Tracing the origins of Fox’s Bow… Or is it Foxe’s Bow?

Limerick historian and author Sharon Slater

WHAT’S in a name? That’s a question one might rightfully ask while walking along Fox’s Bow, one of the little streets between William Street and Thomas Street. And while you’re walking there, you might just notice something strange.

Almost every indication of the name of the street has a different spelling. We’ve got Fox’s, Foxs, Foxe’s, and Foxes all within a few metres of one another. Even Google Maps isn’t sure what to call it.

Interestingly, despite the lovely depiction of foxes in the bow itself, the name has nothing to do with the animal.

It also was not always Fox’s Bow either. It was, at different times, known as Tucker’s Bow, Homan’s Bow, and Meehan’s Bow.

But where did these names come from?

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Homan was Ellen and Edward Homan, pawnbrokers in the bow in the 1830s and 1840s. Later, the John Meehan tobacco factory was there in the 1860s. Meehan’s Bow was the official name according to the Register of Electors lists of 1923 to 1950. Some of the companies using the little street listed their address as Meehan’s Bow until at least 1966.

Both the names Tucker and Fox came from a hotel, whose rooms stretched over the bow itself.

While the other three names faded with time, Fox’s remained a permanent feature, probably helped by the name being erected in stone around 1900 – it can be seen above a window at what is now the Cinderella Boutique, 30 Thomas Street.

The word Fox’s sits raised, almost hidden in white paint. The second part of the now forgotten name, missing from the building next door at 31 Thomas Street, once read ‘Hotel’. The hotel stretched over the two buildings and the bow.

The hotel is older than the name – from at least 1887 – it was owned by Mary and Daniel Tucker.

Folklore claims that Daniel lost the hotel in a game of cards, but the official records show that he sold the business (then known as the Treaty Hotel) following the death of his wife. The name Treaty Hotel, not to be confused with the Treaty Hotel later operating on Bedford Row, was used interchangeably with Tucker’s Hotel and later Fox’s Hotel.

The sale listing of the building in 1898 describes the hotel as able to accommodate 35 to 40 people with “excellent apartments, furnished and equipped throughout in first class style … the bar commands a big ready money trade.” The building also contained a billiard room.

Thomas Fox, a native of Banogue, County Limerick, bought the business and with it the name of the bow changed from Tucker’s to Fox’s in common use.

Fox ran the hotel with his wife Maria Fox (née Griffin), who was eight years his junior. Maria was originally from Newcastle West.

The 1901 census tells of those boarding, living, and visiting Fox’s Hotel.

As well as Thomas and Maria Fox, there were two young barmaids, two male and two female servants, three boards, and two visitors. Among the boarders was an Indian-born Presbyterian artist John Lascelles. One of the visitors was Tipperary-born travelling salesman Edmond Prendergast.

The hotel was used as a public house and event centre. In its main room it could seat over 80 for dinner. In 1902, it hosted a billiards match between Maurice Fitzgerald, the Irish amateur champion, and local man Ernest Brown. The champion remained undefeated.

A year later, Thomas’ health began to falter. He died in 1904 aged only 37 years. His obituary noted that he was the owner of the Treaty Hotel. He left three daughters under the age of four. His wife, Maria, who had been managing the hotel during her husband’s infirmity, continued to run the hotel and raise her daughters. She was registered as the ratepayer for the hotel until her death.

Edmond Prendergast, who was staying in the hotel in 1901, then returned to the hotel. Less than two years after the death of her first husband, Maria remarried the travelling salesman and had another four children in quick succession. One of the barmaids, Hannah Culhane, stood as a witness to the wedding. The couple continued to run the hotel together from that point.

In 1911, they had an important visitor, George Clancy, an Irish teacher.

Ten years after this, Clancy’s death would rock Limerick to its core. Clancy was the sitting Mayor of Limerick when he and former Mayor Michael O’Callaghan were murdered by the Black and Tans in their homes in March 1921. Another man, Joseph O’Donoghue, was also murdered that same night.

The hotel saw another historic event in 1912, when medals for the 1887 All Ireland Senior Football champions were presented to the Limerick Commercials.

This was some twenty-five years after matches took place which saw Limerick beat Louth’s Dundalk Young Irelands at the first GAA finals. The medals for those who had passed away in the intervening twenty five years were given to surviving relatives. The GAA Munster Council continued to hold their meetings in the hotels for several years after this.

Before 1938, the narrow Fox’s Bow was open to two way traffic. That year, Chapel Lane, Little Catherine Street, and Wickham Street also became one way roads. There was a strong disproval by the business on the latter street about this change.

When Maria died in 1945, there was an outpouring of grief. Her obituary noted that she “had during her many years as proprietor of Fox’s hotel built up a wide business connection in all parts of the city and county. She was a lady of real charm, with a rare facility for making and keeping friends, besides which she practiced the virtue of charity in a high degree.” There was a large cortege to her burial in Mount Saint Lawrence cemetery.

After Maria’s death, her youngest son William Prendergast took over the daily running of the hotel. In 1947, he appeared before the courts in an apparent breach of the licensing laws which forbade the selling of alcohol after 11.40pm.

The Sergeant who entered the building just after midnight on October 31 that year claimed to have seen a number of people with drinks in front of them. When the case came before the courts, not one of those in the hotel admitted that drinks were sold out of hours. The case was quickly dismissed as in fifty years the hotel had not had a previous fine.

This was not the end of William’s licensing troubles however.

A few months later he was back in court, only this time the evidence was stacked against the hotel. Just after 2am on March 7, 1948, two men were ejected from the hotel. As they were both inebriated, they decided to walk around the corner to the William Street Garda station to issue a complaint. This time Prendergast was found guilty and issued with the hotel’s first fine of £15.

In 1949, William Prendergast announced his retirement from the business and put Fox’s Hotel up for sale. The property did not reach the reserve price at the initial auction and was instead sold by private treaty to solicitor M. B. O’Malley, and then to Patrick J. Gleeson.

With that, the connection between the hotel and the Fox family ended. The hotel went through several hands in the 1950s before it finally closed its doors at the end of the decade.

Next time you find yourself in Fox’s Bow, look up to see the many names of this small street and remember that none of them may be the true name of the street at all.