Thursday 15 January 2015

Changes on the River:

Bridging Past and Present
Photo credit: Limerick Leader 13 January 2015
 For online article click here
It was announced this week that Limerick City & County Councillors have approved a new pedestrian bridge which could cost up to €18 million. Fáilte Ireland had allocated €6 million towards the development of this footbridge that will link Shannon Rowing Club to Merchant’s Quay, part of a wider tourism investment linking the city’s three bridges with pedestrian walkways. The bridge will follow the weir to the rear of the Hunt Museum and Sarsfield House. This proposal thus far is proving to be controversial. Will this foot bridge over time become a much-loved addition to the cityscape? In the meantime it is a chance for us to reflect on each of the buildings affected by the scheme which I too will do here starting with the building in the middle of the river, the Shannon Rowing Club.
Brief History of the Shannon Rowing Club
Photo credit: The National Library of Ireland, part of the
Lawrence Collection. Ref. no: L_ROY_09817
In 1893 the Limerick Harbour Commissioners granted a shilling a year to the officers of the club to build the premises on a small parcel of land in the middle of the River Shannon where it now stands. The signing took place on November 1893[1]. The club was founded in 1866 by the then mayor Sir Peter Tait[2] and at the time the clubhouse was a very much less palatial premises on the east end of the docks and the members held their meetings in Bedford Row[3]. The foundation stone for the club house was laid in 1896. A worldwide competition for a rowing club design was launched with a prize of £1000 for the winner, a remarkable amount of money at the time. One of the stipulations of the competition was that the winning architect had to remain in Limerick during the building’s construction[4]
Ceiling rose. Photo credit: Emma Gilleece
It was won by a young English architectural student, William Clifford Smith, who came to Limerick in 1902 to see his design take shape beside Sarsfield Bridge and remained on in the city[5]. As Clifford Smith was still a student his design was overseen by another architect T. Stevens F.R.I.B.A[6]. Interestingly Clifford Smith had designed this building for another rowing club in South Africa but due to lack of funds it was never built so he submitted these designs to this competition[7]. The club house was opened between 1902[8] and 1906[9] with a membership of 252[10]He was to remain on in Limerick enjoying a prolific career as an Arts and Crafts architect. Jeremy Williams describes Clifford Smith as ‘one of the most successful Arts and Crafts designers to work in Ireland.[11]’ He was later joined the firm run by Edward Newenham which afterwards became Clifford Smith and Newenham Architects and Civil Engineers[12]. In 1966 Dermot Mulligan joined the firm which was later to become Newenham and Mulligan which still has a practice in Limerick today as well as Dublin. Clifford Smith was to later design the Belltable Arts Centre (1919) (originally the Gaiety Cinema) and was responsible for the renovation of Glin Castle[13].

