The Little Book of Limerick is a compendium of fascinating, obscure, strange, and entertaining facts about County Limerick. Funny, fast-paced, and fact-packed, it describes the most unusual crimes and punishments, eccentric inhabitants, and strange traditions alongside details of its flora and fauna, sporting heritage, and of course it literary traditions. A reliable reference book and a quirky guide, this can be dipped into time and time again to reveal something new about the people, the heritage, and the secrets of this ancient country.
About the Author
Sharon Slater is a historical researcher who runs the website www.limerickslife.com, a compendium of facts about county Limerick. She has a masters in Local History from the University of Limerick and regularly gives lectures on the subject.
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The Little Book of Limerick
By Sharon Slater, Gary O'Donnell
The History PressCopyright © 2013 Sharon Slater
All rights reserved.
DID YOU KNOW?
Did you know that in 1574 Limerick was described by a Spanish Ambassador as, 'stronger and more beautiful than all the other cities of Ireland, well walled with stout walls of hewn marble'? Below is a collection of more 'did you knows', each of which offers an impressive, curious, intriguing, shocking or amusing anecdote of a moment in time of Limerick's history. You may have come across some already, but others will leave you puzzled and in search of further information.
In 1373 the Mayor of Limerick was Nicholas Blackadder and in 1504 the Sheriff was Nicholas Lawless.
In 1841 there were: seven girls married at thirteen years old, seven girls married at fourteen years old, twenty girls married at fifteen years old and one boy married at fifteen years old.
Bruce's Bank was located at 6 Rutland Street. Bruce only had one leg and the other was an iron stump. To help himself get around he used a blackthorn cane. Whenever a defaulter came begging him for clemency for an overdue loan he would pull out his iron stump and whack it with the blackthorn exclaiming, 'This is the softest part of me!'
The first Mayoress of Dublin and founding member of Cumann na mBan was Limerick-born Kathleen Clarke (née Daly). Kathleen passed away on 29 September 1972, at the age of ninety-four. She was the widow of Thomas S. Clarke, who was executed in Dublin, 3 May 1916.
At the height of his fame as a writer in the 1830s, Gerald Griffin (1803–1840), author of The Collegians, which was based on the Colleen Bawn's story, burned all his manuscripts and joined the Christian Brothers.
At least 189,429 Limerick residences emigrated from Ireland between 1851 and 1911, many of whom left for America, Australia and England. The population of Limerick in 2006 was 184,055.
George Geary Bennis, a Limerick man who once had a cafe opposite Cruises Hotel, had no interest in shop keeping and left Limerick for Paris in 1822. There he became an editor for Galignani (The Times of Paris). In 1848 he saved the life of King Louis Phillipe in a street fracas for which he was awarded the title of 'Chevalier'. When he died in 1866 he bequeath his large collection of books to the people of Limerick.
John Ferrar founded the Limerick Chronicle in 1768, which is the oldest continuously run newspaper in Ireland. The playwright John O'Keefe is quoted as saying that John was 'very deaf, yet had a cheerful, animated countenance, thin and of middle size'.
The baptistery of St Mary's Cathedral is the burial place of Catherine Plunkett, who died in 1752. Her husband, Walter, was commissioner of the Limerick mint in 1689.
Joseph Fisher Bennis (1839–1928) and his brother had a shop at 26 Patrick Street, which they later moved to George's Street. The brothers had a keen interest in phrenology and were given permission by the governor of the city gaol to examine some of the heads of the prisoners. One evening in 1860, after closing their shop, the two brothers walked the 15 miles to Quin Abbey and filled a sack each with skulls and walked back to Limerick with the sacks on their backs. Bennis put these skulls on display for the next fifty years. Interestingly, it was the Bennis brothers who first mass imported bananas to Limerick.
In June 1688, on the official birthday of the Prince of Wales, the Mayor of Limerick, Robert Hannah, gave three hogshead of wine to the populace.
