Situated at the mouth of the river Shannon, Limerick (Luimneach) stands
as a dynamic educational, economic, social and recreational base serving
the mid western region of Ireland. Limerick’s central location and range
of travel and accommodation facilities provides an ideal base for both the
prospective tourist and eager entrepreneur contributing greatly to the
region’s success. With breath-taking views of the river Shannon and
Lough Gur, coupled with Limerick’s many historic landmarks e.g. King
John’s Castle, the Treaty Stone and St. Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick
boasts a strong and varied past.
With a population of 54,023, 49% of which ranges from the age of 0-29,
Limerick is a young, vibrant city with a changing face focusing primarily
on education, better road networks and infrastructure and better social
and leisure activities. In addition, Limerick is home to some of Ireland’s
most reputed third level institutions e.g. the University of Limerick which
turns out thousands of quality graduates each year to meet the growing
demand for professionals in the Mid-West region. When it comes to
sports, Limerick has a wide array of sporting facilities, including a 50m
swimming pool, a new racecourse and many fine golf courses.
Limerick city’s shopping, art, food, nightlife and cultural centres are a
stroll away from the fresh air and charming views of the magnificent
River Shannon, one of Europe’s finest waterways. Celebrated in song as a
lady, Limerick has matured with sophistication and class.
The culture of Limerick is a fusion of many diverse influences and
interests and includes practitioners and organisations active in all forms
and levels, heritage, crafts, education, food, fashion, the natural and built
environment, leisure and sport, social and community interests and
economic and commercial activities. The culture of Limerick is to be
valued as a unique, dynamic, worthy entity that its citizens are proud of
and wish to share with those who visit.
Viking adventurers established a settlement on an island in the River
Shannon in the 9th century. They fought with the native Irish for control
of the site until Brian Boru’s forces drove them out in 968 and established
Limerick as the royal seat of the O’Brien kings. Brian Boru finally
destroyed Viking power and presence in Ireland at the Battle of Clontarf
in 1014. By the late 12th century invading Normans had supplanted the
Irish. The two remained divided and throughout the Middle Ages the
repressed Irish clustered to the south of the Abbey River in Irishtown
while the Anglo-Normans fortified themselves to the north in
From 1690-91, Limerick acquired heroic status in the endless saga of
Ireland’s struggle against occupation by the English. After their defeat in
the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, Jacobite forces withdrew west behind the
famously strong walls of Limerick town. Months of bombardment
followed and eventually the Irish Jacobite leader Patrick Sarsfield sued
for peace. The terms of the Treaty of Limerick, 1691 were then agreed
and Sarsfield and 14,000 soldiers were allowed to leave the city for
France. The Treaty of Limerick guaranteed religious freedom for
Catholics, but the English later reneged on it and enforced fierce anti-
Catholic legislation, an act of betrayal that came to symbolise the
injustice of British rule.
During the 18th century, the old walls of Limerick were demolished and a
well-planned and prosperous Georgian town developed. Such prosperity
had waned by the early 20th century, however the city is now meeting the
challenges of the 21st century with optimism. Technological industries
have supplanted traditional food processing and clothing manufacture,
while tourism and service industries are encouraging a growing pride in
the modern city of Limerick.
Housed in the Palladian Custom House on the banks of the Shannon, this
splendid museum contains probably the finest collection of Bronze Age,
Iron Age and medieval treasures outside Dublin. All items are from the
private collection of the late John and Gertrude Hunt, antique dealers and
consultant, who gifted their collection to the nation in the 1970s. Exhibits
are displayed in a succession of elegant galleries. Look out for the tiny,
but exquisite bronze horse by da Vinci and a Syracusan coin thought to
have been one of the ’30 pieces of silver’ paid to Judas for his betrayal of
Christ. Cycladic sculptures, a Giacometti drawing and paintings by
Renoir, Picasso and Jack B. Yeats are also on display. The Hunt Museum
is open Tuesday – Saturday 10.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m., Sunday 2.00 p.m. –
5.00 p.m., it is closed Monday.
King John’s Castle:
King John’s Castle is a fortified 13th century Castle on ‘King’s Island’ in
the heart of medieval Limerick. Archaeological excavations unearthed
Norman houses, which predate the castle by 100 years, as well as siege
mines, garrison and soldiers’ quarters and sallyport all found under the
level of the present courtyard. The castle itself features an imaginative
exhibition spanning the castle’s history.
