There has been an understandable hue and cry about the closure of the White House Pub, partly because people feel they are losing another part of the city’s fabric, partly because of the fears of what the new owners will try to make the bar turn a profit. Unfortunately, the White House Pub shows that while cultural activities are enjoyable they aren’t always or often profitable. It’s a brave choice of pub considering the restrictions placed on the exterior of the building and probably has too small a floor space (currently) to be anything other than moderately successful. I don’t know what the new owners have in store for the White House but I wish them well. Hopefully they can find solutions that everyone favours but it profits no one to preserve the past to the point where the present functions are unsupportable.
All that said, it does leave the question of where our poets should gather now. Limerick city and county has long been a haven for bards and it would be a shame if the current crop weren’t able to extend that legacy to another generation. Tom and Jerry’s Pub is giving them sanctuary but rather than restricting themselves to bars though, a novel, if obvious suggestion presents itself but first, a small bit of a digression. Arthurs Quay Park is built on the site of an old carpark, which itself was placed on land reclaimed from the river. In many ways it is a good symbol of the city. A great idea, badly realised, and poorly maintained.
The park’s greatest feature might even be its featurelessness. There is no playground to attract in young families, there are no statues or sculptures to commemorate or celebrate our city. It is largely under-utilised for 11 of the 12 months of the year, though this year’s Riverfest showed what can be staged there with a bit of imagination and German beer and EV+A have held memorable exhibits there over the years. (To digress further, Limerick is crying out for a Christmas market, we have the ideal place for it, why not make it happen?)
In one corner of the park however, there used to be a statue. It was of wild geese in flight and was a present to the city from our sister city Spokane to commemorate the Treaty of Limerick. After vandalism the statue was moved to the small park between City Hall and the river. The plinth was left behind, presumably to accommodate a new statue though none has been forthcoming, nor has any been suggested. It stands, almost impressively, as a monument to “what-could-have-beens”. The city does not appear to have a plan for it at present. I would suggest that the poets of Limerick do not wait for permission but rather adopt this plinth as their lectern while they seek out a new permanent home. There can be no better backdrop to poetry than the river and the Clare hills on one side and the bleak reality of a shuttered Dunnes stores on the other.
The plinth and the park tell the story of modern Limerick to a sad degree. It is unfortunately a story of good ideas not quite realised, of public spaces not maintained, under-utilised and unloved. Perhaps the idea of Poetry in the Park is too small an idea to ever catch on but the city deserves better and the poets deserve a platform.