Limerick-born Sir Thomas Myles, CB (20 April 1857–14 July 1937) was president of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. In 1914, he was recruited by James Creed Meredith to help in the importation of guns for the Irish Volunteers.
Thomas Blake (1894–1921), a member of the Irish Volunteers, was shot and killed on St Alphonsus Street. He worked in Laird's Pharmacy on the main strip of O'Connell Street, where his knowledge of chemistry was put to use in the manufacture of munitions and explosives used during the Irish War of Independence.
Rutland Street derives its name from Charles Manners (1754–1787), the Fourth Duke of Rutland. He was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1784 and visited Limerick in 1785.
In the terms of the 500-year lease for what would become the People's Park, the Earl of Limerick stipulated that no political or religious meetings would be allowed in the park and no bands would be allowed to play on Sundays.
The recesses of the foundation stone of the Carnegie Building, now the Limerick Art Gallery, contain four bottles. Each of these bottles contain the currency of the day (1903) as well as a copy of the Limerick Leader, Limerick Echo, Limerick Chronicle, Munster News and a parchment recording the event.
In 1911 Limerick there were three Barrack Lanes as well as a Barrack Hill, two Church Streets, two New Roads, a New Street and New Walk, a Hall's Range, Hall's Lane and Hall's Bow.
Clare Street was built in the swamp lands originally known as Móin na Muice (the moor of the pigs). James O'Sullivan, a tobacconist who constructed the street, dedicated it in spite to the infamous John FitzGibbon, First Earl of Clare, a staunch anti-Catholic.
The first residents of No. 1 Arthur's Quay were Francis Arthur and his wife Ellen Barrett.
The Park Canal was constructed between 1757 and 1758 to transport goods to and from Limerick City. The canal system was invaluable in the transport of heavy goods, such as turf, potatoes, coal etc. By 1929, with modernisation of transport and the building of the hydroelectric plant at Ardnacrusha, the canal became obsolete and fell into dilapidation. The last barge on the canal was transporting Guinness in 1960.
In 1224, in a royal valuation of King John's Castle, it was found that the goods within it were 'scarcely worth 18 pence'.
On the 21 November 1813, a house in May's Lane, Thomondgate blew up when the occupants were trying to dry gunpowder in an iron pot over an open fire.
In the 1840s there was an extensively high demand for guano (bat droppings) as fertiliser in Limerick.
One of the last coppersmiths in Limerick was called John Heffernan and he conducted his business opposite the city courthouse in the Merchants' Quay. Once when the court was in sitting, Judge Ball sent word that he could not hear witnesses over the sound of the copper hammering. Heffernan sent back the message, 'Tell the judge that he gets paid for talking and I get paid for hammering'. He did eventually shut down works for two days, after which he sent the judge a bill for lost earnings.
In 1787, merchant Philip Roche set out to develop the area that is called Roches Street today. Due to the Penal laws of the time, he was not permitted to buy land as he was a Catholic. He managed to purchase the sites needed using the name of his friend, Dr Pery, who was the Church of Ireland Bishop of Limerick.
The United London Gas Company was contracted to bring light to the city in 1824. Public lighting was not new to Limerick though as the first street lamps were erected in 1696 by Thomas Rose.
Between 1824 and 1870 there were fifty-three straw hat makers recorded in Limerick city, all women.
Between 1769 and 1900 there were twenty-five gun-makers in the city, including one woman, Mary Meel, who operated out of Mary Street in 1788.
In 1957 Limerick had an umbrella factory on Catherine Street. It was owned by a C. Holland.
In 1796 there were 171 recorded flax growers in Limerick. Flax was used for both food and clothing.
In 1906, Number 1 in the telephone exchange belonged to McMahon, Day & Co. Apothecaries on 136 George Street (now O'Connell Street). In 1911 Limerick had two telephone operators, both women, one telephone worker, one telephone wireman and two national telephone inspectors.
Clay pipes were produced in the nineteenth century in Merrit's factory on Broad Street Limerick. Twice a year 50 tons of clay would be imported from Liverpool for the process.
