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.
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.
The present day Augustinians church is situated on O'Connell Street in the City Centre. On the right as you enter the church there is the old lintel stone that came from the order's first chapel in Limerick at Fish Lane. The date 1633 can be seen on the stone along with the letters I.H.S. and the symbol of the heart from the crest of the Augustinian order. The O'Doherty family saved this stone in 1933 when the buildings in Fish Lane were knocked for new houses. The stone was kept in their stonecutting yard until two brothers Frank and Anthony McNamara brought it to the attention of the Prior, Fr Vincent Lyons in 1961. Fr Lyons bought the stone and in October 1962, it was inserted into the wall of the church.
In the porch of the church, there are two holy water fonts from the church in Creagh Lane. These holy water fonts were in Creagh Lane from 1823 until the present day church was opened in 1941. Inside the church, there is a bookshop on the left and a Pastoral Centre on the right. Also on the right is a painting of the Ascension by Thomas Collopy, a Limerick man. This painting, which dates from 1782, originally hung in the chapel in Creagh Lane.
Above the main door of the church on O'Connell St., a large stained glass window depicts scenes from the life of St Augustine. The window shows (from left to right) his conversion, his consecration as a Bishop, writing his confessions and the Transfiguring Experience with his mother Monica. The window is dedicated to the memory of Fr Joseph Hennessey who was the main driving force behind the building of the church. Fr Hennessey died in 1941 before the church was completed in 1942.
Above the four main sections of the stained glass windows, are the symbols of the four Evangelists of the four Gospels which are (from left to right) the bull (Luke), the man (Matthew), the eagle (John) and the lion (Mark). Under the main stained glass sections of the window are smaller sections depicting a book and quill, the Sacred Heart, the crest of the Augustinian order, and the scales of justice.
The crest of the Augustinian Order depicts a heart on fire, pierced by an arrow. This shows the passionate heart of St Augustine and a heart that is open to the pain of joy of loving and the use of love in the mission of an Augustinian. The open book in the crest represents the Bible, which was the inspiration of St Augustine's life.
In 1998, the seats at the back of the church were removed and an ornate screen was erected between the main body of the church and this reception area.
Inside the church on the left, there is an Adoration chapel that was opened by Bishop Donal Murray on 24 May 1998. There is also a small chapel to St Jude, which was refurbished in 1998. There is a shrine to St Nicholas of Tolentine, who was an Augustinian priest. There is also a picture of Blessed William Tirry O.S.A. who lived in the 17th century. At the top of the church, there is a statue of St Joseph and there is an altar to the Sacred Heart.
Inside the door on the right hand side of the church there is a shrine to Blessed Padre Pio. Further on up the aisle there is a statue of St Rita of Cascia. St Rita was an Augustinian sister who worked with the sick. She is also known as the Saint of the Impossible. Next there is an altar to St Monica that was donated by John and Joan Leonard. To the right of the main altar, there is an altar to the Mother of Good Counsel.
Over the main altar in the church there are five different stained glass windows and they depict (from left to right) St Joseph, St Monica, St Patrick, Mother & Child and St Augustine. In 1998 a silver chalice was discovered in a cylinder at the back of a safe behind the main altar. According to the inscription, Dame Alice Nagle donated it to the Augustinians Sisters in Dublin in 1750.
The bells of the church are believed to be originally from London. An elderly officer was living in retirement in London and each evening he listened to the bells in a nearby church tower. Then one evening, the bells did not ring and he discovered that the tower was being knocked. So he bought the bells and moved to Ireland where he built a replica of the tower. Fr Larry A. Doyle heard the story and bought the bells for the new church in O'Connell St.. Each of the seven bells was given a name of dedication and a prayer so that the chimes of the bells may inspire the people who heard them.
The Augustinians have a graveyard in front of the Old County Courthouse in Merchant's Quay.
As well as serving the spiritual needs of the community, the Augustinians run a school for young people with special needs in St Augustine's Hall.
The present priory is to the left of the church. It was formally known as the 'Country Club', and came into the possession of the order in 1946. This structure was built in 1825. The Augustinians rented the ground floor of the premises in 1897 for £2,075 from Dr Pryce Peacocke for a lease of 999 years. The Augustinians had first option on the purchase of the premises and paid £15,000 for the building in 1946.
The old priory, situated at 119 O'Connell St, was sold to Mrs. Harrington for £7,800 to finance the purchase of the 'Country Club' in December 1946. The priory was officially opened on May 25 1948.
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