Boating Tradition in Limerick
The "Blue Room" Photo credit: Emma Gilleece
Developments in leisure and commerce during the Edwardian period (1890-1914) required some new types of building that can be still found in Limerick. During this era Limerick had a compliment of five rowing clubs; Limerick Boat Club, Shannon Rowing Club, Athlunkard Boat Club at O’Dwyer’s Bridge, Curragour Boat Club alongside the courthouse and St Michael’s Rowing Club on Cleeve’s Bank[14]. In recent years the University of Limerick Rowing Club has been added to that list.  Rowing and yachting became a leisure activity in the nineteenth century in Ireland with regattas held in towns by the water such as Athlone, Blessington, Cappoquin, Craigavon, Dungarvon, Galway, Insicarn, Islandbridge, Kilarney and Tinarana[15].  The Limerick Regatta included the Garryowen Challenge Cup, the Thomond Challenge Cup, the Subscribers Challenge Cup and the Limerick Challenge Cup. The officers stationed at the army barracks in the city made up a sizeable number of the club members at the turn of the century. William Bulfin’s often quoted description of his visit to a regatta at Galway Bay in the early 1900s demonstrated the great divide that existed at that time between what he called the ‘assess’ or the ‘country’ and the ‘gentry’ who were organising the event[16].
Photo credit: Emma Gilleece
Photo credit: Emma Gilleece. Athlunkard Boat Club
Boating was an occupation enjoyed by all classes of Irish society in the Edwardian period. Athlunkard Rowing Club for instance was seen as a more working class rowing club in the city. It was founded by its patron Father Denis Shanahan, P.P., St Mary’s in 1898[17].  Its current premises were designed by Limerick architect Patrick Joseph Sheahan (1893-1965) in 1925[18]. P.J Ryan described the Annual City Regatta as a chance for ‘the upper social strata (who) displayed their gents’ straw boaters, flannels and binoculars.’[19] Up until the 1960s the rowers were expected to wear the formal club attire as illustrated in photograph below. Women were not permitted to become club members and only in the company of their club member husbands were they allowed inside the club house. This all changed in 1989 when the previous year the Shannon Rowing Club women’s rowing team won a rowing championship much to the embarrassment of some of the members at this outdated rule.
The Site
The Shannon Rowing Club is situated on the northern end of a  man-made limestone ‘island’ called Wellesley Pier, on the Sarsfield Street side of Sarsfield Bridge in the heart of Limerick city. It was designed to serve as a bulwark to the western wall of the lock (Wellington lock) that gave access to vessels to and from the harbour. The front of the building, the only accessible side of the site, is closed off by original cast iron railings with concrete pillars while the remaining perimeter of the site is left open. It is recessed from the Bridge with a decorative area with fountain within its railings. The building faces the 1916 Sarsfield Bridge Monument which is a protected structure. The Rowing club also directly faces the Limerick Boat Club (1870) which is no longer in use and was deleted from the Record of Protected Structures in the Limerick City Development Plan 2004-2010 on the 26 January 2009.

Wellesley/Sarsfield Bridge
Even though Wellesley bridge was seen as much needed access to the agricultural districts of Clare, there were many who saw the bridge as an advantage only to the landed gentry as it was built under the auspices of the Harbour Commissioners who represented the local landed interests on the Clare side of the city, and indeed as being a disadvantage to the real interests of the citizens[20]. Either way the new bridge opened up new sites for housing development which saw the start of Georgian urban sprawl in Limerick. There were tolls on the bridge up until March 26 1883 and in the same year the bridge was renamed Sarsfield Bridge.[21] Up until 1928 there were forty-nine movements in total of sizeable vessels upstream of the bridge and thereafter nothing further up to the time the Commissioners obtained a closing order for the bridge in the Dail in 1963. The overall plan included a floating dock (in which vessels could be afloat at all times) east of the bridge bounded on the south-east by a weir wall running from the southern abutment of the bridge to Custom House Quay and Honan’s Quay on its south and west sides. 
This weir parallel with the bridge retained water of a certain level with the basin[22]. The demolition of this old weir, and the construction of car parks on the old quays, deprived the city of what had been one of its greatest assets. On the opposite side of the pier facing the Shannon Rowing club is the Limerick Boat Club which was construction in 1870 but which is not longer in use and was removed from the RPS in January 2009 by Limerick City Council. Thankfully An Bord Pleanála in September 2009 rejected this planning application which was to be built on the site of the Limerick Boathouse directly across from the Sarsfield Clubhouse Bord Pleanála Decision. This design was completely unsympathetic to its site and the vista of the river. From certain points along the riverfront this building would obstruct the landmark, i.e Sarsfield Rowing Club and buildings beyond as the focus of the view.
Photo credit: Emma Gilleece

The building itself has a three-storey side elevation with a flat-roofed rear section with arched double opening giving access to pier. In 1893 the Limerick Harbour Commissioners granted a shilling a year to the officers of the club to build the premises on a small parcel of land in the middle of the Shannon where it now stands. The foundation stone was laid in 1896[23] and the building appears on the Ordnance Survey map of 1900 as shown above. A worldwide competition for a rowing club design was launched with a prize of £1000 for the winner. It was won by a young English architectural student, William Clifford Smith who came to Limerick in 1904 to see his design take shape[24]. The surrounding land use is made up of commercial, leisure and residential buildings. The Shannon Rowing Club still retains its original use and is rightly a Protected Structure (RPS301), NIAH Ref:21512011.

