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Askeaton (Irish: Eas Géitine), also historically spelt Askettin, is a town in County Limerick, Ireland. Located on the N69, the town is built on the banks of the River Deel some 3 km upstream from the estuary of the River Shannon.
Among the many historic structures in the town are a Franciscan friary dating from 1389 and a castle dating from 1199. The castle was abandoned to crown forces in 1580 - its walls blown up by the fleeing defenders - after the fall of Carrigafoyle Castle to the English during the Desmond Rebellions. Askeaton was a constituency in the Irish House of Commons represented by two members until the dissolution of the parliament in 1801
The Desmond Castle
(Taken from a lecture by Anita Guinane, (Askeaton Civic Trust)
The focal point of Askeaton is the Desmond Castle, which Stands in the center of the town on a rocky island on the river Deel. This noble building has been protecting Askeaton since 1199, when William de Burgo Founded it. In 1329 Maurice Fitzgerald became the first Earl of Desmond and held amongst his possessions the manor of “Liskifti”. 40 Shillings was paid by the Earl for the barony of Askeaton. It became the dwelling place of the kings of Munster. The Earls of Desmond were to become the last kings of Ireland
The fifteenth earl, Gerald had a powerful stronghold at Askeaton in 1559 and this was a worry to the crown of England who saw him as a threat. They tried to impose a policy of surrender on the Irish lords who rebelled and fought a savage war in Munster. Gerald became known as The Rebel Earl. He was popular among his followers. He was eventually betrayed by his foster brothers and killed by them in what was a horrible atrocity.
The Desmond rebellion lasted until sir Nicholas Malby attacked the castle in 1579. He was unable to take the Castle as its defenses were too strong. It was eventually occupied by lieutenant Patrick Purcell of the confederate Catholics, but as Askeaton was a major threat while it was under Catholic rule it was eventually destroyed by Captain Daniel Axtell under Cromwellian forces in 1652. Patrick Purcell was hanged by these forces.
The Earliest reference to the castle was in the “Leabhar nanCeart” (the book of rights compiled in the 15th century) where the fort of Gephtine is mentioned as being reserved to the King of Cashel.
It was in 1199 that we learn that the castle and its rights given to Hamo de Valoignes, who was the Justiciary of Ireland between 1197 to 1199.
In the Annals of Inisfallen, William de Burgo was granted the castle and estates by the king of Thomand, Donal Mor.
It passed through various hands until in 1348 the 1st Earl of Despond, Maurice Fitzgerald paid 40 shillings for the barony of Lystifti. The building that stands today dates from that time. It has had several additions to it with the seventh Earl Gerald Fitzgerald (14th century) being attributed with some of the works.
The Earls held possession of the Castle for over 200 years. Using it as the center of their kingdom, they ruled Munster until in October 1579 Sir Nicholas Malby ravaged the town and massacred the townsfolk and the monks of the Franciscan friary, but he failed to take the castle from Gerald the 14th Earl. The following year Justice Pelham took reinforcements and took possession on 5 April, and that signaled the end of the Fitzgerald's reign over Askeaton and Munster.
The castle was transferred to the ownership of the English crown under Edward Berkley.
The Banqueting Hall
The Banqueting Hall, or 'Halla Mor' (the Great Hall) as it was known. It is one of the finest examples to be seen in Ireland. In the grounds of the castle it was used as a place of great feasting. It was where the earls would 'court' their allies and welcome their visitors. Hospitality was a huge part of the Irish way of life. How you treated your guests was a direct reflection on your honour. It was built by James, the 7th Earl of Desmond, in about 1440-1459. underneath the hall is a chamber which dates from the twelve hundreds and was used as wine cellars and kitchens. The building is 72 feet long by 30 feet wide. On the south wall there are three blind archades and the carved windows are of exceptional architectural design. They were probably built by the same craftsmen that built the Franciscan friary as they are of the same design.
