WHAT TO DO AND SEE IN LIMERICK
Dia duit! That's Irish for 'hello' and can literally be translated as God to you. For the next few months, I am working and living on the emerald island that is Ireland so you might hear (or, in this case, read) me say it quite often.
Of all places, I ended up in the middle of the Wild Atlantic Way - in Limerick (Luimneach). This historic place, founded by the Vikings in 812 AD on the banks of the River Shannon, combines the noise and action of a busy city and the comfort of a rural setting. It really is a city of contrasts: having had some bad press over the past years due to drug gang problems and carrying the endearing nickname of Stab City, it was named the country's inaugural National City of Culture in 2014. Indeed, today's Limerick is nothing like the picture painted by its famous son Frank McCourt in the book 'Angela's Ashes'. It is full of colour and attractions to draw visitors - be it crumbling Georgian architecture, street art, galleries or many a great pub for proper craic (we are in Ireland, after all).
Despite being the 3rd-4th biggest city of the country, Limerick is compact - you can easily cross it on foot in less than an hour. The city centre is made up of the three areas, namely Englishtown on the southern tip of King's Island; Irishtown including the older streets on the south bank; and "Newtown Pery", the current economic centre further south. We will start this impromptu tour on King's Island, the oldest part of town (click pictures to enlarge).
> ST. MARY'S CATHEDRAL
Founded in 1168, this site was originally a palace belonging to Donal Mór O’Brien, one of the kings of Munster. Five years later, he donated it for use as a church. The building still boasts the original Romanesque doorway, which is said to have been the main entrance to the royal palace. and clerestory. The 120-feet (36.58m) tower was added in the 14th century. Pay attention to the unique black-oak misericords carved with mythical animals and creatures - the only complete set of this kind of furniture preserved in Ireland.
> Admission: Year Round
> Tickets: Technically free, but you will be asked to pay €4 as a donation
> KING JOHN'S CASTLE
King John's Castle is hard to miss as it dominates the city's landscape. Constructed on the order of King John of England between 1200 - 1212 on the site of an earlier fortification, the castle recently underwent a multi-million revamp which has turned it into an (even more) interesting and educational venue. Inside await excavated Viking houses, fortifications, reconstructed Norman artefacts, siege mines, and interactive exhibitions. Speaking of sieges, the vast curtain walls of the castle were badly damaged in the 1642 Siege of Limerick, the first of the five in the 17th century.-
> Admission: Year Round
> Tickets: Adult €10.50 (online rate) or €12.50 (on-site rate)
Right in front of the entrance to the Castle you will find a statue of Michael Hogan, the self-proclaimed Bard of Thomond (useless fact - the poet and I share the birthday). The poet's most notable work, The Drunken Thady and the Bishop’s Lady, tells a story of the wife of the Bishop of Limerick, whose vengeful spirit would wander around town and take people to hell, and Thady the drunk who almost fell her victim. What a heart-warming Irish tale of romance!
Before you take a left turn to Thomond bridge, cross the street and visit 19th-century graveyards of St Munchin's Church of Ireland (picture in the middle), built in 1827 on the site of a medieval church.
Once on the other side of the bridge, take a stroll along Clancy's Strand. The Treaty Stone is located right in front of the Roman Catholic St Munchin's Church (that's right, one name - two different churches). Limerick is known as the Treaty City, after the Treaty of Limerick signed on October 3rd, 1691 following the war between William III of England (aka William of Orange, that guy from Delft) and King James II. According to tradition, the treaty was signed on a limestone, once served as a mounting block for horses, and it is now displayed on a pedestal.
> Not to miss here: The Curragower Pub on Clancy's Strand is a cosy 17th-century establishment that offers award-winning local seafood dishes and live Irish music as well as great views over the River Shannon and King John's Castle.
Keep walking until you reach Sarsfield Bridge (pictured above) to return to the south bank.
Fun fact: During the Irish War of Independence, the Limerick Soviet (Sóivéid Luimnigh) was a self-declared soviet that operated for a whole twelve days. From 15 to 27 April 1919, the Limerick Trades and Labour Council held a strike in response to the British Army's declaration of a "Special Military Area", which covered most of Limerick city and a part of the county. During the strike, a special committee was set up to print their own money, control food prices, and even publish newspapers. The banknotes held their value with all notes being redeemed after the end of the issue.
Now you are in Newtown Pery, the area famous for its 19th-century architecture. In fact, it houses the largest collection of Georgian townhouses in Ireland outside of Dublin. The neighbourhood had been developed in a grid street layout running north/south and east/west in similar fashion as found in many US cities, whereas the medieval quarter was completely intact. Unfortunately, economic decline turned a few of these townhouses into tenements in the 1900s stripping them off of their heritage and original charm.
