From Atlas and Cyclopedia of Ireland (1900)
NAME.—The Gaelic form is Luimneach (pron. Limnagh), which was formerly applied to a portion of the Shannon, and thence to the city (like Dublin, Sligo, Galway, etc.). But Luimneach must have been originally applied to a piece of land (probably on King's Island, on which part of the city now stands), for it means a "bare spot" (from lom., bare, with the postfix neach), and there are several other places in Ireland bearing the same name, variously modernized Limerick, Limnagh, Lumnagh, Lomanagh, Lumney, etc.
SIZE AND POPULATION.—Greatest length from the bend of the river Feale, 2 miles southwest of Abbeyfeale in the west, to the boundary at Galtymore in the east, 50 miles; greatest breadth from Montpelier on the Shannon in the north, to the Ballyhoura Hills on the southern border, 33 miles; average breadth, about 23 miles; area, 1,064 square miles; population, 180,632.
SURFACE.—The northeastern corner lying east of the Shannon and Limerick city is mountainous, covered by a continuation of that Tipperary group whose principal summit is Keeper Hill. The southeast corner, namely, the greater part of the barony of Coshlea, is also mountainous, being occupied by a continuation of the Galty range (the whole range extending west to Charleville) and by other hills not immediately connected with the Galtys. The whole western part of the county lying west of Rathkeale and Dromcolliher is a continued succession of hills and uplands. All the center of the county is a great plain, almost surrounded by the mountain bulwarks above mentioned. The plain is broken up somewhat toward its borders by ridges and detached hills, but is very flat in the middle, and also toward the Shannon on the north. This plain contains the finest land in Ireland; and that part of it sweeping round by Hospital, Kilmallock, and Bruree, is a portion of the district called from its richness the "Golden Vale," which stretches eastward into Tipperary toward Cashel.
MOUNTAINS AND HILLS.—In the northeast, separated from the Tipperary Mountains on the north by the narrow vale of the Clare River, the Slievefelim Mountains, or Slieve Eelim (sometimes also called the Twelve Hills of Evlinn), run east and west through the north part of the barony of Owneybeg, the chief summits being Cullaun (1,523), toward the east end; and about 3 miles east of this again rises the detached mountain, Knockastanna (1,467), separated from Cullaun by the valley of the Bilboa River.
In the southeast the Ballyhoura Mountains run east and west for about 6 miles on the borders of Limerick and Cork. The principal summits are Seefin (1,702), rising straight over the village and valley of Glenasheen, and having on its south side the pretty mountain glen of Lyre-na-Grena. Near Seefin on the northwest is Blackrock (1,696), with a great precipice on its northeastern face; and 3 miles to the west is Carron (1,469), on the boundary of Cork and Limerick. Immediately east of Seefin is Knockea (1,311), east of which again is the fine detached mountain of Knockeennamroanta (1,319); between which and Knockea is the ancient pass of Barnaderg, now called Redchair, leading from the plain of Limerick to the plain of Cork. At the north side of the valley, over the village of Ballyorgan, is the sharp peak of Barnageeha (1,196).
Five miles from the Ballyhoura Mountains to the northeast is Slievereagh (1,439), lying northeast of Kilfinane, and overlooking toward the north the rich plain of the "Golden Vale." The Ballyhoura Mountains are a continuation to the west of the Galty Mountains, a grand range, the western part of which belongs to Limerick, and the eastern part to Tipperary, the highest summit of the whole range, Galtymore (3,015), standing on the boundary.
In the extreme southwest; the Mullaghareirk Mountains run east and west, the western part in Limerick and the eastern part in Cork, or partly on the boundary. The chief summits belonging to Limerick are Knockanade (1,070), and Knockawarriga (1,007); 4 ½ miles east of Knockanade is Mullaghanuish (1,189).
In the western part of the county the chief summits are Knockanimpaha (1,132), Sugar Hill (1,090), and Barnagh Hill (907), all near each other, and about 4 miles west of Newcastle. Near the extreme western boundary is Knockathea (801).
