Limerick is the tenth largest of Ireland’s 32 counties by area and the eighth largest by population.
It is the fifth largest of Munster’s 6 counties in size and the second largest by population. The River Shannon flows through the city of Limerick into the Atlantic Ocean at the north of the county. Below the city, the waterway is known as the Shannon Estuary. Because the estuary is shallow, the county’s most important port is several kilometres west of the city, at Foynes. Newcastle West is the most important county town outside of Limerick city with a population of around 10,000. Other towns mainly lie along the Limerick – Traleeroads (N21) and Limerick – Cork road (N20).
It is thought that humans had established themselves in the Lough Gur area of the county as early as 3000 BC, while megalithicremains found at Duntryleague date back further to 3500 BC. The arrival of the Celts around 400 BC brought about the division of the county into petty kingdoms or túatha. From the 4th to the 12th century, the ancient kingdom of the Uí Fidgenti was approximately co-extensive with what is now County Limerick, with some of the easternmost part the domain of the Eóganacht Áine. Having finally lost an over two-century-long conflict with the neighboring O’Briens of Dál gCais, most of the rulers fled for County Kerry and soon after that County Cork. Their lands were almost immediately occupied by the FitzGeralds and other Norman families, who permanently prevented their return. The ancestors of both Michael Collins and the famous O’Connells of Derrynane were among these princes of the Uí Fidgenti. The Norse-Irish O’Donovans, descendants of the notorious Donnubán mac Cathail, were the leading family at the time and were responsible for the conflict.
The precise ethnic affiliation of the Uí Fidgenti is lost to history and all that is known for sure is that they were cousins of the equally shadowy Uí Liatháin of early British fame. Officially both are said to be related to the Eóganachta but a variety of evidence suggests associations with the Dáirine and Corcu Loígde, and thus distantly the infamous Ulaid of ancient Ulster. In any case, it is supposed the Uí Fidgenti still make a substantial contribution to the population of the central and western regions of County Limerick. Their capital was Dún Eochair, the great earthworks of which still remain and can be found close to the modern town of Bruree, on the River Maigue. Catherine Coll, the mother of Éamon de Valera, was a native of Bruree and this is where he was taken by her brother to be raised.
Christianity came to Limerick in the 5th Century, and resulted in the establishment of important monasteries in Limerick, at Ardpatrick, Mungret and Kileedy. From this golden age in Ireland of learning and art (5th – 9th Centuries) comes one of Ireland’s greatest artefacts, The Ardagh Chalice, a masterpiece of metalwork, which was found in a west Limerick fort in 1868.
The arrival of the Vikings in the 9th century brought about the establishment of the city on an island on the River Shannon in 922. The death of Domnall Mór Ua Briain, King of Munster in 1194 resulted in the invading Normans taking control of Limerick, and in 1210, the County of Limerick was formally established. Over time, the Normans became “more Irish than the Irish themselves” as the saying goes. The Tudors in England wanted to curb the power of these Gaelicised Norman Rulers and centralise all power in their hands, so they established colonies of English in the county. This caused the leading Limerick Normans, The Geraldines, to revolt against English Rule in 1569. This sparked a savage war in Munster known as the Desmond Rebellions, during which the province was laid to waste, and the confiscation of the vast estates of the Geraldines.
The county was to be further ravaged by war over the next century. After the Irish Rebellion of 1641, Limerick city was taken in a siegeby Catholic general Garret Barry in 1642. The county was not fought over for most of the Irish Confederate Wars, of 1641-53, being safely behind the front lines of the Catholic Confederate Ireland. However it became a battleground during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in 1649-53. The invasion of the forces of Oliver Cromwell in the 1650s included a twelve month siege of the city by Cromwell’s New Model Army led by Henry Ireton. The city finally surrendered in October 1651. One of Cromwell’s generals, Hardress Waller was granted lands at Castletown near Kilcornan in County Limerick. During the Williamite War in Ireland (1689–1691) the city was to endure two further sieges, one in 1690 and another in 1691. It was during the 1690 siege that the infamous destruction of the Williamite guns at Ballyneety, near Pallasgreen was carried out by General Patrick Sarsfield. The Catholic Irish, comprising the vast majority of the population, had eagerly supported the Jacobite cause, however, the second siege of Limerick resulted in a defeat to the Williamites. Sarsfield managed to force the Williamites to sign the Treaty of Limerick, the terms of which were satisfactory to the Irish. However the Treaty was subsequently dishonoured by the English and the city became known as the City of the Broken Treaty.
The 18th and 19th centuries saw a long period of persecution against the Catholic majority, many of who lived in poverty. In spite of this oppression, however, the famous Maigue Poets strove to keep alive their ancient Gaelic Poetry in towns like Croom and Bruree. The Great Famine of the 1840s set in motion mass emigration and a huge decline in Irish as a spoken language in the county. This began to change around the beginning of the 20th century, as changes in law from the British Government enabled the farmers of the county to purchase lands they had previously only held as tenants, paying high rent to absentee landlords.
Limerick saw much fighting during the War of Independence of 1919 to 1921 particularly in the east of the county. The subsequent Irish Civil War saw bitter fighting between the newly established Irish Free State soldiers and IRA “Irregulars”, especially in the city (See Irish Free State offensive).
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Local government and politics:
Prior to the enactment of the Local Government Act 2001, the county was a unified whole despite the presence of two local authorities.
