Day Four: Dublin
Dublin’s Ha’penny Bridge
Near the DoubleTree and within the city’s leafy “Embassy Belt,” our first stop on my second day in Dublin was Ireland’s largest events venue, the RDS (Royal Dublin Society), which encompasses several buildings on 40 sprawling acres. The society itself was formed in the early 1700s to improve the poor economic condition of the country by promoting agriculture, arts, industry, and science in Ireland. The society’s founders, according to the RDS website, believed “this objective could be achieved by the dissemination of knowledge and new ideas.” Not only do RDS’s culture and mission mesh with those of the meetings industry, but its flexible spaces and grounds — and its investment in technology and infrastructure — support conferences and exhibitions of all kinds and sizes. RDS hosts more than 500 events each year.
The entire venue holds 10 multipurpose conference and exhibition halls with a delegate capacity of 12,000 and unlimited flexibility. There are breakout rooms, an outdoor stadium, several concert venues, and a series of meeting rooms in the stately Georgian building facing busy Merrion Road — each space with its own personality.
As we strolled the lovely grounds where equestrian events are held, edged by a long, Tudor-style building, it was easy to imagine how the World Association of Flower Arrangers would have felt at home holding its triennial World Flower Show here last June. The event attracted 15,000 delegates.
More than 2,500 guest rooms lie within three kilometers of RDS, and we visited two partner properties that form the RDS Conference Village: Four Seasons Hotel and Bewley’s Hotel Ballsbridge. The sophisticated, five-star, 114-room/29-suite Four Seasons wraps around a manicured courtyard and offers two ballrooms with more than 15,000 square feet of space, private prefunction areas for exhibits or networking, four breakout rooms, and 12 private dining areas. The thousand-plus attendee Annual Global Airfinance Conference has been held at the Four Seasons for years, using all of the hotel’s meeting space to accommodate general sessions and multiple breakouts for 260 to 370 people.
The magnificent coral-stoned, Victorian-style Bewley’s Hotel Ballsbridge is a former Masonic Female Orphan School that opened in 1881. A recently completed refurbishment has modernized all 304 bedrooms as well as its seven meeting rooms, and restored the Thomas Prior Hall — which can seat 300 people theater-style — with its soaring wood ceiling and arched windows, to its original splendor.
We were off next to Trinity College — Ireland’s oldest university, ranked by Forbes as the sixth-most-beautiful college in the world. Located in the heart of hectic Dublin, the historic 47-acre campus seems nearly insulated from street noise, owing to its compact design and the fact that its main buildings, some of which date back to the 17th century, face inward on squares and gardens. The breathtaking campus was a hive of activity when I arrived — it was Freshers’ Week (student orientation), and one of the squares was filled with booths and students hawking their clubs and societies to freshmen.
Trinity College offers 800 guest rooms for meeting attendees during the summer months, in apartments with different layouts for individuals and families. Two main meeting facilities, the Trinity Conference Centre and the Hamilton Conference Centre, offer spaces that range in size from tiered lecture theaters for 400 people, to exhibition space, to small seminar rooms for 10 to 15 people. Approximately 800 delegates attended the International Health Economics Association’s 10th World Congress this past July, which utilized all the available theater space on campus.
As a special-event venue, Trinity College is second to none. Groups can rent the Long Room (image below), the main chamber of the Old Library, where endless rows of books stack up two stories to the barrel-vaulted wood ceiling, and whose first floor is lined with marble busts — an awe-inspiring reception space. In the Colonnades of the Old Library is the Book of Kells, a lavishly decorated manuscript of the four Gospels written on vellum and dating back to 800, which attracts a half-million visitors a year.
Trinity College’s 18th-century Dining Hall is an impressive space for dinners of 252 people or receptions for 500. Its adjoining East Dining Hall is filled with natural light and can be used in conjunction with the Dining Hall to accommodate an additional 150 for dining or 275 for receptions; the three-story atrium on the Dining Hall’s other side is ideal for buffets and receptions.
