Opera Site

The 3.7 acre Opera Site is located at the northern edge of the City’s core commercial area. It comprises part of an existing urban block, bounded by Rutland Street and Patrick Street to the west, Ellen Street to the south, Michael Street to the east and Bank Place to the North. Project Opera is proposed as a mixed-use development of the site with an emphasis on public/private sector uses and small scale retail which could include a residential element. A new public square is to be provided as part of the development with pedestrian linkages to adjacent city streets. The completed development is projected to accommodate approximately 550,000sq.ft of building accommodation, although this may change subject to outcomes of the development appraisal.

The Granary, an impressive stone former warehouse structure occupies the northeast corner of the site. It is anticipated that potential redevelopment will comprise the retention of building facades along Patrick Street and Ellen Street, with progressive redevelopment and/or restoration of the structures behind where required, combined with demolition and replacement of later warehouse and other ancillary structures within the central part of the site and adjoining the southern end of Michael Street. The development of the Opera Site is a key driver for increased economic activity in the City Centre with potential to deliver significant employment opportunities and will act as a catalyst for other city centre developments.

Capacity: 550,000 sq. ft.,3,000 jobs
Stage: Development Appraisal

Background and history to the site:

The Opera Site is located within an area of particular importance to the historical development of Limerick City Centre. For much of its history Limerick was a fortress town, dominated by the fortifications of King’s Island dating back to the Vikings of the 9th century. The medieval character of the town developed under the English and in 1197 a charter was granted declaring Limerick a city. Under the orders of King John in 1210, a castle and a bridge (Thomond Bridge) were constructed. Exports of agricultural produce eventually brought prosperity to the city by the 15th century, but it was not until 1760 that Limerick was declared to be no longer a fortress. The walls were dismantled and an extensive new city rapidly expanded southwards from the medieval centre. George’s Quay was constructed and lined with fine townhouses, and a new bridge on the site of the present Matthew Bridge was commenced.

From the mid-18th century onwards the strong medieval character of the city was transformed with the development of Newtown Pery, the Georgian Quarter, and comprising regular blocks of buildings sub-divided by spacious streets and with its southern end punctuated by an imposing crescent and the Peoples Park. During 1760s the Custom House (now the Hunt Museum) and the City Court House, together with Lock Quay and Charlotte’s Quay, were all completed. In 1769 the Right Hon E.S. Pery mapped out the streets and squares that now characterise the distinctive urban form of the city centre. Rutland Street played an important role in this period of rapid development by linking the new bridge from King’s Island, and the quays either side of the Abbey River, to Patrick Street and hence to Cornwallis Street and the developing network of grid iron streets to the south. Although one of the shortest streets in Limerick, Rutland Street possessed two impressive civic buildings standing at opposite ends (Custom House and the old City Hall/Commercial Building).

It was lined with impressive red brick terraces that formed a gentle sweep away from the Abbey River towards the expanding new town. The important thoroughfare was considered to be the ‘Bond Street’ of Limerick, where more fortunes were made than in any other street in the city. To the west of Rutland Street, Arthur’s Quay developed as one of the most attractive residential areas for the merchant princes. A grand terrace spanned the length of the quay and faced the river. The area formed part of a triangular-shaped development of 4-storey brick terraces over basements incorporating Patrick Street and Francis Street. With the growth in trade, stores and warehouse replaced the ground floor residences, and by the 1900s the dwellings had become tenements. Arthur’s Quay continued to decline and was eventually demolished in the 1950s. The quay was filled-in and a car park formed in the 1960s, which is now occupied by the Civic Park and the building which was formerly occupied by the Tourist Office. To the east of Rutland Street, beyond Michael Street, much of the original medieval street pattern of Irishtown survived the new urban order of the expanding city, and today retains a more informal arrangement of narrow streets and smaller buildings. The early terraces of Rutland Street and Arthur’s Quay in many ways set the design standards for the continued development of Newtown Pery. The general development pattern was intended not only to provide a healthy contrast to the cramped conditions of the original medieval city, but also to maximise the development potential of the new plots based on the architectural style of the time. The tall, narrow fronted terraced buildings combined both high density profitable development with relatively well-proportioned living space for the occupants. The layout optimised the use of available land while the design provided a palette of consistent architectural features that could be reproduced relatively easily by speculators and builders.

The townscape unity that developed was based on a regular grid of streets running parallel and at right angles to the river. The terraced blocks were mostly austere, with decoration confined to doorways. On the later terraces, ornamental ironwork was an important addition. Buildings at the corners of crossing streets were often treated more sensitively, sometimes being double fronted and with windows to both streets, while civic buildings were occasionally introduced towards the centre of a terrace, such as the former Town Hall on Rutland Street. Warehouses constructed during the same period were distinct from the residential terraces but often incorporated within the overall block structure and, due to similar proportions, providing a comparable street presence.

Reflecting the Georgian fashion of building in Dublin and London, the residential terraces were constructed almost entirely from red brick, with the use of cut stone limited to single copings on a parapet and as ornamental frames to the main doorways. The advent of brick construction initiated a tradition in which the use of a building became associated with a particular material. Public buildings continued to be built of cut stone, often in a variety of dressings and to high standards of workmanship, with the cheaper undressed and randomly coursed stone used for industrial building such as the warehouses. Another important feature of the developing new town was the distinction between front and back. The fronts of terraces provided the public face where attention to detail reinforced the street presence of the building, while the backs were more private utilitarian places where servants worked and entered. These rear semi-private areas (mews) comprised a far more humble collection of stables, coach houses, yards and offices, often connected by narrow lanes (bow ways) extending through the blocks to connect with side streets. Many such laneways were distinguished by arched entrances, with a hay loft above, forming an integral part of the terraced elevations.

In addition to accommodating many of the most successful merchants in Limerick, the area was also home to one of the world’s best known opera singers of the 19th century. Catherine Hayes was born at 4 Patrick Street in 1825. She was the youngest of three daughters of Arthur Hayes, bandmaster with the Limerick City Militia, who deserted his family and left them in poor circumstances. Catherine Hayes followed a glittering career in International opera, singing at the age of 20 at La Scala, Milan, and thereafter at all the major operatic venues throughout Europe and, later, in America and Australia. She died in London in 1861.

The streets of Georgian Limerick represent a unique example of 18th and 19th century town planning in Ireland that remains to a large extent intact. The hierarchy of streets and buildings with fixed proportions and ordered symmetry combine to form a notable townscape heritage that gives
Georgian Limerick a special sense of place. The buildings defining much of the Opera Site contribute significantly to this distinctive urban pattern and therefore strongly influence its potential form of redevelopment.