Limerick City & County Council asked for views on the O’Connell Street Limerick Revitalisation Plan. Town planning is boring but it affects lots of people, so it’s important. Here’s what I sent in:

This is a submission to the request for comments on the Limerick Urban Centre Revitalisation plan for O’Connell Street, currently at Feasibility Concept Phase. As I’ve been resident in the heart of Georgian Limerick for almost two decades, I’m making this submission as a local resident. It’s a little bit critical but I suppose that’s what happens when things are put out for public consultation. Thanks for the opportunity to submit it.

For nine million euros, the emerging preferred option seems rather safe. Not only does it not re-invent the wheel, it amounts to turning the wheel a few degrees and hoping that people perceive it as a little more round. That’s disappointing. It offers a spit and shine approach to O’Connell Street when what is needed is a much more radical plan to revitalise the street and, in turn, the city centre.

In recent years, Limerick has experimented with on-street open seating in the Urban Garden area outside Penney’s (though that facility appears to have vanished in recent weeks). It’s been a mixed success. Its worth has come from being the only area on O’Connell Street that offers what planners call a respite area but having two lanes of traffic plod through Limerick next to it has meant that it remains a relatively unattractive area to spend any time. At best this new plan offers a repetition of that facility up a few city blocks. The Urban Garden has been an interesting experiment rather than a failure, but the one thing that we should have been learned from it is that people don’t like sitting in an area where hundreds of cars spew carbon monoxide at them. If there aren’t any cars driving next to them, people will use the street for more than walking through. The purpose of the project is to “improve the O’Connell Street area for retail and commercial attractiveness through enhancement of public space, streetscape and sustainable travel modes”, after all.

Copenhagen converted its main thoroughfare (Strøget) into a pedestrian-only street in 1962. Initially, almost everyone was against it but it was the single greatest factor behind the restoration of Copenhagen as an attractive place to live, work and visit. It proved such a success that surrounding streets have since pedestrianised, with the pedestrian-only area increasing from Strøget’s 15,800 square metres to 100,000 square metres. Currently, 48,000 people use Strøget on a daily basis even in winter, climbing to 80,000 people per day in summer and 120,000 in the Christmas season. It’s not alone – cities like Bordeaux and Rotterdam pedestrianised their main shopping streets in the 50s and, in Ireland, similar plans were carried out in Dublin and Galway much more recently. Pedestrianisation works. It’s been proved by example to work. It has led to the revitalisation of city centres in pretty much every city where it’s been implemented.

I realise that business-owners in Limerick city centre may be against a plan that stops traffic driving past their shopfronts. But as much of the plan involves getting rid of parking spaces along O’Connell Street, nobody will be parking on those six blocks of the street and, thus, access is pretty much as easy via every street in the city that isn’t O’Connell Street. On that note, unattractive as bollards are, the plan has too few of them. While the recent redevelopment of Catherine Street between Roches Street and Thomas Street arguably has too many bollards (37 by my count), Ireland is notorious for the “just stopping for a minute” mentality. If you’re going to eliminate parking along six city centre blocks, you’ll need 150 bollards, which is significantly more than on the current plan.

The plan offered is better than what we have – we get one lane of traffic redesignated as a bus lane and wider footpaths due to street parking being eliminated along most of the project. But with all due respect, spending nine million euros on a bus lane and getting rid of street parking is a laughable waste of money and a hilarious waste of an opportunity. There isn’t a single person on the planet who’s prudent with cash who would regard that as value for money. People laugh at the concept of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic but this plan doesn’t even do that.

At the very least, the street needs to be pedestrianised between Denmark Street and William Street, between William Street and Roches Street, and between Roches Street and Mallow Street. That’s the initial move towards making Limerick city centre attractive to residents, workers and visitors. Retaining traffic along O’Connell Street keeps the street attractive for cars, but cars are merely devices that people use to get into, out of and through the city. It’s time that Limerick city planners and councillors realised that cities need to be designed for people, not their travel boxes.

The plan from Mallow Street to the Crescent is as good as we can possibly hope for at the moment. Nobody expects that traffic can be diverted from these areas in the near future so the limited improvements from Mallow Street to Hartstonge Street are understandable and the improvements at the Crescent are very welcome.

