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Askeaton (Irish: Eas Géitine, Waterfall of Géitine, also historically spelt Askettin), is a town in County Limerick, Ireland. The town on the N69, the road between Limerick and Tralee, is built on the banks of the River Deel some 3 km upstream from the estuary of the River Shannon.
Among the historic structures in the town are a castle dating from 1199 and a Franciscan friary dating from 1389. The castle was abandoned to the English in 1580 – its walls blown up by the fleeing defenders – after the fall of Carrigafoyle Castle 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 focal point of the town is the Desmond Castle, which stands in the center of the town on a rocky island on the river Deel. This noble building has protected Askeaton since 1199, when the castle and its rights were given to Hamo de Valoignes, the Justiciary of Ireland between 1197 and 1199. In the Annals of Inisfallen, William de Burgo is recorded as having been granted the castle and estates by the king of Thomand, Dónal Mór.
in 1348 Maurice FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond paid 40 shillings for the barony of Lystifti. The building that stands today dates from that time. The Earls of Desmond were to become a powerful presence in Munster, of whom it was proudly said that they had become 'more Irish than the Irish themselves' – they lived in the Gaelic manner, following the Brehon Laws, dressed in the Irish manner, spoke Irish, played Irish music and games, rode and hunted, and respected poets. The family had generations of enmity with the MacCarthys to the south in Cork and Kerry, as well as with their bitter Anglo-Norman rivals, the Butlers, Earls of Ormond.
The earliest written reference to the castle is in Leabhar nanCeart, which in translation in English means The Book of Rights, compiled in the 15th century, in which the fort of Gephtine is mentioned as being reserved to the King of Cashel.
The Earls of Desmond, the FitzGeralds, held possession of the castle for over 200 years; it was the centre of their power, and they ruled Munster from it. The tragic Gerald FitzGerald, 15th Earl of Desmond, had a powerful stronghold at Askeaton in 1559 and so England saw him as a threat. The English tried to impose a policy of surrender on the Irish lords who rebelled and fought a war of defence across Munster. Gerald, known as The Rebel Earl, was popular among his followers, but as the atrocities of the English incursion grew unbearable they gradually abandoned him. Fleeing with a few retainers, on 11 November 1583 he was murdered by Moriarty of Castledrum, at Glenagenty, five miles east of Tralee at Bóthar an Iarlaigh.
Sir Nicholas Malby unsuccessfully attacked the castle in 1579. Askeaton Castle was then occupied by Lieutenant Patrick Purcell of the confederate Catholics. The English saw Askeaton as a threat while it was under Catholic rule. It was destroyed by the Cromwellian captain Daniel Axtell in 1652; he hanged Patrick Purcell. (Executions seem to have been a theme in the life of Axtell; captain of the Parliamentary Guard at the trial of King Charles I at Westminster Hall in 1649, shortly after the Restoration in 1660 he himself was hanged, drawn and quartered as a regicide.)
The murderous Lord Justice Sir William Pelham then took possession. It was the end of the FitzGerald reign over Askeaton and Munster.
The castle was transferred to the ownership of the English crown under Captain Edward Berkley.
The Halla Mor (the Great Hall) is one of the finest examples of its kind in Ireland. In the grounds of the castle, it was used as a place of feasting, where the earls courted their allies and welcomed visitors. Hospitality was a huge part of the Irish way of life. How you treated your guests was a direct reflection on your honour. The hall, 72 feet long by 30 feet wide, was built by James FitzGerald, 6th Earl of Desmond, around 1440-1459. On the south wall are three blind archades and carved windows of exceptional architectural design. They are considered to have been built by the same craftsmen who built the Franciscan friary, as they are of the same design. Underneath the hall are its wine cellars and kitchens, dating from the 13th century.
Gerald FitzGerald, 3rd Earl of Desmond, the legendary poet earl who is said still to sleep in a cave waiting to ride back on his silver-shod steed in Ireland's time of ultimate need, founded the friary in about 1389. It has cloisters with 12 arches on each side, an east window, mediaeval carvings, and a chapter room that is the final resting place of the martyrs Bishop Patrick O'Healy and Fr Conn O'Rourke.
On 9 October 1579, after failing to take Askeaton Castle, the English commander Sir Nicholas Malby attacked the town and burned the friary, killing most of the friars, some in a gruesome fashion, and wrecked the ancestral tombs of the Desmonds, in a mean-spirited attack to take revenge on the earl in his impenetrable fortress. Monks returned to the friary only in 1627 but the community did not reach its former numbers until 1642. The community again abandoned the site in 1648 when Cromwell’s forces neared Askeaton, and did not return until the 1650s. The friary permanently closed in 1740.
St Mary's Church
The present Catholic church was built in 1851, after the previous building near the Franciscan friary was totally destroyed by fire in 1847. The fire, which originated in a nearby mill, killed an employee and severely burned several others. Parish priest Fr Edward Cussen put his life at risk to rescue several men from the blaze. This happened during the heights of the Famine, and there were no funds for a new building. Fr James Enright was sent to America and there raised the funds for a new church.
It is built of local limestone and has stained glass windows. The window to the right of the transept shows the resurrection of Christ, and that on the left his ascension into heaven. In the centre of the nave are windows showing St Patrick receiving the two daughters of King Laoire, the King of Ireland, into the church, and Jesus with children, and over the main door of the church a window shows the Virgin Mary. Over the door is a statue of the Pieta.
The Hellfire Club
East of the castle are the remains of the Hellfire Club, an almost intact redbrick building built in 1740 (the same year the monks abandoned the nearby friary). It is one of two in Ireland (the other is outside Dublin). The Hellfire Clubs, throughout Ireland and Britain, were 18th-century clubs where rich men gathered to drink, gamble, have orgies, curse Catholics and use prostitutes. Lurid rumours around Hellfire Clubs included visits by the devil and human sacrifice. These clubs popularised the combination of whiskey, butter and cream mulled by a red-hot poker known as ‘scaltheen’. The club closed down by 1800. The façade of the building collapsed in the 1990s.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the community organisation Muintir na Tire built 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, used for dances and concerts and bingo. 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, the Catholic church, in 1977.
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, but has not seen a train since the annual weedspray train visited the line in May 2002, but in 2018 its expected to reopen.
In an interview on Limerick's Live 95fm on 18 April 2011, Kay McGuinness, chair of Shannon Foynes Port Company, said that they were confident that the rail link could be reopened for €7 million, considerably less than Iarnród Éireann's quoted price of €30 million. A recent campaign by the residents of Station Road prevented Iarnród Éireann from removing the railway gates at the station. This has kept hopes alive that the track will be reopened to traffic
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- (Taken from a lecture by Anita Guinane, (Askeaton Civic Trust)
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