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About Limerick Castle-
Facts, Features and History

Facts About The Castle

King John (1166-1216) gave orders to build Limerick Castle on his visit to Ireland in 1210, as a Norman stronghold at the fording of the river Shannon.

Preoccupied with conflicts elsewhere, the king died six years later and never got to set foot in the castle himself.

The towers of King John's Castle, Limerick, Ireland.

The Irish castle became known as ‘King John’s Castle’ only hundreds of years after the kings’ death.

Like many other castles, King John's Castle, too, was built on the site of a pre-existing fortification. At Limerick this was a ‘ring work’, which was a stone and earthwork embankment surrounded by a ditch. The remains of this earlier fort were discovered by archaeologists during the excavation of the castle courtyard.

Archaeologists also discovered the remains of pre-Norman houses and defences from the Viking era on the site.

  • The adjacent Thomond Bridge replaced a bridge that was built at the same time as King Johns’ castle.

Features Of King John's Castle

  • The castle was built as a military stronghold and used as a barracks which determined the overall look and feel.
  • Limerick Castle has no large windows characteristic of a residence which were added during late medieval times in many other castles, such as Kilkenny Castle. Instead, there are slits in the walls called arrow loops which offered excellent cover from which bows or crossbows and later muskets could be fired.
Tower at King John's Castle, Limerick, Ireland.
  • The 13th century saw a move away from rectangular towers toward rounded towers in castles which were considered to offer greater protection against the siege engines of the time and against the threat of ‘Undermining’. Limerick Castle had four massive barrel towers- some feat of engineering considering that two of them are located on the rivers’ edge.
  • The ‘barrel towers’ were adjoined by four high curtain walls, a large part of those were adjacent to the river also. The river afforded great protection from attack.
King John's Castle and Thomond Bridge, Limerick, Ireland.
  • The portion of the castle on the river side was constructed on limestone bedrock which would guarantee excellent protection against ‘undermining’. Unfortunately for the castle inhabitants of the seventeenth century the opposite portion was built on clay which lead to their downfall and the collapse of sections of the wall when besiegers dug tunnels or ‘Gallery mines’ underneath during the 1642 siege.
  • Along the curtain walls is a fine wall walk connected to the corner towers. These were excellent vantage points from which to ‘rain hell’ with arrows on attackers below.
  • Limerick castle as a ‘keepless castle’ (compare Roscommon) contained no great keep or chamber tower, as many other castles of this period do, and the soldiers accommodation would more than likely have been constructed of timber within the courtyard.
Medieval gate at King John's Castle, Limerick, Ireland.

The Medieval History Of The Castle

  • When the Anglo-Normans invaded and colonised Ireland, Limerick (and other towns like Dublin or Waterford) had already been settled by the Viking invaders who were well aware of their strategic importance.
  • Limerick occupied a crucial spot because it was situated  on an island at an important fording point on Ireland’s longest river, the Shannon.
  • The Anglo-Normans entered Limerick in 1172 and established a large garrison there, quickly setting to work on improving fortifications. This island, ‘Inis Stiobhann’, lay at the confluence of the Abbey river and  the Shannon.
  • The island was part of the walled medieval town of Limerick which developed in the thirteenth century called ’English town’. A neighbouring walled town known as,‘Irish town’,  developed alongside it, and was occupied by the native Gaelic and Hiberno-Norse (Irish-Viking) population.

More On Irish Castles

  • It was the wish of King Henry II that his son, Prince John would become king of Ireland. He proclaimed him Lord of Ireland in 1177. Henry II  was hoping for a solution to the constant power struggles and conflicts involving both  his Anglo-Norman barons and local Gaelic Chieftains over control of the island.
  • As a young man Prince John visited Ireland, but left frustrated, failing to consolidate power within the lordship. He returned once more as an older king in 1210, but events further afield in his vast dominion were to distract his energies away from Ireland. Limerick castle that bears his name connects him to Irish history.
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