GEMMA GRANT continues her series on the castles of Ireland
King Henry ll of England, worried that his Norman lord, Richard de Clare Strongbow, could become too powerful in Ireland and maybe pose a challenge to his authority, decided to visit this country at the head of a large army. He would make his son, Prince John, lord of Ireland, thereby consolidating his power over his new territory, and more importantly, over Strongbow.
In 1185, the adolescent Prince John, complete with retinue, arrived in Ireland to familiarise himself with his latest acquisition. With youthful arrogance, he and his court insulted the Anglo-Norman barons and Irish chieftains who had turned out to greet him.
Deriding their attire and tugging at their long beards, he incurred the ire of battle-hardened warriors. Not the most diplomatic gesture from a foreign prince hoping to take control of Ireland.
In true Celtic fashion, the chieftains rebelled against the insult, causing John to retreat to England. His father, King Henry reconsidered his decision to appoint John to Ireland. On Henry’s death, his older son Richard, the Lionheart, of Robin Hood fame, succeeded him to the throne.
King Richard, in 1197, gave the Charter of Limerick to his brother Prince John. Richard had a short reign and soon John succeeded him to the throne of England. The new king proved popular with no one.
Described as cruel, cowardly and a failure, he was suspected of killing his nephew, who had a strong claim to the throne. John returned to Ireland in 1210 at the head of a large army to put down rebellions and quell the unruly Irish.
He intended to leave his mark on the land with an impressive castle in Limerick on the river Shannon. Between 1200 and 1212, King John’s Castle was planned and built. Over the following centuries, due to wars and strife, the castle would undergo extensive repair and extension.
Limerick castle was described, as one of the finest specimens of Norman military architecture in Ireland.
King John determined to rule Ireland along the same lines as England. He divided the country into some 12 counties. Limerick being just one, to be managed by sheriffs, bailiffs and appointed officers. The expense of building Limerick castle, on the ‘chief of Irish rivers’ is quoted by one source as costing in the region of just over £733. The annual income of a labourer at that time would have been no more than £2.