Obliterating The Hidden Georgian Limerick

Beneath the city streets

Beneath the Limerick city streets there is another city of brick vaults.  It’s a hidden, invisible subterranean city that few people have ever seen or even heard of.

Today, as I passed by Upper William Street, I saw roadworks going on.  The brick vaults had been demolished and  a mixer truck was pouring concrete into them, obliterating them.

I found it sad to see the destruction of these arches that are such an essential part of the city’s Georgian character, even if rarely seen, and can’t help asking if it would have been possible to find a better use for them than filling them with concrete, destroying them forever.

I wonder who made the decision to do this and on what advice that decision was taken?  I wonder if the person who ordered this understood the momentous and irreversible nature of what they have chosen to do.

I wonder if that person has any connection with Limerick, any intuitive connection with the city or any grasp of what it means to destroy something like this?

As people used to say when I was growing up, Have they any soul?

I realise that Limerick is only a very small town by European standards, but it also has one of the most intact Georgian fabrics anywhere, and it should be preserved for future generations. Do you think they do things like this today in Rome?


Limerick city has no architect, no conservation officer, no heritage officer and no archaeologist.  Therefore, this decision was made by some unaccountable, ill-informed philistine.

That’s the new Ireland for you.



Limerick City Council — Destroying Your Heritage One Cellar At A Time




56 thoughts on “Obliterating The Hidden Georgian Limerick

  1. Great point Bock, and a great post. They were visible in Thomas St too for a while. I used to work in a building in Upper O’Connell St which had tunnels, or vaults, reaching back to coach houses in Newenham St. There was an orchard growing over them.
    The explanation I’ve always had was that in the days when the street was residential townhouses for people who also had country houses, most entertaining was done on the first floor. In fact, there was a fantastic room on the first floor in 84 O’Connell St, perfect Georgian proportions in every aspect from the floor to each window pane, that was only revealed when partitions erected for solicitors’ offices were temporarily removed – to make room for more partitions, sadly.
    Anyway, the distinguished guests on the first floors sipped their port and gazed over the lordly shannon where great sailing ships plied and made them money, and they didn’t want their gazings and sippings disturbed by servants running hither and tither from the house to the stables, coal houses, wash houses and so forth – so they tunneled under the back gardens and the servants scuttled through the tunnels while the birds sang in the apple trees overhead.
    There were also coal holes all along O’Connell St until about twenty-five years ago – they led to chutes which fed the coal into coal bunkers under the Street – that’s what all the basements along by the Leader office and the bank of Ireland were for. In modern times, the steel covers of the coal holes became hazards when they were wet, so they were also quietly obliterated.

    Great post on old Limerick indeed.

  2. would have been nice to leave some of the ones in thomas street, maybe incorporate them into the cafes, so people could go down and sit in them on a fine day, but I suppose you’d get people “falling” and claiming then…

  3. Apparently the Spring tides used flood the basements of the shops etc. That could have been the City Council’s reasoning. The water has to go somewhere though, and will probably cause other problems. It’s a pity they didn’t preserve the history though. Maybe some paranoid C.I.A. people wanted them covered in before Obamas visit? I mean City Council built a nuclear shelter years ago beneath the old Town Hall in Ruthland Street, did they not!

  4. The tides never reached as high as where those photos were taken. And anyway, that would be no concern of the city council, but after 250 years surviving, I suspect that isn’t the issue. If there was a will to preserve the heritage, a way would be found. This looks more like ignorance than anything else.