Photo credit: Emma Gilleece

Photo credit: Emma Gilleece
There are contrasting façade finishes at each level. Basement level consists of ashlar limestone faced elevation with moulded limestone course delinating floor level. Groundfloor level: is made up of squared rock-faced limestone with limestone stringcourse. First floor: is Bournemouth pebbledash rendered walls with its distinctive amber/brown colour.
(A) Windows: Varied window types. Limestone sills and timber casement window frames with four-paned upper sections distinguished by arched horizontal glazing bar.  
(B)Roof: Hipped slate roof with intersecting gable roofs to front. Slate is a metamorphic rock derived from fine muddy sediments that have been altered by extreme pressure. Even though there is Killaloe and Portroe Slate Quarries up further on the Shannon the original tiles were most likely Bangor slates from Wales which were lighter. Hardwood fascia and soffit.
Photo credit: Emma Gilleece
(C) Chimneys: Four rock-faced limestone chimney stacks with moulded corbel bases. Internal structure made of brick.
(D) Rain water goods: Cast iron drain pipes and hoppers and collars. Photo on the right shows the damage caused due to the inappropriate replacement of cast iron drain pipe on façade of building.

Photo credit: Emma Gilleece
South facing elevation is of interest (see photo on the left) where it was noted that cut stone is not regular, i.e. they are geometric but they wedge shaped dimension stone. Which indicates the previous use as containing walls for a ramp on this site which was to access horse and carts ferry goods from dock area at end of pier. The ramp was demolished and the limestone retaining stones of ramp were reused on the wall where the slope sections which clearly show the joints off horizontal and vertical. The combined stones of the ramp walls created a regular wall section to the lower ground floor area. From inquiries there was no structural reasons for the stones to be laid in this fashion.

My two cents
The prospect of more pedestrian walkways is an exciting one indeed. However, Limerick's citizens and visitors will want to walk over these bridges and be met with our architectural landmarks. Money needs to be invested into Shannon Rowing Club or else we are literally leading pedestrians towards our city's failure to maintain our built heritage. Is this the best way to spend money on the city? Sarsfield Bridge and the Shannon Rowing Club were built in an age when decisions were made by a very small elite group of powerful individuals without public consultation. We have moved on considerably since then. Haven't we?

[1] Limerick Leader. (1993) ‘100 years on, club received original plans’ December 4.
[2] According to plaque in Rowing Club hallway.
[3] The Irish Times 26 March 1875
[4] J. Williams (1994) Architecture in Ireland 1837-1921. Dublin: Irish Academic Press: p.273
[5] This is evident from the 1911 Census which has Clifford Smith boarding in a house at 30 Ennis Road. His occupation is listed as architect, Church of England, age 29 years and single.
[6] Plaque in Rowing Club hallway.
[7] Interview with Shannon Rowing Club secretary.
[8] National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.
[9] Cork Examiner (1966) ‘Holly Bough’p.46
[10] The Irish Times (1901) ‘Shannon Rowing Club,’ March 14
[11] J. Williams, (1994) Architecture in Ireland 1837-1921, p.264
[12] Registers as architect firm in 1947. Had their Limerick office listed as 75 O’Connell Street in 1948.
[13] The Glin Papers, held in University of Limerick.
[14] S. Spellissy, (1998). The History of Limerick City, Limerick: The Celtic Bookshop: p.242
[15] W.W. Gleeson (1981). ‘Athlunkard Boat Club’ Old Limerick Journal. No.7: p.17
[16] W. Bulfin (1907). Rambles in Eireann. Dublin:pp.60-61
[17] Gleeson, (1981) Athlunkard Rowing Club.
[18] IB 65, 20 Oct 1923, 818: 66, 13 Dec 1924, 1058.
[19] P.J Ryan ‘Social Life by the Shannon’ in Old Limerick Journal June 1980, No.3, p.23
[20] J. Hill, (1991) The Building of Limerick, Limerick: Mercier Press.
[21] ‘The “Sarsfield Bridge”, Limerick’ IB, Vol.XXVI, No. 582, Mar 15 1884.
[22] S. Spellissy, (1989) Limerick the Rich Land, Limerick, p.50
[23] As stated on plaque on front elevation of the clubhouse.
[24]  Limerick Leader (1993) ‘100 years on, club receives original plans.’ 4 December.

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