LIMERICK CITY

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

LIMERICK, a city and county of itself, situated on the river Shannon, locally in the county of Limerick (of which it forms the capital), and in the province of MUNSTER, 51 miles (N.) from Cork, and 94 (S. W.) from Dublin; containing, in 1821, 59,045, and in 1831, 66,554 inhabitants, of which number, 44,100 are in the city and suburbs, and the remainder in the rural district. This ancient and important city, supposed by some writers to have been the Regia of Ptolemy, is called Rosse-de-Nailleagh in the Annals of Multifernan; and is believed to have been the place described under the name of Lumneach, as forming the western extremity of the southern half of the island as divided A. M. 2870 and 3970, which name appears to have been modified by the English into its present designation.

St. Patrick is said to have visited it about the middle of the fifth century; but the first authentic notices of Limerick represent it as a Danish settlement. The place was first plundered by them in 812, and about the middle of the same century they made it one of their principal maritime stations, surrounding it with walls and towers which enclose the area now occupied by the English town. For nearly a century their power continued to increase, until Brien Boroimhe assumed the dominion of Munster and Thomond, when he expelled the Danes from Inniscattery, and reduced Limerick, allowing the inhabitants however to continue in it, subject to their own laws and customs, on payment of an annual tribute, said to have been fixed at 365 tuns or casks of wine of 32 gallons each.

In 1064, Turlogh, King of Munster, received here the homage of Donsleibhe, King of Ulidia; and his successor Murtogh, having given Cashel to the church, removed the seat of royalty to Limerick in 1106, from which time it continued to be the residence of the kings of Thomond, or North Munster, until its conquest by the English: from this circumstance, his successors were styled indiscriminately kings of North Munster or of Limerick. The Danes of Limerick did not embrace Christianity until the 11th century, and in the following they elected their first bishop. In 1153, Turlogh O'Conor, King of Connaught, besieged the city, and compelled the Danes to renounce the authority of Turlogh O'Brien, and drive him west of the Shannon.

A succession of intestine wars among the native princes was carried on until the landing of Henry II., who soon after obtained possession of it and placed a garrison there; but after his departure, Donald O'Brien, King of Thomond, regained possession of it. In 1175, Raymond le Gros, with the assistance of the King of Ossory, invested it, and by fording the river in the face of the enemy, so daunted them that he entered it without opposition, obtained a great booty, and secured it by a garrison; but on the death of Earl Strongbow, it was again evacuated by the English and subsequently burned by order of Donald, who declared that it should no longer be a nest for foreigners. In 1179, Henry II. gave the kingdom of Limerick to Herebert Fitz-Herebert, who having resigned his claim to an inheritance so uncertain, it was granted to Philip de Braosa, and he, aided by Milo de Cogan and Robert Fitz-Stephen, advanced against the city, which the garrison set on fire. This so dispirited Braosa, that he immediately retreated, and so assured was Donald O'Brien afterwards of the security of his metropolis, that, in 1194, he founded the cathedral church of St. Mary, on the site of his palace. In 1195, the English appear to have regained possession of the city, for it was then governed by a provost; but Mac Arthy of Desmond forced them once more to abandon it.

King John afterwards renewed the grant to Philip de Braosa, with the exception of the city of Limerick, the cantred of the Ostmen, and the Holy Island, which he committed to the custody of William de Burgo, who formed a settlement there which from that period set at defiance all the efforts of the Irish. A strong castle and bridge were erected; and, encouraged by the privileges offered to them, English settlers flocked hither in great numbers, between whom and the inhabitants of the surrounding country amicable relations appear to to have been soon established, for, among the names of the chief magistrates for the ensuing century, besides those which appear to be English, Norman or Flemish, and Italian, there are several purely Irish. Money was coined here in the reign of John.

