The following description of Limerick by Thomas W. Silloway and Lee L. Powers was first published in 1883. The pair travelled through Ireland to create a tour guide called “The Cathedral Towns and Intervening Places of England, Ireland, and Scotland: A Description of cities cathedrals, lakes, mountains, ruins and watering-places.” for potential visitors to the countries. They go into various aspects of life in Limerick in 1883.


After a ride of five hours, having on the way passed back through Mallow, we arrived in Limerick, where we took rooms at the Royal George Hotel. Valises deposited, and the usual toilet operations gone through with, we walk out to see this place, so like Cork and Dublin. Limerick is the capital of the county of Limerick. It is on a narrow arm of the sea, or mouth of the River Shannon, with a population of 49,670. It consists of an English town, built on an island of the Shannon, and also an Irish one; and it has a suburb called Newton Perry, on the left bank of the river. These three portions are connected by five bridges, one of which, the Wellesley Bridge, cost $425,000.

We were pleasantly surprised with the appearance of the place, with the cleanness of the streets, and their good pavements, and the general order and substantial condition of all we saw. We speak now of the English portion, which is in fact the larger and principal division of the place. The surface is level, and the buildings are mostly of dark-colored brick. They are generally three or four stories high, without decoration, save simple brick cornices and arched doorways to the houses. There are solid and plainly finished fronts to the stores. The streets are of strikingly uniform appearance, presenting only here and there anything to attract notice. It has its slums like Cork; but of these we need not speak now.

They go on to describe St Mary’s Cathedral in 1883.

We next begin our walk to the cathedral, for this was the first of the cathedrals we had reached. The greater part of the edifice, as it now stands, was built during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and so is six hundred years old. We readily found it, and came to one of the iron gates leading to the burial-ground in front of it. The dark and antiquated look of the old, massive structure impressed us favorably, and touched the right chord. We had seen castles and abbeys in fine ruin, but they belonged to a dead past. We were hungering for something ancient in which the living present was playing its part, and nothing feeds this hunger so well as a cathedral, especially those that, at the Reformation, passed over from Catholicism to Protestantism, as this has done.

After demonstrations at the iron gate the verger soon appeared, coming from the cathedral tower some hundred or more feet away. This burial-ground is the principal way of access to the cathedral, and has good walks from the gates to the edifice. The entire ground, perhaps a half-acre in extent, is neat and well kept, and has many ancient-looking gravestones and low slab-monuments. Our verger was a portly man of some sixty years, a master of the situation. An adept at the business, he soon understood our case and our nationality, and we thought we understood him. Both parties being in good humor and knowing their business, we proceeded from point to point over the edifice, he all the time trying to earn his fee of a shilling each, and we aiding him as best we could, by seeming to pay respectful attention, yet doing as much thinking outside of his thoughts as we chose, and in our own way.

The cathedral is large and imposing to view from the outside, irregular in outline, and antique-looking in the extreme. It is built of a dark-dinged, brownish colored stone, and is of Gothic architecture. It has a tower one hundred and twenty feet high, but no spire above it. At the time of our visit the building was under process of extensive restorations of the interior.

There are many ancient monuments in the various parts of the building, some of them centuries old. It would be interesting to allude freely to them, but our limits will not permit. One illustration must suffice, and that is quoted for its simplicity and quaintness. It was read off by our guide with a promptness and precision, both of words and declamation, that suggested familiarity, and that we were by no means the first who had heard it.

Memento Mory

Here Lieth Littell Samvell
Barington that Great vnder
taker of famiovs cittis
Clock and chims maker
He made his one time goe
erly and latter Bvt now
he is retvrned to god his creator
The 19 of November then he
Scest and to his memory
This Here is pleast by his
Son Ben 1693.

After a good examination of the venerable edifice and its appendages below, we ascended the tower, our verger accompanying,—for which an extra shilling each must be paid. From here we had an admirable view of the city; but nothing seen from above, or inside the cathedral below, interested us more than the chime of bells in the tower. Wherever the English language is spoken, these bells receive honorable mention, for it is these to which reference is made in that plaintive but sweet poetry,—and who has not sympathized with its sentiment?—

“Those evening bells, those evening bells,
How many a tale their music tells.”

There are eight of them, each hung with a wheel to aid its ringing. Four of them are old, and the others comparatively new. The largest weighs about three thousand pounds.

