February 28: City’s honour to JFK is a bridge too far

AS an exercise in utter pointlessness, the renaming of Limerick’s Shannon Bridge as the John F Kennedy Bridge will be hard to beat all year.

AS an exercise in utter pointlessness, the renaming of Limerick’s Shannon Bridge as the John F Kennedy Bridge will be hard to beat all year.

The vote was carried by seven to six at a City Council meeting early this week and there has been no little amount of bemusement ever since. Claims in some quarters that the public was not consulted are hardly accurate. To be fair to the local authority, the original idea was prominently floated some weeks ago. It was highlighted first by the Leader and then by the rest of the local media. Quite a bit of debate ensued, including on this page. To say there was public support for renaming the bridge after JFK would be a considerable stretch. Most people felt that if it was necessary to rename the bridge – in itself highly questionable – then the honour should have fallen to somebody who had made a greater contribution to local life than merely turning up here for less than an hour more than 50 years ago. No offence to JFK – one of the greatest American presidents – but to describe his connection with Limerick as tenuous would be an exaggeration of the facts.

So what is the point of giving the most celebrated Irish American ever born this acknowledgement? “It has great implications for the tourism business, and there’s a huge amount of potential there,” says the man behind the campaign, Cllr Pat Kennedy, who believes himself to be a distant relative of JFK.

It is very difficult indeed to imagine hordes of American tourists descending on what is a rather humdrum bridge, merely because it happens to bear the name of the 35th president of the United States. We have some fine bridges well worth seeing in Limerick, both in the city and the county – most recently the magnificent Living Bridge at UL – but the future John F Kennedy Bridge could scarcely be classed as one of them.

One imagines that – as the enthusiastic proponent of this hare-brained idea – the long-serving former senator will have his name in close proximity to that of the most famous Kennedy of all when the inevitable bronze plaque is unveiled. If so, it will be his second appearance on the structure, as a plaque already in situ records the fact that he was Mayor of Limerick on the momentous day when the bridge’s foundation stone was laid in 1986.

By even more curious coincidence, Cllr Kennedy’s name is also immortalised on the considerably more elegant Sarsfield Bridge, a few hundred yards upstream.

When the parapets of the bridge were reconstructed in 1975, it was deemed necessary to put up a plaque to mark that auspicious occasion. And the mayor that day? None other than Cllr Kennedy.

JFK has already been honoured in our city.An outstanding and newly rebuilt school on the Ennis Road bears his name. If the council absolutely must go to the trouble and expense of commissioning another bronze plaque (and these things don’t come cheap) there are many people more deserving of the honour - Limerick people.

Just seven councillors voted for this. It should revisited and overturned, because it does not have the support of Limerick people generally.