Shared spaces and shared surface junctions are recently beloved by town planners because they look nice. They’re dangerous to fully-abled people and lethal to disbled and blind people – hardly in line with the project design objective of “creation of a new public realm that … safeguards vulnerable users”. They’re a fudge, a lazy option that appears to offer a little to everyone but doesn’t offer all that much to anyone. “Courtesy” pedestrian crossings aren’t worth a damn – for the little my opinion is worth I suggest abandoning even the hint of them.

The contra-flow bike lanes on the plans end before the street corners and, thus, appear to force bike users into the path of oncoming traffic. They’re not linked with each other on the plans and disappear between Roches Street and Denmark Street. As the project seeks the “enhancement of … sustainable travel modes” and “to promote … cycling”, on a practical level one of two things is likely to happen – either cyclists will ignore the unlinked cycle lanes as impractical or will cycle along the footpath on the remainder of the development. The cycle lane proposal is a curate’s egg – good in parts but sifting through the egg to find the good bits isn’t going to happen on a daily basis. Link them or drop them. For what it’s worth, I have a strong preference for linking and expanding them.

Much as I admire the intention to install water features and grass areas, similar features installed in recent years on Thomas Street and Bedford Row haven’t been maintained. Limerick Council is great at maintaining parks and good at maintaining pavements but, for example, there are 56 LED lighting installations in a circle at the junction of O’Connell Street and Bedford Row/Thomas Street, five of which remain working. There are 36 single-person stone seats on Bedford Row and Thomas Street, some of which have been vandalised and moved since installation, without repair, and of the (presumably) 144 LED lights that were originally installed under those seats, 24 remain working. Street installations that require regular checking and maintenance tend not to be maintained – therefore the solution appears to be to avoid installing them in future. This isn’t a negative judgment of Limerick Council – it’s just practical reality.

Thus, with all due respect, I suggest taking a hard look at the plans between William Street and Mallow Street in particular. It’s not that Limerick deserves better (though it does) – it’s that Limerick needs better. Creating a nicer street for cars to drive through isn’t what the mandate of Limerick Council is about. “Promot[ing] a sense of place” is not achieved by retaining O’Connell Street primarily as a transit road. You can pedestrianise those streets now when there’s money to do so or you can look at those areas in twenty years and bemoan that you didn’t pedestrianise them when there was free money to do so. Being handed nine million euros is an opportunity to reshape Limerick’s main thoroughfare and make it significantly more attractive as a place to spend time for people who live in Limerick, work in Limerick and visit Limerick. This plan, shiny as it is, fails to do that.

Thanks for your time.

 

Just what is it about Limerick and erecting statues of people that look nothing like them?
anthony foley statue

Statue touted as resembling Anthony Foley, recently placed in Robert Byrne Park


Apparently the mayor of Limerick went on a solo run this week and didn’t tell the council that he was planning on installing the statue of Anthony Foley in Robert Byrne Park on the banks of the Shannon. In other words, we’ve got a rogue mayor who’s unilaterally erecting statues around the place, presumably because he gets to stick his name in the corner.
 
Now, this might not seem like a big deal to you. Even though the statue of Anthony Foley looks less like him than the statue of King Arthur / Burger King / King Limerick looks like Richard Harris. Having viewed it yesterday, it reminds me of those extra-large installations you sometimes see in Irish graveyards. You know, tacky central with an angel floating on top of a soccer ball and the like. While I was there two stray dogs peed against it but at least we can’t blame that on current mayor and rogue statue-erector Kieran O’Hanlon.
 
The interesting thing about mayors installing statues without telling people is that, if that’s reasonable practice, you’d want to be careful about who you elect as mayor. It’s one thing to give someone who’s vaguely racist a platform and a 50k salary for the year (Limerick has form here in the past decade), which we’re apparently going to do next Monday with Stephen Keary, but if they all get to plonk statues around the city without asking, the Fianna Fail lad has created a nice precedent for some of the more fringe parties so disliked by the main two. Using what we’ll call the O’Hanlon Precedent I’m sure they’ll take some pleasure in dropping down statues to some of their own fallen heroes when they eventually get to form a grand coalition and occupy the mayor’s office for five years.I will buy the biggest bag of popcorn possible on the day the Fine Gael lads lose their shit after a Sinn Fein mayor installs a statue of Sean South without asking.

