Diocese of Limerick | Heritage Project | Index | Search | Help

Diocesan Heritage Project
Dominican Order

History | Churches

Brief Parish History & Geographical Location

In 1973, the Dominican Order were asked by the then Bishop, Henry Murphy to form a new parish, which would be located between the Roxborough Road and Glentworth Street. This new parish is known as St. Saviour's. According to Lenihan, Donogh Cairbreagh O'Brien founded the Dominican friary in 1227. The original friary was situated in the grounds of the present day Convent of Mercy in Convent St, which is off Barrack St. There were a number of tombs in the original convent. Among the people buried at the original site were Donogh O'Brien, the 6th Earl of Desmond, Bishops of the dioceses of Killaloe, Kilfenora and Limerick and John O'Grady, Archbishop of Cashel.

The original friary was situated near the city walls and as a result was damaged a number of times during the many attacks on the city during the 13th and 14th centuries. James FitzJohn, the 6th Earl of Desmond, who was buried here in 1462, rebuilt the friary.

Before the dissolution of 1541 when King Henry VIII split with the Papacy, the friary had acquired a large amount of wealth. Not wanting to return to their former unbefitting concentration on wealth instead of on a life of prayer and devotion, the house in Limerick returned to a stricter observance of the Rule, and they became known as the Black Friars Observant. The friary's properties were granted to James Fitzgerald, the Earl of Desmond in 1544 with a yearly rent of 5s 2d sterling.

The friary owned the church site, a cemetery and land both inside and outside the city walls. During Queen Mary's reign, James, the Earl of Desmond returned the property to the Dominicans but Queen Mary was entitled to use the friary's resources for her needs. It was later passed onto the Earl of Thomond.

The Dominicans stayed in or around the city during the suppression. In 1613, there were three Dominicans priests living in the community and, by 1622, there were six Dominicans in the city. During the Confederate war, the Dominicans repossessed their old friary of St. Saviour's and a chapel was built in the grounds of St Saviour's friary. All that remains of the original friary is the north wall of the church as most of the building was destroyed in 1691.

Pope Innocent X granted a Papal university for Limerick in 1644 for the Catholic Confederation. However, the political situation changed again in England when Oliver Cromwell came to power in England in 1649. The Roman Catholic faith was again under attack. During the siege of Limerick in 1651, Cromwellian forces under General Ireton murdered a number of Dominicans friars. Among those killed were Bishop Terence Albert O'Brien (see church section) and Fr James Wolfe.

In the 1660s, during the reign of Charles II, the authorities allowed a certain form of religious life to take place and the Dominicans began to organise again into priory. The situation changed once more in the latter years of the 17th century with the introduction of the Penal Code in 1695 and an Act of Parliament in 1697, which legislated for the banning of all Papists excerising any ecclesiastical practices.

The following year, the Dominicans, together with the others religious orders in the city, were expelled. However, three members of the orders stayed in the city. According to Myles Nolan, author of Dominicans of Limerick 1227-1977, they were Fathers John Halpin, Francis O'Grady and Denis O'Gallagher. Nolan states that the Dominicans began to live as a community again around 1710. Judith Hill mentions that the Dominicans were in Gaol Lane in 1730 when they built a chapel within a house that they also used as their living quarters. This house was situated in Mary Street.

The Dominicans erected a chapel on a site in Fish Lane in 1780 according to Ferrar's History of Limerick from 1787. However, Nolan quotes from the private writings of Fr James Joseph Carberry OP (a member of the Dominican Order in Limerick) dated to 1866, which state that the church was opened in 1735 and measured 60 feet by 30 feet with wide galleries. The east wall of the chapel in Fish Lane still remains and is made of red brick and limestone. However, there is relatively little information on this church. For a more complete history of the Dominican Order in Limerick since 1227, you should consult The Dominicans in Limerick 1227-1977 by Myles Nolan, which was published to commemorate the 750th anniversary of Dominicans arrival in Limerick.

Back to Top


St Saviour's church is also the parish church of St Saviour's parish. This parish was created by Bishop Henry Murphy in 1973 and was formerly part of the parish of St Michael's.

The present day church in Glentworth Street was built in 1815/6 when the Dominicans moved from Fish Lane under the leadership of Fr Joseph Harrigan. Edward Henry, the Earl of Limerick donated the land to the Dominicans. The original church here was a plain church and it gave the impression of Gothic architecture. The church was designed by the Pain (sometimes spelt as Payne) brothers to replace the penal chapel in Fish Lane.

The foundation stone of the church was laid on 27 March 1815 in the presence of Dr Tuohy, Bishop of Limerick and the Father Provincial of the Dominicans, Patrick Gibbons. The architect John Wallace renovated the present church in 1861/4. A clerestory was added raising the height of the church by 20 feet. The church is dedicated to the Most Holy Saviour Transfigured. The priory next door to the church in Glentworth St was rebuilt in 1943.

Inside the church on the left aisle, there is a chapel to the Sacred Heart (also called the Carbery chapel), beside which is a statue of St Anne. There is also a statue of the Child of Prague in the left aisle. The chapel to the Sacred Heart was erected in 1898 to the memory of Fr Carbery. At the top of the left aisle of the church there is a side altar to St Joseph.

