Quickstop guide to Limerick.
As Ireland’s first nominated City of Culture Limerick, sitting on the banks of the gorgeous river Shannon (Ireland’s longest river) is the perfect setting for a weekend away or even a quick day trip. Even though it is the third biggest city in Ireland the city is small enough to get around and see the main sights on foot. From Frank McCourt’s rainy Limerick in Angela’s Ashes to the modern vibrant city you see today Limerick heritage and history is still very visible in all parts of the city providing a unique offering of both Medieval and Georgian quarters.
As often happens with your hometown you tend to forget what is right on your doorstep. Recently described as a hidden gem in Ireland, if you are lucky enough to find yourself here checking out any of these sights will definitely enhance your visit and hopefully show you the Limerick us Shannonsiders are proud of.
My favourite part of Limerick has to be by the river. As mentioned previously flowing through the heart of Limerick is the River Shannon. The city celebrates the river every May Bank Holiday with Riverfest. A weekend long celebration of food and family fun as well as the annual Limerick Run.
A short walk from the city will bring you over Sarsfield’s Bridge, turning right onto Clancy’s Strand you will pass the local favourite of The Curragower. A nice pint and portion of wings are a must here. As well as one of the best views in Limerick you can’t go wrong! Following the boardwalk you should catch sight of what would be my first recommendation in Limerick City, King John’s Castle.
King John’s Castle
Probably one of the most photographed spots in Limerick this 13th century stronghold is central to the heart of Limerick and its medieval history. Originally the site of a 10th century Viking settlement, the castle was built on the orders of King John, brother of Richard the Lionheart. King John may sound familiar as you may remember he was the evil arch nemisis of the legendary Robin Hood. He was a formidable force and clearly left his mark on the city. The castle protected the city from the Gaelic Kingdoms and any rebellion from the Norman lords. In it’s peaceful time the Limerick prospered allowing King John to set up his own mint within the castle. Coins from the mint still survive today.
The castle has been damaged and rebuilt many times throughout the centuries. During the Williamite wars a number of sieges between 1690 and 1691 led to the castle and city being badly damaged. These sieges led to the signing of the Treaty of Limerick. The stone on which it is believed to have been signed on, the Treaty Stone is visible from the battlements and is located across the river on Clancy Strand.
After a bloody past the castle has taken on other roles such as a British military barracks up to the early 1900’s and even the location of local council houses which were demolished in the 1980’s.
Following a multi million redevelopment of its visitor centre you can now explore the history of the castle and Limerick’s settlements through a variety of informative and interactive exhibitions. Specialist multimedia lets you experience the day to day life of those who would have lived in the castle. Along with discovery drawers, costumes and touchable artifacts it’s hard not to enjoy the hands on approach. An archaeological site brings back the Viking aspect of the site as well as nearly a 1,000 items discovered through various digs. The castle is well preserved and has kept a large amount of its original features including a huge gate house, its outer walls, large courtyard and battlements which provide the perfect location to explore as well as amazing 360 views of the cityscape right from the heart of medieval Limerick experiencing it almost as it was all those 800 years ago.
Following the narrow twisting medieval streets around the castle brings you to the next sight. One that you would almost pass without realising the amount of history etched within its stones.
St Mary’s Cathedral
A hidden gem tucked away in the Medieval quarter St Mary’s Cathedral is the oldest building in Limerick city that is still in use. The cathedral was built where the palace of the late King of Munster Donál Mór O’Brien, once stood. He donated the same site for the building of a church on what was originally a Viking meeting place. Existing sections of the palace were thought to have been included into the cathedral. The West door is believed to have been the ancient entrance to the palace. You can see how the stone looks much older and stands out from the surrounding stone. It is now only used in the ceremonial inauguration of new bishops. Traditionally they must knock on the door to gain admission. Legend also has it that during the many sieges of Limerick the defenders of the city used the stones of the door to sharpen their swords and arrows and the marks still remain to this day.
In 1651, after Oliver Cromwell’s forces captured Limerick, the cathedral was used as a stable by the parliamentary army. This misuse was short lived, but was a similar fate to that suffered by some of the other great cathedrals during the Cromwellian campaign in Ireland.The troops also removed the cathedral’s original 13 ft Pre-Reformation high altar from the cathedral. The altar was only reinstated in the 1960’s. It is the largest such altar in Ireland and the UK, carved from a single limestone block.The altar is now no longer used for communion services but remains in its historic location in what is now the chapel of the Virgin Mary.
The Cathedral is not built in one particular style but is a mix of both Gothic and Romanesque styles. There are a number of features worth noticing; in the north transept, there is an opening called the leper squint. Lepers were not allowed into churches in medieval times but could hear mass and receive Communion through this opening,the stone altar, marble vaulted roof to the Misericord seats in the choir which are from the fifteenth century and are unique to Ireland. They were carved from oak that grew in the woods of Cratloe and they number 23 in total.
There are five chandeliers which are now only lit on special occasions.
One interesting story from within the cathedral is of Murrough O’Brien of Inchiquin who was buried in O’Brien’s chapel in 1674. Murrough who developed the name “Of the Burnings” due to his fondness for burning churches. It is he who set fire to the Cathedral on the Rock of Cashel in the hopes that the Archbishop was inside! The people of Limerick hated Murrough so much that it is believed that the morning after his funeral, Murrough’s body was taken from its resting-place and thrown into the River Shannon by a crowd of people.
The Cathedral tower is at the western end. It stands 120 feet high and was added in the fifteenth century. The belfry also dates from the fifteenth century and contains eight bells, six of which were presented to the Cathedral in 1673 by William Yorke, three times Mayor of Limerick.
