Limerick City (Luimnach) (pop. 94,000), occupying a northeastern protrusion of County Limerick and extending into southwestern County Clare, just above the head of the River Shannon Estuary (Loch Luimneach), has long suffered a terrible reputation but, the city has a colourful history, and there are plenty of interesting landmarks and places to visit, both in the city centre and its outskirts, along with a good range of acommodation options etc. (Above photo – )
“Ghastly, and to be avoided at all costs“ were the words of one (and the sentiments of many) of our friends when we mentioned the place. While all agree that County Limerick is attractive, the city is widely regarded as “the armpit of Ireland” (and that’s the polite version!).
The municipal motto “Urbs Antiqua Fuit Studiisque Asperrima Belli” (“an ancient city well versed in the arts of war”, adapted from a reference to Carthage in Virgil’s Aeneid ) is pretty ironic. Nowadays Limerick is nicknamed ”Stab City” for the number of murderous assaults carried out in the course of gang warfare between feuding criminal clans and rival drug lords, whose power is such that eye-witnesses to crimes tend to “forget” seeing anything, and local juries never convict.
Limerick has also been notorious over the years for its Roman Catholic zealotry, with numerous prominent churches and announcements of confraternities and novenas at every turn. It comes as little surprise that the city was the scene of the only anti-Semitic pogrom in Irish history.
Frank McCourt’s famous childhood autobiography, Angela’s Ashes, describes the squalor of poverty in the 1930s and 40s in Limerick, which he called the “city of dark miseries”.
Some view these perceptions as unfair, and insist they should be balanced against the positive factors. We await visitors’ verdicts with interest. (please leave a comment!)
O’Connell St. (Photo – www.ireland-forever.com)
The city centre’s architecture area is mainly Georgian and Victorian, but many of Limerick’s heritage landmarks have been neglected or indeed vandalised (while the Todd’s deparment store fire of 1959 may have been accidental, the demolition of Cruise’s Hotel to make way for a fast food joint was an act of sheer barbarism). In addition to the dilapidated state of many of the older buildings, several out of place modern edifices jar with their surroundings.
The good news is that new planning regulations have resulted in an increasing number of historical buildings being refurbished rather than demolished; examples include the conversion of an historic bank to an up-market pub and the redevelopment of old stone-built warehouses and Georgian townhouses as luxury apartments.
A new marina at the eastern end of Limerick’s quays has considerably increased the city’s tourism potential.
The Park Canal, constructed in 1758 between the River Shannon at Castleroy and the Abbey River channel, and used to transport goods such as turf, potatoes, coal and especially Guinness from Dublin, is currently undergoing restoration.
Prominent Limerick educational establishments include Villiers School, founded in 1821 for protestant boys boarders and nowadays catering for boys and girls, boarders and day students, many nationalities, cultures and creeds, and the prestigious Jesuit-run Crescent College (graduates include a large number of leading politicians, lawyers and judges, actor Richard Harris and even Sir Terry Wogan). Several provide education through the Irish language, notably Gaelcholáiste Luimnigh and An Mhodh Scoil / The Model School, a 150-year-old primary school.
The University of Limerick (UL), the first University to be established in southern Ireland since 1922, was created in 1989, primarily from NIHE, Limerick, a science and engineering focused third level college founded in 1972 that did much to further the area’s reputation as Ireland’s Silicon Valley, and also incorporating Thomond College of Education and Mary Immaculate College, which has separate facilities in the southern suburbs of the city.
The main riverside campus, ocupying much of the National Technological Park at Castleroy, features some interesting examples of modern architecture, including the University Arena, Ireland’s largest indoor sports complex, with the Republic’s first Olympic standard swimming facilities, the World Music Centre, and one of Europe’s longest footbridges, known as “the Living Bridge”. The student population numbers c.13,500.
The new University Concert Hall, home to the Irish Chamber Orchestra, provides a large (1000 seat) venue for national and international acts.
Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT), with over 6,500 students, has its main suburban campus at Moylish Park, where the Millenium Theatre is a popular live entertainment venue, and also incorporates the Limerick School of Art & Design (LSAD), centrally located on Clare St..
In space that is quite economical,
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.
Limerick City History
King’s Island / Inis Sibhtonn separates the main channel of the RiverShannon f rom that commonly called the Abbey River. This would have been the most westerly point at which the Shannon could be forded. The earliest map of Ireland, produced c.150 AD by ClaudiusPtolemy, shows a place called ‘Regia‘ at the same site. There are also quasi-historical records of an important battle involving Cormac Mac Airt in 221 AD and a visit by Saint Patrick in 434 AD. The name Luimneach dates from at least 561 AD, and probably derives from ‘Loimeanach‘, meaning a bare marsh.
The Vikings are known to have discovered the estuary by 812 AD, and in 922 AD sea king Thormodr Helgason established their most westerly permanent stronghold in Europe on King’s Island (Hlymrekr in Norse, thereafter also known in Irish as Inis an Ghaill Duibh – “Island of the Dark(haired) Foreigner”). From here they raided the length of the River Shannon, pillaging ecclesiastical settlements.
In 937 AD the Limerick Norsemen were defeated by those of Dublin on Lough Ree. They recovered, and soon converted to Christianity, “integrating” with Gaelic society to the extent that they participated actively in local feuds. Their 975 AD assassination of Mathgtamain, chieftain of the Dalcassians of neighbouring Thomond, spurred his vengeful brother Brian Boru to subdue the Norse by killing their king Imar on Scattery Island and later, as Ard Rí / High King of Ireland and self-styled Emperor of the Irish, to his own death at the 1014 Battle of Clontarf, where his forces defeated King Sigtrygg / Sitric “Silkeneard” of Dublin and allies from abroad. Although reduced in status, the Norse continued to play a significant role as Limerick grew in commercial and political power.
Domhnall / Donal Mór O’Brien, king of Munster, having submitted to King Henry II at the 1171 Synod of Cashel, burned the town to the ground in 1174 in a bid to keep it from the hands of the Anglo-Norman newcomers, who finally subdued the area by 1194, shortly after Thomond Bridge and St Mary’s Cathedral were erected. The city charter was granted in 1197, with Adam Savant as the first mayor. King John’sCastle was completed c.1210.
Limerick soon prospered as a port and trading centre. The settlement on King’s Island became known as English Town, the centre of the city’s administration and commerce, walled by 1215, while an initially segregated area on the southern bank of the Abbey River, still called Irish Town / Irishtown, was not fortified until considerably later.
Religious orders in medieval Limerick City included Augustinian nuns and “crutched” friars, Dominican “Black” friars, Trinitarian “White” friars and Franciscans. The Jesuits, vanguard of the Counter-Reformation, arrived in 1560.
A 1574 document prepared for the Spanish ambassador attests to Limerick’s wealth: “Limerick is stronger and more beautiful than all the other cities of Ireland, well walled with stout walls of hewn marble…for the most part the houses are of square stone of black marble and built in the form of towers and fortresses”.
Limerick was besieged twice during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Protestants refugees from the 1641 Rebellion took refuge in King John’s Castle, attacked in 1642 by Kilkenny Confederate forces led by Garret Barry, who, lacking artillery, undermined the walls by digging away their foundations. Those inside surrendered before the walls collapsed, but a section of them had to be pulled down afterward. Later, as the victors supported the claims of Charles II to the throne, a Parliamentary army under OliverCromwell’s brother-in-law General Henry Ireton besieged the city for six months in 1651; famine and plague killed 5,000 residents before heavy bombardment of King John’s Castle led to breach and surrender in late October of that year.
