Contrary to popular belief, the city of Limerick in mid-western Ireland has nothing whatsoever to do with those short and much loved poems. Unfortunately, it’s more often associated with gangland crime, stabbing and murder rather than humorous, rhyming ‘Limericks’. Speak with people from the rest of Ireland and Dublin in particular, and Limerick’s nickname of ‘Stab City’ gets mentioned frequently.
Even though Limerick does have crime problems with a history of notorious family feuding, it’s overstated. The city’s people firmly believe the Irish media has a vendetta against them, dishing out unfair treatment at every opportunity. You have to take this into account if you decide to visit this elegant city straddling the banks of the River Shannon. Its people are right – the streets are friendly, safe and welcoming.
Reaching Limerick is relatively easy. You can fly to Shannon airport, located roughly 30 kilometres away in County Clare. It’s a simple bus-ride into the city centre. Long neglected, Shannon is making a comeback with the recent announcement of eight new Ryanair routes to key European destinations.
On the short drive to Limerick, you have the chance to stop at the spectacular Bunratty Castle, a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Alternatively, you can take the train from Dublin to Limerick in under three hours. First impressions are vital when you visit any new city and Limerick may prove frustrating initially, especially if you arrive at the main train station. There is no real central square, in comparison with cities in mainland Europe. The Shannon River has been Limerick’s lifeblood for decades and as a result, most of the key developments are located nearby.
The gritty ugly buildings near the train station eventually give way to captivating older Georgian houses and flashy modern developments. Stroll along O’Connell Street, the main thoroughfare and feast your eyes on the architecture. It’s a textbook example of a Georgian boulevard. Lines of graceful redbrick buildings stand on both sides of the street with tall black railings lining the footpaths. The doors are the most fascinating element and come in a multitude of colours – black, red, yellow and green, while fan shaped glass portals complete the effect. Take a walk to the statue of Daniel O’Connell just outside the old Jesuit Church for the very best view.
Pay a visit to King John’s Castle, Limerick’s most famous landmark. It was constructed in the year 1200 and has endured numerous historic events, including the Siege of Limerick in 1642. The treaty which ended that conflict was signed on a rock, located on a pedestal directly across the river from the castle. Known as the Treaty Stone this is the symbol of Limerick. For a long time, the castle was neglected and in desperate need of renovation. Thankfully, after a €5.7 million refurbishment project, it has become an ultra-modern and stunning attraction in the heart of the city. Glass exhibitions and computer-generated imagery chart the castle’s story in exciting and dramatic detail.
Afterwards, you can walk along the riverside and enjoy fantastic views of King John’s Castle while a refreshing breeze calms your senses. One amazing thing about Ireland is the air quality – you won’t feel as revitalised anywhere else in the world. The Shannon is truly captivating – its waters thunder over the Curragower falls in front of the castle with a distinctive roar, while fishermen cast their lines into its murky brown waters. Better yet, call into the Curragower Seafood Bar on Clancy Strand. Dig into some exquisite fish and chips and sip a Guinness while you take in the view. If you want to try something unusual, order a pint of delicious Blue Moon on draught.
As you stroll back towards the city-centre, the old buildings including the historic boat club evolve into modern apartment blocks, offices and high-rise hotels. The buildings in this part of town are part of the legacy of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger period of economic success. Old, decaying houses were demolished and large glass and concrete structures were erected in their place. Now the riverfront feels more alive, with stylish pubs, Italian restaurants and cosy cafes offering a delightful view over the river. A stunning glass skyscraper called ‘River Point’ and Ireland’s tallest hotel, the Clarion, symbolise the city’s ambition to restore the Shannon as its focal point.
At the end of your long stroll, call into Dolan’s pub for a pint of Guinness and even more delicious local food. You can hear traditional Irish musicians every night of the week in Dolan’s, so nestle into a corner and enjoy the atmosphere. This pub attracts visitors from all over the world and there’s always an interesting character on hand to tell you his life story. Moving on from Dolans, you should visit Nancy Blakes, one of Limerick’s most popular pubs. Like Dolan’s, you can often find traditional music here. There’s a great mixture of young and old people at Nancy’s, and a great courtyard, one of the best summer hangouts in the city.
The next morning, you should visit Limerick’s rejuvenated milk market. For years, this place was in decline, full of dubious merchants offering a meagre variety of products. Today, the milk market in Limerick is unrecognisable. A spectacular elongated canopy was erected over the marketplace where traders can flaunt their wares in all weather. Numerous cafes and food stalls have sprung up, and it’s the best place in the city to spend a Saturday morning. Buskers sing in corners while fresh sausages sizzle on hot coal fires. The atmosphere is always tremendous. After the market, you can visit the Hunt Museum. Its collection contains over 2,000 artefacts including drawings by Picasso and a horse thought to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
It’s impossible to mention Limerick without mentioning rugby. The city has enjoyed something of rugby renaissance over the past decade. Two time Heineken Cup winners Munster play their home games at Thomond Park in the north side of the city, and there’s always a tremendous buzz all over Limerick on match days. On the back of Munster’s success, Thomond Park has been redeveloped into a modern 26,000 seater stadium that also hosts numerous concerts during the summer.
Try and get a ticket to see a rugby game in Limerick. The crowd is full of friendly and boisterous locals who remain dead silent whenever a player takes a penalty or conversion. It’s known as ‘respect for the kicker’, a tradition which has existed for decades. Home players are comfortable with that while Munster’s opposition often feel unsettled by the strange silence. It’s so impeccably observed that you could actually hear a pin drop! Don’t forget to learn about Munster’s historic win over the All Blacks back in 1978. 12,000 people saw the game, even though around 70,000 claim to have seen it. It’s always a great conversation topic.
So that’s Limerick in a nutshell. Wonderful pubs, friendly people, scenic riverside views and marvellous museums make it a must-see on any trip to Ireland. The city’s well publicised crime problems are largely confined to several restless suburbs and there’s no reason for tourists to encounter them. The city has tried hard to repair its image with success. Instead of the unfortunate ‘Stab City’ mantra, you’ll hear more about great sporting victories, art exhibitions, cultural events and architectural awards. Limerick is an exciting place. Go there and experience it.
Seamus Murphy writes for Trenditionist