If I’m honest, had we not taken the free guided tour of The Hunt Museum we would have raced through, read superficially, and learned little. As it was, we were offered a personal guide who drew us in with her passion and knowledge. We stayed an hour and a half and the time fairly flew.
John and Gertrude Hunt were successful antique dealers who had a deep love of art and ancient artifacts. Throughout their lives, they amassed a diverse personal collection ranging from a stone-age bronze shield to drawings by Pablo Picasso. This 2,000+ piece collection of Greek art, Celtic tools, medieval weapons, jewelry, coins, paintings, religious artifacts, and much more is housed in Limerick’s old Customs House, an 18th century Georgian on the river Shannon.
Our guide asked what interested us particularly and would have tailored the tour to our request, but we asked to see her favorites. As we passed through each room, she’d stop at a piece and explain both its historical significance and its personal tie to the Hunt family. These revealing stories brought the museum to life! The Hunts truly loved the things they collected and wanted to be surrounded by them on a daily basis. Mrs. Hunt had a Picasso hanging in her kitchen, kept daffodils in a 2700 year old alabaster vase, and the Hunt children grew up playing with “the small things”, trading ancient figurines back and forth (I’ll give you these if you give me that). Love it! Part of me is horrified at the risk of damage, but mostly I’m in awe of their healthy decision to intimately enjoy their collection.
I was also delighted each time we found a piece linked to recent sightseeing. For me at least, repetitive exposure brings deeper understanding. A few examples:
- Lough Gur: We visited Lough Gur just hours before but had no idea that John Hunt was the man who helped excavate the site, bought the land at Craggaunowen, restored the castle, started the museum, and eventually donated it all.
- The Swiss Cottage: Because of her work on the Swiss Cottage, I thought Sybil Connolly was an interior designer; turns out she was also a famed fashion designer. Ms. Connolly moved to interior design with the advent of the mini-skirt; she was a classic designer and no interest in changing her style. A few of Sybil’s miniature sample dresses are on display at the Hunt and - I think - Trudy Hunt used them as doll dresses (!).
- Kilmallock: We rented the lovely Flemingstown House just south of Kilmallock and drove through the town often. In the Hunt, we found a large oil painting of the town along with a “sheela” (a stone carving that will make you blush) found in a Kilmallock bridge. Brief conversation hinted that Kilmallock has a rich history. I wish we'd explored more. Lost opportunity :(
- The Sam Maguire Cup: We didn’t see the Sam Maguire in the Hunt, but did see it! Karen, Chris and I joined a festive street rally for the Dubs after they beat Kerry in the all-Ireland Gaelic football final. We were surrounded by an exuberant crowd, proud of their boys who “brought the Sam Maguire home”. The cup is a faithful reproduction of the Ardagh Chalice, a copy of which is on display in the museum.
The Hunt Museum was a bright spot in an otherwise mundane visit to Limerick. It’s not Limerick’s fault; we were low energy and Chris was a bit sick. It was also a drab weekday in the off-season, a terrible time to visit the Milk Market, our first stop in in Limerick, which was quiet and rather sad with only a few stalls offering almost flea market quality wares - a far cry from the bustling market I’d remembered from my last trip. We also realized that most of the group had their fill of "big city" Ireland with our stay in Dublin. As much as Limerick may have to offer, it's a city and we craved quaint countryside.
While Chris and I explored the Hunt, Jennifer, Lynne and David toured King John’s Castle, which they unanimously voted their favorite castle. That's saying something; they had plenty to compare! King John’s is an early 13th century castle overlooking the river Shannon. As I recall from my previous visit, it’s great for kids and adults alike with high-quality interpretive exhibits and a restored outdoor courtyard with siege weapons and blacksmith’s forge. The €10/adult admission seemed steep compared to other sights, but I felt it was an excellent value for what we received.
We all came together at The Locke Bar, where we enjoyed dinner, live music, and a few pints.
Hunt Museum Location: On Rutland Street in Limerick city, County Limerick; GPS: 52.66616, –8.62416
Hours: 10am–5pm Monday-Saturday; 2–5pm Sundays and Bank Holidays. Visit the Hunt Museum website for hours, admission and directions.
Cost: €5/adult; concessions available; free every Sunday, and 2 for 1 on Mondays.