The Midwest will rise again…

Listening to the various commentators about the state of the Midwest’s economy it is hard to get an accurate picture of the overall health of the region. What would an economic recovery in Limerick look like? Is it already happening? If it is happening, when will it be complete? When will Limerick be back to pre-recession levels? And just how bad did it get?

One crude measurement of how the economy of Limerick is progressing is by comparing the levels of unemployment in Limerick from pre and post recession. The CSO publish figures for the numbers of unemployed people in Limerick city, Limerick county, Kilmallock and Newcastle West from March 2002 to date. They give some indication of the health of Limerick’s economy over the past 15 years. I have included the full table below but it’s worth looking at four months in particular to get an overall picture of the the last 15 years.

In March 2002 there was 15,352 people unemployed in Limerick city and county. This figure dropped down to 13,506 in November 2005. November 2005 represents the best month Limerick had in terms of unemployment figures in the last 14 years. There is an theory that every economy has a natural rate of unemployment, that is a figure combining both structural and frictional unemployment which would be expected to hold steady in a long term economy outside of cyclical influences. For Limerick that figure would appear to be somewhere between 13,500 and 15,000 people considering the overall health of the National economy at that time. With this figure in mind, just how bad did things get in the recession?

By August 2010 the number of people signing on as unemployed had reached a staggering 46,830. It is worth reflecting on the number. It is over three times as high as unemployment was in in the stable years from 2002 to 2006. It represents the collapse of Ireland’s economic sovereignty (as played out county by county), it represents the return of mass emigration after 20 years of inward migration but more than that it represents on a human scale the level of damage that Limerick suffered in a extraordinarily short period of time. Every one of those figures is an individual who had to defer their plans and was unable to live the life they wanted to. Collectively it is the stark figure of families separated by unemployment, of the struggles the Midwest endured along with the rest of the country. It is a number that still echoes throughout the region. 46,830 represents 24.24% of the entire population of the county. It is a tragic figure and it is one we should remember when we speak about the reality of unemployment in Limerick.

It is important to though to acknowledge that from that nadir things have improved. The most recent figure for people signing on is from November 2016 and is 22,288. It is a huge credit to the people of the city and the county collectively the economy of the region has recovered. There is a prevailing sense that any recovery is exaggerated or not being felt outside Dublin and the east coast but these figures do indicate there has been a substantial reduction in the number of the people registered as unemployed.

At 22,288 people the unemployment rate is still at a high figure, certainly too high a figure to forget how much hard work still lies ahead but it is important to acknowledge how much has been achieved. The below graph demonstrates the massive economic shock Limerick suffered in from July 2007 to August 2010, combined with the period of stability beforehand and the relative recovery that has occurred since.

201716184073154909lrm07_1841583

It is worth comparing the above graph with a graph which represents the entire country.

201717044463157171lrm07_0445133

It is interesting to post these figures because, as mentioned, there is a perception that Limerick’s recovery still lags behind Dublin and the east coast. It is quite clear that there has been a substantial recovery in terms of figures. It is also quite clear that Limerick is somewhat in sync with the rest of the country.

In order to be sure that these figures don’t represent emigration it is worth noting that the population of Limerick has actually increased over the last 5 years, from 191,809 in 2011 to 195,175 in 2016. While this is a very modest increase for the county the size of Limerick it is encouraging that the number didn’t stay static or decline. As the population is increasing and the unemployment rate is improving it is clear that the economy is recovering somewhat.