Most cities have rules about statues, plaques and street-namings that the person who gets commemorated has to be dead for a reasonable period of time. Twenty years is pretty much standard and, generally speaking, that standard exists for good reasons. That should be the standard in Limerick, though Anthony Foley was beloved enough in Limerick that I’m sure the county council would have made an exception to such a hypothetical rule if they’d been asked.
 
None of this would matter so much if it wasn’t a really fucking ugly statue that resembles the person whom it’s supposed to commemorate only in that he’s wearing a headguard and carrying a ball. Oddly enough, the person it most resembles is probably current metropolitan mayor of Limerick, Michael Hourigan. I don’t think anybody ever compared Anthony Foley to mayor mumbler before this statue was erected but unfortunately this is where we find ourselves. It also resembles Donald Trump and Les Dennis. The one person it doesn’t look like at all is Anthony Foley.
 
Obviously I can’t wait for the upcoming Terry Wogan statue unveiling. It’s going in the middle of Poor Man’s Kilkee. Surely there’s no way that Limerick city would get three statues in a row that look nothing like the person they’re depicting. I mean, the odds have to be on our side this Saturday. They have to be, right?

Today, folks, is the most significant date in the Irish calendar: the feast of St Putty. Born in Wales, or England, or Scotland, assuming he existed, Putty was the son of a Roman landlord, kidnapped by heartless Irish brigands and sold into slavery. He spent many years minding pigs and eating rashers before going mad and escaping.

After returning to his homeland, wherever that was, the Irish people came to him in a dream (look, we’re doing nothing else at night) and beseeched him to return. And to bring some beer, which was unavailable at the time.

Potty became a priest (partly because, one assumes, he was the second son) and resolved to introduce the Irish to God. As dinner parties are excellent for introductions, he went to the Hill of Slane and started a big fire. Because King Laoire was organising his own dinner party that night about ten miles away at Tara, he went over with a few heavies to stop Potty’s fire. The resultant feast of shamrocks was so amazing that Laoire was happy for Ireland to convert to a new religion, thereby beginning Ireland’s transformation into an import economy.

It was a hard time for Pitty, but happily the Catholic Church had not yet insisted on priests being celibate. So he married St Brigid (she of the swastika-cross and the giant cloak) and because she was terrified of snakes, he sent them all to work in the growing financial district in east London, where they remain today.

As Petty grew old, he began to see the fruits of his labours. He confirmed the national colour as blue (no, really, it is, I’m not making this up – go check) and witnessed a country dotted with churches, dancing and people writing everywhere, even on tombstones, which annoyed him. Today, we commemorate Petty: snake-whacker, shamrock-eater and rasher-inventor. It’s a great day to wear blue. Or green, if you must.

Technically, it’s all true except for one paragraph. Brigid was too classy for him. And not yet born, which was probably a small factor.

The more sober among you (yes, I realise that it’s St Patrick’s Day, but being drunk isn’t actually compulsory) will have noticed that I didn’t call him Patty. American friends (& other overseas people who think getting drunk on March 17th is a desirable thing): It’s Saint Patrick’s Day. Or “Paddy’s Day”. You may not under any circumstances refer to it as “Patty’s Day”. Wish someone a “Happy Patty’s Day” and you will be beaten – & not in that naughty bottom spanking way. Call it “Patty’s Day” & none of us will rest until we see your headless body floating in a shallow lake.

Happy St Patrick’s Day, everyone. An entire nation will silently rejoice if you remember that it’s “Paddy”, not “Patty”. We could all do without the image of St Patrick’s Day being tarnished by being associated with an Irishman crying into a giant glass of beer before coming out fighting.

Today’s Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s birthday. One of the greatest poets of the Victorian era, she was regarded as a contender for the post of poet laureate when Wordsworth died. She wasn’t appointed for two reasons: firstly, the other contender was Tennyson, and secondly, she was a woman.
 
