If old Lansdowne Road, now the Aviva Stadium, is the home of Irish Rugby then Limerick is Rugby’s spiritual home with Thomond Park its temple.
Rugby is a large part of life in the South West of the Country, with Limerick able to boast three teams in the country’s domestic league, not bad for a County with just over 90,000 people.
Thomond Park is the home of Munster Rugby and the jewel in Limerick’s and the rest of the province's crown.
The multipurpose stadium has hosted International Rugby matches in both Union and League as well Republic of Ireland International Football matches, the Special Olympics opening ceremony and concerts from some of music’s biggest names including Bob Dylan, P!NK and Elton John.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Unlike most sporting events held in Ireland, Rugby benefits from licensing laws which allow it to serve alcohol at games. Beer is served within the ground in kiosks and outside the stadium in the Bohs and Shannon bars.
Inside the stadium the kiosks serve Guinness, lager, hot whiskeys, tea, coffee and fizzy pop drinks.
A Guinness would cost in the region of €5 euro and along with the lager is served in a plastic cup. On previous visits to the Stadium alcohol was not allowed into the stand however on my most recent trip to a game this did not seem to be an issue anymore.
Snack food such as chocolate, crisps and Sandwiches are also available inside the stadium while outside burgers, chips (fries), hot dogs and other hot food are available from independent vendors. A beef burger costs €5 euro.
A more worthwhile culinary experience on a match day would be to sample the pig in the stick which can be found outside the Curragower pub on the banks of the Shannon River. Again for the magic sum of €5 euro fans can sample the finest slowly cooked Pork in a bread roll.
A rather loud "Shhhhhh" rings out through Thomond Park when a penalty or conversion is being kicked and the respect shown to home and opposition players is one of the reasons that fans love a visit to Limerick.
A re-development of the ground completed in 2008 means that 25,600 fans can now enter the turnstiles on a match day and while the East and West Stands are amongst the best you'll see in any sporting venue, for the true rugby experience the terrace is where you want to be.
Only here can you hear the grunt of the players as they engage in a scrum or the ever so polite questioning of a referee's decision by a team captain.
Munster fans know their rugby and whether it's in the stand or the terrace every tackle is felt and every decision questioned in tandem with the players.
The ground is often used by Limerick sides UL Bohemians and Shannon hence you have a "club" bar for each through the main gate. The "Bohs" bar was part of the recent developments and as such is more modern than its Shannon counterpart although neither lack in atmosphere pre match.
Thomond Park is situated in the North of the City nestled in suburban housing estates 2 kilometres from the centre of the City. The area is a build up housing community that lacks top class bars and restaurants. Fans typically meet in the Shannon or Bohemian's bar pre-game although the Ardhu and Curragower, both within a fifteen minute walk of the stadium, have good atmospheres and are lively watering holes before and after a game.
Munster fans are renowned for their love and knowledge for all things rugby and are amongst the most passionate you will find in the oval balled game. Visiting teams and fans are treated with the utmost respect, no more so evident during the hush that descends over the ground with an opposition number ten is taking a place kick.
After the game Munster fans are renowned for their banter and willingness to engage in friendly discussion on the outcome of the game.
In terms of access there are two main aspects that strike you. The first one is that it is easier to move around inside the stadium than it is outside it. The main entrance leads into the West Stand and this is where you find the ticket collection point, not to mention the two main bars.
Fans based in the East stand and Terrace must go back out the main entrance to go down towards the City, a short walk of less than a minute. The North Terrace is easier as you can access from the main entrance and it's at the back of the ground. Admittedly you can access the East Stand this way too.
The toilets in the stands are large, easy to access and clean. As with any event expect a queue at half time and full time. The same would apply to those wishing for half time refreshments.
Parking around the ground is limited however with Park and Ride facilities based in four areas of the city all commuters are catered for.
The Park and Ride facilities are based in Kilmurry Lodge Hotel, the Radisson Hotel on the Ennis Road, the South Court Hotel in Raheen and in the Woodlands Hotel in Adare.
There is also a bus service from Henry Street in the town centre although for the most health conscious, the twenty minute stroll out from the City takes you past one of Ireland's most famous monuments, the Treaty Stone, which is worth a visit on its own merit.
A visit to Thomond Park is a must for any Rugby fan, especially for a Munster game. Tickets to a game costs between €20 euro for a terrace pass and €30/€40 for a stand ticket excluding booking fees.
If you are in Limerick for a weekend or have sufficient time before a game, subject to opening times, a visit to the museum complete with stadium tour is a must. The tour showcases the proud heritage of Munster Rugby and offers fans the chance to visit areas of the stadium typically reserved for players, management and officials.
An interactive experience, the tour also gives fans the chance to practice their line out skills.
Given its multi use functionality it's no surprise to learn that the Stadium can be used for Weddings, Communions, Confirmations and conferences and it's this flexibility which generates year round use of the venue.
Photo attributed to James Corbett.
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