Limerick Number
Population 2011 (Number) 191,809
Population 2016 (Number) 195,175
Actual change since previous census (Number) 3,366
Percentage change since previous census (%) 1.8
Limerick City
Population 2011 (Number) 57,106
Population 2016 (Number) 58,319
Actual change since previous census (Number) 1,213
Percentage change since previous census (%) 2.1
Limerick County
Population 2011 (Number) 134,703
Population 2016 (Number) 136,856
Actual change since previous census (Number) 2,153
Percentage change since previous census (%) 1.6

Of course, these figures are blunt instruments. They do not reveal how many people returned into education, are on work placement schemes or are not receiving assistance. Crucially these figures do not tell us who is actually working. We know from a recent Central Bank study that the Participation Rate in the Irish Labour Force has not yet recovered to it’s pre-crash levels. It currently stands at 60% as opposed to a pre-crash high of 64%. These figures also do not reveal that nature of the work, if the work is permanent or contract. At best they give another indication that Limerick is on the right path. Taken with other figures such as the 14% house price rise in Limerick in 2016 and the increase in FDI jobs in the Midwest it is clear that a recovery of sorts has taken hold in Limerick.

The city and county are still some distance from the heyday of November 2005 but it is important that we acknowledge that things are getting better if only to discuss what happens next and how we can use this recovery to ensure everyone benefits from the improvements as they come. We need to ensure that workers aren’t being exploited by instruments like zero hour contracts or unfair work practices. It is important that we do take the time to acknowledge that even if we haven’t recovered to pre-crash levels that at least we are in the midst of a recovery. These figures remind of us where we have come from, and how much we still have to improve on. 46,830 in August 2010 to 22,288 in November 2016 is a significant change, even if the numbers do not tell us the full story.

 

 

 

 

Figures for the numbers of unemployed in Limerick month on month from March 2002 to November 2016.