It’s also Mother’s Day in the UK, Ireland and Nigeria. As most of you probably know, Mother’s Day was originally a religious holiday called Mothering Sunday. Its name has nothing to do with mothers and all to do with this day (the fourth Sunday in Lent) being a day when servants would be given the day off to travel to their home area – their mother church – for the feast of Laetare Sunday. It was usually the only day when whole families could be together, as their duties typically prevented them from travelling for other holidays. As a family day, it gained association with mothers and when the festival was revived in the 1920s, mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day became one holiday.
 
Even as separate concepts, both Mother’s Day and mothering Sunday have at their heart thoughts of being mindful of your origins and what you owe to your existence. Mothering can be one of the most difficult tasks ever undertaken by a person and joyous as it apparently is according to people I know, it’s perhaps a lifelong, frequently thankless endeavour that never ends. So it’s rather deserved that the holiday calendar is littered with different countries having their own special day to celebrate the efforts made by billions of women in raising children.
 
My relationship with my mother is currently non-existent, given that she’s dead. That’s a far too simple view though, as the ripples of past actions will always echo on, for good or for ill. It’s akin to the lord in Monty Python and the Holy Grail waving at the window (and the curtains) and exclaiming “Some day, lad, all this will be yours!” My mother almost certainly suffered from some form of undiagnosed bipolar depression but somewhat fortuitously, it appears that some day that will not be mine. Small mercies. I would like to think that my mother did her best with the tools that she was given.
 
There are mothers who are mothers by virtue of giving birth. There are mothers who are mothers by caring for children to whom they did not give birth. There are fathers acting as fathers and mothers. There are mothers acting as mothers and fathers. There are grandmothers who care for grandchildren as though they’re their own. There are daughters and sons caring for aged parents as though they’re mothers to their own parents. At its heart, Mother’s Day is a celebration of love, of respect and of caring. And that’s the best that anyone can ever offer anyone else, up to the limit of their ability.
 
With that in mind, I selected this poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning to close. While she’s these days better known for her Sonnet 43 (“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”), that poem’s gentle tenderness was hilariously stolen from me in a re-enactment of Roger Rabbit’s letter reading in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’. So I’ve selected her Sonnet 14, which embodies love for love’s sake and nothing more. Happy Mother’s Day, in whatever capacity you find yourself.
 
“If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say,
“I love her for her smile—her look—her way
Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”—
For these things in themselves, Belovèd, may
Be changed, or change for thee—and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry:
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou mayst love on, through love’s eternity.”

Antonin Scalia has died. For the most part, I wasn’t a fan of his. I’ve never particularly liked his contributions to the Supreme Court but, as you might guess, with someone as forceful as Scalia frequently was, it’s a little more complicated than that.

Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg having fun on an elephant. From the archive of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg having fun on an elephant. From the archive of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Here’s the bad. He was strongly against the ruling in Miranda and voted to overrule it in Dickerson v US. He was strongly in favour of the death penalty, including for 15 year olds (Thompson v Oklahoma). For thirty years he led the charge to overturn Roe v Wade. His dissent in Morrison v Olson is a painful read, accurately described by his fellow Justice Harry Blackburn as “screaming”. He should have recused himself from Hamdan v Rumsfeld. He acted like a dick in Romer v Evans and followed it by acting like a bigger dick in Lawrence v Texas, so much so that Chief Justice Rehnquist basically asked him to zip it during oral presentations. I could go on, but that’ll do as a quick demonstration of my dislike for his votes.

On the other hand, his written opinions (whether or not you agree with them) are generally very much worth reading. I have some sympathy for his views that constitutional cases do not hinge on subsequent legislation, though I found his insistence on constitutional originalism to be rather severe and, alas, inconsistent depending on cases he heard. But his opinions were typically punchy, confident and often quite funny. I have a lot of sympathy for anyone who uses analogies as much as Scalia did. That I think he was a conservative millstone around the neck of the court for much of his thirty years on the SCOTUS bench doesn’t negate that his opinions usually tend to be worth the time to read.