Features of a visit to King John’s Castle include:
Imaginative historical exhibition
Excavated pre-Norman houses, fortifications and siege mines
Reconstruction of medieval courtyard
Panoramic views of Limerick city, the River Shannon and
King John’s mint where visitors can collect a replica of the original
As part of the exhibition, the unique work of artist Fergus Costello is
being showcased. He has carved from solid blocks of wood; a series of
six life sized characters associated with the history of the castle. The
exterior of the castle and its forecourt area has also been redesigned. The
front and back of the exhibition centre is draped with heraldic banners
depicting scenes and characters from medieval times including the
castle’s namesake King John.
Before 1200 there were large earthen defences erected on high ground to
defend the river crossing. Between 1200 – 1212 King John’s Castle was
planned and built. It was repaired and extended many times in the
following centuries. In 1642 the Great Siege devastated Limerick and the
castle. Siege mines weakened the front wall (East curtain wall) of the
castle and countersiege mines carried out during the later and subsequent
sieges. To date over 1,000 objects have been excavated including skeletal
remains of the siege period. On show are pieces of jewellery, pottery,
cannon and musket balls dating to the period. A replica of a 750-year-old
gold stirrup ring (the original of which will be on display in the
neighbouring Civic Museum and is in mint condition) is also on display.
The remains of a medieval garrison and soldiers quarters was recently
discovered close to the sallyport area of the castle and will be available
for viewing when all the walls, doorways and paths have been restored.
A number of houses believed to be Viking in origin were unearthed
during earlier restoration of the castle are also worth seeing. Between
1690 and 1691 the Williamite sieges led to the signing of the Treaty of
Limerick. The Treaty Stone said to be the site of the signing of the
document can be clearly seen on the far shore of the river from the
The pre-Norman Limerick features discovered are both defensive and
settlement. Extensive evidence of an early defence system and of a strong
earthen rampart riveted with limestone boulders and protected by a deep
ditch, show that King John’s Castle was built on an existing fortification.
King John’s Castle retains many of the pioneering features, which made
its construction unique for the day. Its massive gatehouse, battlements
and corner towers await exploration by the visitor while the armoury and
its contents remain as evidence of its turbulent history.
St. Mary’s Cathedral:
St. Mary’s Cathedral was founded in 1168 by Domhnall Mór O’Brien,
king of Munster, on the site where his palace had stood. Parts of the 12th
century Romanesque western doorway, the nave and aisles survive and
there are splendid 15th century black oak misericords (mercy – seats:
support ledges for choristers), unique examples of their kind in Ireland.
The Ffox Memorial and the Budstone Sedilia also date back more than
500 years, and in the Sanctuary can be seen the stone effigies of the
Fourth Earl of Thomond and his wife. Also in the Sanctuary is the
massive stone coffin lid of the founder of the Cathedral, Donal Mor
O'Brien, who died in 1194.
Elsewhere can be seen the grave of Morrough of the Burnings, so called
because of his penchant for burning churches. Indeed, legend has it that
he was so hated by the people of Limerick that they dug up his body and
threw it into the Shannon River.
Limerick City Museum:
This small award – winning museum is beside King John’s Castle.
Exhibits include Stone Age and Bronze Age artefacts, the civic swords,
samples of Limerick silver and examples of Limerick’s lace and glove
manufacturing, as well as a collection of paintings.
Limerick City Gallery of Art:
The Limerick City Gallery of Art is beside the peaceful People’s Park at
the heart of Georgian Limerick. The permanent collection features work
by Sean Keating and Jack B. Yeats. It is worth checking out Keating’s
atmospheric ‘Kelp Burners’ and Harry Kernoff’s ‘The Turf Girl’. The
gallery also stages changing exhibitions of some fairly adventurous and
Lough Gur is one of Ireland’s most famous archaeological sites. The
visitor centre tells the story of Pre-Celtic Ireland dating back to 3000 BC.
Highlights of a visit to Lough Gur include:
The remains of a small farmstead, which was built on this natural
platform about 900 AD.
