King John’s Castle in the city of Limerick is a mediaeval treasure and a hive of haunted activity. ANN MASSEY tells us why
At the centre of Limerick City in Ireland, is a mediaeval heart. The city has historically been split in two – Englishtown, which includes Kings Island and King John’s Castle as well as the Treaty Stone, and Irishtown, including St John’s Cathedral – the River Shannon dividing the two.
Vikings, Limerick, pillaging and burning
Limerick city was a major centre of importance during the Viking invasion of Ireland. The River Shannon was a major resource and made it a prime location for an Invaders’ settlement. Viking Jarl, Thormadu Helgason, made his home on what was to become King’s Island – a settlement that included a palace and a pagan temple. From here he raided and pillaged towns and villages the length of the mighty River Shannon!
The prominence of the Vikings in Limerick was short-lived. Ceallachán, King of Munster saw to that and the land was Irish again for a century. Chief Domhnall Mór O’Briain was so determined not to let Limerick fall to invading Anglo-Norrman forces, he burned Limerick to the ground.
King John and the Siege of Limerick
This did not hinder invasion – King of England, Richard the Lionheart simply waited for him to die! King John, took the throne following his brother’s death. A man known for treachery and petty revenge, the frivolous king was also known for his penchant for fashion and fine jewels and made a point of ridiculing local Irish leaders for their long beards. Despite this, he was determined to leave his mark on 12th century Ireland.
Officially titled Lord of Ireland, King John had the ostentatious self-named castle built on King’s Island, right over the location of the Viking palace and temple. Despite his character flaws, the son of Henry II made a name for Limerick as an affluent port and merchant centre. In fact, Limerick was so prosperous at this time, King John founded a Royal Mint on the grounds of the castle!
In 1642, the Siege of Limerick took place and Protestants took refuge in the castle that once was home to their King. After Irish Confederates surrounded them, those who had not succumbed, surrendered to Garret Barry and his men.
After centuries of chequered history, conflict and bloodshed, the castle lay quiet. That is until renovations began. In the last ten years, council workers digging out the area outside of the castle on Nicholas Street, were shocked to discover the human remains of some seven hundred lost souls.
Hauntings of King John’s Castle
For centuries there have been sightings of the Limerick Banshee on Thomond Bridge – the bridge that leads directly to King John’s Castle. She is believed to be the much despised wife of the Bishop of Limerick, dragged to her death by the people of the City by way of drowning in the River Shannon.
A famous Limerick petty criminal known as Drunken Thady, was waylaid by the Bishop’s Lady who forced him into the murky dark waters below. After praying hard and striking a bargain to mend his ways, he found his way to a moored boat, while his companion sank to the river bed. He did turn his life around, but never walked Thomond Bridge again! The Bishop loving Banshee now waits to intercept unsuspecting party goers who need to cross the bridge…
In one of the towers, the spectre of a woman in noble black robes and long, golden hair is seen walking across the battlements, looking out to the city. She is known as The Black Lady and can be seen during the summer months as the sun is setting and night draws in.
Within the castle, strange lights and orbs appear and poltergeist activity is notable, including the slamming of heavy castle doors. Witnesses have heard the sound of marching, footsteps through the halls and the definitive sound of battle with the clanging of armour and the clashing of swords.
Stationed at the entrance to King John’s Castle, is the Gatehouse Sentinel Ghost. As the bright light of a full moon shines upon the ancient castle walls, the soldier stands his post, dressed in his helmet, breastplate and weaponry at the ready…
Time passes, but Limerick keeps a firm hold of her Viking and Medieval roots, with King John’s Castle the heart of that heritage. The spirits of King’s Island remain watching, ever vigilant, as much a part of Limerick as the island itself.
Have you seen a ghost in King John’s Castle, Limerick? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!