Wednesday, October 3, 2013
Another “Committee-Decision” day. Our schedule was to travel south to visit Killarney National Park and maybe take a short hike around the 26,000 acres. Instead we set out for Limerick, a short 50 mile drive north. The drive there was a piece of cake on a major interstate, but getting around the heavy traffic in the city was another story. We stopped and asked directions for the historic center and we turned around a couple of times. Once we arrived at the parking garage near the visitor center, we were good to go.
When we talked about visiting Limerick, I kept thinking in my head about a limerick or a verse and wondered if there was a connection. Wikipedia says the term’s connection with the city is obscure, but the name is thought to be a reference to Limerick City or County Limerick. These days many people think of Frank McCourt’s memoir Angela’s Ashes when they think of Limerick City. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit his museum.
Limerick City, the third most populous urban area, is on the River Shannon. The historic part of the city is located on King’s Island, surrounded by the Shannon and the Abbey River. History suggests the presence of earlier settlements in the area surrounding King’s Island but the year 812 is the earliest recorded settlement when the Vikings sailed up the Shannon and pillaged the city but were forced to flee when the Irish attacked.
We all started the tour with a walk from the Visitor’s Center to King John’s Castle, a 13th century castle that dates back to 922. The Vikings lived on the Island previous to the castle being built by King John in 1200 to protect the city from the Gaelic kingdoms to the west and from any rebellion by Norman lords to the east and south. It is said to be one of the best preserved Norman castles in Europe. The walls, towers and fortifications are in good shape today. We were really impressed with the site and loved the full-scale computer screens in the exhibits. A costumed actor on the screen would play his historically correct part, talking about the display in the room. It felt that his eyes were following you around the room. We spent too much time in the museum reading all the information and trying on medieval clothes. I found out later that between 2011-2013 the castle underwent a massive redevelopment to improve the visitor facilities with a brand new visitor center, interactive exhibitions with computer-generated animations and a cafe with views onto the courtyard and the river. We sampled the food at the café. It was good, but later when we visited the Hunt Museum and saw their restaurant, we wished we had waited like John, Pat, Rob and Harriet had.
On the walk to King John’s Castle, we passed St. Mary’s Cathedral and noticed a sign that read “Free Lunchtime Concert”. This free concert was part of a Wednesday series and today was Wednesday. After grabbing a bite at King John’s, half of us went to the concert. St. Mary’s was founded in 1168 and is the oldest building in Limerick in daily use. It has the only complete set of misericords (mercy benches) left in Ireland. We heard Peter Barley, organist, play music by J.S. Bach and Cesar Franck in this beautiful setting. The music bellowed through the grand building as we sat fixated in another world. I noticed a huge crack in the wall as I was leaving and had a sigh of relief that I was on the outside looking in.
On our walk around town, we noticed two beautifully decorated, life-size horses standing in front of a stunning building. On closer inspection, it was the Hunt Museum. We all agreed to check it out and who but our wondering eyes should appear-The Meineckes and the Carrickers. We were so blessed to run into them. It was almost time to meet back at the designated area and none of us had seen all we wanted to see. The best part was that they had just started a private tour of the museum and we were able to join in. The Hunt Museum opened in 1978 to house an internationally important collection of approximately 2,000 works of art and antiquities collected by John and Gertrude Hunt. I really enjoyed the tour. The guide was really informative. I found one painting that I was especially taken with painted by Sean Keating (1889-1977). I didn’t know his lively, vibrant work but vowed to look him up and learn more.
I grabbed a coffee to go in the café of the museum, wishing I had time to sample some of their delicious looking deserts and entrees. John and Pat had eaten there and said it was wonderful. We traced our route backwards out of town, the route that had left us befuddled on the way into the city and arrived back to Dromcollogher and Springfield Castle without incident.
Carol, being from Texas, wanted to buy the ingredients to make us a real Tex-Mex dinner. We stopped at the huge supermarket in the illustrious town of Newcastle West on the way home. I say illustrious because Newcastle West is the town in which we inevitably missed our turn each time we went through it. This was our turning point off highway N21 onto a smaller local road that took us to Dromcollogher. We were apprehensive about being able to find this large market again. I guess fifth time is a charm because we found the market and Carol found everything she needed. That night was one of our most fun evenings at the castle. Everyone pitched in with Carol’s directions and we all ate like cowboys after a long day on the trail.