Newly elected mayor of Limerick Cllr Stephen Keary in his offices at City Hall Picture: Michael Cowhey
THE new mayor of all of Limerick, Cllr Stephen Keary has certainly hit the ground running during his first week in office.
When the Leader met him in his offices atop City Hall, the Croagh man was busy juggling appointments.
And he even found the time to meet the new Limerick Rose Kayleigh Maher who hails from Kilcornan, not too far from Croagh.
Asked how he felt to be named Limerick’s first citizen, the Fine Gael councillor said: “I’m extremely proud. When first I came to Limerick, it was the last thing which came to my mind that I would be the first citizen of the city and county. So it is a huge honour.”
But Cllr Keary secured Limerick’s top job with an overwhelming vote, including support not just from his own party and Fianna Fail – who control the council – but also from a number of key independents, including two from his own Adare/Rathkeale area, Cllrs Emmett O’Brien and Richard O’Donoghue.
He was particularly proud to secure the support of colleagues from his own municipal district.
“We all work together and support each other on issues which are important to the local area. We work as a team. There is no politics in Adare/Rathkeale, no one-upmanship,” he said, “We try to do the business for the people.”
Mayor Keary – the father-in-law of junior minister Patrick O’Donovan – describes himself as a “Limerick man with a difference”.
Hailing from Loughrea in Co Galway, he first came to Shannonside in 1975 for what he thought would only be a three-month stint.
“I became a Limerick man. I’m here for 42 years. I haven’t severed my ties with Galway. I always go back to the races. But Limerick is my home. It’s like when you go anywhere, you make it your home, and you have to get involved,” he says.
Mayor Keary, a civil engineer by profession, was given a job as a site engineer helping to build the fledgling Moyross estate.
“Initially after this, I had planned to go back to America. I had been there the previous summer, on a J1 visa in New York.
“I worked two jobs, 80 hours a week there. That was the story for youngsters at the time. You went there to make your money for the summer. Not to have a good time. It was to sustain yourself for the year ahead,” he said.
Rather than go back to the States, he remained by the Shannon, where he met his wife Bridie at a dance.
They married in 1980, set up home in Croagh in 1990, and brought up two girls Eileen and Maria.
In his victory speech, the mayor was praised for referencing Moyross, having seen the estate from its very birth.
Asked what it was like in the 1970s, he said: “To me, it was open country on the edge of a farm.
“The site was farmland. We just moved in with bulldozers, got rid of the ditches. It kept growing from there.”
“The houses built in Moyross and other parts of the city were second to none, from a layout perspective. They far exceeded the standard of many places at the time,” he said.
The new mayor says mistakes which led to the area’s well-documented problems could have been avoided early on.
“The configuration of the projects didn’t suit good family living and good community living. It lacked a lot of community cohesion. There wasn’t proper infrastructure put in place. In 1976, the bulk of the occupants were young families, and there was a bad mix of age profiles. It would have been better had there been more elderly people. It would have created a better mix. The type of homes were mainly for young couples,” he said, “It probably created a concentration of too many young people of a young age, with not enough amenities to cater for them.”
Following his stint in Moyross, Mayor Keary worked on commercial fit outs including factories in the Shannon area, before going out on his own in 1992 as a consultant.
The small village of Croagh is rightly proud to have a first citizen from its village, and Mayor Keary is in turn proud to call the area his home.
“It’s a small cohesive village, and they have been very much to the fore in putting facilities in place. When I came to Croagh in 1990, it had been bypassed [by the N21] two years previously, and there had been a number of fatalities in the area. Families there made it safer. Thankfully when I was elected, I was able to give the village a stronger lobby,” he said.
Croagh, he believes is the “envy” of many other villages in rural Limerick.
“The community acquired their own GAA field, their own camogie field, their own sports hall. There are an awful lot of community facilities which are the envy of other bigger areas,” he said, “It’s a vibrant place.”
He’s also keen to point out that Croagh is situated geographically right in the very heart of Limerick.
Away from work, Mayor Keary says he likes “comedy and fun” – although, he admits “you’d have a hard job making me laugh!”
“I follow sport, mainly the GAA. I try and get to the races four or five times a year. I like listening to music, and I’d watch television, and the soaps when I have a time. I’d watch Fair City and Coronation Street,” he said.
A fan of soccer, the mayor wishes Fifa would change the off-side rule “to allow more scores”.
Despite being from rural Co Limerick, he insists he will be a “Mayor for everyone”.
”I’m looking forward to the whole challenge,” he concluded.