Social Welfare Office    2002M01 2002M02 2002M03    2002M04    2002M05    2002M06    2002M07    2002M08    2002M09    2002M10    2002M11    2002M12   
Limerick County 7676 7382 7423 8054 8583 8593 7927 7784 7714 8281
Kilmallock 874 771 808 867 910 897 781 789 806 905
Limerick City 5878 5738 5780 6325 6742 6769 6281 6157 6088 6526
Newcastle West 924 873 835 862 931 927 865 838 820 850
2003M01    2003M02    2003M03    2003M04    2003M05    2003M06    2003M07    2003M08    2003M09    2003M10    2003M11    2003M12   
Limerick County 8540 8760 8572 8664 8097 8786 9262 9273 8263 7854 7697 8123
Kilmallock 948 961 946 936 895 933 1017 1042 903 870 861 956
Limerick City 6709 6879 6720 6812 6310 6902 7217 7221 6508 6157 5987 6280
Newcastle West 883 920 906 916 892 951 1028 1010 852 827 849 887
2004M01    2004M02    2004M03    2004M04    2004M05    2004M06    2004M07    2004M08    2004M09    2004M10    2004M11    2004M12   
Limerick County 8166 8271 8154 7800 7615 8269 8674 8676 7772 7219 6938 7245
Kilmallock 962 928 880 854 811 859 939 947 841 821 788 827
Limerick City 6264 6394 6322 6052 5941 6502 6776 6773 6063 5522 5308 5538
Newcastle West 940 949 952 894 863 908 959 956 868 876 842 880
2005M01    2005M02    2005M03    2005M04    2005M05    2005M06    2005M07    2005M08    2005M09    2005M10    2005M11    2005M12   
Limerick County 7273 7241 7195 6834 6830 7488 7977 8019 7152 6823 6753 7106
Kilmallock 838 818 765 723 710 763 818 813 762 719 757 815
Limerick City 5516 5475 5479 5188 5212 5781 6146 6163 5479 5203 5113 5356
Newcastle West 919 948 951 923 908 944 1013 1043 911 901 883 935
2006M01    2006M02    2006M03    2006M04    2006M05    2006M06    2006M07    2006M08    2006M09    2006M10    2006M11    2006M12   
Limerick County 7170 7204 6983 6863 6982 7810 8182 8253 7205 6888 6889 7314
Kilmallock 782 811 777 773 773 849 917 920 798 811 819 881
Limerick City 5426 5431 5293 5189 5337 6025 6257 6327 5530 5205 5088 5382
Newcastle West 962 962 913 901 872 936 1008 1006 877 872 982 1051
2007M01    2007M02    2007M03    2007M04    2007M05    2007M06    2007M07    2007M08    2007M09    2007M10    2007M11    2007M12   
Limerick County 7278 7375 7252 7227 7243 7967 8421 8362 7395 7286 7630 8236
Kilmallock 871 871 821 855 828 884 928 937 822 814 872 976
Limerick City 5347 5434 5362 5338 5400 6020 6349 6282 5526 5468 5704 6123
Newcastle West 1060 1070 1069 1034 1015 1063 1144 1143 1047 1004 1054 1137
2008M01    2008M02    2008M03    2008M04    2008M05    2008M06    2008M07    2008M08    2008M09    2008M10    2008M11    2008M12   
Limerick County 8545 9004 9583 9373 9911 10710 11448 12048 11457 11836 12864 13999
Kilmallock 988 994 1082 1024 1094 1219 1286 1300 1305 1415 1526 1722
Limerick City 6255 6630 7101 6926 7350 7928 8530 8970 8431 8616 9295 10044
Newcastle West 1302 1380 1400 1423 1467 1563 1632 1778 1721 1805 2043 2233
2009M01    2009M02    2009M03    2009M04    2009M05    2009M06    2009M07    2009M08    2009M09    2009M10    2009M11    2009M12   
Limerick County 15743 17176 17981 18456 19732 20922 21695 22086 21055 20326 20700 21375
Kilmallock 1944 2123 2245 2289 2324 2476 2596 2667 2523 2577 2628 2762
Limerick City 11228 12188 12646 13155 14080 14973 15557 15817 15091 14403 14715 15092
Newcastle West 2571 2865 3090 3012 3328 3473 3542 3602 3441 3346 3357 3521
2010M01    2010M02    2010M03    2010M04    2010M05    2010M06    2010M07    2010M08    2010M09    2010M10    2010M11    2010M12   
Limerick County 22010 21995 21703 21663 21794 22275 23148 23415 22236 21459 20580 20970
Kilmallock 2807 2832 2826 2793 2791 2840 2919 2898 2724 2653 2591 2707
Limerick City 15617 15574 15282 15324 15475 15819 16490 16778 16023 15332 14638 14779
Newcastle West 3586 3589 3595 3546 3528 3616 3739 3739 3489 3474 3351 3484
2011M01    2011M02    2011M03    2011M04    2011M05    2011M06    2011M07    2011M08    2011M09    2011M10    2011M11    2011M12   
Limerick County 21116 21038 20729 20700 20928 21728 22397 22611 21160 20534 20228 20339
Kilmallock 2724 2756 2697 2692 2686 2759 2884 2837 2679 2621 2571 2650
Limerick City 14857 14787 14589 14543 14801 15537 15946 16210 15159 14630 14350 14313
Newcastle West 3535 3495 3443 3465 3441 3432 3567 3564 3322 3283 3307 3376
2012M01    2012M02    2012M03    2012M04    2012M05    2012M06    2012M07    2012M08    2012M09    2012M10    2012M11    2012M12   
Limerick County 20396 20332 20034 19876 20131 20810 21333 21265 20178 19571 19038 19228
Kilmallock 2655 2658 2651 2609 2625 2726 2753 2725 2561 2536 2486 2563
Limerick City 14336 14296 14071 13972 14084 14752 15194 15162 14460 13926 13443 13504
Newcastle West 3405 3378 3312 3295 3422 3332 3386 3378 3157 3109 3109 3161
2013M01    2013M02    2013M03    2013M04    2013M05    2013M06    2013M07    2013M08    2013M09    2013M10    2013M11    2013M12   
Limerick County 19304 19239 19037 18754 18688 19151 19615 19573 18501 17691 17216 17539
Kilmallock 2549 2529 2565 2503 2522 2614 2577 2496 2365 2272 2243 2283
Limerick City 13577 13527 13322 13154 13104 13434 13872 14008 13334 12600 12214 12402
Newcastle West 3178 3183 3150 3097 3062 3103 3166 3069 2802 2819 2759 2854
2014M01    2014M02    2014M03    2014M04    2014M05    2014M06    2014M07    2014M08    2014M09    2014M10    2014M11    2014M12   
Limerick County 17511 17430 17061 16955 16724 17240 17801 17579 16310 15474 15146 15358
Kilmallock 2292 2268 2204 2204 2165 2200 2204 2146 1977 1912 1890 1902
Limerick City 12415 12357 12144 12094 12006 12427 12965 12812 11966 11276 10963 11119
Newcastle West 2804 2805 2713 2657 2553 2613 2632 2621 2367 2286 2293 2337
2015M01    2015M02    2015M03    2015M04    2015M05    2015M06    2015M07    2015M08    2015M09    2015M10    2015M11    2015M12   
Limerick County 15025 14763 14409 14160 14267 15043 15662 15444 14344 13620 13339 13600
Kilmallock 1893 1873 1834 1789 1778 1832 1878 1883 1719 1698 1666 1719
Limerick City 10841 10665 10412 10206 10317 11019 11537 11357 10665 10022 9787 9957
Newcastle West 2291 2225 2163 2165 2172 2192 2247 2204 1960 1900 1886 1924
2016M01    2016M02    2016M03    2016M04    2016M05    2016M06    2016M07    2016M08    2016M09    2016M10    2016M11   
Limerick County 13437 13270 13046 12724 12831 13528 13774 13795 12126 11473 11144
Kilmallock 1702 1671 1652 1569 1566 1629 1618 1664 1464 1372 1339
Limerick City 9831 9710 9494 9387 9455 10043 10271 10262 9056 8558 8297
Newcastle West 1904 1889 1900 1768 1810 1856 1885 1869 1606 1543 1508
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Bards of Thomond (Park Life 2)

