Ptolemy's map of c.150 AD, carries a place called Regia which may be Limerick.  Otherwise the earliest record is of Vikings at Limerick in 845.  The 920s and 930s are regarded as the height of Norse power in Ireland with Limerick rivalling Dublin as a centre at this time.  
Ivar, the last Norse king of Limerick was slain by a young Brian Boru (d.1014) who then annexed Norse Limerick and made it the new capital of his kingdom.  Brian eventually conquered much of Ireland before being defeated near Swords castle.  Brian Boru's son, Donough (d.1064), was routed by King Dermot MacMail O'Cheinnselaig (d.1072) in 1058 when Limerick was burned.  It was torched again in 1063 as well as in 1064 when Donough was again forced to flee his capital.  Despite these defeats Brian Boru's sons remained kings of Munster and were generally based upon Limerick.

Limerick certainly had a cathedral at the beginning of the eleventh century when Bishop Gilbert was writing to his archbishop, Anselm of Canterbury (1093-1109).  The city was recorded as burned in 1088 and destroyed by lightening in 1108.  In 1124 all but a small part of Limerick was again burned.  This all tends to suggest a wooden city.  In 1157 a host led by Muircertach Ua Lachlainn, along with the power of the North of Ireland, advanced into Munster until they reached the ‘Green of Limerick' and then the nobles of Munster, around their kings, came into the house of Ua Lachlainn and left their pledges with him.

In 1164 Domhnall O'Brian (d.1194) became king of Munster and is said, as king of Limerick, to have bestowed his palace in Limerick to the church.  This sounds nothing like the ‘drystone' revetment excavated within the current castle, although this may have surrounded such a structure which would have stood within a ditch 36' wide and 9' deep.

The first Normans may have arrived in the area as early as 1173.  In October 1175 Raymond le Gros took the city according to Giraldus.  The garrison left there was then besieged by King Domhnall O'Brian of Thomond, who had in 1171 made a declaration of loyalty to King Henry II.  Raymond returned to Limerick and broke the siege at Easter 1176.  With the news that Earl Richard Clare had died in June, le Gros abandoned the town and retired to Dublin.  Domhnall then broke
down the bridge over the Shannon and burned the city after Raymond is claimed to have committed it to Domhnall as a royal baron and after he had given multiple oaths for the city's safe custody.  In the Annals of Ulster this was described as the Saxons being expelled from Limerick by Domhnall ‘by a leaguer being made against them'.  Consequently, in early May 1177, King Henry II at the council of Oxford regranted Meath and Dublin to Hugh Lacy of Trim and granted the kingdom of Limerick, without the city which was to remain in royal control, to his relatives Herbert Fitz Herbert (d.1203), William Dunstanville (d.1186+) the brother of Earl Reginald of Cornwall and Joel Pomeroy (Pumerai, d.1200+) their nephew.  Two weeks later at the council at Marlborough, the 3 refused the offer of the kingdom and the king consequently gave it to Philip Braose (bef.1130-96+).  Braose recoiled from occupying the city which then seems to have later fallen to William Burgh of Askeaton after the death of Domhnall in 1194.

In 1196 Domnall (d.1206), the son of Dermot MacCarthy (d.1185), gained a victory over the foreigners of Munster and Limerick in which a great number of them were killed and whereby they were afterwards expelled from Limerick.  Despite two further victories the foreigners were back by 1197 when Prince John, under King Richard I, granted the city its first charter and named its first Mayor, Adam Sarvant.  In 1200, Donnchad of Uathne, the son of Rory O'Connor (d.1198), was killed by the Saxons who were in Limerick.  Quite obviously the English position within Limerick was now quite strong and settled.  Conseqeuntly around 12 Jan 1200, the Welsh Marcher William Braose proffered 5,000m (£3,333 6s 8d) to the king for the honour of Limerick and to deliver to him the associated lands of the Franks and English in Ireland, which King Henry II had given to Philip the uncle of William [in 1177], excepting the land of William Burgh [Askeaton], which William Braose held at Christmas this year and the service of William Burgh, which Braose assigns to the king.  The debt to be discharged at 1,000m (£666 13s 4d) per annum.  This grant was immediately cancelled and remade in another form, viz.  William Braose fined for 5,000m (
£3,333 6s 8d) for Limerick honour, the king retaining his demesne in Limerick city itself, the gift of the bishoprics and abbey and all the royalties, the cantref of the Ostmen and the Holy Isle and the tenements as well as the service of William Burgh.  The king agreed to the granting of the rest to Braose by all men save the Irish and those who are with them.  The debt was to be paid off at 500m (£333 6s 8d) per annum.  The lordship assigned to Braose was for the service of 60 knights.  It is quite obvious from these charters of King John that by 1200 Limerick was a walled town and he repeatedly refers to burgage plots and houses both within the walls and without.