When you visit St Mary’s you can see it is still very much in use. Walking around the Cathedral its atmosphere is amazingly bright for such an old building. You almost feel the history aching from the walls transporting you back to medieval Limerick. I highly recommend checking local sites or even the notice board at the entrance for special chorals and concerts to experience this amazing place of worship at its best.
It is open to the public every day from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. Admission is by suggested donation of €4
A short walk from St Mary’s Cathedral will bring you to Bridge Street. If it is a sunny day you can join most of Limerick as they will be sitting outside the Locke bar enjoying the refreshing cool breeze from the river.
After your refreshment stop, continuing on your walk you will see the Hunt Museum. One of the many culture venues in the city.
The Hunt Museum
Housed inside the renovated 18th century renovated Customs House Building this unique museum exhibits one of Ireland’s most fantastic private collections.
The Hunt Museum preserves and exhibits the original artefacts gathered, over a life time, by John and Gertrude Hunt and known as the Hunt Collection. The Museum also displays its own collections, as well as visiting exhibitions of Local, National and International significance with the overall aim of maximising their cultural and educational potential for the people of Limerick and Ireland. http://www.huntmuseum.com/about-us/
Though it is a small museum the selection covers both national and international artefacts. Among the museums collections spread over three small floors and an exhibition gallery are works dating from the neolithic era to modern day including Picasso, Yeats and even Renoir. The museum really reflects the diverse taste of the Hunts.
The museum is free on Sundays and offers a 2 for 1 admission on Mondays. Even if you don’t fancy a visit to the museum I can recommend their gorgeous museum gift shop full of local arts and crafts or catch a coffee in the wonderful in Hunt Cafe with beautiful bright views of the museum garden and river. www.huntmuseum.com
The Georgian Quarter
Known for its Georgian architectural heritage, it is here you will see the largest collection of Georgian buildings outside of Dublin. For most of Limerick’s historic past the city consisted of two distinct towns Englishtown and Irishtown both developed in a medieval style in the north of the city. Limerick was a walled city of fortifications full of twisted streets and cramped living. After the dissolution of the church the land that was to become Newtown Pery, originally monastic land was granted to Edmund Sexton of whom Edmund Sexton Pery was a descendant. The Georgian Quarter (Newtown Pery) is attributed to the planning and work of Edmund Sexton Pery.
In the 1700’s Pery proposed a regeneration plan to develop the lands outside the boundaries of the city using a grid of streets and blocks built in terraces similar to Georgian styles we see in Dublin & London . Largely built between 1770 and 1840, the area quickly became the fashionable part of the city. Built in stages it consisted of Georgian style townhouses with long wide promenade streets. Although Limerick continued to developed through the 19th century, Pery’s plan was cut short due to the crippling economic effect of the Great Irish Famine. The terrace at Pery Square was the last part of the Georgian development. Originally intended to be part of an enclosed People’s Park. The One Pery Square is definitely worth a visit. A boutique hotel that all offers an award winning spa and restaurant.
The People’s Park
Originally laid out in the late 1820’s as part of the nearby Pery Square development park. The residents of this area were the most affluent of Limerick’s society. The park was intended for the private use of these tenants. Originally the park was to be fully surrounded by the Georgian blocks but this was never to be. Granted on a 500-year lease by the Pery family work began in 1874 and opened in 1877 as a public park and was dedicated to Limerick merchant Richard Russell (whose name is inscribed on the main archway entrance.
In the middle of the park, it is hard not to miss the tall column. This is topped with a statue of Thomas Spring Rice (1791-1866) proudly facing towards Pery Square.
If you are looking for quick bite then head to the park’s other corners entrance then head left towards the train station and head to Luigi’s. An italian style chipper it produces some of the best proper cut chips and definitely the best battered sausage. A must try if you are in the area. The queue out the door usually gives it away!
Tait Memorial Clock Tower Baker Place
Limerick City Gallery
Lying adjacent to the People’s Park you will find the free Limerick City Gallery of Art that is housed in the historic Carnegie library. You will discover the best of contemporary art through a varied exhibition programme. LCGA is the largest contemporary art gallery in the Mid-Western Region, annually exhibiting national and international artists in a diverse exhibitions. If you look closely at the front of the building you will see a number of small metal figurines all clearly up to divilment!
Another Hidden Gem – Keep an eye out for Limerick’s only surviving gas lamp is located on the corner of Pery Square.
The Milk Market.
Like with all cities the best place to see the locals in action is the local market. In Limerick I recommend heading to Milk Market. A local covered market, that is a hive of activity can be found here on Saturdays. Here I can be found most weekends eating and smelling my way through the families and friends who seem to come on mass. Pick up a warm coffee and head up to gallery to listen to the buskers, have some fresh scampi or stuff yourself with massive hot dogs with the the important decision of what you want to bring home for dessert.
Never come home with an empty bag. Warning do not go when you are hungry!
University of Limerick/Riverwalk
A short bus trip (route 304) to the Castletroy area of the city brings you to the ever expanding campus of the University of Limerick (UL). If you are visiting the city for more then a day then UL is worth checking out. With the UL Arena’s pool facilities and the UCH entertainment calender it is a great spot for families. Plenty of people visit UL simply to walk through its beautiful campus full of living nature that is always well maintained. Take a walk across the Living Bridge, Ireland’s longest pedestrian. A suspension bridge that can feels like it is swaying with you at times.
Or you can take advantage of the new city riverbank walkway that has recently been upgraded. The path provides a pleasant riverside walk along the three-kilometre stretch from the University of Limerick either back into the heart of the city, or Corbally. The upgraded walkway and cycleway has been provided along the south bank of the Shannon along the original path of the old Limerick Navigation Scheme. In its day, this linked Limerick to Lough Derg and the rest of the Shannon navigation scheme upstream of Killaloe.
Check out www.limerick.ie for more on all of the above.