Sovereign of England
From 1199 to 1216
John was the youngest son of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitane. The conflict and betrayal which marked this family would be reflected on into John's own reign.
When John was only eighteen, Henry II sent him to Ireland to represent the crown and learn the duties of rulership. John proved ill suited for the task and not only worsened the relationship with the Irish but created troubles with English landholders as well.
Within less than a year John returned to England, his efforts in Ireland a disaster.
Limerick, IrelandKing John's Castle lies at the very heart of Limerick's medieval core, the old English town on The King's Island, just north of Limerick's City center. Today, an extended riverside section of English town is known as the Heritage Precinct, and is undergoing major restoration, becoming, once again, the administrative and visitor center of the city.
The Welcoming ShannonLimerick City is magnificently sited on one of Europe's finest rivers, the Lordly Shannon, here where the soft bog and fresh water meet the salt of the sea. Today, it is difficult to picture the 9th century scenes, when fleets of Viking vessels sailed upriver to plunder and terrorize the Monastic Midlands. In later centuries these Norsemen settled and founded the trading port of Limerick.
A nineteenth century romantic depiction of Viking warriors.
The River Shannon and King John's Castle live side by side, a little above the Curraghour Falls, at Thomond Bridge. This majestic river, the longest in Ireland or Britain opens its tidal waters to welcome the international fleets of the world, just as it has done for the mariners of countless years.
King John's Castle at Evening
Guarding the Shannon
The King's Island, approximately 80 hectares in extent, created by a loop of the River Shannon, locally called the Abbey River, is connected to the city mainland by four bridges: Thomond, Matthew, Baal and O'Dwyer. Sited, as this island is, at the lowest fording point of the River Shannon above the estuary, its strategic location attracted Viking colonies from the 9th century on. Then the O'Briens, Kings of Thomond, held sway, endowing St. Mary's Cathedral in the late 12th century. Subsequent Anglo-Norman occupation fortified the fledgling city, erecting King John's Castle as its administrative center, and walling what became known as English town.
The gate towers of King John's castle.
18th Century Painting
Freely to Viewers.
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General Patrick Sarsfield
John's Castle was built to guard the Shannon frontier, and to serve
as an administration center for the kingdom of Limerick in the Shannon
Region of Ireland. It was uniquely built for its day, without a keep and
with high curtain walls to withstand the awesome power of the new siege
machines. Its massive gate towers and drum comer towers were state-of-the-art
features for the beginning of the 13th century.
Saint Mary's Church
Together, Northern Ireland and the Republic
are comprised of four provinces, which consist of thirty two counties.
Display at King John's
Excavations Reveal the PastRecent Archeological excavations at the castle revealed new aspects of pre-Norman Limerick. These features remain on site underneath the new building for the visitor to experience and examine at close quarters. Excavations at the castle commenced in February 1990 with the aim of defining the line of the original curtain wall along Nicholas Street, and the extent of the comer bastion so as to allow for their restoration.
As expected, these features were quickly revealed, but in addition there were exciting discoveries of pre-Norman features, and evidence of the traumatic siege of 1642. The need to preserve this primary evidence of old Limerick, and practical reasons of catering for the modern visitor, resulted in a brilliantly conceived, modern two story structure, designed on eight widely spaced foundation columns. This allows the archaeological evidence which forms the basement of the new building - to become an integral part of the Visitor Center. The significance of the finds is explained graphically on site, and a short audiovisual presentation has highlights of the actual excavations in progress.
The pre-Norman features discovered are both defensive and of settlement. Extensive evidence of an earlier defense system of a strong earthen rampart, supported with limestone boulders and protected by a deep ditch, showed that King John's Castle was built on an existing fortification, and that this defense was incorporated on the southern side into the new stone castle; indeed the earlier earthworks influenced the overall ground plan of the castle.
the south of this early defensive enclosure, two sunken-floored houses, a large
stone-lined entrance passage to a third, and remains of post and wattle fences were
discovered. Pottery shards place these structures towards the end of the 12th century.
The excavators have postulated that they may well represent a suburban expansion northwards
of the Ostman population, which had its center in the southern span of the King's
Island. Similar house-types have been found in the Viking levels of Waterford City.
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