THE final mayor of Limerick City in its entity as a single authority has reached the end of a year she has described as being “busy, but extremely enjoyable and very fulfilling”.
Kathleen Leddin has handed over the chain of office to Councillor Michael Sheahan at the City and County Council’s first metropolitan area meeting, which also doubled as the mayoral election, this Monday morning.
The 74-year-old was elected the 817th mayor of Limerick last year in a dramatic election which saw an inter-party agreement between Labour and Fine Gael collapse.
Her year in office has been far less dramatic, with the first citizen refraining from making any attention-grabbing comments, preferring to be an “ambassador” for her home city.
“I worked extremely hard. Anywhere I was asked to go, I went, and therefore, I met a lot of different people, and different groups. I don’t think anything I ever went to failed to interest me,” she said.
Mayor Leddin admitted that while at times this year, she felt “exhausted” from the position, she was inspired by one event early in the year in Castletroy - the Amputee Games.
“It was a real eye-opener. I complain about aches and pains, which I should have at this hour of my life. But these were a lot of young people who were putting their disabilities behind them, and working with what they had, and I thought they were just wonderful,” she said.
As well as being the final mayor in the lifetime of Limerick City Council, Cllr Leddin created a bit of history when she signed off on the largest commercial rates cut in the history of Limerick - 15.8%.
At the start of the year, Mayor Leddin outlined one of her goals as finding a new, permanent home for the Limerick City Museum.
Happily, this has happened, with the museum and its contents - which now include her mayoral robes - set to take up residence in the former Franciscan’s Church on Henry Street.
“I think it is tremendous. When I heard about it, I was delighted. I heard they have signed a five year lease. But I hope it will be permanent actually. When I was there this morning, light was shining into it through the stained glass windows, and it made it very nice,” she said.
The mayoral suite has become a more cosmopolitan place in the last year, with diplomatic visits from many different parts of Europe, including Spain, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Great Britain.
“We also met the mayor of Kansas last week, and for St Patrick’s Day, we had Billy Higgins from Boston and the city’s chief of police, and the council’s president,” she said.
The spectacular, sweeping view of the city by the Shannon from her window provides a great starting point for conversation, she said.
“I take great pleasure in introducing people to all the history of Limerick from around this area. You can spend 20 minutes just talking about Limerick without moving from the balcony. It is the most beautiful site. We are here on the site of the first women’s prison, and a brewery - I am not sure if there is any connection there! You are close to St Mary’s Cathedral, and the Potato Market, and the start of the new town, the Hunt Museum, the Treaty Stone and also the site of the wild geese,” said the proud Limerick lady.
Cllr Leddin still feels that it is important that dignitaries will get to meet the mayor of Limerick and hopes this will continue to be the case, despite the fact that the Cathaoirleach of the new merged authority arguably has a more prestigious role.
“In Ireland we are inclined to be blasé about mayoralties. But across Europe and in the USA, the mayor is extremely important. The fact I am the 817th mayor of Limerick just leaves people reeling.”
She recalls being at a dinner in Dublin, where she met the mayor of the ancient English city of York.
“She was a young Conservative lady, and was very proud that she had the mayoralty of York, which started in 1350 or something. I can go one better! Mind you, she tells me the Queen has to give permission for her to be mayor of York. But maybe if the Queen was to come here, she would have to get permission from me,” Cllr Leddin laughs.
The Independent mayor is happy for the function to remain ceremonial, however.
“I think this is how it should be looked at. Any mayor elected should go into it with this view in mind: they are there to do their ceremonial duties, and do their very best for the city if they can,” she explained.
Having contested three elections, Mayor Leddin decided to step down at this count.
Although she kept a watching brief on events unfolding at the UL Arena, she admits she is relieved to be out of politics.
“I was most relieved not to be standing again. Logistically [with the extended electoral area] and physically, I would have found it impossible. When you are standing for election, you have to canvass, particularly as an Independent. You must have a team around you. I was certainly not envious of the people waiting and waiting to be elected!”
She also admits some sadness at many former city councillors who at this election fell victim to the geographical changes and did not get in.
“Every councillor I have known through the years has worked. I am sad to see that people do not recognise that people are working for the good of the city and its people.”
Mayor Leddin said she was prepared for the demands of the first citizenship – having been at her late husband Tim’s side during his stint in the 1980s.
But she admits, “it does take over your life”.
What advice would she give her successor?
“For their own satisfaction, they should get into the act of being mayor straight away. To enjoy it is the most important thing, and not feel stressed about it. Make the most of every moment, as your year goes by very quickly,” she concluded.