In 1234, the city was taken, after a siege of four days, by Richard, Earl Marshal of England, then in rebellion; and by the continued wars in the surrounding country, especially among the O'Briens, De Burgos, De Clares, and Fitzgeralds, its progress in commercial prosperity appears to have been greatly checked. In 1308, Pierce Gaveston, the viceroy, passed through Limerick with an army, and compelled O'Brien to submit, but the tranquillity was of short duration. In 1314, De Clare burned the suburbs; and in 1316, Edward Bruce terminated his career of conquest southward at this place, and kept his court here until the following Easter. The hostilities of the O'Briens and others of his allies, and the unbounded authority assumed by the Earl of Desmond and other Anglo-Norman leaders, rendered additional military defences necessary for the protection of the city, and various grants were made by Edward II. for enclosing the suburbs with a stone wall, and for repairing the castle. In 1331, the Earl of Desmond was committed to the custody of the Marshal of Limerick.

In 1337, a dispute arose between the merchants of Limerick and Galway, respecting tolls, which, notwithstanding the interference of the Lord-Justice, finally led to open hostilities. In 1340, Limerick was for a short period the head-quarters of Sir William Windsor, chief governor, when marching into the west against the O'Briens. During the whole of the fifteenth century, the fortifications, which, prior to the grants of Edward II., had comprised only the part of the city insulated by the Shannon, and called the English town, were extended so as to include the portion on the southern bank of the river, called the Irish town, the defences of which were completed by the erection of St. John's gate and the neighbouring works, begun in 1450, but not finished until 1495.

In the reign of Edward IV., Connor O'Brien, prince of Thomond, drove the English from various parts of Munster, and compelled the citizens of Limerick to pay him an annual tribute of 60 marks. Another remarkable proof of the distracted state of the country is afforded by a statute of the 28th of Henry VI., from which it appeared that, owing to the prevailing power of the "Irish enemy and English rebels," in the surrounding country, the inhabitants were under the necessity of deriving their supply of provisions principally from France, which was sent only on condition of the ships being placed under the special protection of the King of England. In 1467, a mint was established in the city; in 1484, Gerald," Earl of Kildare, held a parliament there; and in 1495, the brotherhood of the guild of merchants was erected.

In the reign of Henry VII. the city recovered some degree of prosperity; but in 1524 it was harassed by the open hostilities, both by sea and land, resulting from the commercial jealousies between it and Galway, until these were at length terminated by a formal treaty, and by an injunction from the King, in 1536, requiring a better demeanour from the men of Galway.

In the reign of Henry VIII., Alderman Sexton, of this city, took a distinguished part in favour of the British interest. In 1542, the proclamation declaring Henry VIII. king of Ireland was received with demonstrations of the greatest joy, and in the following year Sir Anthony St. Leger held a parliament here, in which divers important acts were passed. Towards the close of Mary's reign, the Lord-Deputy Sussex arrived here to suppress a revolt of some inferior branches of the O'Brien family against their chief, on which occasion the Earl of Thomond and all the freeholders of his country swore fealty to the crown of England. During the entire reign of Elizabeth, and throughout the wars that devastated the whole surrounding province, Limerick maintained the most unshaken loyalty, and was made a centre of civil and military administration.

Sir Henry Sydney, Lord-Deputy, who visited it in 1567, in 1569, and in 1576, states that he was received here with greater magnificence than he had hitherto experienced in Ireland. At this period Limerick is described as a place well and substantially built, with walls extending round a circuit of about three miles.

On the arrival of Sir William Pelham, Lord-Deputy, in 1579, the mayor appeared before him attended by 1000 citizens well armed; and in 1584, the city militia amounted to 800 men, being double that of Cork, and a third more than that of Waterford, demonstrating that Limerick was then the most important city in the island next to Dublin. During the Earl of Desmond's rebellion, the city was for some time the head-quarters of the English army. From the commencement of the reign of James I. until the war of 1641, it enjoyed undisturbed tranquillity: and notwithstanding accidental conflagrations, in 1618 and 1620, considerable improvement in the construction of buildings and public works took place.

The customs' duties for the year ending Lady-day, 1633, amounted to no less a sum than £1619. 1. 7 ¾. In 1636 it was visited by the Lord-Deputy Wentworth, who was splendidly entertained by the mayor for nine days, and on his departure presented to the corporation a valuable cup of silver gilt.

