Limerick is a rich and varied county. It’s not a coastal county like its neighbours Clare, Cork and Kerry but enjoys the majesty of the Shannon River which flows to the west of the county on its way towards the Atlantic. In this feature, Limerick-born journalist Ger Leddin looks at five hidden gems which the visitor to both the city and county of Limerick can and should enjoy.
5. The Frank McCourt Museum
Anyone planning a visit to Limerick should first sit down and read the Pulitzer-Prize winning autobiography Angela’s Ashes by the late New York-based Limerick author Frank McCourt. McCourt was part of a large Limerick family living in Brooklyn during the 1930’s. Frank was aged five when his family moved back to Limerick. Here they lived in abject poverty, were treated with nothing more than contempt by the authorities, his father Malachy fell — as they say in Limerick — victim to the drink and the family were left to fend for themselves and depend mainly on charity. The autobiography caused controversy throughout Limerick when it was first published, with many local people wishing to forget or deny the dark hard days which the city suffered during the thirties and forties.
However, the school which Frank attended as a child has now been successfully turned into a simple but accurate remembrance of not only McCourt’s life in Limerick but also into a valuable portrayal of the economic and social conditions of a 1940’s Limerick.
Don’t expect all signing and dancing interactive exhibits in this plain and simple museum, but expect instead an insight into what life was like not only for McCourt but also for thousands of others who grew up during this period as Ireland as a nation was going through its infancy.
4. The Foynes Aviation and Maritime Museum
Just a Twenty-minute drive along the banks of the Shannon Estuary south-west of Limerick City, you’ll find the small town of Foynes. Situated at the start of the river’s estuary, the town has taken advantage of its calm, deep waters and has grown into a busy and thriving port. Foynes has a history of making the traveller feel welcome for it was here that the first flying boats landed and departed from to cross the Atlantic on their way to and from America. The town along with its safe harbour played a pivotal role during the thirties and witnessed the beginning of transatlantic flights during the era of pioneering aviation.
Located in the original airport terminal building, the museum contains an array of memorabilia from those early days of aviation. Here you can board and marvel at the luxury of a full-size B314 flying boat replica, even sit in the captains left side seat or sit at the table in the fourteen-seat dining room.
Among the pioneers of transatlantic flight such as Alcock, Brown and Lindberg was Captain Charles F Blair whose personal aviation collection was donated to the Museum by its former patron the famed Irish actress Maureen O Hara, Captain Blair’s wife, who was one of those instrumental in the setting up of the museum in 1989. In addition to the many interesting aviation artefacts and original pieces on display, the museum also remembers and acknowledges the role Foynes played during World War II. During the war years, Foynes played host to passengers whose stories and reasons for travel were varied and complex. From Allied military personnel on secret and vital missions to and from America to royalty and refugees fleeing the war-torn continent, all would have travelled through Foynes.
There is an interesting culinary side note to the history of Foynes. It was here in 1943, that restaurant chef Joe Sheridan — called back to duty to cater for the passengers of a flying boat which was forced to return to Foynes due to bad Atlantic weather — invented and served the first Irish-coffee as a drink to warm and cheer the weary passengers.
3. Adare Village
Adare Village on the banks of the River Maigue lies to the south of Limerick City. This picturesque country village has it all. Three ancient monasteries, a world-class golf course, a noble 19th-century manor house, now a luxury five-star hotel but once the home of the Earl of Dunraven and the uniqueness of the charming village architecture make Adare well worthy of a visit.
Adare’s main street — in actuality its only street — is dotted with Architectural gems. Influenced by the Normans and improved on by the Dunraven family, a stroll along the street will excite the senses. From the Desmond Castle built during the 12th century and the ruins of an Augustinian monastery dating as far back as 1316 to the tiny thatched cottages once inhabited by the Manor’s workers, now beautifully restored as gift shops, galleries and restaurants a fifteen-minute walk will reveal the beauty of this village.
2. Lough Gur
The complete history of the human race from the Stone Age to the present day can be traced in the area surrounding Lough Gur in County Limerick. Don’t worry you needn’t be either a historian or an archaeologist to enjoy this 6,000-year-old site, for all the hard work has already been done for you and laid out in a fascinating interpretive centre for your perusal.
Here you can listen to the mystical stories, view the Neolithic finds, savour Bronze and Iron Age household items and take look back at medieval life. A walk towards the lake will bring you to the mystical Grange stone circle, you will pass dolmens, see the remains of Stone Age dwellings and marvel at the development of mankind over the ages.
1. The Plassey River and the University of Limerick
Not on most ” things to do as a tourist” lists, but a short bus hop from Limerick’s city centre out the Dublin Road will bring you into the heart of Limerick’s university campus. As you walk around the leafy campus drop into some of the many faculty buildings. The University is home to the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance and also the home of the Irish Chamber Orchestra. A lucky visitor may stumble across an impromptu rehearsal session or dance performance by extremely talented student and professional musicians and dancers. Not only is the university an academic institution but is also famous for its state of the art an internationally respected sporting facilities. Each year the complex — Ireland’s largest — which consists of an Olympic sized swimming pool, numerous indoor and outdoor tracks and all-weather playing fields and tracks hosts acclaimed sports people and teams who use the training facilities. A casual walk around this area can often offer the opportunity to view many sports being practised at the highest levels.
If and when you tire from the cultural and sporting activities, take a walk over the Living Bridge — Irelands longest pedestrian bridge — which links both sides of the campus. Enjoy the relaxing views of the wooded islands which are home to a multitude of wildlife, stroll along the shaded river bank until you have retraced your steps; believe me, you’ll have enjoyed your day.