Luimneach/Limerick: Castles and Crosses

I spent a day on my own, wandering through Limerick, or Luimneach. As a city, Limerick exemplifies the complex history of Ireland. Vikings, Scots, English (Norman English, Victorian English), and native Irish all played a part in Limerick’s development. 


My only preparation was a guidebook and Bus Eireann. ( I love Bus Eireann. I highly recommend it. The bus ran, even when the trains went on strike. Comfy seats, perfect for quick travel naps.)

I arrived in Limerick and I had no itinerary but to explore.  I wish I had taken the Angela’s Ashes Walking Tour and see where Frank McCourt spent his childhood. It’s first thing to do on my list when I return. McCourt says this in the first pages of Angela’s Ashes: “Limerick gained a reputation for piety, but we knew it was only the rain.”


©Sheila R. Lamb


I meandered through the city on a cloudy (but not raining) day in July and found a cemetery where I saw my first Celtic cross. It happened  have the Lamb name, so I was impressed. Now I wonder if William Lamb Stokes, High Sheriff of the City of Limerick, was particularly well-liked during the years of 1909 and 1910.   









From there, I went to King John’s Castle, across the River Shannon, on it’s own island. Built (obviously) under the reign of King John of England, it was considered a Protestant haven during the Irish Rebellion of 1641. Even in earlier times of peace and prosperity, Limerick was divided as an English side, on Inis Sibhtonn, or King’s Island, where the castle was located, and the Irish city across the river.    
©Sheila R. Lamb

Though Limerick was founded by the Vikings in 922, the Irish captured the city some forty years later, enduring a few more Viking skirmishes. Until the formation of the Irish Free State and later, the Republic of Ireland (Eire), the turbulent history between England and Ireland is defined in the city  of Limerick. 


Sources: Tim Lambert’s A History of Limerick, Ireland.






Buhn Raithe: Bunratty Castle – Living History, With A Pint

I first touched Irish soil near the River Shannon, when I landed at Shannon airport many years ago. I spent my first days at the Bunratty Castle and  Folk ParkBuhn Raithe, and later explored nearby Limerick on my own. I didn’t want to be seen as a typical tourist…but I was a tourist. And I found Bunratty a perfect introduction to Ireland.

Bunratty Castle ©Sheila R. Lamb

Vikings occupied this piece of land along the Ratty, an estuary of the River Shannon. Vikings sailed up the river, to camp and trade at this site.

Bunratty land changed hands several times, depending on war, politics, and conquest. To muddy the waters further, the attacks depended on who controlled Ireland at the time – the Vikings, the English, or the Irish themselves. For example, Edward the Bruce was sent to Ireland during the Irish-Bruces Wars between 1315-1318. The Scots were there to devastate the Norman English, who ruled the land at that time.

Bunratty Castle stairs ©Sheila R. Lamb

From the 1200’s onward, the  land of Buhn Raithe was owned by the de Clare’s, the O’Briens, and the MacNamara’s. The castle, as we know it today (along with much restoration in the 1950’s by Viscount Gort) was built by the MacNamara clan.

The Bunratty Castle and Folk Park also includes living history exhibits, which recreates village life, farm life, and costumes of the 18th and 19th century. Of course, no castle visit is complete without the Medieval Banquet. There was much singing, a lot of food, and quite a few pints (except on Good Friday. Plan accordingly). Irish Fireside gives a terrific description of what happens at the Bunratty Castle Banquet.

A stay at Bunratty is worth the visit to the castle, the banquet, the living history village, and of course, a pint at Durty Nellys.  Will there be a few other tourists? Sure – but don’t let it stop you from experiencing the fun!

St. Patrick and the Rise of Christianity in Ireland

St. Patrick Brings a New Religion to Ireland

 Eventually, he does escape and make it home to Britain. Later he travels to France, where he enters 
the seminary to become a priest. He studies with St. Germain in Auxerre, France. It’s also believed he studies with St. Martin of Tours. After several years, a voice calls to him, telling him to return to Ireland. There is debate over whether he received the proper permissions from the 

Abbey of Saint Germain photo by Christophe.Finot
He returns to Ireland where he drives paganism from the land, converting the kings and his former master, to Christianity. He established a monastery in Armagh and successfully defeats the druids of Ireland. 

Even so, there is an unmentioned sin, according to his Confessions. There is something in Patrick’s past that causes consternation among the bishops and higher church authorities in Britain.  

And then I was attacked by a goodly number of my elders, who [brought up] my sins against my arduous episcopate. That day in particular I was mightily upset, and might have fallen here and for ever; but the Lord generously spared me, a convert, and an alien, for his name’s sake, and he came powerfully to my assistance in that state of being trampled down. I pray God that it shall not be held against them as a sin that I fell truly into disgrace and scandal.”

We don’t know what his sin was, or how serious it may have been. Was it a true crime? Or a political move by someone wishing to block his appointment?  

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saint_Brigid_by_Patrick_Joseph_Tuohy.jpg

 Ironically, Brigid was ordained as Bishop by mistake. Would the ease of her appointment caused some anger or rivalry?  Would Patrick have seen her as a true Bishop, a title he worked so hard to earn?

Ruadan: The Lost Son of Brigid and Bres

It’s a sad story, Ruadan. A child half Danann and Fomorian, he never quite fit in either world. His name – ruad – means the “Red One” so we can only assume he was a red-head.   Some tales say Brigid and Bres had three sons, others one. In my version, Ruadan was the only child Brigid bore, in all three of her mythical incarnations. His presence and subsequent loss was so powerful that it’s said Brigid introduced the practice of keening and lament at funerals.

Ruadan was killed by Gobhinu, the Danann smith. Some tales say he died in battle. Other stories tell he was sent to kill the smith. To kill off the battlefield would have been a horrible dishonor, and I can only imagine Bres had manipulated his son to do his will.

gap of dunloe, ireland photo by sheila lamb.

Not only does Brigid keen (caoine)  because her son his gone, she laments because of the manner of his death. Would Ruadan be known as a brave warrior who was killed heroically in battle? Or would it be known forever that he was killed by Gobhinu, the smith god, who had defended himself from an assassin?

Source: Timeless Myths

Brigid of the Tuatha de Danann: The Goddess of Lament

photo by sheila lamb

 Irish myths, legends, and history portray Brigid in three phases…goddess, druid, and saint. She is a woman, a goddess, shrouded in the mists of history. This is the basis of the Brigid trilogy, beginning with Once a Goddess. 

In ancient mythology, Brigid is a poet, a healer and a blacksmith. She was one of the Tuatha De Danann, an early tribe of Pre-Celtic settlers. The Danann were a god-like race,endowed with supernatural abilities. They could shape shift into elements of nature. One story is how they prevented the invading Fir Bolg from broaching their shores by becoming mist. In some stories, Brigid was the daughter of Dagda and Macha. In others, she is portrayed as the Dagda’s wife. 

In the Cath Maige Tuired, saga, Brigid marries Bres, a Fomorian. Together, they had three sons,one of whom is Ruadan. Ruadan later dies in battle. It is said that the lament, the custom of keening at a wake, began with Brigid as she mourned the loss of her son. 

Brigid’s story is compelling – and human. She enters into an arranged marriage with her enemy in order to save her people. She sacrifices her desires and suffers incredible loss to protect the Danann.  



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