The Opera Centre – great idea, silly name

Sacrificing heritage to shallow marketing soundbites

It’s amazing how much trouble you can get yourself into if you forget yourself and try to get above your station, as I found out last night.  A relatively innocent tweet of mine drew the wrath of the local meeja, and I can only presume their ire was provoked  by my having the temerity to question their continual use of a shallow, facile marketing slogan to describe a historically-important part of our city.

patrick street limerick

To understand the background of this, we need to whizz back to 2006 when developer, Suneil Sharma, announced his proposals to build a big new shopping centre in the neglected Georgian city block bounded by, inter alia, Rutland Street, Patrick Street and Ellen Street.  Sharma’s plan was to gut the historic buildings, retaining only the Georgian facades, a fate slightly better than that of the houses on the other side of the street, which were demolished and replaced by a cheap and nasty shopping mall with a multi-storey car-park above.

So much for heritage.  So much for the fact that these houses were standing before the French Revolution, before American independence, before the 1798 uprising.  Knock ‘em, said the City Fathers (abusive civic parents if ever you saw any), and their word was made flesh in the form of rubble.

Now, Mr Sharma is not a man without a soul.  He understood the importance of heritage and so, in his eagerness to re-purpose the surviving historic buildings, he noticed that one of them, 4 Patrick Street, was the birthplace of soprano, Catherine Hayes, and duly gifted the house to Limerick Civic Trust.  All they had to do in return was find the €2 million necessary to restore the house, while Mr Sharma would go on with his development, which he wanted to call the Opera Centre.

It wasn’t actually an opera centre, but Catherine Hayes had after all, lived in one of the houses, so maybe we could stretch a point?

I thought this was a bit odd at the time.   I wondered what Sharma would call it if Edmund Hillary had grown up there.  The mountaineering centre?

No.  It was a shopping centre.  Not an opera centre, whatever that is.

If he wanted to call it the Catherine Hayes Centre, in honour of the singer, that would have made sense, but this was no opera centre any more than it was a ballet centre, an archery centre or a space exploration centre.

Nevertheless, the name stuck, even though it was nothing more than a shallow, cynical attempt to provide a gloss of faux culture on the development, using the memory of Catherine Hayes as an excuse.

The press loved it, because it was a useful shorthand, saving them the effort of having to describe and define the site, and even when the project went the way of all things property as the economy tumbled south, the local papers continued to hawk the term Opera Centre until it was drummed into everyone’s heads.   Not least, the heads of those in the City Council responsible for town planning.

I can’t blame them for that.  We’re all guilty of it.  We all go for the quick, handy, facile but ultimately meaningless soundbite, instead of doing some actual thinking, which is why, when the Council finally announced plans for a new redevelopment of the site, the dreaded shorthand Opera Centre crept into its press releases.  And in a nice irony of recycling, the local papers then went on to reprint their own undead cliché.

That’s the background.

Recently, I put up what I thought was a fairly innocuous Tweet.

Gentle reminder to Limerick media. There is no such thing as the Opera Centre. There never was and there never will be. Please stop.

Since the reaction reads like a spoof Shakespearean comedy, I suppose I should put up a Dramatis Personae.

Bock – A bewildered commentator

Anne Sheridan – A scribe in the employ of the Limerick Leader.

Alan Owens –A scribe in the employ of the Limerick Leader.

Brian Leddin – A citizen

Emma Gilleece – Defender of heritage.

Clodagh O’Leary – A media guru

Ger Loughrey – A citizen

Flannerys Limerick – A public house

Ian Moore – A citizen

Patrick O’Flaherty – A citizen

Stuart Clark – An evil media mogul

Here’s what happened next.  (* refer to endnote for clarification of chronology) 

