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Escape: Limerick fairytale

Suzanna Kane heads to lovely Limerick for a staycation with her family, and finds there is beauty and magic beyond the Pale

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Magical: Oisín and Hannah enjoying the Terra Nova Fairy Garden

Magical: Oisín and Hannah enjoying the Terra Nova Fairy Garden

Hannah at the Terra Nova Fairy Garden

Hannah at the Terra Nova Fairy Garden

Service with a smile: Oisín and Hannah

Service with a smile: Oisín and Hannah

Oisín at the castle

Oisín at the castle

Oisín at King John’s Castle

Oisín at King John’s Castle

Fabulous views: Joey, Oisín, Hannah & Suzanne at King John’s Castle

Fabulous views: Joey, Oisín, Hannah & Suzanne at King John’s Castle

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Magical: Oisín and Hannah enjoying the Terra Nova Fairy Garden

Let's start with a full disclaimer, shall we? When they mention Dublin fans who don't travel, I fall into that category, and that stretches as far as not following my county team beyond Croker. I'm a Dub that doesn't go too far past the boundaries of the Pale.

So when this pandemic swept across the land, along with heartache and anxiety, it also brought the excitement of heading out to experience adventures across our beautiful country.

It's been too long since I travelled the road from Dublin to Limerick as teenager when I headed to a camogie féile, full of hope and excitement. We were out-hurled the whole weekend: it was as if each and every girl down there was born with a hurl in their hands. It quickly softened our navy and sky-blue cough, but sitting at the side of the pitch, eating our lunch made by the mam in our host family's house, we all felt very content. The warmth of the locals always stayed with me.

So here I am, a parent of two, Oisín (5) and Hannah (3), heading out on the road for our Limerick staycation 2020. We've an itinerary of places to bring the kids; we've three days and two nights to take it all in, and it is hard to know who is more giddy, the kids or us.

We arrived straight into the city and decided to stretch our legs and burn off some excess energy from the drive by visiting King John's Castle, right in the heart of Limerick's medieval quarter. Even as you walk in, you can't help but be taken aback by the size and glory of the castle that holds the tale of over 800 years of history.

Our costumed guide, Eoin, took us on the castle tour, and to say Oisín was hanging on his every word was an understatement. There were stories around every corner and Eoin and Oisín even played a medieval game together before he got to handle a real sword.

After a trip to the amazing visitor centre and splashing some cash in the gift shop, we headed for our Limerick home for the next two nights.

Pulling up outside The Savoy on Henry St, Mick the head concierge was waiting to meet us with the warmest welcome. The staff is so friendly and welcoming, and in truth, when I heard that The Savoy was to be our home for the break, I was slightly nervous about bringing our two little stars into a five-star hotel - but I had no reason to worry.

The newly refurbished hotel is a glorious mixture of luxury and comfort, and on entering our room, we were greeted by a lovely welcome plate of cake and gingerbread men for the smallies and a bottle of bubbles for Joey and I.

Our room was a deluxe executive; it was a brilliant size with a separate room with two beds for the kids. They've a full TV service with YouTube, because, you know, accessing Ryan's World is a must.

We ate in the hotel restaurant (Hamptons) on the first night and like the rest of the hotel, it had an incredibly high standard with a wonderful relaxed family feel. All four of us ate like royalty would have done in King John's Castle hundreds of years ago.

The feast included wings, steaks, pasta and desserts. There was colouring for the kids and Covid-19 protocol was maintained at all times, but it didn't lose its warmth. Nothing was a problem, the chat flowed, there were great alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink suggestions and I was so glad I wore a dress, because otherwise, I would have had to open my waistband to breath after the meal.

The next day was not as favourable weather wise, but spirits weren't dampened because we headed off for a day of adventure at the Terra Nova Fairy Garden in Dromin.

The excitement was palpable when the sat nav announced "your destination is on the right". At first, we were confused as we made our way up the narrow country road, but soon, out of the hedgerows, there was the entrance into a very magical place.

We collected our precious gems at the gate and with our story maps, we followed the trail of Devon around the half-acre magical woodland where pixies, fairies and other elementals live in shady places. Sensational seasonal plantings throughout the garden make every inch a wonderland, where any person of any age will lose themselves and let their imagination take them on an adventure. It's a real bit of magic that everyone needs now and then.

Terra Nova Fairy Garden boasts Ireland's largest fairy gift shop, so there's more opportunity to blow the holiday budget. We brought home a fairy toadstool, and Hannah has since informed us she actually smuggled a fairy from the garden who now resides at our garden. We're not sure if that was included in the price, but she seems to be settling in well.

Next on our list was Stonehall Visitor Farm & Wildlife Park in Curraghchase. We were struck by how lovely family businesses like this have suffered so much over the past few months. A peacock sauntered over to greet us, and for fear Hannah might try and stow him in the boot with the fairy, we quickly made our way in to be greeted by Sinead and her dad.

With the current restrictions, the karts and indoor playground are closed, but that doesn't take from the wonder of this wildlife park. The kids lapped it up. Ostriches, emus, pot belly pigs, an array of owls, ponies, donkeys, you name it, they're all happily living the life at Stonehall Farm. The kids burned off all the excess goodies as they raced along the wildlife trail. As the sun started to peek through the treetops, we could have been anywhere in the world, but we were very content to be enjoying the security of being at home in Ireland, enjoying our family time away from everything.

As our kids had now become accustomed to the five-star luxury of The Savoy, Oisín informed us that room service was all he wished for, so when we got back to the hotel, he had room service. The hotel operates on an app now - all the information you need is as easy as downloading a QR code. Get the app on your phone and you're good to go.

The following day, we had a little afternoon downtime and a wander around the streets of the city. There's so much to explore; two days wasn't enough, but it's whet the appetite for sure. Speaking of food, we ate in La Cucina on Henry St, just beside the hotel, on our second night.

It's famed for its 'freak shakes' but the food didn't disappoint either. The restaurant is renowned for its desserts, but the food and service was also exceptional. We went with pizzas and pasta for the kids, and everyone was delighted with their dinner. Although I'd planned on one of the famous shakes, I went with the signature tiramisu - it was stunning.

La Cucina is a great place, filled with a mix of clientele: friends catching up, couples on dates and families enjoying the evening. It's a must-visit, but be sure to book in advance.

The kids had a few things left on their hit list before we hit the road back to Dublin: this included having a good nose around the hotel and having a swim. I can't go without mentioning the breakfasts, though.

A lot has been said about how hotel brekkies will never be the same now that Covid has ruined the joy of the all-you-can-eat buffet, but The Savoy didn't get that memo. Everything was managed brilliantly and all four of us indulged ourselves on pancakes, cereals, full fries, Eggs Benedict and more. It was pure bliss.

The Savoy has a gorgeous spa and pool on site -you need to book your pool time in advance. As we wandered around the hotel, I made a pact that we'd definitely be back to Limerick, maybe without the kids, to enjoy the cocktail bar and luxury of how relaxing the hotel is.

No matter what the season is, and even with our country still in the midst of a pandemic, Limerick appears to be a Covid-19 guideline following, mask-wearing and social-distancing lady. It is also uniquely positioned at the gateway to Ireland's 'Wild Atlantic Way', just a short drive away from some of the Wild Atlantic Way's top attractions, including the Ring of Kerry.

Limerick offers many amazing experiences under the five key pillars of its tourism offering great outdoors, culture & creativity, sports & adventure, food & pampering and family fun.

For more information visit limerick.ie, Limerick.ie on Facebook, and on @Limerick.ie on Instagram. #LimerickEdgeEmbrace

Irish Independent