Life

Breaks: Don't overlook Limerick, a historic city that really merits a visit

Limerick City is often bypassed by tourists on the way to Cork or Kerry but those who do are missing a trick writes Barbara Collins

King John's Castle, Limerick, reflected on the River Shannon

I AM guilty of bypassing Limerick myself, having often driven past the city on the way to what I considered the more tourist-friendly destinations of Cork city and the Ring of Kerry. So, I decided to take a mid-winter mini-break with my family which included a three-month-old boy.

We wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t too far away, with good transport links and plenty to do. A hotel swimming pool was also a must. A little Googling told me that Limerick would deliver that, so off we went.

Where we stayed

The Castletroy Park Hotel is a four-star on the outskirts of the city. It is one of those places which is really popular for weddings and its spa has a very good reputation locally. It is one of the So Hotels group owned by Pat McDonagh of Supermac’s restaurants and takeaways. He knows what he is doing with that market and it turns out he also knows what he is doing with hotels.

We stayed two nights in interconnecting rooms. With the three children in tow, it meant we were able to relax ourselves when they were asleep. The bathrooms had baths and high-pressure showers and were obviously fairly newly decorated. The décor in the bedrooms was on-trend greys and blues. The mattresses were memory foam. The TVs were new and they laid on plenty of bottled water as well as the usual tea and coffee facilities. The travel cot was also new.

A pool makes a big difference when you are holidaying with children and the 20 metre one at the Castletroy Park got top marks from our eight and five-year-olds. Children’s hours are 10am to 7pm which is a lot more than some places we have been. Their dad was delighted with the steam room, sauna and jacuzzi but he wasn’t too keen on the ice bath option. Understandable.

The gym looked great, with plenty of up-to-date treadmills and exercise bikes. I tried to book a treatment in the beauty rooms but they were full up, which is a good sign.

Where we ate

A real find on this trip was the Hook and Ladder café at Castletroy Shopping Centre. This is a small chain of what they call 'Living Cafes'. If you like the teapot or chair, you can buy one. I like that concept. We had a superb lunch there. The children had proper Waterford blaas (first cousins of Belfast babs) with bacon for just €3 each. It isn’t often that you get that quality and provenance at such a good price. My sandwich with Doonbeg crab on sourdough was top notch.

The hotel does fine dining in the restaurant and brasserie-style food in the bar area. We ate in the bar both nights and had breakfast in McLaughlin’s Restaurant. We couldn’t fault the food or the service but what stood out more for us was the afternoon tea we had on arrival in the light, airy Garden Room. The place was packed with groups doing the same thing.

The sandwiches on the bottom tier were goat’s cheese and red onion marmalade, smoked salmon and cucumber, mini ham and cheese croissants and coronation chicken among others. In the middle were mini scones, choux buns and plum cake and on top they went to town with passionfruit smoothies, opera cake and a glazed lemon tart.

There was more but that’s all we could manage with the prosecco and leaf tea. The kids had their version, with ice cream in sugar cages, milkshakes, cookies, brownies, mini-scones and little sandwiches and wraps. They are still talking about it.

Things we did

Thomond Park is the home of Munster rugby; we went on a guided tour of the stadium. It took about three hours and was really well thought out.

We started in an exhibit area where the excellent tour guide explained a bit about the history of the place. There were photos, jerseys and trophies but most popular were the interactive bits like testing your reaction times and trying (pardon the pun) to score a try. It was fascinating to see what the dressing rooms were like and find out how players prepared for a match.

We walked the tunnel out on to the pitch and by the end of it; we felt we had learned a lot.

King John’s Castle is another Limerick landmark. It dates to Norman times – which means it is more than 800 years old. There is still quite a bit of it standing including part of the Great Hall, towers and a courtyard. It was raining when we visited so we didn’t go up to the battlements.

After a coffee and a scone in the café we did the tour which was mostly indoors. There were plenty of hi-tech features, like CGI animations and ghostly projections as well as costumes to try on and drawers to open. They had examples of crafts from the times of Brehon Law.

What I found most compelling was standing in the courtyard imagining what it was like when people took shelter there during the three great sieges of the castle’s history. The one in 1642 saw 800 people crammed in makeshift shelters with very little to eat or drink. The whole family agreed that the castle is well worth visiting.

Extra points for the children’s activity trail leaflet with brass rubbings and plenty of questions which sent the kids scampering around the place to find the answers.

Turns we have the Normans to thank for steak. Cows weren’t eaten before they came.

 

What we didn’t get around to

Many people associate Limerick with Frank McCourt’s book Angela’s Ashes. There is a museum dedicated to him which we just didn’t have time to get to. It is set in Leamy’s School where Frank and his brothers went. By all accounts, it is a very informative look at life in 1930s Limerick. (frankmccourtmuseum.com)

The Hunt Museum which grew from a private collection belonging to John and Gertrude Hunt, has a superb collection of art and artefacts. They include works by Picasso, Renoir and Gaugin. Their events are always interesting. I would love the children to do the Claymation one where their animation work is put on the big screen.

(huntmuseum.com)

Travel facts

:: To book the Castletroy Park Hotel call 00 353 (0)61 335566 or email Sales@castletroypark.ie; see castletroypark.ie

:: Thomond Park Stadium tours can be booked at thomondpark.ie

:: For more information on King John’s Castle and the visitor centre, see shannonheritage.com/KingJohnsCastle

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