The Williamite War saw 14,000 French and Irish Jacobite soldiers regrouping in Limerick following their defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. King William III‘s troops breached the walls on three occasions, but in a spectacular manouvre Patrick Sarsfield,1st Earl of Lucan, destroyed the beseigers’ artillery reinforcements, and heavy losses eventually obliged them to withdraw to Waterford.
Returning under the veteran Dutch commander General Ginkel in August 1691, the Crown forces began their bombardment on 8 September, and soon made a breach in the walls of Englishtown. On 22nd September English soldiers crossed the Shannon on a pontoon bridge and attacked the defensive earthworks; a French officer ordered his men to raise the drawbridge before the Irish troops could retreat across it, and 850 were massacred. The remaining defenders were demoralised by this disaster and asked for a truce. Promised French reinforcements failed to arrive, and the city surrendered.
The Treaty of Limerick was signed on 3rd October 1691, using a large stone as a table. The pact allowed the Jacobites to leave under full military honours and sail to France. Two days later the French reinforcements finally arrived. Sarsfield was urged to continue the fight, but insisted on abiding by the terms of the treaty. He sailed with 19,000 troops to form France’s celebrated Irish Brigade. After they had left the treaty was repudiated by the Williamites, a point of bitterness in the city to this day.
Limerick remained walled and fortified for another 70 years. In the second half of the C18th the city recovered as a major trading port. Many important public buildings and infrastructure projects were paid for with local trade taxes.Edmund Sexton Pery (1709 – 1806), MP for Limerick and Speaker of the Irish House of Commons from 1771 to 1785, commissioned Italian architect Daviso de Arcort, aka Davis Ducart / Dukart, to plan the extension of the streets of the New Town / Newtown Pery district.
Limerick was an important port and manufacturing centre in the c19th, famed for the quality of its lace and finely crafted silver. Although the Great Famine reduced the population of Limerick County by 70,000, the number of city inhabitants actually rose slightly, as starving country people sought refuge in the workhouses. Exports of food continued, often requiring the deployment of troops to protect the ships being loaded on the quays, where thousands of destitute emigrants set out for Canada and the USA.
A small number of Jewish tradesfolk fleeing persecution in Lithuania began arriving to Limerick in 1878. Easter Sunday 1884 saw the first of a sporadic series of violent anti-Semitic attacks. In 1904 a young Roman Catholic priest, Fr John Creagh of the Redemptorist Order, delivered fiery sermons accusing “the Hebrews” of shedding Christian blood, suggesting that they would “kidnap and slay Christian children” and urging Catholics “not to deal with the Jews“. The result was the Limerick Pogrom, a shameful economic boycott waged for over two years against the Jewish community. Local Protestants, including many traders, supported the Jews throughout the pogrom, as did several politicians of national stature (but Sinn Féin founder Arthur Griffith defended Fr Creagh). The majority of Limerick’s Jews were pauperised and forced to leave the city. Many, intending to travel to America, went to Cork City, where church halls were opened to feed and house the refugees and people welcomed them into their homes.
The independence movement gained popular support in Limerick following the repressions and executions after the Easter 1916 Rebellion in Dublin. Royal Irish Constabulary forces carried out violent raids on the homes of suspected Sinn Féin sympathizers. Open conflict erupted on Roches Street in April 1920 between the Welch Fusiliers and the general population, involving stones and bottles on the one side and bayonets on the other. On the night of 6th March 1921, Limerick’s Mayor, George Clancy, and his wife were shot in their home by three Black & Tan operatives. On the same night the previous Mayor, Michael O’Callaghan, was shot in similar circumstances. These assassinations became known as the Curfew Murders. IRA reprisals included the murder of a Black & Tan officer on Church Street.
The Civil War also saw violence and looting in Limerick. A week of gunfire exchanges and street fighting ended on 19th July 1922 when anti-Treaty Republicans set three barracks on fire and withdrew from the city, leaving some 30 dead.
The opening of Shannon Airport and the development of the Shannon Industrial Zone primarily benefited Limerick, but failed to bring real prosperity to the city.
The Celtic Tiger era saw the entire area undergo something of a Renaissance. Industrial estates at Raheen, Plassey, and Shannon Town, and energetic government intervention, brought in numerous foreign firms, employing thousands of people.
The new wealth not only halted the high levels of emigration chronic through the 1980’s, but led to the first large scale immigration for centuries; and the city now boasts restaurants serving dishes from all over the world, a number of Nigerian food shops, an Oriental supermarket, a Russian newsagent and a Mosque, while Limerick churches regularly celebrate religious services in Polish and other exotic languages.
King’s Island was the location of the original Viking settlement, centred around a meeting place called the Thingmote, replaced in the C11th by a residence of the O’Brien kings of Munster, and later of the city’s walled medieval nucleus, known as English Town.
Thomond Bridge, Toll House & King John’s Castle (Photo by Seabhcan)
Thomond Bridge was first erected c.1185 at a former fording point between King’s Island and the western bank of the River Shannon. The present structure, completed in 1839, was designed by the brothers James & George Pain, also responsible for the Toll House, a humorous Gothick folly with exaggerated crenellations. A plinth erected at the western end of the bridge in 1865 supports a rock, supposedly The Treaty Stone on which the dishonoured 1691 Treaty of Limerick was signed.
King John’s Castle
King John’s Castle, considered one of the finest examples of fortified Norman architecture in Ireland, was built c.1210 on the orders of the eponymous monarch “to dominate the bridge and watch towards Thomond”, long feared as enemy territory.
Frequently besieged and badly damaged in the course of various wars, it became the site of a military barracks in 1751, and the castle yard was later occupied by domestic houses, only recently removed.
Parts of the walls, towers and fortifications still stand, and the remains of a Viking settlement uncovered during the construction of a splendid modern Visitor Centre can now be seen.
Limerick City Museum, first opened in 1916, moved to its current location next to the main entrance of King John’s Castle in 1998, and was renamed The Jim Kemmy Municipal Museum in honour of a much-loved Labour Party politician. The Museum’s displays include archaeological artefacts, Limerick silver, Limerick lace, examples of local printing, and exhibits on the independence struggle. The Castle Lane buildings represent various historical styles, including a medieval tavern.
The Freemasons’ Provincial Grand Lodge of North Munster, founded in 1842, runs the Masonic Centre & Museum, where the prize exhibit is a replica of the Baal’s Bridge Square, dated 1507 and reputed to be one of he earliest Masonic artefacts in the world.
The Bishop’s Palace, a splendid Georgian building that was long the residence of the Anglican bishops of Limerick, has been elaborately restored and is now home to the Limerick Civic Trust.
The Cathedral and parochial church of St Mary Blessed Virgin (CoI), historically known as Limerick Cathedral, is the oldest building in Limerick still in daily use, and has a long and eventful history.
The Synod of Rathbrassil in 1111 decided that “St Mary’s church” would become the cathedral of the Diocese of Limerick. However, the precise site of the old church is not clear.
According to tradition, Domhnall / Donal Mór O’Brien, the last king of Munster, founded the present cathedral in 1168 on the site of his residence, previously the location of the Thingmote. Parts of the residence may have been incorporated into the present structure, which evidently underwent several changes of design during the course of construction. Inaugurated c.1194, the edifice was altered and extended over the centuries, suffering severe Victorian “improvements”.
The great West Door, now rarely used, is said to have been the original main entrance to the O’Brien royal residence. According to legend, the defenders of the City used the stones around the West Door to sharpen their swords and arrows during the many sieges of Limerick, and the marks they made in the stonework can be seen there today. The Bishops of Limerick have for centuries knocked on this door and entered by it as part of their installation ceremony.
