The Franciscans Church. Limerick.

Relics of a past era

The Franciscans closed their church in Limerick and handed it over to a trust.   Last week it was the location for an exhibition of work by local art students and open to the public for the first time since the friars departed.

I have no idea when I last set foot inside this building.  Decades.

Even then, it didn’t impinge on me in any meaningful sense, except in the knowledge that it was some sort of ecclesiastical establishment.

In a more remote sense, I can remember our elders bringing stuff for the holy friars to hand out to The Poor, even though our people weren’t exactly rich either.  Maybe we were Muslims back then.   I don’t know, but I do know this : the Franciscans made a great play about poverty.  It was their schtick, so to speak.  They used to walk around the town in the robes and the sandals, but somehow all that asceticism jarred with me even when I was a kid, because clearly, the place where they lived was far from humble.  Far from ascetic.   Not in the least poor.

They had a side door where The Poor might come for alms.  The Poor knew their place in those days and would never dream of attending the front door.  That was where people like our neighbours brought whatever meagre things they could scramble together for distribution to The Poor.

It’s pretty opulent, I have to say.  Much more than I remember it when I was a kid.

If you built it today, this thing would cost millions and millions, provided you could find the craftsmen at all.

When the friars left, they took nothing with them, just as they’d arrived, apart from the Stations of the Cross, leaving behind the Stations of the Mildly Peeved.  This isn’t necessarily as saintly as you might think.  Like all monastic fellows, they were accustomed to their comfort, to skivvies and cleaners, and they weren’t all that used to tidying up after themselves.  So they didn’t.  Those who came to take over the building had to clean up all manner of mess, including the holy men’s dinner plates, left on the table or the floor in expectation of some woman arriving to spirit them away to a magical dishwasher.

It’s the Mary Celeste.

Unfortunately, when the good friars abandoned their temple, they entrusted the keys to a local cleric who promptly appeared in the dead of night and removed all the marble from the altar, exposing it for the formless lump of brick and mortar that it is.  That’s priests for you.

It’s an extraordinary place in many ways.   The confessionals remain, redolent of a time when Irish people were content to share their most intimate secrets with some callow, unformed youth, or some panting old reprobate crouched in the dark and massaging himself quietly.

It all shouts money.  Serious money.  Major money.

Remember, this place was started only thirty years after the disastrous famine that wiped out a million Irish people from starvation and sent another million abroad on the coffin ships.  Yet only thirty years later — an eyeblink in history — the Irish clergy were spending enormous money on another monument to their greater glory.


Solid marble pulpits.  Gold-leaf mosaics for the ceiling.  Nothing but the best for the penniless friars.

29 thoughts on “The Franciscans Church. Limerick.

  1. Fascinating photos, I must get a look in there myself. But it’s not quite the first time it’s been opened up since the friars left. Don’t forget Bare Space Theatre’s production of The Threepenny Opera.


  2. The Church Bell’s of a Sunday Morning…..have ta confess, I miss that !….the sight’s, the sound’s, and the smell’s…amazing building…and some top pic’s !

  3. Indeed B. I’d love to know where it went. Is there some wanker somewhere with a complete altar in his kitchen? Complete with baptismal font sink?

  4. I’m nearly 100% certain it was left in Trust to Mary I teacher training place.
    It was designed at the time on a Basilica church in Rome, Name escapes me and Hodkinsons of Limerick carried out the amazing decorative work, They of Souths Bar deco fame.
    I know my family had some weird connection with the Franciscans years ago, Something to do with the High Alter, unfortunatly or fortunately i never listened but now i’m curious.

  5. It was signed over to the Saint Bonaventure Trust Limited, which is somehow associated with Mary I. Bonaventure was a prominent Franciscan in the 13th century which, interestingly, is about the same century that the Catholic teacher college Mary I inhabits. He was murdered by rival priests during the Council of Lyon in 1274.

  6. Ooopsy, Maybe thats a secret ! and maybe they should have stuck to Churchs ? All the faux french, St Germaine cafe distressed gilded, Not exactly in keeping with its origins but maybe entirely in keeping with present day faux everything.

  7. I don’t know.

    What I do know is that South’s was a gem, and it was destroyed by ignorance, and by the stupidity of people who didn’t understand what they were custodians of. They took a beautiful, priceless Victorian pub and turned it into a pastiche of a New Orleans bordello.

    Idiots. Ignorant, uneducated, valueless idiots. Fools who think that having money means having taste. What they did to that establishment was a disgrace and they should be ashamed of themselves for it.

  8. It might have been a very well thought out and pointed redesign given the neighbourhood, If you get my meaning.

  9. was it Walter Stanley who sold the papers outside the front door on a sunday morning?