With all of this talk about dining events, I was glad lunch was next on our to-do list. We headed over to Cliff Townhouse, an intimate restaurant housed in an elegant Georgian guesthouse, where sunlight streamed through two tall windows overlooking St. Stephen’s Green. We were joined by Jennifer Churchward, international conference manager for Fáilte Ireland, who told me over a luscious fish pie how Ireland has seen an 11-percent growth in group business since 2011, attracting primarily the medical, IT, finance, and aviation sectors. For a relatively small island, Churchward said, “we punch above our weight.”
Our next site visit has been directly responsible for helping make Ireland a major contender in the convention arena — Convention Centre Dublin (CCD), Ireland’s first purpose-built convention center. The CCD opened its doors in September 2010 and was about to celebrate its one-thousandth event during my visit — the 2,500-delegate 53rd Annual European Society for Paediatric Endrocrinology Meeting. The venue has secured a host of global association events through 2018, including the Congress of the World Association for Buiatrics 2016 (the study of cattle and their diseases), the 37th International Symposium on Combustion 2018, and the World Congress of Biomechanics 2018.
The soaring facility can hold up to 8,000 people in 22 meeting rooms, which include a 2,000-seat auditorium and a 48,000-plus-square-foot exhibition and banqueting space, and is state-of-the-art — it’s the first carbon-neutral convention center in the world, and has recently tripled its Wi-Fi capacity to facilitate 12,000 concurrent devices. Meeting organizers who have held their event at the CCD give the center and its staff high marks — customer-satisfaction rates are consistently above 96 percent. All of this information is impressive, to be sure, but you need no context to be awestruck by the architectural beauty of the building. Its tilted glass-barrel design provides panoramic views in six spacious foyer levels of the River Liffey and the nearby harp-inspired Samuel Beckett Bridge, surrounding cityscape, and Dublin mountains.
More than 18,000 hotel rooms are within a six-mile radius of the CCD, including 6,000 within walking distance. We visited two: The Marker Hotel and The Spencer Hotel. The six-story, 187-room Marker debuted last year directly across the river from the CCD, in the Dublin Docklands — also called the “Silicon Docks” as a result of Google’s nearby gleaming office towers — and next door to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. The Marker’s distinctive, geometric façade is inspired by Ireland’s rocky landscape, a motif that’s carried throughout the four-star hotel, from its sleek, elemental ground-floor cocktail brasserie to the unique, angular layouts of its rooms. It offers nine meeting rooms for between 10 and 250 attendees on the ground floor with private street access, and a stunning outdoor/enclosed rooftop bar with sweeping 360-degree views of the city and surrounding mountains.
The four-star, 165-room Spencer Hotel is finishing up a property-wide refurbishment this year and is within steps of the CCD. The sleek lines and 1930s, ocean-liner–influenced design of its spacious lobby echo throughout the Spencer’s meeting spaces, which include a first-floor suite of rooms, some with outdoor terraces, and a lower-level space.
After touring three new buildings in a row, I was ready for another dose of history, and I found it at our next stop, RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland), an elegant, 19th-century, gray-stone building on St. Stephen’s Green. Here’s one historical tidbit: This building was occupied by rebel Irish forces during the 1916 Easter Rising, and if you look carefully when you walk up the stone steps, you can see bullet holes in the façade to the right and left of the entrance. Once inside, high ornate ceilings, two working fireplaces, and the impeccably preserved, original tile floors, stairs, and banister, dating back to 1810, give way to modern lecture theaters and seminar rooms that can be used for a variety of conferences and scientific meetings.
The main building for the medical college — which was founded in 1784 and provides undergraduate and postgraduate education — also offers distinctive atrium space. Marble busts and portraits of past college presidents adorn the historic meeting and dining rooms, conveying a proud history to galas of up to several hundred people.