Several detached hills rise from the level part of the county; for instance, round Lough Gur, near Bruff, are a number of beautiful hills; and in the baronies of Clanwilliam and Connagh in the northeast, round the villages of Pallas Grean and Caherconlish, the country is broken up by a series of lovely pastoral hills. The most remarkable hill of this kind is Knockfeerina (949), 2 miles east of Ballingarry, overlooking the whole plain of Limerick; it has a great carn on its summit; and both mountain and carn are celebrated in fairy legends. Tory Hill, a mile and a half northeast of Croom, though only 374 feet high, is a striking feature in the midst of the great plain around it.
COAST LINE.—From Limerick city down to Foynes the Limerick shore of the Shannon is low, except indeed that Aughinish Island rises to the height of 105 feet. Foynes Island is 196 feet high, and from that downward is a succession of bluffs from 100 to upward of 300 feet over the river. There is a succession of mansions and demesnes the whole way down from Limerick to Tarbert, rendering the coast very beautiful as viewed from the Shannon.
ISLANDS.—Foynes Island is nearly circular, and about a mile in diameter, with the pretty village of Foynes opposite it on the mainland, the terminus of the railway from Limerick. Near this on the east is the larger island of Aughinish, separated from the mainland by a very narrow channel. King's Island at Limmerick, surrounded by two branches of the Shannon, is a mile in length, and is partly covered by the city.
RIVERS.—The Shannon first touches Limerick a mile above O'Briensbridge, and from this down to Tarbert, a distance of 48 miles, following the windings of the shore, it forms the boundary of the county, except for 6 miles partly above and partly below Limerick city, where a small portion of Limerick county lies on the right bank of the river. A little below Limerick the river becomes very wide, and from that down to its mouth it is a noble estuary, fully deserving Spenser's description, "The spacious Shenan spreading like a sea." With some trifling exceptions, which will be noticed, the whole of the county Limerick is drained into the Shannon.
In the northeast of the county the Mulkear (or Mulkern as it is sometimes called), joins the Shannon about halfway between Limerick city and Castleconnell. The Mulkear is formed by the following tributaries: From the north the Newport River comes from Tipperary, having in the early part of its course among the Tipperary Hills, the same name as the main stream—Mulkear; the Annagh River joins the Newport River, and the combined stream falls into the Mulkear near Barrington's Bridge (this combined stream during its short course of less than three miles having two different names in succession as it flows along); the Annagh or Clare River, as it is called in the early part of its course, flowing westward under the north base of the Slievefelim Mountains, and forming a part of the boundary between Limerick and Tipperary. The Bilboa River, the Dead River, and the Cahernahallia River, all of which rise in Tipperary, are the chief headwaters of the Mulkear. West of the Mulkear the little river Groody falls into the Shannon a little above Limerick city; and the Ballynaclogh River about the same distance below the city. On the north bank of the Shannon, 3 miles below the city, the Crompaun River forms for its whole course the boundary between Limerick and Clare.
The Maigue rises near Milford, in Cork (west of Charleville, and running north for about 2 miles, touches Limerick); then turning eastward it runs for a short distance partly on the boundary of Cork and Limerick, and partly in Limerick; next turns north, and flowing by Bruree, Croom and Adare, through the magnificent plain of Limerick, joins the Shannon 9 miles below Limerick city. The Maigue has the following tributaries; the Loobah rises in Slievereagh, northeast of Kilfinnane, and winding westward by Kilmallock, joins the Maigue a mile and a half above Bruree. The Morning Star rises between Ballylanders and Galbally (in the barony of Coshlea), and flowing to the northwest, falls into the Maigue two miles below Bruree. The Camoge comes from that part of Tipperary lying near Knocklong, in the east of Limerick, passing by Knocklong and receiving the Mahore as tributary (which runs through Hospital), it turns westward and joins the Maigue a mile above Croom. Toward the mouth, the Maigue receives the Barnakyle River from the east.
