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Visiting King John's Castle and the Thomond Bridge, Ireland: the flow of history by the Shannon

Updated on August 29, 2012
Flag of the Republic of Ireland
Flag of the Republic of Ireland | Source
King John's Castle on the River Shannon in Limerick City, Ireland. Crossing the river is the Thomand Bridge.
King John's Castle on the River Shannon in Limerick City, Ireland. Crossing the river is the Thomand Bridge. | Source
King John
King John | Source
Map location of Limerick City, Co. Limerick, Ireland
Map location of Limerick City, Co. Limerick, Ireland | Source

Replete with Irish history

Among the main sights of Limerick City, in the Republic of Ireland, are two adjacent structures on the Shannon River (Irish: Luimneach ): the Thomond Bridge and King John's Castle.

The King to which the name of this imposing Castle refers is none other than the King John responsible for the Magna Carta in 1215. John was proclaimed Lord of Ireland at the age of ten in 1177, later ruling from 1199 until his death in 1216. His rule in Ireland was characterized by tensions with his Anglo-Norman lords, themselves in periodic conflict with Irish chieftains.

The Castle is said to have been built in about the year 1200 on the orders of King John, although in recent years it has been discovered that its site hosted an earlier Viking settlement of which remains have been found. Its five-sided structure has survived intact to a high degree, consisting of walls and towers overlooking the Shannon River. However, some damage was sustained to the Castle in the course of the 17th century, in course of which Limerick was besieged a total of five times. It notably has round corner towers, which were becoming popular and practical defensive features in the 13th century castle building.

The Castle served as a British Army barracks from the end of the 18th century until 1922, when the British departed after the Anglo-Irish Treaty. In the Irish Civil War, King John's Castle was held for a period by Republicans and was the scene of fierce fighting from July 11 until July 19, 1922; Republican Irregulars (the Anti-Treaty IRA) were led by their Chief-of-Staff Liam Lynch (Irish: Liam Ó Loingsigh; 1893-1923).

The existing Thomond Bridge, a sturdy, stone structure, was built in 1836, replacing an earlier wooden bridge. For many years it was the only crossing place at Limerick over the Shannon River.

Do I sense that philatelists are pricking up their ears? Thomond (1)? haven't there been stamps from Thomond? Well, yes and no. Among stamp collectors several years ago there arose transactions over stamps which were purportedly issued by what was called the Principality of Thomond. In fact, this country does not exist, and the stamps in question were bogus, although nonetheless of interest to collectors. Thomond itself, however, was supposedly somewhere in the West of Ireland (or at least sounded as if it were ...)

August 30, 2012


(1) The word Thomond literally means North Munster, referring to part of one of the historic provinces of Ireland. Thomond was a separate kingdom before the Norman Invasion.

Also worth seeing

In Limerick City itself, other visitor attractions include the Treaty Stone and a number of impressive church buildings.

Bunratty, Co. Clare (distance: 17 kilometres); its Castle dates from the 15th century and is regularly a venue for period banquets.


How to get there: Aer Lingus flies from New York and Boston to Shannon Airport, from where car rental is available; a bus link between Shannon Airport and Limerick City is also available. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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