County Limerick (Irish: Contae Luimnigh) is a county in the Shannon Region of Ireland, historically part of the province of Munster. It's dominated by the lively city of Limerick, the broad estuary of the Shannon, and lowland countryside dotted with castles and abbeys.
- 1 Limerick (Luimneach) is the only city in the county. It has many sights and facilities and is the obvious base for exploring the area plus nearby County Clare.
- 2 Adare (Áth Dara) is a picturesque and frankly touristy village with Castle Desmond, a couple of abbeys and a plush manor hotel.
- 3 Rathkeale (Ráth Caola) has Castle Matrix and a ruined abbey.
- 4 Newcastle West (an Caisleán Nua Thiar) is a town further west with another Castle Desmond.
- 5 Askeaton (Eas Géitine) is a small town near the Shannon with, guess what, Castle Desmond. (When they weren't busy rebelling, the Earls of Desmond built castles in other counties which for some reason they gave different names.) A little further west is Foynes with the flying boat museum.
- 6 Kilmallock (Cill Mocheallóg) has the ruins of an abbey, castle and medieval town walls. It's 10 km south of the prehistoric site of Lough Gur.
The River Shannon descends steeply to the city of Limerick, where it enters a broad shallow estuary bordered by good farmland. The earliest known human settlements, from 3000 BC, are preserved at Lough Gur. Christianity arrived with St Patrick in the 5th century, and petty kingdoms evolved - the lower Shannon became part of Munster, which covered the southwest quarter of Ireland. From the 9th century the Vikings raided the area then settled, calling it Hlymrekr which means low-lying and fertile. As elsewhere in Ireland, they were overthrown by the native Irish in the 10th / 11th C, who in turn came under the rule of the Anglo-Normans. In 1205 King John began the construction of a castle on a river island at the tidal limit of the Shannon, which became the nucleus of the city of Limerick.
The Normans divided Ireland into shires, although it would be another 600 years before these took on the appearance of local government counties. Meanwhile the Limerick area was embroiled in most of the national conflicts and calamities, especially the Desmond Rebellions of the late 16th century, the Cromwell and Williamite wars of the 17th, the Great Famine of the 19th, and the Anglo-Irish and Irish Civil Wars of the 20th. Somehow the county got through, with growing industry and trade. A canal system was built that linked the navigable Shannon all the way to Dublin, then came the railway, tarmac roads, and shipping and aviation to America. Éamon de Valera (born in New York City) was brought up here, and steered his country to independence. And the descendants of those that had fled began to return as tourists.
In County Limerick they would not find pretty-postcard scenery - it lacks the contrast of mountains, and of bleak rocks to make its green fields shine the brighter, so the tour coaches hurry on to Kerry, Clare and Galway. But here is an Ireland in microcosm, from prehistoric crannogs to medieval castles and abbeys to the cosmopolitan, miniature Dublin that is Limerick city. It's definitely worth taking time to explore.
By train: The only railway station in the county is Limerick Colbert. This has hourly trains from Dublin Heuston, some direct but mostly with a change at Limerick Junction which is near Tipperary; and change there for Cork. Trains also run from Limerick to Ennis and Galway, and to Nenagh and Ballybrophy.
By car: the main roads all converge on Limerick. From Dublin, N7 is all motorway once you get past Naas, 200 km or 3 hours in all. Other major routes are N18 / M18 to Shannon Airport, Ennis and Galway, N20 to Mallow and Cork, N21 to Tralee and Killarney, and N24 to Tipperary and Waterford.
If you're exploring the Atlantic coast, you can cross the Shannon estuary by the ferry that plies between Killimer in County Clare on the north bank, and Tarbert in County Kerry on the south bank 2 km beyond the Limerick county boundary.
There's an hourly bus from Limerick to Adare (20 min), Rathkeale and Newcastle West.
You'll need a car for sightseeing anywhere else - for instance Bus 314, from Limerick to Foynes and Glin, only runs three times a day. There are car rental firms in Limerick city and at Shannon Airport.
The railway line from Limerick to Foynes is disused but intact. It's planned to re-open it for freight, it's not known if passenger services might resume.
- Limerick is an elegant Georgian city with a castle and two cathedrals. The monster that surfaced in its docks in 1922 hasn't been seen since, but keep your eyes peeled.
- Adare is an attractive small town with thatched cottages and a stout castle. It's mobbed with tourists at the height of summer.
