Limerick’s history is closely tied to the Shannon River, which was the main access route to the interior of Ireland during the Middle Ages. The naturally strategic location of this area meant that Limerick was always destined to be settled and used as a trading and transportation hub.
Throughout its 1,000-year history, this town has been occupied by one power after another as the political tides of Ireland have constantly turned. Today, Limerick has followed the overall economic revival of Ireland, making it one of the most important cities in the nation.
Limerick was founded by Viking invaders in the middle of the 9th century as a sheltering harbor for their ships, which came up the massive Shannon River from the eastern seas. The Vikings ruled the small town for 40 years, using it as a base from which to plunder the Irish midlands, yet they were never powerful enough to control the medieval kingdom of Thomond, which was ruled by King Mahon and his brother Brian Boru.
King Mahon and his brother moved against the Vikings in 967 AD, easily crushing them at Solohead. They went on to sack Limerick and rebuild the city inside fortified earthen ramparts. For the next 200 years, the town was the seat of power for the O’Brien dynasty.
When the Normans seized the walled city, they built a five-sided bastion on the site of Limerick’s original settlement and called it King John’s Castle. From their fortified city, the Normans divided the town into English and Irish sections, ruling over both for the next 400 years. Many of the residents of Limerick remained loyal to the English crown and helped to build up a prosperous trading port on the Shannon River.
In 1691, the nationalist Irish residents of Limerick gained heroic status for their struggle against the English occupation, a saga which continues today farther north. The Siege of Limerick was the last stand of the Catholic Jacobite forces, who were eventually overpowered and forced to surrender. The 1692 Treaty of Limerick marked the final conquest of Ireland by the English.