Limerick grew from a Viking trading settlement but it was not until the 18th century that Limerick became a noted centre for milling. There is archaeological evidence to suggest that sophisticated water mills and drying kilns were present in the region from an early date.
There were several mills in operation across the city including the Corbally Mills (erected 1763), the Lock Mills (1764), the Newtown Pery Mill (1810), Plassey Mills, Bloodmill in Singland, and Harvey Mill at Francis Street where Sarsfield house now stands.
While the mills were supplied by local grain, such was their capacity that they took in imported grain too. The construction of the Shannon Navigation Canal in 1786 linked the West with Dublin and opened up trade routes for merchants and a new era in the Limerick milling industry began.
In the 19th century, many pork manufacturers set up in the city and Limerick was soon renowned for its hams and bacon. Besides employing many citizens, the industry also fed many of the poorest people in the area.
After the famine, the city’s mills and bacon producers thrived and together with Cleeves and the Golden Vale, Limerick gained a global reputation for excellent food produce. World War I brought opportunities for local industries as Ireland was a significant supplier of food to Britain during the war period.
There was a short-lived brewing industry in the city in the 17th century starting with a Danish recipe for brewing heather in the Middle Ages that is now since lost. However, there were plenty of traditional breweries in the city such as Matthew Fitt and Sons and O’Connell Brewery, the oldest Limerick brewery built in 1780; the foundation stone for the O’Connell Brewery is still in existence today in the Limerick Museum.
Other breweries popped up around the city including Thomond Brewery, Palmerstown Brewery, Canal Brewery and Miss Tucker’s Brewery but these went into decline in the 19th century. However, brewing has seen a revival in Limerick recently with the creation of Treaty City Brewery, makers of fantastic craft beer made with water from the Shannon.
The history of food and drink in County Limerick is grounded in the rolling pastureland of the Golden Vale and Ballyhoura region. Arguably the best land for dairy farming in Ireland, rural Limerick was known for its superior quality beef and milk.
The county also reared and fattened pigs for the city’s bacon industry. The arable land is well suited to growing wheat, grain and the pre-famine staple, potatoes. Today, County Limerick is still well known for its fertile grassland but also for its unrivalled mineral water.
Two businesses of note, Ballygowan and Ishka, source their water from Newcastle West and Ballyneety respectively, noting the importance of the natural filtration of the local bedrock that gives County Limerick water its refreshing taste.
Today, Limerick is undergoing a revitalisation in its food and drinks industry with artisan producers springing up across the County and a thriving urban food scene in the City and towns with produce that bears the unique flavour of the Limerick countryside.