The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868

"COUNTY LIMERICK, a maritime county in the province of Munster, Ireland, bounded on the N. by the estuary of the Shannon and the counties Clare and Tipperary, on the E. by Tipperary, on the S. by Cork, and on the W. by Kerry. Its greatest length N. and S. is 35 miles, and its greatest breadth E. and W. 54 miles, extending from 52° 17' to 62° 45' N. lat., and from 8° 6' to 9° 15' W. long. It comprises 1,061 square miles, or 680,842 acres, of which 526,876 are arable and pasture, 121,101 uncultivated, 11,575 in plantations, 2,759 occupied by towns and roads, and 18,531 under water. In circuit it measures 175 miles, of which 35 are washed by the Shannon, having here from 2 to 20 fathoms water, and on whose bank is situated the county town of Limerick, with Tervoe coastguard station and Tarbert lighthouse. The surface is one vast undulating plain rising into mountains in the S.E., W., and N.E. On the S.E. the plain country is bounded by the Galtees, rising precipitously to a considerable height, and forming the boundary of Limerick towards Tipperary, into which county they extend for a fardistance. In the W. an unbroken range of mountains stretches in a curve from Loughill to Drumcollogher, and on the N.E. the skirts of the Slieve Phelim mountains occupy part of the barony of Owneybeg. Near the centre of the county are the Ballingarry hills-one of which, the Knockferine, is very conspicuous, rising in a conical form abruptly from a fertile plain. Between Shanagolden and the Shannon is a conspicuous hill called Knockpatrick, and in the neighbourhood of Pallasgrean are several very beautiful elevations.

The county is watered by several rivers, all tributaries of the Shannon. This river, after passing the pool of Limerick, which is 60 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, expands into a wide estuary, and after a course of about 17 miles mingles its waters with those of the Fergus, forming an arm of the sea several miles wide. Its tributaries are the Maigue, navigable to the village of Adare; the Deel, navigable to Askeaton; the Mulcairn, the Commogue, and the Daun, or Morning Star. The county is touched on the S.W. boundary by the Feale, and on the S.E. by the Funcheon. The only canal is that cut in 1759 above Limerick, to facilitate the navigation of the Shannon. The geological formation of the county comprises three great divisions, carboniferous, or mountain limestone, with coal, sandstone, and trap, or basalt. The first comprises the greater portion of the champaign country, including the vales of the rivers that are tributary to the Shannon, the dip being almost uniformly from E. to W. The coal lies chiefly on the western boundary of the limestone district, alternating with ironstone; but neither of these minerals are worked to any extent. There are also some thin seams of coal in the glen between Castlereagh, Galbally, and the town of Tipperary. The second formation includes the Old Red sandstone range of hills running E. and W. from the Deel to the Maigue, and the New Red sandstone range from Charleville to Glenbrohane, forming the boundary between Cork and Limerick, and merging into the Galtees. The third or basalt formation chiefly prevails in the neighbourhood of Lough Gur and the Dead river, sometimes, as at Linfield, rising to a height of near 200 feet, and presenting a perpendicular colonnade of massive pillars 109 feet long, of pentagonal or hexagonal form; but in general the basalt of this region is amorphous, as in the hills of Ballygooly, Knockruadh, Cahirnarry, and the hill of Newcastle. A little to the S.E. of this district rises Knockgreine, or "the Hill of the Sun," 600 feet high, with a base of limestone and a summit of basalt. Oxide of iron and iron clay are found in large quantities at the foot of the hills, and ironstone in the coal measures. Traces of lead are met with in the carboniferous limestone, and sometimes in large quantities, as near Toryhill; also pure copper ore near Abington, and various other minerals, as slate, flagstones, freestone, and an inferior kind of pipe-clay in other parts of the county; but no adequate attempts have as yet been made to render available these mineral treasures. The soil of Limerick is peculiarly fertile, comprising about 100,000 acres of the richest land in all Ireland, named by reason of its extraordinary abundance the Golden Vale, which extends from the borders of Tipperary westward through the centre of the county, a distance of 32 miles, and in breadth from Drehidtarsna, by the city of Limerick, to Abington, a distance of 18 miles. The morasses or low