  5. What we had here was an engineering challenge, back in the 70’s when work was being done on William street, a digger fell into one of these basements when the roof collapsed, so, faced with such a challenge, we called in”D’ingeneer”, “Who called the d’ingineer a fucker?”, ” who called the fucker an engineer?” , what about our Georgian heritage?, not my problem, different department, my job is to make sure the street don’t collapse, so,fill it full of concrete , engineering problem solved.
    Who made this decision, the GIC, the GIC?, the Gobshite in Charge, the same Gobshite who decided to,
    Fire the Main Drainage Contractor, at a cost of €37 million. and rising
    Leave the “Christmas tree” in the river, cos, it seemed like a good idea, fuck the expense, I won’t have to pay the bill.
    To build the flats in Visez Court, cos, we got the budget and we will spend it.
    That every junction in Limerick needs traffic lights, cos, we call it traffic management.
    Cos, cos,cos.
    Cos, no matter what I do, or don’t do, I am guaranteed my Public Service pension.

  6. There are still a lot of those tunnels running under Glentworth Street and being used by the businesses there for storage. At least it will keep them intact for a while.

  7. Just coming back from town, up by the roundhouse/william street, a woman had fallen in over the railings drunk into the holes in the photos, and folk were helping her out, who were as drunk as she was. It was funny and lousy at the same time……..

  8. I think I remember that ‘The Old Tom’ in Thomas Street, now ‘The Cornstore’ used its under the street cellar as part of the bar in the late 70, early 80s, a fine spot it was too. I was in Vienna a few years ago and did a tour of some extensive linked up dungeons under the main streets- though larger and higher- the same idea prevailed, but built heritage was to the fore in the case of Austria.

  9. The River Shannon`s banks extended to almost half way up William Street, so most of what we would call Georgian Limerick was actually built on these arches, the land leading down to the river was mostly swamp. One of the reasons that the Vikings settled on King`s Island in the first place The Arches had little or no function other than to build the houses and streets higher than the floods from high tides on the Shannon.

    O`Connell Street is replete with them, under the Augustinian`s and if you go into the Texas Stakeout you can see what they were like from that view. Not all the Arches were/are connected but most would have had channells to driect flood waters back to the river as the floods subsided. Indeed if you were able to go to the level of the river bed when there is a very low tide you can see steel like shutters that close when the tide is high and opened by the pressure of water coming from the city`s main storm drains at low tide. Course now all that has been changed by the Main Drainage scheme.

    I suppose that the reason they are filling them in is that they would cost to much to preserve and maintain.

  10. From what I remember of the bearded fellas mumblings in college was that Georgian construction went as follows;
    Due to the lack of waterproofing technology or “tanking” the houses were built with the basement at ground floor level. The culverts that were also built at ground level were for sewerage or foot traffic and then the entire area was backfilled and the street level was raised ten feet to make a basement underground. I would be surprised if the water getting into any of the basements was from a higher water table. I would probably come from the street.
    I think that the sewerage culverts are still used but they take both types of sewerage which is no longer the way its done> one for storm and one for foul. They were about five feet high and very narrow so the ones in the photographs look like the culverts for foot traffic. Given the damp conditions and vehicle traffic vibrations, old limstone mortar and 200 year old brick I’d say it was a safety decision.
    It is a shame that they are being destroyed but filling the buildings above ground with solicitors offices and cheap apartments is hardly preserving the architecture either.

  11. Its not just the age, its the nature of the material and what has happeded to it over the years.

    Brick firing techniques changes about sixty years ago and now brick is stronger and more durable, modern mortar is cement based and also much stronger. Old brick and limestone mortar is not very durable around moisture or vibrations. Once the fire skin on the brick is gone, it will crumble very easily. I suspect that the culverts or vaults saw plenty of both over the last few hundred years and I do remember a few sections of road cave in over the last few years.

    Would the roman arches that you are thinking about not be made of natural stone? Modern materials are usable for no more that 80 years as a given rule. That includes oak and slate but natural stone can give you that Third Reich longevity.
    It is a real shame that these are being filled in but the shopfronts around town did far more damage to Georgian architecture in Limerick.

  12. Are you saying that lime mortar is weaker in moist conditions? Normally, lime-based mortar retains its strength when exposed to moisture. In any case, as you probably know, the mortar is not the determining factor in the strength of an arch. However, following that logic, since the mortar in the arches is about the same age as the mortar in the houses above, should we not simply level the entire street for the sake of safety?