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.

DSC_0052-2 (1)
Poetry, right there?

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.

The new New Bridge?

“THERE are “no limits” on the design of a new river crossing in the city, Limerick council’s economic director Dr Pat Daly has said.

“Speaking as he launched the public consultation on the footbridge project – which could cost between €8m and €17m – Dr Daly says the local authority is “staying open to any approach and any ideas.”

“We are limitless in terms of interpretations,” he said.

The above is a direct quote from the Limerick Leader’s coverage of the latest meeting about the proposed new footbridge and to give Dr. Daly his due it’s a fair and reasonable stance.

Leaving aside the myriad of issues with whether a bridge is needed ahead of many other projects (Nicholas Street, the Market Quarter) and starting with the assumption that a bridge has to be built, where is the best location for this bridge? Once we can agree a location surely we can start working on what type of bridge should be built. Dr. Daly is to be commended for re-opening the debate right down to the its fundamental level.

It is my belief that the best location for the new footbridge is from Honan’s Quay to O’Callaghan strand for  several reasons. The council acquired the Cleeves site in 2014. It is not yet clear what function it will ultimately serve, with suggestions from everything to convention centre to a cultural centre being proposed. The prospect of the development of the former Golden Vale/Cleeves site is one of the most exciting developments in Limerick in over a decade. Indeed, the site is so large, it could easily be a multi purpose facility. It could be an ideal location for an innovative cultural centre. The footbridge would facilitate access to both the renovated boardwalks on the North side of the river. Provided it didn’t impact on St. Michael’s Rowing Club and the city slip it seems to be an a natural fit for the new bridge.

A bridge at this point could have the ability to rejuvenate the so called Spokane Walk, the area from Milanos down to the Shannon bridge. Ideally it would spur the redevelopment of the derelict ESB building by making the area more attractive to investors.

There is also the prospect that a new footbridge at that location would allow modifications to the Shannon bridge, ideally narrowing of the footpaths and the provision of cycle lanes to make the city more bike friendly. In this respect, this location would be a win-win for the city.

