Having crossed the country yesterday evening, to spend the weekend in my hometown of Limerick, I was a man on a mission today.
I wanted to explore some more of the city in which I grew up, but knew very little about (we grew up slightly out of town so excluding occasional trips with the parents, we stayed rather local to our own neighbourhood).
My first point of call was the Thomond Rugby Stadium. It’s a flashy new stadium that I have been to once previously – to see a Bruce Springsteen concert in the year 2013. However as its name suggests, its main purpose is as a sports venue.
Limerick as a city is absolutely obsessed with rugby. In fact it is the home of Irish rugby (despite what some posh boys in Dublin might say). Now it is true that I have feelings for certain burly gentlemen who play the sport, but the sport itself, I tend to disregard. People chasing a ball is incredibly exciting for some people. Not for me. Perhaps I am missing the rugby gene, as both my parents are from Cork, so hurling was more a feature of my youth.
Well the rugby stadium has a museum dedicated to Munster rugby. I am a cultured person. And this was a museum that I had never visited. I really ought to go. I might learn something.
However as there was no match on this weekend, the museum was shut.
Fantastic! My intentions were noble, but if my mission to learn all about this sport was to be thwarted in this manner – well who was I to complain.
Onward to town. The previous day at work I had done some investigation on walking trails in the city. The most heavily promoted was the canal side walk out to the Shannon river, and then on to the University. I had done this one already, on a recent visit home. I was in search of new experiences. That option was eliminated.
The internet told me that there was a pleasant riverside walk on the King’s Island in Limerick. I was slightly dubious. Granted this is the medieval section of the city, where King John’s Castle and St. Mary’s Cathedral are located, but this was not what was being advertised.
Across the road from the castle – and also on The Island (as it is known in Limerick) is a 1930s housing estate called St. Mary’s Park. I’m sure the people living there are pleasant, but it doesn’t strike me as a tourist destination. Housing estates are not generally known for their beauty.
I quelled my doubt and went exploring. What a revelation – there are some very beautiful historical buildings across from the castle – I had seem them before of course, but had no idea what they were. The Masonic Lodge of Limerick is an 18th century stonework building that is under renovation and is to be reopened as a museum. The Bishop’s Palace houses the Civic Trust which is responsible (I think) for the maintenance of old Limerick. St Munchin’s Church (which is a different one to the catholic parish church across the river, which is my mother’s parish church) is currently under the remit of the civic trust. As is the Villiers Alms House.
Along with the castle and the cathedral, Limerick has a deeply impressive old town. I’ve said it before. This area needs to be spruced up and made welcoming to tourists. Limerick has a far more beautiful old / medieval town centre than any other city in Ireland. It seems so hidden. It shouldn’t be – it’s a gem.
I finally discovered the nature trail which ran alongside the Shannon river. The views were pretty, but the whole walkway seemed slightly unkempt and neglected, with quite a bit of rubbish strewn about. Nature however, had thoughtfully left ripe blackberries growing along the hedgerows, so I had a little binge. People I encountered on the way back may have thought that I was partaking of some red wine quite early in the day.
I returned, past the cathedral, crossed the bridge as I left the Island for the new city centre (which is Georgian in origin.)
My destination was the Milk Market. This is a Limerick icon. It’s a walled outdoor market where all sorts of food goodness can be purchased every Friday to Sunday. Some years ago a triangular awning was erected over the market, meaning that while it remains an outdoor market you are sheltered from the rain. This is Ireland. It is an eminently practical additional feature.
My stand-up lunch was a ‘gallette Philippe’ from the Bon Appetit creperie in the market (French food no less. All I can say to that is ‘Notions’. It was delicious).
I had a quick look around the market gallery – which currently runs an exhibition called ‘Pigtown’. ‘Pigtown’ is an old nickname for Limerick when it was the headquarter of the Irish pork trade. Some interesting pictures and artefacts were on display.
After lunch I realised that I had been walking for three hours. I needed a rest. I repaired to Chez Le Fab in Arthur’s Quay Park for a coffee and a granola square. Chez Le Fab is an art cafe and wine bar holds a weekly market of record and books.
There was a band setting up in the corner – this cafe has evening gigs on occasion. I glanced over at the singer.
‘I know him’ I thought to myself.
Well I don’t know him – but when I returned to Ireland in 2015 I had seen him perform in another coffee shop in town. The group is called ‘Anna’s Anchor’. They are rather good. Go see them if you can.
Hometown glory. A very pleasant afternoon.