Standing in the vast expanse of the old Franciscan Friary on Henry Street, identifying the confessionals and other ecclesiastical paraphernalia that still remain, an eerie feeling of what has gone before descends.
Following the guided tour by Simon Collins, co-founder of Limerick City Rehearsal Studios (LCRS), through the labyrinth of corridors where the friars once lived, it becomes clear that the friary is still providing for the people of Limerick.
Art studios, ceramics workshops and LCRS, amongst others, all reside here.
“The building is supposed to be used for kind of artistic and creative purposes,” Simon explains, adding, “we kind of ticked all their boxes”.
Since Simon and his friend Ronan Humphreys opened the doors of the old Franciscan Friary in June 2011, approximately 30 bands have used the facilities. Many remain loyal customers, ensuring a healthy volume of traffic.
The “rock stars”, as Simon jokingly refers to them, that have graced their venue so far include the Rubberbandits whom he describes as “good craic” and Hermitage Green. The latter, in shooting music videos for their songs Live On and Gibson, helped showcase the incredible venue.
If these acts represent those that have hit the big time, those still striving to make a name for themselves are no strangers to the studios either.
Simon explains joyfully: “The majority [of bands] would be living in Limerick, based in Limerick. Like there’s a few bands from UL, and from the Art College and from LIT too. The student thing is happening as well”.
Leading Armies and The Hip-Neck Blues Collective are two of many popular local bands to have visited LCRS in recent times.
The church’s new function represents a departure from the purpose it served in the past. The choral hymns of praise and thanksgiving have been replaced by the soaring melodies of Limerick’s talented musicians. As Simon explains though, things aren’t all that different.
“The church is empty all the time and it’s kind of a shame it’s not being used because it was built as a venue if you think about it really, as a means of communication.”
The rehearsal studios are kitted out with a drum kit and the mandatory sound treated walls to ensure the best quality sound while rehearsing. Added to the two studios is a band room on the top floor where performers can retire to between jamming. Whether working on the finer aspects of their art or simply enjoying a cup of tea, this is their sanctuary.
”For musicians, by musicians,” seems to be the motto around here and as Simon points out, the type of experience they provide can be tailored to the band’s individual needs.
“You can offer a kind of one-off session for lads who just want to have a jam or something, or else you can actually provide a band with a regular weekly practice that they need to do.”
The unique combination of their enthusiasm for their art, the excellently equipped studios and the recording possibilities the old church provides appers to be pitch perfect considering the number of admirers they have earned to date.
Given the lack of available rehearsal facilities that inspired the Studios, it is perhaps of little surprise that interest was strong from the outset too.
While LCRS have undoubtedly added to the music scene in Limerick, they are quick to point to other success stories as well.
The local scene, Simon says, is much improved recently having gone through a lull after the closure of popular live-music haunt Baker Place in March of last year. Since then the Blind Pig has opened on Fox’s Bow and along with it the enthusiasm for live music returned to the city, he claims.
“Ever since [the Blind Pig] opened up there’s kind of been a bit of a buzz going on and lads seem to be busier getting bands together.”
LCRS are now providing facilities that Limerick lacked for so long. While many in the city still fondly remember the old Franciscan Friary and lament its demise, both parents and musicians alike will give praise for a rehearsal venue other than the bedroom or garage at long last.