27 September 2018

A modern office block
recalls Limerick’s lost
‘Hanging Gardens’

Gardens International Office on Lower Henry Street, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

A sign on the corner of Lower Henry Street and Glentworth Street in Limerick advertises the advanced stage of the Gardens International Office, an office development that has been inspired by a lost but creative concept developed over two centuries ago.

William Roche created the Hanging Gardens of Limerick in 1808, a breath-taking series of tiered gardens between Henry Street and the back of his house on George’s Street, now 99 O’Connell Street, that he bought in 1804.

The Roches were a prominent banking and merchant family in Limerick at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries.

William Roche’s unique gardens covered almost an acre, reached 70 feet into the air, and produced exotic fruits, beautiful flowers and an extensive range of vegetables, on terraces over vast vaulted storehouses that were used as stores.

The terraced gardens on arched vaults were developed by William Roche in 1808. The old limestone-faced building with red-bricked internal barrel vaults was a revolutionary project for its day. It was designed with a sophisticated heating and irrigation system to support roof-top hanging and vertical gardens with vegetation and fruits then regarded as exotic.

At the time the gardens were regarded as folly, but they quickly became a unique site in Limerick, and the stores beneath the gardens were rented by the government, enhancing Roche’s wealth and ensuring his prosperity.

The series of arches ranged in height from 25 to 40 feet. The elevated terraced or hanging gardens were created on top of these arches, and the whole structure was crowned by classical statues.

The work cost £15,000 to complete and involved sophisticated heating and irrigation systems to maintain the vegetation.

At the top level were oranges, grapes, peaches and pineapples. On the middle tier there were hardy vegetables and fruit trees, and there were flowers at the bottom level. One section was devoted to melons and cucumbers, and flights of stairs led from one level to the next.

Roche’s Bank survived a baking crisis in 1820, but it was eventually taken over by the new Provincial Bank, which opened a branch in Limerick in 1825.

William Roche was an active supporter of Daniel O’Connell and Catholic Emancipation, and in 1832 he was elected MP for Limerick. He died on 27 April 1850, and his gardens fell into decline after his death.

At the end of the 19th century, the Revd James Dowd, in his book Limerick and its Sieges (1890), described the gardens as ‘a curiosity … without a parallel in in the empire.’ But by then the gardens were no more than a memory in Limerick.

Two arches hint at the story of William Roche’s ‘Hanging Gardens’ in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Today only two bays of the store and substantial parts of the original vaulting that supported the terraces are still intact.

This two-bay, two-storey structure, which can still be glimpsed in midst of the current development work had a roof structure that was concealed behind a parapet wall at the front and on the sides.

The surviving limestone ashlar faced façade has an irregular composition of two red brick arches, one larger than the other, standing on limestone ashlar piers. Both arches were filled in with red brick laid in Flemish bond at the first-floor level and rubble limestone at the ground floor level.

The red-brick parapet wall stands on a limestone stringcourse above a red-brick, dog-tooth course, and there were barrel vaults at first-floor level.

Although Roche’s ‘Hanging Gardens’ are now long gone, the legend lives on, and the vision that inspired Roche is being invoked in the Gardens International development on Henry Street.

The Henry Street site was part developed during the boom, but it then remained a shell development and an eyesore for several years. Now the 100,000 sq ft office development in the centre of Limerick is one of the key projects in the €500 million Limerick 2030 economic plan.

The plan sets out a strategy embracing three city-centre sites with the expectation of creating 5,000 jobs within five years. The plan provides for the development of a number of sites, including the Opera Centre near Patrick Street, which plans the creation of a third-level campus with hundreds of students from the University of Limerick Institute of Technology and Mary Immaculate College moving into the city centre to study and live.

Other ideas include a new world rugby experience in the heart of the city on O’Connell Street and developing the area in King’s Island that includes King John’s Castle and Saint Mary’s Cathedral.

Work on the Gardens International Office on Henry Street involves an investment of €17.6 million. The centre will offer space for up to 750 workers, with the hope that the Gardens will trigger a new wider programme of investment in infrastructure for Limerick.

The aim is to create a city centre setting capable of attracting new inward business investment and encourage new local enterprises by providing high-quality space and necessary business supports.

Denis Brosan, who chairs Limerick 2030, sees the Gardens development as the catalyst for a new era of growth for Limerick. One of the main goals of the Limerick 2030 plan is to ensure the city centre fulfils its economic potential by becoming a desirable place in which to do business.

William Roche built his ‘Hanging Gardens’ behind his house at 99 O’Connell Street, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Ghost bicycles, the bicycle
blues, bikes on the beach,
and nine million bicycles

Ghost bicycles have become popular tributes to cyclists who have died in traffic … at Harold’s Cross Bridge in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford; click on images for full-screen views)

Patrick Comerford

If there are nine million bicycles in Beijing, then it seems there are nine million bicycles in Amsterdam, Berlin, Cambridge, Dublin, and many other cities and towns I visit.

My reflection last week on the death of Paul Nelson, who had developed the Phoenix Bicycle in Dublin in the 1980s brought me to reflect on the way white bicycles or ghost bicycles have come to be used as tributes to cyclists who die tragically in traffic, but also awakened me to how I have built up a collection of photographs from my travels throughout Ireland and England, and further afield.