Replicas of Stone Age Pottery and other artefacts depicting life-
styles of the first inhabitants of the area.
Replica of the Bronze Age Lough Gur Shield now on exhibition at
the National Museum of Ireland.
Replicas of the Chalice and Paten of the Countess of Bath.
Historical information on the geology, botany and social history of
The visitor centre was built in 1980 and uses two of the excavated Stone
Age houses as its floor plan: House site A, rectangular and house site C,
circular. Its roofs are thatched and wattle hurdle fences surround the
The centre houses a number of display cases telling the story of the
manufacture and use of flint and bronze material and their eventual
deposition in the area as well as their recovery.
Adare, Ireland’s prettiest village owes its reputation to its setting in the
woods among rich, quiet farmlands by the River Maigue that runs
through Ireland’s Golden Vale. With thatched cottages, quality
restaurants, ruined abbeys and plentiful fishing, Adare is a veritable
melting pot for tourists. It is also a favoured wedding location for couples
from all over the world.
Adare Heritage Centre traces the development of Adare from the 13th
century. The site dates from the time of the Norman conquest of Ireland
and the village owes its current streetscape to its status as a model estate
village developed by the third Earl of Dunraven in the mid 19th century.
Tourists can visit the ruins of three important church centres, the
Augustinian Priory (1315), the Trinitarian Priory (1230) and the
Franciscan Friary (1202). The present Earl of Dunraven still resides in the
village with his family.
Adare Manor Hotel, the ancestral home of the Dunravens was
transformed into an impressive and romantic Tudor-Gothic building
between 1832 and 1862. It has a magnificent Grand Gallery and fine
staircase, and is set in 850 acres of beautiful, rolling countryside by the
banks of the River Maigue. It is now a luxurious hotel where former US
president Bill Clinton stayed on a visit to Ireland in 1998.
Desmond Castle is a large square tower, close to the main road and bridge
over the River Maigue. It is a surrounded by a strong battlemented
rampart with semicircular bastions. A gate to the south has a drawbridge.
The castle is currently undergoing restoration; consequently there is
limited access to the public. It is hoped that once the initial restoration
works are completed that the castle will be open to the public.
The site on which Bunratty Castle stands was in origin a Viking Trading
Camp in 970. The present structure is the last of four castles to be built on
the site. Robert De Muscegros, a Norman, built the first defensive fortress
(an earthen mound with a strong wooden tower on top) in 1250. His lands
were later granted the Thomas De Clare who built the first stone castle on
the site. About this time, Bunratty became a large town of 1,000
In 1318 Richard De Clare son of Thomas was killed in a battle between
the Irish and the Normans. His followers were completely routed and the
castle and town were completely destroyed.
The castle was restored for the King of England but was laid waste in
1332 by the Irish Chieftains of Thomond under the O’Briens and
MacNamaras. It lay in ruins for 21 years until it was rebuilt by Sir
Thomas Rokeby but was once again attacked by the Irish and the castle
remained in Irish hands thereafter.
The powerful MacNamara family built the present structure around 1425
but by 1475 it had become the stronghold of the O’Briens, the largest clan
in North Munster. They ruled the territory of North Munster and lived in
great splendour. The castle was surrounded by beautiful gardens and it
was reputed to have a herd of 3,000 deer.
Under Henry VIII’s ‘surrender and re-grant scheme’, the O’Briens were
granted the title ‘Earls of Thomond’ and they agreed to profess loyalty to
the King of England. The reign of the O’Briens came to an end with the
arrival of the Cromwellian troops and the castle and its grounds were
surrendered. The O’Briens never returned to Bunratty but later they built
a beautiful residence at Dromoland Castle, now a luxury 5 star hotel.
Bunratty Castle and its lands were granted to various Plantation families,
the last of whom was the Studdart family. They left the castle in 1804
(allowing it to fall into disrepair), to reside in the more comfortable and
modern Bunratty House, which is open to the public in the grounds of the
Bunratty was to return to its former splendour when Viscount Lord Gort
purchased it in 1954. The extensive restoration work began in 1945 with
the help of the Office of Public Works, the Irish Tourist Board and
Shannon Development. It was then opened to the public in 1960 as a
National Monument and is open to visitors year round. It is the most
complete and authentically restored and furnished castle in Ireland.
