Newtown Pery, Limerick
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Newtown Pery is an area of central Limerick, Ireland, and forms the main city centre (or CBD) of the city. The district is known for its Georgian architectural heritage and is the core area of Limerick's Georgian Quarter. It is one of the three towns that make up modern-day Limerick City Centre, the other two being the older Englishtown & Irishtown which date from the medieval period. Newtown Pery houses the largest collection of Georgian townhouses in Ireland outside of Dublin. In 1837, Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland described Newtown Pery as ‘one of the handsomest towns in Ireland’.
Prior to the development of Newtown Pery, the historical City of Limerick was situated just north of the present day city centre, stretching from King John's Castle towards where St. John's Cathedral is today. The city was made up of two distinct towns; Englishtown (populated by Old English settlers) located on the historical island city and Irishtown (populated by natives) located on the southern bank of the Abbey River. The two towns were connected by one bridge Baal's Bridge over the Abbey River, while Thomond Bridge beside King John's Castle was a major crossing point of the River Shannon from Englishtown into modern-day County Clare. As with most cities of this time, Limerick was heavily fortified and walled and the streets were characteristically narrow, winding & cramped. Prior to the construction of Newtown Pery, Limerick was also beginning to exhibit some early Georgian styles within the old city. Examples surviving today include; the Old Bishop's Palace at Castle Street & at John's Square (Limerick's first example of fashionable architecture and civic spaces). Early photographs of the old city areas also show the old (pre-Georgian) continental & Dutch gabled styled townhouses as being altered somewhat to appear more Georgian. Very few of these survive today. Originally the land south of the medieval city that was to become Newtown Pery was owned by the Franciscans and known as South Priors Land. Following the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII this land was granted to Edmund Sexton of whom Edmund Sexton Pery was a descendant and on whom much of Georgian Limerick is credited.
Following the turbulent years of the 17th century, Limerick began to prosper in the 18th century and was completely transformed into the city it is today. Easy access from most parts of Ireland facilitated by the River Shannon & the opening of canals enabled Limerick to become the main port city on the western side of Ireland, which in turn brought much prosperity to the city and to its merchants and landowners with trade between Britain and America.
The boundaries of the city of Limerick, where the municipal corporation had authority, were smaller than the county of the city of Limerick, where the city grand jury had parallel authority. The area within the county of the city but outside the city proper was termed the city liberties. The development of Newtown Pery can be attributed to the work of Edmund Sexton Pery (created Viscount Pery in 1785) and his plan for the development of a new town on lands he owned in the south liberties of the city. In 1769, he commissioned the Irish engineer Christopher Colles to design a town plan on his estate which has since become known as Newtown Pery. Colles devised an impressive plan for the Pery Estate which divided the estate into a grid plan of equal rectangular plots & length and of a distinctive architectural unity which still defines the city centre to this day. The town was built in stages as Pery sold off leases to builders and developers who built 4 and 5 story townhouses in the Georgian fashion with long wide and elegant streets in grid plan design with O'Connell Street (originally known as George's Street) as its centre, which was mostly in accordance with Colles' plan. The earliest houses are located along Bank Place, Rutland Street, Patrick Street which were built by the Arthur family - a prominent Limerick family during the 18th century. Some of the finest examples of Georgian Architecture can be seen at the Crescent area and Pery Square. The Custom's House (Hunt Museum), designed by Italian architect Davis Ducart, is also one of the city's finest examples of Georgian Architecture.
By the turn of the 19th Century, Newtown Pery was rapidly growing as most fashionable area of the city. In 1807 its leading residents secured a private act of the UK parliament to establish a body of improvement commissioners as municipal authority for the civil parish of St Michael's, within which Newtown Pery was located. The commissioners were abolished in 1853 when the area was absorbed into Limerick city. One brake on the town's development was that the only crossing point on the Shannon remained at Thomond Bridge in the old and now less fashionable Englishtown district. In 1835, a new bridge was built over the Shannon connecting the west directly with Newtown Pery. It was originally called Wellesley Bridge after Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland when the act to pay for it was passed. It cemented Newtown Pery's position as Limerick's premier urban district as connections to the area improved. The five-arch bridge was designed by Alexander Nimmo based on the Pont de Neuilly in Paris. In 1882 it was replaced with the current Sarsfield Bridge.
From its development Newtown Pery has served as Limerick's CBD. It is also the city's main retail district which is centered on O'Connell Street, William Street and the adjoining streets. In addition to the quality of the Georgian heritage in the district, another striking feature of the development is the grid plan layout of the streets in the area running north/south and east/west in similar fashion and design as found in New York City, Philadelphia, Glasgow, Bristol & Berlin albeit on a smaller scale. This distinguishes Limerick's Georgian stock to the other major Irish Georgian development in Dublin, as Limerick's terraces are more uniform. This is due to the fact that the Pery owned all the land that was developed and it enabled a single development plan.
Limerick continued to expand following the Act of Union and into the early 19th Century, however, Pery's plan for the city was never fully realised. It was intended that the city would continue further southwards however a crippling economic decline in Ireland caused by the Great Irish Famine put an end to the development. The terrace at Pery Square was the last development of the great Georgian expansion of Limerick. The terrace itself was intended to be part of a Georgian square enclosing the People's Park, similar to Fitzwilliam Square or Mountjoy Square in Dublin however the plans were never realised as the development coincided with the beginning of the Famine. Another distinguishing feature of Georgian Limerick to Georgian Dublin is, Newtown Pery was a completely new greenfield development. Limerick's medieval city was left completely intact and remains to this day. Unfortunately, most of the built infrastructure of medieval Limerick did not survive past the mid 20th Century following the clearance of slum living in the city. Some examples survive and the street outlines remain in Nicholas Street, Mary Street, Broad Street, John Street & Mungret Street. Much of Georgian Dublin in contrast however was undertaken by the Wide Streets Commission which almost completely rebuilt Dublin over the older medieval city.
