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King John's Castle - History

Medieval Limerick

Today, English Town, on the King’s Island, is at the heart of Limerick’s medieval core. King John’s Castle is located here, on the southern bank of the River Shannon, a little above the Curraghgower Falls. It was built to defend the river boundary and bridge between the Gaelic kingdoms to the west and the Norman kingdoms to the east and south. King John’s Castle acted as a watchdog on sailors and cargoes. It was also the administrative and military centre for the Norman kingdom of Limerick.

Map showing King John's Castle

           
King John's Castle Siege Machines!
           

King John’s Castle was erected in the early years of the thirteenth century, probably between 1200 and 1210. It was a strong royal fortress built to withstand the power of new siege machines. Archaeological excavations have shown that it was built on the site of an earlier fortification. It is a five-sided castle, with high curtain walls surrounding a rectangular yard. The lower part of the walls was curved outwards to deflect missiles dropped from the battlements. Its massive gate towers and round corner towers were state-of-the-art features at the beginning of the thirteenth century. The corner towers jutted out to allow archers to fire on attackers in crossfire. Only part of the gatehouse survives. In its early years King John’s Castle was probably surrounded by a moat, with a drawbridge leading from the double-towered gatehouse to a foregate or barbican.

View from River Shannon

The castle courtyard had a banqueting hall, kitchens, military accommodation and stables. It did not have a keep or great tower. 

 

Moneyers King John Silver Penny
King John Silver Penny
minted in Limerick circa 1210.
           
King John established a mint in the north west tower of the castle. King John pennies and half pennies, minted in Limerick about 800 years ago, can be seen in Limerick Museum today.

The Courtyard
The Castle Yard, 2003.

King John's Castle, 1633.
King John's Castle, 1633.
           

King John’s Castle was repaired and rebuilt many times down through the years. It was under siege on many occasions particularly during the seventeenth century. Click here to learn about the sieges of 1690 and 1691. The domestic buildings of the courtyard have been demolished but the remains of a thirteenth century hall can still be seen.


The Commanding Officer's House at Castle Barracks

In 1791, a military barracks was built within the castle. More than four hundred members of the British army lived here. They left in 1922.

In 1935, Limerick Corporation removed part of the castle walls and erected 22 houses in the castle-yard. These were demolished in 1989 and King John’s Castle was restored and developed as a tourist attraction.

           
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