meadow lands which extend from the Maigue along the Shannon to Limerick, though not included in the Golden Vale, can scarcely be surpassed in the abundance and richness of their herbage. In several of the lower lands are small detached portions of bog, which supply the greater part of the inhabitants with fuel, and are in consequence extremely valuable, letting sometimes for as much as £1 per rood; when reclaimed, these bog lands are peculiarly adapted to the culture of hemp. Some of the hilly districts not entirely mountainous are also well adapted both for pasture and tillage, though not so luxuriant as the plains. The soil of the lowlands is in general a deep yellow loam resting on limestone, or stiff clay, except in the morasses, which are formed of a black vegetable mould occasionally mixed with sand and gravel resting on a stratum of yellow and blue clay. The hills are more or less fertile, according to the prevailing character of the underlying rock. In the earliest times this country appears to have been inhabited by the Coriondi mentioned by Ptolemy, and subsequently formed part of the native kingdom or principality of Thomond. In the 9th century it was overrun by the Danes, or Ostmen, who retained the city of Limerick and the island of Iniscattery, in the Shannon, till the 11th century, when they submitted to the O'Briens, princes of Thomond, who then removed the seat of government to Limerick. At the time of the English invasion the chief families were the O'Briens, O'Ryans, or O'Regans, O'Donovans, O'Gormans, O'Scanlans, O'Kinealys, O'Thyans, Mac-Sheehys, MacEneirys, and some others. The disposal of this territory was granted by Henry II. to Herebert Fitz-Herebert, and subsequently to Philip de Braosa, with the exception of the city and castle of the Ostmen, which was committed to William de Burgo, ancestor of the De Burghs, by Richard I. Braosa's grants having been- forfeited, various Anglo-Norman settlements were effected under Theobald Fitz-Walter, ancestor of the Butler family, Hamo de Valois, William Fitz-Aldhelm, Thomas Fitzgerald, the Graces, and others, who united with the O'Briens of Thomond in reducing the native clans, and procured their territory to be formed into a county by King John in 1210. The native Irish of Thomond still retained their ancient customs, and were frequently at war with the English settlers. In 1367 they took prisoner the Lord Justice Gerald Fitz-Gerald, at Manister-Nenagh, and during the Wars of the Roses overran the whole country. In the reign of Elizabeth the Earl of Desmond revolted against the English authority, and possessed himself of Askeaton, Kilmallock, Newcastle, and Rathkeale, then the four chief places in the county; but on his death his estates were confiscated and bestowed on new proprietors-an event which considerably increased the number of English settlers, as did also the wars of 1641 and 1688. Towards the commencement of the 18th century Lord Southwell brought over a number of German Protestants, or Palatines, whom he settled in the country around Adare and Rathkeale, who by their industry and skill have greatly conduced to the advancement of agriculture and the wealth of the country, but were originally looked upon with great jealousy by the native population. In the year 1762 a most alarming spirit of insurrection showed itself in this part of the country; the peasantry assembled in great numbers, chiefly by night, dug up cornfields, houghed or killed the cattle of the gentry, and murdered many who were obnoxious to them from their harsh mode of collecting the tithes and taxes. From their practice of wearing shirts over their clothes to distinguish each other at night they were called Whiteboys, and kept the country in a continual state of agitation for near sixty years, till the great rebellion of 1820, when they burnt the churches of Athlacca, Ballybrook, and Kilkeedy, besides numerous gentlemen's houses, committing their devastations often in the open day. Several wealthy and influential persons were murdered, amongst whom was a Roman Catholic clergyman, who rashly attempted to exhort them to submission to the laws; and it was only under the application of the Insurrection Act, and the most vigorous exertions of the magistracy, that the spirit of violence was at length suppressed. Through the uncertainty of life and property prevailing in this part of the country, a great check was given to enterprise, which it has not yet entirely recovered. The occupations are chiefly agricultural, and large quantities of produce are exported. Pasture and dairy farming are most cultivated, tillage being still in a backward condition, notwithstanding