Although housing an important collection of Georgian architecture and acting as Limerick's city centre, unfortunately Newtown Pery's position as the one time fashionable area of the city is long over. In addition to this, its Georgian heritage has been severely compromised, in particular around the retail core of O'Connell Street & William street. Economic decline & stagnation plagued Limerick during the 20th Century which saw some townhouses converted to tenements such as at Arthur's Quay & Bank Place. During this time very little investment was seen in Newtown Pery, only the exodus of families & industries to new suburban districts around the city due to modern requirements. By the mid 20th century dereliction had taken its toll as the townhouses at Arthur's Quay, Francis Street & Bank Place were completely lost. Lax development controls enabled the almost complete rebuilding of the northern end of O'Connell Street and replacing what were some iconic and illustrious buildings with more modernist (& perhaps less attractive) sixties style architecture. The loss of Todd's Department Store to a fire which gutted the building, the rebuilding of Cannock's Department Store, Royal George Hotel, AIB Bank amongst many more, completely altered the look of city and ultimately resulted in a loss of the districts heritage and character. Nevertheless, much of the districts Georgian townhouses remained intact, however many were converted to offices or flats while others remained unoccupied or neglected. However, despite the architectural losses & economic conditions; Newtown Pery remained the premier retail & services district for Limerick and the greater Mid-West Region well up into the late 20th and early 21st Century.
Economic stagnation in Limerick, was only broken by the Celtic Tiger in the late 20th Century. Unfortunately, Newtown Pery, still lagged behind with regards to investment & planning with exception to the riverfront of the Shannon. Suburban areas of Limerick have seen massive investments particularly in retail, which has seen the one time retail core of O' Connell Street & William street been eclipsed by massive retail developments in the suburbs. Poor planning & lack of investment has resulted in high vacancy rates & further dereliction which plagues some parts. Amongst the casualties of this poor planning has been the Patrick Street, Rutland Street & Ellen Street areas which were all part of the ill fated Opera Centre development. These streets are now almost completely derelict & vacant. Urban depression in Limerick unfortunately is not confined to these areas alone as much of central Limerick is now exhibiting the effects, mainly of heavy suburbanisation but also the effects of economic recession. The area is now a shadow of its former self as more and more businesses & retail facilities leave the city centre for the convenience of the new shopping centres.
In order to arrest the decline of Limerick's CBD and Newtown Pery in general, both Limerick City Council and national government have introduced schemes to counteract the heavy suburbanisation of the city. Amongst the most elaborate plans is the €250 million Limerick 2030 plan which will see a complete redevelopment of the Arthur's Quay area into a new and modern retailing complex. It will also see the development of a higher education campus to include facilities from LIT, UL, and MIC and a refurbishment of the city's main streets. Another plan is the Living City Initiative which provides tax relief for residents who refurbish Georgian houses in designated areas. It also provides tax relief to retailers who carry out works to upgrade or re-fit their shops in the designated Georgian area. Newtown Pery is a testament to Limerick's rich & eventful past and remains one of the most important remnants of Ireland's Georgian Era. It remains to be seen if the above schemes can stop the decline of the city's historic & elegant stock of buildings.
The following are a list of notable buildings and landmarks in the area:
- Customs House, (Hunt Museum) Rutland Street
- Old City Hall, Rutland Street
- Augustinian Church, O'Connell Street
- Franciscan Church, Henry Street (closed)
- The Crescent, Double Crescent shaped Georgian Development
- Sacred Heart Church, The Crescent
- O'Connell Monument, The Crescent
- Dominican Church, Glentworth Street
- Tait Monument, Baker Place
- Spring Rice Memorial, People's Park
- Pery Square tontine development, Pery Square
- Limerick City Gallery of Art, Pery Square
- Limerick Athenaeum (Theatre Royal), Cecil Street (closed)
- Belltable Arts Centre, O'Connell Street (Currently closed)
- Limerick War Memorial (Cenotaph), Pery Square
- Colbert Station, Parnell Street
- Frank McCourt Museum & Leamy Art Gallery, Hartstonge Street
- Georgian House & Garden, Pery Square
- St.Michael's Church of Ireland, Pery Square
- St. Joseph's Church, Quinlan Street
- Sarsfield Bridge
- Shannon Rowing Club, Clubhouse, Sarsfield Bridge
- Riverpoint, Bishop's Quay
- Clarion Hotel, Steamboat Quay
- Willie Cumming, Mildred Dunne and Barry O'Reilly (Editors), An Introduction to the Architectural Heritage of Limerick City. National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (N.I.A.H.), Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Dublin, 2008. ISBN 9780-7557-74418.
- "Commissioners for the Improvement of St. Michael's Parish, 1810-1851". Archives. Limerick City and County Council. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
- Lovett, Phil. "The Wellesley Bridge" (PDF). The Old Limerick Journal (9): 28–31.
- Ó Maidín, Pádraig. "The Building of the Sarsfield Bridge" (PDF). Old Limerick Journal (6): 5–6.