William Wordsworth remarked on the Limerick weather when he visited here in 1829, saying, 'it is raining hard now, and has done so all day'.
From the 3 November 1683 to 9 February 1684 there was a severe frost which caused ice up to 7 or 8 feet thick on the Shannon. Carriages and cattle frequently crossed the river from Kings Island to Parteen, Co. Clare on the ice.
On 6 December 1705 a storm, which lasted from 10 p.m. until 8 a.m. the following morning, ravaged the city. The tide covered half of Thomond Bridge and forced up part of Baal's Bridge. In the St Francis' Abbey, several people trying to save their possessions were drowned. A West Indian vessel laden with indigo and tobacco was driven a considerable distance on land.
The summer of 1723 was so warm and dry that the fruit trees produced fruit twice.
The year 1739 was known as 'The Year of the Great Frost', which lasted forty days. It caused some to survive on 'cats, dogs, mice, carrion, putrid meat, nettles and docking'.
On 4 February 1775 a high tide hit Baal's Bridge and caused several of the houses built on the bridge to collapse.
During the dry summer of 1775 the Abbey River was so low that boys could wade in and pick up the eel, flat fish and salmon peel out of the bed of the river.
On 23 January 1814 the Abbey River was completely frozen over.
The longest absolute drought recoded in Ireland was in Limerick between 3 April and 10 May 1938.
On 5 October 1851, at 5.50 p.m., a tornado ripped through Limerick City. Although it only lasted a few minutes, it caused extensive damage between St John's Hospital and Sarsfiled Bridge.
St Mary's Cathedral has the only complete set of misericords (mercy seats) left in Ireland. They date from the fifteenth century.
The Augustinian Church, on O'Connell Street in Limerick, is built on the site of an old theatre which the Augustinians bought for just £400 in 1822. By contrast, the original theatre cost the public £5,000 to build.
The fountain in front of St John's Cathedral was erected in 1865. Iron goblets were attached to two spouts to enable the public to drink and fill small containers, while larger containers were filled at the other two spouts.
Over the course of one night in February 1867 a hole appeared in the wall of the barracks on the Wolfe Tone Street side. The hole was 12 feet wide and how it was created was unknown as there was no disturbance during the night, only a surprise discovery in the morning.
St John's Hospital began as a three-bed ward in the old St John's Barracks at the personal expense of Lady Lucy Hartstonge in 1781. Lucy was the wife of Henry Hartstonge of Hartstonge Street and Sir Harry's Mall.
The Dock Clock, which was the guide to all the dockworkers, was designed by harbour engineer William J. Hall and was erected in 1880.
The A1 Bar on Clare Street in Limerick was once an RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary) Police Barracks. The RIC were based here to combat 'night maunders' but after a few months with no incidences the constables were moved into Irishtown.
The Good Shepherd Convent on Clare Street, which is now the Limerick Institute of Technology Art College, was originally located on the site of an old Lancastrian School, founded around 1806. The school system was developed by Joseph Lancaster for the education of the poor in the early nineteenth century. His system was to employ the more advanced boys as monitors, or assistant teachers, in an effort to enable a few masters to teach a large number of boys. Spelling and reading were taught from charts hung on the walls, thereby dispensing with the need for books for the poor and slates were used to write on, to save paper.
In 1902, in the Limerick Free Library, there were 5,199 volumes comprising: theological, 105; travel, 227; history and biography, 1,615; economics, 135; science, 612; arts, 79; poetry, 159; fiction, 1,739; miscellaneous, 528.
An advert from 1812 reads:
I caution the Master Coopers of Ireland against employing Edmond Ryan, my indentured apprentice, who eloped from me (two years of his servitude being unexpired) as I am determined, upon his apprehension, to prosecute him according to the law, as well as those who have harboured or employed him. – George Hickey – An Apprentice wanted – One who can procure good bail and is determined to be no Night Walker.
An advert from 1840 reads:
A Lady wishes to procure a situation for a highly respectable, trustworthy, and good-tempered middle-aged Woman, who has been many years in service and would be particularly well suited to act as attendant on an Elderly Lady, or an Invalid.
