Limerick means Munster Rugby. Towering over the ever-changing skyline of Ireland’s third largest city, Thomond Park is revered in the oval-ball game. Soccer’s 2016 First Division champions Limerick FC were last based at the rugby stadium while venerable Markets Field was being rebuilt.
Another new development in this dynamic estuary hub of gleaming hotels and offices, Markets Field reopened in 2015. Spiritual and now sole home of a club that has changed names four times but retains its foundation year of 1937 on its badge, Markets Field has a history going back far longer.
From the 1880s onwards, the ground on the east of town near Colbert station was a venue for rugby, hurling and Gaelic football. Greyhound racing was introduced here in 1937 – the Track Bar is still the nearest watering hole to the current stadium.
Soccer was a late starter in Limerick.
The same year as dogs started running round Markets Field, a Limerick FC was created, after a series of friendly, invitational matches. Playing in shirts purchased from Waterford who had resigned from the League, Limerick became the Super Blues, challenging for national honours from the 1940s onwards and winning two titles 20 years apart.
The second in 1980 granted a glamour European Cup tie with Real Madrid, the home leg staged in Dublin. A year later, Southampton came to Limerick, shortly before The Super Blues’ controversial move from their sanctuary of Markets Field.
Behind the scenes, ownership battles had seen the club change name from FC to United to City and back to FC in just over a decade. In 2006, amid untold shenanigans, the club became Limerick 37 then, in 2009, Limerick FC.
All the while that greyhounds had kept racing at Markets Field, the city’s main soccer club had been playing at, mainly, Jackman Park beside Colbert station.
The move in June 2015 to a rebuilt Markets Field – after Limerick’s short stay at rugby mecca Thomond Park – was an emotional as well as a practical one. It had been three decades since soccer had been played there and the area was also in need of a boost. The investment of €4.5 million was not only in a football club with average attendances at Jackman Park of under 600 but in the sport at community level. Almost overnight, gates at Markets Field more than doubled the club’s league average, with 4,600 also packed in for Limerick’s play-off game with Finn Harps that November.
Though relegated, Limerick bounced back as champions by a whopping 25-point margin in 2016, four-figure crowds healthy for Ireland’s second tier.
A frequent Bus Éireann Expressway service (journey time 30min, single €7) runs from Shannon Airport 29km (18 miles) away and Dublin (3hr, single €11, last one back 8.45pm). Rival Dublin Coach (€10) is half-hourly, last one back 8.45pm, night service at 1.45am.
The regular train from Dublin Heuston (single €10-€13, last one back 8.45pm) takes 2hr 15min, changing at Limerick Junction at Tipperary, with 3-4 direct services a day. It’s a long way from Tipperary to Limerick so do wait for the connection.
Bus and train terminus Colbert on Parnell Street is close to the city centre and 10min from Markets Field. Bus Éireann also runs local routes.
Treaty Cabs (061 415 566) is based near Colbert station.
Round the corner, the five-star Savoy provides luxury lodging, dining and spa treatments. Swish waterfront Absolute offers all three with contemporary touches. The nearby riverside Pier provides match-days specials in its Quays Bar. Across the water, the four-star Strand has a pool and multi-venue dining.
Rugby-focused pubs abound, with TV soccer also featured. On Upper Denmark Street by the Milk Market bar hub are traditional favourites Nancy Blake’s and Flannerys, where the modern bar screens sport and a roof terrace catches the sun. Mother Mac’s is a new craft-brew pub in a 1787-dated building. Smyths offers live match action, drinks deals and music.
On nearby shop-lined Cruise’s Street, Charlie Chaplin’s (No.42) is centrepieced by TV sport though manned by enthusiastic bouncers after dark.
Gleeson’s White House of 1812 vintage was recently sold and may yet become a sports bar, to former regulars’ chagrin. Alternative spot Mickey Martins on Augustinian Lane has TV sport and music, the main focus at the nearby Still House Bar, both lively and formidable choices. Finally, on Lower Glentworth Street, the Glen Tavern is another sport haunt, with a quality menu and musicians at weekends.