I lingered over my final evening and meal in Dublin — roast Irish monkfish atop creamy mashed potatoes — at Fire Restaurant at The Mansion House. Fire’s 19th-century dining room is a soaring space of ornate, whitewood vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows that has served as the supper hall for The Mansion House. Built in 1710, The Mansion House has been the Lord Mayor of Dublin’s official residence for 300 years. There are six event spaces available for group conferences and events, including a large banquet hall — the Round Room — that forms a perfect circle (hence its name) under a high dome studded with twinkling stars. Like nearly all of the buildings I’d visited in Dublin over the past two days, if these walls could talk, they would have much to say about Ireland’s colorful political history. Built in 1821 to receive King George IV in an appropriately grand fashion, the Round Room is where the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which ended British rule in most of Ireland, was ratified exactly a century later.
Day Five: Cork
Cork’s Grande Parade
Driving from Dublin on Ireland’s east coast, southwest to Cork, near the Celtic Sea, my guide Paudy McCaughey made a quick stop in County Tipperary so I could marvel at one of Ireland’s largest castles, the amazingly intact Cahir Castle, built in 1142. The stone fortress is connected by an ancient bridge to the picturesque town of Cahir, whose colorful storefronts are lined up like a pack of crayons.
In contrast, Cork, Ireland’s third-largest city, is a lovely muddle of buildings — Georgian storefronts, soaring cathedrals, ancient moss-covered ruins — that seem to cascade down the hills on either side of the River Lee. The river divides into two channels and on an island between them lies the city center, where I was headed for lunch with Cork Convention Bureau’s Steve Cox and Evelyn O’Sullivan. I passed through the English Market’s ornate entrance and was greeted by a profusion of stalls with displays of fresh produce, fish, meat, breads, and cheeses being looked over by a lunchtime crowd. Up a flight of stairs was Farmgate Café, whose balcony overlooks the humming Market, which has been in operation on this site — and likely served as the community hub — for more than 220 years.
“Cork,” O’Sullivan told me as I tucked into a luscious, custardy kale quiche, “is at the top of its game right now” as a destination for association meetings. And the destination soon will be upping that game, with exciting plans for construction of a new, 6,000-seat Cork Events Centre set to start next year.
Right now, Cork’s largest conference venue is City Hall, a stately building with limestone pillars and a copper-domed clock tower built in the 1930s that faces the river. The facility, which I visited after lunch, serves as headquarters for the city’s administration, and includes a fine concert hall with an impressive domed ceiling, which can be “fitted out” for groups of 900 people theater-style or 800 banquet-style, and has additional space for small exhibitions and breakouts.
Cork city has more than 2,800 guest rooms, and I was off next to visit 150 of them — at the modern, four-star Rochestown Park Hotel. This elegant hotel offers 12 conference and banqueting suites, including the flexible Estuary Suite, whose floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the Mahon Estuary, and which can accommodate 700 theater-style and 530 for a gala dinner.
University College Cork (UCC) was next on my list of site visits, with Cox and I walking along its leafy campus overlooking the Lee Valley. Founded in 1845, the UCC’s campus is a mix of modern and historic buildings, the most impressive of which is the Tudor Gothic quadrangle, with its Long Hall and clock tower facing a vast green lawn. When classes aren’t in session, the campus offers a range of unique, state-of-the-art conference and special-event spaces, including seminar rooms with a seating capacity of 10 to 130; two award-winning galleries in the modernistic Lewis Gluckman Gallery on the lower grounds of the campus, which can host groups of 130 each; the staff common room, which can seat 130 for dinner among its floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and warm, wood-paneled walls; the vaulted neo-Gothic Aula Maxima hall, with gorgeous stained-glass windows and the capacity to seat 220 for conferences and 130 for gala dinners; and the modern, curved-glass-fronted Devere Hall, which can accommodate 432 conference-style.
The UCC plays an integral role in Cork’s Ambassador network, and was influential in winning the prestigious Neonatal Brain Research Group Conference, which will bring 350 delegates to the university next September.