Alternatively, the funding could be used to completely remodel the existing Shannon bridge, which is best described as functional. The attraction of this plan would be it removes a reasonably insipid bridge design from the city and adds an innovative one. It also would prevent any interference with the rowing clubs which use the slips on O’Callaghan strand. Now the prospect of a new “New” bridge is on the table, it hardly seems fair to remove it…

Limerick-LI-main
Tis a fine bridge but is it “iconic” enough….ahem.

It is hard, in my opinion, to make a similar argument for the current proposed location. The area is already served by two bridges, one of which is a footbridge and the site should be considered far more sensitive than that across the Shannon.

Before we even start discussing designs, we need to start discussing locations. It may that there are serious drawbacks to the proposed location above and I’m willing to hear them, but it does appear to have advantages that the current proposed location lacks.

My own preference is for the money for the bridge to be re-invested elsewhere in the city, but if it must be built, let’s at least take the opportunity Dr. Daly has asked us to participate in and start a proper conversation about the fundamentals of where Limerick could benefit from a footbridge.

 

Building the Atlantic Corridor

IMG-20160610-WA0001
A priority?

As the news of the proposed new footbridge again stumbles into sight this week, it was genuinely despairing to the see the city officials describe it as a priority project. This project, good or bad, should not be a priority for Limerick. In fact, there is one project that crowns all other current priorities for Limerick, in my opinion, and that is building a motorway from Limerick to Cork and by extension, developing the Atlantic corridor from Cork to Galway. To quote from Benjamin Franklin, “we must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” For most of Ireland’s independence the cities of Limerick, Cork and Galway have denied this simple truth, instead of working together as counterbalance to the Dublin we have fought amongst ourselves.

Limerick is the capital city of the Midwest region. The obvious follow on from that that statement is where or what is the midwest region? Administratively it covers Counties Clare and Limerick, and North Tipperary but outside of political administration, does the Midwest exist as an entity? Is it the same as the Shannon region? Where does the old Kingdom of Thomond fit in? What unifies people within the midwest? Clearly even within a small area we allow ourselves to be too divided to work together. Too often, minor disagreements between the three counties disguise the great benefit each area could derive from a successful Midwest.

Ideally the Midwest would be the middle component in the Atlantic corridor, linking the three cities of Cork, Limerick and Galway as natural counterbalance to the development of Dublin in the east of the country. Initiatives like the Wild Atlantic Way show that disparate areas can be drawn together under a coherent banner for the benefit of everyone involved. For various reasons, the Atlantic corridor has never really gained traction. This is obviously partially cultural, due to the perceived antipathy between the three cities, and indeed, the famously tribal nature of identities even within specific counties but a far greater issue has been the lack of leadership shown by successive Governments, local and national, in developing the basic infrastructure between the three cities. Until a motorway is fully developed between Galway and Cork (a distance of less than 200km) the corridor will always be a sound idea without any traction.  Rather than demanding action on this issue, the city authorities are expending their time, energy and money of frivolities like the proposed new bridge. I appreciate the money involved wouldn’t even be a drop in the ocean of the funding needed for the motorway but this energy should be better spent lobbying for the development of the Atlantic corridor.

A key component of any successful industrial region is the underlying infrastructure. The fact that something as basic as a motorway has been built yet indicates the dis-interest successive Governments have had in the development of a counterbalance to the east of the country. To some degree this is understandable, the thinking has been that it was vital to promote Dublin above all others just to allow Ireland compete at any level. It has been a successful strategy but it is time to re-open a coherent debate into how Ireland develops.

The Midwest/Shannon/Thomond region could also be a designation for tourism within the above mentioned counties but there doesn’t appear to be much to actually designate what is and what isn’t the Shannon region. There doesn’t seem to be a unified approach to how the region should be developed. Instead of working together, each individual component appears to promote its own area exclusively. In a region of less than 400,000 people is there really a need for such internal division?

