I knew there was something not quite right the minute I rounded the bend of the road after Birdhill and was moving towards Annacotty on the last mile home. I was at the outskirts of Limerick on the main Dublin Road where the terrain is familiar to me and I knew there was something missing.
It was The Arch.
It is not exactly an ancient ruin – it’s more a little construction, and any road traveller could be forgiven for passing by without noticing it. It is a pointed gothic doorway with a coat of arms and a tile with an inscription. I think it had a Maltese cross on top once upon a time. As far back as I can remember it was there. A comforting landmark – a reminder that home is only minutes away. On the old road it was situated close to the turning off for Newport from the main Limerick to Dublin Road. I’ve always called it ‘The Arch’ and one day I took the time to stop and have a proper look. I was remembering Sunday walks out the Dublin Road with my parents when I was very young and there was little or no traffic. Back then there was no motorway or even numbered roads in any form.
I often complained that my legs hurt me from walking – ‘We’ll turn back for home when we get to ‘The Arch’ at Annacotty’ my father would say, trying to convince me that it was just a short distance away. He carried me on his back most of the way home.
I had previously stopped the car several years ago in the heat of a summer’s day and beat down nettles and thistles and cow parsley to learn a little more about The Arch. I read the inscription on a tile set into its apex which told me that a water pump had been placed on this spot by John, Earl of Clare KP, and was renovated in 1875 by Lady Louisa Fitzgibbon of Mountshannon and her husband the Honourable Gerald Fitzgibbon in memory of their eldest son Charles Richard George who died on 30 April 1870 in his 21st year.
So, it is not the doorway of a church – it’s a memorial to a son who died very young but under what circumstances? I continued on and made haste to the Limerick City Library to dig deeper into Limerick’s history books. There I found details that on the spot where The Arch stands, there was once a roadside well that was sunk by the 2nd Lord Clare – Richard Fitzgibbon of Mountshannon for the benefit of his tenants and neighbours.
The same Richard gained a certain notoriety by eloping with the wife of a neighbour and before they could be officially married a son was born to them. That son was John Charles Henry, Viscount Fitzgibbon who died leading the Irish Hussars in the Charge of the Light Brigade. It was this hero’s sister, Lady Louisa Fitzgibbon who inherited Mountshannon Estate and when marrying made an agreement with her husband to retain the Fitzgibbon name. Her eldest son died at the age of 21 of blood poisoning after a very minor accident. She and her husband had The Arch memorial designed and constructed as a loving memorial for him and she had a pump put over the well for easier access to the water. Those who slaked their thirst there were requested to pray for the soul of the dearly departed.
There has been major reconstruction of roads into Limerick in recent years and after negotiating the difficult roundabout off the Dublin Road towards Annacotty I missed seeing The Arch. It had disappeared. Gone. Worse still there was a JCB and bulldozer working in the vicinity. To say that I was upset is putting it mildly. ‘You never miss the water till the well runs dry’ took on a whole new meaning. Had The Arch been lost forever? Later I phoned the County Council Offices seeking answers.
And yes, to my great relief, the Arch is safe and sound. Limerick County Council had it removed stone by precious stone and stored it until the construction work near the site had been completed. The Arch, this Limerick Landmark, is now back in place on the other side of the road at the turn to Castleconnell. You might just catch a glimpse of it as you leave Limerick and speed up onto the M7. Alas, there is no well or pump there to slake your thirst but you might spare a thought for two young Fitzgibbon men who both died tragically.
Born into ‘The Parish’ (There Is an Isle) Limerick City, residing in Co. Kildare since 1969. Regular contributor to RTE Radio Sunday Miscellany and Thought for the Day. Published in Irish Times, Ireland’s Own, Limerick Leader. Folklorist. Local Historian. Listed Writer for Schools and Libraries.