And he got on with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, even though they often clashed when making rulings.His apparent ability to put work aside and get on with someone with whom he disagreed so much but personally liked says something good about his character. I don’t think he was a force for good – he seemed so angry so often about any hint of liberalism that he made life more difficult for many ordinary Americans. But attached you will find a picture of him riding an elephant with the Notorious RBG, who despite differing views seemed to be his favourite Supreme Court Justice. She’s also my favourite.

Yes, I typed this mainly so I could post a picture of Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg riding an elephant together. RIP.

So I went to see Deadpool. After midnight, because there aren’t any children making noise after midnight. You shouldn’t bring your children to see Deadpool. Unless your children are over 16 and then it’s OK. Especially if your children are over 16 and you’re OK with sitting next to them while some guy in a lycra suit on the screen occasionally makes genital jokes. If that’s what you like then you should totally bring your over age 16 children on a family trip to see Deadpool at an hour of your convenience.
 
Because I am a good boy™, I usually like to be tucked in bed before midnight on weekdays. Yes, I said tucked. This is a family show after all, unlike Deadpool, which is not suitable for your under age 16 children. Because I like to be nicely tucked in bed before midnight, I fell asleep in between the funny bits and the ass-kickings. Kickings. It’s risqué, not risky. This meant that I slept for about six minutes of the movie’s 108 minutes. That’s rather good. I slept for five hours during the English Patient, which is longer than the movie.
 
So, to summarise, Deadpool is a lot of fun, suitable for your over age 16 children (assuming you are not running for the Republican nomination for president) and you should see it. Twice if possible, because he’d like that. Sure, the jokes are occasionally puerile but you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few fingers. The most important thing is that Deadpool definitely doesn’t suck. But he’s fine with it if you do. You should see it where other people can see you laugh.

For a country that gets so annoyed when foreigners (mainly Americans, let’s start by pointing fingers) claim to be from here when they’re from the place where they’re from, Irish people tend to love claiming anyone with a barely tangential historical relationship with Ireland.

I experienced Barack Obama Plaza for the first time yesterday evening. For foreigners who are not from here, Barack Obama Plaza is a motorway service area in the middle of nowhere, mainly consisting of a petrol station, a fast food joint and a convenience shop. It’s named after your current president for no better reason than it gives a concrete craphole an aura of worth. Oh, there’s an exhibition upstairs, which I didn’t get to see as it closes when it gets dark. I assume it contains utterly useless crap like the pint glass Barack Obama drank out of when he visited here, a toenail clippng, a few pictures and a copy of someone’s birth cert. Even though I’ve just listed the most boring rubbish you could possibly have in an exhibition, I bet it has everything I mentioned except the toenail clipping.

They advertise the place on buses so I assumed it would have a funfair or a circus or at the very least some sort of statue in an actual plaza. It has none of these. I am comparatively confident that it is the most overstated spot on the planet and I’ve been to most of the locations mentioned in the unofficial guide to Britain’s worst theme parks.

Barack Obama Plaza on Ireland’s M7 motorway. It’s not Camelot. Picture via Killeen Civil Engineering.

It’s the beginning of Dante’s Divine Comedy, where Dante finds himself falling into a deep place with a silent sun, unable to see the path to salvation. It’s the story within a story in Poe’s ‘A Descent into the Maelström’, a vortex which swallows soul and sanity until nothing of consequence survives. It’s the mythological Lethe, the river that upon entry wipes away your past, leaving you as a blank slate to be rewritten or discarded.

In the awful TV version of this non-tale, part of my soul never gets to leave that non-place and remains there, staring out the window for all of eternity.

There’s a moral here. Oh yes: stop advertising petrol stations on buses. I thought Barack Obama Plaza would be some sort of modern-day Camelot, a place of justice, chivalry and affordable health care. It is not. Don’t be fooled. Oh and the service in the Supermacs is really fecking slow too as staff get confused by more than one order. That’s because all reason and rationality have been sucked into the hellmouth of pitiless storm, rounded by houseless head and and unfed sides, bereft of all but ragged madness.

The point, which we’ve taken some time to reach, is that I suggest that you will get to your destination sooner if you just zip past. Especially tourists. Just keep going.