Limerick is one of Ireland’s less-visited cities, lagging far behind Dublin, Cork and Galway for international tourism, but visitors are increasingly asking themselves how that came to be. See, the dubious reputation for violence that surrounded the city for years locally (it was branded ‘stab city’) is ill-founded and irrelevant today, and it has yet to be entirely discarded. Don’t be put off. The city itself is home to both great cultural heritage and modern-day explorations of what it is to be Irish. The surrounding countryside hides loads of sights and activities that make hiring a car and heading out for a day or two all but essential.
Here are our very favourites little corners of Limerick you just have to see…
Adare is a tiny picture-postcard village with a population of less than 3,000, designated as a heritage town due to the sheer volume of beautiful thatched cottages and spectacular old architecture lining its streets. Attractions include a crumbling 12th-century castle, the ornate Adare Manor (now a newly renovated hotel), two churches that date back between 600 and 800 years and a traditionally spiritual ‘fairy (ring) fort’. You’ll also find a large number of impressive little craft shops to explore.
A sprawling 13th-century complex overlooking the Shannon River, King John’s Castle has a history of sieges, trade and rebellion that sits right at the heart of most of the important moments in Limerick’s past. Revamped in recent years into an impressive interactive museum, it’s a great spot designed to connect visitors with ancient life here, taking in anything from a medieval campaign tent to the sounds of the 17th Century siege on the city.
Gaelic games (in particular hurling) are big in Limerick, but the real sporting passion of the county is served up by their red-clad rugby team. Munster play in a multi-national league containing teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy and South Africa (and often at European Championship level too). Their supporters are renowned for their passion and knowledge of the game, though their performances have been a little indifferent in recent years. The history is sensational though and includes an almost mythical ’70s contest in which the Munstermen overcame a New Zealand national team widely seen as almost invincible.
Limerick’s most iconic shopping spot, the Milk Market, is a far cry from its conventional main streets, featuring mainly craft-loving traders, tiny playful stores, live music and a few farmers selling fruit and vegetables. A large square building with a massive tented courtyard, it has the slightly rugged feel of a mellow local hub, but, as one of the oldest markets in Ireland, its flagship Saturday foodie offerings and seasonal events are unmissable.
One of Limerick’s true undiscovered gems, the ancient tangled forests of Ballyhoura bustle with local hikers and bikers (the motor-free, fitness-obsessed kind) every weekend, with the lengthy trails and great places to get stuck into the surprisingly impressive local BMXing scene. With 98 kilometres of twisting routes to explore (more than anywhere else in Ireland, including the popular spots in County Wicklow), you can also rent all the equipment you need on the spot, making it a great casual adventure stop off.
Lough Gur is not one of Ireland’s more impressive lakes, but with more than 6,000 years of history to be uncovered right on its banks, the area more than makes up for it. Local heritage and folklore here dates back to the Stone Age, and, walking around, you’ll come across two mysterious stone circles thought to date all the way back to the Neolithic period. A collection of crumbling buildings that make up a tiny old village, the great night views provided by a local ‘dark skies’ organisation and the Honey Fitz theatre are all worth exploring too.
The diverse collection of things on offer in the town of Foynes are in some senses so disparate they seem to come completely out of left field, but they’re well worth a trip. The town claims to be the original home of Irish coffee (and celebrates by serving you lots of it). It also hides a Flying Boat Museum, including a full-sized replica, in which you can explore the time of Atlantic crossings being made in shaky planes that cost a fortune. There’s also a 1940s-style afternoon tea on offer.
This 12th Century landmark in the heart of Limerick City has essentially seen the western hub build up around it and has an astonishing depth of history to explore. St Mary’s looks a bit different now than it did 800 years ago, but you can really feel the history, especially around one door, where the marks left by besieged soldiers sharpening their swords are still clearly visible on the walls. The cathedral also sits on a former Viking meeting spot, and the tales of the famine — a devastating period of Irish history at its worst in the west — are still heart-wrenching.
Not that we’re trying to discredit Angela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt, of course, but his famous tales of Limerick in award-winning memoir Angela’s Ashes are widely disputed locally. It’s not the poverty of McCourt’s upbringing that locals take issue with (you’ll learn plenty about that, and it’s shocking), but the harshness with which he describes the Limerick community of his time. Uncover it all at the Frank McCourt Museum, which includes his former classroom.
As the Limerick music hub, Dolan’s is nothing short of an institution, hosting a high-quality collection of Irish and international acts passing through its doors, with almost every night featuring something new. While most of the music here is of a distinctly indie-rock or modern folk-leaning variety, there’s something for everyone. A growing recent hip-hop scene and aging trad scene happily co-exist in this vibrant bar-meets-venue. We suggest you explore the various aspects whilst sampling the substantial mix of craft beer behind the bar (or Guinness, naturally).