22 October 2019

An exhibition on Limerick’s
Arts and Crafts architect,
William Clifford Smith

Shannon Rowing Club hosted a weekend exhibition on the work of the Limerick-based architect William Clifford Smith(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

As part of the Open House events in Limerick last weekend (19-20 October 2019), I went to exhibition on the work of the architect William Clifford Smith in Shannon Rowing Club at Sarsfield Bridge, one of the many landmark buildings he designed in Limerick.

William Clifford Smith (1881-1954) was included in the ‘Open House’ programme as one of the city’s ‘Historical Visionaries,’ who is associated with the stories of well-known Limerick landmarks and hidden corners and was part of the Arts and Crafts and Modernist movements.

Appropriately, Clifford Smith designed the Arts and Crafts-style Edwardian clubhouse of Shannon Rowing Club. This highly elaborate clubhouse stands out, not only for its architectural beauty, but because of its location on an artificial island between a canal and the River Shannon, connected to Sarsfield Bridge.

Sarsfield Bridge was originally named Wellesley Bridge in honour of the Duke of Wellington, and the island on which the clubhouse stands is known as Shannon Island or Wellesley Pier.

Shannon Rowing Club, the oldest rowing club in Limerick City, was founded in 1866 by Sir Peter Tait, the Limerick entrepreneur who is remembered today in the Tait Clock in Baker Place. The club celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2016.

William Clifford Smith won an international competition in 1902 to design the new clubhouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Clifford Smith was an inventive young English architect when he won an international competition in 1902 to design the new clubhouse. The clubhouse was built by Messrs Gough at a cost of £2,000 and was completed in 1905.

This is a highly elaborate clubhouse in the Edwardian Arts and Crafts idiom. It is such a fine example of Edwardian architecture that, as far as I know, it is the only listed sports building in Ireland.

This detached two-bay, two-storey over basement stone clubhouse stands on a limestone pier to the north-east of Sarsfield Bridge, with a limestone entrance platform bridging at basement level. The variation of the windows, the contrasting façade finishes at each level, and the large-scale massing of the building with its gables, bays and balconies are some of the attractive features in a building that is still in an impeccable condition.

William Clifford Smith’s attention to detail is seen in the interior details in the clubhouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Clifford Smith’s attention to detail is seen in the Art Nouveau repousée metal finger plates on the interior doors. Among his attractive features are the asymmetry of the building, and the corbels, brackets, arches and columns.

William Clifford Smith was born in Poole, Dorset, in 1881 or 1882. In 1901, at the age of 19, he was an architect’s pupil and still living in Poole with his parents, Lucy and John C Smith, a draper.

On winning the competition, Clifford Smith decided to stay to Ireland, and he settled in Limerick. In 1906, he designed a terrace of small dormered cottages at Fair Green in Adare, Co Limerick, for the 4th Earl of Dunraven. In 1907, Dunraven also invited Clifford Smith to design the Village Hall and Clubhouse in Adare in the Arts and Crafts style.

Smith’s design for the Village Hall in Adare is an adaptation of the style of the English architect Charles Voysey (1857-1941), who was influenced by AWN Pugin and William Morris.

William Clifford Smith’s designs for a pharmacy on George Street, now O’Connell Street, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Around 1910, Clifford Smith designed the former Bank and Post Office in Foynes, Co Limerick, the only building to be completed as part of the vision of Inigo Thomas for a Market Square in Foynes, and Creeven Cottages, a row of cottages at the east end of Foynes.

His design for the Shannon Rowing Club gave impetus to an Edwardian freestyle that marked out the building on Limerick’s riverscape. As the exhibition pointed out, It is a style that can be seen too throughout the city in the suburban houses he designed in Ennis Road, O’Connell Avenue and Shelbourne Road.

Some of these houses are three-storied with an assortment of balconettes, oculi and timbered gables. Others have horizontal mullioned windows, and steep roofs with prominent chimney stacks, which owe much to the Arts and Crafts style. Contrasting materials were also carefully chosen – brick, limestone and pebbledash – combined with Art Nouveau-inspired cast-iron railings.