  10. The alter was taken by the parish priest of St. Josephs (The church opposite the Jesuit Church). In my opinion he should not have been allowed to carry out such destruction in the Franciscan Church (expecially when it is supposed to be a protected Building).
    But then again, when did that ever matter to authorities.
    Great Pics but dont know if I agree fully with comments about the friars, my experience is there were a lot of good guys in that church down through the years.

  11. “They had a side door where The Poor might come for alms. The Poor knew their place in those days and would never dream of attending the front door.”

    While the friars did have some staff though out the years, they did a lot of the work themselves in community. While the church would appear some what extravagant, remember it was build by the people of Limerick for the glory of God, just as many of the Churches around Ireland were.
    The friars always had respect for the poor and lived poorly themselves. – The Friars never used a side door for people – The side door is to the church and not the friary, there is only one door to the friary and that is on Henry Street.
    In any event, it was a shame to close such a fine friary and Church. – In my opinion it would have served the poor better if the friary was given over to be refurbished and used for homeless people. J.

  12. I am saddened at the sight of this beautiful church now closed and no longer in use.
    While there is great wealth evident in the building, let’s not forget that, individually, the Friars did live a very simple life… their order did have money but individually they lived without the capacity to spend anything on themselves.
    They were good and saintly men who ministered and prayed there.. I think of Fr. Andrew and Fr. Robert and many others, now gone to their reward. Let’s hope the Church and city authorites can retain this beautiful building for artistic use until such time in the future as it can be restored to ecclesiastical use.

    I find it hard to fogive the scandalous act of vandalism that saw the altar stripped of its marble.
    If whoever did it has any conscience, they should do the decent thing and restore it at once.

  13. Good photography. The interior of that church is/was beautiful, being a replica of architecture from Rome and elsewhere in Europe. I think it should be preserved and eventually redecorated for further sacred uses, possibly by immigrant christian denominations. Or if the secular authorities get the money – a big if – it could be converted into an arts center or museum. This church was expensively built during times of widespread poverty in the 19th century, but so were many of the great Gothic cathedrals of continental Europe during the Middle Ages. The sculptors, stone masons, artists, carpenters and builders earned salaries during the many years it took to construct the Franciscan and other churches, so some families were clothed and fed.

  14. I have visited the Friary twice over the last two years and viewed the bedrooms bathrooms kitchens on the first floor They are very shabby and not for one moment could you say the priests lived in comfort. The place must have been freezing cold too

  15. Have you checked out the conditions ordinary Limerick people lived in at the same time as the friars were enduring such misery?

  16. Mr. Bock, Sir,

    The standard of living was much the same for everyone in days gone by in Limerick as everywhere else except for the well-off. The conditions within cloisters could be equated with housing in Ballyfermot in Dublin in the 1950’s and 60’s. Personal hygiene was often with cold water, beds were “rock sprung boards”,central heating was a luxury and so on. Did you ever sleep upon one of those beds? I have slept on similar. Have a go and then tell me all about the comfort. Attend to your hygiene completely in cold water. Light your room with candles.

    Neither the friars nor the general population at large were enduring “misery”. To us today it would be “misery”—- we are too fond of our creature comforts and our standard of living is MUCH higher, but then it was normal and accepted. Further out of the city, houses were often without tapped water or electricity. Sanitation was attended to manually.

    The only detail in which the friars might appear to be “better off” was on the matter of personal cleanliness. All institutions, Army etc. understood the need to maintain a standard of hygiene among the members and the Church was insistent upon it. The Archbishop of Dublin, a certain John McQuaid, (a friend of yours I believe!) was very strict about priests’ deportment.
    I will also remind you that the friars and brothers, and elsewhere the nuns, were subject to strict religious discipline of prayer and fasting and absence and self-denial, getting up from bed at all hours, etc.etc. They did work also, usually manual.

    The personal estate of the friars was that of poverty. They owned very little. I remember talking with a friar in a monastery a while ago and I had to wonder how he survived. He honestly knew not where his next meal was coming from.

    Oh, by the way, they do clean up after themselves although the church does EMPLOY outsiders to do certain work.

    As for the Church skivvies and cleaners that you mention: Ask me: I am honoured to be one of those!

    Next I will tell you about what really happened with the Altar.

  17. Greetings again, Mr.Bock, Sir,

    Now the altar.

    I delayed to address this issue until I had checked on some facts of Church rulings first.

    In the high altar of every consecrated Catholic church,there is a relic box containing usually a relic of the particular saint to whom the church has been dedicated. I remember being told once that the relic box contained a microscopic splinter of the True Cross upon which Our Blessed Lord was crucified. Some churches may have a relic of the Cross. I know of one at least.
    Anyway, when a church is decommissioned, (called desacralizing) and its consecrated status is removed, this box, which is usually embedded well into the stone and cemented in MUST be recovered before desacrilizing is complete. Removing the box is usually a big job —— it is not easy to remove and the altar is usually heavily damaged. The expensive marble top and sides would be taken away for use elsewhere as the High Altar (together with the Tabernacle) are seen as the central component in the church building.

