County Limerick

From urban markets to five-star manors, mountain-biking to the red beating heart of Munster Rugby, Limerick is the perfect match of city and county

King John’s Castle
King John’s Castle

First things first, however. A limerick is a five-line verse, smart or silly, as popularised by Edward Lear in the 19th century. Limerick is nothing of the sort. And it contains even more variety, humour and history.

Cycling group passing ruined church, Limerick
Cycling group passing ruined church, Limerick

Set at the mouth of the Shannon, Limerick city is the third-largest on the island. It’s also the hardest to pin down. Limerick formed the bleakest of backdrops for Frank McCourt’s childhood memoir, Angela’s Ashes. At the same time, it’s home to a revitalised city art gallery, slick new hotels and Thomond Park, the thumping new home of Munster’s passionate rugby union team.

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One moment, you’re wandering through the Middle Ages at King John’s Castle. The next, you’re in a rejuvenated Milk Market. 

One minute you’re amongst old Georgian townhouses. Then, you’re sipping cocktails in a five-star hotel. There’s no way to categorise Limerick city, and the locals wouldn’t have it any other way.

Is it a bird, is it a plane

Beyond the city and suburbs, the N69 road west takes drivers along the Shannon Estuary, passing 18th century Curragh Chase Forest Park and House, before ambling into a most unusual flying machine at Foynes.

Is it a boat? Or a plane? Actually, it’s a bit of both. The highlight of a visit to Foynes Flying Boat Museum is its full-scale Boeing 314 replica, complete with purpose-built honeymoon suite. It’s a fitting tribute to a golden age of air travel, and a small port on the Shannon that served as a mini-Casablanca for passengers including JFK, Ernest Hemingway and Humphrey Bogart.

It’s also where Brendan O’Regan and his coffee shop invented something very special back in 1943. On a dreadful night, he welcomed a weary captain and passengers from a flight bound for Newfoundland with a cup of coffee and a surprise drop of whiskey – and so created the Irish Coffee.

It’s not the only surprise in Limerick’s history, either. The Hunt Museum holds paintings by Renoir and Picasso, amongst other treasures. In Adare, you can match thatched cottages with a magnificent manor stay. At Lough Gur, you can’t throw out a picnic rug without hitting a stone circle, hill fort or mass rock of some kind. People have lived at this ancient lake for 5,500 years. The wind sounds like their whispers...

On your bike

Speaking of wind, you’ll have plenty of it at your back heading down from the Ballyhoura Mountains. And when it comes to adventure sports, Ireland is the New Zealand of the Northern Hemisphere; and 95km of stacked mountain bike trails here are one of the jewels in its crown.

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