside the church include windows depicting Christ washing the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper, and a stained-glass window of Saint Patrick by the Harry Clarke studio.

A stained-glass window of Saint Patrick by the Harry Clarke studio (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In the right transept, five stained glass windows depict Christ comforting the dying, Saint Joseph training Christ in carpentry, Christ ascending into Heaven, Christ and Roman soldiers and the Crucifixion.

Over the main door of the church, a stained-glass window depicts the Virgin Mary being taken up into Heaven (the Assumption).

There are statues of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, the Sacred Heart, the Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus and Saint Joseph. A statue of Christ the King was erected outside the church in 1930.

The interior decoration of the church was designed by Edward Francis Ryan in 1938.

A panoramic view of the interior decoration of Saint Joseph’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

This church also holds the chalice used in Saint Mary’s Cathedral in 1646 by the Papal Nuncio, Cardinal Rinuccini, to celebrate the victory of the Battle of Benburb.

Saint Joseph’s remained a chapel of ease for Saint Michael’s until 1973, when the new autonomous parish of Saint Joseph was created. For generations, the church has been the venue each year for the Dockers’ Mass in the last week in November.

The spiral staircase leading to the choir gallery (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)