Ailish Drake: changing our mindset about what the city is and should be is a challenge. It can thrive, but only if we take bold steps
What’s your first Limerick memory?
This time of year takes me back to Todds Santa of course! My early memories of Limerick city are the rare family day out to shop in the city centre with lunch in Cruise's Hotel.
What is your favourite part of the city/county and why?
I grew up in the heart of the Ballyhoura Mountains. We could never convince my father to go abroad on holidays as he thought he lived in the most beautiful place in the world. Every time I go home, I pause at the top of the driveway to our farm to take in the incredible beauty of the surrounding landscape. He was right, it is the most beautiful spot in all of County Limerick.
What is your favourite local walk or view?
The view from Clancy Strand, taking in King John’s Castle, St.Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick Courthouse and the Hunt Museum is probably one of the most beautiful and iconic city views. It takes my breath away every time I walk that stretch of the Shannon.
What do you think gives Limerick its unique identity?
It is the Georgian architecture of Newtown Pery that gives Limerick its unique historic character, which sets it apart from other towns and cities in Ireland. In 1834 Inglis, a travel writer compared Limerick to Dublin and Cork, writing ‘the new town of Limerick is, unquestionably, superior to anything out of Dublin. It’s principal street, although less picturesque than the chief streets of Cork, would generally be reckoned a finer street.’
Do you have a favourite local restaurant?
Canteen, Green Onion Cafe, La Piccola Pizzeria are among my lunchtime favourites. However, if I didn’t live in Ireland, I would live in Italy, obsessed as I am with its language, food, wine, architecture, tutte le cose italiane! La Piccola Italia is my little bit of Italy right in the heart of Georgian Limerick, where I can eat Pasta Marinara and enjoy organic Sicilian wine!
How important do you think sports and the arts are to Limerick?
It always amuses me that sports and the arts are used in the same sentence only in Limerick. They couldn’t be more different and both are hugely important.
My boys are keen hurlers so it was incredible for them to go to Croke Park to see Limerick win an All-Ireland.
However, I think we could do more to encourage children, boys in particular, into the arts.
It would be impossible to talk about the arts in Limerick in a paragraph with such diverse disciplines thriving across writing, theatre, fine art, music and now our growing film industry.
Suffice it to say, we need to recognise and celebrate the arts in Limerick in their own right and prioritise funding for projects such as Ormston House and The People’s Museum.
If you could add one amenity to Limerick, what would it be?
A public space in the city centre. Limerick is probably one of the few cities that doesn’t have a square or plaza at its heart. There is no place for people to gather. This lack of a focal point has been in evidence for years, as teenagers made Roches Stores their meeting point.
A city needs attractive public spaces to make it a desirable destination, but in Limerick, we have allowed traffic to take over, creating a hostile environment for pedestrians.
People think shoppers flock to the Crescent Shopping Centre because it has free parking. I believe it is because it is safe to let go of your child’s hand and there are benches to rest on when you get tired.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the city today?
People complain that Limerick city centre is dying on its feet, with low footfall and high vacancy rates across the commercial and residential sectors. But yet, they are afraid to change what clearly has not been working for the last 30 years.
Changing our outdated mindset is probably our biggest challenge. It’s time we looked to other successful, thriving historic cities and see what they have done. They have protected their heritage, they have put people before cars.
Though public realm improvements, cycling and walking infrastructure and public transport, cities can make themselves desirable to investors, retailers, shoppers, visitors and homeowners. A thriving city will benefit everyone living and working in the city and county.