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Friday, 20 February 2015

Limerick Widows' Almshouse

An almshouse for widows was built in Limerick in 1605, shortly after the famous siege of the city. It was part of charitable efforts to take care of the city’s vulnerable citizen, which also included building schools and orphanages.

The almshouse was still in operation in 1962, housing 22 widows. By that time, the building had fallen into disrepair; it was damp, suffering from dry rot, and had no light or running water. The widows had to use oil lamps and collect water from an outside pump, despite their age – the oldest resident was 93 years old.

The Widows' Almhouse, Limerick
28 March 1962
After a bitter winter in 1961/62, a local publican called Michael Crowe set up the Widow’s Light Fund Committee to raise money to finance the installation of electricity in the almshouse. Installation would cost £120, and Mr Crowe encouraged his punters to pay an extra penny on the cost of their pint towards the fund.   

Raising a glass for the Widows' Light Fund
Crowe’s customers were only too happy to oblige, and word soon spread about the fund. Money began to pour in from across the country, and soon £150 was raised. This was more than enough for the installation of the electricity but that was no problem for Crowe – he arranged to take the widows out for dinner with the leftover money.

On the morning that the electricity was installed in the almshouse, the widows were all whisked away to dinner at the restaurant at Shannon airport. None of the widows had seen the airport building, and many hadn’t even left their street since they had moved into the almshouse.

Bridget Riordan lighting her oil lamp
28 March 1962
After the dinner, there was a dance at the airport and the widows were in demand as dance partners, especially 93-year-old Bridget Riordan. When they returned home afterwards, they found the almshouse blazing with light. The ESB technicians had slaved all day to get the lights installed before the widows came home.

Bridget Riordan told the Limerick Leader that while she was delighted with the electric light, she would keep her oil lamp “just in case”. A wise woman!

If you want to find out more about the almshouse, Limerick Council archives have a wealth of resources online here.

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