The bell tower, added in the C14th, rises to 120ft. The belfry holds a peal of eight bells, six presented in 1673 by William Yorke, mayor of Limerick.
Edmond Sexton, a prominent early Protestant who expelled the crutched friars from Limerick, was disinterred in 1554 (the first year of the reign of Catholic Queen Mary); his severed right arm was left in the tomb, while the rest of his corpse was hung by the heels above the ceiling of the chancel, where it remained until discovered over three years later by a thief, whereupon what little remained was reburied at night. The perpetrators were thought to be his brother-in-law and the Cathedral organist, who disapproved of his conversion to Anglicanism.
Used as a stable by Cromwellian troops in 1651, the Cathedral also suffered considerable damage forty years later during the Williamite Sieges of the city. After the Treaty of Limerick, King William III granted £1,000 towards repairs. Cannon balls from 1691 can be seen in the Glentworth Chapel.
The Cathedral’s original Pre-Reformation high altar, removed in 1651, was finally reinstated in the 1960s. Carved from a single limestone block, it is the largest such altar in the British Isles.
The tomb of the 1st Earl of Inchiquin, Murrough “the burner” O’Brien (1614 1674) is said to be empty; much hated for his ferocious Irish military campaigns on various sides during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, and later briefly Governor of French-held Catalonia, his body was reputedly removed the day after burial and thrown into the River Shannon.
James Pain (1779 – 1877), the single most important architect in Limerick’s history, is also buried here. The third generation of a famous English architectural dynasty, he and his brother George had arrived in Ireland in the early C19th; their partnership was very successful, although he stayed in Limerick while his sibling lived in Cork.
The Cathedral choir features the only complete set of pre-Elizabethan misericords left in Ireland, believed to date from 1480. Aka mercy seats, these are small wooden shelves on the underside of folding seats, installed to provide a limited degree of comfort for a old or infirm persons who had to stand during long periods of prayer. Of the 21 carvings, 16 are different, representing such mediaeval emblems as a two-legged one-horned goat, a griffin, a sphinx, a wild boar, an angel, a head resembling King Henry IV, a dragon biting its tail, antelopes with intertwined necks, a swan, an eagle, the Lion of Judah with a dragon, and a cockatrice holding its tail.
St Mary’s Cathedral has an active team of bell ringers, who travel extensively to compete with other campanologists. The choir also has an international reputation.
Fanning’s Castle, the only remaining medieval-style Tower House in Limerick City, was reputedly built c.1641 by former mayor Dominic Fanning, who led resistance to the 1651 Cromwellian siege and, betrayed by a former family servant, was executed by General Henry Ireton.
Remnants of the city walls can be seen near Athlunkard St., named for a nearby C9th Viking longphort. (The Walls of Limerick is the name of a famous set dance, like The Siege of Ennis).
St Mary’s church (RC), a large neo-Romanesque edifice with an impressive domed Italianate bell tower, was completed in 1932. It replaced a previous structure that dated from 1749, the first RC church to be built in Munster afer the initial relaxation of the Penal Laws.
Athlunkard Bridge, spanning the River Shannon channel commonly called the Abbey River to connect the east side of King’s Island with Corbally (Co. Clare), was designed by the Pain brothers and completed in 1830.
King’s Island is also joined to the eastern riverbank by the O’Dwyer Bridge, a cement structure erected in 1931 to replace Park Bridge (1835), and the Abbey Bridge (1999), named in honour of the Abbey fishermen, a distinctive local community for many generations.
Barrington’s Hospital was founded in 1829 by pewter merchant Sir Joseph Barrington (1764 – 1846) and his four sons, notably the talented Matthew, who was made Crown Solicitor for Munster at the age of 26 and had a city quay named after his wife Charlotte. This was Limerick’s principal hospital for many years, but has operated as a private medical facility since 1988.
Baal’s Bridge, designed by the Pain brothers and built in 1831, replaced a four arched bridge which had stood in the same spot since about 1340, lon the only connection bewteen English Town and Irishown. Known in Elizabethan times as the Tide Bridge, the earlier structure incorporated a row of houses which were beginning to collapse by the early C19th. The Baal’s Bridge Square, a Masonic device, was unearthed during construction of the new single humpback span.
The Potato Market, founded in 1843 on the site of Limerick’s first port, is currently awaiting redevelopment.
The Sylvester O Halloran Footbridge, built in 1987, is dedicated to the memory of the surgeon (1728 – 1807) who in addition to developing a new method of treating cataracts, wrote A General History of Ireland (1774) and A History of Ireland (1803).
Limerick Courthouse on Merchant’s Quay, designed in the Classical style in 1820 by James Pain, is an elegant building, but oddly unimposing, perhaps due to its lack of steps. (Photo – www.courts.ie)
City Hall (1990), the attractive modern Limerick City Council complex on Merchant’s Quay, is not far from the sites of the Thingmote and the medieval Tholsel, built in 1449 as the headquarters for Limerick Corporation (1197 – 2001).
Matthew Bridge, erected in 1846, was designed by William Henshaw Owen and named in honour of Fr Theobald Matthew, founder of the national temperance movement, to which more than half the inhabitants of Limerick City and County pledged themselves – alas, not for long! (Photo – www.buildingsofireland.com)
Irishtown & Newtown Pery
Irishtown was the the name given to the medieval district of Limerick on the south side of the River Shannon channel commonly called the Abbey River, originally outside the protective city walls.
New Town / Newtown Pery, the mainly Georgian commercial district in the city, is laid out on a grid pattern (unusual in Ireland). Many of the streets not honouring Royalty or Lord Lieutenants were called after members of the powerful Pery family and their various titles; others commemorate prominent Limerick citizens, local heroes and places; surprisingly few have been renamed since the foundation of the State.
(Edmond Sexton Pery was made 1st Viscount Pery, but died without heirs. His younger brother, the Right Rev William Pery, Anglican Bishop of Limerick from 1784 to 1794, was raised to the Peerage of Ireland in 1790 as Baron Glentworth, of Mallow in the County of Cork. His only son, Edmund Pery, represented Limerick City in the Irish House of Commons and supported the 1800 Act of Union, for which he was created Viscount Limerick and Earl of Limerick (2nd creation), sitting in the British House of Lords as one of the 28 original Irish Representative Peers from 1800 to 1844. In 1815 he was also created Baron Foxford, of Stackpole Court in the County of Limerick, in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. His descendant, the 6th Earl, served as Under-Secretary of State of Trade in Edward Heath’s Conservative UK government from 1972 to 1974).
Custom House & Hunt Museum
The former Custom House, a splendid Palladian edifice designed in 1764 by Davis / Daviso Ducart / Dukart / de Arcort, is widely regarded as the finest C18th building in Limerick, a very appropriate home for the city’s most famous treasure.
The Hunt Museum comprises the internationally important private collection of artefacts and works of art, ranging in origin from neolithic to recent times, assembled by John & Gertrude Hunt. The antiquities and paintings on display are from both Ireland and abroad, including the C9th Antrim Cross and pieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Renoir, Gauguin, Picasso and Jack B Yeats. The museum also hosts visiting exhibitions.
Unsubstantiated allegations made in 2003 by the Simon Wiesenthal Center that the collection contained items looted by the Nazis during WWII have been refuted.
The Celtic Bookshop on Rutland St is a family owned business specialising in publications of Irish interest, including out of print books, maps and prints not generally found in other Irish bookshops.
The Granary is a large old bonded warehouse erected by merchant Philip John Roche in 1787; handsomely renovated in 1985, it currently contains the City Library and Archives, plus a nightclub.
