LIMERICK (County of), in the province of MUNSTER, bounded on the north by the estuary of the Shannon and the county of Tipperary; on the cast by the same county; on the south by that of Cork, and on the west by that of Kerry: it extends from 52° 17' to 52° 45' (N. Lat.), and from 8° 6' to 9° 15' (W. Lon.); and comprises an area, according to the Ordnance survey, of 640,621 statute acres, of which 548,640 are cultivated land, and 91,981 are occupied by unimproved mountain and bog. The population, in 1821, was 218,432; and in 1831, 248,201.

Of the tribes mentioned by Ptolemy, the Coriondi appear to have inhabited this portion of Ireland; and although from a very early period it was included in the native kingdom or principality of Thomond, it is said to have had at one time a separate political existence, under the name of Aine-Cliach, or Eoganach-Aine-Cliach, and to have been divided into five cantreds, governed by subordinate chieftains. That of Carrigoginniol belonged to the O'Kiarwicks, and afterwards to the O'Briens, whence the name of Pubblebrien was given to the barony; Uaithney, now the barony of Owneybeg, belonged to the O'Ryans; Cairbre Aobhdha, or Kenry, to the O'Donovans; Hy-Cnocnuil-Gabhra, now the baronies of Upper Connello and Coshma, to the McEneirys and O'Sheehans; and Connalla, now Lower Connello, to the O'Kinealys and O'Thyans. At the time of the English invasion, the O'Hurleys, Mac Sheehys, O'Gormans, O'Collins, O'Coins, O Scanlans, and O'Hallinans, were also among the principal families.

About the middle of the ninth century, the Ostmen made themselves masters of the city of Limerick and of the island of Inniscattery, in the Shannon; and maintained their power in both places until the commencement of the eleventh century, when Brien Boroimhe, King of Thomond, compelled them to become his tributaries. The city subsequently became the chief seat of the rulers of Thomond, of the O'Brien family, whence their country was often called the Kingdom of Limerick.

Henry II. granted this kingdom to Herebert Fitz-Herebert; who having soon after resigned his claim, it was bestowed upon Philip de Braosa, and the grant was renewed to him by Richard I., with the exception of the city and the cantred of the Ostmen, which were committed to the custody of William de Burgo, who established a settlement there that defied all subsequent attacks of the natives. Braosa's grants having been forfeited, various Anglo-Norman settlements were made in the county (which was one of the twelve formed by King John, in 1210) under Theobald Fitzwalter, ancestor of the Butler family, Hamo de Valois, William Fitz-Aldelm, and Thomas, son of Maurice Fitzgerald. With these the O'Briens of Thomond had part possession; Donogh O'Brien, lord of Thomond, having been enfeoffed of the extensive lands of Carrigoginniol by King John.

The Irish of Thomond often proved themselves formidable enemies of the English settlers. In 1367, they took prisoner, at Manister-Nenagh, the Lord-Justice Gerald Fitzgerald and many persons of distinction; and in the war between the houses of York and Lancaster, the county was entirely overrun by them. During the rebellion of the Earl of Desmond in the reign of Elizabeth, that nobleman possessed the towns of Kilmallock, Askeaton, Rathkeale, and Newcastle, then the four chief places in the county, and the confiscation of his estates after his death caused the transfer of a considerable portion of its fertile lands to new proprietors. It suffered a similar fate in the wars of 1641 and 1688, each of which considerably increased the number of English settlers.

Early in the last century, Lord Southwell brought over a number of German Protestants, whom he settled at Court-Mattras, or Castle Matres, near Rathkeale; other colonies were also planted in various places through the county; their descendants have increased greatly in number and are now generally distinguished by the name of Palatines. For a long time they were objects of great hatred to the native peasantry. The feeling has gradually but not wholly subsided, and they are now chiefly noted for their habits of cleanliness and order and for their superior skill in agriculture and rural economy.

In the year 1762, a most alarming spirit of insurrection showed itself in this part of the country; the peasantry assembled in great numbers, chiefly by night, dug up corn-fields, levelled enclosures, houghed or killed the cattle of the gentry, and even put to death or treated with great cruelty individuals obnoxious to them from their harsh mode of collecting the tithes and taxes: from wearing shirts over their clothes in order to know one another in the night, they were called Whiteboys. Some very severe statutes were enacted to suppress this spirit, the execution of which being enforced by a large body of the military, tranquillity was after some time restored, several of the leaders of the insurrection were executed, and many of their followers transported.

A similar insurrection broke out in 1786, in which the hostility of the insurgents was directed against the same objects as before; they even assembled and traversed the country in military array during the open day, compelling every person they met to take an oath against the payment of tithes or taxes; they were, however, soon put down by the strong arm of the law, aided by the military. But the pause was of short duration.

A new association appeared in 1793, tinder the name of Defenders, who had so well matured their plans that they made a simultaneous attack upon the towns of Kilfinan and Bruff, and though repulsed from the former by the spirited resistance of the inhabitants, supported by the Palatine yeomanry, they succeeded in gaining possession of the latter; but were shortly driven out of it with some loss of life by a detachment of the army, against which they ventured to make a stand.

In 1803, a project was conceived of seizing the city of Limerick, as a means of co-operating with the insurgents in Dublin under Emmet; but on learning that preparations were in progress to oppose them, they dispersed. Symptoms of disturbance again showed themselves in 1809; and in 1815 the spirit broke out in an insurrection of peculiar violence, which raged during that and the greater part of the succeeding year, but was ultimately subdued by the operations of the insurrection act.

In 1817, a general failure of the crops occasioned a very distressing famine, which, though relieved by issues of public money and liberal contributions of benevolent individuals, entailed on the districts most visited by the dearth a frightful scourge of contagious disease. In 1820 succeeded the distresses occasioned by the failures of nearly all the principal banks in Munster; the scarcity of provisions caused by the failure of the crops in the following year reduced the peasantry to the last stage of calamity; the consequence was an insurrection more maturely planned and vigorously executed than any that had preceded. In every quarter of the county predatory bands appeared under the directions of an invisible chief, styled Captain Rock, declaring their determination to reduce high rents, tithes, and taxes, and threatening with destruction all proprietors of land who should attempt to disobey their mandates.

The outrages of the insurgents increased and extended in spite of the exertions of the gentry, military, and Catholic clergy; Abbeyfeale, on the borders of Limerick and Kerry, became their chief place of rendezvous. The police were augmented; large bodies of regular troops were sent into the county and quartered generally in the western baronies, yet still the insurgents kept up a kind of guerilla warfare: several parties of them were attacked by surprise and deprived of their arms, yet when dispersed in one quarter they shewed themselves suddenly in another, committing their devastations often in the open day; the churches of Kilkeedy, Ballybrook, and Athlacca, together with several gentlemen's houses, were burnt by them, and the plundered property publicly and systematically divided among the captors.

Several wealthy and influential persons were murdered, amongst whom was a Roman Catholic clergyman, who rashly attempted to exhort them to submission to the laws; and it was only under the application of the insurrection act, and the most vigorous exertions of the magistracy, that the spirit of violence was at length suppressed.

County Limerick | Limerick Towns and Baronies | Limerick Topography | Limerick Agriculture | Limerick Geology | Limerick Manufactures | Limerick Antiquities | Limerick City

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