There is a small cross on the side of the eighth seat from the front in the left aisle. This cross marks the site of the tomb of Fr Simon Joseph Harrigan OP, who was the main instigator of the building of this church in 1816. Fr Harrigan died on January 23rd 1838.

Opposite the Sacred Heart chapel, there is a chapel to St Martin de Porres. The Stations of the Cross are frescoes. An oak frame surrounds each fresco.

The stained glass windows are all of a similar nature in the left aisle. However the stained glass windows in the right aisle show different religious figures. They are (from the back) two Dominicans saints, St Thomas Aquinas on the left and St Albert on the right. This window is dedicated to the memory of Michael and Margaret Ryan. The next stained glass window depicts St Mary Magdalene in the left panel and St Luke the evangelist in the right panel. The next stained glass window is again divided into two panels, which depict St Catherine of Sienna on the left and St Dominic on the right. The next window shows St William and St Margaret. The stained glass window at the top of the right aisle depicts the Virgin Mary and St Joseph.

Paintings on both sides of the centre aisle show various Dominicans saints. They are (from the back left) St Vincent, St Catherine of Ricci, St Pius V, St Albert the Great and St Catherine of Siena and (from the back right) St Rose of Lima, St Peter the Martyr, St Margaret of Hungary, St Thomas Aquinas and St Dominic. They were all painted by Fr Aengus Buckley, a member of the Dominican order

Fr Buckley also painted the fresco "The Triumph of the Cross" over the chancel arch in 1951. This fresco shows Heavenly Father receiving the sacrifice of his Son into the glory of the Trinity. Some members of the church are looking on in contemplation. A detailed description of the fresco is given at the main door of the church. The stained glass window in the apse shows the Transfiguration. Over the marble altar, there is a life-size statue of St Martin in bronze. There are also statues of SS. Peter and Paul. There is a stained glass window by Messrs Murphy and Devitt.

To the right of the high altar, there is an altar to Our Lady of Limerick. The statue of Our Lady is from the 17th century and is called Our Lady of Limerick. Patrick Sarsfield brought the statue from Flanders in 1640. (This is not the Patrick Sarsfield who was a general in the Jacobite army during the Siege of Limerick in 1691.) Sarsfield donated the statue due to the outrages done by his father to Sir John Bourke. The statue is made from oak. For a number of years, the statue was buried in a box in the graveyard in the grounds of St Mary's Cathedral to avoid capture from the English authorities. The base of the altar shows the Arms of Limerick are incorporated into the crest of the Dominicans.

The Bishop of Emly, Terence Albert O'Brien, a Dominican, was hanged in the abbey ruins in 1651 for leading the resistance to General Ireton's siege. In 1982, an oratory to Bishop O'Brien containing a portrait of the bishop painted by Thomas Ryan was added to the church. This oratory is to the far right of the High Altar.

There is also a stained glass window in the oratory that depicts a number of different scenes. These scenes begin with the execution of Bishop O'Brien and continue to depict a number of the major events that happened in the Limerick region since O'Brien's execution in 1651. The stained glass window includes the following images, the coat of arms of Limerick in the Dominicans' crest, the persecution of Roman Catholics by the ruling English, the boat of emigration, agriculture, Ardnacrusha power station, Ireland's entry into the EEC and the Papal Visit of 1979.

As you enter the oratory, there is a statue on the right of St John Macias OP, who is the patron saint for exiles. The Baptismal font is also in the oratory and it is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary of Limerick & the Help of Christians.

The Dominicans own a number of very old and interesting chalices. The oldest chalice in their possession is the O'Callaghan chalice, which dates from 1639. It was originally kept in the Dominican priory in Kilmallock, Co Limerick. The second chalice, the Sarsfield chalice was buried with the statue of Our Lady of Limerick in the graveyard of St Mary's Cathedral. It dates from 1640.

The next chalice of historic note is the O'Meara chalice, which dates from approximately 1744. The final chalice dates from 1810 and is called the Harrigan chalice. This chalice was donated by Honoria M. Raymond to James Harrigan for her son John Bernard and her spiritual comfort.

They are also in possession of a two sided cross known as Bishop O'Brien's cross.

Buried within the church are:
Fr S. J. Harrigan
Died January 23 1838

Fr V. O'Carroll
Died January 8 1860

There is a burial vault to the right of the church. Buried within the vault are:

Fr W. McDonnell
Died April 19 1868

Fr L. D. Conway
Died December 28 1878

Bishop J. J. Carbery
Bishop of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Died December 19 1887

Br H. Carroll
Died May 6 1906

Fr M. A. Duhig
Died December 24 1920

Fr J. J. McGovern
Died January 26 1923

Fr S. A. O'Kelly
Died August 15 1930

Fr A. O'Coigley
Died September 7 1943

Fr D. D. O'Connell
Died March 6 1947

Fr B. W. Costello
Died June 2 1949

Fr J. M. Noonan
Died September 13 1949

Back to Top

History | Churches

Dominican Order Home | Back to Top

Diocese of Limerick | Heritage Project | Index | Search | Help

Website by Lúnasa Design