The Deel rises in Cork, 2 or 3 miles south of Milford (near the source of the Maigue), runs in a general direction to the north, and leaving Newcastle a mile to the west, it flows through Rathkeale and Askeaton, and joins the Shannon a mile below this last town. Above Newcastle it receives the Bunoke on the west bank, and the Owenskaw on the east, and near Newcastle it is joined on the left bank by the Daar, and by the combined streams of the Ehernagh, the Dooally, and the Arra, these two last joining at Newcastle.
West of the Deel, the Shannon is joined by the Robertstown River at Foynes, by the White River at Loghill, and by the Glin River at Glin. In the southwest, the Feale, rising in Cork, forms the boundary between Limerick and Kerry for 7 miles, after which it enters Kerry. From Limerick, the Feale receives as tributaries, the Allaghaun, rising in the Mullaghareirk Mountains; the Oolagh, which rises in Sugar Hill, west of Newcastle; and the Galey, which draws its headwaters from Knockanimpaha and the uplands round it, but enters Kerry before joining the Feale.
Of the southeast corner of the county a portion is drained into the basin of the Suir, and a small part into that of the Blackwater. The Aherlow River flows by Galbally, then runs for 3 miles on the boundary between Limerick and Tipperary, after which it enters Tipperary to join the Suir. The Funshion, flowing first southward down the slope of Galtymore, separates Limerick from Tipperary for 5 or 6 miles, then turning westward at the junction of the three counties, it forms the boundary between Limerick and Cork for 5 miles, after which it enters Cork to join the Blackwater. From Limerick the Funshion receives at Kilbeheny, the Bethanagh (Spenser's Molana), flowing south from a deep glen in the Galtys; and further on to the west, the Ahaphuca River and the Keale River (flowing by Ballyorgan) join at the bridge of Ahaphuca, on the boundary of Limerick and Cork, after which the united stream is called the Ownnageeragh or Sheep River, which forms the boundary of the two counties for half a mile, and then enters Cork to join the Funshion.
LAKES.—The only lake of any consequence in the whole county is Lough Gur, 3 miles north of Bruff. It is upward of a mile in length, and irregular in shape, surrounded by lovely hills; and on its islands and round its shores there are numbers of most interesting remains of antiquity —castles, cromlechs, sepulchral chambers, stone circles, and circular raths or forts.
TOWNS.—Limerick (38,562), a very ancient city, built on a plain, part being on the King's Island, but the chief portion on the mainland. It contains many interesting remains of antiquity, among them being the old cathedral founded in the 12th century, and rebuilt in the 15th; King John's Castle; and a portion of the old town walls. Three miles southwest of Limerick are the remains of the ancient priory of Mungret, an establishment of great antiquity; it was formerly a celebrated center of learning, and is said to have had at one time 1,500 monks. Above Limerick, on the Shannon, is Castleconnell (330), in a lovely situation near the falls of Dunass (see Clare), with the fine old castle of the O'Briens on a rock in the village. The lovely little town of Glin (842) stands on the Shannon shore, near the northwest corner of the county.
Towns on the Maigue and its tributaries: Adare (561) is situated 7 miles in a straight line from the mouth of the Maigue, a very pretty village, with interesting ruins of abbeys, churches, and castles in and near it, and having the Earl of Dunraven's beautiful residence, Adare Manor, beside it. Six miles below Adare, near the mouth of the Maigue, is the old castle of Carrigogunnel, one of the most singular ruins in the country, perched on the ton of an abrupt rock overlooking the rich plain all round. Croom (747) stands 5 miles above Adare, beside which is Croom Castle, one of the strongholds of the Fitzgeralds, from which they took their war cry of Crom-Aboo; two miles east of Croom is Monasteranenagh Abbey, one of the finest ecclesiastical ruins in Ireland; and one mile west of the town are the very ancient church ruin and round tower of Dysert. Bruree (472) is 8 miles above Croom. Hospital (667), in the east of the county, stands on the Mahore, one of the head streams of the river Camoge. On the Morning Star is Bruff (1,600); and near the source is the village of Ballylanders (438). On the Loobagh is Kilmallock (1,027). The town rose round a monastery founded in the 6th century by St. Mochelloc or Mallock. In after ages it was the capital of the Fitgeralds, Earls of Desmond; and it is now the most interesting town in Ireland for its remains of antiquity. There are still two fine castellated gateways in good preservation, with a considerable portion of the old town walls. The abbey of SS. Peter and Paul stands within the town, and a portion of it is still used for divine service. The Dominican friary is situated beside the river a little to the northeast of the town, a very fine old ruin, containing a pointed window, the most beautiful in Ireland. Along the street of the town many of the ancient houses still remain fitted up as modern dwellings. Near the source of the Loobagh is Kilfinane (1,398), on the slope of a hill overlooking the great plain of Limerick, a good business town, with an ancient triple-fossed fort of great size beside it. Two miles from Kilfinane toward the west is the green round hill of Ardpatrick having on its summit a burying ground, with the ruins of a very ancient abbey church and a portion of a round tower. Ballingarry (795) stands on a stream that joins the Maigue on the left bank a mile below Adare.