If we could instead position Limerick as an important node on the Atlantic corridor we should be able to attract investment by being a suitable alternative to the Dublin region. In the aftermath of the Brexit campaign, it’s telling that the regions who voted most ardently to leave are those who have been forgotten by successive British governments. People are disenfranchised and are looking for a position that “feels” right to them. The past 50 years of European Unity has also seen a massive concentration of population in a few distinct nodes of population, capital or large cities, while the regions are left to wither. The North of the UK is desperately in need of the so-called Northern Powerhouse to rival London but successive governments have neglected the idea. Likewise, Ireland is crying out for a counterbalance to Dublin but no one can agree on how that should come about. Rather than fighting amongst ourselves, Limerick, Cork and Galway should throw all our energies into developing the Atlantic corridor. This development doesn’t have to strip development of bad planning and unending urban centres but rather we can examine the three cities and agree a plan on how all three can benefit from being part of a more cohesive whole.

Time and time again it has been shown that we benefit most from working together. All of Ireland’s regions need to be focused into more than just political entities and greater cohesion needs to be developed for the benefit of everyone in their respective regions. Successive governments have left us to fight amongst ourselves, and like the disenfranchised regions of the UK, we have suffered for our lack of investment. We badly need leadership at a local level to demand better for the our regions but instead they pour their energies and ambition into low value projects like the new bridge. The bridge might be a valuable project in its own right, but it’s not a priority and it’s disconcerting that those in power think it is. Give these three cities the coherent investment to be a counterbalance to the east coast and all of Ireland will benefit, that should be where our interest lies.

 

Park Life (1)

DSC_0006When you drive down the Condell road going towards town, with the river on your right and the various fields and parks on your left you presumably either speed or resent the seemingly low speed limit on one of the best stretches of road approaching Limerick city. Why is the speed limit so low on that stretch? It is possible the best way to see the road is that the road doesn’t actually run between the river and the parks, the road actually bisects a larger parkland. It is a large road that traverses a larger park. When you see the road as a park drive you can appreciate why the speed limit is so low.

There has been several improvements to Westfields over the last few years with new paths and cycle-lanes installed. It still doesn’t fully feel like a driver is driving through a park though. I am unclear as to how this could be rectified, or what way the park could be orientated to make it a park first and foremost and a roadway secondly, but it’s worth considering. Limerick city isn’t short of parks, but it is short of high quality ones. Westfields, the Ted Russell Park and Barrington’s Pier are not three separate areas but should be seen as constituent parts of the larger parkland.

DSC_0008

The idea of roads cutting through parks also merits thinking about when we consider the People’s Park and the green space between Parnell Street and the Hyde road. It would be interesting to see a project where that green space was somehow integrated into the People’s Park. This would not necessarily mean removing the road but perhaps street level improvements to facilitate people moving between the two spaces, and cultivation of the green space into park space. At the very least, the green space could be made more user friendly by the installation of seating and pathways through it. It would be a better use of the space as well as improving significantly the impression that visitors to Limerick get when they leave Colbert station.

Westfields is only a short walk from O’Connell street but you’d never know about it regardless. We don’t encourage people in the city to experience the park a good number of the them drive through daily. Like so much infrastructure in Limerick, there rarely seems to be a coherent plan to integrate the various pieces together.

DSC_0012

As pointed out, Limerick city isn’t particularly short of parks and green space, but the quality of these spaces should be continually upgraded for the benefit of the entire communities. For a long time, too long a time, parks in Limerick were verging on unpopular due to issues with keeping the spaces safe and the facilities maintained. The solution to those issues can never be less parks but suitable measures taken to ensure the parks can be enjoyed by everyone.

