Getting elephants, finding love, and scoffing chilli con carne — end of an era for Limerick club

Former staff and patrons of the different incarnations of 2 Michael St – Schooners, Doc’s, Trinity Rooms, Crush87, and lastly Habitat – have fond – and sad – memories of a special place
Getting elephants, finding love, and scoffing chilli con carne — end of an era for Limerick club

The Trinity Rooms nightclub opened at the height of the Celtic Tiger and had an elephant at the grand opening. Picture: Kieran Clancy / PicSure 

Last week, the people of Limerick honoured the loss of an iconic building. It wasn’t particularly important in a historical sense, nor was it architecturally unique, but for thousands of people, it was special.

Located next to the Granary building, which dates back to the 18th century and is being retained, the demolished building saw friendships begin, relationships spark, and long-lasting memories made.

It’s been known under many names: Schooners, Doc’s, Trinity Rooms, Crush87, and lastly Habitat — it saw it all.

It witnessed the death of slow-dance in Limerick, hosted an elephant on one memorable occasion, once had a mandated 1am dinner, (where chilli con carne ruled supreme), and saw some of the biggest dance acts of the past few decades grace its stage.

So when the news hit that the walls had come down and there would be no more dancing at 2 Michael St, stories of the past began to emerge.

Joe Clarke, chief executive of CWB Management, which manages Irish acts including Stephen James Smith, Jerry Fish, and the Two Johnnies, captained the ship when it was known as Trinity Rooms.

“It would have been a unique product at the time,” says Clarke.

“It opened at the height of the Celtic Tiger and had all the bells and whistles of that time, which, looking back now, seems quite ridiculous.

“It was the golden era, in that you would have 1,500 or 1,600 there, three or four nights a week.”

Truly summarising the grandiose nature of the venue, Joe and his team went all out for the grand opening in 2003.

We got a circus to give me the loan of an elephant for the opening. It stampeded up Michael St, damaging three cars on the opening night. That gives you a scale of the extravagance.”

The club played host to some amazing acts over the years, including Dave Clarke, Calvin Harris, and the Fun Lovin‘ Criminals.

Clarke says there is one night that stands out above the rest. “The ultimate night was the night we flew Deadmau5, on a private jet, down from Belfast to play the main room. He had been headlining for the Prodigy in Belfast, and the next day, he flew out to Barcelona to play Sonar [music festival].

“It just about made sense, financially. But by being able to pull it off, we showed that we had transcended the limitations of not being in Dublin, by putting together a real quality club that people wanted to come and play in.

Leonie Lynch was a regular behind the decks at Trinity Rooms and played with many big names, including Boy George, who was a frequent guest.
Leonie Lynch was a regular behind the decks at Trinity Rooms and played with many big names, including Boy George, who was a frequent guest.

Before she went on to become chief executive of Juspy, a health food company, Leonie Lynch was a regular behind the decks at Trinity Rooms.

As a DJ she played with many big names, including Boy George, who was a frequent guest at Michael St.

“It’s really interesting to see all the memories that everyone has,” says Lynch.

She has spent the last few days casting her memory back to when a night out in Trinity Rooms was the highlight of the week.

“People were talking about the laps they used to do of the dance floor. Others were talking about how they met their partners there. One girl was telling me about how they used to hide their jackets behind the cigarette machine, and they would come back five hours later and they would still be there,” she says.

“It meant so much to people in Limerick. There are a few landmarks but this would definitely be one of them. It was just a place that people connected to. All status, or jobs, or decorum just went out the window. It was just the craic.

Shortly before Lynch’s time, her sister, Sharon McMeel, worked at the same venue, when it was Doc’s.

McMeel, now a wedding and event planner, also spent this week on a “deep dive into memories and nostalgia”.

'Centre of social life in Limerick'

“It was the centre of social life in Limerick,” she says. “We made some amazing friendships there and there were many people who met their husbands or wives there.”

McMeel witnessed first-hand how the dances in Limerick were changing. “When I first started working at Doc’s, slow sets were still there. I remember Paul Ryan, the club manager, went off on a trip in America. When he came back, he said ‘no more slow sets, they don’t have any slow sets in America’ —and that was the end of that,” says McMeel.

She also witnessed a strange change in the licensing laws, which may strike a note today.

The laws changed, and you had to serve food in a nightclub. Chilli con carne was the food of choice. No one could get their heads around it at first, but then some were loving it.”

Ber Angley, a former entertainment manager, is another with fond memories of Doc’s.

He used to run an event every Wednesday, which they called ‘The Indie Night’.

Andley explains that the night was so popular they would sell all 1,200 tickets before lunchtime on a Wednesday, and he would have to hide from the disappointed faces of those who missed out. 

“It was a really popular night and there was no problem selling it out. When it got going at Doc’s, the atmosphere was unreal. The dance floor was always full,” he says.

For a period, however, the glamour and buzz of Limerick’s nightlife existed side by side with the city’s darker side.

Murder of Brian Fitzgerald

Many in Limerick would have heard the news of the venue’s demolition and immediately cast their minds back to Brian Fitzgerald, the venue’s head of security over the turn of the millennium, when it was still known as Doc’s.

Firmly anti-drugs, and described by people who knew him as a man of great integrity, the father of two young children stood up to drug gangs seeking to deal in the club.

The price of that courage was a contract on his head.

Fitzgerald was murdered in 2002 by hitman James Martin Cahill, as he arrived home from work in the early hours of the morning. His wife Alice witnessed the struggle as their two young children slept upstairs.

His death shook the city to its core, and was followed by an increase in power and influence among the gangs as they continued on their spree of killing.

The location is now part of the Opera site, a €200m programme, which will include a 450,000sq ft campus when completed, and is part of the Limerick 2030 Plan. Picture: Tom Clancy 
The location is now part of the Opera site, a €200m programme, which will include a 450,000sq ft campus when completed, and is part of the Limerick 2030 Plan. Picture: Tom Clancy 

The silver lining to many reminiscing after the demolition of their favourite nightlife spot is that from its ashes, something impressive is expected to grow.

The location is now part of the Opera site, a €200m programme, which will include a 450,000sq ft campus when completed, and is part of the Limerick 2030 Plan.

The Opera Site development is planned as a new ‘living room’ for Limerick and will include office, educational, residential, library, retail, café, restaurant, and bar spaces as well as an ‘aparthotel’.

It is one of the most promising and ambitious builds in recent memory in Limerick and for mayor Daniel Butler, it in itself is an exciting
prospect, even if it does mean saying goodbye to one of his old stomping grounds.

“I have many wonderful memories with my friends in Doc’s, which was the first nightclub I went to — once I turned 18 of course,” says Butler.

He says the space has now made way for future possibilities. “The large square in the centre will in itself be an important public space, that in the future could be used to host events.

“Getting people working in our city centre through these developments will bring even more life into our city.”

The mayor adds: “While many of us feel nostalgic for the old venues, I cannot help but be excited for what is to come. Maybe we will be dancing on the streets instead now, celebrating what we are becoming rather than mourning what is past.”

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