O’Connell St., Limerick’s main thoroughfare, originally called George’s St., forms the spine of the Newtown Pery grid. Nowadays, although still graced by several elegant buildings, it looks much like almost any main shopping area in the British Isles, with the same chain stores and brand names predominant.
The Daniel O’Connell monument dominating O’Connell St from The Crescent was unveiled in1857, some sixty years before the change of street denomination.
The Jesuit church / church of the Sacred Heart (RC), founded in 1868, with a new neo-classical façade added in 1900, originally formed part of the prestigious Jesuit school that came to be known as Crescent College, founded in 1859 and long relocated on the outskirts of the city.
The Augustinian church (RC) was constructed in 1942 to replace its predecessor on the same site, adapted from a theatre in 1823. The 1825 building next to the church, formerly called The Country Club, has served as a priory since 1946.
(The Augustinian presence in Limerick, in the form of one order or another, has been almost continuous since 1171).
Christ Church (Prebyterian & Methodist) has a very discrete entrance on O’Connell St.
The Belltable Arts Centre, housed in a formerly private Georgian townhouse with its own opera auditorium, has since 1981 provided a regional space / outlet for works of literature, poetry, theatre, circus, music, comedy, dance, opera and the Traditional Arts.
Limerick County Council occupies a strikingly modern office complex (2004).
The former Prebyterian church (1902) on Lr Mallow St, an impressive redbrick Gothic Revival edifice designed by George Ashlin, has been converted into an office complex.
St Saviour’s parish church (RC), aka the Dominican church, attractively located in Baker Place at the upper end of Glentworth Street, was designed by the Pain brothers in 1815 and renovated some fifty years later. A side chapel commemorates Bishop Terence Albert O’Brien OP of Emly, hanged by order of General Henry Ireton in 1651. The striking Virgin & Child statue was carved in Flanders in the C17th.
(The original Dominican foundation, established sometime before 1241, was St Savior’s Abbey; rebuilt in 1462, it is now a ruin visible in the grounds of St Mary’s convent, near King John’s Castle. Although officially expelled in 1541, the Dominicans always maintained a presence in Limerick, often clandestine before 1730, and have occupied the priory next to the present church for almost 200 years).
Tait’s Clock, an impressive landmark erected in 1868, commemorates Sir Peter Tait (1828 1890), a Scottish entrepeneur whose textile factory made uniforms for the British army, and who used his own ships to break the Yankee blockade and supply the Confederates during the American Civil War; thrice Mayor of Limerick, he died in poverty in Russia.
Pery Square is the Georgian highlight of Limerick City. The War Memorial dates from 1950.
St Michael’s church (CoI), the focal point at the southern end of Pery Square, is a Gothic edifice designed in 1844 by James Pain as an imposing centre piece to enhance its classical Georgian setting. It is aka “the sinking church” due to soil subsidence.
Tontine Terrace, designed by James Pain in 1838, and regarded as the finest example of Georgian architecture in Limerick, is situated on the west side of Pery Square. Construction was funded by issuing tontines, clever financial devices akin to shares in an annuity scheme , now banned. (Photo –two.archiseek.com)
The Georgian House & Garden at Nº 2 Pery Square features marbled walls and ornate plasterwork, plus a townhouse garden restored to the original 1840 design. The Carrol Collection contains family heirlooms over five generations dating from the 1700s to the 1920s, including items from the Boer War, the two World Wars and a frock coat once worn by Napoleon III.
The Limerick City Art Gallery, housed in the former Carnegie Library (1906) on Pery Square, has an interesting permanent collection of contemporary work by local, national and inernational artists, and also hosts visiting exhibitions.
The People’s Park (1877) is a pleasant space with an imposing entrance arch, manicured lawns, mature trees, gazebos, a bandstand, an ornate drinking fountain, a duckpond and a children’s playground.
The centrepiece is Rice’s Memorial, an elegant Doric column supporting a statue of Thomas Spring Rice (1791 – 1866), the popular Independent MP for Limerick City who later became Chancellor of the Exchequer for the UK and was created Baron Monteagle of Bandon in County Kerry. The monument was erected by the Barrington family in 1829. The pillar was designed by Henry Aaron Baker, and the statue was sculpted by Thomas Kirk.
A memorial garden dedicated to The Little Angels of Limerick was opened in 2002, and construction of controversial flats commenced in 2004.
Limerick Railway Station on Parnell St was opened in 1858, replacing a temporary structure nearby that had served the Waterford & Limerick Railway since 1848. It was renamed in 1966 in honour of Cornelius Colbert, one of the executed leaders of the Easter 1916 Uprising.
St John’s church (CoI) was designed in a mixed Hiberno-Romanesque / Anglo-Norman style by Joseph Welland and completed in 1852 to replace an earlier mediaeval church. Recently restored by the Limerick Civic Trust, the edifice has been used for some years as the Daghdha Space, headquarters of the Daghda Dance Company, pioneers of Irish contemporary choreography and dance since 1988.
The churchyard contains a limestone plaque referring to the surrounding wall being built in 1693, after “the havoc of the war”. The graves include those of many old Limerick families. William Lane Joynt, who achieved the unique distinction of being elected Mayor of Limerick in 1862 and Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1867, was buried here in 1895. The C18th Gaelic poet Brian Merriman is also reputedly interred here.
St John’s Square, originally called New Square, constructed outside the old city walls when Limerick was still fortified, is the location of the city’s earliest surviving Georgian buildings, two L-shaped edifices designed by Francis Bandana in 1751.
The Cathedral of St John the Baptist (RC), an austere Gothic Revival edifice designed by English architect Philip Charles Hardwick, was inaugurated in 1861.
Completed in 1883 to the designs of local architect MA Hennessy, the relatively ornate spire ha long been the tallest structure in Limerick, but its claim to be the tallest spire in Ireland, measuring 94m / 308 ft 3“, is disputed.
The interior is spectacular, the most notable feature being the elevated rood screen spanning the arch framing the main altar, often dramatically illuminated. The original Catedra / Bishop’s Throne has been removed. A prominent architectural website draws attention to the Blessed Sacrament chapel, which “now included a horrific structure masquerading as an altar“.
The Sarsfield Memorial, erected in 1881 on the lawn of the Cathedral’s presbytery after a delay of over 30 years, features a flamboyant statue of the first famous Lord Lucan, designed by John Lawlor on the basis of a sketch by Henry O’Shea.
St Johns Hospital was founded in 1780 as the first fever hospital in the British Isles with money from a group of benefactors led by Lady Hartstonge, wife of Sir Henry Hartstronge, MP for County Limerick from 1776 to 1789; a city street is named after her.
The Milk Market (1853), rescued from oblivion in 1996 and covered in 2010, has been described as foodie heaven, attracting stalllholders and customers from all over Ireland. There are several pleasant eateries in the vicinity.
St Patrick’s parish church on Clare St., erected in 1816 to replace the former Penal Chapel, is Limerick’s oldest RC church still in use.
The Limerick School of Art & Design (LSAD) is a direct descendant of the School of Ornamenal Art (1852) and the non-denominational Limerick Atheneum, (1855). Its campus on Clare St. once housed the Lancastrian School, founded c.1806 by a charitable London Quaker, and from 1889 to 1994 was the Good Sheperd Convent, where the nuns ran a Magdalene Laundry, one of the notorious establishments used to incarcerate “fallen women”.
