CALLING Limerick’s most famous landmark King John’s Castle is a 19th century invention and the medieval monarch never set foot inside the citadel that bears his name, historian Liam Irwin has said.
And Mr Irwin - who will shortly retire as head of the history department at Mary Immaculate College - said Shannon Development’s efforts to double visitor numbers in the coming years would be helped if they called the Norman stronghold by its true name - Limerick Castle.
Shannon Development will shortly commence a €5.7 million redevelopment of King John’s and Castle Lane and Mr Irwin believes the attraction would be easier to promote under the name Limerick Castle.
“I know everybody nowadays calls it King John’s but that is a relatively recent thing that you don’t find before the 19th century. If you go through all the English state papers in Dublin and London going back to the time of the sieges and before, you will see it referred to as Limerick Castle, as the King’s Castle, and in Elizabethan times as the Queen’s Castle. In none of the references to defending or repairing the castle will you find it referred to as King John’s Castle,” said Mr Irwin.
“The first reference I can find where it is described as King John’s Castle is from Lewis’ ‘Topographical Dictionary of Ireland’, which dates from 1837.”
King John himself - not helped by his portrayal in later versions of the Robin Hood legend - has come to be regarded as a tyrannical and dissolute monarch and this year got the Hollywood treatment in the blood-soaked movie Ironclad.
“He certainly gets a bad press and doesn’t appear to have been a particularly nice individual,” said Mr Irwin, who added he had failed to endear himself to Irish nobles by pulling their beards when he first came to the country in 1185.
Although John visited Ireland twice, “he never came to Limerick, never mind the castle although he obviously authorised the building of it,” Mr Irwin said.
“Half the people in Limerick call it Saint John’s Castle in any case. It would seem to me that apart from being more historically accurate to call it Limerick Castle, it would make it easier to promote and market,” he said.
While generally supportive of the redevelopment, Mr Irwin expressed concern that the “genuine history of Limerick” housed in the City Museum at Castle Lane will have to make way for what could be a more gimmicky visitor attraction.
Potential new locations for the city museum have ranged from the Jesuit Church to modern office blocks but Mr Irwin is unaware of any final decision having been made in this regard.