Askeaton (Co. Limerick / North)
Askeaton (Eas Géitine – “Waterfall of the Geiphtine”, referring to a pre-Christian tribe) on the River Deel, about two miles from its junction with the River Shannon Estuary, claims to be one of the oldest towns in Ireland. The Fort of Geiphtine was reserved to the kings of Cashel in the C5th. Askeaton today retains its medieval street layout, the centre piece being the bridge which date’s back to the C15th.
Askeaton Castle, built on an island in the river, was originally founded by William de Burgo, and first erected according to the Annals of Inisfallen in the year 1199. Thomas De Clare held it in 1287. King Edward II granted the stronghold to Robert de Welle in 1318.
The Earls of Desmond made Askeaton their principal residence from 1348.
During the Desmond Rebellions, the castle was unsuccessfully besieged in 1579 by Sir Nicholas Malby, who burned the town in frustration; Lord Grey took the stronghold without opposition the following year. Gerald FitzGerald, 15th Earl of Desmond, was forced to flee to the Kerry Hills, where he was killed in a cave by bounty hunters
The castle was finally “slighted” by Cromwellian forces in 1652. (Photo by TheoClarke)
After the 1798 Rebellion in Leinster and Ulster, the government “put the severed head of one of the insurgents, Paddy O’Neill, on a spike above the ancient Desmond castle in [Askeaton] to remind the people of the uncompromising nature of their rule“.
The separate Great Banqueting Hall was built c.1440 by the 7th Earl of Desmond.
The Hellfire Club, a ruin next to the castle, was founded in 1740 as a meeting place for roistering Georgian bucks. Lurid tales are told of their dissolute behaviour, with whisperings of Satanic rites, but there is no record of any act to compare with the excesses of their namesakes in Dublin and Britain. The National Gallery in Dublin has a portrait of some of the members of the Askeaton Hellfire Club, the only such establishment to have a female participant, the daughter of a local landowner. It would appear that the building was just an ordinary hostelry by the 1780s, and was used as a barracks in the next century.
Askeaton Abbey, located on the east bank of the River Deel, was founded c.1389 by the 4th Earl of Desmond for the Franciscans.
In October 1579, after failing to take Askeaton Castle, Sir Nicholas Malby set fire to the town and destroyed the abbey, putting a number of monks to death. In 1627 a new generation of friars began live among the ruins, and in 1642 Kilkenny Confederacy forces who had taken control of the castle helped them to restore parts of the structure, but the renovation process was ended abruptly by Cromwellian troops.
The abbey was the burial place of the FitzGeralds of Desmond, and contains the graves of Richard Stephenson (d.1646), a leading member of the Confederate forces, and of a mysterious Spanish “pilgrim” with “dark eyes, haughty look, curled hair and beard“, who died in 1784; the tale of “Martinez de Mendoza, the richest merchant in Catalonia” is very romantic!
The mainly C15th remains of the abbey have recently undergone repair. Notable features include the very fine limestone cloisters, the beautiful transepts, the east window, the chapter room and an interesting carving of St Francis, faceless from centuries of kissing (to cure toothache).
The Askeaton Madonna, an early C15th oak carving, is now in the NMI in Dublin. It was used for many years as a water trough for cattle.
St. Mary’s church (CoI), erected c. 1820, incorporates portions of a C13th church said to have been founded by the Knights Templar. The churchyard contains the grave of poet Aubrey de Vere.
St. Mary’s church (RC), completed in 1853, contains some attractive stained glass and a charming Pietà.
Patrick O’Brien, a 15-year-old local lad, was the first of four crewmembers devoured in December 1835 by their shipmates on the Francis Spaight, adrift for 20 days after a snowstorm en route to New Brunswick. When rescued by the brig Agenora, the captain “was engaged in eating the liver and brains of his cabin boy“. He and the other 11 survivors became morbid celebrities on their return to Limerick; a Popular Defence Fund received many contributions (including ?10 from the eponymous shipowner), and they were acquitted of murder. (Their plea of necessity would have failed after the famous 1884 English High Court decision in the similar case of Regina v. Dudley & Stevens, in which the judges’ death sentence was commuted under popular pressure by Queen Victoria to six months’ imprisonment). The case was subsequently fictionalised as a well-known short story by the American writer Jack London.
In May 1841 the Minstrel, ex Limerick for Quebec, foundered on rocks off the coast of Nova Scotia, with the loss of 141 lives, almost all third class emigrants; 28 were from Askeaton, with surnames such as Bennett, Connors, Enright, FitzGerald, George, Hanley, Kinnerk, Lynham, Mulvihill and White.
Many people from Askeaton emigrated to North America. Before the Great Famine the main destination was Newfoundland, although many went for New York to work on the construction of the Eyrie Canal (1817 – 1825); from 1845 onwards most headed for Chicago to seek employment in the stockyards. One group saved enough money to found the town of Askeaton, Wisconsin in 1856.
Maggie Madigan (b.1891), a native of Askeaton, left Queenstown on 11th April 1912 as third-class passenger on the Titanic. She survived the famous shipwreck and settled in New York city, where she worked in domestic service. Her only child was drowned in 1925, and she was widowed twice. She never returned to Ireland, and died in 1968.
Beagh church (1237), surrounded by graves with wonderful views of the Shannon Estuary, and nearby Beagh Castle, built by the FitzGeralds in 1290 and used for centuries by the Knights of Glin, are traditionally believed to be secretly linked by a long underground passage, and are both rumoured to stand on the sites of earlier Danish structures. Lewis (1837) is one of several to link the old parish of Iverus / Ivveruss / Iverossa (Ballysteen) to Iverus, the Viking chieftain who established Limerick in 824 AD, but this is disputed.
Ballysteen was the site of a silver mine, owned in the early C19th by Edmund O’Dell-Westdropp. Legend has it that on a particularly hot day the miners withdrew en masse to the local tavern, and while they were absent the mine shaft collapsed.
Knockeegan, at the mouth of the River Deel on the Shannon Estuary, is the site of the Cuig Charraí, a group of five stones thought by some to have been a prehistoric temple of the sun.
Foynes (Co- Limerick / North)
Foynes, on the Shannon Estuary, is County Limerick’s only deepwater Seaport.
Foynes was a landing / refuelling station for flying boats travelling between the UK and North America during the late 1930s and early 1940s, and also to and from Lisbon and Africa after WWII started. Trans-Atlantic flights routinely took up to 25 hours via Foynes, Bermuda and / or Gander, carrying a diverse range of people from refugees to celebrities. During the war years most passengers were military / naval personnel, diplomats and cabinet ministers. Apparently it was not unusual to find British or American statesmen, generals and admirals drinking in local bars, especially when weather conditions were poor.
Foynes Flying Boat Museum, housed in the original terminal building, recalls this era with a range of exhibits, graphic illustrations, an audio-visual show and a reconstructed Radio & Weather room containing the original transmitters, receivers and Morse code equipment.
Irish Coffee was supposedly invented here, and Foynes now hosts an annual Festival at which bar staff compete with their versions of the recipe.
Knockpatrick Gardens have been developed over three generations of the O’Brien family on a beautiful site overlooking the Shannon.