April 17, 2014

The regeneration of Limerick? Why not?

Posted in Economic History · 33 comments ·

I’ve had a soft spot for Limerick since the time a pretty Laurel Hill teenager from Ennis Road whispered to a freckly, 15-year-old redhead outside the ceili at Irish college that she thought he was special.

These are the events you remember from your teenage years, not the hours of trigonometry, the date of the Battle of Clontarf, or any of the other stuff that’s crammed into our heads in an effort to make sure we can perform that bizarre feat of memory gymnastics called the Leaving Cert.

In contrast, we are emotionally conditioned to remember experiences. We store them deep inside us. They can be resurrected by a smell, an image or even hearing – out of the blue – whatever album we listened to 20 or even 30 years ago.

If we have to actually learn – as opposed to experience – something, the best way to do this is through a constant process of reinforcing and continual repetition.

Regular reinforcement of lots of small messages repeated at timely intervals is how we form impressions, develop opinions and yes, develop prejudices. If the messages are constantly negative, we all form commensurate opinions.

With regards to Limerick, the messages that are constantly replayed, relayed and rehashed about the city seem to me to be relentlessly negative. The city gets a bad rap. The image is one of out-of-control violence, where feral gangs roam the streets and terrorise the average citizen. This dystopia is constantly reinforced in the media. I don’t need to remind you that the shorthand for Limerick is “stab city” – most often portrayed as a desolate place you’d best avoid.

But walking around it, I see something quite different. If it were so desolate, then why do you think that Brown Thomas, Limerick, has had faster-growing turnover this year and last than either of its Cork or Dublin stores?

Architecturally, the centre of Limerick is a Georgian gem, the riverfront is beautiful and the surrounding countryside a tourist mecca. It has a huge university, an international airport and, in Thomond Park and Munster rugby, one of the most internationally recognisable Irish sporting brands.

On Saturday, I sat in Limerick’s cosmopolitan Milk Market. There can hardly be a better ‘covered market’ in Ireland. While eating gorgeous toasties at the redoubtable Marie Hussey’s Cheese Shop, Mickey Dunne, the master uilleann piper – a fully paid-up member of Ireland’s trad aristocracy – started to play in the corner, there and then, as punters came in and out buying cheese, coffees, buns, and plonking themselves down to chat and listen. Outside, the market bustled with the intense chatter of commerce.

I say “trad aristocracy” because Mickey Dunne has pedigree. His father (the legendary Pecker Dunne) and uncles were highly regarded buskers at fairs, markets and GAA matches. They were travelling musicians who played widely and influenced many well-known names including Seamus Connolly, Tony McMahon and Professor Mick Maloney.

This is deep culture. It is Irish culture, the culture that is in our DNA, the type of culture you cannot fake, and here it was playing on Saturday morning.

The night before, I was hosting an economic and political debate as part of the Limerick Spring, itself part of the City of Culture. The discussion was held at the hopping Dolans Warehouse.

It is a brilliant venue – as good as any in the country – which every month plays host to dozens of musicians, comedians and the odd travelling economist, too.

As I immersed myself in the buzz of the Milk Market, it struck me that there was no reason why Limerick could not be an economic and cultural success in the future – a model of urban regeneration and a place where people want to live.

Cities are the key to economic growth; they have their own dynamic and, if this is tapped into, it can create a self-reinforcing virtuous cycle. In the United States, many cities – which have fallen on hard times because the few industries that sustained them collapsed – have reinvented themselves, always through a combination of small businesses, driven by public-private partnership.

What you need is a city where rents are cheap, where the workers are also relatively good value and hungry, where there are people willing to take risks and where there is a sufficient pool of capital – that is, there are a few rich people willing to back those people’s dreams.

At an average cost of €135,000, houses in Limerick are now the cheapest urban homes in Ireland. This is a good thing. Average rents stand at €580 per month, compared with €1,400 plus in south Dublin. Again, cheap accommodation is a competitive advantage.

Skilled workers are cheaper in Limerick. For example, in Dublin, a senior software developer role would command a salary of about €65,000, whereas in Limerick it would be more like €50,000.

So, housing and wages are 60pc and 20pc cheaper, respectively, in Limerick than in Dublin. This is all good for the efficacy of any investment.