  13. Moisture will ruin most materials over time so yes I think it would cause structural problems. Mortar as the bonding agent is always a factor and if it fails, so with the arch.

    The buildings above ground have a chance of receiving some preventitive maintenace like re-pointing (with lime mortar) and they probably exist in air with a lower moisture content. I am guessing at the conditions really because I dont know what happened down there.
    I would be interested to find out who owns the vaults though. Is it the person that owns the building that they are attached to? Who made the decision to fill them in?
    And no I dont think that they should level everything, unless its fucked and the people using it are in danger.

  14. Lime mortar survives pretty well in damp conditions due to its nature.

    In order to avoid confusion, let me check something with you. Do you know how an arch works? For instance, do you know that an arch doesn’t need a bonding agent?

  15. No and No.
    Mortar is supposed to be weaker than the brick. It doesnt matter which fails first and plenty of various types of conditions will cause both to fail. The house that I live in is finger gouging proof of that.
    I do remember learning how an arch works but like pleanty of thing I have forgotten how to explain the physics of it and I won’t try on these pages.
    Bock, I am guessing as to what conditions would make these vaults structurally weak. Do you disagree with my guess?
    As far as the arch questions goes. Can the arch remain standing when the brick turns to dust?
    What about the ownership question. do you know who owns these vaults?

  16. It’s late so I’ll keep my answers short. No offence intended. The brick hasn’t turned to dust. It’s perfectly strong.

    And secondly, those who own the houses own the vaults. The council acquired the rights to them.

    Unfortunately, the council don’t have the expertise to advise on the stability of the vaults so they have taken the most extreme line of self-preservation and destroyed them.

  17. They don’t look bad in the photos but again, I was guessing that they were being filled in for structural reasons and giving a few exmples of what may have caused a problem.
    Now I could say that you are taking a chance with the last commment but the clue to the incompetencey here is the decision to fill them with a large amount of heavy concrete. This patch of the road is going to suffer some settlement in the next few years.
    Night night

  18. Great to see such observations being made even in these ‘hard times’.Not all about ‘the easy way’.

  19. I’m not sure deterioration is the issue. Expediency was more likely the cause of pouring concrete in. When Thomas Street was being revamped I believe the same happened. If excavation is undertaken to repair sewers and water mains then the cellars are liable to damage from machinery and rather than painstakingly repair them, the concrete solution is adopted. I presume the same type of cellars are found on Sarsfield Street but I do not recall a concrete pouring solution there, though the level of heavy traffic on that street has been very considerable over the years and therefore the cellars ought to be fragile. In the case of Sarsfield Street, was its recent resurfacing etc preceded by excavation to replece water mains? I can’t recall.

  20. I had heard that these were being “filled with concrete”, but I stupidly assumed that was an exaggeration. Very sad state of affairs indeed. Sickening, in fact. I went to Krakow a few years ago with a couple of pals, and for me the subterranean vaults were one of the highlights of the trip. They were lovingly restored and maintained, and of course converted into bars, clubs and cafés.

    This farce is typical of the decision makers in this country. Typical, but no less jaw dropping. I imagine that anywhere on the European continent or indeed Britain, the OPPOSITE action would have been taken. But then again, these other countries may not be at the mercy of a lazy, corrupt elite of yokels that have infiltrated every position of authority in society.


  21. As mentioned in the post, Limerick city has no architect, no conservation officer, no heritage officer and no archaeologist.

    What does that tell you?

  22. Limerick has an unfortunate history of destroying valuable architecture. Cannocks clock , Lyric cinema in Glentworth st, the list is endless.We can count our lucky stars that St Marys cathedral and king johns castle survived.I guess the castle was fortunate considering the housing estate that was dumped in the middle of it. You only have to look at our well known castlethese days, to see what some folk consider to be modern architecture. Shame on those idiots.

