Unveiling Limerick’s food scene through its historic market

Limerick’s storied food scene is informed by its setting, sandwiched between the River Shannon and pastureland — and now its historic market is the focus of a new food tour.

By Pól Ó Conghaile
Published 1 Apr 2020, 07:30 BST
 Sarsfield Swivel Bridge, one of the three main bridges in Limerick that cross the Shannon ...
Sarsfield Swivel Bridge, one of the three main bridges in Limerick that cross the Shannon River.
Photograph by Getty Images

At Limerick’s Milk Market, I’ve eaten a sausage roll, and muesli sourdough bread slathered in homemade marmalade, followed by paprika-battered monkfish fritters, and then somehow made room for some ‘spiralaytos’ — crisps whizzed from potatoes with a hand drill device. I’m glad I skipped breakfast. 

“Growing up, this was somewhere we always came on a Saturday morning,” says my guide, Siobhán O’Neill. “For the bit of shopping, or the turkeys for Christmas; there was a little more blood and guts in the market back then. I remember I’d kick and scream about things I couldn’t have.” 

Well now, she can have her fill, and then some. Last summer, Siobhán and her partner, Tom Downes, set up food tour company Teacht Linn Tours. Having travelled abroad, tasting their way across the world, the couple realised Limerick’s historic market was crying out for curated tours. ‘Teacht linn’ is Irish for ‘come with us’ — and that’s just what I do, following the pair through what’s both a storied local crossroads and the cutting edge of the city’s evolving food scene. 

The Milk Market runs Friday to Sunday, but Saturday morning is when it reaches “boiling point”, as Siobhán puts it. Sausages sizzle, fresh fish is slapped down on ice, hundreds of baps are sold. Produce ranges from farmhouse cheeses to stallholder Sefik Dikyar’s baklava, made to his Turkish granny’s recipe. 

Beyond the market’s walls sprawls Ireland’s third-largest city. It’s also the hardest to define; Limerick lacks the touristy glow of places like Galway and Cork. It’s found it tough to shake gritty stereotypes and the aura of Angela’s Ashes, but things are changing. There are festivals like Pigtown Culture & Food Series, an autumn programme of food-related events. There are also casual stops, such as La Cucina Centro (Italian) and Canteen (Asian) serving up zingy eats, while a tasting platter I order at No. 1 Pery Square, a chic Georgian townhouse hotel, is a hymn to local ingredients like Ispíní charcuterie and Castleconnell honey. By King John’s Castle, a bold new mural of local hero Dolores O’Riordan, the late lead singer of The Cranberries, feels like a splash of intent. 

“There’s a subculture in Limerick,” says Stephen Cunneen during a chatty tour of his new Treaty City Brewery, on Nicholas Street, just steps from the castle. “This city is a place for the smallholders, and we’re saying: this is who we are and this is what we do, and this is how we’re going to do it.”

Stephen tells me he’s the first new brewer in Limerick in over a century. “Ten years ago, King’s Island in central Limerick would’ve been considered one of toughest areas in southwest Ireland,” he says. “Now there’s a real resurgence. I feel very excited about where this city can be; we haven’t even started yet.”

Back at the Milk Market, Siobhán and Tom are laying out tasters of farmhouse cheese. Limerick may be late to Ireland’s food party, Tom acknowledges, but, he says, it’s catching up quickly. “If you put heart and soul into your food the word will spread and people will come,” he says. “It will happen.” 

More info: Teacht Linn Tours’ tours of Limerick’s Milk Market from €30 (£25) per person.   

Published in the April 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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