Tuesday 29th August 2017. Pleasant with occasional drizzle.
Having enjoyed last week’s trip to Limerick, I returned to explore the “old” city and King John’s Castle.
An early start. A taxi at 5.30am and three trains to Dublin. Then the 9am Cork train from Heuston Station with a change at Limerick Junction for Limerick. I arrived at about 11.20am.
Colbert Station, named for Con Colbert (executed for his part in the Easter Rising 1916) is at the bottom of the map. The main shopping area is to the west of the station in O’Connell Street, Henry Street, Thomas Street, Roches, Street and William Street. The oldest part of the city is on King’s Island an area bounded by the River Shannon and the smaller Abbey River. It was here that the ancient Celts and later the Vikings, Normans and English set up their fortifications and King John’s Castle dates from the early 13th century. So I turned right from Colbert Station and walked along Parnell Street and Gerald Griffin Street to St Johns Cathedral and Hospital at Garryowen. The statue of Patrick Sarsfield is in the Cathedral grounds.
It was at Garryowen that the fiercest fighting of 1690 took place when the civilian population aided the Jacobite defenders and lifted the first siege of Limerick.
Walking north along John Street and Broad Street and crossing Baals Bridge, I was crossing from the old Irish Town and into English Town and King’s Island. These photographs were taken in Mary Street which is cobbled. The first photograph looks back towards Baals Bridge and the second photograph shows the first building in English Town (ironically a very big Irish language college). Past St Mary’s Church of Ireland Cathedral and past castle walls being restored. And interestingly a row of Alms Houses, the plaque states that they were built for widows of the 1691 garrison. Strangely the Castle café and gift shop acts as the fourth wall of the Castle.
The entrance is via a building to the side. Admission is not cheap. My concession ticket was E8.90. A lot of galleries telling the story of the Castle thru the centuries and its role in the history of Limerick and Ireland. Audio visual displays where it is possible to meet a Coiner, a Stonemason and a Soldier.
Irish History often overlooks the Siege of 1642 (English besieged by and defeated by Irish Confederates) and even the Siege of 1650-51 (Irish Confederates besieged and defeated by English Parliamentarians), the latter infamous for atrocities. The two sieges of 1690 and 1691 are better known. In the former, the city held out against the Williamite forces, in part due to heroic defence at Garryowen and “Sarsfield’s Ride ” which destroyed William’s artillery train at Ballyneety. In the latter the city surrendered at the Treaty Stone and Sarsfield led his Wild Geese and dependents into exile.
There should be no false equivelance in History. Sharing blame on a 50:50 basis is not what the discipline of History is about. In terms of the Anglo-Irish conflict that has been going on for several hundred years, the balance of morality lies with the Irish.
Of course all Irish nationalists are raised on a sentimental and one dimensional view. I was brought up on stories like “Sarsfield’s Ride” and ballads like “Jackets Green”. It does not actually matter that Sarsfield’ men wore RED jackets. It does not detract from the morality or the heroism of a people who fought the odds.
Of course the later Jacobite sieges of 1690 and 1691 are my field of amateur expertise. “On far foreign fields from Dunkerque to Belgrade lie the soldiers and chiefs of the Irish Brigade” (Davis). Or indeed Savannah, Georgia. If the 1690 siege was a success from the Irish perspective, then the 1691 siege was a failure.
This is the list of Jacobite Intantry and Cavalry that fought in 1690/91. Regiments were named for their “colonel-propietors”, The Cavalry such as Sheldon’s Horse would in the 18th century become Nugents Horse and eventually Fitzjames Horse was based on the County Clare side of the River Shannon and used for harassing Williamite camps, foraging and scouting.
I like this diaroma, one of the final acts in 1691. Thomond Bridge. Irish defenders are pushed back by the Williamites and the French garrison commander closes the gates. Around 700 defenders were killed on the bridge or drowned in the River Shannon. Whether it was deliberate treachery on the French side or just incompetence is speculative but Patrick Sarsfield and his Irish generals assumed command in the Castle and prevented the lynching of the French officers. With discord in the defenders ranks, capitulation on honourable terms at the Treaty Stone was the logical outcome.
Ironic that the English parliament repudiated the generous terms. Ironic also that French re-enforcements arrived on the River Shannon two weeks later and were sent home by Sarsfield who felt committed to the Treaty he had signed. And ironic that Sarsfield and his army and their dependents would leave Ireland over the winter 1691/92.
This is the view of Thomond Bridge and the River Shannon from the Castle battlements. It must have been horrific to see the massacre unfold below. To the right of the pic is The Toll House.
To be honest as an enthusiast for the Wild Geese, I was disappointed that it was just part of the story of Limerick Castle. There was a little too much emphasis on the Norman times from my perspective. But I suppose castles resonate of “knights” and “princesses” and “jousting” in the public imagination.
Although the underground archaeology was interesting. The courtyard seemed too much like a film set. The way that a non-European tourist would think of “castles”.
The pillory is almost standard fare in tours and likewise the work of masons, soldiers and blacksmiths.
The battlements are of course subject to safety regulations and the views are spectacular. There were few tour guides and usually in other castles that I have visited there is reference to the spiral steps facilitating right handed defenders against right handed attackers. And that the stairs contain some “trip steps” to unbalance attackers.
The rooms in the towers are used for audio-visual displays. A 1642 English defender talks to us. He “remembers” the tourists. He spoke to us in an earlier part of the tour when he was confidant that he and his comrades would prevail against the Irish Confederate besiegers. This time he is in despair…hungry, fatigued and awaiting his fate as he hears the voices of the attackers come closer with the gunpowder. Other rooms have heraldic displays of varying authenticity.
And then the Coffee/Gift Shop. …the apple pie, fridge magnets and quite a lot of fairly expensive items.
Did I enjoy the visit to Limerick Castle? Yes….it is my kinda thing. Obviously a compromise between History and Tourism. But that is to be expected.