Mapping Limericks Urban History

- “Indispensable” Limerick Atlas pre-dates Dublin’s earliest known map

Press Release
Thursday, February 11th 2009

One of the most important publications ever to be produced on the history of Limerick will be launched in the city’s Georgian Quarter this evening (Thursday) by Mayor Kevin Kiely.

Limerick, the newly published twenty-first atlas in the Irish Historic Towns Atlas Series, features fascinating illustrations, plans and accounts of the city. The collection includes three splendid Elizabethan maps from around 1590 which pre-date Dublin’s earliest known map by 20 years.

The lanes of Limerick so pertinent to Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes have long since disappeared, but are preserved in the atlas with unusual lane names of Spreadeagle, Scabby, Red Lion, White Wine or Bear Lane.

And if you ever wondered why the heart of Limerick city today is not centred on its historic foundations at St Mary’s Cathedral or what the city may have looked like with its walls intact, the answers are in the Atlas published by the Royal Irish Academy. It is part of a wider European scheme of over 460 towns and cities already published.

Reproduced on large loose sheets are twenty-seven rare maps, and twelve views of the city from various repositories around Ireland and the UK.  Each map is very different in cartographic style and each details individual houses and gardens.

Historian and University of Limerick Professor, Dr John Logan has described the Limerick Atlas as “the single most important publication on the history of the city since Lenihan's history in 1866”.
He added; “It changes the way we look at the city as a place of work and living and make us realise the city's immense, but too often overlooked, potential and possibilities. Planners, historians, architects, teachers, students, and all well-informed citizens will all want to have a copy. It is, simply, indispensable.”

Author, and Limerick man, Dr Eamon O’Flaherty (UCD) spent many years trawling through numerous primary sources to compile the vast tracts of topographical information from religions houses and the city’s defences to schools and the city’s administrative buildings that form the components to the history of Limerick city. 

“Limerick has an extraordinary number of maps and views of the city,” he said.
“The majestic Shannon, which bred life to this Viking settlement, also offered artists a beautiful canvas to work from. The plan for the Georgian town, today’s O’Connell, Henry, and Thomas Streets etc., is clearly shown on the impressive Christopher Colles plan for the city drawn in 1769 and clearly shows the intention for a new town outside of the medieval walled city of Englishtown and Irishtown,” Dr O’Flaherty added.

In the atlas, Dr O’Flaherty, has illustrated the layout of the original Viking town overlaid on a modern map. He suggests that the original Viking main street ran to the front of St Mary’s Cathedral, and not along present-day Nicholas Street.

Users of the atlas will be able to pore over the maps and topographical gazetteer for hours finding trinkets of information like the location of the seventeenth-century kill houses, or study the military history of the city through its many siege maps and plates.

Ballrooms, ball courts, bathhouses and bowling greens are all documented in the atlas. Where sites are known, they are indicated on either the reconstructed Ordnance Survey map of 1840, the reproduced Ordnance Survey of 1900, or they are given a grid reference so they can be located on the modern Ordnance Survey map of the city.

The histories of the all known Limerick streets show various name changes and when they were first documented, including Nicholas and Mary Street dating back to c. 1240.

The publication includes many maps of Limerick including the three Elizabethan maps from the Hunt Museum (c. 1590), the Hardiman collection Trinity College Dublin (c. 1590) and the National Archives UK (1587). Other maps include John Speed (1610), William Webb (1651), Thomas Phillips (1685), William Eyres (1752) and Christopher Colles (1769) as well as later nineteenth-century Ordnance Survey maps (1840 & 1900) and a detailed insurance map of the city by Charles Goad in 1897.

Brian Hodkinson, Assistant Curator, Limerick City Museum described the new atlas as “a landmark publication which makes all the key maps for the study of Limerick’s history accessible to the general public for the first time.”
The president of the Royal Irish Academy, Professor Nicholas Canny, has also welcomed the publication saying that “it has added to the greater understanding of urban Ireland and it is fitting that Limerick’s cartographic and urban history can now be accurately compared with towns and cities across Europe.”

Ken Bergin of the Special Collections, Glucksman University of Limerick Library added:
"It is remarkable that one volume can so comprehensively chart 1000
years of the physical development of Limerick. It will become an
essential resource for anyone interested in the history of the city."

The entire publication also comes on CD-ROM so word searches and closer examination of the maps and illustrations may be carried out.

To celebrate the launch of this publication, a series of lectures and events are to be held in Limerick for the Spring of 2010. The series starts with a lecture by Dr O’Flaherty in the Hunt Museum at 1pm on Thursday 11th of February.

The Irish Historic Towns Atlas no. 21 Limerick by Eamon O’Flaherty is published by the Royal Irish Academy and costs €35.
For more on the project see

For further media information or to arrange interviews, please contact
Laura Ryan, Communications Executive, Limerick Coordination Office, 50 O’Connell Street, Limerick.

(The author will be available for interviews at the 1pm lecture in the Hunt Museum, and at the launch in no. 2 Pery Square from 6pm 11th Feb 2010.)

Last update:12/02/2010