Towns on the Deel and its tributaries: Two miles from the mouth is Askeaton (891), with beautiful abbey ruins, and an ancient castle of the Earls of Desmond on a high rock; beside the town the Deel tumbles over a ridge of rocks, forming a pretty waterfall. Seven miles southwest of Askeaton, near the village of Shanagolden, is a little hill with two peaks, one of which is crowned with the fine old ruins of Shanid Castle, from which the Knights of Glin took their war cry, Shanid-Aboo; the other peak has an ancient circular fort on its summit. Higher up on the Deel is Rathkeale (2,549), which is, next to Limerick, the most important town in the county. Newcastle (2,186) stands on the Arra within a mile of the confluence of this little river with the Deel, another important and prosperous town. Dromcolliher (633) stands near the boundary of Cork, on a small stream, one of the headwaters of the Deel.
In the west of the county, Abbeyfeale (965) stands on the Feale, where it separates Limerick from Kerry; the town took its name from an abbey founded in the 12th century, the fine ruins of which still remain beside the river. In the northeast, Cappamore (954) stands on the Bilboa River.
MINERALS.—The mountainous district in the west of the county is a part of the great Munster coalfield, and coal is raised for local purposes in several places. About 7 miles from Limerick, on the road to Askeaton, there are quarries of fine marble of a reddish brown color.
ANCIENT DIVISIONS AND DESIGNATIONS.—All that part of Limerick lying west of the Maigue, together with the barony of Coshma (lying chiefly east of the river), was called Hy Fidgente or Hy Carbery. It was the territory of the O'Donovans, who were driven out of it in 1178, and fled to Cork and Kerry. The present barony of Small County was the ancient Deis-Beg. In this district is the hill now called Knockainy (with the village of Knockainy at its foot), formerly called Ainè, or Ainè-Clich, from the territory of Cliach or Ara-Cliach, which lay round the hill. That part of the barony of Coshlea lying between Knocklong and the southern boundary near Ballyorgan, was the old district of Cliu Mail.
Olioll Olum, king of Munster in the 2d century, had his palace at Bruree, whence it got its name, Brugh-righ, the brugh or fort of the king. It continued to be a royal seat for ages afterward, for the O'Donovans, chiefs of Hy Fidgente, had their principal residence there; and there are still remaining extensive raths or forts, the fortifications of the old palace. The tomb of Olioll Olum—a great cromlech—stands on a hill near the church of Duntryleague, between Galbally and Knocklong in this county.
The following baronies still retain the names of the old territories from which they were formed: Coonagh, the district of Hy Cuanach; Owneybeg is Uaithne (pron. Oona); the baronies of Connello represent Hy Conall Gavara; and Kenry is the old Caenarighe (pron. Kain-ree).
The round green hill of Knocklong, now crowned with the ruins of a castle and of a church, was the ancient Drum-Davary. In the 3d century Cormac Mac Art, king of Ireland, marched southward to exact tribute from Munster; and he was opposed by Fiacha Mullahan, king of the province, who encamped his army on Drum Davary, Cormac's army being on the opposite hill—Slieve Claire, now Sleive Reagh. After a series of battles Cormac was repulsed; and Drum Davary thenceforward and to the present day retains the name of Knocklong, or the hill of the encampment.