That’s the benefit of a city-centre hotel. You won’t find nature trails or golf courses on O’Callaghan Strand. But the four-star is just five minutes from shopping at Arthur’s Quay, treasure at the Hunt Museum, or a short cab ride from the marvellous Milk Market. It’s all on your doorstep.
Stepping into The Strand, the first thing I notice is a wall covered in framed rugby jerseys. It’s a cracking gallery — evoking the Munster rugby museum at Thomond Park nearby — with signed jerseys from the All Blacks game in 2008, victory over the Wallabies in 2010, the Irish grand slam-winning team of 2009, and more. The kids have to pull me away by the sleeves.
The lobby is a compact, modish and contemporary space, with leather couches, frosted glass columns, and a Deco-like light fitting spilling down the stairway. Perched on a site formerly occupied by Jurys in Limerick, The Strand is a sister of Dublin’s Hilton Kilmainham and the Harbour Hotel in Galway. It’s a slick building that just about transcends its Celtic Tiger origins.
We check into 522 and 524, a pair of interconnecting rooms on the fifth floor. The styling is slick and business-like — with leather headrests, flat-screen TVs, generic abstract art and splashes of amber in the throws and cushions. It could slot into any Hilton in the western world — perfectly smart, in other words, but lacking the character of the nearby No.1 Pery Square. Plus points include the views, a strong signal on the free wi-fi, and a good desk space under the window — perfect for catching up on emails as our toddler naps. The black-out curtains are effective, and our king-size double boasts no less than seven pillows. The outside of our window is dirty, however. The city-centre location might be a reason for that, but it’s not an excuse.
Executive head chef Tom Flavin is the man behind the menus at The Strand. His River Restaurant opens for seven evenings a week, and a Sunday buffet lunch at which guests are greeted with a glass of bubbly or orange juice. We didn’t eat there, but dishes like sea bass saltimbocca and chargrilled steaks have been well-reviewed by Lucinda O’Sullivan, and on TripAdvisor.
Other options include casual food at the Terrace bar and cafe, and a 24-hour room-service menu, with options ranging from spaghetti bolognese (e13.95) to pizza (e14.95).
Breakfast is a generous spread of fresh fruit, cereals, mini-pastries and croissants, hams and cheeses, and the like, and L has her coeliac needs catered for with some tasty poached eggs on a gluten-free bap. I wasn’t sold on the cooked breakfast — the pudding, sausages and bacon had dried out noticeably by 8.30am — but I liked the little facts displayed beside the tureens. For example: “Sausages were called bangers during the Second World War, because they contained so much water they exploded when fried,” one informs us. You learn something new every day.
With the Irish team dropping by for pre-season camps, and Munster making use of its Energize health club, you can see why The Strand considers itself Limerick’s unofficial rugby hotel. Energize is a good facility given the city-centre location, with a sauna, steam room and hydrotherapy bath, and children are welcome in the 20m pool from 9am to 7pm. The lower ground-floor also houses the Urban Escape spa, a boutique-style facility offering dozens of packages and individual treatments — you can check the full list on escapebeauty.ie.
One signature special is the ‘strawberry laser-lipo’, a non-invasive fat-busting procedure that apparently prompts cells to “sweat out” stored fat.
Hotel guests get 10% off full-price treatments, but, somehow, I can’t imagine Paul O’Connell signing up for this one.
Limerick City is the obvious option, being just a short hop over Sarsfield Bridge, but I’d also recommend taking the N69, along the Shannon estuary, towards Foynes.
Foynes was the precursor for Shannon Airport, and its flying boat museum is a wonderful dose of aviation nostalgia. Dashing uniforms, vintage tickets and an old Marconi transmitter are just some of the exhibits evoking the glamour of an airport whose passengers included JFK, Humphrey Bogart and Ernest Hemingway. A replica Boeing 314 boasts a honeymoon suite.
Foynes can also claim to be the home of Irish coffee. As the story goes, the concoction was dreamt up by an enterprising chef to soothe cranky Americans whose flight had turned back half-way to Newfoundland. Dashes of Powers, sugar and cream were added to their coffees.
“Hey Buddy, is this a Brazilian coffee?” a passenger asked.
“No, that was Irish coffee,” was Joe Sheridan’s famous reply.
The Foynes Irish Coffee Festival runs over the June bank holiday weekend (foynesfestival.com), with everything from carnivals to an Irish coffee-making championship on the programme.
The Strand Hotel has a ‘Pan Am Experience’ bundling two nights of B&B, one dinner, a day pass to Foynes museum and an Irish coffee on arrival, from e140pps. 061-421800; strandlimerick.ie.
The Strand Hotel enjoys some of Limerick’s best conferencing and banqueting facilities, but my heart always sinks when I check into a hotel to find a wedding underway.
Will the kids be able to sleep? Thankfully, The Strand is able to confine celebrations to a separate wing, so we didn’t hear a peep, other than the odd guest returning to their rooms in the wee hours. Nice one.