Having spent most of my adult life commuting between Kerry and Dublin, I’m no stranger to the N21 – the main artery that runs through Co Limerick – but have never really had the chance to linger longer.
I confess I might have been scarred by primary school tours to the sports centre at the University of Limerick; where I inevitably would end up being towed by one of the kayaking instructors after running aground.
So when it came to kicking off this staycation series, it seemed like a good opportunity to revisit my nearest neighbour to see just what The Treaty County has to offer. From city culture to country cycling, Limerick certainly is a lady with a lot to say.
Take A Stroll
For the purposes of this feature, I based myself in Limerick city. I think the best way to get under the skin of a new place is to hit the streets, so, I decided to follow the 3.6km Three Bridges Slí na Sláinte route that starts at Arthur’s Quay Park and ticks off some of Limerick’s most famous landmarks, such as St Mary’s Cathedral, King John’s Castle and The Treaty Stone.
Sightseeing aside, the route really impressed upon me the might of the River Shannon and, as a street art fan, I was pleased to stumble upon the mural dedicated to Cranberries’ singer, Dolores O’Riordan.
If you want to add an extra element to your walk, you can download the “Women of Limerick” app, which includes the stories of some fierce females along the way.
According to my colleague (and Limerick native) Anne O’Donoghue, if you get hungry en route, the chicken wings at The Curragower Bar will surely hit the spot.
Art by Picasso, Renoir and Gaugin; one of the 30 pieces of silver reputedly paid to Judas to betray Jesus; a pendant cross said to have belonged to Mary Queen of Scots; an ancient Irish drinking “mether” that inspired the design of the Liam McCarthy Cup.
These are just some of the treasures from the personal collection of John and Gertrude Hunt at Limerick’s Hunt Museum.
Hunt Museum docent, Jean Murphy, explained to me how the couple chose objects based on design, craftsmanship and artistic merits, but had a very relaxed approach to their collection; one of their family portraits, for instance, shows daffodils sitting cheerily in an ancient Egyptian vase.
While the museum is primarily self-guided, it’s worth asking the friendly docents (volunteer ambassadors) to point out their favourite pieces. Also take time to explore the drawers in the “discovery rooms”, where you might find anything from one of the aforementioned Picassos to a sharkskin spectacle case.
Kids can take part in a “medieval treasure hunt” (ask at reception) and there is also a cafe, gift shop and “museum in a garden”. Admission is €7.50 for adults, concessions €5.50 and under 16s go free. The Hunt Museum is open Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 11am-5pm and closed Mondays.
Power To The People
I love a walking tour and the “Stroll Around The Block”, run by The People’s Museum of Limerick in pretty Pery Square, is a great way to explore the city’s Georgian quarter.
From stories of street riots to escaped reindeers, my guide, Ger Fitzgerald, filled me in on the area’s colourful history. Among the sites were the Mechanics’ Institute, where the “Limerick Soviet” was declared in 1919, homes associated with local celebrities like actor Richard Harris and the lane made famous in Angela’s Ashes by writer Frank McCourt.
Indeed, the People’s Museum now houses McCourt’s own ashes, along with eclectic artefacts including a display of Limerick lace, vintage children’s toys, a coat that belonged to Napoleon’s brother, and – my favourite – original signage from the likes of O’Mara’s bacon and Cleeve’s toffee, displayed in the servants’ quarters of the grand house.
At just €5, the walking tour is great value, while you can combine it with a museum ticket for €10. Tours run throughout the summer at 11am and 2pm Tues-Sun, and booking is advised.
Escape To The Country
One of the greatest draws to Limerick of late is the Greenway, which runs for 40km from Rathkeale to Abbeyfeale.
Launched last summer, it might not have the epic sea views of its counterparts in Waterford or Mayo, but offers smooth, safe and relaxed cycling and walking through the county’s rural heartland.
For a taster, we parked midway at the Barnagh Hub and completed the 20km round trip to Newcastlewest and back, taking in highlights including the Barnagh Tunnel, Barnagh viewing point and Ferguson’s Viaduct.
Barnagh is also the base for Locomotion Bike Rental, which offers adult bikes from €25/day, kids bikes from €10/day, e-bikes from €50/day, accessories including child seats and bike trailers, and they will soon be offering disability bikes too.
Barnagh also has a lovely children’s playground and I can recommend the Limerick toastie at Platform 22 cafe to refuel after your spin.
Not a cyclist? Co Limerick offers plenty of tracks and trails to explore, like the Knight’s Walk in Glin – a 4km trail with fine views of the Shannon Estuary – that you could combine with a visit to The Flying Boat Museum in Foynes.
Or try the 4km Clare Glens loop in Murroe – with its scenic waterfalls I almost expected Peter Andre to emerge, à la his Mysterious Girl music video.
