Ed Leahy combines food, sport, culture and history on his break in the Treaty City.

During the latter stages of Ireland's War of Independence, a foreign merchant ship sailed up the Shannon Estuary to deliver a consignment of goods to Limerick City.

Custom dictated that such a ship had to fly the flag of the country from which it was departing, however, in a show of solidarity with the fighting Irish, no Union Jack was flown, and on departure from the banks of the Shannon, a Tricolour was procured and proudly hoisted.

Taking umbrage, the Black and Tans boarded the boat and met the ire of a certain West African who was working as a fitter on said ship.

Two 'soldier' stabbings later and the cells of Limerick were to become the new home for the unlikely freedom fighter for the foreseeable future.

And now sitting in sunshine, in a café on the banks of the broad majestic Shannon, I was enjoying an excellent lunch, complemented by an unspoilt view across the water to the impressive King John's Castle.

The café in question is a recent and very welcome addition to Limerick's growing gastronomic reputation and also bears the name of that fighting fitter, Jack Monday.

The rest of the remarkable Monday scéal can be read on the insert of the café's excellent menu, and it also involves a name change whereby Mr Monday was later to be known as Seán de Luain.

The coffee stop coincided with the completion of the equally entertaining Limerick Walking Tour, which proved the perfect introduction to an often forgotten city on Ireland's tourist trail.

The tour took me on an hour-long stroll about medieval Limerick to King John's Castle, St Mary's Cathedral, past the 1916 Memorial and across Sarsfield Bridge, along the riverside to finish at the stone that gives its name to this historical Treaty City.

The base of the Treaty Stone offers a brief timeline of the history of this battle-weary city, while another riverside monument remembers those Wild Geese forced to flee their homeland. This was Ireland's loss but continental Europe's gain, where fine wines (Lynch) and brandies (Hennessy) would carry the name of the fleeing families into the future.

The tour also takes you past a larger than life statue of Limerick's favourite son, Richard Harris, the birthplace of world-renowned opera singer Catherine Hayes and the statue of the Bard of Thomond, Michael Hogan, who was famous for lampooning local politicians and priests through poetry.

Back on the culture trail for the afternoon and I headed straight for the Hunt Museum, which was exhibiting Gerry Andrews' Shaped by History, photographs from Limerick during the 1970s.

The photographs of the people and the places around Limerick make Angela's Ashes read like a fairytale as the harsh reality and struggle of the time really hit home.

The Hunt Museum also exhibits one of Ireland's greatest private collections of art and antiquities.

For the remainder of the afternoon, I set out on a self-paced tour throughout the city's Georgian quarter.

As a Dubliner, it is the ultimate compliment when I say that I immediately felt at home as I rambled up through Georgian Limerick.

It could so easily have been Mountjoy or Merrion Square as I walked past the Limerick City Gallery of Art and the Georgian House and Garden on Pery Square.

And, like Dublin, this Georgian quarter was subject to squalor, and home to another of Limerick's most loved sons, Frank McCourt, author of the aforementioned Angela's Ashes.

The Frank McCourt Museum now resides at Leamy's School, just off Pery Square, which is the former school of the McCourt brothers (Frank's brother Malachy is also an author and actor of note), and pays homage to the Angela's Ashes novel with a replica classroom and a recreation of the McCourt living space included in the tour.

There are also many editions of the novel in various guises as the book sold millions of copies worldwide and was translated into 25 different languages, not to mention the adaptation for the big screen. The latest incarnation is Angela's Ashes: A Musical, but I cannot say that I have had the pleasure.

Staying in the Georgian Quarter, a fine dinner was enjoyed at No 1 Pery Square's Brasserie One restaurant.

The restaurant's à la carte menu is inspired by French cuisine, while using the best of Irish artisan produce available. I sampled an excellent goat's cheese and beetroot tart, followed by a sumptuous beef bourguignon and complementing French red, selected from the award-winning wine list.

The cosy hotel bar adjacent to the hotel reception proved a fitting finale to the opening act of my 48 Hours in Limerick City sojourn.

Day Two
Limerick is a sports mad city and such was the theme for the following 24 hours.

