THERE are so many things on my mind this week – all competing for a place in the rant - that I don’t know where to start. The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, not to talk of the premature twinkling fairy lights, is doing my head in, to be honest, so much so that I have become delusional.
Gerry Adams has assumed a glittering halo right in front of my eyes, some of my favourite TDs are sprouting horns and Scrooge is now my best friend. To add to the confusion, I’m going to have to stay in bed all day on Friday because I just can’t face a full day specifically described as ‘Black’.
Whoever thought of the ‘Black Friday’ concept should be arrested for trying to subvert our moods and empty our pockets unbeknownst to us. On the other hand, whoever thought of switching on the Christmas lights in mid-November deserves nothing less either, being just as guilty of mood manipulation as the originator of ‘Black Friday’. By the time the festive season arrives we’ll all be immune to the effervescence of fairy lights, and who will lift our spirits then?
Nevertheless, even under the fairy lights, the revival of the city centre is an absolute joy to behold. The place is alive and kicking again after the battering of the recession, and one day last week before the lights came on at all, there were queues in the shops and I couldn’t find a single on-street parking place anywhere. This mid-week phenomenon, believe it or not, is a very good sign that business is back, but it could also be a sign that too much concrete has been poured into the creation of vast new plazas all over the city centre. It could be a sign too that parallel parking in tight spaces isn’t really my forte.
By the way, out here in Killaloe, we tend to park our cars and SUVs on the bit of a plaza on Royal Parade which we were granted courtesy of an urban renewal scheme back in the old boom times. In fairness, we couldn’t think of anything better to do with it.
As everyone must realise by now I have a deep rooted multi storey car parking phobia – whatever its scientific name is – which dates back to an incident in Arthurs Quay 20 years ago when the car cut out on the steep slope between the third and fourth floors in the middle of the Christmas rush, and the only thing I could think of in that first wave of panic, was doing a runner. So I’m now calling for the urgent preservation of whatever on-street parking we have left in Limerick city. You’d be amazed at the number of people who feel likewise. Shopkeepers love ‘footfall’, but the feet aren’t great with some of us.
Which brings me to that other piece of good news for the city – the European Investment Bank’s €85 million pledge to back the proposed Opera Centre development is certainly a most welcome announcement. And to think that only a couple of years ago I vowed never to trust a bank again. There are haloes appearing everywhere now, right in front of me, and I can’t believe my eyes.
Heady days ahead then, for all of us! But having seen an artist’s impression of the completed development, I can’t say that I don’t have a few qualms about the disappearance of the soul and character of old Limerick, particularly in this quarter, where so many worthy and colourful generations lived, became involved and passed on. I’m thinking, even as I write, of the atmosphere and vibrancy of the history-oozing, cobbled lanes and back streets of Rome where the business of living and the business of commerce – not to talk of the most stunning examples of monumental glory - exist in harmony cheek by jowl, all of which I experienced for the first time earlier this year.
I don’t know if there will be a soul attached to these impressively sleek office blocks and retail spaces in the centre of Limerick, but, if so, it certainly wasn’t captured in the artist’s impression. Everything looks shiny and bright and architecturally exact. Not a hair out of place, as they say! One building alone is set to rise to 14 storeys - and I hope it isn’t a car park or I’ll be stumped - while Lowry-like figures scurry about the plazas doing their business. Nobody seems to be actually living in this sanitised complex – except maybe some exhausted office workers who have fallen asleep at their desks after working late into the night, and have been completely forgotten.
In my humble opinion – and, contrary to what you might think, all my opinions are humble, albeit a trifle delusional at times - if the Opera Centre is to fulfil its promise as a vibrant, throbbing, living, centre, surely it needs real people residing behind its streamlined and impassive façade. The odd bit eccentricity wouldn’t go astray either. Otherwise, in the fullness of time, unprotected by the essence of timelessness, the Opera Centre will inevitably need a heart transplant or simply go out of fashion altogether.
I fear that if there is no provision now for residential accommodation in this massive new enterprise and if functionality and contemporary demands are paramount, then we might as well build a four acre factory on the site, put a few pot plants in the foyers and be done altogether with any pretence at aesthetics in the wider sense or any real desire to see the heart of old Limerick continuing to beat.