Since that time, the administrative re-organisation has reduced the geographical extent of the county by the extent of the area under the jurisdiction of Limerick City Council. Today, the geographic extent of the county is limited to the area under the jurisdiction of Limerick County Council. Each local authority ranks equally as first level local administrative units of the NUTS 3 Mid-West Region for Eurostat purposes. There are 34 LAU 1 entities in the Republic of Ireland. The remit of Limerick County Council includes some suburbs of the city not within the remit of Limerick City Council. Both local authorities are responsible for certain local services such as sanitation, planning and development, libraries, the collection of motor taxation, local roads and social housing.
The county is part of the South constituency for the purposes of European elections. For elections to Dáil Éireann, the county is part of three constituencies: Limerick City,
Limerick and Kerry North–West Limerick. Together they elect 10 deputies (TDs) to the Dáil.
On 28 June 2011, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan announced that Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council are to be merged into a single local authority.
The merger is to come into effect following the 2014 local elections. The new entity is to be headed by a directly elected Mayor, with a five-year term.
There are 2,322 Irish speakers in County Limerick attending the six Gaelscoil (Irish language primary schools) and three Gaelcholáiste(Irish language secondary schools)..
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Places of Interest:
- Adare Manor
- Castle Oliver
- Clare Glens
- Croom Castle
- Curraghchase Forest Park
- Foynes Flying Boat Museum
- Glin-Estuary Drive
- Glenstal Abbey
- King John’s Castle
- Lough Gur
- Grange Stone Circle
One possible meaning for the county’s name in Irish (Luimneach) is “the flat area”; this description is accurate as the land consists mostly of a fertile limestone plain. Moreover, the county is ringed by mountains: the Slieve Felims, the Galtees) and the Ballyhoura Mountains. The highest point in the county is located in its south-east corner at Galtymore (919m), which separates Limerick from County Tipperary. However it would be wrong to say that the county is a monotonous plain, for it is dotted with hills and ridges. The eastern part of the county is part of the Golden Vale, which is famous for dairy produce. Towards the west, the aptly named Mullaghareirk Mountains (Mullach an Radhairc in Irish, roughly meaning “mountains of the view”) push across the county offering dramatic views east over the county and west into County Kerry.
Volcanic rock is to be found in numerous areas in the county, at Carrigogunnell, at Knockfierna, and principally at Pallasgreen/Kilteelyin the east, which has been described as the most compact and for its size one of the most varied and complete carboniferousvolcanic districts in either Britain and Ireland.
Tributaries of the Shannon drainage basin located in the county include the rivers Mulkear, Loobagh, Maigue, Deel and the Feale.
Rail Limerick has three operational railway lines passing through it,
- the Ballybrophy line leading to North Tipperary through Nenagh and Roscrea
- the Ennis line through County Clare which continues on to Galway as part of the Western Railway Corridor
- the Limerick Junction line which is the busiest line, connecting Limerick to the Cork-Dublin line.
In addition, a line exists to Foynes but the last revenue service was in 2000.
Road & Bus:
The M7 is the main road linking Limerick with Dublin. The M/N20 connects the county with Cork. The N21 road links Limerick with Tralee and travels through some of the main county towns such as Abbeyfeale and Newcastle West. The N18 road links the county to Ennis and Galway while the N24 continues south eastwards from Limerick towards Waterford. The N69, a secondary route travels from Limerick City along the Shannon Estuary through Clarina, Askeaton & Glin and continues towards Listowel in County Kerry. The county’s regional/national bus hub is located beside Limerick City train station.
No commercial airports are situated in County Limerick and the region’s needs are serviced from Shannon Airport in County Clare, although some in the south of the county may also use Kerry Airport and Cork Airport is also within 1 hour’s drive.
Limerick is widely regarded to be the Irish spiritual home of Rugby union which is very popular in the county, but is mostly focused around Limerick city, which boasts many of Ireland’s most celebrated All-Ireland League teams; Garryowen, Shannon, Old Crescent, Young Munster are among the most prominent. Limerick’s Thomond Park is the home of the Munster Rugby team, who enjoy enthusiastic and often fanatical support throughout the county.
In the county, however, it is the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) which has the upper hand. Hurling in particular is strong in east, mid and south Limerick. The County Hurling Team, who play in the county colours of green and white, have won the coveted All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship seven times, although, despite good performances, their most recent success was in 1973. Limerick reached the 2007 Munster Senior Hurling Championship and All-Ireland finals in 2007, but were overcome by Kilkenny GAA.
The other GAA sport of Gaelic football is more popular in west Limerick, particularly along the Shannon Estuary west of Askeaton and along the Kerry border. There are also football strongholds in the southeast of the county and on the eastern edges of the city. Although one of the strongest teams in the country during the early years of the GAA, the game in the county was overshadowed by hurling throughout the 20th century and its last success in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, the Sam Maguire Trophy, was in 1896. However, Limerick footballers have seen a reversal of fortunes in recent years and contested successive Munster Senior Football Championship finals in 2003 and 2004.
Limerick 37 FC play in the FAI First Division, the second tier of Irish soccer, at the Jackman Park stadium.
The city also boasts one of Ireland’s two 50-metre (55 yd) swimming pools, at The University of Limerick Sports Arena, as well as one of Ireland’s top basketball teams, the Limerick Lions, whose home is also at the world class facilities on the University Campus.
The song “Limerick you’re a lady” is traditionally associated with the county. It is often heard at sports fixtures involving the county.