When I told people that Ish and I were heading to Ireland for the Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX) conference they cheered.
When I mentioned we were doing a pre-tour in Limerick – they jeered.
Limerick – unbeknownst to me when we chose it from the three pre-tours offered during the conference – has a bit of an “armpit of Ireland” reputation.
As one person mentioned to me the night before we boarded our flight to Dublin – “Remember how depressing the book “Angela’s Ashes” was? It was set in Limerick and it wasn’t an exaggeration.”
Luckily for me, I haven’t read Angela’s Ashes yet. It’s one of many books waiting for a day when I have some “free time” (Mothers feel free to laugh loudly at that one. ) and so I went into Limerick without any expectations.
And you know what I found? A fun easy-going city with people who lack pretension, love art and aren’t afraid to tell you how they feel.
In other words: I LOVED IT.
Here are just a few of the spots that made it a trip to remember:
1. Bunratty Castle and Folk Park: The castle built in 1425 has all the things you look for in a medieval fortress and living space: tiny passageways, great rooms, spiral staircases perfect for right-handed defenders (lefties would have trouble with the swing of the sword, I’m told) and holes over the doorway to drop hot oil on unwanted guests. Our trip to the castle was made even more inviting thanks to our incredible tour guide who sang, climbed into the dungeon and offered tantalizing tales during our walk. Outside the castle you’ll find a 26-acre folk park with a 19th century Irish village recreation. As you wander you’ll bump into musicians, the schoolhouse teacher and even fresh baked goods. It’s a lovely spot with or without the kids to meander a day away. Bonus: Just outside the gates is the Durty Nelly’s pub. C’mon, how can you not go into a pub with a name like that?
2. No. 1 Pery Square
We cleaned up a bit and headed out to dinner at this luxury boutique hotel and restaurant in Limerick’s Georgian Quarter. The meal at Brasserie One was incredible and when our hosts brought out some vintage period pieces for us to try on. Ish and I couldn’t resist. The hotel is quite a stunner too: Beautifully appointed rooms in both period style and more modern tastes, and in-house activities like play-readings make it a very bohemian boutique experience. Plus it has a top-rated spa. There is no doubt that on a return visit, it would be high on my list for a weekend in the area.
3. Flannery’s Pub: A major highlight for us was a chance to sit down with some of the most interesting men I’ve ever met, at one of the four Flannery’s pubs in Limerick. Michael McConnell – a friend of (now deceased) Angela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt – shared stories of what it was like growing up in this working class town and some of his favourite memories of the McCourt boys. Then Christy “punchy” O’Donnell a boxer turned poet (!!) shared some of his tales. And to wrap it all up, a limerick writing contest after some history about the poetic form and a few samples that we can’t share in pleasant company. Oh! And did I mention the Whisky tasting?!? Definitely a night for the books.
4. Everything else: From The Hunt Museum with its incredibly eclectic collection (Picassos in the kitchen; Renoir in the drawers) to the University of Limerick where we got to listen in on a Gaelic jam session to the Limerick City Gallery of Art’s profound labour exhibits and a greeting from the mayor at St. John’s Castle. Every stop on our tour offered even more insight into the depth of talent lying just beneath the surface of this area.
Every moment of our three days in Limerick offered up new opportunities to laugh and learn. Pretty much all you’d hope for in a destination.
What I loved most about Limerick? It isn’t trying to be anything more than the best of itself. And judging by the smiles on the faces of my traveling companions, that is more than enough.
Note: Limerick has been named the 2014 Irish City of Culture making next year an even better time to go and check it out yourself.