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There have been a number of different orders of the Augustinians based in Limerick over the years. The first order of Augustinians in Limerick was an order of nuns called the Canonesses of St Augustine. They were a branch of the Augustinian Canons. Donal O'Brien was patron of the house, which was founded in 1171. It was dedicated to St Peter and was situated in Pump Lane outside the walls of the city. The house was also known as St Peter's Cell. During the suppression, it was given to Lord Milton and was used by the Presbyterians until 1776.

However, the Order of the Augustinians which exists in Limerick today originated in the Great Re-Union of 1256, when five different groups who professed to the Rule of Augustine came together under one prior general, and became known as the Order of the Hermits of St Augustine. This new group of Augustinians was a branch of the Augustinian Canons and they came to Ireland in or around 1280.

The Crutched Friars, a hospital order who followed the rule of St Augustine, founded a church, priory and hospital in Fish Lane which they was dedicated to the Holy Cross, Blessed Virgin Mary and St Edward the King and Martyr in 1227 under the leadership of Simon Minor. In some books, this priory is mistakenly believed to be two priories, one was dedicated to St Mary and St Edward under the control of the Canon Regulars, the other was a priory and hospital dedicated to St Mary and Holy Cross. However, as Begley has shown these foundations were one and the same.

The Augustinians were renting a house in Sir Henry's Mall in 1435. At the suppression, Henry VIII granted the friary in Fish Lane to Edmond Sexton. Sexton ejected the Crutched Friars in 1537 and by 1594 Stephen Sexton held what remained of the cell.

Due to the suppression, the Augustinians left the city after 1541and stayed in the surrounding countryside. The Canon Regular Augustinians returned to the city in the 1630s but the first steps to re-establish in Limerick began in 1613 when Dermot McGrath arrived from Rome to assess the number of Augustinians in Ireland.

Under McGrath, the Augustinians received permission from Pope Urban VIII to take over the site of the Crossed Friars. It is believed that the new community originally came from the monastery in Killagh in Kerry.

During the Confederate war, they celebrated mass in the ruined church of St Mary's on March 25 1646. With the arrival of Cromwell and his troops to Limerick in 1649, the Augustinians fled the city. They returned to Fish Lane in 1660 when King Charles II came to the throne. However after the siege of Limerick in 1691, the Augustinians were again made homeless.

They established a monastery on the site of the former monastery of the Crossed Friars near Fish Lane around 1730. Begley said the Hermits of St Augustine moved into Limerick in 1733 and opened a chapel. They were asked to leave the city by Dr O'Keeffe, Bishop of Limerick in 1735/6 after objections from the Dominicans and Franciscans. Rome overturned this decision when it was appealed by the Augustinians. During this dispute, the Augustinians built a chapel in Fish Lane. They opened their first chapel on this site in 1740 around the time when the penal laws were relaxed.

Rockery in Adoration chapel
© Rockery in Adoration chapel

In 1778, they built a chapel in Creagh Lane but as numbers attending masses and devotions grew, a new site had to be located for the order because there was no room for expansion in Creagh Lane. Nothing remains of the chapel in Creagh Lane as the ruins of the east wall were recently demolished to make way for a building development. Some of the stones from this wall were used in the building of two rockeries in the Adoration chapel in O'Connell St.

In 1823, the Augustinians moved to new premises when they bought a theatre in O'Connell St at a cost of £400. After some work, this building was converted into a church and opened by Bishop Tuohy in August 1823. In 1936, the then Prior of the Order in Limerick, Fr Joseph Hennessy set about building a new church on the same site. Building commenced on a new church in 1939 and the present church was opened in 1942. The church is 190 feet by 79 feet. Originally the façade of the church was to have a tower on each side of the church but as there was legal difficulties with the land on which the right hand tower was to be built, only the tower on the left-hand side was erected.

For a more detailed history of the Augustinians in Limerick City over the centuries, you should consult The Augustinians in Limerick by Thomas C Butler OSA, which was published in 1988.

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