    So,I hope that I have illustrated accurately that the damage to the altar was not vandalism.
    It was commissioned.

    I must say Mr.Bock, that I am surprised that you did not know this.

    Best wishes, Jehanne.

  18. I would not normally reply to your idiocies, but in this case I must.

    The altar was not heavily damaged. The external marble was removed.

  19. Mr. Bock, Sir,

    Looking at your own photograph, the altar looks very damaged as I can take it that the marble slabs were affixed to the interior body with cement. That in itself is a big job and skilled in detaching them without breaking them. The marble had to be either broken or removed intact in order to access the relic and due to the value of the marble, hiring skilled labour would be economically worthwhile. Now, in your photograph, I see what looks like two side slabs broken, leaning against the brickwork. They have altar etchings on them so I would say that they are part of the marble.
    It is usual for all items removed from a desacralized church to go into service elsewhere in another church but things can be sold by the Church. However, the buyer must consent to certain conditions and the usual condition is that an item can be put to profane use but not to sordid use.

    Now, You say that the local cleric appeared in the dead of night and did the job. He must have had at least two skilled hands available and a few more strong men besides.
    Do you have any idea how heavy those slabs are? Do you have any proof of your allegation about he local cleric? Do you not think that it is unfair to publicly insinuate theft by the priest when there is not the faintest iota of evidence? Have you suggested to the Diocese Bishop an investigation into the matter? If you suspect that the marble was illicitly removed then perhaps you should. Have you made any effort to trace the marble?
    If you can’t trust the Bishop, then maybe the Garda Siochana.
    Maybe your suspicions are correct, after all.

    However, I have given you the valid reason for the opening of the altar be it by breakage or careful dismantling, namely the removal of the relic. The relic MUST be accounted for.

    So, to finish in few words what took so many:
    The destruction of the altar was commissioned. It was not an act of vandalism.

    In my effort to be forthright I hope that I did not sound rude to you, Mr.Bock. My apology if I did.

    All best wishes, Jehanne.

  20. Your attempt at deflection is irrelevant since nobody cares who took the marble or for that matter, any fetish a witch-doctor might have secreted in the altar.

    The article isn’t about your magical beliefs. It’s about clerics constructing a sumptuous temple during a time of great want.

  21. Mr. Bock, Sir,
    I have to protest that it is you who is deflecting the subject,not I. You have included a substantial remark in your composition to insinuate that a priest took the marble illicitly. There are six posts referencing it to follow, one of them from yourself,(post 6), in which you reinforce your view. Your contention of theft by the priest is wrong as at least two of the marble slabs appear leaning on the brickwork in the picture. True, nobody cares NOW who took the marble as all accusation against the priest falls apart.

    I am sorry if I offend you,sir, but your own photograph testifies against you.

    Now, on to the construction of the sumptuous temple in this time of great want, as you put it. I have already addressed this issue in post number 23 if you take the trouble to read it. Saying that the Great Famine was just an eye blink away in history is not an appropriate yardstick to use. The Great Famine was a full generation past and that particular hardship was behind. Taking into account what I have already written in post 23, could you please tell me what unusual hardship was being endured at this time that would not be consistent with living in the middle to late nineteenth century?

    Many of the donations for the church would have come from poor people who could ill afford to be giving resource away but poor people have always generally been like that. Their generosity more often than not puts me to shame. The substantial donations however, would have come from the rich —- there are rich people who do give very generously and it is their support which actually makes things materialize.

    However, this reminds me of and incident described in the Gospels. Our Blessed Lord sat by the temple treasury one day and observed a poor widow tossing her last two pence into the treasury. He declared that she had given more in God’s sight than all the rich folk because she gave all of her substance. Now, going by logistics, that two pence did not run the Temple. The Temple subsisted on the large sums of the rich people. Did that two pence impact the needs of the Temple. Could God see to it that the poor did run the Temple?

    He had already seen to it that five barley loves and two fish fed a crowd of thousands!

    Returning to the point: Could you please point out to me the abnormal hardship in Limerick that was inconsistent with the time in history.

    The Church was built s a monument to the Glory of God, not the friars. They were genuinely poor, no schtick, I once knew a nun who came from a wealthy family herself and forsook all for to follow the Lord. Many of them did come from well-to-do backgrounds and forsook all.

  22. I will say what the post is about, not you.

    Now that’s the end of giving you any attention for another while.

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