Limerick residents raise voices over Ear to the Ground

RESIDENTS of a County Limerick village which featured on an RTE programme focusing on “the death of Irish villages” have sharply criticised the programme makers’ portrayal of Hospital, saying all that was missing from the footage was “tumbleweed”.

RESIDENTS of a County Limerick village which featured on an RTE programme focusing on “the death of Irish villages” have sharply criticised the programme makers’ portrayal of Hospital, saying all that was missing from the footage was “tumbleweed”.

As part of The Ear to the Ground programme which aired on RTE One, reporter Helen Carroll visited the east Limerick village to establish how the community is coping during these difficult times.

The seven-minute package showed footage of the main street in the village and featured interviews with four people from the local area who spoke of their concerns particularly in relation to the impending closure of the AIB bank.

The programme’s website and the press release concerning the programme described Hospital as “a rural village on its last legs”.

“One by one, the banks, shops, the garda station and other community hubs have been closing. The result is a small community living in a virtual ghost town,” it states.

Local businessman, David Moore, who has been running Costcutters in the village for the past 30 years described the programme as “a scandal”.

His wife, Mary, said there had been huge disappointment locally at the portrayal of the village which she said was depicted as a “ghost town”.

“If you are thinking of buying a house, after that programme, you wouldn’t be too inclined to move here. That would give anyone the impression that Hospital was a dying town,” said Mary, who pointed out that the village has a lot more going for it than what was aired by the national broadcaster.

“We consider Hospital to be one of the busiest towns, especially in east Limerick. An awful lot of the businesses have either done revamps or extensions in the last couple of years during the recession.”

Mary, David and their son Thomas work in the business which employs eight full-time and 18 part-time staff. In 2010, in the middle of the recession, they “pumped a substantial amount of money into the business, despite people saying we were mad”.

“Hospital has become the shopping hub for the people in Herbertstown, Knocklong, Knockainey and Kilteely. The programme showed none of the good. We have one of the best schools in Munster here,” Mary said.

Michael Ryan, vice chairman of the local community council said the vibrant village he knows was nowhere to be seen on the programme. “No matter where you go in Ireland there are derelict buildings – you have negative and positive. It was too focused on the negative,” said Michael who added that he only became aware of the programme after it was recorded.

While there has been widespread upset and anger locally since the news broke that the village’s AIB bank is to close in the new year, Michael said the village boasts a long list of services and amenities which failed to get a mention on the RTE programme.

“We have two chemists, two solicitors, two supermarkets, five pubs, two auctioneers, a coffee shop, two restaurants, a tailor, a petrol station, two butchers, two undertakers, a flower and ornaments shop, three grocery shops, a draper, five hair dressers, two doctors,” he listed off.

Auctioneer Joe Wheeler has been in business in Hospital for 25 years. The village, he says, is “fighting its corner as best it can.All they were short of was the tumbleweed,” he noted of the programme.

“There is a lot to attract families here. We have no real social problems and we didn’t have over development during the boom either. We don’t have ghost estates or any of the problems regeneration would have brought to other places.”

Nicholas Cooke, who has O’Byrne Brothers butchers and slaughter house, has been in business in Hospital for 42 years.

“They didn’t mention that we have three factories employing people which very few small towns have, very few. You have the box factory, Wild Orchard and Glen Aine. They spoke as if we had no employment.”

Auctioneer Gerald Mitchell said the bank closure is not set in stone and there are still attempts being made to retain the service as “there is a lot of business to justify the bank’s existence.”

Former county councillor Eddie Creighton, who featured on the programme admitted he was “a bit taken aback” by the end result. “I thought they would have put in some positives but then I realised what Ear to the Ground are trying to do for rural Ireland. What they are trying to achieve is that at some stage there will be a minister appointed for rural Ireland. I imagine this is their way of going about it.”

According to Mr Creighton, the programme was recorded three weeks prior to the airing of the show.

“They were filming for about an hour and a half or two hours. As we came back by the post office we stood there for a while and I said this is probably one of the busiest post offices for miles around. That never appeared on the show at all.”

Paula Williams, who was a producer on the Ear to the Ground programme, said they did not set out to portray the village in a negative light.

“When we were down there with Eddie – who was a local councillor and I would think has his finger on the button – he pointed out lots of other shops that were closing to me and he said that if the bank goes, people just won’t go into town. Principally that is why we chose Hospital – because they had a bank that is still open and it might give them a chance to have their voice heard by the people who are closing the bank.”

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