St Michael’s parish church (RC) on Denmark St. was founded in 1779 but rebuilt in 1881. The present neo-Romanesque edifice, with its landmark tower topped by a statue of Satan being vanquished by the eponymous Archangel, was designed by Martin Morris. Human remains found during the reconstruction, believed to belong to defenders killed during the 1651 Siege of Limerick, were reinterred beneath the altar.
The Franciscan church (RC) on Lr Henry St., opened in 1886, is of neo-classical design, featuring a portico of Corinthian columns. The mosaic over the High Altar is a replica of that in the Franciscan church in Assisi.
(The Franciscans settled in Limerick in the late C13th in Jail Lane, outside the walls of English Town. Although officially expelled during the Reformation, they continued to meet secretly in town. In 1782 they opened a friary in Newgate Lane, near the present City Hall. In 1824 they moved to their current location.)
Arthur Quay Park is a peaceful riverside spot with excellent views of the Curragour Falls and Clare Hills. The local Tourist Office at the entrance to the park can recommend several good walks.
Sarsfield Bridge & Monuments
Sarsfield Bridge, inaugurated as Wellesley Bridge in 1835, was designed by the Scottish engineer Alexander Nimmo, based on the Pont Neuilly in Paris. The original swivel section, some of the machinery for which is still visible, was replaced by a lock system to facilitate the passage of smaller boats. The bridge has remained otherwise largely unchanged since it opened, and still has its original lamp standards.
The Sarsfield Bridge Monument commemorates the 1916 Easter Rising. An earlier monument on this site was a statue of Viscount Fitzgibbon, killed in The Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava in 1854, flanked by two Russian cannon captured in the Crimean War. This statue was blown up by the IRA in 1930.
The War of Independence Monument at the northern end of the bridge honours the two former mayors of Limerick killed by Crown forces in 1921, also commemorated by the adjacent Clancy Strand and O’Callaghan Strand quays.
St Munchin’s church (RC) was erected on the north bank in 1922 to replace a chapel dating from 1799.
The Shannon Bridge, completed in 1989 and still often called the New Bridge, was initially nicknamed “the whistling bridge” due to the noise made by the wind through the railings, since remedied.
Limerick’s outskirts (Co. Limerick)
Annacotty (Áth na Coite – “the ford of the angling cots”) (pop. 1850) , now part of the rapidly growing suburb of Castletroy, was originally the location of grain mills harnessing the water power of the River Mulkear (one beside the bridge has been restored as a bar /restaurant), and was for many years best known for its creamery (transformed into a hardware store, and still a focal point of the town). A statue of a renowned Limerick hurler stands on the main street.
Annacotty Industrial Estate was built on the site of the Ferenka steel cord factory, made famous in October 1975 when its Dutch managing director Tiede Herrema was kidnapped by IRA thugs and not freed for four weeks, following a protracted siege in Monasterevin, Co. Kildare. The factory closed down in December 1977 with the loss of over 1,400 full-time jobs.
Lisnagry & Castleconnell (Co. Limerick / Northeast)
Lisnagry and Castleconnell are historic villages, largely engulfed by the suburbs of Limerick City.
Mountshannon House (c.1750), the most magnificent mansion in the region, was renowned for its beautiful gardens and wooded demesne.
Commisioned by Silver Oliver of Kilfinane and acquired by the White family, the 900-acre property was purchased in 1765 by John FitzGibbon (1708 – 1780), a local farmer’s son who had studied medicine in Paris before becoming a Protestant in order to practise at the Irish Bar, and become very rich as the author of several influential legal texts.
His son John “Black Jack” FitzGibbon (b. 1748), also a successful barrister, was elected MP for Trinity College in 1778 as a staunch supporter of Grattan. Upon appointment as Attorney General in 1783 he changed his views radically, and in the face of widespread contempt vehemently opposed both Irish parliamentary independence and Catholic Emancipation. He was made Lord Chancellor of Ireland in 1789 (with the Irish title of Baron FitzGibbon), Viscount FitzGibbon of Limerick in 1793 and Earl of Clare in 1796. His role in the judicial repression of the 1798 Rebellion is controversial, as is his record as a landlord, with evidence of both cruelty and kindness. He was said to have remarked that he would “make the Irish as tame as a mutilated cat“. His unpopularity put his life in constant danger. A dead cat was thrown into his carriage in Dublin by a mob who had to be dispersed by troops. His servants at Mountshannon were attacked, one fatally. In 1799 he was created Baron FitzGibbon in the Peerage of Great Britain, thus gaining a hereditary seat in the British House of Lords, where a rant earned him the scorn of William Pitt. He died in Dublin in 1802; it is said that when the funeral cortege emerged from his Ely Place residence his coffin was pelted with dead cats.
His son John (b.1792) attended Harrow school in England, where the young Lord Byron became passionately attached to him; they travelled together extensively in the Middle East, at one point allegedly gaining entry to a Pasha’s harem, where a eunuch forced Lord Clare to choose between his testicles or his life; he apparently chose the latter, bringing home many exotic treasures to Mountshannon, and died childless in 1851. The titles passed to his bohemian brother, whose legitamised son Viscount FitzGibbon fought in the Crimean War and was reported missing after the famous 1854 Charge of the Light Brigade, subsequently inspiring a tale by Rudyard Kipling. A statue of him on Limerick’s Sarsfield Bridge was blown up by the IRA in 1930.
Mountshannon was inherited in 1864 by the 3rd Earl’s daughter, Lady Louisa, who was widowed young and mantained an extravagant lifestyle beyond her means until she fell into serious debt. She married the Sicilian Marquis della Rochella, who turned out to be equally penurious. The moneylenders foreclosed, and she was forced to sell Mountshannon and its contents, ending her days in an Isle of Wight convent.
The premises remained vacant until acquired by an Irish-American called Thomas Nevins, then purchased by a Corkonian named David O’Hannigan. In arguably the most ideologically indefensible and mindlessly moronic act of hooliganism of the entire War of Independence, “Republican” vandals burned down the beautiful mansion in 1920.
Castleconnell (Cáislean Ui Chonnaill) (pop. 5000) is on the extremely busy N7 highway connecting Limerick City with DUBLIN. The older part is mainly comprised of fine C19th buildings overlooking the River Shannon.
Castleconnell was the ancient seat of the O’Conaings, and was originally called Caislean-ui-Chonaine. It subsequently fell into the possession of the O’Briens of Thomond.
The “Castle of Connell”, built c.1200 by William FitzAdelm de Burgh on a rock at a bend in the river, was extended and strengthened by Walter de Burgh, Lord of Connacht, about a hundred years later. He married Maud, only child of Hugh de Lacey; their eldest son Richard, Earl of Meath and of Ulster, was arguably the most powerful individual in Irish hisory.
The Lords of Castleconnell were descendants of Richard’s younger bother Edmond Mac An Iarla, murdered by drowning during a feud in 1337, and became the senior branch of the Clanwilliam Bourkes. The extraordinarily complex and bloody family saga is related here.
The castle actually belonged to another family called Gunning when it was destroyed during the Williamite War as General Ginkel commenced the long second Siege of Limerick in 1691. A large portion of the castle wall still lies where it was blown by cannonfire.
In 1317 Robert Bruce’s Scottish army arrived in Castleconnell to help the exiled king of Thomond, Donogh O’Brien, against his usurping cousin Muirceartach and Richard de Clare, who joined other Norman barons at Cashel to oppose their common enemy, but the Bruce army elected to retreat towards Dublin, leaving Donogh and his army behind.
The Castleoaks House Hotel is a pleasant 3-star establishment set in landscaped grounds overlooking the River Shannon, popular for weddings, conferences etc. Originally called Woodlands, it claims to be the only one left of several former gracious old country houses in the district, having been used for many years as a girls’ school. The hotel also rents out self-catering holiday homes nearby.
