Irish Times Obituaries ~ Founder member of Limerick Civic TrustDENIS LEONARD
, who has died aged 62, was a founding member and executive director of the Limerick Civic Trust, in which capacity he oversaw many of the cityâ€™s biggest restoration projects.
One of the trustâ€™s earliest projects was the restoration of the Jewish burial ground in Castletroy, which helped heal wounds of Limerickâ€™s history and was described by the late Jewish mayor of Cork, Gerald Goldberg, as a â€œgenerous act of reconciliationâ€.
Other projects include the Bishopâ€™s Palace on Kingâ€™s Island and the restored Georgian House at Pery Square. The Bishopâ€™s Palace won the national award for the best old building at the all-Ireland city neighbourhood awards in 2005.
Mayor of Limerick Kevin Kiely this week said the city had lost a man who â€œdedicated his life to preserving the cityâ€™s architectural environment and heritageâ€.
Dr Vincent Cunnane, chief executive of Shannon Development, said: â€œHis work with Limerick Civic Trust in restoring the cityâ€™s built environment will be a lasting testimony to his memory.â€
Born in Limerick in 1947, Leonard was one of the four children of John and Joan Leonard. He was educated by the Jesuits at Crescent College, after which he worked in banking for about 20 years.
The Limerick Civic Trust, a self-funding conservation society, was formally inaugurated at a public meeting in February 1983, and was Irelandâ€™s first civic trust.
Tadhg Kearney, who was at that meeting, said there was a â€œstrong practical streakâ€ to Denis Leonardâ€™s outlook.
His intention was that restored projects should have a practical use and relevance to the present day.
Derelict buildings saved from ruin were given living relevance by being put to daily use in the service of the community, particular examples being the restored Bishopâ€™s Palace and the Georgian House, which are hives of activity throughout the year.
Leonard, in 2003, recalled that when the trust took charge of the Georgian House, it was a â€œrabbit warren of flatsâ€. The first step was to reinstate the original room plan.
â€œWe did a whole series of workshops, and brought in specialist restorers for plaster work, woodwork and marbling, and so on. We spent three years doing the plasterwork alone. Itâ€™s not something that could be done commercially.
â€œWe had to reinforce the various floors. It was a big job, but it didnâ€™t interfere with the plasterwork underneath, and that experience will always stand to us.â€
He said at the time that he regarded the trustâ€™s biggest overall achievement as the restoration of civic pride in Limerick.
Hundreds of people worked on FÃ¡s schemes with the trust over a quarter of a century.
They learned much about the history of their city as well as practical skills in archival research and restoration.
Further afield, in February 2007 the trust celebrated the completion of the restoration of the burial place and memorial of Catherine Hayes, the 19th-century diva from Limerick, in Kensal Green cemetery, London.
Leonardâ€™s last official function was to attend the formal unveiling of the restored Richard Russell fountain at the Peopleâ€™s Park. The fountain was originally erected in 1877 to honour the memory of Russell, a highly regarded Limerick employer.
While the young Leonard was a pupil at Crescent in the 1950s, his mother received a letter from Fr Oâ€™Beirne, prefect of studies, noting that he had improved of late, but remarking that â€œbeing the ordinary boy with his usual faults of inattention and disinclination to work, I have to use every weapon with him and his likes to get all I can out of him. â€œBetween us,â€ he concluded, â€œwe will make him a respectable scholar.â€
Recognition of his scholarly achievements came earlier this year when he was an honorary doctorate was bestowed on him by the University of Limerick.
He is survived by his wife Deirdre and daughters Rachel, Sarah and Kate.
Denis Leonard: born February 23rd, 1947; died November 29th, 2009
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