Wednesday, 14 August 2013

King John's Castle at Limerick, Ireland

Limerick Castle (Wikimedia)

At the end of June Limerick Castle re-opened after a €5.7 million redevelopment. They are now offering a three-hour tour of the castle and grounds, and it is set to be a tourist attraction that will rival the Titanic centre in Belfast.

The site uses multimedia technologies for visitors to interact with, with CGI and 'ghostly projections', and costumed guides to act out castle life. In all it now has a staff of twenty-two.

The project has been four years in the making and includes the display of an archaeological dig in the grounds and a glass entrance hall housing the tourist centre. The work has been done in time to capitalise on Limerick City of Culture in 2014. You can find out more on the Shannon Heritage website King John's Castle page

John's first contact with Ireland was inauspicious. John was made Lord of Ireland by his father Henry in 1185, hoping that he would be satisfied with that portion of the kingdom. He shared the rest out between his other sons and hoped they would rule as a coalition after his death. It was not to be. The older sons wanted it all, and they wanted it now.

As for John, his father spent a huge amount of money equipping him with ships, trappings and a huge retinue befitting a king. The Irish nobility came to meet him, and instead of regal behaviour, they got a court jester. John pulled the beard of one noble, and his friends set about making fun of them and playing jokes on them.

The nobles, who had decided to accept John in order to keep peace with King Henry, promptly kept away from him and paid him no homage. John was called home a few months later, having made enemies of all those his father had worked hard to win.

Once John became king in 1199, things changed. Between 1200 and 1212, he planned and built Limerick Castle. It used many pioneering techniques that were unique in its day. There was also a mint there, where John had his own coins minted as Lord of Ireland. In 1211 he mounted a successful campaign to subdue the barons in Ireland who were defying his authority.

Of course, King John is most famous for Magna Carta, which he was forced to sign on 15 June 1215, by the barons of England who had had enough of his misuse of power. The thing that finally drove them to such an extreme was his cruel treatment of William de Breos and his family. This story is told in my new book Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John, out soon.

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