An interesting feature of the castle is that it contains a number of ‘murder
holes’, which were used as a method of defending the castle in time of
attack. The attackers were met with a barrage of boiling oil or water,
which was pitched upon them delaying their onslaught on the castle.
Bunratty Folk Park
Bunratty Folk Park, recreates rural and urban life in 19th century
Victorian Ireland. There is an extensive array of vernacular buildings,
indicative of all social classes from the poorest one roomed dwelling to
Bunratty House, a fine example of a Georgian residence for the gentry.
Traditional jobs and crafts are also represented, milling, the forge,
pottery, printing, baking and farming.
Costumed characters that recreate the traditions and lifestyle of a bygone
age animate the Folk Park. The characters include the Bean a Tí (woman
of the house), R.I.C policeman, Schoolteacher, Blacksmith and so on.
The latest addition to Bunratty Folk Park includes Hazelbrook House
(rebuilt in the Folk Park in 2001). The original building was built in 1898
and was home to the Hughes brothers who produced HB ice cream,
which became a household name in Ireland.
The restoration of Bunratty Walled garden was completed in 2000.
Ardcroney Church, another original building was unveiled to the public
There are 10 farmhouses in the Folk Park together with the schoolhouse,
Doctor’s house and the various merchant buildings and shops on the
Village Street. Each exhibit is numbered and described as they appear on
the Bunratty Folk Park Visitor Map, which is issued free to visitors.
Bunratty Folk Park Features:
1. Loop Head Farmhouse
The house of small fisher-farming folk. The thatch is roped down to
protect it against Atlantic Gales. Bean a Tí is baking bread, milk
separating and butter making in high season. A traditional sweetbread
known as ‘spotted dick’ is baked here and is very popular.
2. Shannon Farmhouse
The first farmhouse to be reconstructed on the site and which marked the
beginning of Bunratty Folk Park. The house was removed from where it
originally stood on the current site of a runway at Shannon Airport.
3. Golden Vale
A prosperous farmers home, from the rich lands in the Golden Vale of
Counties Limerick and Tipperary. It has stables, byres and a corn barn.
The Bean a Tí here bakes brown bread, porter cake, apple tart and griddle
bread all year round. Slices of hot griddle bread with melting butter are a
great favourite in this house.
4. Mac’s Pub
Be sure to drop into Mac’s for a pint! The pub is furnished to reflect the
lifestyle of the time and the fact that the publican not only sold drink in
former times but also traded in groceries and hardware.
5. Bunratty House
A late Georgian dwelling (built 1804) of the type occupied by the gentry
in the late 19th century. It was the home of the Studdarts, the last family to
occupy Bunratty Castle.
6. Byre Dwelling
An example from Co. Mayo of a dwelling occupied by both a family and
their livestock. The pigsty is located nearby.
7. Vertical Mill
It is a classic example of a rural undershot watermill.
8. Ardcroney Church
Another recent addition to the Folk Park. A Church of Ireland church: the
entire structure was moved stone by stone from Ardcroney, Co. Tipperary
and rebuilt here.
9. Living Gardens Museum
The gardens at Bunratty Folk Park have recently been restored with the
assistance of an ERDF grant through the Great Gardens of Ireland
Restoration programme. The project includes the environs of the Folk
Park as well as the formal walled Regency Garden adjacent to Bunratty
House. Each of the gardens has also been restored, with special attention
to the planting and land use of the period. The concept creates a product,
which is unique in Ireland and the rest of Europe. Its uniqueness is in the
fact that the gardens and environs form part of the history of the everyday
lives of the inhabitants of the houses as well as depicting horticulture
10. The Village Street
The village houses and shops have been chosen from many different
areas, to form a collection of typical 19th century urban Irish buildings.
The Cliffs of Moher
The majestic Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s
most spectacular sights and overlook the Atlantic
Ocean on the West Clare. Located just north of
Lahinch they are 8km long and 214m high, it is here
that one can most easily get a feel for the wildness
of the terrain over which the Celts wandered, for although they built
imposing castles, very often they preferred the outdoor, nomadic life and
enjoyed the hunt.
