Limerick and the Story of Migration

The history of Limerick, like the history of Ireland more generally, is inextricably bound up with inward and outward patterns of migration. Limerick’s past was marked by striking examples of immigration and settlement: from Scandinavia in the ninth and tenth centuries; from England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; from the German Palatinate in the early eighteenth century; from the Russian Empire in the late nineteenth century; from Hungary after the rising of 1956.

St-MarysLimerick’s history was even more marked by mass emigration. Indeed, the Treaty of Limerick (1691) which ended the ‘War of the Two Kings’ was an iconic migrant moment. The treaty permitted 15,000 Irish soldiers, along with 4,000 dependents, to leave for France from Limerick and other southern Irish ports in the winter of 1691-2. Romanticised as the ‘Wild Geese’, they were part of a much larger movement of tens of thousands of Irish men, women and children who left for France, Spain and other destinations in continental Europe in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Soldiers enlisted in the armies of Spain, France, Austria and other European powers.

Students, priests and intellectuals attended the great centres of European learning and created a network of Irish Colleges on the continent. Irish merchants, bankers and professionals created a chain of mercantile communities in Ostend, Bruges, Nantes, Bordeaux, Cadiz and elsewhere. While historians have paid them less attention, women and the poor migrated in large numbers too and across western Europe Irish migrant communities emerged.

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