A footbridge across the River Shannon, built by the Army during “the Emergency” (aka WWII), connects the town with Co. Clare.
Barringtonsbridge is a small community that has grown around Barrington’s bridge, a metal structure erected by Matthew Barrington in 1818 across the River Mulcair.
Murroe (Co. Limerick / Northeast)
Murroe / Moroe is a small village in the Slieve Felim hills. It has become a fashionable place for Limerick City commuters to live.
Glenstal Abbey is a famous Benedictine monastery and boarding school for boys.
The neo-Gothic castle was built c.1830 as the family residence of Sir Joseph Barrington, Baronet, who with his four sons founded Barrington’s Hospital in Limerick City. The prime mover in the family was Matthew (1788 1861), who purchased the land from Lord Carbery, arranged his fathers baronetcy and inherited it in due course.
Since 1927 the monks have engaged in prayer and liturgical celebration, taught many of Ireland’s crème de la crème, run a farm and written works ranging from learned treatises to detective novels. Benedictine worship emphasises beauty and harmony, with no objections to good food and fine wines, not to mention their renowned liqueur.
The Abbey treasures a collection of beautiful works of Russian and Greek works of devotional art, gifted by the Grattan-Esmonde family, and made famous by the Glenstal Book of Icons.
The 500-acre estate is landscaped with lakes, streams, shrubs, trees and woodland paths. A Guesthouse caters mainly for visitors in search of spiritual solace.
Abingdon church (CoI), an attractive 1870 edifice set in mature grounds, is not far from the village.
Mungret // Ferrybridge (Co. Limerick)
Mungret (Muine Gairid – “the Short Hill / Thicket / Grove” / Imungram / Moungairid), on the industrial fringe of Limerick City, is probably best known for its ancient monastic site, long used as a burial ground.
Mungret Abbey was founded in the C6th by Saint Nessan, aka Nessan the Deacon or Neasan the Leper, who died in 551 AD. The monastery was held in such high repute that king Cormac of Cashel bequeathed three ounces of gold and a satin chasuble to it in 902 AD, and at its peak had 1500 monks and six churches within its walls (according to the Psalter of Cashel, which disappeared in 1647 when that town was attacked by Murrough “the burner” O’Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin).
The monastery was plundered several times by the Vikings from the C9th AD to the C11th, destroyed by Donal McLoughlin c.1090 and plundered again in 1107 by local chieftain Murtagh O’Brien. In 1179, the king of Munster, Donal Mór O’Brien, granted the monastery and its lands to the Bishop of Limerick, Brictius. It then became a parish church run by the Canons Regular of the Augustine Order.
The Wise Women of Mungret is a tale related by Mainchín Seoighe. It seems that a contest had been arranged between Mungret Abbey and monks from Lismore in County Waterford to decide which monastery had the more learned scholars. A number of Mungret monks dressed up as women on the day of the contest, and began washing clothes near a ford that the other monks would have to cross. When one of the visitors asked for directions to the monastery in Irish, the ‘washerwoman’ replied in flawless Latin. A second ‘washerwoman’ gave more information in flawless Greek. The Lismore monks decided that if the washerwomen were fluent in Greek and Latin, then the learned scholars of the monastery would surely defeat them in the contest. They returned home, leaving Mungret unchallenged as a centre of learning.
Although nothing remains of the original monastery, extensive ruins include a nave and chancel called the Abbey, built between 1251 and 1272, and the remains of two churches, one known as St Nessan’s. The oldest church ruin, believed to date from sometime between 800-1100, is located in the smallest section of the graveyard, across the road from the main cemetery. The abbey’s bell was dug up at nearby Loghmore.
The Abbey was used as an Anglican place of worship until 1822. Repair work was carried out on the ruins in 1932. The graveyard is still in use, and has been extended in recent years.
Mungret College was opened as an agricultural training centre in 1858, largely due to the influence of Thomas Spring Rice, Lord Mounteagle of Bandon, Chancellor of the Exchequer for the UK. This lasted until 1877, when it was converted into a seminary and diocesan college, taken over in 1882 by the Jesuits, who ran a boarding school for boys until 1974. Prominent graduates included IRA leader Tom Barry, British Conservative cabinet minister Brendan Bracken, and Cardinal Timothy Manning of Los Angeles.
Carrigogunnell Castle is a spectacular ruin overlooking the River Shannon Estuary. Originally built in the C15th by the Norman de Burgo family, it passed by marriage into the ownership of the local O’Brien chieftains; it was in the possession of the FitzGeralds in 1483, but was regained from the fallen House of Kildare by 1536, when the O’Briens were besieged in it by the Earl of Ormonde, and was later formally surrendered to the Crown and regranted by Queen Elizabeth I to Brien Dhubh O’Brien of the barony of Pubblebrian in 1584.
The Wars of the Three Kingdoms saw the Kilkenny Confederates in possession from 1642 to 1648, and the castle was finally destroyed in 1691 by Williamite forces to prevent it being used as a fortres during the 1691 Siege of Limerick, 84 barrels of gunpowder being necessary on account of its great strength. The premises subsequently belonged to the Maunsell / Monsell family
Carrigogunnell is derived from either Carraig Ó gConaing – “The rock of the O Conaings“, a reference to the pre-Norman lords of the area, or Carraig Ó gCoinneall – “the rock of the Uí Choinnealls” . Some people thought that the end of the toponym was formed by the word coinneal – “candle”, and thus believed that Carrigogunnell meant ‘the Rock of the Candle’. The story was that a witch who lived on the rock lit a candle each evening on top of the castle; anyone who saw this light died instantly. When Saint Patrick blessed the well in Patrickswell, he stood on high ground and looked towards Carrigogunnell. As night fell and the light appeared from the castle, Patrick began to read from his holy book. As soon as he closed the sacred volume, the light in the castle was quenched forever.
Kilkeedy / Kilkeady church (CoI), erected in 1813, probably on the site if the original church of Saint Caoide that gave the district its name, is now in a ruinous state. One mid-C19th curate was William Maziere Brady (1825–1894), later chaplain to several successive viceroys, who upon the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland converted to Roman Catholicism and became a prominent writer on Irish ecclesiastical history. The atmospheric graveyard contains the tombs of the Maunsell / Monsell family, the Tuthill / Cooper family of Cooper’s Hill, and the Massey family, including a vault for the Barons of Clarina. Roman Catholics were (and are still) buried here; by tradition, their coffins are laid on the raised footpath outside the wall, and prayers are said there before entering the Protestant graveyard.
Tervoe House, an attractive Georgian residence construced 1765 – 1785 by Col. WT Maunsell / Monsell, was the home of William Monsell (1812 – 1894), Liberal MP for Limerick from 1847 to 1874, who held various UK government posts. A friend of Cardinal Newman’s, he scandalised Anglo-Irish society by leading a group of converts to Roman Catholicism in 1850, and thereafter represented that Church’s interests in Parliament. Initially popular with his tenants as a fair (and resident) landlord, he was elevated to the Peerage of the UK as Baron Emly of Tervoe and from the House of Lords opposed both the Land League and Home Rule movements. His second wife, Bertha (née de Montigny Boulainvilliers), daughter of the Comte de Montigny de Perreux, established Irelands first Lourdes Grotto locally. Their only son, Gaston, the last Lord Emly, died in 1932.
Clarina is a small village with several interesting features, including Ballybrown parish church (RC), erected c.1830 and originally thatched, and the Monsell Alms Cross (1855) at Tervoe.
