Limerick, my own adopted city, has a proud and even some would say defiant history of involvement in military affairs. From the Williamite siege of the city, to this year’s 75th anniversary celebration of the Irish Army’s Limerick based 12th Battalion home (in the aftermath of the Irish Civil War), the Treaty City has a wide swathe of experiences related to the World of Warfare.
But not everything of a military mindset is directly related to the business end of a soldiers job. Quite a significant amount of military logistical history can be traced to Limerick; from the havoc that manifested itself after the Patrick Sarsfield destroyed the Williamite army’s siege train, Limerick has provided a series of case studies for the military historian.
Geographically speaking, Limerick has a number of unique advantages. It is uniquely situated in Ireland at the furthest possible fording point on the mighty River Shannon, which by the time it reaches Limerick, has become a tidal estuary. This allows the ancient King Johns Castle an unrivalled position in terms of defence and control over the nodal bridiging points and trade. As the song goes ‘There is an Isle/A bonny isle/Which stretches forth/Proudly against the Sea.’
It was this trade which made (and still makes) Limerick a vitally important logistical and transportational hub. It is located at the Western edge of the ‘Golden Vale’, a geographical area in the Mid-Western sub-region of Ireland, famed for producing some of the beat bacon, cheese, dairy and beef products in the world. Limerick as the largest and nearest accessible natural port, facing the Atlantic ocean was a natural choice for a transhipment point. Indeed in the 19th century the city acquired the moniker ‘Pig Town’, such was the volume of its pork related exports.
Another key actor in this supply chain was the Tait Military Clothing Factory. The factory, located on Lord Edward Street a stones throw from the gates of the city’s Sarsfield Barracks (formerly the New Barracks), was a magnificent example of a military clothing purveyor during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The firm supplied many continental forces (including the British Army during the Great War, whose centenary we currently commemorate). More interestingly perhaps is the fact that Tait’s also supplied the Southern Confederate forces during the American Civil War. The eponymous ‘Tait Jacket’ was produced for the officer corps, in Limerick.
From their factory (portions of which still stand and are being redeveloped), the Tait’s supplied materials to the both Union and Confederate belligerents during their conflict.
An amusing anecdote is still told in Limerick of a Chandler who was contracted to supply the Confederates with tents, pegs and ropes. The merchant loaded a number of ships with the requested goods and despatched them. However in a manner similar to the destruction of the British Army’s Pals Battalions half a century later, disaster befell the convoy; one of the ships sank. This resulted in the ropes and pegs arriving unscathed on one ship and all of the tent canvas headed toward the briney deep!