 

Find the River

There has been much talk over the last two decades of Limerick turning to face the river and to incorporate the river into the life of the city. This has been promoted by the developments of Arthur’s Quay park, the Boardwalks, the slipways by the Hunt Museum, the Main Drainage project and by the annual Riverfest weekend at the start of May. Firstly it’s important to say each of these developments were well intentioned and that each has had varying degrees of success but before considering any of those it’s important to talk about Limerick’s actual relationship with the river Shannon.

The name Shannon comes from the Irish Sionna. It is possible the name is a corruption of the name Senuna, meaning “old honoured one”. According to Irish mythology, the river was named after a woman named Sionann, the granddaughter of Manannán mac Lír. She went to Connla’s Well in search of wisdom, despite being warned not to approach it. While there, the well rose up and flooded, drowning Sionann and carrying her out to sea.  It is interesting the earliest myths could be interpreted as a warning against the dangers of the Shannon flooding. It is believed that Sionann then became the goddess of the river.

A striking point about most discussions on how Limerick should “embrace” the Shannon is that the commentators generally act as though the river is just something pleasant to look at. It is possible that merely looking at a river misses the point slightly. Limerick should be trying to get as many activities as possible happening on the river. Limerick people should be encouraged to boat on the river, where it is safe they should be encouraged to swim in the river, to fish in the river. A river like the Shannon should be re-woven into the fabric of city life.

With that said, there are several, slightly hidden activities occurring on the river. Limerick has a very active rowing scene. It has an active fishing scene (some families such as the Clancys have been fishermen for about 1,000 years). It has the annual swim arranged by the Limerick Masters Swimming Club. It has an active amateur and tourist kayaking scene, with companies like Nevsail Sports taking tours out on the river. If you go out further, the reed beds of the Shannon estuary from Coonagh out are considered some of the finest in the British Isles, and are still harvested by the families of men who were harvesting reed when castles like King John’s and Bunratty were being built.

(Incidentally, the 2016 swim in the river takes place on the 2nd of July. See limerickmasters.com, the time will be confirmed closer to the date. It is an 1800 metre swim from St. Michaels Rowing club to Thomond bridge and back. See https://www.flickr.com/photos/23890215@N06/9345195729/in/photostream/ for excellent photos of the 2013 event)

What is interesting is that when improvements to the riverscape are discussed, the consultation on how to get people utilising the river better rarely seems to take much interest in the current users of the river. Indeed, actually getting people to engage with the river, as opposed to looking at it, seems to be a remote preference. Limerick people are not fully aware of the history of their river, or how best to enjoy it.

Limerick Civic Trust has done huge work in improving the river walk between the University of Limerick and the city centre. They have also been responsible for the clear-up around the Corbally baths, along with several volunteer groups such as Limerick Riverpath Volunteers. Each of these initiatives helps integrate the river into the life of the city. The interaction between the city and river is not about reaching an end-goal but rather about establishing an on-going process where the river and city intertwine.

12792276_1073459366009053_5667059291688268429_oCanal Bank photo copyright of Limerick Civic Trust highlighting their recent work on the UL to City Centre pathway. 

With that mind, and only incidentally referring to the proposed new bridge, it’s important to recognise the significant developments made in the last two decades. The main drainage, despite cost over-runs, has hugely improved the quality of water flowing through the city. This is perhaps best evidenced by the sight of wildlife returning to parts of river in the city, the fact that some swimmers are venturing back into the river, and the return of the annual swim. With the on-going success of the Great Limerick Run it would be great to see a Great Limerick Triathlon added to the city calendar. The flow of water through the city, and the difference between high and low tides would present significant challenges to any organisers but ones that could be overcome with proper scheduling.

After two decades of working to rehabilitate the water quality of the river, and after the developments of the boardwalks, it is time to expand on this good work. The new Mungret Park is going to be a huge addition to the city, perhaps the next big parkland project could be integrated riverside parks from Long Pavement, Corbally, the University of Limerick out towards to Westfields and onwards towards Coonagh. This would obviously be a multi-year, multi-phase plan but one that would be significant legacy for our generation to leave the following ones. These areas all exist as individual areas at present with varying degrees of access but is it unrealistic to imagine integrated pathways for runners and cyclists, safe areas for boating, swimming, fishing and other recreations? Obviously such works could only be undertaken if they could be achieved without damaging the wildlife of these areas. Cities like Hamilton in New Zealand show that river side parklands can be developed and integrated into a city over the course of several years.

