15 December 2021

Saint Mary’s Cathedral
photograph on the cover
of the ‘Old Limerick Journal’

The latest edition of the ‘Old Limerick Journal’ … the front cover includes my photograph of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick

Patrick Comerford

I had an afternoon in Limerick earlier this week, browsing in the book shops, buying a few journals and books, and also visiting Saint Mary’s Cathedral.

I failed, in all the bookshops I visited to find a copy of Hilary Dully’s new book, her edited volume of the papers of the revolutionary Máire Comerford, On Dangerous Ground. Although it is only three weeks since it was published, the book seems to be a best-seller already, if not sold out.

Among the journals I bought was the latest edition of the Old Limerick Journal (No 56, Winter 2021), edited by Tom Donovan and published by the Limerick Museum at the Old Franciscan Friary on Henry Street, Limerick.

It is a particular pleasure for me that this new edition of the Old Limerick Journal features one of my photographs of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, as its front cover illustration, with a complimentary credit and description of me inside on the title page.

As always, this edition of the Old Limerick Journal is filled with fascinating research by local historians.

For example, Des Ryan in his paper searches for ‘The Origins of the Limerick Jewish Community’ (pp 13-15), and asks whether the local newspapers were right in the 1890s to describe them as ‘Polish’ or even, on one occasion, ‘a Polish colony.’

He looks at the background of the 31 Jewish families living in Limerick at the time of the 1901 census, and finds that while one family give Poland as their place of origin, the other 30 families record Russia as their place of birth. In reality, most of them came from Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire.

At the time, more than 5 million people were living in an area known as ‘the Pale,’ which stretched from parts of Latvia in the north, to Odessa and the Black Sea in the south, including large parts of present-day Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and Poland.

Many of Jewish families in these regions fled the persecutions and pogroms that intensified after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881.

Des Ryan, who is the longest-running contributor to Old Limerick Journal and a member of the journal’s editorial committee, provides an interesting and invaluable list of the Jewish families living in Limerick in 1901, many of them in Collooney Street (now Wolfe Tone Street) and the surrounding area. Once, again, I believe Limerick needs a Jewish Walking Trail, like those in many European cities.

Joseph Lennon asks how the castle in Limerick became known as ‘King John’s Castle’ (pp 29-36). This particular name first appears in 1787, but King John also gives his name to a castle in Carlingford, Co Louth, and to a number of castles in England.

King John gave Limerick its first charter in 1197, and confirmed it as king in 1199. But there is no primary evidence that he ever visited Limerick. The castle was known throughout most of its history as Limerick Castle, although on occasions it was referred to as ‘the king’s castle.’

The Limerick-born historian John Ferrar was the first to refer to it as ‘King John’s Castle’ when he published a new edition of his History of Limerick in 1787, and this has influenced writers and historians ever since.

Brian Hodkinson, a former curator of the Limerick Museum, is thorough in examining the myths that the Knights Templar established a number of houses in Co Limerick (pp 37-39). These include house at Askeaton, Ballingarry, Castle Matrix, Kildimo, Morgans Newcastle, Shanid, Templecolman and Templeglantine, all in this part of West Limerick.

I have long argued that there is no evidence for a Templar foundation at Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton. This is a misinterpretation of the significance of the ‘unusual shape’ of the tower, which changes from a square base to an octagonal structure as it rises.

But Askeaton, like many of these churches, was a dependency of Keynsham Abbey, an Augustinian house in Somerset. He poses the question, ‘The Knights Templar in Limerick; fact or fiction?’ He concludes ‘the answer to the question posed in the title is, fiction.’

The Old Limerick Journal Number 56, Winter 2021, ISBN: 9781916294332, €10 is available in all good bookshops in Limerick and through the museums in Limerick.

Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick … my photograph on the cover of the latest edition of the ‘Old Limerick Journal’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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