Additionally, the recent Irish ‘Rich List’ revealed that the seven richest Limerick people have net assets of €1bn. Surely they could be persuaded to use some of this to seed new business in the home city?

Small young businesses are the ones that create jobs. They set up largely in cities and if they are involved in selling something for export, or if they are trying to undercut other businesses, lower wages and lower rents are a huge plus.

Without business and income, urban regeneration is impossible but, with it, urban renewal tends to happen from the centre city out and is best done street by street or small block by small block. The State can help by taking obvious steps. Here are three:

First, I couldn’t help noticing that on Limerick’s riverfront, there are so many buildings used solely for municipal purposes. Surely moving things such as the revenue offices to one of the many empty buildings elsewhere would be beneficial?

These new empty buildings with lovely views of the Shannon could be turned into residences. This would start the process of reinvigorating the Georgian city centre. Where people live, businesses naturally pop up to service them.

Second, peripheral Limerick’s retail parks have drained the lifeblood of the city. Stop building them.

Third, the University of Limerick’s plans to build a city-centre campus should be accelerated and the empty Georgian buildings converted into student flats.

I am sure locals can think of many more positive steps that could be taken easily. We all know what is wrong with Limerick, but why not point out what is right with it and start from there?


  1. Good Objective Opinion on Limerick – ~Thanks David

  2. dorn

    “For example, in Dublin, a senior software developer role would command a salary of about €65,000, whereas in Limerick it would be more like €50,000.”

    I’ve been here for 10 years and I can’t even get 40k in such a role in Limerick. In fact good luck even finding such a job here, or a pay rise. Limerick is dead, and nobody wants to save it.

  3. Limerick City owes its location as a very serious strategic military point to prevent any foreign attacks by water and in recent years by air . It is also an important junction to many places in the country .The city is very un-Irish and has been settled into by various armies over the years . The city derives itself as a Garrison and many of the local inhabitants ( Garrisonieres ) still hold their distinctive names not found normally in the West of Ireland .

    The descendants of the Welsh regiment of the British army are still in the city and between their working class status ( Keith Earls ) and the other Welsh Merchants ( Richard Harris ) they formed the nucleus of what is now the greatest rugby team in Ireland/ Europe and without any class distinction ( unlike Dublin ) .

    The name Lymricke – Limerick derives its name from a Danish word Lym – Ria meaning a Dug Out River – namely the Shannon Estuary . Brian Ború used the city as his centre base and built the the St Marys Cathedral ( now Protestant ) .

  4. Good positive writing.
    I note the suggestion that savings be used as the investment source of future enterprise rather than the use of credit. These savings can be turned into capital for small enterprises. The providers of the savings can take an interest in the enterprise and thus is eliminated debt and attendant interest charges that eat out and destroy all in its path.
    This is a major change in our host’s financial strategy.

    Also, small is the start of something larger and it is the individual enterprises in aggregate who will revive the economy, not a grand scheme employing vast quantities of new debt.

  5. Colin

    Yes David, I agree with all that.

    Coming in a week where street thuggery in Dublin reached new lows, where Gardai couldn’t be arsed attending a chaotic scene in O’Connell street (Dublin – NOT Limerick), allowing thieving scumbags in broad daylight to attack shop staff and damage retailer’s property (AGAIN), it’s time the Dublin based meeja front up and be honest about where the real danger is on Ireland’s streets.

    Limerick and Waterford are often grouped together in terms of poor national outlooks, with Galway and Cork coupled together as utopian locations. The state reinforces this policy by unfairly locating government regional headquarters in Cork and Galway. Why should Limerick be forced to play second fiddle to a smaller, less historic, less central, less industrial Galway?

    No one has ever laid a finger on me in 30 odd years in Limerick.

    I just need the curse of St Munchin to be exercised, and then all will be well in the world.

  6. Pat Flannery

    Having just completed a grand motor tour of five Southwestern States, I am interested in David’s view on the role of cities. He says “cities are the key to economic growth” and “can create a self-reinforcing virtuous cycle”.

    Well, I visited all the big “sunbelt” cities on my 4,000 mile round trip from San Diego and am left a little disturbed about how these large conurbations are indeed creating a self-reinforcing cycle, but not in my opinion a virtuous one.

