“That’s Limerick City!” … isn’t it?

Orla Keaveney offers an insight into the best of an often ridiculed and under-appreciated cultural hub in the West of Ireland[br]AS A LIMERICK native, I have developed a fairly thick skin when it comes to my hometown’s less-than-stellar reputation. Sure, most people associate us with the dulcet tones and sophisticated fashion sense of the Rubberbandits, but we’re just grateful that nobody calls it “Stab City” anymore. Limerick may not be glamorous, but us locals have learned to appreciate its authentic, if somewhat gritty, vibe.However, that’s not to say we don’t have some pride in our corner of the country. During a drawn-out airport layover, I looked up my hometown in Irish guide books, and the only one that bothered to mention Limerick simply left it at “bypass this town if possible”. Now, I have no illusions about how Limerick compares with its more picturesque neighbours in Adare, Bunratty and Ennis, who work hard to live up to romanticised expectations of the Emerald Isle. But after seeing the place where I was born and raised dismissed as an insignificant blot on the landscape, I have become determined to prove that Limerick is worth a visit in its own right.With that in mind, here’s a distilled guide to the best Limerick has to offer. Whether you’re looking for a cheap mini-break without the hassle of a Ryanair flight, offering your condolences to UL students who missed out on a course in UCD, or simply curious to see if we really keep a horse outside during weddings, don’t rule out Limerick until you’ve had a look at its diamonds in the rough.If you ask a local in Limerick what the city’s main attraction is, after a short and confused pause (we’re really not used to dealing with visitors), the response will most likely be King John’s Castle. Perched impressively over the River Shannon, the castle has recently been dolled up after a multi-million-euro investment.The curators may have overestimated the public’s interest in medieval warfare, but once you make it to the courtyard, you really get your money’s worth (although the €6.65 student rate is reasonable). The imposing 800-year-old fortress is the perfect place for Game of Thrones-style photos, plus the view from the tower is breath-taking: the silhouettes of Saint Mary’s Cathedral and Thomond Park are particularly striking.dsc_1023Like anywhere else in Ireland, Limerick is susceptible to the occasional Irish downpour. Luckily, the famous Milk Market has a giant canopy so you can explore its stalls while waiting for the rain to pass off. The products are a mixture of bargains, artisan handcrafts and everything in between. You can get anything from Nutella crepes, to cheap vinyls, to handmade sweets, or even counterfeit Beats headphones. The sausage butties are a particular favourite. If high-street brands are more your style, though, the market is only a short walk from Arthur’s Quay shopping centre and the old reliables like Penneys, Schuh, River Island and Brown Thomas.If you are looking for somewhere with a bit more character, you can always catch some live music at Dolan’s Warehouse, which has five large music venues including a pub. Known for hosting a wide range of local and international performers, there’s always something new to see — upcoming acts include Hudson Taylor, The Riptide Movement, Keywest and Lisa Hannigan.Limerick has most of the international restaurant franchises, but if you’re looking for something unique to the area, there is still plenty to choose from. Cheap-and-cheerful Chinese Wokking is a firm student favourite. If you’re looking for something a bit classier, both the Hunt Museum and Limerick City Gallery of Art have great lunch menus, plus you can give your significant other the impression that you are a sophisticated patron of the arts while chomping on a densely chocolate-y cupcake. For dinner, Freddy’s Bistro, Japanese Taikichi and Texas Steakout are all safe bets, though La Piccola Pizzeria is something of a hidden gem, housing the best Italian food in the city.Although Limerick’s Colbert Station has regular trains to and from Heuston, the station’s location isn’t exactly the most welcoming part of the city, to put it delicately. You are much better off taking the Dublin Coach, fondly referred to as “the green bus” by Limerick natives. Not only is this bus cheaper at €10 each way, it also drops you right in the heart of the city, O’Connell Street (yes, we have one too — though for the record, ours is the original).If you come on a sunny day, I would strongly recommend a cycle along the boardwalk on a Coke Zero bike, though it’s a pleasant jaunt by foot too. Architecture students might also get a kick out of the gorgeous Georgian architecture close to Pery Square, though try not to focus on the not-so-postcard-worthy shop fronts of William Street.So next time you’ve a few days free, please bear in mind that modern Limerick has come a long way from the days of Angela’s Ashes. Forget the stereotypes, leave your shopping bag-balaclava behind and come find out for yourself what the Rubberbandits really mean when they say, “That’s Limerick City!”