William Clifford Smith’s designs for a shop on Patrick Street, Limerick(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

By 1911, Clifford Smith was boarding in the home of Elizabeth McCarthy on Ennis Road. He may have served in the Royal Engineers during World War I. But he had returned to Limerick by 1917, when he married Jane Downey in in Saint Michael’s Church, Pery Square, on 27 June, and they lived at Northesk, Lansdowne, Limerick, after the war. In 1919 he designed what is now the Belltable Arts Centre at 69 O’Connell Street.

The exhibition panels show how this was the Coliseum Theatre and then the Gaiety Cinema. The former Georgian townhouse was substantially remodelled at ground floor level to accommodate a theatre in the late 19th century, and in the 20th century it became one of the most important venues in Limerick for the performing arts.

The former townhouse is one of the larger three-bay houses in a terrace of 11 houses between Hartstonge Street and Mallow Street, and which has been described as ‘one of the most noble street elevations in the city.’ Clifford Smith designed the limestone front at ground floor level with panache and without compromising the uniform quality of the streetscape. The façade continues to retain his bold elliptical arch and mannered columns.

Clifford Smith worked from 75 O’Connell Street for much of his career. In 1928, he formed a partnership with Edward Newenham, known as Clifford Smith & Newenham.

In 1937, his only child, his daughter Doreen, married Charles Johnston. He died at home on 27 June 1954, and was buried with his wife and grand-daughter, Carys Clifford, at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.

Clifford Smith & Newenham amalgamated with the Dublin practice of Dermot Mulligan in 1968 to become Newenham Mulligan & Associates (NMA), an award-winning practice of architects , master planners, project managers, and graphic and interior designers with offices in Dublin.

Shannon Rowing Club stands on an artificial island between a canal and the River Shannon, connected to Sarsfield Bridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Dublin Airport Church:
the airport’s ‘most beautiful’
and ‘best-kept secret’

The Church of Our Lady Queen of Heaven has been described as ‘the most beautiful part of Dublin Airport’ and ‘its best-kept secret’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The Church of Our Lady Queen of Heaven has been described as ‘the most beautiful part of Dublin Airport’ and ‘its best-kept secret.’

The church is hidden from most people travelling through the airport. Today it is tucked in between the Terminal 1 car park and a traffic hub for airport buses. But it was designed 55 years ago to sit in an open-air precinct in the church, far away from the bustle of taxi ranks, duty-free shopping and continuous announcements.

I have passed it by on countless occasions since it was first built in the 1960s, but only visited it for the first time 10 days ago, when I passed through the airport on way back from Cornwall.

The church is just a minute away from Terminal 1 and the Short-Term Car Park, but now almost inaccessible to passengers using Terminal 2, which is served by a multi-faith room.

The church, with its concrete bell tower and landscaped courtyard, was built in 1964 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

When this church, with its concrete bell tower and landscaped courtyard, was built in 1964, it was one of the first modernist churches in Dublin.

One writer points out that ‘some of Ireland’s most interesting and bold modern movement architecture can be seen in churches, not least because the clients were very committed, the desired result was something monumental and the brief to the architect was specific but also pretty simple compared to other building types: one large, beautiful space and a number of other rooms.’

The church was designed by the Limerick-born architect Andrew Devane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Church of Our Lady Queen of Heaven was designed by Andrew Devane of Robinson, Keeffe & Devane (now RKD) of Dublin.

This architectural partnership was formed in 1946 when Andrew Devane joined John Joseph Robinson and Cyril Keefe of Robinson & Keefe. Robinson and Keefe both died in 1965. The practice has continued under the same name until it was renamed RKD.

Andrew Devane (1917-2000) was born in Limerick, a doctor’s son, on 3 November 1917. He studied architecture at University College Dublin under Rudolf Maximilian Butler and graduated in 1941. He was awarded the Taliesin Fellowship in 1946 and this allowed him to study in the US under Frank Lloyd Wright until 1948.

Devane had written to Wright ‘I cannot make up my mind whether you are in truth a great architect – or just another phony,’ to which Wright replied, ‘Come along and see.’

When he returned to Ireland in 1948, he re-joined Robinson and Keefe as a partner. After he retired, he devoted much of his time devoted to working with Mother Teresa in India, and he died in Calcutta on 15 January 2000.