What do you know about King John? Is it that he signed a Magna Carta? Probably not. You are more likely to associate him with being the English king that was continually outwitted by the outlaw Robin Hood.
And if you were a ’70s child you perhaps remember him as an especially cowardly lion – which is how he was portrayed in the 1973 Disney animated Robin Hood.
The kids of today can build their own King John memory banks by visiting the castle he commissioned on the banks of the River Shannon. While there is a lot for history-loving adults, many of the exhibits host a child-friendly, albeit educational, element.
Take, for example, the exhibit where you meet Nicholas the Master Mason, where there are blocks for the children to build their own ancient stone windows.
History is also brought to another level in the courtyard, where kids can really get to grips with a plethora of old-style games like tug-o-war, horseshoe throwing and archery. If you are brave enough, the climb to the top of the tower is not to be missed.
For those looking for the ultimate adrenaline rush there is an opportunity on selected dates from June to August to abseil down the side of the castle.
A ticket gives you entrance to the castle, exhibitions, medieval courtyard games and stunning views. Adults €11.70, child €8.55, family (two adults, two children) €31.95. Abseiling is €30pp.
I was a guest of the four-star Limerick Strand Hotel, which boasts an enviable location right on the Shannon yet is just a stone’s throw from the city centre. I was lucky enough to stay in a spacious junior suite, which merged comfort and style with corporate touches, boasting features including Rituals toiletries, an enclosed glass balcony as well as access to an executive lounge.
The Strand puts a big emphasis on local produce and this is evident at breakfast time, with buffet options including Flesk sausages, Croom eggs, Leah’s pudding, Effin smoked cheddar and more, along with a chef’s station for made-to-order egg dishes, in-house baking (I recommend the banana bread) and its own range of preserves and chutneys.
Lunch and dinner are served at the River Bar and Restaurant; a buzzy space with city views. With my cousin, who lives in Limerick, joining me for dinner, we both ordered the smoked cheddar golden arancini for starter, which benefitted from the accompanying garlic mayo (€8.95).
For main course, I ordered the pan-seared Irish chicken breast served with a Rigney’s black pudding and leak potato rosti and red wine reduction (€19.95). It is great to see a restaurant serving Irish chicken and the portion was generous but a little let down by the accompanying rosti and mash, which felt a bit watery to me – perhaps due to the time of year/seasonality of the spuds.
My cousin enjoyed grilled fillet of seabass with olives, asparagus, tender stem broccoli and lemon grass cream (€22.95) which she declared “light and aromatic”, although we later realised that the gnocchi that were supposed to accompany the dish was not on the plate – though she had not missed them.
Dessert was a chocolate and hazelnut dome with passion fruit caramel filling, hazelnut praline and passion fruit sorbet (€7.50), which delivered a chocolate hit with contrast and texture.
Facilities at the Strand include a 20m indoor heated pool. But, for me, its greatest assets are its friendly staff, with a special shout out to Siobhan on reception and Grace in the restaurant.
Room rates from €190 B&B per double room, with upgrade to suites from €390 B&B. Underground secure parking is available at €9/night.
Chef and food consultant Tom Flavin was raised on a dairy farm in west Limerick and has over 30 years in the hospitality industry.
Stay: The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge, Ballingarry, is a special experience with excellent food and service.
Get outside: Walk from Barnagh Greenway Hub 2-3km along a country road towards Rathcahill where the air is pure and you can see stunning views of Limerick, Clare, Tipperary and Cork.
Culture file: Pigtown culture and food series has been synonymous with autumn in Limerick. Inspired by the history of Limerick’s bacon industry, this exciting programme of themed events kicks off every September.
Shop: Sonas Health Foods in Newcastle West is a leading destination store for all that is local, good and healthy, with excellent coffee and nutritious treats.
Dr Niamh NicGhabhann is a senior lecturer in history at the University of Limerick, with a special interest in the histories and heritage of religious architecture and public space.
Stay: I would 100% recommend The Absolut Hotel for a city break. It is really lovely, offers a great breakfast and is very good value. The Castletroy Park is a great option if you want a pool.
Eat: The East Room restaurant in UL is an overlooked jewel. The food is exceptional, sometimes featuring vegetables from the roof garden on the university arts block. For a drink, enjoy a glass of wine overlooking the river from the Hunt Museum cafe garden.
Get outside: Visit Grange stone circle at Lough Gur on a solstice morning – you never know who you could meet.
Culture file: EVA International brings exciting art from all over the world to Limerick every second year.
Shop: Flax in Bloom, just off Cruises St, is a great local boutique that carries lovely brands and the Hunt Museum is wonderful for gifts and Irish designers.