To give conference attendees an experience of a whole other sort, there’s the Cork City Gaol, sitting high on a hill on the other side of the river. This magnificent red-, green-, and brown-colored sandstone building is a fine example of Irish castle architecture, built in 1824, and housing prisoners from pre-famine times to the foundation of the state of Ireland. A handful of cells feature lifelike wax figures of prisoners, and the gaol makes a memorable, if haunting, special-event venue.
I shook off the ghosts during the short drive to my hotel, Hayfield Manor, a half-mile up the hill from the UCC campus, tucked away in a two-acre garden oasis. This five-star, 88-room hotel was built in 1996, but carries itself as a gracious manor house from a bygone era, albeit with all the high-tech conveniences of the present. Hayfield Manor can accommodate 110 in a range of conference rooms, seat 270 for dinner, and has two restaurants. From my window, I could see the comings and goings of guests in the entry courtyard below, the manicured gardens, and the city beyond as I freshened up for dinner.
After a scenic 15-mile drive, Paudy and I arrived at the charming fishing village of Kinsale, where I enjoyed a freshly caught hake and the warm hospitality of Cork Convention Bureau Chairman Seamus Heaney and his wife, Audrey, at Fishy Fishy. When I returned to my room at Hayfield Manor, I left my window partly open to catch the soft evening breeze. Off in the distance, I could hear students singing in the streets, and as I drifted off to sleep I remembered: It’s Freshers’ Week in Ireland.
Day Six: Killarney
We drove an hour-and-a-half west, through the lovely countryside, to Killarney, and before I checked into my hotel, Paudy made a stop I’d come to expect: another atmospheric, ancient castle. The grand Ross Castle has stood at the rim of Killarney’s lower lake since it was built in the late-15th century, and earned a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2013. Its builder, Middle Ages chieftain O’Donoghue Ross — who, legend has it, rises from his slumber under the waters of Lough Leane on the first morning of May every seventh year to circle the lake on his magnificent white horse — is no doubt proud.
I was staying at Killarney’s largest hotel, The Malton Hotel, which got its start in 1854, opening at the same time as the railway station across the road, the final destination for the new line from Dublin to Killarney. Said to be Ireland’s first tourist destination, Killarney has been welcoming visitors since the mid-18th century. The elegant, 172-room Malton has magnificent dividing staircases and wide corridors — built to allow two ladies in their hooped dresses to pass each other unobstructed. In the Malton’s Victorian Garden Room Restaurant, diners can gaze out over landscaped gardens and marvel at the room’s stunning, gold-leaf-gilt domed ceiling.
The modern Malton Conference Centre, adjoining the hotel via an enclosed glass walkway, was abuzz with a PepsiCo Worldwide Flavours conference during my visit. The center can accommodate up to 950 people in the flexible and elegant Muckross Suite, spacious foyer, and lobby (complete with marble fireplace and comfortable couches), as well as a 225-seat theater. The main hotel offers four additional meeting rooms.
The charming shops in Killarney’s town center beckoned just steps from the Malton, but any shopping had to wait. I was off to visit the 68-room, five-star Muckross Park Hotel & Spa, in the heart of the 26,000-acre Killarney National Park. Originally built in 1795, the property has seen numerous additions and combines history with modern luxury. Kerry Convention Bureau’s Michelle Murphy joined me for lunch in the hotel’s warmly wood-paneled, historic Monk’s Lounge. But first, we had a walk-through of the property’s eight distinct meeting rooms, which range from contemporary to traditional and can accommodate up to 350 delegates. I lingered at the property’s award-winning, monastic-inspired Cloisters Spa.
We were picked up by a horse-drawn jaunting car for a ride through Killarney National Park — home to Ireland’s highest mountain range, McGillycuddy’s Reeks, and its largest standing forest. Bouncing along the dirt path through the mighty trees, we pulled up to Muckross Abbey Friary. Founded in the mid-1400s, the mostly roofless abbey is amazingly well preserved; equally astonishing is the majestic yew tree that rises in the center of the cloisters, believed to be as old as the abbey itself.