On the approach of the insurgent army under Lord Ikerrin, Lord Muskerry, and General Barry, in 1642, the gates were thrown open by the citizens; the royal garrison, consisting only of 200 men, who had shut themselves up in the castle, were compelled to surrender after an obstinate defence; after which the magistrates sent representatives to the Catholic convention at Kilkenny, and made every exertion to repair and strengthen the fortifications. In 1646, when it was attempted to proclaim the pacification that had just been concluded between King Charles and the parliament, the attempt was met by violence; and afterwards, the supreme council, headed by Rinuncini, the pope's nuncio, removed hither, to encourage the besiegers of the neighbouring castle of Bunratty, on the Clare side of the Shannon, in which the parliamentarians had placed a garrison.

In 1650, the Marquess of Ormonde marched into the city, in the hope of securing it for the king; but the nuncio's party having deprived him of all power, he at length quitted the kingdom, leaving the command of the royalist troops to the Earl of Castlehaven, who induced the magistrates to accept his offer to defend them against the threatened attack of Ireton. The latter, however, did not commence operations until the spring of 1651; and the siege being protracted until the approach of winter, famine, misery, and death made formidable ravages among the ranks of both parties. The attempts of the Irish forces to relieve the place were defeated, but a sally by O'Nial, who commanded the garrison, nearly proved fatal to the besiegers. The privations of the inhabitants at length compelled them to turn out all useless persons, who, to prevent them from communicating the plague, which then raged amongst them, to the parliamentarian forces, were, at the command of Ireton, immediately whipped back; and dissensions gradually arose among the besieged, as to the propriety of capitulating.

The resistance of the clergy to a surrender being at length overbalanced by some officers who took possession of one of the gates and turned the cannon against the city, the place was surrendered to the besiegers on condition that the garrison should march out unarmed, and the inhabitants be allowed time for removing, with their effects, to any place where they might be appointed to live. Twenty-four persons were excluded by name from the benefit of this treaty: the soldiers, who marched out to the number of 2500, were greatly reduced by disease contracted by the sufferings of a protracted siege of six months. After the surrender, the emblems of royalty were removed, the magistrates displaced, and for five years the city was subjected to a military government. In 1653 an act was passed permitting the English adventurers, officers, and soldiers to purchase the forfeited houses at six years' purchase; and a charter was granted conferring upon the citizens the same privileges and franchises as those enjoyed by the city of Bristol. In 1656, the municipal government was restored, by the election of a mayor and twelve English aldermen.

At the Restoration, Sir Ralph Wilson, the governor, declared in favour of the King. He was shortly after succeeded by the Earl of Orrery, who was instructed to endeavour to procure good merchants, English and Dutch, to inhabit the place, and cause it to flourish by trade. All the banished merchants were again restored to their freedom and privileges, on entering into recognizances for their peaceful demeanour; and the inland trade increased so rapidly that, in 1672, the tolls of the gates were let for upwards of £300 per annum. During a progress through Munster made by the Duke of Ormonde, lord-lieutenant, he was received at Limerick with great distinction, being attended by the principal nobility and gentry of the county, and the cavalry militia of each barony. The same year was remarkable for a great drought in the Shannon, insomuch that the mayor and citizens perambulated the English town, dry-shod, outside the walls; and the following year a storm, with a high tide, did great damage.

The accession of James II. caused an alteration in the religious ascendancy of the corporation; and after the battle of the Boyne, the Earl of Tyrconnel established his viceregal court in the city. Soon after this it was invested by King William in person, at the head of 20,000 veterans. The siege, undertaken at a late period of the season, was rendered particularly harassing by the formidable obstacles opposed to the besiegers by the fortifications and natural defences of the town, the abundance of its munitions of war, and the circumstance of the flower of the Irish army being assembled in and around it, under General Boiseleau, the Duke of Berwick, and other distinguished leaders, who were enabled to obtain supplies of every kind from Connaught, and by sea, where the French fleet rode undisturbed.

