Cllr Kieran O'Hanlon: Limerick is in a much better position than when he started his term 12 ago
THE outgoing mayor Kieran O’Hanlon believes Limerick is in a much better position than when he started his term 12 months ago.
As the pendulum of power is set to swing back to Fine Gael, the Fianna Fail councillor has reflected on the “absolutely wonderful time” he has had visiting schools and communities across rural county parts – some the Garryowen man admits he had never been to prior!
The veteran councillor become the third Mayor of Limerick City and County last summer, taking 29 of the 39 votes on offer at the annual general meeting.
In doing so, he became the first mayor from the city area in the short history of Limerick City and County Council.
There have been many ups and downs for the first citizen – but thankfully, he says, more positives.
“It’s always a learning process as mayor. But this year, I learnt how great the Limerick people really are. We have so much to be proud of. It’s easy to say this, but the people are our greatest asset really,” he says, surveying the River Shannon from his rooftop office at City Hall.
“When I set out on my year as mayor, I set out my hope that Limerick would become a better place. I’ll take some of the credit for it. I was mayor 20 years ago, and we would have been the whipping boys for the national media. Now I think we are the poster boys in Ireland. Limerick I feel is the most successful place outside of Dublin – and it’s hard to compete with the capital,” Mayor O’Hanlon added.
Only a week into his term of office, Cllr O’Hanlon says one of the most defining incidents of his term took place.
Young Neil Shanahan of Farranshone, then aged just two years old, wandered off from his parents ended on top of the Strand Hotel. He fell off the building, but after his fall was broken, he miraculously survived – after a six-week stay in Temple Street Children’s Hospital.
The mayor was on hand to welcome home the tot with his relieved parents Mike and Martina, and from there, a friendship developed, which he said made him feeling like a “grandfather” to the youngster.
“It could have turned into an awful tragedy, but it actually turned into a lovely story in the end. The highlight for me was when his parents said he could come in and turn on the Christmas lights. Christmas is always a special time for children. We were on RTE that night. Normally RTE would not televise the switching on of the Christmas lights. But it was thanks to Neil and his recovery we were able to get this,” the mayor said.
Mayor O’Hanlon feels some of the most special occasions in his year was when he visited schools across the county – and was able to feed off the curiosity of children.
“I think there are about 150 schools in the city and county, and it was the first time a Mayor of Limerick would have visited so many county schools. It was absolutely wonderful. I went in with the red robe and chain on. There was one school in Croagh I went into, and when I went there, one lad shouted: 'Quick, here’s the pope coming!’. The questions I have been asked whether I was god, a king, Pope Francis or a Roman Emporer. Am I rich, do I live on an island. I told them it was a combination of all of them,” he laughed.
Limerick was plunged into sadness back in October when Munster legend Anthony Foley passed away in Paris.
For the mayor, a Richmond man, the loss felt more personal. And this week, as one of his final acts, he unveiled a sculpture at Clancy’s Strand in memory of the Heineken Cup winning captain.
“It was one of the very sad points of my year as mayor. The funeral was very dignified. I’m delighted Limerick has honoured him in such a strong way. It was a terrible shock. I will always remember when I got the word that Axel had passed away. The whole of Ireland and many in the rugby fraternity gave great support to the family,” he said.
History was repeating itself for Mayor O’Hanlon when he took the chain – for it was 20 years previous, in 1996, when he also served a term as first citizen of the old City Council.
He said: “I had more confidence in myself this time as mayor. I have learnt so much about Limerick this past year.”
Asked what advice he would give to his successor, he added: “The mayor’s job carries a lot of responsibility. With power comes responsibility. You need to appreciate the issues out there.”
With the next recipient of the mayoralty expected to come from Croagh in the shape of Cllr Stephen Keary, he also says it is vital the new mayor has a proper understanding of Limerick City.
So what now for the councillor, first elected in 1991?
“Next week, I’m going to relax, but then it is back to work,” he said, “My garden is a wreck at the moment. I think the parks department should have been looking after it for me!”