ADVENTURES IN IRELAND
YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN...
The Limerick, Ireland, of Angela's
Ashes has become a tourist attraction.
LIMERICK CIVIC CENTRE ON THE
SHANNON, KING'S ISLAND, LIMERICK
| Limerick is a historic market
town in southwestern-central Ireland, the third city of the Republic (after Dublin and
Cork), with an active harbor on the Shannon River, where it widens into an
ocean-ships-navigable estuary. The small city occupies the east bank of the Shannon in
three primary quarters: the old city, King's Island; the post-medieval town center,
Irishtown; and the convoluted residential and commercial alleyways of blue collar
south-central Limerick, Newtown Pery, home of Angela's Ashes.
King's Island has had its moments in the sun. Although the site has probably been inhabited
by every major invading group since prehistory, Limerick first developed as an organized
town here only after the Anglo-Norman invasions of the 12th century. In recent years
considerable redevelopment has turned this historic place of English-Irish conflict into
an attractive tourist center. Of today's collection of replica settlements and battlements
in King's Island, none is more impressive than the imposing King Johns Castle on the
JOHN'S CASTLE, LIMERICK
The Limerick town center now is
south of George's Quay in Irishtown. What until recently had been a depressing maize of
narrow one-way streets barely supporting a business district has undergone massive renewal
and is now a regional center for shopping, restaurants, and entertainment, especially at
Arthur's Quay and Cruises Street shopping centers and along O'Connell Street. Limerick is
an Irish music center, with festivals, pubs, street fairs, and
concert events providing a wide variety of performance possibilities. Limerick is
cosmopolitan enough to offer a wide variety of theme restaurants, including Chinese,
American, Italian, Tex-Mex, fast food, posh food, teas, and, of course, a wide variety of
The name Limerick may remind
you of those nonsense rhymes first composed in this city. Legend has it that the form was
first used orally in OTwomys Pub in Memgrett Street by a poet named Andrew
McGrath in the late 18th century and brought from there to London, where the verse thrived
among Irish immigrants. For the next 200 years the popular rhythmic form may well have
been the last positive development to come from Limerick.
FORMER LIMERICK ALMSHOUSES ARE NOW MIDDLE CLASS TOWNHOUSES.
Limerick's more contemporary notoriety is as stage for Frank McCourt's hugely successful
memoir, Angela's Ashes. McCourt's book/movie recalls the squalid tenement life of
McCourt's family and neighbors during the 1930's and '40's. Although the title character
of the tragicomic Angela's Ashes is McCourt's longsuffering mother, she shares
top billing with the depressing slums of Limerick, which take on the role of villain in
the piece. Limerick's Dickensian cityscape offered no escape to its poor Catholic
residents in McCourt's portrait of an Ireland at the ebb of its 200-year slide.
| Things have turned around in
Limerick, as in Ireland generally, in recent years. There are plenty of reasons for the
change: European investment in this poorest of EU nations; a young, well-educated, jobless
population perfectly positioned for the high-tech revolution; a population density low
enough to keep infrastructure costs minimal and self-sufficiency within reachboth
conditions virtual anomalies in Western Europe.
Today, Limerick is again something of an economic crossroads, although no longer primarily
as Ireland's premier inland port city. Ireland itself is rapidly becoming rich, and
Limerick's central position gives it a special advantage. Secondly, but still importantly,
the tide of visitors has turned. Once bleak Limerick is drawing tourists. Its proximity to
Shannon Airport makes it the closest city to Ireland's major arrival point for North
Americans and others. The Shannon Waterways landscape north and east of the city
(including Home at First's Lough Derg area towns and villages) is becoming one of
Ireland's most attractive touring centers. Thanks to the building of a long-overdue
motorway system (using investment monies from the European Union) the traditional Kerry,
Waterford, and Dublin tourist regions are becoming more reachable than
ever from a central base like Limerick. And, with the golf phenomenon
taking hold in Ireland, the solid core of top-quality courses along the
coasts and inland is drawing new interest in Limerick and Central
Ireland. The town is a regional sports capital for more than golf, with
fishing, Gaelic games (especially hurling), dog racing, sailing, and
rugby all possible within the citys environs and the region.
HAS BECOME A WALKABLE,
| Ironically, Angela's
Ashes itself draws people to Limerick, perhaps like pilgrims to Lourdes, looking to
catch a glimpse of salvation amid the hopelessness of the tenements. The pilgrims may be
disappointed by what they find. A cottage industry of Angela's Ashes related
small businesses is prospering in Newtown Pery. There's a drugstore that advertises itself
as the very one from the book. There are also guided and do-it-yourself walking tours of
the Angela's Ashes district, from once-poor-now-posh Arthur's Quay south into the
convoluted Newtown Pery neighborhoods, where urban renewal has obliterated the blight,
replacing some tenements with fashionable new developments.
The past is not too distant in Limerick. And,
thanks to Angela's Ashes, the city has become symbolic of the level to which Ireland had
fallen. Now, like a phoenix, and partly because of that notoriety, Limerick is rising from
But, like a recovering alcoholic with few pretensions, a noticeable
inferiority complex, and a wonderfully complex history, Limerick can
provide you with some rare insight into the culture of Ireland.
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