In the midst of the park’s woodlands, waterways, and moorlands is its cultural attraction, Muckross House & Traditional Farms. The ornate, 19th-century mansion house pays homage to the calendar with its 52 chimneys and 365 windows, and stands close to the shores of the breathtaking Muckross Lake. Its extensive sculpted gardens were originally designed for Queen Victoria’s visit in 1861, and the property — available for receptions — is still fit for a queen.
A more recent addition to Muckross is the string of dwellings, including traditional working farms, built as exact replicas of those found in the Irish countryside during the 1930s and 1940s, when electricity had yet to be introduced. Among them is a two-room schoolhouse, circa 1910, that can be used for groups of 250 people, classroom-style, and 170 for a sit-down meal. It’s the perfect setting for groups with a historical or agricultural bent, or those who want to spend time in a bucolic setting, experiencing a simpler way of life.
Among Killarney’s stock of 2,500 hotel rooms, there’s plenty of variety, and I checked out a handful of them that afternoon. First up was the four-star, 131-room Lake Hotel, on the shore of the Lakes of Killarney, which has been welcoming guests — and wowing them with awe-inspiring views — since 1820. Event spaces include the Castle Suite, which can seat up to 80 for dining and cater to 160 for a cocktail reception, as well as a more intimate reception room.
Randles Court Hotel is a four-star, 76-room hotel with a sunny yellow and brick exterior. This former rectory, built in 1906, feels very much like a comfortable, albeit luxurious, traditional country home. Its sister property next door, Dromhall Hotel, is owned and managed by the same family. The 72-room, 50-year-old, four-star hotel has a sweeping staircase off the marble lobby, and offers several meeting spaces, including the Shelbourne Suite, accommodating 400 theater-style, in addition to two more-intimate spaces. I was grateful for the chance to collect myself in Randles’ intimate sitting room with some afternoon tea and scones.
The five-star, 68-room Killarney Park Hotel also has a cheery-yellow façade and an understated, clubby sophistication. The property features a handful of meeting spaces. The largest, the Kerry Suite, can seat 120 delegates theater-style and is divisible; the Ross Suite is ideal for groups up to 40; and two smaller rooms can seat 10 each.
In the hub of town is the stylish, modern, four-star Killarney Plaza Hotel and Spa, which has 198 rooms and three meeting spaces, ranging from the
McShain Suite, which can accommodate 250 theater-style, to the Sika Room (60 theater-style) and the Cherry Room (30 theater-style).
We headed out of Killarney’s center to the sleek, 74-room Aghadoe Heights Hotel and Spa.
This luxury, five-star, hilltop property offers The Lake Room restaurant, which can be taken over by groups of up to 180 people; the Garden Room, which can seat 120 theater-style and be configured in a number of ways; and the Executive Boardroom, for 10 delegates.
For the ultimate, intimate special-event space, there’s the 3,000-square-foot Penthouse, which I visited via private elevator. The fifth-floor, two- bedroom apartment space has a lobby, a bar, a study, drawing and dining rooms, and an adjacent chef’s kitchen for private dining of up to 20 guests. I was ready to sink into the couch in front of the flickering fireplace with my flute of champagne, soothed by the piped-in music. But first: the wraparound terrace. I drank in the uninterrupted view, which manages to capture the elemental nature of this hauntingly beautiful slice of Ireland. Directly across the road below are the ruins of a Romanesque church, the 13th-century Parkavonear Castle, and an ancient burial ground, timelessly standing watch over rolling green meadows, the lakes of Killarney, and McGillycuddy’s Reeks beyond.
I summoned my willpower to leave this bit of heaven for my next site visit, which included dinner at The Brehon Hotel’s elegant Danú Restaurant. Before I settled in to savor seared Irish organic chicken with perfectly firm asparagus spears and glazed carrots, I took a look around the hotel. Just 10 years old, this four-story, 123-room luxury property is a relative newcomer to the Killarney hotel scene, and can accommodate conferences from 50 to 250 people in its flexible and contemporary Brehon Suite. The hotel — within steps of the Killarney Convention Centre, which has the capacity to host 200 to 2,500 delegates in the main auditorium — is often chosen as the headquarters hotel for national and international conferences of 500 to 2,000 attendees.
