The last issue recounted some of the many royal visits to Kilkee, Co. Clare. The source of these stories was Margaretta Eagar, the Limerick-born nanny to the last Tsar of Russia. In her autobiography she also told the tale of how a Limerick native influenced the health and wealth of the people of Denmark.
The story begins with a Limerick man who went to stay in Copenhagen. While there he found himself very comfortable; every person he met vied with another to make him happy. As he was due to leave he said to those who had entertained him
‘Tell me what I can do for you; I will go to the ends of the earth to serve you’. With that they told him to travel to a certain spot in a field in County Limerick. He was instructed to dig up the spot to find a box. The box was filled with gold and one stone ring. He was told that he could keep the gold but to send the ring to Copenhagen.
The Limerick man returned to his native county and followed the directions he had been given. On locating the treasure he began his journey back to Copenhagen, carrying the box of gold with him. When he reached those who had been so kind to him on his original trip he tried with all his might to give them the gold for their generosity. They insisted on only taking the ring of stone, which they put into a safe place.
They turned to the man and scolded him, saying you ‘unfortunate wretch! you have betrayed and ruined your country. All would have gone well as long as the ring of youth remained in her, but from henceforth all poverty will leave Denmark, and her women will be always young and beautiful, while Ireland will bear a double burden of poverty, her children will be forced to other countries, nothing will thrive in Ireland’.
Sometimes the truth was stranger than fiction in the Limerick countryside. As was the case on the 16 May 1931, when a strange animal – about the size of a rat – was discovered in Abbeyfeale. It was first noticed at the back of a drapers shop and an attempt was made to capture the creature. The animal escaped up a tree where it was dislodged and fell to the street.
Unfortunately, once it was on the ground it was attacked by a blue terrier. The dog was the stronger of the two creatures and the other animal was killed. An inquest was held to try to identify the animal but this was made more difficult as a portion of its tail was missing. Later it was discovered that an opossum had escaped from Mr Duffy’s Circus two weeks earlier and the night before its demise it had been chased from the bedroom of an Abbeyfeale resident who thought it was a Manx cat.
Duffy’s Circus has its roots in 1830s Ireland when Patrick James Duffy, a young shoemaker from Denmark Street, Dublin, fell in love with the foreign circuses that travelled through the country. He soon moved to England with his wife Margaret to train as acrobats. The second of their seven children, John Duffy, set up the John Duffy Circus in the 1870s though it wasn’t until the 1890s that the family returned to Ireland. The circus is still operated by the Duffy family, making it one of the oldest circuses in the world.
In 1838, a Mr Cahill of Whiskey Hall near Shanagolden was alerted to three giant cats which were roaming in Cragg Woods. The cats had attacked the wood-ranger who narrowly escaped with his life. Cahill took it upon himself to rid the neighbourhood of these beasts. He found and shot the cats which were described as larger than a terrier. Cahill then sent the skins to the Royal Cork Institute for inspection.
There were some unusual professionals in Limerick in the 19th century, including John Egan, Thomas Street, and William Woods, Mungret Street, who were both engaged as curled hair manufacturers in 1846. By the time of his death two years later, William Woods was employed as a feather merchant on what is now O’Connell Street. In the 1870s and 1880s the Tuite family were carriage trimmers, responsible for the upholstering of carriages. In 1901, a William McClean was staying in Hartstonge Street, although he was originally from Monaghan. His occupation was given as a colporteur, someone employed by a religious society to distribute bibles and other religious tracts. In the 1910s, there was a Jamaica Banana Agency operating out of 3 Upper Denmark Street. The telegram address for this business was ‘Bananas, Limerick’. The bananas arrived in Limerick in an unripened state, which makes for much easier transport as unripe bananas are more resistant to spoilage and bruising than ripened fruits. The immature fruit were then placed in special rooms filled with ethylene gas, which ripens the fruit to maturity ready to sell on the local market.
Oyster saloons were popular in 19th century Limerick, though in the 1860s they had a seedy background. In 1868, David Muckford of Lower Cecil Street was fined 20 shillings for ‘entertaining six prostitutes at his counter at ten am on the 29th and with allowing a prostitute and a young man to occupy a private room off the shop at the same time’.
By the turn of the twentieth century the association with the sleazier sections of society dissipated. In the 1910s there were two oyster saloons in the city which were restaurants that specialised in serving oysters along with alcohol. These were run by the Mannix brothers at 34 Cecil Street and James O’Donovan at 2 Lower Glentworth Street. The Mannix brothers were Patrick Joseph, James, Cornelius, John and Michael who all lived together above the saloon. Only one of the brothers, James, married and by 1901, he was widowed.
The business continued as an oyster saloon until 1930 when the two remaining brothers Patrick Joseph and Michael sold it to Michael Collins. It was later taken over by his son Tom Collins whose name remains above the door. Patrick Joseph passed away in 1939 at the ripe old age of 96 while Michael out-lived him by six years, passing away at the age of 91 in Barrington Street. During the Second World War, oysters were not available to purchase and so by 1945, Michael Collins was no longer selling them on site and his restaurant licence was almost revoked. The case was taken to the High Court where it was decided that the lack of oysters was outside of Michael’s control and he retained the licence.
In 1830, Thomas Brodie, a dentist, was advertising his skills as a surgeon. He stated that he could insert the newly invented mineral teeth in to the mouth of those who suffered from tooth rot. These mineral teeth, he claimed, could ‘resist the action of the strongest acids or a most intense heat’. He also suggested that his patients should use his own brand of tooth paste after the surgery. To avail of his services patients could visit his home at 9 Glentworth Street.
Cannock’s was one of the most popular department stores in the city for over a hundred years. During the 1880s the company offered the unusual service of an undertaker. They advertised that ‘coffins supplied on the shortest notice, at about half the prices usually charged’.