A giant leap

Kalyani Prasher | Updated on October 10, 2014

Connections old and new: King John’s Castle by the Shannon river. Photo: Shutterstock/Patryk Kosmider

Connections old and new: Granny comes to town. Photo: Kalyani Prasher

It may be Ireland’s third largest city, but Limerick is no Dublin; hardly anyone has heard of it. Yet, this year, it’s getting all the attention it deserves

It’s not often that you get to see a city as it’s changing: evolving, almost physically, out of its drab past into, what it hopes, is a brighter future. It may be Ireland’s third largest city, but Limerick is no Dublin; hardly anyone has heard of it in India, and tourism is limited. And in parts of the world where it’s known, it’s usually known for all the wrong reasons. It wouldn’t be an injustice to say that until recently Limerick deserved its rather dire nickname, Stab City. No one went there for a weekend. Not many still do. Not yet. But this is Limerick’s year to climb back on the tourism map.

Two years ago, it was declared that Limerick would be Ireland’s City of Culture in 2014, a chance to finally shrug off its murky past. Several arty events and theatre productions were planned for the year, the largest of which would be held in the first week of September, when the French theatre group Royal de Luxe would bring their theatre and a ‘giant grandmother’ to the city’s streets. The Giant’s Journey would involve a granny tramping around town as a tourist between September 5 and 7, exploring historical sites, walking by the river and discovering things to love in Limerick.

I did that too, except, I didn’t need 20 people to help me walk and I didn’t block the traffic. To be fair, Granny was over 20ft tall and unsteady on her feet. It was a grand spectacle and a marvel of mechanical design as several ‘Lilliputians’ dressed in red swung from ropes to operate various parts of her, while she stomped through the city with her size 70 feet, gazing fondly at all who had gathered to see her — and by that I mean, close to one lakh people. Given that the population of the city is one lakh — give or take a few lazy people and a few eager tourists — I’d eat my sunglasses if there were not at least 80,000 people out on the streets with their children, cheering Granny along. Though you could get maps of the giant’s routes, you didn’t really need them — music and crowds accompanied her wherever she went, and you knew she was coming by the sheer number of people lining a street.

Instead of following in her footsteps though, I went everywhere much before Granny arrived, to avoid the crowds. Limerick is a compact city, roughly divided into old and very old; its lovely Georgian architecture made prettier by the Shannon river. On King’s Island, the older side, which you can reach in 10 minutes from the high street by walking over a bridge, stands the marvellous 12th-century St Mary’s Cathedral; the oldest structure in Limerick that is still used daily. You can spend an hour or so in the quiet of the church, admiring its spindly Gothic windows and more elaborate Romanesque doorways, photographing the stained glass... A graveyard outside is protected by shadowy trees, and from here, I could hear cheery pop music telling me that Granny was at my heels. So I beat a hasty retreat to the 13th-century King John’s Castle, where expecting to find an imposing castle (you can see its rear spread along the river from the bridge), I was somewhat disappointed to find an audio-visual-heavy, high-tech museum of sorts. I much prefer to see ruins, so I walked through the displays at a brisk pace till I came to the shop. Here I spent much longer!

Over the next two days, I explored the city’s arty side. Limerick Gallery of Art is a smallish space where you can find temporary exhibitions of modern art; Crafts Hub is where you can buy local handmade products, from soaps and notebooks to clothes. But the clear winner is Hunt Museum: with original works of Picasso, Renoir and Yeats in its eclectic collection, the bungalow that houses this private collection of art and curios should be a big draw by itself. I was at Hunt Museum when Granny left town. Children waved madly at her as she exited Limerick on her bed. For three days all the city had talked about was Granny and now she was gone, leaving Limerick with happy memories and the prospect of more visitors.

By the third day, I developed a great fondness for Limerick. Its shady past had kept it from the traveller’s path and, like the locals, I hoped that the city had finally taken a giant step into the limelight.

Travel Log

Get there: Shannon Airport is the closest (30 minutes), though you can easily drive to Limerick from Dublin as well (2 hours).

Stay: 1 Pery Square is a lovely, small boutique hotel set in a Georgian building (from €100; >oneperysquare.com). The more modern Clarion Hotel is located by the river (from €80; >clarionhotellimerick.com).

Eat: A great area to scour for meals is Georges Quay.

BL Ink Tip: Don’t bother hiring a cab in Limerick; you can easily walk everywhere

( Kalyani Prasher is a Delhi-based freelance writer)

Published on October 10, 2014

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