Bicycles in Cambridge:

A chained bicycle defies the sign on the railings at No 12 Portugal Place (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A sign placed on railings on No 12 Portugal Place in 2015 upset many classicists in Cambridge. Reports said the owners of the building were so perturbed by the number of bicycles left chained to the railings by students that they erected an angry sign in both classical Greek and Latin.

The notice was intended to warn cyclists that all bicycles would be ‘removed or destroyed.’ However, it seems the sign-writer might have benefitted from some further tutoring. Despite appearing to be the work of a well-educated person, critics quickly pointed out that the wording includes a number of mistakes.

Dr Rupert Thompson of Selwyn College, a classics lecturer, said: ‘It’s trying to say, “bicycles left here will be destroyed”.’ But he pointed out that the second word on the sign, ληφθεντεσ, actually means ‘taken’ not ‘left.’ In other words, bicycles taken here will be destroyed.

‘It’s definitely trying to be ancient Greek but it’s not quite,’ he told the BBC. He said both lines of the Greek inscription use the wrong letters. ‘I don’t know what to make of it really, but it’s very amusing and it’s absolutely great to see this in the city.’

Professor Mary Beard of Newnham College, a leading Cambridge and international classicist, said the Latin – Duae rotae hic relictae perimentur – may be correct, but she pointed out that it translates literally as ‘two wheels left abandoned here will be removed.’

Students were critical too and said the sign was pompous, elitist and patronising. Bicycles continued to be chained to the railings in defiance – or in ignorance – of the intended meaning of the sign.

Others might have pointed out that Greek speakers are available in plentiful supply in Cambridge: Saint Clement’s hosted the Greek Orthodox parish for many years, while Sidney Sussex College, the annual venue for the summer school of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, is just two or three minutes walking distance.

Bicycles parked in front of an ATM at a bank on Sidney Street, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A sign at a bank on Sidney Street, Cambridge, says: ‘Cycles, Motor Scooters Etc must not be parked in front of this night safe machine.’ Obviously, it has little effect, and parked bicycles make the sign difficult to read even in the day time.

It seems there has been more than one owner, although not necessarily one careful owner … bicycles piled up between Mong Hall and South Court in Sidney Sussex College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This bicycle on Sidney Street was locked … but the bags were left open and accessible (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Bicycles against the railings of Great Saint Mary’s Church in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Black bikes in the centre of Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The front wheel is missing, but this bicycle in Cambridge was worth keeping under lock and key (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Smokeworks … but does the advertising work? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Recycling words of recommendation in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in cycles … a bicycle outside Saint Bene’t’s Church in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Everyone knows where Bill’s is … outside Sidney Sussex College this summer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The snow comes in cycles … winter weather at Sidney Sussex College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Cycling along Trinity Street in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Seen in Dublin

Barista Bike … especially for coffee lovers at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Bikes, bags and bottles in Howth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Reserved Parking … at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Oh I do like a bike beside the seaside … at an ice cream parlour in Skerries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Tangled bikes in the snow in Temple Bar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Bicycles for hire in Temple Bar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This bike on the Quays in Dublin seems to be made from wine bottle corks (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Say it with flowers on Strand Street in Skerries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Only bicycles like this may be parked here in Baggot Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Outside Dublin

Matching wall and bicycle in Bray (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Bicycle Blues in Bray (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Advice from the gardai in Bray (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Searching for Hen’s Teeth in Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Bill Hassett ran a bicycle repair shop near Matt the Thresher’s in Birdhill until he died in 1973 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A colourful bicycle near King John’s Castle in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Well-matched on High Street in Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Plenty of opportunities in Abbeyleix (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

By a tree at Mount Usher Gardens in Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Up, up and away … did ET find a home in Adare? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the heart of Bellewstown (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sean’s Bar in Athlone is the oldest pub … but is this the oldest bike? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Bikes for Greeks

I find myself photographing this house near the Fortezza every time I am in Rethymnon, and there is always a different bicycle outside (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A blue bicycle in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A blue bicycle on Arkadiou Street in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A red bicycle on Arkadiou Street in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A red bicycle and a wire model in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A bike outside Julia Apartments and the Garden Taverna in Platanes, Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Is it really a bicycle … seen in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A bike by the beach at Platanes in Rethymnon this summer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Air transport? Seen in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

And travelling further afield:

The Anglican Cycle of Prayer? A bicycle by a font in a church in Leicester (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A bicycle in a courtyard in Berlin earlier this month (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

No cars are allowed in the villages of Cinque Terre in Italy … but I spotted this bicycle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Bicycles under an arch in the Italian city of Lucca (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Seen in the Jewish quarter of Krakow in Poland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A pair of two-wheelers at an hotel in La Carihuela near Torremolinos in Spain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There are nine million bicycles in Beijing … and that’s a fact (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

And if you think it difficult to imagine how someone could cycle on the beach at Platanes on that bicycle in Rethymon, I have actually seen people cycling on the beach in Bettystown, Co Meath, in winter weather:

Cycling alone on the beach in Bettystown in winter (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Cycling on the beach in Bettystown in winter with the most important family member (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)