Viking adventurers established a settlement on an island in the River Shannon in the 9th century. They fought with the native Irish for control of the site until Brian Ború’s forces drove them out in 968 and established Limerick as the royal seat of the O’Brien kings. Brian Ború finally destroyed Viking power and presence in Ireland at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. By the late 12th century, invading Normans had supplanted the Irish. The two remained divided, and throughout the Middle Ages the repressed Irish clustered to the south of the Abbey River in Irishtown, while the Anglo–Normans fortified themselves to the north, in Englishtown.
From 1690 to 1691, Limerick acquired heroic status in the endless saga of Ireland’s struggle against occupation by the English. After their defeat in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, Jacobite forces withdrew west behind the famously strong walls of Limerick town. Months of bombardment followed and eventually the Irish Jacobite leader Patrick Sarsfield sued for peace. The terms of the Treaty of Limerick, 1691, were then agreed, and Sarsfield and 14, 000 soldiers were allowed to leave the city for France. The Treaty of Limerick guaranteed religious freedom for Catholics, but the English later reneged on it and enforced fierce anti-Catholic legislation, an act of betrayal that came to symbolise the injustice of British rule.
During the 18th century, the old walls of Limerick were demolished and a well-planned and prosperous Georgian town developed. Such prosperity had waned by the early 20th century, as traditional industries fell on hard times. Several high-profile nationalists hailed from here, including Eamon de Valera. These days, technological and service industries are major employers. Call a helpline somewhere in the world and you may be speaking to someone in Limerick – if not India.