So what better way to kick-off the experience than an extreme speedboat trip exploring the Shannon Estuary?

The Shannon Estuary RIB Tours boat is a custom-made eight-metre RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) with seating for 10 people. The tour takes you out along the estuary to experience magnificent panoramas of the Clare and Limerick coastline, the Famous Glin Castle, Tarbert Lighthouse and the monastic settlement of Scattery Island.

Back on terra firma and off for lunch in the famous Milk Market, which has been operating for over 150 years. Similar to Cork's English Market, the Milk Market is a treat for foodie folk, with some amazing local and international produce on display, while a plethora of hot food stalls provide an exceptional lunch, all enjoyed to a traditional music soundtrack echoing about the canopy-covered courtyard.

Some bad planning on my own part resulted in me missing out on one of the ultimate Limerick experiences, which is to enjoy a rugby match at a packed Thomond Park.

Rugby remains the king of sports in these parts and there is rarely a spare ticket to be had when it's a Heineken Cup weekend or, better still, when the Leinster mob are in town.

But a visit to the recently renovated Thomond Park stadium is a must for any sports fan visiting the city. Just a 15-minute stroll back across the river, Thomond Park offers tours of the fine stadium, which takes you into the inner sanctum of fortress Munster.

The tour allows you to visit the home and away changing rooms and you also get to walk out through the tunnel onto the famous Thomond turf, accompanied by a recording of the crowd, in an attempt to recreate what the players hear on match-day.

An interactive museum makes it the ideal place to bring any rugby-mad children (young or old), and some amazing memorabilia is on show, including famous players' jerseys and replica trophies. Thankfully Donncha O'Callaghan's, now infamous, red underpants have yet to make an appearance.

To continue the sporting theme, take a spin out to the exceptional sporting facilities at the University of Limerick or enjoy a spot of kayaking or canoeing along the Shannon.

The rapids in the city centre stretch of the river provide an excellent training ground for experienced canoeists, while the odd surfer has managed to take on the challenging currents under the shadow of King John's Castle.

And what better way to round off my two days in Limerick City than to enjoy a night at the dogs at Limerick Greyhound Stadium?

Arriving early ahead of the 10-race card, the Leger Restaurant provided first class views overlooking the finish line, with a superb menu, friendly service and tote bookies who will come to your table between every race to take your bets.

You'll be having such a good night out that you won't even realise that you have lost all your money by the end of it.

Actually, my betting balance would have proved quite profitable if I had restricted my action to the Limerick race-card, while several diners in the vicinity of my table enjoyed some substantial Saturday night spending money thanks to the Trio jackpots on offer.

Back into town and still plenty of time to enjoy a sporting pub-crawl through the city's hotspots.

Former Ireland rugby players Jerry Flannery and Peter Clohessy both own bars in the city, while the Locke Bar (vague rugby positional reference) offers quality traditional music and Nancy Blakes (no sporting connection whatsoever) is without doubt one of the city's finest traditional establishments.

A great night out in this lively and vibrant city centre provided the perfect ending to my two-day stint in Limerick. And while there wasn't even the hint of malice about the city centre's pubs and clubs, many of these rugby revellers ended up in the Sin Bin.

Where to Stay
I spent two very enjoyable nights in the heart of Georgian Limerick, staying at the stylish No 1 Pery Square. The hotel has been fully restored, with all its original architectural features expertly reinstated in precise detail. A contemporary wing gives the hotel a modern touch and houses some of the 20 bedrooms, which boast great views of neighbouring Georgian buildings and the People's Park. The Spa @ No 1 provides an excellent urban escape and uses Voya products, which is an Irish organic range. And the food options at the hotel are excellent, from cooked-to-order breakfasts, afternoon tea and the excellent Brasserie One restaurant. www.oneperysquare.com

For more information about Limerick City, visit: www.discoverireland.ie/Limerick.

Useful Links
www.limerickwalkingtours.com
www.huntmuseum.com
www.frankmccourtmuseum.com
www.thomondpark.ie
www.ribtours.ie
www.milkmarketlimerick.ie
www.igb.ie/Limerick
www.ul.ie/ul-campus/sports

Ed Leahy

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