    Take Dallas for example. It was sad to see the mile-after-mile of still snarled mid-morning commuter traffic trying to get into Dallas as we (happily) took the I-75 northwards to our final destination, the Choctaw Nation, across the Red River in Oklahoma.

    There, I was told many stories by my Choctaw hosts about how the insatiable appetite of Dallas is threatening their rural lifestyles. The Dallas-Fort Worth conurbation is sucking the water from their Oklahoma lakes and rivers for example and is generally felt as a dark ominous presence just over the horizon to the south.

    This story is repeated around all the big cities we visited, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, even beautiful historic Santa Fe NM, not to mention the CA urban monsters of SF and LA.

    It is indeed true what David says, that small young businesses, the ones that create jobs, set up largely in cities. But what does that do to the intervening rural areas? It leaves them a desert, both economically and culturally. Is that good? Not if you are Choctaw and want to live a clean traditional life or if Irish and want to live in Connemara or County Mayo. Dublin is Ireland’s Dallas, it is sucking the life out of the countryside.

    To me, big cities are human versions of the many commercial feeding lots we saw along the way, those filthy cattle pens you can smell fifty miles down the road. Thank God for the Choctaw Nation and other Native American Tribes who are trying to preserve whatever is left of our humanity. Their biggest present worry is for the aquifers which contain the very life-sustaining water the cities need!


    By “fracking” for oil and gas to feed our cities we are destroying our future water supply in a mad scramble to put gasoline in the tanks of those endless miles of automobiles trying to get into and out of our cities, which to me are human versions of cattle feeding lots.

    P.S. I think I will now drive down deep into rural Mexico for a few days and drink Tequila, to get the taste of American cities out of my mouth. I speak excellent Tequila-Spanish btw. I have no idea how that happens b/c I lose the gift the moment I sober up and come stateside.


    Rural Mexico? Ha, you will now see what kind of welcome a white man gets when not in America, hope you come back alive.
    As for those cities you travelled to, its called progress. And it will keep progressing until every last white guy has flown the coup.
    Southern border states are being over run with Illegal Mexicans.
    The future of most of those places is grim. Sad, but I think Americas best days are behind her.
    Irelands will be too in about 15 or 20 years, so enjoy now as its soon to be over. Get a prayer rug and a burka for your wife and daughters because the ass kissing that is going to go on will blow your mind, and your own culture will be wiped clean off the face of the earth.

  8. jaysus

    Luimneach gave us Michael Noonan. Can never forgive the stabbing f’uckers for inflicting him on us.

    • Colin

      Dublin north gave us Bertie ‘lehman brothers’ Ahern & Charlie ‘charvet shirts’ Haughey, Dublin north west gave us Brian ‘we’ve turned the corner’ & ‘cheapest bailout in history’ Lenihan, Dublin west gave us Liam ‘brown envelope’ Lawlor, Dublin south west gave us Pat ‘election promises’ Rabbitte, Dublin south gave us Alan ‘whistleblowing’ Shatter and Dun Laoghaire gave us Eamonn ‘windsor castle communist’ Gilmore.

      Waterford gave us Martin ‘monica leech’ Cullen, Cork gave us Michael ‘consultant report’ Martin, Kerry gave us John ‘heathrow limo’ O’Donoghue, Galway gave us Frank ’40 gaffs’ Fahy, Mayo gave us Padraig ‘try living in 3 houses’ Flynn, Donegal gave us Neil ‘IRA’ Blaney.

      Kildare gave us Charlie ‘i have it so i’ll spend it’ McCreevy, Offaly gave us Biffo, Meath gave us Noel ‘no IMF in town’ Dempsey, Louth gave us Dermot ‘no, not at all, no IMF in town’ Ahern…… Tipperary – Lowry, Wexford – Wallace, Kilkenny – Phil Hogan ….. I could go on…..

  9. I remember Limerick in the late 50s and 60s when many travelled to A-meri-ka and returned with greenbacks and a drawl in their accents .Dublin had never seen these species before not alone the rest of the country . Elsewhere crowds boarded ships for England and fed on a poor diet of bread and potatoes.The new chosen few spoke and ate their cakes and new strange foods with gusto and Shannon was the redeemer , the salvation and the new vision of Ireland .