In 1201 a hosting by Aedh O'Neill (d.1230) with the men of Magh-Itha and the Airghialla advanced until they came to Tech-Baithin of Airtech.  They turned there until they came to Es-dara when Cathal Carrach O'Connor (d.1202) with the nobles of Connaught and William Burgh (d.1206) together with the foreigners of Limerick along with him overtook them.  And the north of Ireland was defeated and Ua Eienigh, arch king of Airgialla and many others were lost.  William Braose meantime was having trouble gaining control of all of his estates purchased in 1200.  Consequently, between 15-18 August 1202, King John commanded Philip Worcester to deliver to William Braose or his messengers all his lands, the castle of Knockgraffon (Cnocgrafan) and the other castles of the honour of Limerick.  Simultaneously the king ordered on 16 August 1202, that all his Irish tenants of the district were to be intendant on William Braose.  Despite his agreement with John it was only at Michaelmas 1206 that William Braose in Sussex rendered account of 5,000m (£333 6s 8d) for having honour of Limerick and paid into the treasury £468.  This left him owing £2,865 6s 8d of which it was noted he ought to have been paying at 500m (
£333 6s 8d) per annum.

Over the winter of 1207-08 King John and Braose fell out, according to John because William was not paying his debts.  As a consequence in Ireland, the king sent the justiciar, Geoffrey Marisco, the lord of Adare castle, to take Limerick back.  Consequently he ‘captured those against the king, the English nobles and citizens of Limerick and many other castles'.  The king then spent large amounts of money in fortifying Limerick castle.  In the surviving Irish Pipe Roll of 1212 it was recorded that £733 16s 11d had been spent on works at Limerick castle in the past 12 months.  In 1217 Maurice O'Daly (Moriachum Lasyndaylle) attacked the district and lead his army to the gate of Limerick, killing all the way, but failing to gain entry to the city.  Presumably Limerick at the time was held for King John by the justiciar, Meilyr Fitz Henry (d.1220).  Certainly on 23 June 1227, King Henry III ordered his justiciar to give seisin to Reginald Braose of Brecon and Radnor of all lands which had belonged to his father, William Braose (d.1211), in Munster which Meilyr Fitz Henry (d.1220) when justiciar had divided between that land and Desmond.  Therefore it seems likely that from 1210 to 1217 Limerick castle remained in the king's hands.  On 24 June 1217, King Henry III (1216-72) granted Reginald Braose the custody of the castle and city of Limerick to hold until 1230 as he had returned to king's service.  Despite this on 5 June 1223, the king committed Limerick with its castle to Richard Burgh [Askeaton] with the seneschalship of Munster due to the threatened raids of their foes.  Despite this the justiciar, Earl William Marshall [Dunamase], obviously retained control for on 10 September 1224, the king again ordered the committing of the seneschalship of Munster with Limerick castle over to Richard Burgh during pleasure.

