FIVE years in the making, an illustrated history of the Diocese of Limerick was finally launched at Mary Immaculate College this week with author Dr Liam Irwin widely praised for producing a book that is both authoritative and readable. It includes hundreds of photographs from the diocese’s 60 parishes.
Around 200 people turned up to see the book launched by the recently retired director of the National Museum, Askeaton man Dr Pat Wallace.
Bishop Brendan Leahy paid tribute to his predecessor, Dr Donal Murray, who was at the launch, and joked that he had arrived in time to preside over the launch of a book that had been conceived long before his ordination. “Bishop Murray launched this book project five years ago. It has taken five years to get to this point but Bishop Murray is the one who had the courage to go forth with this project and we’re very grateful to you for doing that,” he said, amid applause.
He praised Liam Irwin for putting together “a remarkably detailed overview of our diocese”, adding that “it gave me a wonderful insight, not just in terms of the development of the parishes but also the outpouring of the spirit in the religious orders. I also have to give great credit to David Bracken [the book’s editor], for his painstaking attention to detail. It is a publication we are all hugely proud of.”
Launching the book, Dr Wallace said: “It’s a joy for me to be here because this book is excellent. I can’t recommend it enough to every man, woman and child in Limerick – to have it, to read it. Don’t just buy it as a Christmas gift - read it, use it. It’s full of information, full of facts. It’s a marvellous joy for anybody interested in local history, for anybody interested in all aspects of the goings-on in our county over the years.”
Dr Wallace said he had known Liam Irwin – the long-time head of history at Mary Immaculate College – since 1966 and described him as “a very accomplished Limerick scholar” who had produced a book “which engenders pride in all of us for our county”.
Commenting on the fact that Limerick diocese does not include all the parishes within the county boundary, but does include parts of Clare, he drew much laughter when he said: “I couldn’t but look and see Parteen and Sixmilebridge there. My God, if we had some of their young fellas, we’d have done a far better job than we did in August at Croke Park!”
Dr Wallace said the book had been “beautifully written – stylishly, economically, with a great maturity, a great generosity and ecuminism, a great balance of understanding of the multiple strands that make up Christian Limerick.
“Each individual parish is dealt with superbly; its notable priests, its history, churches, antiquities, great men who came from the parish. It’s amazing the detail that has gone into it.”
Dr Wallace said he was particularly taken by the attention given to the architectural strengths of buildings, churches and otherwise, across the diocese. “The finest Church in Limerick in my opinion, not least having read Liam’s book, is Rathkeale. It is the finest Christian place of worship of the last two centuries. It was designed by the greatest Irish architect of that era, JJ McCarthy, who also designed both Kilmallock and Ballingarry, but McCarthy himself considered it to be his finest work.
“I was also struck by the level of detail in relation to place-names in the county. This takes a huge amount of work as Liam explains the place names, which are all of Gaelic origin, effortlessly, which is indicative of the entire book.”
Dr Irwin said he particularly wished to thank Bishop Murray, “who invited me to write this book and who was very, very supportive of the whole venture”. He also thanked Bishop Leahy for his enthusiasm in bringing it to fulfillment.
He acknowleged the contributions of his Mary Immaculate colleague Mick Wall, as well Fr John Leonard and Canon Donough O’Malley. Monsignor Liam Boyle also made a valuable contribution, as did many others.
Parish priests throughout the diocese have been tasked with selling the book, which is published by Booklink. It costs €20 and it will also be available in local bookshops.