An advert from 1852 reads:
St John's Fever Hospital. The Governors of the above Institution are desirous of contracting for the supplies of the undermentioned articles, to be delivered at the Hospital as may be required, from time to time to first of May next –
Best White Bread, per 12oz, bricks.
Best New Milk per gallon.
Good fresh killed beef, 1st and 2d rounds.
Mutton, per lb.
Best Irish Yellow Soap per cwt.
Best Mould and Dipt Candles per lb.
Good dry Outen Straw per Ton.
Good dry Turf per Kish.
Whiskey per gallon.
Port Wine per bottle.
Leeches and Medicine, per list, to be seen at the Hospital.
Sealed tenders will be received by the Committee at the Parish Commissioners Offices, Upper Cecil Street, up to 3 o'clock on Monday, the 25th inst. The committee will not be bound to accept the lowest tender.
An advert from 1885 reads:
Wanted at once, a strong, respectable, county girl; must be first-class butter maker and milker; must understand thoroughly the rearing of calves and poultry, and be willing to make herself generally useful.
The ship Kapunda sailed on 11 December 1887 from London for Freemantle, Western Australia. It never reached its destination, having been run down and sunk by an unknown vessel. All 300 passengers were lost including Limerick citizens, Michael Bolans, his wife and four children and John Buckley, twenty-two, a farm labourer.
In a shocking accident on the 12 February 1693, one of the towers which defended the entrance of the quay fell down. It contained 250 barrels of gunpowder which were blown up by the collapse. The Sheriff, Mr Bowman, the Councillor, John Lacy, one Mr Lillis, along with 200 members of the public were killed or mangled. The explosion literally shook the entire town and some people reportedly were killed by stones thrown up to a mile away from the accident. The impact was felt as far away as Kilmallock.CHAPTER 2
Without the buildings there would be no city and if the walls could talk we would hear many tales of happiness and woe. Here are some of the buildings in Limerick City and a small fragment of their history.
THE HOUSE WITH 100 YEARS OF HISTORY
The house at 22 Cecil Street Upper has been witness to over 100 years of history. The plot of land on which it stands was first leased by Pryce Peacock in 1809. The house, unlike many others on the street, was a smaller late Georgian house, which was most likely built sometime in the 1830s. It contained eight inhabitable rooms and in 1911 had two outhouses, or turf houses, and an external drop for coal. The house that stood at 22 Upper Cecil Street in the Shannon Ward held many families, many tales and doubtless many secrets.
One of the first occupiers of the house was Robert Ringrose Gelston, who moved there in 1840. Mr Gelston came to Limerick in 1838, at the age of 23, to set up practice as a surgeon after studying in Glasgow. He quickly settled into his new home and integrated himself into Limerick society, so much so that he was elected joint High Sherriff of Limerick in 1841. Later, in 1842, he served the position solely. In April 1845 he voluntarily served in the local Workhouse hospital, as the minutes show that, 'Robert R. Gelstan Esq. be and is hereby elected Assistant Surgeon to this institution to act without salary.'
In late 1845 he married Miss Elizabeth Philips of Guile of Tipperary, turning the house into a family home. The couple had at least two children who were baptised in St Michael's Church of Ireland. Additionally, Robert is mentioned in the Church of Ireland Financial Report of the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of Limerick for the year ending 31 December 1882.
The family moved to 68 George Street before 1859, where Robert spent the rest of his life. In 1893 his eyesight began to fail and he retired from professional life. He passed away on 11 February 1908 in 68 George Street at the age of ninety-three and was buried in St Munchin's Graveyard.
Excerpted from The Little Book of Limerick by Sharon Slater, Gary O'Donnell. Copyright © 2013 Sharon Slater. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. Did You Know?,
4. Bacon Factories,
5. Crime and Punishment,
7. Limerick and the Quakers,
8. Who's Who,
9. Love and Marriage,
10. The Doctor,
11. Trains, Carts and Jarvey Cars,