The Hell fire Club
To the east of the castle stand the remains of the Hell fire Club. A red brick building built in 1740. It was a gentleman's club. As its name suggests it was no ordinary club. There were several such clubs in England but there were only two in Ireland. These were accredited to Colonel St. Leger. The one in Dublin is razed to the ground. The other here in Askeaton is nearly complete.
These clubs were notorious in nature because the 'gentlemen' members indulged in gambling and heavy drinking, womanising and even satanic activities. There was one woman member, a Celinda Blennerhasset. The most popular drink of the members was 'Scathleed' this was a mixture of Irish Whiskey and butter made of fresh cream. It was probably the forerunner of the famous Irish Cream that is so popular today.
In the late 1940s, early 1950s, the Muintir Na Tira guild began the huge task of building a community hall for the parish. Built in a time of economic depression, it was constructed with voluntary labour of local people. It became a vital focal point in the social life of the town, with dances and concerts, and the inevitable bingo being held there. Replacing the library (which was too small) as a dance hall, it became in essence the “Ballroom of Romance” It was used as a national school while the new building was being built in 1962/63 and also as a church when masses were held there during the refurbishments of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in 1977.
The Franciscan Friary
The 4th Earl of Desmond, Gerald founded the friary in about 1389. Gerald was known as the poet Earl 'Gearoid Iaria'. It is one of the most beautiful complete ruins in the country. It includes complete cloisters, the east window, medieval carvings, and a chapter room that is now the final resting place of the two martyrs Bishop Patrick O'Healy and Fr Conn O'Rourke.
On 9 October 1579, after failing to take Askeaton Castle, Sir Nicholas Malby attacked the Abbey where he killed a number of monks in a gruesome fashion. He also wrecked the ancestral tombs of the Desmonds, in what was a mean spirited attack on innocent men for the sole reason of having some revenge on the Earl in his impenetrable fortress.
St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church
The present church was built in 1851, when the previous building down by the Franciscan friary was totally destroyed by fire in 1847. The fire originated in a nearby mill and killed an employee and severely burned several others. The local Parish Priest, Fr Edward Cussen, put his own life at risk by rescuing several men from the blaze. This happened during the heights of the Potato Famine, and there were very little funds for a new building. Fr James Enright was sent to America to raise funds for the new church. He was successful and to construct a building in such adverse times was an achievement of enormous proportions.
It is constructed of limestone native to the Area, and has beautiful stained glass windows. The window to the right depicts the resurrection of Christ, while that on the left shows his ascension into heaven.
Common surnames in Askeaton
According to Irish Census 1901 & 1911.
Madigan, Fitzgerald, Collins, harte, Sheehy, Ruttle, Sheahan, McMahon, Moran, Ryan, Hayes, McCarthy, Mulcair, Kelly, Lynch, O’Brien, Finn, McDonnell, O’Donnell, O’Shea, Shaughnessy, Casey, O’Connor, O’Shaughnessy, Shanahan, Sullivan, Summers, Kennedy, Walsh.
The railway line that passes through the now closed Askeaton railway station was built by the former Limerick and Foynes Railway Company from 1856 to 1858, with the station opening on 12 May 1857. The line between Limerick and Foynes had stations at Patrickswell, Kilgobbin, Adare, Ballingrane Junction (Rathkeale) and Askeaton. The railway line to Foynes passes north of the town, but Askeaton Railway Station was closed to passenger traffic on 4 February 1963 and freight on 2 December 1974, when the station closed. Trains for Foynes continued to pass through Askeaton until the line effectively lost all its freight services in 2000. The line is still officially open to freight traffic, it has not seen a train since the annual weedspray train visited the line in May 2002.
In an interview on Limerick's Live 95 fm on 18 April 2011, Kay McGuinness Chairperson of Shannon Foynes Port Company said that they are confident that the rail link could be reopened for €7 million, which was considerably less than initially quoted price of €30 million by Irish Rail following the involvement of consultants and it was now a do-able project. A recent campaign by the residents of Station Road prevented Iarnród Éireann from removing the railway gates at the train station. This has kept hopes alive that the track will one day be reopened to traffic