Limerick is a perfect fit to take up this mantle. This, after all, is where Frank McCourt set his novel, Angela’s Ashes. It’s a city peppered with galleries, lorded over by King John’s Castle and awash with elegantly crumbling Georgian architecture - but it also boasts a thriving street art scene, a lively festival schedule and a mouth-watering foodie crossroads in the Milk Market.
Mix and match…
“Limerick has a brilliant mix of arts and heritage,” says Rachel Finucane, a local journalist blogging about the arts at magicbulletin.me.
“You have one of the finest private art collections in the country at The Hunt Museum, a very respected municipal facility in The Limerick City Gallery, and lots of Shannon heritage in King John’s Castle and Bunratty Castle.
“But at the same time, Limerick’s third level colleges mean there’s a youthful student population creating lots of fashion, visual arts and theatre. Limerick’s got some really good venues, too – so there’s lots to recommend!”
It’s off-the-beaten-track, in other words – but all the more exciting for it.
Highlights of the City of Culture programme? Try a major exhibition of new work by sculptor Michael Warren at Limerick City Gallery (January to March), or concert performances from James Vincent McMorrow at the University Concert Hall and Rebecca Storm at the Lime Tree Theatre(February).
Want a festival frolic? How about the Limerick Food Festival (April), the Make a Move Festival of Urban Culture (July), or the Children’s Art Festival (October)?
No matter when you visit, you’ll be able to explore streets and galleries chocabloc with film, theatre, dance, literature and the visual arts. And there really is something for everyone to fall in love with…
Culture isn’t new to Limerick, of course. King John’s Castle has been a local landmark since 1210, and a €5.7m refurbishment has added interactive displays, costumed actors and hands-on exhibits (fancy trying on a medieval costume, brandishing a Norman sword, or shooting a squash ball from a canon?).
While you’re here, be sure to climb the tower for a view of the city’s other fortress: Thomond Park.
Thomond is the home of Munster Rugby, the hallowed ground in which legends like Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara have performed miracles in front of rapturous home crowds. After a stadium tour, pop into the Munster Rugby Museum to test your line-out skills, and check a out a loving trove of artefacts including Keith Wood’s first jersey and a picture of Padre Pio that O’Connell stashed in his sock!
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Food, glorious food…
The arts can give you an appetite. And Limerick is just the place to satisfy it.
“One of my favourite spots is The Curragower, a gastro-pub down by King John’s Castle, says Valerie O’Connor, food writer on valskitchen.com/foodtrails. “It does the best chowder I’ve ever had.
“Elsewhere, the Brasserie at One Pery Square is good for dinner, Paparazzi on Denmark Street makes all of its pizzas, wraps, flatbreads and salads from scratch, and Taikichi, a new Japanese restaurant on O’Connell Street, is so popular you can hardly get in the door.”
At the heart of it all lies the Milk Market, Val says. “It’s utterly unique: 60-80 stalls here do everything from fresh oysters to split roast pig and wood-fired pizza. There’s even a girl from Finland doing marinated herrings. They’ve really taken off.”
Appetite sated, it’s also the perfect place to meet the Limerick locals whose tender loving care has brought the food to the table in the first place.
The future is bright…
“Limerick is a surprising city,” concludes Rachel Finucane. “We’ve had Vikings, Soviets and sieges. But along with that strong history there’s a thriving nightlife, great pubs and restaurants and a hugely creative arts scene. There are lots of little pockets of activity, and a real energy about the place.”
“This is definitely limerick’s time to shine!”
How you can get into the spotlight: all the events throughout the year are listed here.