The operations of the English army were also greatly checked by the loss of its battering train, which had been intercepted and destroyed by General Sarsfield, in a gallant attack, within twelve miles of William's camp. Nevertheless, a breach having been at length effected, the besiegers thrice penetrated into the town, and as often were beaten back, until after a desperate contest of four hours, in which they lost 1700 men, they were obliged to retire; William himself being compelled to raise the siege and withdraw towards Clonmel. But in the August following, William's army, now commanded by General de Ginkell, again invested the town; and the garrison having been abundantly supplied, and in expectation of succour from France, the siege was protracted and sanguinary. One of the most serious conflicts at this period was that in which 600 Irish were slain, 150 drowned, and above 100 taken prisoners, in the defence of Thomond bridge, the gates having been closed upon them too speedily, by which their retreat was cut off.

Operations were at length terminated by the celebrated treaty of Limerick, ratified on Oct. 1st, and said to have been signed on a large stone near Thomond bridge, within sight of both armies. Two days after, the French fleet arrived on the coast, and on the 14th entered the Shannon, with a reinforcement of troops and 30,000 stand of arms and ammunition. Both parties now made strenuous exertions to retain the Irish soldiers in their service: 3000 were prevailed upon to enter into that of the victorious monarch; but the remainder, amounting to upwards of 19,000 men, embarked for France, and formed the foundation of the Irish brigade, afterwards so celebrated in the wars of Europe.

After the embarkation of the Irish troops, the inhabitants, who had been compelled by the bombardment to quit their dwellings, on their return found their effects destroyed, and the entire city a scene of desolation and misery. While all classes were engaged in repairing their losses, the poorer by erecting small huts under the walls, the richer by re-edifying their houses, and the soldiers by restoring and enlarging the fortifications, a new and unthought of casualty nearly involved the whole in a second destruction: one of the towers on the quay suddenly fell, and 250 barrels of gunpowder which it contained blew up with a tremendous explosion, by which 240 persons were crushed to death or dreadfully maimed, some being struck dead by stones which fell a mile from the town. For more than 60 years after the siege, the fortifications were kept in complete repair, a garrison and several companies of city militia maintained, and every precaution of an important military station observed.

In 1698, the Marquess of Winchester and the Earl of Galway, lords justices, on a tour of inspection, visited the city, which in the same year suffered most severely by a storm and high tide. In 1703 an act was passed providing that no Roman Catholic strangers should reside in the city or suburbs, and that the present inhabitants of that persuasion should be expelled, unless they gave sufficient securities for their allegiance; but in 1724 these restrictions were removed. During the Scottish rebellion in 1745, similar precautions were used, but no symptom of disaffection was discovered. In 1751, a storm, accompanied with high tides, overflowed a great part of the place, and did great damage. In 1760, Limerick was declared to be no longer a fortress, and the dismantling of its walls and other defences was immediately commenced and completed by slow degrees, as the extension of the various improvements rendered it necessary. On the breaking out of the American war, three Volunteer corps were formed under the name of the Limerick Union, the Loyal Limerick Volunteers, and the Limerick Volunteers.

After the termination of the American war the improvement and extension of the city were renewed with unexampled spirit: and although contested elections and alarms of insurrection in the neighbouring districts at times disturbed its tranquillity, they never retarded its improvement. During the French invasion in 1798, the city militia distinguished itself by the stand it made at Collooney under Colonel Vereker, who in consequence received the thanks of parliament. In 1803, a design was formed by those engaged in Emmett's conspiracy to take the city by surprise: and the plan was conducted with so much secrecy that it was unknown to the military commandant in Limerick until the evening preceding the intended day of attack; but the prompt and decisive measures adopted prevented the apprehended danger. In 1821, symptoms of insubordination in the liberties led to a proclamation declaring the county of the city to be in a state of disturbance, and to require an extraordinary establishment of police, which was accordingly sent and is still maintained. In the winter of 1833 the city again suffered severely by storms and high tides.

« Limerick Antiquities | Index | Limerick City Topography »

County Limerick | Limerick City | Topography | Barracks | Manufacturing | Port | Port Improvements | Markets | Corporation | Government | Courthouse | Episcopal See | Cathedral | Parishes | Hospitals | Almshouses | Antiquities | Notable Limerick Men


Library Ireland Facebook