To mark International Women’s Day, I want to highlight the plight of the former home of famous Limerick writer, Kate O’Brien.
O’Brien was a groundbreaking author of her time and to add to her feminist street-cred, has had books banned because she wrote about homosexuality (‘Mary Lavelle’ and ‘The Land of Spices’). She lived in Spain for a few years and wrote some books on Spanish subjects including ‘Theresa of Avila’. The Spanish town of Gotarrendura even named a street after her. The Kate O’Brien Weekend, held in Limerick every February, has been going on since 1984 and attracts some very prominent speakers and visitors. The Glucksman Library at UL has a large collection of O’Brien’s personal writings. The recent play, ‘Anything But Love’, was based on O’Brien’s ‘The Ante Room’…the list goes on.
Unfortunately, probably like herself, her childhood home on Mulgrave Street in Limerick has gotten more than its fair share of abuse. It has been vacant for several years and like a lot of empty buildings, it became a target for anti-social behaviour. It started with a few broken windows and graffiti but then it was set on fire about two years ago, damaging a lot of the interior. Now the downstairs windows and doors on the imposing red-brick house are blocked up with metal sheeting; the external features are crumbling; the garden is covered in rubbish and it is a haven for illegal drinking (and possibly worse). I would guess that it’s being literally and metaphorically pissed on.
Boru House was built by Kate’s grandfather, Thomas O’Brien, in 1880. The building is of “architectural, artistic and historic interest”, according to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH).
BEFORE picture (from the NIAH website)
It has been brought up umpteen times at city council meetings (and I should know because I reported on them for three years) but while the council contacted the owners with concerns, there’s very little the local authority can do about it. A few councillors wanted the council to lease or buy the house to preserve it and use it as a library or writers’ centre. But the last time the house was on the market the asking price was €1.4 million—beyond what the council could pay. There was also talk once of the council trying to take over the ownership under laws on derelict properties. It was decided not to take such drastic action at the time.
A relative of the owners and conservation architect, Thomas Quinlan, has emphasised the potential of the house if restored—highlighting that in the local press and setting up a website. Appeals from former mayors, Limerick Civic Trust and the organising committee of the honorary weekend have fallen on deaf ears.
At the moment, it seems that the house is in limbo and at risk of deteriorating further. If it gets razed to the ground, it’ll be gone forever whereas if restored it will preserve a piece of Limerick’s literary and social history. I live nearby and every time I pass it, I think what a waste it is. I hope that someone will take on the challenge some day soon.