Kate O’Brien house finally sold!

Boru House in Mulgrave Street
KOB house-best
The former home of Limerick novelist, Kate O’Brien, has been sold for just over the €85,000 asking price. Can I get a hallelujah?!
As I outlined in a previous post, Boru House in Mulgrave Street deteriorated rapidly after a fire over two years ago. It was a target for anti-social behaviour and was in danger of being damaged further, or destroyed completely. City councillors, Limerick Civic Trust, Limerick Writers’ Centre and many others all appealed for its preservation. Now, hopefully, someone will take on that task and bring the house back to its former glory.
Though technically derelict, it still has many of its original period features (it was built in 1880). The “substantial detached two storey red bricked residential building” spans 3,000 square feet and has six bedrooms. Many civic uses have been suggested but it would also make a gorgeous home if restored.  
I don’t know who the buyer is; he/she wasn’t named in The Sunday Times Home supplement item. Auctioneers de Courcy’s turned down an offer of €75,000 for the property in early December. Before property values crashed, the house and the parcel of land behind it were on sale for €1.4 million. The house was valued at €350,000 at the time—a far cry from €85,000.
The timing of the sale is impeccable because the 28th Kate O’Brien Weekend will take place next month, February 24-26. This year’s theme is ‘Tell it slant’ (from the Emily Dickinson poem,which starts “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant…”) All the events are on in the Belltable, including a music recital, lectures and discussions. The weekend doesn’t just focus on the author’s work but also on society and culture. This year’s speakers include Nobel prize-winner, Séamus Heaney; author, John Boyne; IrishTimes journalist, Frank McNally and sociologist, Dr Niamh Hourigan. A voluntary committee organises the whole weekend and it is always a stimulating, creative programme.
Kate O’Brien wrote novels such as The Ante Room, Mary Lavelle and The Land of Spices. The latter two were banned for references to homosexuality so she was considered an early feminist. She lived in Spain for a time and wrote a book about Theresa of Avila,among other subjects. Two Spanish towns have named streets in her honour.
The full programme is available here and for more information, see www.kateobrienweekend.com.  

Kate O’Brien house in a bad state

KOB house watchTo 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.

Rubbish 2Unfortunately, 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)


KOB house-bestIt 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 thKOB 3-best copye 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.