the extraordinary capabilities of the soil. It is said that in some seasons the heat of the summer's sun is scarcely powerful enough to ripen the heavy crops of grain, but in general the climate is remarkably good, and the weather less variable than in any other county of Ireland-an effect which has been much promoted by the drainage and cultivation of the bogs. The absence of hedgerows and timber trees, except in the immediate vicinity of gentlemen's seats, gives the country a very denuded appearance, notwithstanding its great fertility. The tillage, except on large farms, which are mostly in the hands of gentlemen, is generally conducted in a slovenly manner, and even the wealthier landholders are not exempt from the charge of negligence; but much good appears to have been recently wrought in this part of the country by the operations of the Encumbered Estates Act, which has transferred whole properties from the hands of absentee landlords to industrious and enterprising capitalists. The estates are in general large. In some parts the land is much divided, and wretchedly exhausted by the impoverishing system of sub-letting. The condition of the larger farmers is generally good, and the cottages of the peasantry neat and well-kept. The chief crops are oats, wheat, barley, rye, potatoes, turnips, clover, peas, mangold-wurzel, carrots, &c. The only manufactures are friezes, coarse woollens, paper, gloves, lace, flour, and meal. The net annual value of property in the county, under the Tenement Valuation Act, is £519,162. The population has for the last quarter of a century been on the decrease in 1851 it was 262,136, and in 1861, 217,277. For civil purposes the county is divided into 13 baronies. Clan-william, Connello Lower and Upper, Coonagh, Coshlea, Coshma, Glenquin, Kenry, Kilmallock Liberties, North Liberty, Owneybeg, Pubblebrien, Shanid, and Small County, and contains 131 parishes and parts of parishes. The baronies of Glenquin, North Liberty, and Shanid have been recently constituted; and that part of the county of the city without the new municipal boundary has been apportioned between Clanwilliam and Pubblebrien baronies, with the exception of the portion N. of the Shannon, which has been made a distinct barony. The principal towns are Limerick city, the county and assize town, Rathkeale, Newcastle, and Askeaton, besides the market towns of Bruff, Kilfinane, Ballingarry, Glin, and Pallaskenry. The county returns four members to parliament-two for the county at large, constituency in 1859, 6,481; and two for Limerick city, constituency 2,013. It is in the Munster circuit, and in the Cork military district. It is governed by a lieutenant, vice-lieutenant, 18 deputy-lieutenants, custos, sheriff, and about 125 magistrates. For ecclesiastical purposes it constitutes the dioceses of Limerick and Emly, with parts of Cashel and Killaloe, all within the province of Dublin. In 1850 there were 103 National schools, attended by 16,975 children. The county is traversed by about 20 miles of the Great Southern and Western railway of Ireland, which enters from Tipperary by Oolla and Pallasgrean to Limerick. The roads are numerous and remarkably good, the principal lines radiating from Limerick to Dublin, through Annacott and Nenagh; to Galway, through Bunratty; to Tralee, through Adare and Rathkeale; to Mallow and Cork, through Bruff and Kilmallock; to Tipperary and Cashel, through Pallasgrean and Oolla; and to Pallaskenry, down the Shannon. The principal seats are-Newcastle, of the Duke of Devonshire; Shannon Grove, of the Earl of Charleville;. Mount Shannon, of the Earl of Clare; Adare Castle, of the Earl of Dunraven; Roxborough, of Viscount Gort; Doneraile House, of Viscount Doneraile; Rockbarton, of Viscount Gillamore; The Castle, of Lord Courtenay; The Hermitage, of Lord Massey; Mount Trenchard, of Lord Monteagle; Elm Park, of Lord Clarina; Springfield, of Lord Muskerry; Carrah, of De Vere, Bart.; Carass, of Roche, Bart.; Knocknacree, of Waller, Bart.; besides numerous mansions belonging to private gentry. There are numerous remains of antiquity in the county, including Druidic circles, cromlechs, &c., around Loch Gur, at Croom, Carrickgalla, the Grange, Knockfennel, &c.; round towers with ruins of churches at Ardpatrick, Croom, and Kilmallock; of abbeys and churches at Abbeyfeale, Adare, Askeaton, Ballingarry, Cahirconlish, Kilmallock, Kilshane, Manister-Nenagh, Mungret, and Rochestown; also of Danish raths and baronial castles, of which there were above 100 in this county."


[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)]
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2018