As you are making your way to the medieval Irishtown, take a note of Tait Memorial Clock Tower *it commemorates Sir Peter Tait, former mayor of Limerick) and Dominican Church situated on Baker Place (picture on the right).
> ST JOHN'S CATHEDRAL
Irishtown is one of the oldest parts of Limerick City. It evolved on the southern banks of the Abbey River as Limerick grew beyond the boundaries of King's Island. But unlike the Norman and Old English settlements on the island and in Englishtown, this area was populated mainly by native Irish.
The most prominent landmark of the neighbourhood, St John's Cathedral was constructed in 1861. It features the tallest spire in Ireland (suck it, Dublin!), at 94m, and is the tallest structure in Limerick. St. John's Churchyard across the street marks one of the earliest Christian foundations in the city. You can see the cathedral and all ongoing funerals from the window of my living room, and as my flatmate and I like to say, we are living in the busiest part of town. It will lift your spirits - perhaps too literally.
> THE MILK MARKET
The Milk Market - Limerick's oldest - is also just around the corner. Come here at the weekend for organic produce and local foods, from vegetables and flowers to pies and seafood. The old buildings surrounding the market offer a wider selection of goods, for example, books, tools, and clothing. Live music and other events also take place here every now and then (check out their website for current schedule).
Beware that it is way too easy to get carried away and eat your weight in hot dogs, pastries, cheese, ham, you name it, just in the span of 20 or so minutes. Those hot dogs are great though, and I'd definitely recommend them (go for the with-everything option, €4.30).
It would not be a guide to an Irish city without a list of pubs! Limerick has a decent number of spots to have a pint after work and enjoy tradition traditional Irish music, if that's your cup of tea. According to the law, a pub can open at 10:30 in the morning (except Sundays, when it is 12:00). Closing time Friday and Saturday is 00:30 - late-night pubs will have a couple of hours more - and Monday through Thursday it is 23:30. Here are some of the best venues in town that are worth checking out:
> Dolan's: Recommended to me by every citizen of Limerick, this place did not disappoint. It appears to be the best spot for authentic live music, and there is an impressive gig list of all genres running at all times.
> Cobblestone Joe's: This pub is famous for its pizza - it is so good that even my Italian flatmate has approved it! Great atmosphere, blazing coal fire, and good beer selection are also present.
> The Glen Tavern: Housed in a 1760 building, this pub is run by three generations of the Callanan family. They take pride in their traditional Irish food - think stews, pies, and meat dishes - and a variety of local seasonal brews on offer.
> Nancy Blake's: A whole four bars disguised as one! From a more traditional pub to a music venue, there is something for everyone; open late.
> Whitehouse Pub: A classic waterhole right on O'Connell Street, this corner pub claims it is "easy to find, hard to forget". Apart from outdoor seating and a good beer list, it draws visitors with live acoustic music and poetry readings.
> The Locke: Picturesque riverside location paired with great pub food (try their lamb stew - it's amazing!), their terrace is where you will want to be on a rare day of good and sunny weather.
> Costello's Tavern: Locally known as more of an alternative. anything-can-happen kind of pub, Costello's turns into a club at night.
> Mickey Martin's: A cosy and funky pub, it is tucked away from the wandering eye. Perfect for having deep conversations with your company.
> Michael Flannery's Pub: Fla's has the largest Irish Whiskey collection in the Mid-West of Ireland and the ideal place to enjoy an Irish Whiskey tasting.
I have set myself on a rather ambitious (considering the amount of required effort) mission to find the best fish&chips in Ireland and already ticked off a couple of places in Limerick that frequently get praised by fellow chipper enthusiasts.
> Donkey Ford's: Proudly named the 'jewel in Limerick's chipper town' (in case you don't believe me - click here or here), Donkeys is an ultimate local experience even though it does not exactly look it. In fact, it even won Today FM's contest for the best chipper in all of Ireland in 2014 - ain't nothing to sneeze at!
> Luigi's: Once the dark and not-so-glossy chipper, Luigi's now offers a New York diner-like experience. It still offers the good ol' cod and chips and everything in between, and is frequently listed as one of the best chippers in the country.
>> How to get to Limerick: Shannon Airport is situated only 25km away from Limerick. The airport operates routes both within Europe (primarily to the UK) and to the United States. Alternatively, you can fly into Dublin or Cork.
If you are travelling from other parts of Ireland, Limerick City can be reached by bus from Athlone, Balbriggan, Cork, Drogheda, Dublin, Dundalk, Galway, Navan, Killarney Sligo, and Waterford. Limerick is also connected to the Irish Rail network with the main cities/towns of Waterford, Belfast, Dublin, Galway, Cork, Tralee, and Ennis.
This post will be getting updated over the next couple of months: I am planning on watching a game of the Munster rugby team, visiting the Hunt Museum, and checking out all the more spots around town. Stay tuned!
Have you been to Limerick? Share in the comments below!
Happy travels x