Next they talk about the businesses of the city in 1883

Having said something in regard to the business part of the city and cathedral, we next take a look at other parts of the former, and consider a few items of history. Newton Perry, the new section, contains wide streets and promenades, and on these are fine residences of wealthy inhabitants, many of whom are merchants doing business in the city proper, which we will now speak of.

George Street, a grand thoroughfare, continues on one side through Richmond Place to the Military Walk, and on the other along Patrick Street, through Rutland Street, to Matthew Bridge—named in honor of Father Matthew, the apostle of Temperance. Henry and Catherine streets are also important. In Perry Square is a column surmounted by a statue to Lord Monteagle, and in Richmond Place there is a bronze statue of Daniel O’Connell. St. John’s Cathedral, Roman Catholic, completed in 1860, is a Gothic edifice, erected at a cost of $85,000.

The principal industries of the place are the manufacture of flax, army-clothing, lace, and gloves. The city carries on an extensive traffic, and, having hundreds of well-stocked stores, it is the wholesale as well as retail market for towns of the vicinity. There is at the border of the city the remains of a castle built in the time of King John, a somewhat dilapidated, but still noble structure. It has seven massive towers, which are connected by a wall of great thickness, and affords an example of the best Norman strongholds of the country, if not of the world, and inside the castle walls are buildings used as barracks.

The castle is situated in the Irish part of the city. Here are narrow and unclean streets, and a low grade of population, many of whom live in destitution; though, so far as degradation is concerned, we found less than in Cork. What struck us forcibly in this section was the number of buildings—one or two, and even three stories high—dilapidated, abandoned, and without roofs. They were the rule and not the exception. There seemed to be a dislike on the part of owners to take down an old house; but when, in the last extremity, it became absolutely unfit for a day’s more occupancy, they preferred to abandon it, and let it tumble down piecemeal. On the floors, in holes in the walls, about the chimneys, weeds were growing, and especially the not inappropriately named snapdragon. Fine specimens of these, of all the usual colors, were in full bloom and growing luxuriantly.

Having spoken of the Irish and English parts of Ireland, an explanation may be in order. Soon after the union of the two countries at the beginning of the present century, English people of wealth and influence established themselves in the principal cities of Ireland. They built stores and dwelling-houses, and it is safe to say that now two thirds of each large city are occupied by English people, the Irish inhabitants remaining in their old quarters. This large preponderance of English influence and life gives to Ireland’s large cities an English look, and it is only when one enters the Irish part that he feels he is not in an English town. This is notably true of Cork, Limerick, Dublin, and other southern cities; while Belfast and Londonderry, at the north, have had so much commerce and exchange of thought with Scotland as well as England, as almost to transform their citizens into English people.

Finally they describe the military history of the city up to 1883

In Limerick may be seen Norman walls and remains in abundance, some of them a thousand years old. The harbor is sufficiently capacious to accommodate a large amount of shipping, and extends a mile along the river, which has a breadth of four hundred and fifty feet, with here and there a semi-basin or dock.

Limerick was the last place of Ireland which surrendered to English rule, and only submitted to the Parliamentarians, under Ireton in 1651, after a determined resistance and gallant defence. During a siege in 1691 a large gun was planted on the top of the cathedral tower, and rendered most effectual service. “Muscular Christianity” was then at a premium. The old city has experienced and withstood many sieges, the last of which were those under Cromwell and William III.

After several repulses, William, in 1691, offered advantageous terms to the besieged which were accepted by the troops then under the command of Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan, and the surrender was made to General De Ginkle. Part of the treaty was signed here, on a stone now called the Treaty Stone which, for safety and as a monument of interest, is now kept on a pedestal at the end of Thomond Bridge. The treaty guaranteed to Roman Catholics certain religious privileges and rights, and promised amnesty to all who took the oath of allegiance; but it was afterwards, to the disgrace of the victors, recklessly broken, especially in regard to the points first named, and to this day the place is called “the city of the broken treaty.”

Limerick has from time immemorial been a military seat, and is now the headquarters of the southwest military district. Anciently it was the royal residence of the Irish kings.

There are within the limits of the city over twenty places of worship. It has many charitable and educational institutions, and much enterprise and business activity. Save the old and slummish portion, which is not of very great extent, and is under comparatively good control, it has a thoroughly English look, or, perhaps we may say, an old American look. We greatly enjoyed our visit, and were happily disappointed; for our minds were disabused of opinions we before erroneously entertained, and supposed to be true, concerning this famous city.

1883 george street limerick
George Street in the 1880s colourised from the Lawrence Collection