( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Limerick is distinguished in history as "the city of the violated treaty;" and the Shannon, on which it stands, has been aptly termed "the King of Island Rivers." Few of the Irish counties possess so many attractions for the antiquarian and the lover of the picturesque : and with one exception, no city of Ireland has contributed so largely to maintain the honor and glory of the country. The brave defenders of Limerick and Londonderry have received—the former from the Protestant, and the latter from the Catholic, historian—the praise that party spirit failed to weaken; the heroic gallantry, the indomitable perseverance, and the patient and resolute endurance under suffering, of both, having deprived political partizans of their asperity —compelling them, for once at least, to render justice to their opponents; all having readily subscribed to the opinion that "Derry and Limerick will ever grace the historic page, as rival companions and monuments of Irish bravery, generosity, and integrity."
From a very early period Limerick has held rank among the cities of Ireland, second only to that of the capital; and before its walls were defeated, first, the Anglo-Norman chivalry; next, the sturdy Ironsides of Cromwell; and last, the victorious army of William the Third. Like most of the Irish sea-ports, it was, in the ninth and tenth centuries, a settlement of the Danes, between whom and the native Irish many, en-counters took place, until finally the race of the sea-kings was expelled from the country.
It is certain that at this early period Limerick was a place of considerable importance; for some time after, indeed until the conquest by the English, it was the capital of the province, and the seat of the kings of Thomond, or North Munster, who were hence called Kings of Limerick. Upon the arrival of Strongbow, Donnell O'Brien swore fealty to Henry the Second, but subsequently revolted; and Raymond Le Gros, the bravest and noblest of all the followers of Strongbow, laid siege to his city. Limerick was at that time "environed with a foule and deepe ditch with running water, not to be passed over without boats, but by one foord only;" the English soldiers were therefore discouraged, and would have abandoned the attempt to take it, but that "a valiaunt knight, Meyler Fitz-Henry, having found the foord, wyth a loud voyce cried `St. David, companions, let us corageouslie pass this foord.' " For some years after the citv was alternately in the possession of the English and the Irish; on the death of Strongbow, it was surrendered to the keeping of its native prince, who swore to govern it for the King of England; but the British knights had scarcely passed the bridge, when he destroyed it and set fire to the town.
After again repeatedly changing hands, it was finally settled by the renowned William de Burgo, ancestor of the present Marquis of Clanricarde, and remained an appanage to the English crown. At this period, and for some time after, Limerick, was "next in consequence" to Dublin. Richard the First, in the ninth year of his reign, granted it a charter to elect a mayor—an honor which London did not then enjoy, and which Dublin did not receive until a century later; and King John, according to Stanihurst, was "so pleased with the agreeableness of the city, that he caused a very fine castle and bridge to be built there." The castle has endured for above six centuries; in all the "battles, sieges, for-tunes," that have since occurred, it has been the object most coveted, perhaps in Ireland, by the contending parties; and it still frowns, a dark mass, upon the waters of the mighty Shannon.
The great attraction of Limerick—altho by no means the only one—is, however, its majestic and beautiful river: "the king of island rivers,"—the "principallest of all in Ireland," writes the quaint old naturalist, Dr. Gerrard Boate. It takes its rise among the mountains of Leitrim—strange to say, the precise spot has not been ascertained—and running for a few miles as an inconsiderable stream, diffuses itself into a spacious lake, called Lough Allyn. Issuing thence it pursues its course for several miles, and forms another small lake, Lough Eike; again spreads itself out into Lough Ree,-a lake fifteen miles in length and four in breadth; and thence proceeds as a broad and rapid river, passing by Athlone; then narrowing again until it reaches Shannon harbor; then widening into far-famed Lough Derg, eighteen miles long and four broad; then progressing until it arrives at Killaloe, where it ceases to be navigable until it waters Limerick city; from whence it flows in a broad and majestic volume to the ocean for about sixty miles; running a distance of upward of. 200 miles from its source to its mouth—between Loop Head and Kerry Head (the space between them being about eight miles), watering ten counties in its progress, and affording facilities for commerce and internal intercourse such as are unparalleled in any other portion of the United Kingdom.
"The spacious Shenan spreading like a sea," thus answers to the description of Spenser; for a long space its course is so gentle that ancient writers supposed its name to have been derived from "Seen-awn," the slow river; and for many miles, between O'Brien's Bridge and Limerick, it rolls so rapidly along as almost to be characterized as a series of cataracts. At the falls of Killaloe, it descends twenty-one feet in a mile; and above one hundred feet from Killaloe to Limerick Its banks too are, nearly all along its course, of surpassing beauty; as it nears Limerick, the adjacent hills are crowned with villas; and upon its sides are the ruins of many ancient castles. Castle Connell, a village about six miles from the city, is perhaps unrivaled in the kingdom for natural graces; and immediately below it are the Falls of Doonas where the river rushes over huge mountain-rocks, affording a passage which the more daring only will make; for the current—narrowed to a boat's breadth—rushes along with such frightful rapidity, that the deviation of a few inches would be inevitable destruction.
The immediate environs of Limerick are not picturesque; the city lies in a spacious plain, the greater portion of which is scarcely above the level of the water: at short distances, how-ever, there are some of the most interesting ruins in the kingdom, in the midst of scenery of surpassing loveliness. Of these, the tourist should first visit Carrig-o-gunnel, next Adare, and then Castle Connell, the most beautiful of many beautiful places upon the banks of the noble Shannon.