Squarely on the path of
all the major routes across the country, and situated pretty
much at the head of the Shannon estuary, the city of LIMERICK
seems a logical place to make for, but it's a disappointment.
Though it's the Republic's third city, and heavily industrialized,
it somehow falls significantly short of being a metropolis, yet
also lacks the attractions of a typically relaxed western seaboard
town. Unemployment and economic hard times have left their mark,
it doesn't always seem a friendly place and certain areas can
feel positively intimidating at night. Even so, recent efforts
to clean up Limerick's image are starting to pay off. On a fine
day the area around King John's Castle affords some sense of
the city's medieval history and the Georgian Custom House is
home to the excellent Hunt
Museum - reason
alone enough to give Limerick some time.
The city is famous too
as the setting for Frank McCourt's international best-seller
Angela's Ashes - a memoir which received a mixed reception locally
for its portrayal of a Limerick childhood of grinding poverty.
Lively walking tours are proving increasingly popular with tourists
wanting to tap into the experiences at the heart of the book,
and it seems likely that the reconstructed heritage slum will
be a similar draw.
The city you see today
is predominantly Georgian, but nevertheless Limerick has three
distinct historical areas: Englishtown , the oldest part of the
city, built on an island in the Shannon with the castle as its
focal point; Irishtown , which began to take shape in the thirteenth
and fourteenth centuries; and within this Newtown Pery , the
modern centre, a jumble of beautiful but rather dilapidated Georgian
terraces and garish fast-food joints.
The sometimes incongruous
blend of old and new in Limerick is testimony to a city discovering
itself after years of neglect. Renovations and new building programmes
stand alongside buildings - and indeed whole districts - that
seem barely touched by the last fifty years. The best views of
the city are to be had walking along the banks of the Shannon,
especially around Arthur's Quay and the City Hall, or alternatively
from the top of King John's Castle. Although virtually all the
sights are in the old parts, Englishtown and Irishtown , the
modern centre of the city is Newtown Pery - where the shops,
pubs and restaurants congregate - an area of broad parallel streets
scattered with fine, if neglected, Georgian buildings. O'Connell
Street is the chief artery of this part of the city, and it's
worth wandering down here, checking out the side streets with
their characterful pubs and shops. Getting around the centre
is easiest on foot.