  23. Whatever the reasoning behind it I still feel depressed when I look at that film and photos such a shame

  24. I remember the digger falling into the hole at the top of William Street one lunchtime while I was away off downtown. It made me late coming back into school watching the crane lifting it out. Would have been 83-4-5 era not as long ago as the seventies.
    As discussed with the Chief earlier, I also remember the lengths that we went to a couple of years later to preserve the arches under the footpaths when building the replacement for Saxones at the junction of William Street and O’ Connell Street/Patrick Street..
    There is a line of Acrow props at approx 200mm centres with Railway sleepers above and below the acrows directly supporting the footpaths all around the corner from The old “Cruises Lane” where the laundry was, right down to the corner and along patrick street as far as the wall between easons and the Jewellers next door (Irwins is it?). We completed the revamp of Easons about twelve months or two years later, then broke into the basement to join up the two before we could remove the shuttering that had been left under the floor of H Samuels etc. twelve months or so earlier (I also found the block that had nearly killed me but that’s another story)
    After these supports went in, then the whole thing was backfilled with gravel or 804 after the tanking to the basements was completed (Tanking was completed externally under the footpath with protection outside it) BUT THE ARCHES WERE LEFT FULLY INTACT AND SUPPORTED, and this was the Eighties.I assume that these Acrows will be found and removed shortly as that’s approximately where they are working now at the moment. They may already be gone past it.
    The Basement in Easons goes out under H Samuels etc. right out to the front wall facing William Street up as far as the Old “Cruises Lane”.
    We knocked the three flying shores that held up the side wall of easons after “Saxones” was demolished down with a Track machine just before Christmas.

    One thing that I remember very clearly During the excavation, was the hundreds of pairs of shoes that had been left in the rubble under the arches during the demolition.

  25. @orkestral
    Just in regard to Arches you need to deliberately create a number of “hinges” to create a collapse. Arches could lose all of the mortar and merely settle a little.
    Check out some WW2 descriptions of sappers blowing up bridges for a simple explaination of Arch hinging.

  26. Our cultural and architectural heritage cannot be left to decision making by philistine City Councillors, now E.U. grant harvesting has come to an end, the council wish to demolish the graveyard surroundings St Johns old Anglican church and make way for a car park, a city council member announced “We could leave the large U-Tant tomb but by respectfully removing the headstones, we would be able to open up the square more. In other cities of Europe they move the dead after a few years”
    Anybody know we had the remains of U Thant the third Secretary-General of the United Nations in Limerick. I assume they mean the tomb of Quaker John Unthank of Thomas Street who died 19th of Feb 1849. Many Quakers suffered ill health and shortened lives while administering aid to the hungry who crowded the City of Limerick during the famine years.
    The Limerick vaults or Cellars were used to store merchandise (see Bennis on Quaker Jonas Morris Wine Importer Rutland Street) and fellow Limerick Quakers and merchants Harvey, Boyds, Newsom, Jerneaux, Mullock etc.

  27. “the council wish to demolish the graveyard surroundings St Johns old Anglican church and make way for a car park, a city council member announced “We could leave the large U-Tant tomb but by respectfully removing the headstones, we would be able to open up the square more. In other cities of Europe they move the dead after a few years”
    Where do we get these imbeciles? a car park? we need another car park? for what? there are to my knowledge 3 car parks within 300 metres of the square. Sounds like another we got the budget, let’s build some shit.

  28. …………………
    ……..concrete…… the material of choice of the Irish builder…. Being from Dublin (but with west Limerick roots, so I know the “fill it with concrete” thinking) I can say it’s only slightly better here.. There were cellars filled in on Henrietta Street several years ago, and it doesn’t get heavy traffic.

