The Opera Centre – great idea, silly name

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.



Sometimes the attitude to our built heritage is so crass, I’m left speechless, and this is one such example.

Here’s a stone plaque in the wall of a house in Limerick’s William Street.  It says




AD 1789



That’s a month before the storming of the Bastille.  It would be a further two weeks before Captain Bligh and the other Bounty survivors reached Timor in their open boat. A month earlier, George Washington became the first president of the United States.  It was nine years before the United Irishmen uprising.

It was eight years after the Spanish founded Los Angeles.  Two years before the Haiti revolution.  Ten years after the start of the Boer Wars.

This plaque was inserted into the wall of a street in Limerick at a time of huge change in the world, but some small builder with a jackhammer either didn’t know, didn’t care or was instructed not to think about its significance.  The person who told me about this managed to have the vandalism stopped, but only after two phone calls to the City Council and far worse damage than when he called the first time.

You might think this is a small thing in the great scheme of things but I think it symbolises all the crassness that has afflicted our country and allowed the destruction of so much that is valuable.

Shouldn’t we all care more?  Once this heritage is gone, it’s gone.






Heritage Physical World

Limerick City Council — Destroying Your Heritage One Cellar At A Time

Another big round of applause to Limerick City Council for smashing in the hidden treasures beneath our feet.  This is what happens when a local authority has no conservation officer, no archaeologist, no heritage officer and no architect.  It puts hundreds of years of history at the mercy of an ignorant lout with a digger.

Under our town, there’s another hidden city of subterranean caverns, 200 years old, which the city council is busy demolishing.  In a grown-up country, some official would see that this is a resource and would plan a way to use it for the common good, but not here in Ireland.

In this country, we give such decisions to roads technicians — people who wouldn’t know heritage from a hole in the ground.

And here are the same caverns filled with concrete.



Obliterating The Hidden Georgian Limerick

Beneath the Limerick city streets there is another city of brick vaults.  It’s a hidden, invisible subterranean city that few people have ever seen or even heard of.

Today, as I passed by Upper William Street, I saw roadworks going on.  The brick vaults had been demolished and  a mixer truck was pouring concrete into them, obliterating them.

I found it sad to see the destruction of these arches that are such an essential part of the city’s Georgian character, even if rarely seen, and can’t help asking if it would have been possible to find a better use for them than filling them with concrete, destroying them forever.

I wonder who made the decision to do this and on what advice that decision was taken?  I wonder if the person who ordered this understood the momentous and irreversible nature of what they have chosen to do.

I wonder if that person has any connection with Limerick, any intuitive connection with the city or any grasp of what it means to destroy something like this?

As people used to say when I was growing up, Have they any soul?

I realise that Limerick is only a very small town by European standards, but it also has one of the most intact Georgian fabrics anywhere, and it should be preserved for future generations. Do you think they do things like this today in Rome?


Limerick city has no architect, no conservation officer, no heritage officer and no archaeologist.  Therefore, this decision was made by some unaccountable, ill-informed philistine.

That’s the new Ireland for you.



Limerick City Council — Destroying Your Heritage One Cellar At A Time




Heritage war

Remembrance Day

Today is Remembrance Day.   On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns fell silent over Europe in 1918.  But to preserve the macabre symmetry of that date, the politicians and the generals insisted that young men of all nations continue to slaughter each other right up to the last moment.

I never knew my grandfather.  He died long before I was born, but I wish I had met him.  I wish I had the opportunity to speak with him, though I suspect he would not have wanted to talk about the things he saw in the Somme all those years ago. I’m told he suffered his entire life as a result of the horrors he witnessed.

Every year, on Remembrance Sunday, a small ceremony takes place in Limerick, and I attend it every year.

I don’t go in order to celebrate the war.  I don’t go because I think the soldiers fought to keep small nations free.  They did not. Plucky little Belgium with its African colonies cared nothing for small nations.

I go to the ceremony because in this small way, I can honour the memory of my unknown grandfather and all the young men like him who returned from the hell of the Somme and spent the rest of their days trying to make sense of it.


The Travelling Community’s Traditions

I promised I’d bring you pictures of the tasteful memorial erected in Kilmallock graveyard by the travelling community. Here are some shots of the graveyard and church.

The church is a national monument and two of the walls of the graveyard are the mediaeval walls of the town. Isn’t it beautiful?

Here’s the memorial erected by the travelling community:

Here’s a somewhat less ambitious erection by the same community:

As you can see, every effort has been made to stay in keeping with the general feeling of the graveyard, and to respect the sensitivities of neighbouring families.


Tinker Erections

You might not have heard about this, but the people of Kilmallock are pretty pissed off about a new erection in their old graveyard. You see, the graveyard is a national monument and an archaeological treasure, which is why the design of headstones is tightly controlled.

For me, that is, and for you. And for the people of Kilmallock. But not for the tinkers. No, not for the Pavees. It seems the travellers were told that they couldn’t build a large monument at one of their graves. It would have to be the same general size as all the others, and in keeping with the general tone of what was already there. Undeterred, the tinkers and their builder climbed the walls of the cemetery during the night, and constructed a huge marble edifice including three life-size angels, to the value of approximately a hundred grand. (I suppose it was all the impoverished, marginalised poor devils could afford). I’ll bring you a picture of this shortly.

Insertion from the future

Incidentally, do you know what the verses are called that they inscribe on these huge monuments? Paiku.


Limerick Travellers Development Group

No. I haven’t suddenly become illiterate. I omitted the apostrophe from the title because the owners did so and I want to respect their right to leave out apostrophes if they wish. It’s probably part of their culture and we couldn’t be disrespecting people’s culture, could we? Of course we couldn’t.

Now, let me be plain. I’m writing this at a time when a crowd of people parked caravans on the land adjacent to the Parkway roundabout. I don’t know who they were, though some were obviously English, judging by their registration plates. These people all had new cars and new jeeps, leading me to think that they were probably not poor. How do I deduce this? Well, I’m not poor, but I couldn’t afford an ’06 Pajero, for example, and therefore anybody who can afford one is better off than me. And therefore not fucking poor. QED.

These not-fucking-poor people parked on the land of the former Dillon’s garage and for weeks used the neighbours’ gardens as toilets. I’m talking about people shitting in your garden every day, just so we can be clear about the details here. People shitting in your front garden, ok? Got the picture? Steaming turds?

And what do you think the Limerick Travellers Development Group had to say about this? Well, it seems the City Council are to blame for not providing transient accommodation so that these people can maintain their traditional way of life.

Let’s examine this. Let’s suppose for a moment that the City Council should provide free accommodation so that wealthy people can go on their holidays for free. OK. Let’s accept that for now. The City Council were wrong, and they didn’t provide accommodation.

So, here come the travellers. Do they say, fuck, the City Council didn’t provide us with free accommodation, and that means we can’t camp here? We’ll have to go home cos there’s no place to camp for free.

No. They said, OK, we’ll just shit in people’s gardens and make it their problem instead of ours. We’re entitled to our holidays.

Now, let me point out to you that the local people also have a history and a culture that need to be respected. It involves having a shit-free house and being free from disease. I wonder if somebody will set up a development group to vindicate their rights?