Limerick straddles the Shannon’s broadening tidal stream, where the river swings west to join Shannon Estuary. Dating from the 10th century, the city has played a pivotal role in the history of Ireland. Today, Limerick’s eclectic past is reflected in its rich historical fabric. From the 13th century King John’s Castle to the planned Georgian core described by Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary in 1837 as ‘one of the handsomest in Ireland’, the city is a feast of culture and heritage. In addition to a lively arts scene, there is a contemporary café culture, authentic pubs and locals who go out of their way to provide a genuine welcome.
A brief history of Limerick
In the early 10th century the Vikings founded Limerick at the southern end of King’s Island. From there it first spread northwards to the area now occupied by King John’s Castle and then southwards across the Abbey River. It was here that a suburb developed that was later to be called Irishtown. In the 18th century the city expanded again when the Georgian Newtownpery was laid out to the south west of the old medieval town. This new town, with its wide streets and grid pattern, became the centre of the modern city.
In the late 10th century the Gaelic Dal gCais family of Co. Clare took over and held the Hiberno-Norse town of Limerick until the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in 1175. After storming the defences they stayed for about two years before abandoning the city. They later returned and stayed on a permanent basis in 1195. In 1197 John Lord of Ireland (later King John) granted the city its first charter. The city was always at the edge of the Anglo-Norman colony. However, in the later medieval period it became more and more isolated from central government with the result that the city took over many of the Crown’s functions.
The walls of Limerick developed on a piecemeal basis. They are first mentioned in Gerald of Wales’s description of the 1175 assault on the town. Later revenue for constructing the walls came from taxation via murage grants in 1237 and 1310. It was only in the 15th century that the Irishtown was walled. It was also at this time that provision was made for the new invention of artillery.
In the 17th century there were four sieges of the city. In 1642 the Irish Confederates besieged the castle and took the castle. In 1651 a Cromwellian army conquered the city. In 1690 an army led by King William attempted to take Limerick but failed. The following year the army returned and the city finally surrendered under the terms of the Treaty of Limerick. The treaty allowed Irish soldiers to leave and serve in continental armies. These men became known as the “Wild Geese”. In 1760 it was declared that Limerick was no longer a garrison town and so the demolition of its walls began. With the destruction of the walls and development of Newtownpery the old medieval walled town started to decline.
For further information on the city’s history contact:
Limerick City Museum
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