The 20th October 2017 was the day that Limerick changed for me.
I was sitting outside Melt café on Little Catherine Street awaiting a friend. It was a bustling Friday evening in town and we had plans to visit one of the many new bars and restaurants that had sprung up in the last few weeks. I sat and watched as streams of people walked by and for the first time in many years I felt like I was living in an active city. Actually, to place the change that has occurred in Limerick down to one solidarity day does a disservice to what our city has become over the last 12 months. There has been an expectant energy around the place and this seemed to culminate in a December full of hopeful promises to come. It seems apt that New Year’s eve sees the return of fireworks to Limerick as sparkle and spectacle are the only fitting end to a year when Limerick became sexy again.
Yet admist this expectation and prevailing vibrancy that has embraced our cities people, stands an institution that appears to want to drag Limerick back into the bleakest times in our recent history. A time where Limerick was ridiculed and a national stereotype. A time where the ‘values’ of the Catholic Church dominated leaving many excluded, rejected and ostracised. A time where deeply entrenched conservatism was forced upon Limerick’s usually dynamic people by its fading institutions.
On the same day I sensed that positive shift in our city The Limerick Leader ran with the story ‘Faithful flock to Limerick shrine from across the country for miracles’. A lengthy piece on a 4-foot plastic figurine of The Virgin Mary in a house on the Ennis Road which proposed to ‘cure’ paralysis. This was preceded by a similar article suggesting that laying hands on this statue would greatly improve physical health. Likewise, the close of 2016 saw the Leader’s Deputy Editor live-tweeting from Kilmallock where a stain on the side of a house reported to resemble a religious figure . Indeed, the whole year has seen month after month of The Leader trivialising local news to the point where Limerick is being reduced to a farce. From bizarre articles that read as Sunday pulpit sermons, to trivial non-stories that give us no information or knowledge about anything in our community. Week after week brought ‘news’ that wouldn’t be out of place in even the most farcical Father Ted episode or Waterford Whispers report of the day. A consistently narrow view of our city and its people is adopted with little reflection or analysis on community needs, ideas or opinion.
The Limerick that The Leader reports is a county full of religious guff, ridiculous anecdotes and tales of small town parochialism. An image of ‘a city of piety and shiety’ as veraciously surmised by Brendan Behan. This is not the Limerick that is around us though. Limerick is a vibrant, multicultural, pluralist city. We know this, we see it, we experience it every day but we rarely read about it in the Leader. Limerick City is a progressive, outward looking city and the Leader is only representing a very small part of this.
Limerick is a city that wants to open itself to the world. We want inward investment. We want a liveable, dynamic city that embraces people of all religions and cultures. We want a vibrant urban centre that reflects the passion and sincerity of its people. We want our city to be a constituent part of the Atlantic Corridor that holds itself as an equal to both Cork and Galway. We want a local media that takes the dynamism and optimism that surrounds us every day and showcases it to, not only our local community but the entire world. We need to be building a city that suits all its people, not just the ones that matter for clicks and likes on a fading media organ.
In a recent piece for the Examiner, Kevin Barry wrote that modern Limerick has become a city that is ‘spayed’, ‘desexualised’ and ‘besieged by the forces of the New Banal’. Hasn’t our local media played a pivotal role in cultivating this inaccurate and limited view of our city? This bogus image of Limerick is one its citizens should, and need to, reject. It’s also a view that the promising and talented team of journalists at Leader HQ should be rejecting. We know that the writing team holed up in O’Connell Street show flair at putting pen to paper. Their writing skills demand more than puff pieces for Facebook shares and their editorial team shouldn’t be under the assumption that there is no audience appetite for serious community analysis.
As Kevin Barry so accurately identified to the national press, Limerick was once a city that was ‘tremendously sexy’ and 2017 was the year we got our mojo back. Now we need our local journalists to grasp that sex appeal and believe in our ever-growing desirability as much as its citizens do.