    What the igeets don’t seem to get is that Heritage and Culture is just about the only thing we have to offer and the long term benefits of preserving heritage reap rewards in employment, traditional skills training, beautifying of a city, which means its a nicer place to visit, hence tourism etc.. “Cultural Tourism” is growing at 15% worldwide and is worth billions to the Irish economy …………… and what do we do ? … pour concrete.

  29. I must bore you by repeating the mantra. No heritage officer, no archaeologist, no conservation officer and no architect. That’s Limerick City Council, kid.

  30. you said it …. I suppose they wouldn’t be asking for any of the above officers either ?…. sure it’s grand the way they’ve been doing it

  31. Apart from being outside the price range of most ordinary people, an injunction has a two-way effect. If I injunct the contactor to stop demolishing the tunnels and he wins whatever litigation follows, he can fix me with the cost of the delay.

  32. I’m not suggesting that you do it but it completely undermines bodies such as The Georgian Society and An Taisce that they don’t seem to have an interest in the issue or pursuing the matter in the courts.

  33. The same problem faces anyone taking an injunction.

    As they say, the High Court is like the Ritz. It’s open to everyone.

  34. And has Sen. David Norris been spotted in Limerick in the past while. If anyone can turn that around, this protector of Georgian heritage can…! Somebody tell him.

  35. Thanks. Let’s see who we can interest in this vandalism.

    (The Facebook and Twitter buttons are at the bottom of each post, by the way)

  36. its on boards.ie now. i’ve just put it there. First mention of it there too, odd to say

  37. “I’m not suggesting that you do it but it completely undermines bodies such as The Georgian Society and An Taisce that they don’t seem to have an interest in the issue or pursuing the matter in the courts.”
    And pay for it with what funds? I’m sure An Taisce would gladly do this if it had the money. Have you written to the minister – that might be a start….

  38. @Poll Dorcha
    “I’m not suggesting that you do it but it completely undermines bodies such as The Georgian Society and An Taisce that they don’t seem to have an interest in the issue or pursuing the matter in the courts.”

    agree with Richard — An Taisce and Georgian society are very stretched with resources. They can’t look after every cellar or roof , that’s where a local campaign could fill the gap. Use facebook etc..
    -email TD’s and councillors, connect with other groups. Just keep at it – be informed on heritage legislation. Campaigning is very difficult and frustrating and too many times it falls down, I know because I am in the middle of one.

    ..and meet the neighbours and shopkeepers and find out what’s happening… have a cup of tea with them :)

  39. they did the right thing by filling in these danger pits. Limerick city is full of buildings that are protected just because theyre old. What about the people that are forced to maintain these old, cold, dangerous “structures”? what about the people that have to LIVE in these ridiculous old houses with draughty windows and no central heating. Why on earth is half the city center “protected”. Bury that old junk and bring the city into the modern age. Limerick corporation should award grants to people who demolish their georgian “structures”, and put up usefull, modern, inhabitible buildings instead.

  40. Useful, modern, inhabitable??

    Does anyone know of any drawings maps or sections of theses cellars exist? Im an architecture student in the university of limerick, and would love to look at these in more detail

  41. The reason for their destruction is the little known fact that the buildings above them are giving way in on top of them at the foundations. It is a major problem and most of Georgian limerick will collapse if the problem is not rectified. The issue is that the bricks in the tunnels are crumbling due to the climate (repeated freezing and thawing) and the fact that in times of flooding the tunnels flood first. They are also a haven for rats and rats do further damage to the tunnels and the buildings above them. if people went in to the tunnel and replaced the bricks the problem you are facing is the fact that the tunnels and the streets above them may collapse in on the people because some of them are in such a decrepit state that the slightest disturbance in their structure can cause a collapse as such work would have to be carried out by hand. The only real way is to fill them with concrete as a small sacrifice to save whats above them.

  42. That’s very interesting, April. Do you have a reference to the studies underpinning that theory?

    In particular, I’m interested in your point that the tunnels are crumbling and that the buildings are, in your words, “giving way in on top of them”.

    Can you describe the mechanism of failure, please?

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