Anne Sheridan  That was it’s original title, in honour of Limerick opera singer Catherine Hayes. Site name hasn’t been changed since 2005.
Bock Who gave it that title?
Anne Sheridan I believe there were discussions between developer & late Denis Leonard, who wanted to recognise that Hayes was born there
Alan Owens council still officially referring to it as Opera Centre site, see link:
Bock Can the council rename an area of the city without a plebiscite?
Alan Owens council owns the site and plans to develop it as such. Media takes lead from development name. Pretty standard
Bock Are you saying the council plan to call it the Opera Centre?
Alan Owens No. I’m saying they currently are referring to it as such, hence why ‘Limerick media’ are also
Bock What would be wrong with calling it the former Opera Centre site?
Alan Owens take that up with @LimerickCouncil
 Bock They’re not publishing the articles.
Alan Owens why would we invent a name for a development? We report on the actions of the developer
Bock Would it be inaccurate to call it the former Opera Centre site?
Alan Owens It’s still called Opera Centre site as it stands. That may change. As of now we are correct.
Bock I suppose if you were the council’s media department you’d have to use that title, but you’re more than that.
Anne Sheridan because that was the name given by Suneil Sharma,original developer!
Brian Leddin But he’s long gone. The name should be killed asap.
Bock I thought the original developers were the Arthur family.
Emma Gilleece I think it’s best to call it by street name for those outside of Limerick.  Best practice is to refer to a site by location with perhaps nickname in ” “
Brian Leddin Alan, you guys were calling it that long before @LimerickCouncil used the term!  Actually, if anything, @LimerickCouncil are simply following your use of it.
Anne Sheridan I’m sure a catchy name will come in time after more pressing matters
Clodagh O’Leary who cares what it’s called temporarily? Focus on the good news!
Bock Focus on the question at hand please, instead of changing the subject.
Emma Gilleece it shouldn’t be about catchy names just the actual name of the street
Bock   Dispiriting that anyone should think the name needs to be catchy.
Emma Gilleece basically a developer with enough money can easily rename parts of our city
Bock Or even a broke developer
Brian Leddin You’re using it because you cant come up with something catchier?!
Bock Let’s hold our hands up. Why do we care? I grew up in Georgian Limk. You?
Ger Loughrey Can it be called ‘former’ since there was never an Opera Centre there?
Bock Well spotted.
Flannerys Limerick Ironic getting annoyed with media when I presume “Bock” not your real name?
Bock That’s a fairly incoherent comment. Could you provide one that makes sense?   Guessing Flannerys Limerick not your name either.
Flannerys Limerick And you’d be 50% incorrect in that statement.
Bock  You mean that guess, don’t you? As opposed to statement.
Emma Gilleece I grew up over the river in Corbally- sadly not a very catchy name :(
Bock Oh well. At least your doors weren’t crooked.
Brian Leddin ? I grew up in Georgian Limerick too. The city’s heritage is important to me.
Bock Were your doors crooked like mine?
Brian Leddin Actually, twas a fine house, but a little chilly. And that was in summer.
Ian Moore true! it’s easy to rubbish all sorts under cover of anonymity
Bock Can you specify please what you think is being rubbished?  I thought we were discussing facts, not people. Was I wrong?  There’s an entire slice of media that has no idea what Limerick was like.  Sadly.
Brian Leddin Media is fairly limited in the city, with respect to the two who engaged here.
Brian Leddin Wow … just got blocked by Anne Sheridan. That’s fairly infantile.
Bock You’re joking
Brian Leddin Nope
Bock Oh wait. So was I. Incredible. What fun.
Brian Leddin I guess she doesn’t like engaging with people who don’t agree with her.
Bock So it seems. I wonder what @StuartClark66 would think of this nonsense?
Alan Owens what’s point of invoking Hebdo Brian? Happy to engage in debate; ultimately media must contextualise for readers
Brian Leddin your colleague was stifling the debate by blocking folks, hence the tongue in cheek Hebdo reference.
Bock Probably the best plan would be to block everyone here.
Alan Owens & was born & live in city. Opera Centre term currently still in use. Would imagine future developer will change
Bock Still used by whom?
Alan Owens the organisation that owns the site and plans to develop it
Bock Are you their PR department or an independent news agency?
Alan Owens I’m neither – just an employee
Bock Why are you required to use LCC’s terminology?
Emma Gilleece people are happy to interact with Limerick Leader account sans name
Patrick O’Flaherty  ‘The Operation Transformation Centre’
Stuart Clark Who? What? Where? How? This Opera Quarter thing is new to me…   Will investigate! As a journo, I’m always happy to debate on Twitter
Bock Worst kind of Celtic Tiger tokenism.


* Note

It isn’t easy to transcribe a Twitter discussion.  People talk across each other.  Sometimes they post two or three tweets in a row.  Sometimes a comment from somebody else appears before you get a reply to whatever you said.

In order to make sense of this, I’ve lined up, as best I can, the various tweets and their replies.  Where somebody makes two or three tweets in a row, I’ve combined them into one.

You’ll probably find mistakes in this if you look hard enough, but I’ve done my honest best to make it read as an intelligible whole.

By its nature, Twitter isn’t conducive to good proofreading.  The fingers go wherever they wish in the heat of argument, and I’ve made no effort to correct any mis-spellings or punctuation errors, including my own.  For once, when it comes to Twitter, my inner pedant is on a day off.

7 thoughts on “The Opera Centre – great idea, silly name

  1. Kilkenny has a shopping centre called McDonagh Junction. It is built on land that once formed part of the railway station that bears McDonagh’s name, but in itself has nothing to do with his memory, nor is it a junction. It reflects a trend towards “public” names being appropriated by private owners, a trend that is accompanied by one that sees the privatisation of public space.

    Melanie Klein’s “No Logo” seemed alarmist when I first read it, but the “Opera Centre” seems an example of private business taking public space and re-branding it.

  2. I loved the history lesson, however the debate was boring, so the Leader had a slow news day. What is in
    a name, isn’t it a little soon, almost like having a christening before the child is born.

  3. Jesus Bock, who cares?

    The world is full of facile naming “conventions” – and The Opera Centre would not be one of the worst examples I’ve heard.

    I hope I’m just missing the point of your extensive and exhaustive blog, because I’m if I’m not, it must really be a slow day on the issues front.

  4. Regarding what your man from the paper said – “ultimately media must contextualise for readers” Thanks, but the street names actually contextualise for me more so.

    By the way, what incoherent dope is tweeting under Flannerys Limerick?
    His/her tweet made little to no sense, and they clearly don’t understand irony. Fooking eegit.

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