Now incorporated into the wall of the graveyard surrounding St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (see the recent post, A Significant Anniversary, July 2nd 2018): a row of Tuscan columns that once formed the ground floor arcade of the city’s Exchange building. Originally built in 1673, the original building was demolished in 1702 and rebuilt, with further building taking place in 1777-78. James Pain was paid £432.17s 5d for repairs and alterations to the structure in 1815 and his younger brother George Richard £182.1s 2½ d for more of the same four years later. By 1872 the Exchange was in use as a national school before being eventually demolished. Nearby in the city museum is preserved a limestone pillar with copper plate on top, known as the nail. Given to the Exchange in 1685 by Robert Smith, Mayor of Limerick, this was used by merchants to confirm transactions between themselves. It is often proposed that the phrase ‘payment on the nail’ derives from the Limerick monument, but it is found in texts from the previous century and there were similar nails in other mercantile cities such as Bristol.
From across the river Shannon, a view of the castle erected on the site of an earlier Viking settlement in Limerick city during the opening years of the 13th century. Built at the order of King John, its purpose was to protect this part of the country from incursions by Gaelic clans to the west. This part of Limerick, King’s Island, accordingly came to be known as ‘English Town.’ In the mid-18th century an infantry barracks was installed inside the castle, resulting in the demolition of its eastern side so that more accommodation could be constructed. In turn, during the last century the local corporation demolished the barracks and erected municipal housing inside the complex. In turn this was pulled down and the inevitable glass-box ‘interpretative centre’ installed in its place.
The Romanesque west doorway of St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, founded by Donal Mór O’Brian, King of munster in 1168 but said to incorporate elements of an older palace on the same site. This is one of a number of such buildings considered in Niamh NicGhabhann’s recently published Medieval Ecclesiastical Buildings in Ireland, 1178-1915. The fascinating text explores changing attitudes to gothic architecture during the period, and increased academic interest in the subject as antiquarians like George Wilkinson and George Petrie carried out detailed surveys of old monuments. Equally interesting is how over the course of the 19th century Ireland’s built heritage became politicised, with debate focussed on what elements might be judged ‘authentically’ Irish and what foreign imports. As NicGhabhann writes, ‘In Ireland, debates on the meaning of architectural style were complicated by issues of religious identity, as well as by ideas of political symbolism and national representation.’ If not necessarily in the field of gothic architecture, these debates continue to resonate in some quarters to the present day. They became immediately applicable in Limerick when work on a new Roman Catholic cathedral, designed by Philip Charles Hardwicke, began in 1856: this stands in the area known since the Middle Ages as ‘Irishtown’ whereas St Mary’s is on King’s Island, otherwise known as ‘Englishtown.’ ‘The public and religious celebrations surrounding the consecration of St John’s Cathedral,’ writes NicGhabhann of this event in 1894, ‘can be read as a performance of both Catholic identity within the city, and the negotiation between the religious and political significance of the two cathedrals.’ That negotiation could be fractious, not least in Dublin where the Church of Ireland had possession of the capital’s two ancient gothic cathedrals, and the Catholic church had to settle for a neo-Catholic Pro-Cathedral. The choir of one of the former, St Patrick’s Cathedral , can be seen below. The building underwent a controversial ‘restoration’ in the 1860s, since Sir Benjamin Guinness, who funded the entire enterprise, chose to dispense with the services of an architect.
This weekend sees the Irish Georgian Society’s annual Traditional Building Skills exhibition take place at the Hunt Museum in Limerick. Visitors might care to look across the road to the current poor state of Patrick Street, including this house No.4, birthplace of the 19th century soprano Catherine Hayes. One of the most celebrated singers of her generation, she performed in opera houses throughout Europe (as well as giving a recital for Queen Victoria in Buckingham Palace in June 1849) before touring to the United States – where P.T. Barnum sponsored her concerts in California – Australia and India. She deserves to be better remembered today in her native city than the condition of this building and its neighbours would indicate.
For further information on the IGS’s activities in Limerick this weekend, see: http://www.igs.ie/uploads/IGS_2014_Traditional_Building_Skills_Brochure_May.pdf