Andrew Devane’s work was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

His other churches include: Umtali Cathedral, Rhodesia (now Mutare, Zimbabwe); the reordering of Ennis Cathedral, Co Clare; Saint Fintan's Church, Sutton, Co Dublin (1973); Manresa House Chapel, Dollymount, Dublin; Saint Patrick’s College Church and campanile, Drumcondra; Gonzaga College Chapel, Ranelagh; and alterations to Saint John’s Cathedral, Limerick.

He also designed Mount Carmel Hospital in Rathgar, Tallaght Hospital, and Saint Vincent’s Private Hospital, Dublin, and the Shannon Shamrock Hotel, Bunratty. His Technical School at Emmett Road, Inchicore (1953-1958) includes a staircase based on Wright’s ‘Falling Water’ house.

The building contractor for Devane’s airport church was Seamus Murphy Ltd of Templeogue. The church opened on 26 July 1964 with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid of Dublin.

‘A remarkable building’ that ‘has been able to survive many attempts to remove it’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

At the fiftieth anniversary celebrations in the church in 2014, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin described it as ‘a remarkable building which I am happy … has been able to survive many attempts to remove it.’

The church is built in brick and concrete, with flat roofs and with a concrete bell tower rising above.

The atrium buffers the church from the airport sound and provides a quiet, contemplative space where people can meet. The peristyle or columned porch around the atrium shelters a generous walkway with benches projecting from the walls.

Imogen Stuart’s sculpture, Madonna Fountain (1969), is in the centre of the atrium landscaping.

Imogen Stuart’s sculpture ‘Madonna Fountain’ in the centre of the atrium landscaping (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Inside, the church is brick-lined, with a timber backdrop to the altar, and quite dimly lit, but the bands of stained-glass Stations of the Cross set into the walls fill the interior with lines of bright colour. The nave is raised above the side aisles and allows for strips of stained glass between the two levels, subtly defining the traditional zones of the church.

The clerestory windows have timber frames and there are tongue and groove timber doors.

A banner in the sanctuary in the Church of Our Lady Queen of Heaven at Dublin Airport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The initiative for building the church came from a group of aviation staff and with the support and cooperation of the then Chief Executive of Aer Lingus and Aer Rianta, JF Dempsey, who allocated the site at what was then the centre of the airport. The new Airport Chaplain became the airport’s sole resident.

Many airport staff members have celebrated their weddings, baptised their children and held their funeral services in this church. The funding and early maintenance of the church was provided by airline and airport staff, enabled through payroll deductions authorised by airport and airline management.

Many Dublin diocesan priestunders have served in the Dublin Airport chaplaincy over the years. They include John Fenlon, Ben Mulligan, Martin Tierney, Tommy McCarthy, Declan Doyle, Jim Kenny and Dermot Doyle. Father Tommy McCarthy is remembered as the pilot priest who also acted as a commercial pilot training instructor during his leisure time.

The annual 9/11 memorial Mass is supported by the Airport Police Fire Service Brass and Reed Band.

One of the high-profile funerals in the church was of murdered journalist Veronica Guerin. A quotation from the homily of the then chaplain, Father Declan Doyle, is engraved on her tombstone: ‘Veronica’s death was one of these events when a nation stops, when time stands still, when we look at ourselves as a society and ask: where are we going? This line of questioning is a special moment of history.’

A stained-glass window and one of the Stations of the Cross in the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

At the fiftieth anniversary celebrations in 2014, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said ‘the idea of the architect has been realised: realised in the sense that the complex has become a place where men and women working in the airport or travelling though are able to come aside from the hustle and bustle of work and life and anxiety, and walk through the calm of the courtyard into the quiet and peaceful and prayerful atmosphere of the Church.’

The church remains one of the more unique and beautiful aspects of this airport complex. It is an oasis of silence and contemplation in a world that it so busy with functionality that it finds it hard time to think about the deeper things, the things that give meaning and hope and dignity to people and their lives.

Sunday Mass in the Church of Our Lady Queen of Heaven is normally at 11 a.m.

A banner in the church … it remains an oasis of silence and contemplation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)