The main tourist attraction in Limerick City is King John’s Castle on the banks of the Shannon by Thomond Bridge. It was started on the orders of King John about 1210 and developed throughout the medieval period. In the 18th century it was turned into an army barracks and was in use by the British Army until Independence. At the time of writing the castle is closed for re-development. It is planned to re-open during the early part of the tourist season of 2013, with enhanced access and a new interpretative centre.
From the castle there is a pleasant short circular walk northwards passing by the 19th century Bishop’s Palace, St Munchin’s Church and the 19th century Villiers’ Alms Houses. Following the wall of Villiers brings you down towards the Shannon and, returning towards the castle, there is a superb view of the alms houses and a projecting tower of the city wall. On reaching the Toll House at the end of Thomond Bridge, there is a choice. You can complete the circuit passing the Freemasons’ Hall which houses a small museum (email@example.com open to the public by arrangement). Alternatively, you can cross Thomond Bridge to view the Treaty Stone on which the Treaty of Limerick is said to have been signed in 1691.
A short distance from the castle is St. Mary’s Cathedral. First recorded in 1111, the present building consists of a cruciform core built in the late 13th century around which chapels were added throughout the medieval period. Originally hemmed in by other buildings it now stands free within a substantial graveyard. Close by on Mary Street are the remains of Fanning’s Castle. Recent research has suggested that rather than being a house it was probably an inn.
From the cathedral you can cross over Matthew Bridge into the Georgian Newtown, which is the present day city centre. One of the first buildings you see is the 18th century Custom House which now houses the excellent Hunt Museum (adult/child €5/2.50; 10am-5pm Mon-Sat, 2pm-5pm Sun). There are not many places where you can find paintings by Renoir and Picasso in the same building as an ancient Greek coin and a 9th century Irish crucifix.
In Pery Square you will discover not only elegant Georgian buildings but also a fine collection of contemporary Irish art housed in the City Gallery of Art (free admission; 10am-5.30pm Mon/Wed/Fri, 11am-5.30pm Tue, 10am-8.30am Thu, 10am-5pm Sat, 12pm-5pm Sun).
In the grounds of St John’s Hospital is The Citadel, the one surviving medieval gate in the city. Nearby in St. Lelia Street is the best surviving stretch of city wall, with its internal earthen ramparts built between the sieges of 1690 and 1691. It was in this area that a breach was made in the wall in 1690 through which Williamite forces entered the city only to be beaten back by its defenders.
Limerick is of course the home of Munster Rugby (tour adult/child €10/8; 11am, 2pm, 3.30pm Mon-Fri). Their stadium, Thomand Park, is famous for its match day atmosphere. To sample this for yourself, make sure you check out their website to see if a game is on. If nothing is happening you could always visit the museum and go on the stadium tour, the highlight of which is a walk down the tunnel.