One of Ireland’s hidden treasures is the city of Limerick, often overlooked for its lack of grit.
A cool wind from the Atlantic blows through the estuary, causing the leaves of young lime trees to rustle by the Treaty Stone. This stone marks the end of the Williamite war in 1691. In the distance, a seven-arch bridge made of limestone stretches over the Shannon River, leading to the impressive King John’s Castle. On the right, the quays and streets of Limerick City are bustling with new establishments such as bars, hotels, and restaurants. This is a stark contrast to the damp and smoky city described in Frank McCourt’s book, Angela’s Ashes.
McCourt’s award-winning memoir from 1996 is not the only written work that is disconnected from the modern-day Treaty City. Recently, Forbes retracted an article from 2021 that did not meet their editorial standards. The article was a profile piece on John and Patrick Collison, who founded the financial software company Stripe and grew up near Limerick. The article portrayed Limerick as a rough and lawless town. This perception may have been influenced by the city’s reputation in Irish media, which has unfairly depicted it as a hub for crime, even though the criminal family feud that plagued the city ended decades ago.
For a considerable period, Limerick has been experiencing similar low levels of crime as other urban areas like Cork and Galway. However, in terms of appearance, Limerick is quite enchanting. Its riverfront boasts a stunning display of Irish architectural styles throughout history. Moving from the medieval section in the north, the city transitions into modern glass structures and rows of charming Georgian townhouses. The waterways have been taken over by cozy cafes, adding to the city’s charm. The main streets and quays are easily traversed on foot or bicycle.
Despite the city’s constant state of rejuvenation, the past remains comfortably present. For centuries, Limerick has been greeted on Sundays by the chiming bells of St Mary’s Cathedral. Every Saturday morning, the city gathers at the Milk Market, winding through narrow lanes under a vast canopy, to peruse the offerings of artisan food producers. By noon, the aroma of coffee fills the air and a line has formed at David Jackson’s Flying Cheese Brigade stall, featuring locally sourced organic brands such as the aromatic and tangy St Tola cheese, as well as unique international varieties.
Nancy Blake’s pub, owned by Donal Mulcahy, stands in front of the market and maintains the same nostalgic atmosphere that it had when Nancy, Donal’s mother, ran it. Stepping inside feels like entering a 19th-century lantern-lit parlor, complete with a cozy glow from the cast-iron fireplace. At the back is a brick and lean-to beer garden, affectionately known as the Outback, where many nights end with the sound of a saxophone and a shot of tequila. A 15-minute stroll leads to Dolan’s, another popular spot for late-night entertainment featuring traditional Irish music, rock, and standup comedy.
This city supports the performing arts and has produced notable figures such as the Cranberries, Terry Wogan, and actors Ruth Negga and Richard Harris. The Belltable theatre on O’Connell Street and the Lime Tree theatre feature unique productions, while the University Concert Hall hosts well-known acts.
However, it is sports, regardless of the type, that deeply resonates with this city. Limerick GAA has been incredibly successful in the national sport of hurling and holds the title of all-Ireland champions. The imposing structures of Thomond Park Stadium, which is the home of Munster Rugby, Shannon RFC, and UL Bohemians RFC, as well as the newly built International Rugby Experience in the city center, tower over the surrounding buildings.
In the evenings, people often choose which pub to go to based on which sports team they support. Fans of Shannon RFC typically gather at Jerry Flannery’s Bar, a popular spot for sports and whiskey, owned by the former Irish rugby player. A few blocks down a busy side street, Myles Breen’s Bar has been serving ale from its wooden counter for over 200 years, making it a long-standing hub for rugby fans. Right next door is the old Stella Bingo hall, which has a green plaque on its front indicating that the band U2 first performed there as a four-piece group.
To get a flavour of the region’s cuisine, Derek Fitzpatrick’s East Room, in a white Palladian mansion next to the university, offers a tasting menu with vegetables and herbs foraged locally and wild game or halibut, scallops and crab.
Yet Limerick at its dining best is more casual, unhurried, sustainable. Siblings Hazel and Joe Murphy operate The Buttery on Bedford Row, which is a comfort food stop with a catchy all-day brunch menu. It’s a stone’s throw from the department store Brown Thomas and the country’s largest independent book store, O’Mahony’s, which has been owned by the same family since 1902. Canteen on Catherine Street also serves daytime food. Chef-owner Paul Williams offers simple organic fare with traceable local ingredients, such as fish tacos or duck and sweet onion on flatbread.
George’s Quay is a charming, well-lit alleyway that overlooks a canal near the Hunt Museum and Treaty City Brewery. The popular gastropub, Locke bar, can be found here, offering outdoor seating on a beautiful cobbled path lined with trees. This picturesque location is rivaled only by the Curragower bar and restaurant, which boasts a stunning view of King John’s Castle reflecting on the Shannon River. Located on Clancy Strand, close to the Treaty Stone, this spot is perfect for enjoying an evening with a pint of pale ale and a delicious seafood pie while taking in the best view in town.
Where to stay The city centre Strand Hotel has doubles from €124 room-only, and the Savoy Hotel has doubles from €190 room-only