The Cliffs claim one of the most astonishing views in Ireland, on a clear
day the Aran Islands are visible in Galway Bay as well as the valleys and
hills of Connemara. The Cliffs of Moher rise from Hag’s Head to the
south and reach their highest point (214 metres) just north of O’Brien’s
The sea-stack, covered with seabirds, just below the tower is called
Bréanán Mor and is over 70 metres high. During springtime the cliffs are
a bird-watchers delight with guillemots, kittiwakes, shags, choughs and
Layers of siltstone, shale and sandstone form the cliffs with the oldest
rocks at the bottom of the cliff.
O’Brien’s Tower was built in 1835 by Cornelius O’Brien, a descendant of
Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland and the O’Briens of Bunratty
Castle, Kings of Thomond as an observation point for the hundreds of
tourists who even then, visited the Cliffs.
It is the best location from which to view the cliffs, from this vantage
point one can see the Aran Islands, Galway Bay as well as The Twelve
Pins and the Maum Turk Mountains to the north in Connemara and Loop
Head to the south.
O’Brien’s Tower stands proudly on a headland of the majestic Cliffs of
Moher. Here again we see the extent of the O’Brien’s influence on the
history of the Celtic tribes.
Cornelius O’Brien built the Tower in 1835. He was a man ahead of his
time, believing that the development of tourism would benefit the local
economy and bring people out of poverty. He also built a wall of Moher
flagstones along the Cliffs and it was said in the locality that ‘he built
everything around here except the Cliffs’. He died in 1857 and his
remains lie in the O’Brien vault in the graveyard adjoining ST. Brigid’s
O’Brien’s Tower is located a short distance from the village of
Liscannor- famous for its stone ‘flagstones’ which were used at the time
for fencing purposes. In fact the story goes that Cornelius O’Brien, one
time member of the parliament for County Clare won a bet with his
English counterparts that he could build a fence ‘a mile long, a yard high
and an inch thick’. These were the dimensions of the flagstones and they
were quickly adapted as building material as well as floor covering in
farmhouses throughout the 19th century. This is evidenced in Bunratty
Folk Park at Mac’s Pub. The flagstones bear the remarkable feature of the
imprint of fossilised eels compacted over thousands of years.
The area around O’Brien’s Tower and the Tower itself will be closed for
works throughout the 2006 season. It will reopen when the Full Visitor
Experience opens in the first quarter of 2007.
The name Burren is from the Irish ‘bhoireann’ meaning a ‘stony place.’
Its formation has lain unspoiled since the ice age and is composed of
karstic limestone, the largest area of such in Western Europe.
It is a place of surprise and delight to botanists, archaeologists and
ecologists alike and occupies an area of approximately 300 square
kilometres. The area itself is very bleak in appearance with glacial soil
loss at a maximum. However it does have sufficient soil to row a wide
variety of the most unusual and rarest of plants, many of them strange
A fine collection of alpines and Mediterranean species grow together in
this limestone area with strangely some of them being lime hating plants.
The Burren is bordered to the west by the Atlantic Ocean and Galway
Bay and is tucked in the northwest corner of Clare.
This area has some of the finest archaeological megalithic tombs in
Ireland, if not in Western Europe. There are relics of human habitation
dating back almost 6000 years and the most famous is the portal tomb, or
portal dolmen at Poulnabrone. In this area alone there are more than 60
wedge tombs, the densest concentration in Ireland. There are also
numerous examples of raths (earthen ring forts) and stone cashels. This
area is also rich in historical, ecclesiastical sites.
The Ailwee Caves
The Ailwee Caves were discovered in the 1940’s by a local farmer while
out flocking sheep. His dog had disappeared and was then found inside
the cave entrance which must have been covered for millennia. Remains
of brown bears and indentations of the bear pits were discovered not far
from the entrance. Bears have been in extinct in Ireland for thousands of
years so this find caused some excitement.
The caves were eventually taken over by a business consortium and
excavated extensively to allow safe passage through them. They now
extend into the mountain for over one third of a mile and the journey
shows some magnificent stalagmite and stalactite formations, one of
which is an impression of the ‘praying hands’. Waterfalls appear along
the route and the temperature remains a constant 40 degrees Fahrenheit
all year round. The Ailwee Caves attract a huge number of visitors each