1 The golden age of aviation at Foynes
Flying boats skating into a small town on the Shannon estuary mightn’t sound the most promising basis for a museum. Stepping inside the Flying Boat Museum at Foynes, however, we’re wrapped up in a wonderfully nostalgic take on transatlantic travel. Forget cattle class and baggage fees. Passengers at Foynes in the 1940s included JFK, Hemingway and Bogart. They took off along flare paths lit in the river, were looked after by dashing pilots and air hostesses, and woke up to find their shoes freshly polished. “This was a mini-Casablanca,” says Margaret O’Shaughnessy, taking us on a tour. While the kids launch themselves into the flight simulators, I pick my way through beautiful displays of cabin staff uniforms, label pins and old Marconi equipment. The pièce de résistance is a full-scale Boeing 314 replica. “Michael O’Leary would want to come down and have a look at it,” Maureen quips. Just 32 passengers were accommodated on transatlantic flights, and two could even stay in a purposebuilt honeymoon suite.
Details: 069 65416; foynesflyingboatmuseum.com €25 for a family of six.
2 A quick dip into Limerick University
Limerick University isn’t an obvious tourist hotspot, but we get great mileage from a whizz around the campus. Riverside walks, the National Self-Portrait Gallery and the 50m pool where Gráinne Murphy and other Irish Olympians swim are all open to the public. We start with a stroll across the Living Bridge — a white arc curving across the Shannon to link counties Limerick and Clare. We wonder about its name, until a throng of joggers thunders past, wobbling the lighter sections beneath our feet. It feels weird, and strangely thrilling. Next stop is the University Arena, where we swim in the Olympic-sized pool. Not only can you do this at the same time as Ireland’s Olympians, I’m amazed to learn, but Munster use the cardiofitness facilities — so a work-out could lead to a chance encounter with Paul O’Connell! The final highlight is the Hartmann Collection — an exhibition of memorabilia given to physio Gerard Hartmann by athletes he has treated, including a medal from Sonia O’Sullivan, a shoe from Haile Gebrselassie and a vest signed by Usain Bolt at Beijing 2008. I’m in sports nerd heaven.
Details: €7/€3.50. Tel: 061 213555; universityarena.com.
3 The great outdoors at Curragh Chase
Driving the N69 Shannon estuary route, we break the journey at Curragh Chase Forest Park in Kilcornan. It turns out to be spot-on for a family stop. Parking by the picnic tables, we’re soon monkeying about on a tyre-swing in the playground, walking a 1km loop around the reed-fringed lakes, and feeding bread to swans from a little wooden bridge. Afterwards, we mosey up to explore an old house perched on a hill. The building was the birthplace of poet Sir Aubrey de Vere, but walking the kids around its spooky perimeter, we come up with a better story. It stars Esmeralda Julie, a fairy dressmaker who made ballgowns here before a witch put a spell on her house, turning the windows to stone. It’s worth walking up to the house, for the lovely views over the lakes below. You can bring the bikes, too — Curragh Chase also has a short, family-friendly cycling trail.
Details: coillteoutdoors.ie; parking €5 (coin-operated barrier).
4 Ashes to ashes in Limerick City
“I felt the building was very special,” Una Heaton says, welcoming me into the broody, Tudor-style Leamy House on Hartstronge Street. “We had it as a gallery, but that didn’t work out, so I gradually moved in a desk, some school materials, and people started coming.” The method to her madness lies in Angela’s Ashes — Frank McCourt’s novel about an impoverished childhood in Limerick. Una knew Frank, and has slowly turned Leamy House into a museum in his honour — including a reconstructed schoolroom, bedroom (the famed ‘Little Italy’) and kitchen, complete with a model of Angela smoking a Woodbine by the fire. It’s a quirky place, with artefacts such as chamber pots and school desks sitting alongside props from Alan Parker’s 1999 movie, and random donations, such as the 1960s journal of a former pupil. Looking down from a height, there’s even a capsule containing some of Frank’s ashes. Afterwards, Noel Curtin (087 235-1339) takes me on an Angela’s Ashes walking tour, including Pery Square, WJ South’s pub, the post office where McCourt worked as a telegraph boy and Barack Hill, which the loose pram famously rolled down, coming to a halt inside the door of a pub. Details: 061 319710; frankmccourtmuseum.com; €3/€1.
5 Overnight at the Old Bank B&B, Bruff
One day, Miriam Sadlier-Barry and her husband Pat were sitting outside a pub in Bruff. They had bought the period bank building on Main Street, and were wondering what to do with it. Just then, a couple pulled up on a Harley-Davidson. “Any B&B in the town?” they asked. Three years later, the old bank has become the Old Bank B&B. Bedrooms are covered in pine, splashed with scatter cushions, and fitted with Jacuzzi baths. Patrick has built fourposters for the superiors. But the old building’s atmosphere hasn’t been lost. An open fire burns in the library, guests eat breakfast where bank tellers once worked, and a ladies loo has even been shoe-horned into the original bank vault. You’ll know it by the sign on the door: “Deposits”. Miriam is in her mid-30s, and soon to be a mother of four. Whether cooking eggs with bacon from the Croom butcher shop where Pat works, or showing guests to the dry room where they can hang their gear after a walk in Lough Gur, however, she loves her busy life. She’s happy to help with itineraries too — for travel in Kilmallock, the Ballyhoura Mountains, or throughout Co Limerick.
Details: 061 389969; theoldbank.ie; B&B from €35pp.
6 Italian foodies at La Cucina
It’s 6.30pm, and we’re not the only ones making the pilgrimage to a small Italian eatery beside the Spar on Castletroy’s University Court. We arrive to find a line out the door at La Cucina, Lorraine Fanneran and Bruno Coppola’s cheap and cheerful foodie phenomenon. One reason for the queue is that the place is so small (20 or so diners can be seated, at a stretch). Another is that La Cucina doesn’t take bookings. But the main reason is the food, an ultra- affordable and seriously tasty menu of authentic Italian pastas, pizzas and salads. My highlight is a bowl of farfalle pasta, Ummera smoked chicken and rocket served with a zingy lemon and mint dressing. It costs just €8.95. The kids share a thinbased pizza with milky mozzarella, salami and black olives for €12. An antipasti board comes laden with succulent meats and smoked Scamorza cheese for €6. A sundried tomato pesto is sensational. As we eat, a steady procession of punters files in to avail of La Cucina’s takeaway menu. It’s invigorating to see a young couple doing so well in this unlikely location. Dinner for four costs €50. Details: 061 333980; facebook.com/lacucina
7 A mosey around the Milk Market
Despite its flourish of Noughties development, Limerick remains a tale of two cities. For every Thomond Park or No.1 Pery Square, there’s a grubby Georgian Crescent, or a sad-looking, shut-down old boat house perched on Sarsfield Lock overlooking the Shannon. One nexus combines the best of both worlds, however: the city’s marvellous Milk Market. Rejuvenated under a thumping new canopy, it is a contemporary space, serving up a smorgasbord of fresh breads, cheeses, salamis, fudge, pies and coffee. Outside, however, the inner-city streets feel just like they always did — with stalls and vans with everything from hens and rabbits to porcelain dolls, chainsaws and jump leads. It keeps the whole thing from being too sundriedtomatoey, and is a brilliant browse.
All prices are calculated per person, and include one night’s accommodation, two meals (breakfast and lunch/dinner) and all activities. We’ve allowed €10 for transport within the city. NB: Prices were correct when going to press, but are always subject to change and availability.