The story of Limerick Castle begins over a millennium before it was built. There has been a settlement on the banks of the Shannon River at Limerick since at least the second century, when Ptolemy (c. 100 – c. 170) produced a map of Ireland with a place called Regia located where Limerick is today. Legend has Saint Patrick visiting the area in the fifth century, while the Vikings arrived in the ninth century.
According to tradition, in 1168, the last King of Munster, Domnall Mór Ua Briain (part of the O’Brien dynasty started when Brian Boru defeated the Vikings) founded the present St Mary’s cathedral on the site of his palace on King’s Island.
The arrival of the Normans in the twelfth century saw some notable changes in the area. In 1197, Limerick received a charter from King Richard I which granting the citizens of the city the same rights as the citizens of Dublin city. They were allowed to elect a mayor and bailiffs who would govern and administer the city.
During the first decade of the thirteenth century, Limerick Castle, one of the city’s most famous landmarks, was planned and construction started. It was a five-sided structure that may have been surrounded by a moat, which was crossed on one side by the first Thomond Bridge, possibly of a wooden construction.
Construction began on Limerick Castle during the reign of King John of England, Lord of Ireland. The castle was known by various names over the last eight centuries, including Limerick Castle, the Castle in Limerick, King’s Castle, Queen’s Castle, and King John’s Castle. The castle also housed the city mint, where the currency of the city was pressed. King John never visited Limerick and was widely considered the worst king in English history.
According to a report by Thomas Johnson Westropp in 1916 called Limerick and its Neighbourhood, the castle was not a success. In 1224, a Royal valuation of Limerick Castle was carried out, and it was found that the goods within it were “scarcely worth 18 pence” but by 1272, it had a castle “and hostages were held in it”. In the same report he tells how in 1316, a constable let sixteen prisoners escape, “of whom John Wogan recaptured 18 and slew 2”.
It received extensive damage during the four sieges of the 17th century. The first of these (15 May – 23 June 1642), saw a rebellion of an Irish army led by Sir Garret Barry. The Irish dug tunnels beneath the walls of the castle to gain entry, while those inside dug countermines. This undermining caused part of one of the walls to collapsed.
Nine years later, Cromwellian forces advanced on the city. Oliver Cromwell’s son-in-law, Henry Ireton lay siege to the castle from June – October 1651. Ireton would die in Limerick of a fever later that year.
The most notable sieges are those of 1690 and 1691. This was the conflict between the Williamite and Jacobite armies, that led to the Treaty of Limerick in 1691.
In 1791, a military barracks was built within the castle. A hundred members of the British army as well as their families lived here until 1922. During this time it was known as the Castle Barracks.
In 1935, Limerick Corporation removed part of the castle walls and erected 22 houses in the castle yard. These were demolished in 1989 and Limerick Castle was restored as a tourist attraction. In 2012, it closed once more for redevelopment and reopen in midsummer 2013. In 2022, the castle went into the ownership of Limerick City and County Council.