Probably in 1224, an inventory was made of the stores found in Limerick castle.  This recorded goods 'scarcely worth 18d', viz, broken dishes.  In contrast in Dublin castle were 2 mangonels, a crossbow with a wheel, a tent, a crossbow of 1 foot, 4,500 bolts, 6 boards with tressels, a great chest in the chamber, another in the chamber beyond the sheriff's chamber and another in the alms hall, 1 horse mill with harness without horses.  In the workshop 3 great hammers, 2 pairs of pincers, 1 anvil.  In the pantry 2 pairs of gridirons, 1 pair of fetters, 1 pair of rings, a great chain to guard the prisoners and another for the turning bridge.  In the kitchen 1 cauldron, 2 platters, 1 foot stool, 1 tripod, 1 axe to cut wood, 100 dishes.  In the buttery 5 cups, 5 pitchers, 1 new rope for the well and a tun for arms.  Possibly as a consequence, some 3 years later on 13 May 1227, Justiciar Geoffrey Marisco was ordered to send one of his clerks to Limerick castle to spend 50m (£33 6s 8d) on repairs to the castle houses.  At the same time payment was made to the chaplain in the king's chapel of Limerick castle.  After the fall of Earl Hubert Burgh of Kent, the castle and city of Limerick were committed for life to Peter Riveaux on 28 July 1232.  Three days later on 1 August 1232, Richard Burgh was ordered to hand over to Peter the custody of castles of Athlone, Drogheda, Limerick and Rindoon....  This order did not appear to have been carried out and on 27 January 1233, the castles of Dublin, Athlone, Roscrea and Clonmacnoise were ordered to be handed over to Justiciar Maurice Fitz Gerald, while Limerick, Drogheda, Dungarvan and Rindoon with the 5 cantrefs of Connaught, were to be handed to Peter Riveaux.  Whether this happened before the Marshall war in Ireland that ended with the defeat and death of the Earl Marshall in 1234 is unknown. 

Under Edward I in 1272, £72 4s 3d was allowed ‘in connection with the bridge and castle at Limerick and the hostages of Thomond'.  In 1276, £7 12 6d was allowed for the food of the hostages at Limerick for 15 weeks as well as payment for 2 men watching the tower of Limerick bridge towards Thomond.  In 1280, £549 17s 5d and a farthing were spent on the wages of archers guarding the tower at the head of Limerick bridge towards Thomond, as well as building a new chamber in the castle and repairs to certain houses and the custody of the castle.  More money was spent in the 1297 pipe roll when a wall was built around the hall and work was carried out on the foundations of another wall.

In 1313 the condition of the castle was of great concern to the justiciar, John Wogan although nothing seems to have been done about it.  Consequently in 1330 a 50' length of wall collapsed and had to be repaired.  Earlier, in 1318, King Robert Bruce of Scotland (1306-29) had campaigned as far as Limerick, burning, occupying and destroying towns and castle and even churches in his attempt to make his brother, Edward Bruce (d.1318), effective ruler of Ireland.  The same year, 14 prisoners had escaped from the castle, while in 1332 the prisoners went as far as to seize control of the fortress, killing the constable and forcing the mayor and citizens to recapture it.

The castle was surrendered to the O'Brians and MacNamaras in 1370, but quickly regained and repaired, although it was still recorded as in an appalling state in 1374.  In 1383 there was said to be no money to repair the fortress and a constable was appointed on the condition that he repaired it.  Around 1395 construction started on walls around Irishtown that were not completed until the end of the fifteenth century.  The castle itself was described as ‘unoccupied for many years' with ‘decayed buildings and walls'.  Like most fortresses, Limerick was captured by the confederates in 1641, parliament in 1651 and finally by the armies of King William III in 1691.

The castle consists of a rectangular court about 215' by 180' standing above the River Shannon.  The curtain walls to the north are up to 12' thick, while the round towers at the corners are all about 45' in diameter.  To the north is a twin-towered gatehouse with towers some 33' in diameter.  This is a most powerful structure fitted with red sandstone crossbow loops and a corbelled out wallwalk, which has been rebuilt at the summit.  There appears to have been a corbelled out garderobe to the west, just above curtain wallwalk level.  Internally the toothings in the wall show that walls continued the gatepassageway further south into the castle.  
Various similar twin towered gatehouses survive in Western Europe.

The south wall of the enceinte has been largely replaced, while the riverside wall is currently less than 6' thick.  There is also a rectangular structure here that projects beyond the line of the curtain.  Possibly this was the end of a hall although a seventeenth century sketch shows a long structure, apparently a hall, parallel to the curtain south of the rectangular structure.  This building has been recently excavated.  The south tower had a spiral stair and a garderobe, though this and the other towers were reduced in height in the seventeenth century and had vaults added to carry heavy artillery.  At the same time the south-east tower was replaced by a ravelin.  This has been mostly destroyed and built upon, although many houses have since been removed and replaced with a ‘modern' museum.  The massive style of the towers are reminiscent of those at White Castle in Gwent and King John's other castle in Dublin.

Perhaps you would like to join me in visiting this and other great castles of Ireland in October with Scholarly Sojourns.  Details of the trip can be found by clicking here.


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