One of the best ways to see the city is from water level to fully get a sense of how the city meets the river. For example, Athlunkard derives from “Áth Longphuirt”, meaning “ford of the longphort,” which itself refers to a 9th-century Viking longphort  or defended ship encampment which was  once located there as it was ford over the Shannon. The rowing club there is continuing a tradition set down a over millennium ago. We are walking ancient pathways across the city, and the river is the oldest of the paths we can take. We should be thinking about how we want the relationship between the city and the river to continue. If 20 million euro had to be spent on an amenity by the river, I’d suggest the beginnings of a proper river side park network that could protect and preserve the river and its surrounds for the future.

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Kayaking by the Castle, image copyright of Nevsail Sports. 

 

The value of a city centre euro

The velocity of money is the rate at which it changes hands. Depending on where your job is located you (or your money) are likely to encounter different velocities. When we consider new jobs for Limerick city centre, it’s not just that the new jobs raise the economic living standards of the employees and their families. Each employee is now using the velocity of his or her money to alter the city they work in. For example, where I live I can walk to work in roughly 35 minutes, or walk 10 minutes to a bus stop and taking a 5 minute bus journey to a stop 3 minutes from my office, or I can usually grab a taxi which costs on average 7 euro and takes 10 minutes or less to get to my office. Every morning I have the option therefore of choosing where I will spend both my time and my money. If I didn’t have to go to work, I’d also stop employing taxi drivers or I might free up some space on a bus. Before I even make it to the office, therefore, I am making economic decisions that can benefit others.

If I choose to buy a coffee at 11 o clock, or a lunch at 1 or a tea at 3 I am directing my resources into my local community. My job does not exist in isolation. In a city of million people my economic decisions are relatively trivial, but in a city the size of Limerick, my economic decisions have much greater impact, simply as if I don’t spend my euro, there is a smaller pool of people who could choose to spend a euro. Therefore every euro spent in Limerick has a greater individual weight than it would if it was spent in a larger city.

It’s important to remember this when buying a coffee, do you want to support the local cafe or the chain? Or buying a book, do you support O’Mahony’s or Amazon. Your euro is more important in a city the size of Limerick than it is elsewhere. Likewise, every job in Limerick is more important than one in a larger city because of the myriad of economic activities it can support.

Limerick had a harsh lesson in this reality when the Dell plant reduced its number of employees in 2009 by 1,900 people. Every one of those employees also kept other businesses going simply by choosing where to spend their money. Some estimates suggested that fully 6% of people employed in the Limerick region were dependent on Dell for their employment, directly or indirectly. I would think that this study couldn’t possibly have taken into account the economic impact of the money that was no longer there to spend on dinners out, taxis, pints, match tickets or cups of coffee.

When we spend a euro we should think not just of what benefit we receive from the purchase we make, but also the indirect benefit the velocity of the money will have throughout the community. The recent jobs boost for the very centre of Limerick city should create several separate ripples. It should probably drive up accommodation rents in the immediate vicinity of the offices, if the rental stock is on sufficient quality. If the rental stock is deemed to be low you should probably expect to see traffic increase. It should give more trade to existing hospitality outlets and therefore make it more attractive for more outlets to open. It should also impact on available office space as there will be less suitable space available, either forcing businesses into spaces they don’t find ideal or creating a demand for the development of new offices. The negative costs (higher rents, more traffic, more congestion in your favourite lunch time spot) should be offset by the positive ones (more active city centre, more options, more jobs).

There will be unpredictable benefits and intangible benefits to follow too. It’s an exciting time for Limerick.

 

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?