- 1 Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum, Foynes. April-Oct Tu-Su 09:30-16:00. This displays the Shannon's role in early transatlantic aviation. In the 1930s sea-planes had greater range than land aircraft, and more chance of surviving a ditching. Foynes opened as an airport in 1937: sea-planes took 12 hours eastbound from their last staging post in Newfoundland, and 15 hours westbound against the Atlantic headwinds. Flying was cold, miserable and very expensive, so those who passed through Foynes were the rich and famous, and it's claimed that Irish Coffee was invented here to revive them. By 1946 Shannon Airport had developed on the river's north bank and land aircraft flew faster and further, so the sea-plane service closed. The museum's maritime section covers the history of shipping on the Shannon. Adult €12.
- Glin Castle is west of Foynes on the coast road to Tarbert and the Shannon Ferry. It's a dilapidated Georgian mansion, formerly a hotel, but nowadays a private dwelling and closed to visits. Glin village was from 1928 to 1966 the home of St Joseph’s Industrial School for Boys, run by the Christian Brothers. A monument commemorates the victims of the school's brutal and sexually abusive regime. The Brothers have said sorry.
- 2 Knockpatrick Gardens, Croaghane (2 km south of Foynes), ☏ . Daily 10:00-18:00. 3 acre garden overlooking the Shannon Estuary, almost 100 years old. Lots of rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas, bamboos, primulas and poppies plus tree ferns and grasses. Adult €6.
- Rathkeale: the abbey is a ruin, and Castle Matrix 1 km west, a 15th C tower house, is no longer open to the public. In 1709 many refugees came to this area from Rheinland-Pfalz, the Rhineland Palatinate. They mostly moved on to North America, but many are buried locally. The small Palatinate Museum in the former railway station commemorates their history, and has organised a "homecoming tour" of the Palatinate for their descendants in May 2021. The museum is open 14:00-17:00 June-Aug Tu-Th & Su, and Sept Su, €7. The Great Southern Trail starts in Rathkeale, see Do.
- Newcastle West along N21 towards Tralee has the 15th C Castle Desmond, not to be confused with the one in Adare. It's mostly ruins; the best-preserved part is the banquet hall, which can only be seen by guided tour May-Aug (daily 10:00-18:00, free).
- 3 Lough Gur near Kilmallock is a shallow lake surrounded by prehistoric sites, notably Grange stone circle.
- 4 Glenstal Abbey is a working Benedictine monastery and school, which incorporates a Normanesque castle. It's set in attractive gardens and woodlands.
- See Tipperary town for Glen Aherlow, the scenic valley stretching east from Galbally at the edge of County Limerick to Bansha.
- Play golf: Adare has a course within Adare Manor Resort which in 2026 hosts the Ryder Cup. There are lots more courses across the county, with green fees barely a tenth of what the Manor are asking.
- Limerick racecourse is 6 km southwest of the city off M20, with both flat racing and National Hunt.
- Gaelic games: the County GAA play at Páirc na nGael in Limerick. There are about 75 club teams across the county.
- Watch Munster Rugby at Thomond Park, 1.5 km west of Limerick city centre.
- Curraghchase Forest Park is along N69 from Limerick towards Askeaton. It's a woodland ranged around the shell of an 18th C house, with trails to walk, but maybe not worth the €5 they charge. Tennyson claimed to have seen The Lady of the Lake raise her arm from its waters (maybe feeling about for a lost sword?) and later revellers embellished the legend with fire-clad females and ever such goings on.
- Hike or cycle the Great Southern Trail. This follows an abandoned railway from Rathkeale for 40 km via Newcastle West to Abbeyfeale; it's hoped some day to complete it between Limerick and Tralee.
- Clare Glens are north of Glenstal Abbey on the boundary between counties Limerick and Tipperary. There's a scenic 3 km walk along the river gorge.
Limerick has the best "proper shopping". There's no end of catchpenny tourist tat in Adare.
- The county has long lacked a whiskey distillery, but Thomond Gate Whiskey was launched in Dec 2019. There are no plans to offer distillery tours.
- Breweries you can tour are Treaty City Brewery in Limerick, and JJ's Craft Brewing in Kilmallock in the south of the county. Eight Degrees Brewery is just south of the boundary in Mitchelstown, County Cork, but doesn't offer tours.
- Limerick has most choice, and Adare has several places to stay.
- There's a string of little B&Bs around Lough Gur and the village of Bruff 3 km south.
Normal precautions about road safety and not leaving valuables on display in your car.
- West is scenic County Kerry; the best of it is around Killarney and along the rugged coastline.
- North of the Shannon is County Clare, with the Atlantic pounding against Loop Head and the Cliffs of Moher, and inland the wild Burren.
- South is County Cork. It has attractive Cork, unspoilt countryside, and the unavoidable Blarney Stone.
- East is County Tipperary, for scenic loughs, the Rock of Cashel, Ormonde Castle, Cahir Castle and Ahenny High Crosses.