Dowd: Limerick and its Sieges

Pdf Dowd, James. Limerick and its sieges. Limerick: McKern & Sons, 1890.
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Limerick and its Sieges by James Dowd was published in 1890 and is an account of a series of sieges of Limerick during the 17th century Cromwellian invasion and the Williamite Wars. These wars, sieges and their outcomes decided the political, religious and social future of Ireland .

It is believed that Limerick or Luimneach was already an important settlement when the Vikings captured it in the 9th century. They used it as a base to launch raids up the River Shannon on wealthy Christian settlements such as Clonmacnoise and to trade with Britain and Europe . The last Viking king of Limerick was killed by the Gaelic Irish king Brian Boru who made it the capital of his kingdom.

In 1174 Limerick was captured by the Norman conquerors of Ireland and received its city charter from King Richard I, before King John of England constructed a massive stone castle around 1200. A walled Norman town sprang up known as Englishtown while Danes and the Gaelic Irish inhabited Irishtown on the north and south of the River Shannon respectively linked by bridges.

In the 15th and 16th centuries Limerick had become a city state isolated and independent of Dublin and the Pale but was still controlled by the English. The English Reformation bitterly divided the city's inhabitants between those adhered to the traditional Roman Catholic Church and those who recognised the British Crown as the head of the established Anglican church.

In the 16th century the Tudor monarchs began a series of plantations in Ireland which provoked Irish rebellion. After the Gaelic defeat at Kinsale, the Gaelic Irish chiefs in Ulster fled to the European continent leaving the path open for the colonisation of Ulster by Scottish and English Protestant settlers during the reign of James I, the first of the Stuart monarchs. The reign of his son Charles I was marred by both Scottish rebellion and bitter religious and political division in England . This inspired the Gaelic Irish to rebel and massacre thousands of Protestant settlers in Ulster .

A general Catholic revolt followed led by the Catholic Confederate government made up of a coalition of the Gaelic Irish and Old English aristocrats based in Kilkenny that between 1641 and 1649 governed two-thirds of Ireland . In 1642, a Catholic force besieged the Protestant garrison taking refuge in King John's Castle. After four weeks the English surrendered suffering from disease and hunger as the Catholic commander Garret Barry prepared to undermine the walls and seize the citadel.

The Gaelic Irish, Old English Catholics and Royalist Protestants joined forces against the puritanical Parliamentarians and their leader Oliver Cromwell who invaded Ireland in 1649 following his victory in the English Civil War. Thrown into retreat Catholic and Royalist forces were besieged and bombarded in Limerick in 1650-51. Suffering from hunger and plague the defenders finally surrendered to Henry Ireton who had taken command after Cromwell returned to England .The Royalist commander Colonel Fennell, Bishop Terence Albert O'Brien and former mayor Dominic Fanning were all put to death. Thousands of soldiers on both sides as well as civilians also died.

After the Cromwellian victory, the lands of rebellious Catholics were confiscated and given to Protestant supporters of Parliament and to pardoned Protestant Royalists or Catholics who converted to Protestantism. Brutal repression of Catholics followed but in 1660 the British monarchy was restored and following the reign of Charles II, his brother James II, a Catholic, was crowned. Protestants feared the English Reformation could be reversed and rebelled. James' Protestant nephew and son in law the Dutch
Prince William III of Orange overthrew the King and Ireland subsequently became the battleground between the Jacobites and Williamite forces. At the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 the Jacobites were defeated and James fled to France .

The Jacobites fought on and in 1690 and again in 1691 Limerick was besieged before finally surrendering to the Williamites. William Sarsfield negotiated the Treaty of Limerick with Godert de Ginkell, the Williamite commander. The terms of the surrender were that the population of Limerick was to be spared, the Catholic religion would be tolerated and no Catholic owned land would be confiscated. The Treaty of Limerick was signed on the famous Treaty Stone which still stands on a plint in Limerick city. Sarsfield and his troops in exile went on to fight for the Catholic French King Louis XIV who was then involved in a wider European war with the forces and allies of King William III.

In the years after the Jacobite defeat, penal laws were introduced that discriminated against Catholics and Presbyterians religiously, politically and economically as the threat from Catholic Stuart pretenders to the throne persisted. Protestants in Britain and Ireland who considered themselves freemen feared the power of the Vatican , the tyranny of powerful Catholic monarchs on continental Europe and renewed Catholic rebellion in Ireland . It was not until the late 18th and early 19th century that the penal laws were finally lifted and Catholic Emancipation was finally achieved in 1829.

As a result of these wars and sieges, the Gaelic Irish and Catholic Old English aristocracy was finally defeated and an Anglo-Irish Protestant Ascendancy ruled Ireland until the late 19th century.


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