Re-imagining Limerick City…

What sort of city should Limerick be? What sort of city do people from Limerick want to live in? Every major development in Limerick should at least give some consideration to those two questions.

There has been some discussion over the new footbridge that has been proposed from Arthur’s Quay park, across in front of the Custom House and over to the Courthouse. The total cost of this bridge appears to be in the region of 20 million euro.

It would be wrong and premature to dismiss this bridge project without seeing detailed plans however, if we were to step back to before the planning stage and asked what is the best use of 20 million euro from a tourist point of view in Limerick, would the answer be “a bridge from Arthur’s quay to the Courthouse” or are there other projects that should also form part of the discussion?

Limerick city has benefitted from some significant tourist developments in the past 6 years. The three main ones have probably been the re-development of the Milk Market, the upgrade of the facilities at King John’s castle, and the boardwalks along Clancy and O’Callaghan strands and along Honan’s quay. Limerick city is continually improving its tourist infrastructure and any discussion should give credit to the recent developments.

The Milk Market has thrived since its renovation 6 years ago. In addition to being an award winning market, it has become a successful concert venue, it has hosted diverse musical and cultural acts and become part of the cultural fabric of the Midwest region. This success has lead to the growth of the Market quarter, the area of pubs in the vicinity of the Milk Market. However, bars and the market alone do not make the Market Quarter a cultural hub. If Limerick is to progress the city should aim to develop a sector of the city that can compete with areas such as Temple Bar in Dublin. It is easy to be critical of Temple Bar but despite its super-pub reputation it also has several amenities such gig venues, cinemas, galleries and restaurants.

Venues such as Ormston House show what can be achieved with a dedicated space for exhibitions. Hopefully, the acquisition of the former Instore premises by the Limerick College of Art and Design will continue the development of the culture edge to the Market Quarter.

The proposed 20 million investment in the bridge could be better utilised in further improving the Market Quarter by the addition of further cultural amenities and by street scape improvements, ideally ones that help facilitate and promote the stalls outside the Milk Market. Furthermore, there exists side by side with the market several under-utilised lots that could be the sites for any number of civic buildings, be it museums, galleries, cinemas or exhibition space. We should be trying to revitalise this area as the cultural centre of Limerick and ideally, the entire midwest. If there is money to invest, surely this area merits investment?

Likewise, King John’s castle has been revitalised by the recent investment. the numbers of visitors went from 85,000 in 2014 to 100,000 in 2015. The sold out concert there by the Coronas in the summer 2016 should see that number maintained or exceeded in 2016. By any metric it has been a success. If the city is to build on these figures, Nicholas street has to be redeveloped. Nicholas street is the old main street of Limerick city, and the main thoroughfare between the castle and Saint Mary’s Cathedral. The city needs to earnestly look at how best this area can be preserved and developed. A thorough audit of the existing architectural heritage of King’s Island should be undertaken and a development plan should be adopted. Interestingly, the old Limerick Courthouse, currently occupied by Gaelscoil Sairseal is to be vacated shortly, leaving another interesting, historic building on King’s Island under utilised.

King’s Island is where the original Viking settlement in Limerick was founded. It was the site of the Palaces of the O’Brien’s. It was the site of the Norman city,  and later one of the last strongholds of Catholic Ireland in the Sieges. Ir was from the quays by the current Courthouse that “Famine Ships” sailed for America in the 1840s. King John’s castle was a British Military garrison during the War of Independence and King’s Island continues to this day to be the Administrative centre of Limerick city. A full audit of all the historical buildings and remnants of the City Walls should be undertaken and a refurbishment plan, where feasible, should be adopted. It is time for Nicholas street to be restored as the beginning of this process.

Below is the current view of Nicholas street, on any given evening. We should be trying to improve the route from King John’s castle to St. Mary’s Cathedral.

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It is not necessary to criticise the suggested new bridge to see quite easily that there are other projects in Limerick that could merit from the investment proposed for it. Limerick people need to answer the two questions set out above.What sort of city should Limerick be? What sort of city do people from Limerick want to live in?

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