King John’s Castle in Limerick is the type of castle you imagine growing up. It looks like a castle from a film. A formidable stone structure with towers and garrison walls to boot. As I walked up to the castle which is nestled inside the busy city that is Limerick, I expected to see a ruin with only some of the outer structure remaining but that was not the case. This is a full blown castle with most of the original features still in tacked. I have to say I was blown away by the castle. It recently reopened after extensive renovations and now includes an interactive exhibition with games and audio features.
King John’s Castle is a 13th Century castle nestled on the banks of the river Shannon. The garrison walls, towers and external structure all remain intact clearly conveying the power and prestige that this structure must have offered when it was constructed. The castle is named after King John, the brother of the famous Richard the Lionheart.
The heritage center that has been created offers visitors the chance to discover the history of the castle and it’s many interesting inhabitants. There are colourful and informative panels which are full of descriptions of the trials and tribulations of the castle and the people of limerick.
The story of the castle is an interesting one. The interactive displays give the visitor the chance to learn about the many battles and siege that took place on the site. As with most castles the history of the site is filled with sieges, battles and death.
The panels work well in conveying this often more difficult aspect of history. There are some harrowing depictions including a diorama that depicts a bloody siege that took the life of many men.
One of the displays that created the most impact was the depiction of the heads of the fallen men. These heads represent people who died or were killed for the cause and were then used as a weapon of terror against others. The horror that these heads would have instilled in the family and friends of the fallen is hard to imagine. These acts are seen throughout history as a way of keeping people down and enforcing the law of the land.
There were also simple methods of engagement that I found really effective. These included a small interactive where you had to match up a persons outfit. There was also a selection of discovery drawers where you could find out further information of topics of your choice. For the young at heart there was a game where you had to shoot a cannon at a target. I have to admit I spent quite a long time at this game trying to master the art.
There was also a film which depicted the siege that took place at the castle. The siege of 1642 devastated Limerick and resulted in many casualties. The turbulent history of the castle resulted in the signing of a treaty which is depicted on The Treaty Stone of the other side of the river.
The outside courtyard recreates a scene out of medieval life, there is a campaign tent, a blacksmiths forge amongst others. There is also an opportunity to make the ascent to the top of the castle walls. The garrison walls offer spectacular views of Limerick. This breath taking view was one of the highlights for me. I unfortunately am not the best with heights however the walls have been reinforced so that you feel completely safe when towering over the city of Limerick.
I really enjoyed my visit to the castle. It is fantastic to see sites like this being developed and opened to the public. It is vital that we continue to remember our history and learn about our heritage. There are many castles and monuments that have not been as fortunate as King John’s Castle and have been left to fall to ruin. I find it extremely encouraging to see a site of this scale being developed and opened to the public. The way in which they have redeveloped the site is well thought out. The exhibition panels are informative and eye catching but will not date too quickly. The audios and touch screens are all products of the times we live in and will no doubt need to be updated in a few years. These interactives are necessary additions but unfortunately as technology moves forward they will become obsolete rather quickly. The courtyard is one of the highlights of the visit. The minimalist approach to this area, leaving it fairly untouched is genius. There is no need for panels or games as this area is where the action would have been. This is the heart of the castle, the work would have been enacted out here, there would have been the blacksmith, the cobblers, food stalls and the everyday hustle and bustle of castle life. On a good day the view from the garrison walls is spectacular and I would recommend anyone who visits the castle make the climb to the top.