Short story competition: ‘Doing it the Limerick way, by ourselves ...That has always been our sentiment, our DNA’

As part of Going For Gold this year a short story competition on the theme 'How would you make Limerick a better place' was initiated. Phyl Guerin of Limerick School of Art and Design  who won first prize in the third level section of the short story competition is pictured with  Joseph O'Connor, author and professor of Creative Writing in UL at a ceremony in Plassey House who judged the entries. Picture: Alan Place.
Just give me 24 hours. Let me start at the county boundaries. Let us echo the battle cry of the Irish Brigades on fields afar … ‘Remember Limerick’ on our first billboard approach.

Just give me 24 hours. Let me start at the county boundaries. Let us echo the battle cry of the Irish Brigades on fields afar … ‘Remember Limerick’ on our first billboard approach.

Travelling along let us inform our people that this is the Home of Philanthropy, a county and city raised on giving and charitable causes, from hospitals, schools, refuges, a Sailor’s Home, purveyor of Limerick scholarships to the first Catholic University in 1862, the county that gave the most to De Valera and Michael Collins for the first Dáil Éireann loan bond scheme, and not least, home to the founders of Bóthar, Concern and Goal.

Let us celebrate our strong and individual approach to education in highlighting that the best weapon in Limerick is, and truly has always been, a student card, from Donogh O’Malley’s championing of free education, to Frank McCourt’s original and innovative approach to teaching as recounted in his book Teacher Man.

Then let us give people a flavour of our designs, innovations and texts, visually, every fortnight, on the approaches to Pallasgreen, Newcastle West, Kilmallock, and our main Dublin, Cork and Galway arteries, in addition to our airport and train/bus stations.

Let’s shout out what we are designing, innovating and creating to the average man, woman and child, native and visitor transiting in and out and around our county.

Let us be open and visual and out there, expressing ourselves to all and sundry. Allow us to paint a picture of our ongoings, breaking away from the language of PR and marketing, owning our message, our people, our voices, our deeds, our doings.

Then let us have a conversation as regards our leading ladies. Let us start with Charlotte Grace O’Brien, the 19th century social reformer, proclaiming of Limerick, and “no other earth hold my bones” , and Kate O’Brien’s literary depictions of “My Dear Native Place” and suggesting that a ‘sensitive stranger’ stop awhile.

While finding a space for Frances Condell and her remark that “each one of us is a personal relations ambassador for the place we call home”, or the heartfelt words of Kathleen Clarke to the hostile British prison officer on the execution of her only brother and husband in response to his question Why do you Irish always fight us?

Eight-hundred years of history and strife encapsulated into five short lines and juxtaposed as to Germany invading England, taking her land, her people, her language and her customs, and Clark’s demand of him, would you not fight?

Then let us think awhile about their lives of challenge and endeavour, and escapade. Of Sophie Mary Peirce and Ellen O’Grady, one of the most famous women pilots in the world in 1927, and Ellen with no EU equality directives but none the less, a ground breaker in a man’s realm of 1918 America.

Surely we can muster the pride and fortitude to initiate a Limerick Lady Museum, decorated on its exterior walls with lace effect lighting, plaster or paint, illuminated at night, a centrepiece of femininity.

Let us proclaim Limerick a feminine city, countering its violent crime and competitive sporting image, creating a feminist remapping of the city, highlighting where all its super achieving women lived or grew up, encompassing both city and county. We have so many, twelve that could and should be honoured, one for every month of the year. A calendar of August achievements.

But let us be just and fair, and shine a light on our illustrious and opinionated gentlemen, not least Bishop Thomas Edward O’Dwyer, the only bishop in Ireland not to denounce Charles Stewart Parnell.

A strong verbal and literary antagonist to General Maxwell, commander of the crown forces in 1916 whose actions he would decry to the Vatican and greater international press.

A man, who singlehandedly succeeded in turning the tide of opinion to the martyrs cause.

Educated at Sexton Street CBS, a cauldron of scientific thinking where also John P Holland would acquire his love of science and acquaint himself with two men who would nurture his creative mind, above and below water.

We remain an educational stronghold, bold, original and free thinking to this day. Let us put that out there on our walls and billboards.

With city and county conjoining let us look to Limerick’s historic drive to unity. We need once again to look to our farmers who organised the first farmer led creamery in the British Isles in Hospital, East Limerick and others who founded the first co-operative in Dromcollogher in 1889.

Encourage our Dragons Den programmes to Dromcollogher and observe the sentiment and get up and do spirit that still exists there, primarily now oriented towards the Respite Center but also in its festivals.

But also, let us honour the fortitude and resilience of the West Limerick farmer, Seamus Sherlock who recently took on the banks and stood his ground, honourably, whilst being put under huge duress, yet committed to paying his way, his way, over time, neither shirking nor avoiding his responsibilities.

So many billboards. Let us now look to the buildings, built as stated by the Knight of Glin, by expert Irish craftspeople, our own people, perhaps British funded but predominantly Irish built.

Let’s focus on their details, exquisitely honed and crafted. Who were they? What families? Let us ask ourselves and in resolving these queries retrieve the glory and respect of the Trades and Guilds so long a large part of the city, its parades and pageantry, its politics and affiliations. Colour and pride, symbols and delineations.

Should we stop here or could we go further? Perhaps incorporate a couple of energy and spatial features. Like fountains at all the main approach roads to the city, courtesy of the ESB, highlighting their flagship Ardnacrusha, and promoting its river and canal tour boat experience, a Titanic of an adventure.

Why not as previously suggested, take out Sarsfield House, but also relocate Brown Thomas and take that too, opening up the very heart of the city and installing another large fountain there, ever changing in its rhythm and lighting, responding to music and symphony, Limerick’s other core strengths.

So much history, emigration, other worlds, the docks and quays a major point of departure.

Statistics that reveal Limerick as a major, if not the major southern port up to 1853. Our people, unheralded, overshadowed by others, those who shout louder and act faster. Our fault. Now our time to assert, and affirm.

Our women as previously mentioned, but also Thomas Fitzgerald, departed circa 1848-1852 with the Bruff Bible which was famously used by JFK whilst swearing his Oath of Office.

Familial heritage and loyalty to East Limerick evidenced by Frances Condell in her epic 1963 speech to him stating that “we, the women of Limerick, claim the Fitzgerald in you”.

So much to champion. That’s what I would like to see happen in Limerick.

A city of change and enactment, funded by its citizens, where possible, whether a euro or a hundred or a thousand or more in donations, a Limerick Bond scheme not reliant on government or ECB hand-outs, but doing it the Limerick way, by ourselves and going it alone. That has always been our sentiment, our DNA.