Before leaving the Malton the following morning, I learned that EUROPARC Conference 2014 is set to meet here at the end of September. I’d been in Killarney for just 24 hours, but was sure the 500 delegates — professionals from major European conservation organizations — could find no better destination to explore this year’s conference theme: “Understanding the Value of Nature.”
Day Seven: Adare
On our way northeast to the final leg of my trip, in County Limerick, we wound through the delightful Heritage Town of Listowel, one of 27 Heritage Towns designated by the Irish government, each with its own character and rich history. I’d enjoyed dinner in one, Kinsale, and was on my way to another, Adare, which has a well-established reputation as one of the prettiest villages in all of Ireland.
Lined with charming, thatched cottages that have survived for hundreds of years, Adare’s streets are also studded with beautiful stone buildings and medieval monasteries that have withstood an even longer test of time. But this is no museum to the past; it’s a thriving, vibrant village. With just a quick turn, we left the hustle and bustle of the street behind to enter a storybook setting: the magnificent 19th-century neo-Gothic Adare Manor Castle & Golf Resort, nestled on an 840-acre estate. We arrived early, so my room wasn’t yet ready — all the better for me. I settled into a leather couch in The Library, where I split my time between taking in the ornate antique furnishings, the walls lined with books, and the sculptured arched ceiling, and simply gazing out over the formal garden beyond the tall windows.
There are innumerable elements that add to the magic of this stone castle, whose stone walls were coated in early-fall red ivy during my visit — everything from its intricate stonework and gargoyles to its status as another rare calendar house, with 365 stained-glass windows, 52 chimneys, seven pillars, and four towers. The five-star hotel offers 62 rooms in five categories in the manor house as well as 42 villas and nine townhouses near its Golf Club.
Groups can make a fairy-tale en-trance to Adare Manor with a “Horse and Hound” welcome, escorted by horseback riders and Irish hounds. Four separate meeting spaces include the 504-square-foot Private Dining Room and the 2,587-square-foot Minstrel’s Gallery. Inspired by the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles and lined on either side with 17th-century Flemish choir stalls, the gallery can seat 200 people at round tables or 90 at one long table — an understatement, given that this is the second-longest banquet hall in Ireland, running 132 feet from east to west (see photo on opposite page).
After my check-in, I met Shannon Region Conference & Sports Bureau’s Karen Brosnahan and Adam Skerritt for lunch across the road, at the sunny-yellow, four-star Dunraven Arms Hotel, established in 1792. We looked out over a lovely garden square (which all 86 guest rooms face) in the conservatory while we chatted over homemade soup and hearty sandwiches. Following lunch, we walked in the warm sunshine to the adjacent White House, a three-year-old, two-story, purpose-built conference center that includes a functional kitchen, with the capacity to seat 200 people theater-style.
A quick drive into the countryside and we were at Fitzgerald’s Woodlands House Hotel, a 94-room, sprawling Irish country house, which offers two restaurants and a bistro, a state-of-the-art fitness center with pool, and the five-star Revas Day Spa, whose tranquil 18 treatment rooms and extensive facilities offer an enticing oasis. The property has built a reputation for hosting team-building activities that take advantage of its 44 acres of private grounds, and can host conferences of all kinds in the Fitzgerald Suite, which opens to the garden and can seat 400, in addition to smaller spaces for breakouts.
Back at Adare Manor, I strolled the lovely grounds — a mix of woods, formal gardens, and the ruins of a Franciscan friary founded in 1464, which is part of Adare Manor’s golf course.
