Welcome to my ‘5 Things Friday’ blog, this week I’m taking a look at some interesting facts about Co. Limerick. This is a city and county very close to my heart so I’m always interested whenever I hear a fact about Limerick that I didn’t know. Below are just a few of the ones that I found most interesting.
Population of Co. Limerick: 191,809 (2011 Census)
Area: 2,756 Sq. Km (1,064 Sq. mi)
Co. Limerick is home to Ireland’s third-largest city and is the tenth largest county in Ireland. After my home county of Cavan it is the one I most identify with, as the Thomondgate area of Limerick City was where my mother was born. I remember many happy visits as a child visiting relatives, eating Packet & Tripe and being in awe of King John’s Castle and the Treaty Stone. Saturdays were spent at the Milk Market and browsing the shops on Cruises Street. As an adult, I’ve enjoyed many great nights out on the town in the city’s many pubs and clubs and always feel at home there. Through my research for Ireland Planner I’ve come across many interesting things about the county that I didn’t know. Some of my favourite facts are listed below.
13th Century King John’s Castle in the medieval centre of Limerick City, is one of the best-preserved Norman castles in Europe. There is a great Visitor & Exhibition centre on site detailing over 800 years of history and the battlement walks offer stunning views over the majestic River Shannon, the longest river in the British Isles. The castles namesake & builder King John, was the fifth son of King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. John was appointed Lord of Ireland in 1177 and went on to be crowned King of England in 1199. Interestingly, King John was the brother of Richard the Lionheart, of Robin Hood & the Knights of the Round Table fame! In fact, both men have been immortalised in the folklore tales of Robin Hood. Whilst Richard the Lionheart was away fighting in the Third Crusade, trying to reclaim the Holy Land, his brother John ran amok in England. It is said that this misrule led to Robin Hood becoming an outlaw, robbing the rich to give to the poor. So the next time you watch any Robin Hood film adaptation, remember that Richard’s treacherous brother ‘Prince John’ is actually the same King John associated with Limerick’s most famous building!
The town of Foynes in Co. Limerick was once home to one of the world’s biggest civilian airports. During the 1930’s and 1940’s, land based planes lacked the flying range for Atlantic crossings. Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh made surveying flights for seaplanes (flying boats) in 1933 and a terminal was built at Foynes in 1935. The first transatlantic flights were operated on July 5th 1937, and Foynes became the last port of call for sea planes on Europe’s Western edge. Thus it grew to become one of Europe’s biggest civilian airports during World War II. As amazing as it seems nowadays, the first non-stop New York service from Foynes took place in June 1942 and the flight was 25 hours and 40 minutes! It is said that this led to the invention of the Irish Coffee in Foynes, to alleviate the suffering of cold and wet arriving passengers!
Nowadays, visitors can enjoy the Foynes Flying Boat Museum and learn all about the history of aviation in the area. There is lots of memorabilia on display and the original weather and radio room remains as well as a full-size replica of a Boeing 314 flying boat.
St. John’s Cathedral in Limerick City was designed by famed Victorian architect Philip Charles Hardwicke. It is a Catholic cathedral in a Gothic Revival style and was opened for public use in 1861. Named for St. John the Baptist, it is said that the Knights Templar had a house in the area in the 12th century dedicated to the saint, so the cathedral carries on a long association with the name. The cathedral boasts the tallest church spire in Ireland, at 308 feet and 3 inches tall from the base of the tower to the top of the cross. This is the second cross to be placed on top of the spire, the first, an iron cross, being knocked off after three days during a storm in 1882. The cathedral bell weight one and a half tons. It was designed in Dublin in 1883 and transported to Limerick by barge. The cathedral stands out as the tallest building in Limerick.
A girl called Mary Jane Kelly is widely believed to be notorious Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper’s final victim. Roughly around 25 years old at the time of her death, Mary Jane was born in Limerick around 1863. Living in poverty, she ended up working as a prostitute in London from 1884 onwards. A pretty girl, she was also known as ‘Fair Emma’ and when drunk, would be heard singing the Irish songs of her youth. She met her unfortunate end in the early hours of 9 November 1888 in Spitalfields and, along with the other alleged victims of the Ripper, her murder remains unsolved to this day. She has been portrayed in film many times, most notably by the actress Heather Graham in the 2001 Johnny Depp film ‘From Hell’.
Thomas Langlois Lefroy was a very highly esteemed Limerick-born politician and Judge who served as Lord Chief Justice of Ireland from 1835 to 1869. He had an outstanding academic record at Trinity College followed by a long and illustrious career at law. But as impressive as that is, the most interesting thing I learned about Tom Lefroy is that he was once the ‘boyfriend’ of famed English novelist Jane Austen. They met through mutual acquaintances are said to have conducted their courtship while Jane was writing Pride & Prejudice. Some have suggested that Jane based Darcy’s cool, measured manner on Lefroy, while Elizabeth Bennett’s more outgoing character was based on herself. Though the courtship didn’t last, mention of Lefroy remains in Austen’s letters and she died a spinster some years later. Indeed, the relationship, though short, made a mark on Lefroy, who travelled from Ireland to England to pay his respects on hearing of Austen’s death. Although it may just be conjecture, I like the idea that Mr. Darcy’s character was based on an Irish man, and a Limerick one at that!
So there you have it for another edition ‘5 Things Friday’. Some of my favourite ‘interesting things’ about lovely Limerick. There are many more as I say, but I’ll save those for another time. Please feel free to comment and please share the blog with your friends.
Happy Irish travels,