Elm Park / Clarina Castle on the Patrickswell Road was the home of General Eyre Massey (1719 – 1804), created Baron Clarina of Elm in 1800,who had been wounded in the 1746 Battle of Culloden, fought in the 1759 Battle of Fort Niagara and the 1762 Capture of Martinique, was wounded again in the 1762 Capture of Havannah, was MP for Swords between 1790 and 1797 and thereafter Governor of Limerick. He was a younger brother of Hugh Massy, 1st Baron Massy. The Clarina barony became extinct on the death of the 6th Baron in 1952. The castle was demolished in the 1960s.
Ferrybridge was where ferries operated on the River Maigue until a bridge was built in 1792.
Limerick’s outskirts (Co. Clare)
Meelick // Cloonlara (County Clare / Southeast)
Meelick (Mileac – “Marshy land”), a growing commuter satellite of Limerick City, comprises a series of modern residential developments in and around the older location of Stonepark, where the church and school are situated. There is a thriving GAA club and other local amenities such as a community centre, tavern, shop etc.
Parteen (An Póirtín – “the little port / landing place“) was formerly callled Ardnacrusha (Ard na Croise – “Height / Hill of the Cross”) but the new hydroelectric station opened in 1929 took that name and the locals decided to rename their village Parteen. Nowadays it is another commuter satellite of Limerick City.
Ardnacrusha Power Station, Ireland’s largest hydroelectric plant, began life in 1925 as the centrepiece of the Shannon Scheme, a pharaonic civil engineering project designed to demonstrate that the new Irish Free State could provide for its citizens.
The first plan to harness the River Shannon‘s power was published by Sir Robert Kane in 1844. Inspired by Nicola Tesla’s Niagara Falls project (completed in 1896), another plan known as “Frazer’s Scheme” was sanctioned by the 1901 Shannon Water and Electric Power Act but the overall cost was considered too great and the project was shelved. A British Board of Trade committee approved proposals by Theodore Stevens and published a report in 1922. Sean Wall, Chairman of Limerick County Council and commander of the East Limerick IRA, sought to persuade the First Dail of the possibilities, but was killed in a gunfight at Annacarty in May 1921.
The proposal that was finally implemented came from Dr Thomas McLoughlin, who had started working for Siemens-Schuckert, in late 1922. The construction project was not without controversy, with national and governmental debate over wages, conditions, strikes, and spending over-runs.
Thousands flocked to the area to work on this vast development under the direction of Siemens & Schuckard, a large German engineering firm based in Berlin. Rivers and streams had to be re-routed, bridges constructed and new railway lines laid as a 7 ½ mile canal was dug to form the Head Race from the new Parteen Weir on the River Shannon and the power station itself was built, all for a total cost of £5½ million, an astronomical amount when the new state’s entire budget was £25m.
Inaugurated by Taoiseach William T. Cosgrave in July 1929, the Shannon Scheme subsequently served as a model for large-scale electrification projects worldwide. At the time, it was the largest source of hydroelectric power in the world, though soon superseded by the USA’s Hoover Dam (1936). The influential Financial Times was highly impressed, commenting: “They have thrown on their shoulders the not easy task of breaking what is in reality an enormous inferiority complex and the Shannon Scheme is one – and probably the most vital – of their methods of doing it.”
In 2002, on the 75th anniversary of the plant, the American Society of Civil Engineers marked the facility as an Engineering Milestone of the Twentieth Century.
Knockalisheen Camp, a disused army barracks dating from the Emergency (WWII), was used in 1956 to accommodae 161 Hungarians fleeing the Soviet repression in their country. In 1957, complaints and disputes between the refugees and the authorities over living conditions and enforced idleness led to a mass hunger strike. After three days, the Dáil and the Irish Red Cross negotiated an end to the strike. By the summer of 1958, most of the refugees were allowed to move to Germany and the USA, while a few chose to remain in Ireland. During their stay at the camp, the 51 children attended the local St Munchin’s Girls’ School where they were taught both English and Irish. Since the 1990s the camp has again been used to house refugees, now mostly from African countries.
Cloonlara (Cluain Lara), a village in the Kiltannenlea area of East Clare, is best known for its fisheries centre.
Clonlara Equestrian Centre, based at late C18th Oakfield House, is a family run riding school with stabling for 65 horses, an international size indoor arena, a large outdoor manage and 130 acres of farmland, making it ideal for trekking. Mounts can be hired for local drag hunts in season.
Coonagh, a small historical barony to the northwest of Limerick City, is mainly known for the Coonagh Aerodrome, home to the Limerick Flying Club. (Photo – final gather)
Cratloe & Rossmanagher (County Clare / South)
Cratloe (An Chreatlach – “the land of sallow trees”; alternatively Croit-shliabh – “hump-backed hill”) (pop. 650) is a historic village overlooked by Woodcock Hill (310m / 1015ft), and the location of a fine cairn.
St John’s church (RC), erected in 1791, is one of only three “barn churches” left in the country. It is an attractive edifice, very popular for weddings.
The area is mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters, where it is recorded that Crimhthan, king of Munster and High King of Ireland, died in Cratloe from poison administered by his sister; she wished for her son Brian to become High King, but in the end had to settle for the kingdom of Connacht, while the High Kingship went to the man later known as Niall of the Nine Hostages.
In 1510 an army led by the Lord Deputy Gearóid Mór Fitzgerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, marching on Thomond, was defeated near Cratloe by the O’Brien, MacNamara, Sil-Aedha and Clanrickard clans led by Turlough O’Brien.
Cratloe Woods and nearby Garranon Oak Wood are popular recreational forests. The latter probably provided the timbers for the roof of St Mary’s Cathedral in Limerick City, and makes the common but unlikely claim to have supplied beams for London’s Westminster Hall and Amsterdam’s Royal Palace.
Gallows Hill, classified as an area of outstanding natural beauty, has lovely forested slopes and views.
The remnants of several small raths / ringforts can be found in the area, as can some ruined churches and chapels, together with the shells of four Tower Houses, Cratloe / Cratloemoyle Castle, Cratloekeel Castle, Castle Donnell / Cratloemore Castle and Ballintlea Castle, all built by the MacNamara clan.
Craughaun Cemetery contains a megalithic wedge tomb, the ruins of an old church and a family vault.
Rosmanagher is the location of an atmospherically ruined church. (Photo by ferdia35)
Rosmanagher Castle, a Tower House built by Donogh MacNamara’s son Shane in 1548, was listed in 1580 as the property of the Earl of Thomond. It was garrisoned by Parliamentarian troops during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms until surrendered to Kilkenny Confederate forces by Captain Hunt and his small group of musketeers in May 1646. Abraham Dester leased the castle in 1675 and as the family prospered they built Rosmanagher House, leaving the castle to fall into disrepair, and changed their surname to D’Esterre. They are not fondly remembered in the area.
Henry D’Esterre‘s dastardly erection of a toll bridge in 1784 effectively rendered the O’Garney River unnavigable. (Locals claim that Daniel O’Connell’s refusal to pay the toll was behind the notorious 1815 duel in which he mortally wounded Captain John D’Esterre).
Bunratty (Co. Clare / South)
Bunratty (Bun na Raite – “End of the Raite / Ratty / O’gChearnaigh / O’Garney River”), first settled in 970 AD as a Viking trading post beside the river mouth opening into the River Shannon estuary, is best known for its magnificent castle, the largest intact medieval fortification in Ireland.
