One of the great castles of Ireland, Limerick Castle (as it was usually known before the nineteenth century) was planned and built between 1200 and 1212 on the orders of King John of England who never actually visited the city.
In the following centuries it was repaired and extended. In 1751, a large infantry barrack was constructed inside the courtyard and subsequently enlarged in 1793, resulting in the demolition of the eastern curtain wall and much of the bastion, creating a substantial parade ground on the eastern side of the castle.
The British military finally withdrew and the castle remained closed for the rest of the decade. In 1933 Limerick Corporation built a scheme of municipal housing in the Castle, resulting in the demolition of much of the castle barrack.
These houses were demolished and a modern interpretative centre was formally opened in October 1991, finally launching King John’s Castle as Limerick’s flagship tourist attraction.
The Castle is a five-sided structure with high curtain walls and five drum towers, two of which protect the original entrance to the inner courtyard. Visitors enter through the modern glass-fronted interpretive centre which contains an audio/visual theatre, museum, gift shop and cafe. Surrounding the courtyard are the high walls and fortified drum towers. These towers are located at three corners of the site, the fourth destroyed along with the section of wall where the interpretive centre is located, in the 17th century. Two towers make up the original gatehouse, which overlooks Thomond Bridge and the River Shannon. Originally, much of the castle would have been surrounded by water, called a moat. There would have been a drawbridge from Thomond Bridge to the portcullis, a lattice of timber, iron or both, that protected the entrance of the keep.
Windows in castles were very small in order to keep out intruders, let light into chambers during the day, and offered seating for those who needed additional light, such as for reading or needlework, or who simply wished to admire the views
There are also displays in some of the towers. Window seats in some of the towers show the domesticity of the keep as a family home as well as a barracks.