Limerick has a picturesque location on the River Shannon, roughly halfway between Cork and Galway. It is still an underrated travel destination, often overlooked by the millions of tourists who spend their Ireland holidays in well-known spots like Dublin and Killarney.
King John's Castle © Santiperez
Limerick was originally conquered by the Vikings in the 10th century, and was established as an early base for the Christian church. Several structures, including St Mary's Cathedral and the Trinitarian Abbey in the Medieval Heritage Precinct, date back as far as the 12th century. King John's Castle and Cathedral are also popular sights, as is the Treaty Stone on Thomond Bridge, commemorating a peace agreement between William of Orange and the Jacobites in 1691.
Limerick endured much economic hardship in the 20th century, and though gleaming buildings are added to the skyline every few years, the city has difficulty removing itself from the images of crime and poverty associated with Frank McCourt's best-selling novel Angela's Ashes. Even today, the crime rate in Limerick is higher than most other Irish cities.
Even through these hardships, Limerick is a lively city with a serious love of both sport and the arts. Visitors can catch a Munster Rugby match at Thomond Park, then eat and drink at any of the city's dozens of restaurants, bars and pubs. On weekends, the Milk Market and Potato Market offer the chance to buy just about anything from books and antiques, to local arts, crafts and fresh food.
In contrast with the city, the surrounding Limerick County is a rolling landscape of pretty farmland, with the winding River Shannon curling around picture-perfect villages like Adare and the seaside resort of Kilkee.
AdareNestled in a wooded landscape among the picturesque farmlands of the Golden Vale, Adare is known as one of the prettiest villages in Ireland. It is conveniently located just ten miles (16km) from Limerick City, and connected to many other Irish towns by bus. The small village is centred on a street of thatched Tudor-style cottages and hedges, surrounded by intriguing medieval churches and castle ruins. Attractions include Desmond Castle, the Trinitarian Abbey, the Augustinian Priory, and the Franciscan Friary. A visit to the Adare Heritage Centre is a must for anyone interested in the rich history of this town, which dates back to the Norman conquest of Ireland. The exhibitions offer some good contextual information on the churches and abbeys to be visited in the area, and the information is available in five different languages. Adare is within easy distance of three golf courses, and the town has a good selection of restaurants, pubs and craft shops. Adare's Old Creamery is a hit with visitors searching out quality tea and treats, and the shop's Christmas and Halloween-themed merchandise is pretty entertaining. For a bit of fresh air and some insight into Celtic worship, visitors can stroll around the lovely Celtic Park gardens.
KilkeeKilkee has its roots as an exclusive Victorian seaside resort for wealthy merchant families. It's known for the beautiful sandy beach that now draws families from all over the UK. In its heyday, Kilkee attracted some famous people. Charlotte Bronte spent her honeymoon in the little village, and Lord Tennyson also came holidaying. The beach is great for swimming and is protected by a reef, which tends to ensure calm waters in the bay. In fact, it is said to be one of the safest beaches in Ireland. It's a popular diving spot, and offers several picturesque swimming areas, including a formation of natural rock pools called the Pollock Holes. It's also a well-loved sailing and boating destination. If the weather isn't kind, visitors can still have some fun at Kilkee Waterworld. Kilkee has land-based attractions and activities as well, including a golf course and a number of restaurants and bars in town. Kilkee gets busy in late June each year, when it hosts the Hell of the West Triathlon. In fact, the seaside village is busy for most of the summer season.
Website: www.kilkee.ie; Transport: There is a regular bus service to Kilkee from Kilrush, Ennis and Limerick.
Lough GurLough Gur is a lake situated less than 14 miles (23km) south east of Limerick. Although the area's lovely scenery provides enough reason to visit, its remarkable archaeological remains are the main attraction. Lough Gur has been inhabited by humans since about 3000 BC, and the extensive remains make it one of Ireland's most important archaeological sites. There are relics from the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Early Christian civilisations, as well as Medieval ruins all in one area. These show that Lough Gur has been continuously inhabited for at least 5,500 years. The Grange stone circle near the lake is the largest in Ireland and is seen by locals as a place of mystic power, similar to Stone Henge. There are also grave sites, a dolmen (rock monument), crannogs (artificial islands) and some ring forts. The site contains a Heritage Centre with exhibitions on Lough Gur's history. They detail the significance of the archaeological remains, and bring the place to life in the imagination. However, the best way to explore the area is on a walking tour with one of the very well-informed guides. Visitors can also take self-guided audio tours. There are lovely picnic areas and walking trails to enjoy, and a small shop that sells snacks and refreshments.
Website: www.loughgur.com; Telephone: +353 61 385186 ; Opening time: Summer: Monday to Friday: 10am-5pm Saturday and Sunday: 12pm-6pm Winter: Daily: 12pm-4pm; Admission: Adults €5, Children €3.