Former County Limerick court house turned into museum

Donal O’Regan


Donal O’Regan

At the official opening of the permanent historical and heritage exhibition of Donoughmore Parish at the Sessions House, Ballyneety are Tom Donovan, John Sheehan, Tony Browne and  Liam Lawlor
IT IS OVER 50 years since justice was served in Ballyneety court house but there was a sense of it last Friday night to see the building packed again.

IT IS OVER 50 years since justice was served in Ballyneety court house but there was a sense of it last Friday night to see the building packed again.

Large crowds attended the opening of a permanent historical and heritage exhibition of Donoughmore parish. Built in the early 1800s the “Sessions House” was closed in 1960.

It lay largely vacant for decades, occasionally used on and off by clubs and slowly fell into disrepair. It was taken over by Donoughmore Knockea Roxborough Community Association in the mid-nineties.

John Sheehan, chairman, said they took it on as a restoration project due to its historical significance in the parish. It is a beautiful cut-stone building.

That was the first their step in the journey to seeing it opened as a local museum.

“The purpose of the permanent exhibition is to explore the development of the area encompassed by the Catholic parish of Donoughmore from 1875 to 1975 from a social, economic and cultural viewpoint.

“It is a great source for information on our past, where we have come from, who we are and what we are as a parish and community. It will be an education resource for the younger generations,” said Mr Sheehan.

Over €60,000 was spent on re-roofing, flooring and windows to make it habitable.

“We raised over €20,000 and got financial support from Limerick County Council and Ballyhoura. FAS were a great help too as they used the restoration as a training scheme,” said Mr Sheehan.

Limerick Leader notes correspondent Harry Greensmyth and Tom Toomey wrote a book in the nineties called An Antique and Storied Land - a history of the parish of Donoughmore, Knockea, Roxborough and its environs.

This was the inspiration for members of the association to come up with the idea for a museum.

“Following discussions we decided to make panels for the walls. There are three headers - land, labour and leisure.

“Land is based on the lands wars and acquisitions, labour is the development of rural cottages in the area and leisure which is mainly sport,” explained Mr Sheehan.

Within this frameworks there are a dozen themes. Tom Toomey carried out the historical research and analysis; Mr Sheehan edited and did the layout; Elaine Toomey, who is a graphic artist, did line drawings from photographs and wood craftsman John Ryan made the frames.

Their work is available for everyone to see in Ballyneety court house from 9.30am to 1.30pm Monday to Friday or by contacting Mr Sheehan on 087 2190554.

The exhibition also touches on the court’s own history. Fr Matthew Ryan, the land league priest from Pallasgreen, was sent to jail on foot of a speech made in Caherconlish. The prosecuting counsel was Sir Edward Carson.

Historian and guest speaker Tom Donovan did the official opening on Friday. Others to speak were Fr Oliver Plunkett; Cllr Eddie Wade; Cllr Leo Walsh and Tom Toomey.

Mr Sheehan wished to thank his hard working colleagues on the committee and in the community association; Limerick County Council; Ballyhoura and FAS for their support and Breda Flood and Margaret Dooley, whose hospitality really added to the occasion.

“It was a great community night,” said Mr Sheehan.

And the court isn’t just for the exhibition and people to admire and learn from the panels, it is for the whole community, he adds.

“It is an excellent facility for meetings for clubs and societies in the parish,” said Mr Sheehan.