Citizens of Limerick: Limerick Pipe Organ Music Festival

Bishop Donal Murray and Bernadette Kiely are committee members of the Limerick Pipe Organ Festival, an extensive line-up of events to create awareness of Limerick City’s unique treasures.

The festival was founded in 2014 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the organ in St. John’s Cathedral. Bishop Donal Murray says “There are many pipe organs in Limerick that never had a public audience. We wanted to draw attention to that as something that is in Limerick.”  St. John’s organ was a gift from the 3rd Earl of Dunraven, Edwin Richard Wyndham-Quin but it is not the only working pipe organ in the city.

“I asked what is the state of play, pardon the pun, of pipe organs in Limerick?” says Bernadette, “There are eight fully functioning pipe organs within the city boundaries,  in  St. Mary’s Church, the Sacred Heart Church,  St. Mary’s Cathedral, St. Michael’s Church Pery Square, Christchurch, Mount St. Alphonsus and Mary Immaculate College Chapel in addition to St. John’s Cathedral.” There are also pipe organs outside the city in Glenstal, Killaloe and other places.

Mozart described the pipe organ as the “king of instruments” and considering it requires both hands and feet to operate, it is a tough instrument to master. Of course, each organ is unique, constructed to fit the size and acoustics of the building it is in. From large cathedral organs to smaller instruments, Limerick has a rich heritage of pipe organs, many dating back to the 19th century.

Culture, history and faith intertwine with pipe organ music for Bernadette, “The beauty of the buildings, instrument and music enhances the liturgy. If you go to a lovely sacred space and hear music that helps you to pray it is so much better than a shabby prefab with a CD player, I feel.” But then again you don’t need to be religious to enjoy the music, “We know how beautiful the music is and we want other people to know.”

During the festival’s season LPOF hosts recitals and workshops with a special emphasis on improvisation lessons and performances.

They have brought the likes of David Briggs from Canada to perform in Limerick, and this year will bring David Cassan from Paris, Martin Baker from London, and Columba McCann of Glenstal Abbey who will introduce Limerick School of Music students to the art of improvisation.

Besides the pipe organs, Bishop Murray finds that Limerick people are his favourite thing about the city, “Limerick is on a human scale. Limerick is more human,” while Bernadette favours the river and the cultural scene, “I’ve lived here all my life. What I really love about the city is the river and how it is different every day. Also, there is so much on now compared to what it was like when I was a music student; I do really think the arts culture and music scene is huge here now, we have a lot to offer. There is so much going on in the city and we don’t give ourselves the credit for it.”

The members of the LPOF committee hope that their efforts will kick off a culture of pipe organ tourism here. “There is such a thing as organ tourism, its huge on the continent,” says Bernadette. They have also teamed up with staff and students from LIT in the music production course who are keen to learn about recording pipe organ music and were fascinated to visit St. John’s organ recently to investigate the intricacies of this wonderful Limerick treasure.

To learn more about the Limerick Pipe Organ Festival and upcoming events visit the website

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