Forays to Limerick
My childhood trips to the local metropolis of Limerick were tinged with adventure. Even getting there felt slightly precarious because my father was a nervous driver and the journey started out with a prayer. There we were, Mum and Dad and I and perhaps one of my four brothers, stuffed into the little Mini and whizzing warily along the small country roads towards the bright lights, the shops, Todds department store, the library! I’d never been to New York but knew urban thrills…and one of them was sitting in the Royal George Hotel on O’Connell Street and having a fizzy lemonade.
Each outing to Limerick ended up with a family assemblage in that august hotel which, as far as I knew, was not unlike the Ritz. My maternal grandmother, a Mrs de Vere who had lived in a grand house called Curragh Chase outside Adare, had also used the hotel in similar circumstances. So my mother had a somewhat proprietorial attitude towards its lounge and often loudly called out things like “did you get the bones for the dogs?” to my Dad as he stepped through the hotel’s front door. Yes, we almost regarded the lounge of the hotel as an urban extension of our sitting room and we very much needed its shelter. Our trips to Limerick tended to be packed with activity. Mum often went off shopping on her own. And Dad and I…well we got up to stuff. We had places to go people to meet and bones to acquire.
I was very keen to get to the SPCK bookshop which, along with worthy religious books, stocked fabulous reads such as ‘Wish For A Pony’ by Ruby Ferguson. But Dad was a Co. Limerick clergyman and sometimes met acquaintances as we strolled, like boulevardiers, along the great Limerick streets. His chats with these adults seemed to go on for ages. Sometimes I gave him a very light kick on the shin to hurry him up, but he just replied calmly “Grace, why are you kicking me?” This was a very canny adult manoeuvre and showed he had learned much from his years as a teacher. Thankfully the conversations couldn’t go on for too long because we had to do our errands and get back to the Royal George Hotel at the appointed time. We had to return big hardbound books the library and select new ones and linger in the SPCK bookshop and do stuff on the list.The list was an important part of our trips to Limerick.
I knew that out there in the teaming streets my mother would, at some stage, buy her favourite cake which was square and covered in white icing and brown iced boxes, each containing a glace cherry or a walnut. It would be placed in a cardboard cake box and eaten when we got home. This was another Limerick ritual though I don’t seem to remember where the cake came from. Was I ever with her when she bought it? It is a mystery that adds to the allure of those long ago afternoons.
Bolgers, Nesbitts tobacconists, the Savoy Cinema…these were all great names in the Limerick pantheon. And of course there was Cruises Hotel too but that wasn’t our hotel. In fact as far as I recall I didn’t enter it until I was in my late teens and looked around it as if it had once been forbidden territory. Of course there was also Jurys but that had a transatlantic feel about it and looked very modern…as though it could be anywhere. No, it was the Royal George that played a pivotal part in our Limerick afternoons and we were loyal to it. It had impressive revolving doors, the waiters were attentive and the tea cups clinked daintily. My father could not do without tea for extended periods, so in some ways our relieved sprawls on its capacious seats were not just pleasant but necessary.
For soon we would have to gather ourselves to make the careful car trip home with cake, books and bones stored in bags on the back seat. Leaving the bright lights big city afternoon for a small rural village. Feeling satisfied and tired and strangely replete.