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Strand and deliver

A riverside hotel proved the ideal base for Eugene Masterson as he explored Limerick city and kayaked on the River Shannon

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The pool and leisure amenities at the Strand Hotel.

The pool and leisure amenities at the Strand Hotel.

The pool and leisure amenities at the Strand Hotel.

When Denis Allen released Limerick You're A Lady back in 1979 it stormed the charts and went to Number One for several weeks and stayed in the top 20 for a whole year.

Those of a similar vintage like yours truly will remember hearing for the first time the sweet melody and chorus which sparked a wistful urge for those who had not visited the city to seek it out, while no doubt cementing its charm for those living there of already familiar with what it has to offer.

'Limerick you're a lady, your Shannon waters tears of joy that flow, the beauty that surrounds you, I'll take with me where e'er I go' goes the chorus, which Denis and countless other have since sung.

The city has blossomed in over 40 years since the song was released and is now a bustling cosmopolitan metropolis, quite compact in its centre and bristling with cafes, restaurants, pubs and shops.

Limerick has a population of nearly 100,000 and is the fourth most populous city on the island of Ireland, and while it can trace its roots back to 822 there are documents from as far back as 150AD showing a place called Regia at King's Island.

My base for my two-night city break stay was the stylish and modern Strand hotel, which boasts some majestic views of Ireland's longest river.

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Eugene does his time in the stocks.

Eugene does his time in the stocks.

Eugene visiting the Terry Wogan statue.

Eugene visiting the Terry Wogan statue.

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Eugene does his time in the stocks.

This was my second visit to this alluring hotel and the previous time was back in 2009 to attend the Mister Ireland pageant, which local lad Kamal Ibrahim won and then went on to win the Mr World crown.

Kamal, who was born in Limerick to a Nigerian father and Italian mother and can regularly be seen on TV hosting the Lotto draw, represents modern multicultural Ireland and is a marvellous ambassador for how Limerick has progressed.

The four Strand hotel has 184 spacious rooms, some of them beautiful suites which are perfect for a special occasion.

This welcoming hotel adheres to stringent health guidelines given the present circumstances, and its bar and restaurant have lots to offer every taste with a succulent menu - for dinner I plumped for catch of the day, hake, as my main while my guest had ribeye steak and chips.

The hotel is within walking distance of many attractions the city boast and this was my first time to check them out.

The first memorial I came across on the walkway by the Shannon was a tasteful and touching sculpture in memory of local rugby legend Anthony 'Axel' Foley, who sadly passed in 2016 at the untimely age of 42.

Nearby is the 'Treaty Stone', an elevated limestone rock on a plinth which legend has that was used in 1691 to sign the Treaty of Limerick, which ended the Williamite-Jacobite war

Across the river is the Nevsail Watersports Centre, which specialises in kayaking and was top on my list to do on my trip.

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Eugene at the Treaty Stone.

Eugene at the Treaty Stone.

Eugene Masterson kayaking on the River Shannon.

Eugene Masterson kayaking on the River Shannon.

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Eugene at the Treaty Stone.

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As someone who loves anything to do with water, it was such a pleasure to paddle along on the Shannon for an hour and a half among a group under the watchful eye of a couple of helpful and knowledgeable tour guides.

You don't need any experience to do kayaking and it's a very safe activity, which even those who can't swim will enjoy - it's rare that one falls into the water and everyone is obviously provided with a life vest in case of mishaps.

Not being a morning person it was worth the effort to make it to the centre for the 9am start, which had to be early as the tide sometimes comes in later in the day and would be only for experienced kayakers and canoeists as the water turns into rapids in some places.

Part of the trip (and you can take longer ones on other packages) takes you past the majestic King John's Castle.

After my kayaking adventure it was my next port of call to see this incredible building, which is centred on a site which dates back to 922 when Vikings lived on King's Island.

The castle itself was built on the orders of King John in 1200 and is one of the best-preserved Norman castles in Europe.

Its towers and fortifications are in perfect shape and some of the higher elevations give wonderful panoramic views of the city and one of its most hallowed grounds - Thomond park - can readily be seen from certain vantage points.

The basement features some of its earliest foundations and there is also a hugely educational interactive exhibitions (nearly E6m has been spent in recent years on improving visitor facilities there) while a café allows one to relax and get a breather.

There also several fun activities in the courtyard, where you can dress up in medieval attire complete with shields and swords; get to fire a bow and arrow (it was my first time to do this and on my third attempt I got close to the bullseye); while you can also pose in the stocks (some cruel friends suggested I should have been permanently left there and free rotten fruit given to visitors to throw at me!).

A short walk from the castle is the Hunt Museum. Due to the current pandemic its opening hours are a bit curtailed but luckily a kind-hearted security man allowed me some extra time to discover some of the treasures this quaint Georgian building house.

The museum itself was established in 1973 by the Hunt family and moved to its present location in the Custom House in 1997. Among the stand-out works on show are works by Picasso, Jack B Yeats, an interesting wardrobe collection by fashion designer Sybil Connolly, as well as historical items such as the ornate 15th century O'Dea Mite and Crozier.

It was then time to nip in for a quick pint in one of the city's famous hostelries, many of which are dotted off its main thoroughfare O'Connell street.

As I walked back towards my hotel I came across a statue of another of the city's most famous sons, Terry Wogan, who like fellow Limerickman Richard Harris is forever remembered in stone by the banks of the Shannon.

While Wogan, Harris and Axel Foley are all timelessly immortalised in motionless monuments in the city that loves them so much, lets hope they are perhaps somewhere upstairs raising a well -deserved toast to the lovely lady that is Limerick.

FACTBOX

  • Rooms can be booked on www.standhotellimerick.ie or by calling (061) 421800. Stay for nights and get 20% , 15% off for three nights, 10% off for two nights. Current midweek rates for room only for two people is E155 a night (E179 including breakfast, while at the weekend it is E205 a night room only for two (E229 to include breakfast). For the extra wow factor suites start at E308 a night.
  • King John's Castle - Admission prices: Adult E10, child E5,25, family ticket (2 adults and 2 children: E22 (book online and get 10% off,www.kingjohnscastle.com)
  • Hunt Museum - Adult: E7.50; Seniors and students E5.50; Child (under 16s) free (www.huntmuseum.com).
  • Nevsail kayaking - Adults E30 and child E25 for a 1.5 hour tour; E40 for adults and E35 for kids for a 2.5 hour tour (www.fareharbor.com)

 

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