I continued my walk to 1826, an intimate, award-winning restaurant in one of the village’s quaint thatched cottages, so named for the date it was built. The chef-owner bases all his dishes on wild, free-range, seasonal, and local produce, and I followed my delightfully spicy red-lentil and vegetable dahl with a sticky toffee pudding with rum-raisin ice cream for dessert. Just to cool things off.
Day Eight: Limerick
It was my final full day in Ireland, and as the local expression goes, it was “a soft one,” meaning my raincoat came in handy for the first time in a week. I left one castle (Adare Manor) for another: Dromoland Castle Golf & Country Club, a short distance away, in Newmarket-on-Fergus in County Clare. After a long, curving drive from the property’s gateway, a grand, blue-limestone gothic revival castle came into view, its four tall turrets standing guard over a tranquil lake. This five-star, 99-room luxury hotel sitting on 450 acres is one of Ireland’s finest historic landmarks and also one of a few rare castle hotels that can trace their ownership to Irish families of royal heritage.
While its lineage goes back to the 16th century, Dromoland offers groups the chance to step back in time without sacrificing any modern amenities, comforts (it boasts an exceptional spa), or technology. Four meeting rooms accommodate between 25 and 90 delegates theater-style, and the baronial Brian Boru Hall can host 400 for a grand banquet and 450 classroom-style.
Our next visit, to the University of Limerick, brought us squarely back into the 21st century. This sprawling, modern campus in a parkland setting borders the River Shannon, offering many meeting spaces and plentiful accommodations — five residential villages with a total of 2,400 rooms; 1,500 en-suite rooms share a large kitchen lounge in each apartment. Conferences that have met at the university in recent years range from the Sociolinguistics Symposium to Operation Smile International Student Leadership Conference.
Meeting spaces run the gamut, from two lecture theaters that seat 320 each to more than 30 breakout rooms, foyer areas, a 5,382-square-foot exhibition hall, and a magnificent, thousand-seat concert hall with two large adjoining theaters. The bright and airy atrium outside the concert hall is ideally suited for registration, exhibitions, or a reception.
Known as Ireland’s Sporting Campus, the university has attracted many international sporting events, including the World Down Syndrome Swimming Championship. Its extensive state-of-the-art sporting facilities — including Ireland’s first Olympic swimming pool — were a major factor in its selection as one of three finalists to host the 12,000-athlete Gay Games 2018. Boasting a new medical school, the university will bridge medicine with sports next June when it hosts the week-long World Medical and Health Games, bringing two thousand sports enthusiasts from medical professions in 40 countries to compete in 24 sports.
Getting my arms around all the university has to offer was something of an athletic event, so I was grateful that lunch was next, at the Strand Hotel, in the vibrant city center. Limerick has the distinction of being named the inaugural National City of Culture in Ireland, a new government initiative in which a city will be designated every two years to deliver a year-long program that showcases all the city has to offer in arts and cultural expression. When I visited, signs of Limerick’s celebration of local music, crafts, art, dance, literature, and performance were everywhere.
Opened in 2007, the ultra-modern, four-star, seven-floor, 184-room Strand offers sweeping views of the River Shannon and surrounding city. Its sixth-floor meeting spaces include the Shannon Suite (600 conference-style, 450 for banquets) and the City View Suite, which features a wraparound outdoor terrace, as well as additional meeting suites and a breakout lounge.
My final hotel visit and overnight stay in Ireland was at The Savoy Hotel, a five-star boutique property with 94 guest rooms, a bar on the ground floor that reflects the history of the area’s former life as the “Savoy Theatre,” the spacious Liszt Lounge on the first floor, and Hamptons Grill next door. The Savoy offers 11 contemporary meeting rooms, all with natural daylight. Seven of the rooms are intimate spaces accommodating from eight to 14 people boardroom-style; the largest room seats 220 theater-style, while two other rooms fit 180 and another room accommodates 80.
The Savoy is located near 13th-century King John’s Castle, in the midst of Limerick’s lively shops and pubs. On my last night in Ireland, I wandered between the two, drawn as much to a colorful past as to a vibrant present.