On the night of the 6th or the morning of the 7th of March 1895 there was a very daring robbery in 19 Rutland Street, Limerick city, the perpetrators used the existing sewers to gain access from one side of the road to the other. Below is the extract from the Limerick Leader from Friday, 8th March 1895:
The premises of Mr. D Lyons, publican, Rutland Street, which adjoin the old post office, were burglariously entered, and a sum of £7 15s and a quantity of brandy and tea stolen. Entrance was effected apparently in the following manner. It appears that a number of vaults communicate with the river from Rutland Street, the houses houses having to be built thereon because of the influx of tide. Since the burning of the premises at Matthew Bridge the openings to these vaults are exposed in the fenced plot of ground near the bridge, and it was through one of these passages that the burglars and made their way into Mr Lyons’ premises. In order to enter the shop it was necessary that a wall should be broken through, and it is evident, viewing the circumstances surrounding the matter that the perpetrators were well acquainted with the nature of Mr. Lyons business, and the fact that he does not live on the premises. Mr Lyons closed his premises before eleven o’clock on Wednesday night, leaving the cash stated on the premises. When he returned on Thursday morning he missed the money brandy and tea. The police communicated with, and a vigorous search instituted but so far to no avail. The police however do not despair of getting some clue to the perpetrators of the robbery.
Daniel Lyons lived on Wellesley Place, now known as Clontarf Place with his family. He had run the business on Rutland Street from at least 1884 until at least 1901.
The sewers are a very interesting feature of Limerick architecture, below is a description of their foundation and structure.
The area concerned is Newtownpery, this was called South Prior’s Land before building work began. This tract of land was owned by Edmond Sexton Pery and was a marshland. The Mardyke (Rutland street area) was owned by Patrick Arthur. Newtownpery would stretch from Rutland Street, to O’Connell Avenue, from the Shannon up to Gerald Griffin Street in some places. Around 1769, Edmond Sexton Pery. enlisted local architect Christopher Colles to survey the pre-existing buildings and to propose the structure of the new city. This was the grid format that we know today.
Now this is where it starts to get tricky as there aren’t a lot of plans remaining. We have the preconstruction map of 1769 (mentioned above) and Ferrars 1787 map, which was just an updated version of the original plan. The post construction survey of the Pery Estate by James and Martin Coffey 1823 and Ordnance Survey map of 1840, which are useful sources, but it does not show the tunnels.
We do know that the marsh that was Newtownpery needed to be over come and foundations as we know them were not possible. This led to the construction of the area in an interesting way, from the cellars up. So the cellars/vaults and tunnels/sewer are actually the original ground level, while the road and main houses are on the first floor. We know that many of these vaults were used as coal bunkers (as evident from the coal chutes lids on street level) also for food storage.
It was mentioned in the lease agreements for plots in the Arthurs Quay area from 1792, from the Leahy-Arthur Deeds, that the properties were “bounded in front by area wall and underneath the street by the termination of the vaults to the house” which yet again indicated that these exist throughout the city.
The sewer ran through the centre of the street (under-road), it was flanked by the vaults for the houses on each side. These sewers were accessible originally by the vaults, as plumbing as we know it today did not exist during the time of the buildings construction and so the waste from the house was disposed of manually through these sewers. The sewers themselves were either 8′ high, by 3′ 6” inches wide on the main streets (O’Connell Street, William Street, Thomas Street, Catherine Street….) and smaller sewers ran along the side streets, these were about 4′ high, by 2′ 3”. These sewers were partly excavated from the rock (in the higher streets) and partly constructed of stone, they had vaulted ceilings of stone or brick.
As these sewers exited the street into the river, during high tide they were prone to flooding, as indoor plumbing became popular and to prevent the backwash from high tide most of the entrances were bricked up, though the sewers themselves remain under most of the roadways.