Bunratty village grew up rapidly as an “Englishry”, and by 1300 had a population of c.1000. Despite various setbacks it prospered over the centuries, and reached its peak by the early C19th, when Bunratty Bridge was largest single arched bridge in the country. At that time it had a thriving economy, with an expanding community requiring the construction of many of the buildings visible today. However, the Great Famine and its sequelae saw Bunratty fall into sad decline, and by the 1950s it was reduced to Durty Nelly’s pub (established c.1804) and a rundown house.
Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
Robert de Muscegros, granted the local cantred of Tradraighe by King Henry III in 1248, erected a motte and bailey / “bretesche” here in 1251, but his grandson surrendered it to the Crown.
In 1276 King Edward I granted the unconquered lands of Thomond (roughly coterminous with modern County Clare) to the Justiciar of Ireland, Thomas de Clare, second son of the 5th Duke of Gloucester and Maud de Lacey, a direct descendant of Strongbow. He built the first stone Tower House on the site in 1280, and spent the remaining eight years of his life trying to wrest control of Thomond from the descendants of Brian Boru, themselves split into dynastic factions vying for supremacy.
His son Richard de Clare entered into an alliance with followers of Brian Ruadh O’Brien, the most recently deposed king of Thomond, who he later betrayed and had torn apart by horses. Richard was killed in May 1318 at the Battle of Dysert O’Dea by the army of Muircheartach / Murtough O’Brien, the “rightful” king of Thomond (who had earlier ousted his cousin Donnach). The victors marched on Bunratty Castle, only to find that De Clare’s wife Joan had set the entire settlement aflame and returned to England. Thomond remained untamed for over 200 years.
In 1332, soon after its restoration, the castle was again razed by the O’ Briens and the MacNamaras. In 1353, after lying in ruins for 21 years, it was rebuilt by Sir Thomas Rokeby, but was attacked again almost immediately and remained in native possession thereafter.
The present impressive structure was completed c.1425 by the MacNamara family, but was in the hands of their more powerful O’Brien overlords by the end of the century. The castle became famed for its hospitality, and was surrounded by ornamental gardens and a great deerpark by 1543, when Murrough O’Brien submitted to King Henry VIII‘s scheme of Surrender & Regrant and was created 1st Earl of Thomond.
The last of the royal O’Brien dynasty to reside in Bunratty was Brian / Barnabas O’Brien, 6th Earl of Thomond, an astute political gymnast; during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, he allowed a large Parliamentary garrison to occupy the castle and fled to England for his own safety. In 1646 , it was captured from Admiral Penn by Kilkenny Confederacy forces under Donagh MacCarthy, Viscount Muskerry, and used to entertain the Papal Legate to the rebels, Cardinal Rinnucini (who described Bunratty as the most beautiful place he had ever seen!).
The property was sold in 1712 to Thomas Amory and bought in1720 by the Studdert family, who left the castle in 1804 to take up residence in the more comfortable and modern Bunratty House.
In 1954 the derelict castle was saved from ruin when it was purchased, reroofed, restored and refurbished by Standish Robert Gage Prendergast Vereker, 7th Viscount Gort, who later generously donated the premises and contents to the Irish people.
Bunratty Castle is open to the public, and is well worth visiting both in its own right and to see the Bunratty Collection of rare furnishings, paintings, tapestries and other fine antiques. At night the castle hosts medieval banquets, accompanied by talented harpists, flautists, fiddlers and other musicians.
The Bunratty Walled Garden, based on the original Regency garden that supplied fruit, vegetables, and flowers to Bunratty House, has been remodelled and refurbished in a typical Victorian style.
Bunratty Folk Park, adjoining the castle, comprises 26 acres with over 30 reconstructed historical buildings, some from elsewhere in the region, put together as a rather twee village complete with watermills, smithy, school, post office, doctors house, printworks, drapery, pawnbroker’s, old home bakery and a typical pub / grocery / hardware store. A C19th period feel is maintained by peat fires in cottages and characters such as the Policeman, Schoolteacher and Bean an Ti (Woman of the House) in contemporary dress. Old furniture, tools and artefacts are displayed, and there are live demonstrations of bread baking, weaving and pottery making.
Ardcroney church, a former CoI edifice near Nenagh in County Tipperary, was moved and rebuilt here stone by stone.
The Corn Barn hosts regular evenings of traditional and contemporary Irish music, with dinner served during the performance.
Run by Shannon Development as a major tourist attraction, Bunratty Castle & Folk Park is often unfairly dismissed as only suitable for school groups and naive travellers seeking an “authentic Oirish” experience.
Bunratty has grown in recent years, and now has several good shops, pubs, eateries and accommodation options.
Hurlers Cross (Cros an Iománaí) (pop. 8000) is remarkable only for Our Lady of the Wells church (RC), an attractive three-bay T-plan edifice erected c.1820.
Shannon / Shannon Town (Baile na Sionnainne) (pop. 9000) is one of only two C20th planned “new towns” in Ireland, the other being the town of Craigavon in County Armagh. It was built along with the Shannon Free Zone industrial estate on reclaimed marshland beside the newly established Shannon Airport, and was intended as a dormitory community for workers there and in surrounding industries and support services. The development was not a triumph of urban planning. Much of the town layout was car-oriented, with low-cost housing (mainly tower block flats) laid out along rigidly straight roads and a shopping centre of dubious design. Population growth was never as fast as intended during the first few decades of the town’s existence, but increased significantly as facilities slowly improved in the 1990s. The ecumenical church burned down in early 2010.
Shannon Airport (Photo by benallsup)
Planned in consultation with Charles Lindburgh, Shannon Airport was constructed on boggy land on Rineanna Point jutting out into the River Shannon estuary, drained in 1936; it soon replaced the flying boat terminal located at nearby Foynes, and became Ireland’s first transatlantic airport in 1945, but is now well past its heyday, when many flights between European cities and the Americas had to stop here for refuelling.
The rundown terminal serves Limerick and the “Midwest” region as a local convenience, artificially kept alive until 2008 by the government’s insistence on the absurd “Shannon stopover” requirement for transatlantic flights to and from Dublin, and military use by both the former USSR and the USA, including troop movements during the two Iraq Wars and allegedly as many as 50 “extraordinary rendition” flights during President GW Bush’s campaign against Islamic terrorism.
Although the airport processed over 3 million passengers (mainly American soldiers) in 2008, its future is probably primarily as a cargo facility and aircraft maintenance centre.
Kilconry (Cill Chonaire), situated at the junction of the Rivers Shannon and Fergus, is named after a C6th female saint traditionally believed to have been a cousin of Saint Senan of Scattery, who is reputed to have banned women from Inishcarthy, but relented and allowed her body to be buried there. The old parish took in the three inhabited islands of Dynish, Fynish and Innismacnaughten in the River Fergus estuary.
Kilconry church, now in ruins, is probably of C15th origin.
Clonloghan (Cluainlochain – “river meadow of the withered grass”) is the location of a ruined parish church that may have been built as early as the C10th, possibly by Saint Enda, who is associated with the Aran Islands. Traditional family graves are still in use. Some of the headstones were damaged when an Alitalia plane flying from Rome to New York crashed shortly after refuelling at Shannon Airport on 26th February 1960, killing 28 passengers.
Drumline is the location of a church site thought to date back to the C8th AD or even earlier, reputedly founded by Sanctain. Very little remains of the church building and the foundations can now only be barely identified.
Carrygerry Country House is a tastefully restored Manor (1793) with a charming courtyard, open fires and antique furniture, surrounded by tranquil green pastures. In addition to providing excellent B&B accommodation facilities in the main house and converted stables, hosts Niall & Gillian Ennis serve impeccable meals in their award-winning Conservatory restaurant.