The following is an extract from the 1852 publication Three days on the Shannon: from Limerick to Lough Key By William Frederick Wakeman.


We shall suppose our reader to have arrived in Limerick en route to the capital, after having visited some of the romantic and charming scenery which has rendered Clare, and particularly the “kingdom of Kerry,” so world-wide famous. The journey from Limerick to Dublin by Athlone may be performed in one day, as follows: A well-appointed car leaves Cruise’s Hotel every second morning at six o’clock, and in about two hours arrives at Killaloe, where the steamboat for Athlone will be found waiting.

The traveller, after one of the most agreeable journeys that can be accomplished, lands at Athlone about an hour before the starting of the 6, P. M., train to Dublin. Should he wish to prolong his tour and enjoy the river and lake scenery above Athlone, he may remain in that town for the night, and take the steamer which leaves for Carrick-on-Shannon the next morning. The traveller from Dublin who would pass down the Shannon en route to the south should bear in mind that the steamer sails from Athlone only every second day. The day and hours of sailing he will find notified in Walsh’s Irish Railway Guide, or he may obtain a time-table from the offices of the Dublin Steam Packet Company, 15, Eden-quay.

We have styled this little work, “ Three Days upon the Shannon,” not that we believe its beauties may be sufficiently explored in so short a time, or that the course of its navigation from Limerick to Carrick-on-Shannon might not be sailed in less, but because three days will allow the ordinary tourist an opportunity not only of seeing but of examining the most interesting of the localities hereafter to be described.


Limerick, then, is our starting-place, a city that has long been famous in the annals of Irish history, and that will well repay the visitor for the delay necessary to admit of an investigation of its ancient remains and of its present state as a first-class Irish provincial town. Like the great majority of our maritime cities, Limerick rose into importance under the rule of the Northmen, who settled here in the ninth century, and who continued masters of the place till subdued by the hero of Clontarf, Brian Boroihme, when the city became Irish, and was held as the chief seat of the Kings of Thomond, until taken by the victorious arms of the Anglo-Normans, assisted by Irish traitors.


Of the fortress erected by the invaders, a very considerable portion remains, notwithstanding the accidents of war and fire, which for five succeeding centuries befel the city. It consists of seven massive and exceedingly high circular towers, connected together by a wall of immense height and thickness, inclosing an area at present occupied by barracks.

The towers upon the riverside bear in many places the marks of shots and shell, memorials of the sieges to which Limerick and its chief fortress were for ages subjected; but still the veteran walls stand as proudly as ever, and will probably outlast the most recent edifices of modern Limerick.

Almost in immediate connexion with the Castle was old Thomond Bridge, until lately one of the most remarkable edifices of the kind in the country. Low, flat, and narrow in its proportions, defended at one end by a tower and gateway, and exhibiting in its numerous arches a variety of forms, chiefly of the pointed style of architecture, it formed, with the Castle, and the venerable tower of Saint Mary’s Abbey in the back-ground, a group of mediæval structures, as imposing as picturesque. The old Bridge, having become completely ruinous, has been replaced by a structure more in accordance with the requirements of the nineteenth century. Upon the Clare side of the Bridge the tourist will find a relic of the olden time, which, however unimportant at first sight, is still an object of interest to most visitors,—the stone upon which the memorable Treaty which Treaty Stone. probably changed the fate of the empire was signed.


Of ancient Limerick, the Cathedral is the only edifice that remains worthy of especial attention. History informs us that, about the year 1180, Donald O’Brien, King of Limerick, bestowed his palace to the Church, and to this date may be assigned some of the older portions of the existing Cathedral. The building was subsequently enlarged by Donough O’Brien, who died in 1207, and by the contributions of Hubert de Burgh and Eustace del Ewe, Bishops of the See. With the exception of some later additions and alterations, which may be generally referred to the time of Bishop O’Dea, who resigned the See in 1426, after having been a great benefactor to the Church, all the arches and windows of the venerable edifice belong to that style of Gothic architecture usually designated “transition,’ mixed with first-pointed work. But the original beauty and harmony of the interior is sadly marred by the taste which could introduce unsightly excrescences of ponderous woodwork, carved with Pagan emblems, and exhibiting in their details only barbarous imitations of classic models. Some of the tombs are interesting for their high antiquity, and some from their association with great names, as that of the Earl of Thomond, Lord President of Munster in the time of Elizabeth.

The tower contains eight bells, which, like those of Cologne Cathedral and others, are not without their legend, and of which an anonymous writer thus relates in the pages of the Dublin Penny Journal. {Here is told the story of the Bells of St Mary’s}

During the memorable siege of Limerick, the Irish placed a great gun, and one of their best gunners, upon St. Mary’s steeple, and so great was the execution which he performed, that the enemy directed their fire chiefly to the Cathedral and its tower. The gunner was at length killed, whereon, it is said, General Ginkle ordered the cannonading to cease, thinking it a pity to destroy the chief ornament of the city. Several chain-shot used against the Cathedral on this occasion are still shown. The limits necessarily assigned to our little volume will not admit of a more lengthy notice of this most interesting relic of ancient architectural Art.

We would recommend the tourist, before leaving Limerick, to view some of the more ancient portions of the city which lie in the neighbourhood of the Cathedral, and should he be a sketcher, let him by no means fail to go accompanied by drawing materials. The high gables, clustered chimneys, and rich colouring of the old houses present studies of great interest; and on market-days especially, he will find groups of country people, almost as different in appearance from the ordinary inhabitants of British cities, as the dwellers in a distant clime.

The Limerick lasses, be it known, have long been ranked amongst the fairest of the fair, especially by the Garryownians, the name given (not by Ptolemy) to the inhabitants of Limerick; but as our notices must necessarily extend over a considerable district, embracing several counties, and as we would wish to be held strictly impartial, and considering also that the standard of beauty varies in almost each individual, we shall not express any opinion upon so delicate a subject, but leave our tourists to form their opinions completely unbiassed. This much, however, may be said of the people generally—that their characteristics are essentially Celtic: oval faces, dark hair, light complexions, and figures indicating at once strength and activity, together with an extreme fondness for music, and the exercise of hospitality, indicate that the race of the people has been but little influenced by foreign admixture, notwithstanding the frequent occupation of the old kingdom of Thomond by Danes, Normans, and English, of all periods since the Conquest.

Upon leaving Limerick a fine view is obtained of some of the older portions of the town, over which the grey tower of the Cathedral rises majestically. A hilly, picturesque road, from which many glimpses of the Shannon are obtainable, leads on to Castleconnell, passing the race-course and ruins of Newcastle. For those who travel by the public car, the far-famed scenery of the River between Limerick and Castleconnell will remain unexplored, as the line of road admits only here and there of a passing glance of the valley of the Shannon, with its sloping sides of rich and beautiful wood.

The tourist, however, who may have a vehicle at his disposal, or who may have adopted the more ancient and equally respectable mode of progressing on foot, should by no means fail to visit the famous Falls of Doonass, lying between Castleconnell and Limerick, and to which access may be gained by a by-road, branching off the main line at a distance of about six miles from Limerick. Here, indeed, is a very paradise for the sketcher, and for all who love nature in her most exquisite combinations of wood, water, rock, and meadow, with a back-ground of many-tinted hills, above and beyond which the grey mountains of Clare tower in desolate grandeur.