THE LIMERICK TOUR: The Treaty Stone of Limerick city.
Updated: Jun 15, 2020
The story of the Treaty stone is mostly associated with marking the end of a major siege in the 1600s where the people of Limerick were trying to keep out British rule, however it really gives a fascinating insight in to the various power struggles that existed for the crown of England. The background of the Treaty Stone and how it came to be runs much deeper than that of just the people of Limerick.
The English monarchy was not built on nationalism, as many 'English' kings throughout the middle ages hailed from various countries around Europe. Instead of nationalism, the monarchy was concerned with two fundamental things - 1) class and 2) religion. The British ruling classes wanted their royals to be from fine lineage of wealth and stature. After this, they wanted them to be Protestant. Their nationality after these two factors was not of grave importance.
The religion of King James of England was truly the catalyst for the story of Limericks Treaty stone. King James took to the British throne in 1688, and to the dismay of the British ruling classes - he was Catholic. Such was his unpopularity that the British elite were able to formulate a plan to have him overthrown. King James daughter Mary was his successor and was married to the Dutch Prince William of Orange. William was given a large army to help him overthrow the King. During this attempted military coup King James managed to escape with his life by fleeing to France where he was taken in by his cousin Louis XIV. William of Orange was crowned the new king of England.
After a year of hiding in King Louis' palace at Versailles, the French king encouraged James to return home to fight for his throne. They devised a plan to try and overthrow William by defeating his armies in Ireland first, thus using Ireland as a back door to Britain. Louis equipped James with an army of about 25,000 men. These were a mixture of French and Irish peasants, poorly trained and mostly armed with pikes and farming equipment. Both sides met at the Battle of the Boyne, and William arrived with a 35,000 strong army. These were Protestant soldiers, well trained and armed. James army were defeated and he fled back to France.
The remainder of his army came to Limerick where they were sheltered within the walls of the city. Limerick at this point was the only city in Ireland not under the control of King William, so his armies descended on the city. So began the siege of 1690, they fired cannons over the walls for days on end and even resorted at one point to using catapults to fire dead animals over the walls in an attempt to spread disease in the city. Despite the onslaught they could not breach the walls. It was a freezing cold Winter and eventually they withdrew their attack. The starving people of Limerick city began to rebuild and bury those that had died.
In the year following this siege, all was relatively calm in Limerick. It still remained free of British rule and the last of King James army took refuge here while they waited for more reinforcements to come from France. These reinforcements would never arrived. Meanwhile, King William was becoming the laughing stock of Europe at the news that this small town in the South of Ireland had managed to resist his army for so long. So in 1961, he returned with a huge army and once again surrounded the city walls. William was eager to resolve the situation as quickly as possible to avoid further embarrassment, while the people of Limerick knew they didnt stand a chance against this army - so a peace treaty was signed.
The Treaty of Limerick had two main terms. The first would be to allow Catholics to practice their religion freely without persecution. The second term would allow James' soldiers to leave Ireland with their families and their arms and go to France to serve King Louis.
Many of these soldiers would go on to become very wealthy and successful in France. One such soldier by the name of Hennessy retired and moved to the Cognac region of France with his pension money to grow grapes. Twenty generations later his family are still producing Hennessy Cognac!
Meanwhile back in Ireland, it seemed the promises of Catholic freedom were short lived. These had only been made to appease the people of Limerick into surrendering and they were soon scrapped. What would follow shortly after was the introduction of the extremely harsh Penal Laws. These laws attempted to stamp out Catholicism, and claimed lands and property all over the law in the name of the crown. These laws last for over 100 years.
The Treaty Stone is located not far from where most of the heaviest fighting took place in the siege of Limerick. The block of limestone was apparently used to sign the treaty on. Next to the Treaty Stone you can see Limericks seal, which is adorned with our Latin motto. A Latin motto is given to every European city, and our one is 'Urbs antiqua fuit studisque asperrima belli' - which means 'An ancient city well studied in the arts of war'. No where is it more obvious that this is a fair claim for Limerick city!