Tait Drinking Fountain

Location: Limerick, Eire

In 1866, Sir Peter Tait, founder and owner of the Tait Clothing Factory on Lord Edward Street (later renamed the Limerick Clothing Factory), erected an elaborate cast iron drinking fountain inside the factory as a source of drinking water for his employees. Tait was a benevolent citizen and Mayor for three terms, 1866-1868.

The subsequent history of the fountain is unknown, but at some point it was removed, retained as an historical artifact and erected in the Terence Albert O’Brien Park which opened in the 1940’s. O’Brien was the Bishop of Emly who was executed in 1651 after the city fell to Cromwell’s army. The public park is also known as Clare Street Park.

Drinking fountain number 8 from Walter Macfarlane & Co.’s catalogue was manufactured at the Saracen Foundry at Possilpark in Glasgow. The structure is 9 feet 6 inches high and consists of four columns, from the capitals of which consoles with griffin terminals unite with arches formed of decorated mouldings. It is seated on a two tiered square plinth.

The standard design of the rope moulded cartouches within each lunette contained the image of a crane, and an open bible displaying a verse from St. John’s Gospel chapter 4 verse 14, ‘Whosoever Drinketh Of This Water Shall Thirst Again But Whosoever Drinketh Of The Water That I Shall Give Him Shall Never Thirst.

An optional memorial shield contains the heraldic emblem of the Tait family crest; a gauntlet with embowed arm in riveted plate armour and a bare hand grasping stems of red roses and leaves. Above the lunette is the Tait crest motto, Gratiam dat Deus (God Give Grace).

limerickie

On two of the sides provision was made for receiving an inscription using raised metal letters; whilst on the other two sides was the useful monition, Keep The Pavement Dry. Civic virtues such as temperance were often extolled in inscriptions on drinking fountains. The structure is surmounted by an open filigree dome, the finial being a crown with a pattée cross.

Under the canopy the original font was design number 7 and stood 5 foot 8 inches high. The terminal which is now missing was a crane. The basin (2 feet 6 inches in diameter) which has a scalloped edge and decorative relief is supported by a single decorative pedestal with four pilasters and four descending salamanders, a symbol of courage and bravery. A central urn with four consoles offered drinking cups suspended by chains. The fountain was operated by pressing a button.

Symbolism was popular in Victorian times. Griffins are symbolic of guardians of priceless possessions, salamanders display bravery and courage that cannot be extinguished by fire, and cranes are recognized as a symbol of vigilance.

Glossary

  • Capital: The top of a column that supports the load bearing down on it
  • Cartouche, a structure or figure, often in the shape of an oval shield or oblong scroll, used as an architectural or graphic ornament or to bear a design or inscription
  • Console: a decorative bracket support element
  • Filigree, fine ornamental work
  • Finial, a sculptured ornament fixed to the top of a peak, arch, gable or similar structure
  • Griffin, winged lion denotes vigilance and strength, guards treasure and priceless possessions
  • Lunette, the half-moon shaped space framed by an arch, often containing a window or painting
  • Pattée cross, a cross with arms that narrow at the centre and flare out at the perimeter
  • Pedestal, an architectural support for a column or statue
  • Pilaster, a column form that is only ornamental and not supporting a structure
  • Plinth, flat base usually projecting, upon which a pedestal, wall or column rests
  • Relief, a sculptural technique to give the impression that the sculpted material has been raised above the background
  • Terminal, statue or ornament that stands on a pedestal
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