I simply don’t know where to start this blog. Except to say that today was the best day I have ever spent in Limerick, bar none. You see today I met some new people. Ordinary people. They may not have known it at the time but on some levels I believe they have profoundly changed my view of how our city can work. The things I learned today came as second nature to those who took time to teach me. What I was taught was not economics, finance or politics. What I was taught was a lesson in citizenship. I returned home deeply moved.
My only explanation for my feelings was the energy that exuded from those that took time to inspire a group of us today. On the most magnificent day we have seen this year we were given the opportunity to take a boat trip on the Shannon. From Arthur’s Quay Park to Ardnacrusha Power Station and back we were treated to a view of Limerick that is shamefully ignored by the majority. Led by a team from St Mary’s Maritime Project we were given a lesson in history, society, culture, sport, poverty and wealth on a river which sucks you in and demands to be acknowledged. In my reasonably short life I have worked at sea yet never been on our river. Nor had any of the others who accompanied me on this voyage of civic discovery.
Many things struck me on our journey this evening. The first was how stunning our castle looks from below shore level. The sense of our city belonging to the Shannon was immediately apparent. The closeness of the Curraghgower Falls. The hidden historic arches, the sense that the river is the pulse of our city. The feeling that, before we even set off on our voyage, this river was what we are about.
What also struck me as we sailed past the front of the Hunt Museum and on past George’s Quay and the large groups of people perched on the Quay walls, pints in hand, was the fact that a small boat with 7 people sporting orange lifejackets was a novelty. People waved, children on parent’s shoulders pointed, older people smiled, fishermen turned their heads and nodded in approval, rowers forced themselves to keep concentration on their rhythm. It was almost as if the banks of the Abbey Rivers bent to welcome a group of newcomers to the scene.
As we made our way around Kings Island and past the Island Field I was struck by the beauty. The beauty of a place that many would not enter. The sense that this place had more potential than Castletroy, Ballyclough, the Ennis Road and Ashbrook put together. Young kids sat with their fishing rods on the banks and waved a friendly welcome to their place. Boys on horseback stopped and took time to give us a cheer.
Out of nowhere, Ray O’Halloran arrived alongside our vessel on a curragh, held on to side of our boat and gave us his insight into the Abbey River. Thomond Park suddenly appeared on the horizon, the shape of St Mary’s Cathedral – yet this time seen from a whole new perspective – was instantly recognisable. We passed boat clubs. We past little indents into the rushes where boatmen moor for peace and quiet. We continued our way towards Ardnacrusha, passing underneath Parteen Bridge. We could sense the history, passing the last spot the Vikings docked when reaching Limerick. The beauty was undeniable.
We were told of so many young boys in Limerick who want to make the river their lives. These are the young men who so easily can be forgotten on the Island Field or Moyross. These are the future of our city who have something to offer if only we were able to make our river part of our city’s life once again.
These are the people who have stories to tell and their stories will delight any tourist who visits our city. These are the young people who fall into the category of that fascinating term – regeneration. It is our river that needs regeneration.
As we reached the Ardnacrusha Power Station you could feel the power in the distance. You could sense the achievement in the creation of such a wonder of engineering. The power plant itself had a story to tell. As we gazed at the wonder of this creation a salmon leapt what must have been two feet in the air as if to remind us of the life that exists underneath the waterline. Every inch of our journey had something to tell us.
We returned to the city centre slowly and gracefully. Under the setting sun I spoke with Dan Hegarty, the man who had invited us to experience the Shannon. He grew up and worked in Limerick, spent time away but always knew he would return, in his own words, ‘to end his days here’. I could understand why.
We were once again cheered on by those at the Locke bar and waved at by couples walking the riverfront. We were all smiling. Our city seemed to smile back.
Why was I moved? Because this was the first time in 34 years that I had experienced Limerick like this. Because so many others do it every day and are screaming for the chance to turn it into a feasible opportunity to attract tourism, business and employment to the city. All they ask for is support, guidance and goodwill from those in Limerick who can make it happen. They don’t want to be millionairres. They just want to show Limerick off to the best of it’s ability. These are proud Limerickmen. They love our river.
I will finish with something that was said on the river today. “There is no northside, there is no southside. The river brings them together”.