    New leaders like Brendan O’Regan gave the region the empowerment to attract new foreign industries and tax free zones and ….the launch pad for Irish Coffee . Actually , the locals in Clare also were given special tax status in business that no place else in the country enjoyed …and almost still have never heard about . Folk Parks developed and proper tourism commenced commercially that since has been copied elsewhere in the country .

    Alas the political demise of north Munster has contributed to this and the Dublin Mafia took the mantle and denied Munster what it once enjoyed .Thanks to Haughey who who had no further interest in Thomond after the death of Donagh O’Malley .

  10. Water Charges

    This is the new elephant in political armor designed to finance the drain of the Shannon Waterways to Dublin and devoid the natural wonder this Island has left.When does this rape by Dublin stop ?

    • Pat Flannery

      John, this is exactly what I saw on my recent trip around the United States, cities are sucking the life out of vast areas around them. Water is the most obvious but there are many others.

      Ways of distributing population will have to be found in order to achieve sustainability in the production of energy, food and water. Centralization suits the capital markets but is a production cul-de-sac. What would happen if the Internet was moving towards a centralized servers model rather than the distributed servers model that is driving its rapid growth?

      Centralizing economic activity in Dublin is the wrong path for Ireland. Economists like David McWilliams need to re-think their “big city” model.

    • paddythepig

      Last time I visited limerick, my buddy took me along the Shannon where he used to swim as a kid. The filth, the shopping trolleys, the litter was there for all to see. So if you are so in love with your beloved Shannon, go clean it up.

  11. Pat Flannery

    David McWilliams is quoted as being the original proposer of the Irish banking blanket guarantee by fellow economists Alan Gray in today’s Irish Times.

    Whether this is true or not the fact remains that McWilliams has waged an unrelenting campaign against Germany and the Euro blaming them for the pressure that forced the Irish Government to guarantee all Irish bank deposits. His motivation appears to be a desire to see Ireland exist the Euro and re-enter Sterling, because the UK is our biggest trading partner, as he never tires of telling us.

    We now know from today’s Irish Times that the decision to guarantee all Irish bank deposits was entirely a political decision by the Fianna Party to cover up the fact that they had no choice but to bail out Sean Fitzpatrick’s “operation” known as Anglo Irish Bank because it was the Fianna Fail/Developer slush fund. But they didn’t just bail out Anglo which would be bad enough but the gob smacking reality is that they chose to issue a 440 billion bailout to cover up the 10 billion bailout of themselves, of their Party slush fund known as Anglo Irish Bank.

    The really galling thing to me is that widely read people like McWilliams covered for them by blaming it all on the Europeans. It is one thing for corrupt politicians to use public funds to cover their asses but it is quite another for high profile economists/writers to get it so wrong and then persist in blaming others.

  12. Battle of CLontarf

    This was a Munster Power defeating the Invasion when the local Pale nobodies had no leadership and this week end celebrates that National Conscientious that ruled the whole island of Ireland then and it is a call to all the little islanders to repeat that once more in Rugby , Politics and Enterprise .
    Originality is the Spirit of Success where all rivers flows and Limerick is the Capital of the greatest river on the Isles of Britain and Ireland .

  13. Davids Twiggy went to Laurel Hill and that school won the all Ireland short musical sketch in Macroom ,Co. Cork a few weeks ago .

  14. In the 70s and 80s BBC only held Irish performers on their productions from Limerick and that was before the Irish learned to train their voices.

  15. Hugh Gough is an unsung international hero from Limerick and who was directly responsible for the formation of what Hong Kong is now today . A mighty legacy . He was the second most important soldier in Queen Victoria army . The first was another Irish man Duke of Wellington .He alone defeated China with his military strategy and financed his own wars with Opium when monies ran out in the coffers of London.

    His home place near UL is now the location for the center for handicap children .

  16. Limerick was first in Ireland for the following :

    International Free Tax Zones

    International Financial Service Centers

    Strategic Tax Laws

    International Food Production Zones

    International Tourism Centers

    ……………until Dublin Politicians decided to ‘delete and paste’ ….copycat versions in their own capital……and choke Shannon Airport .

  17. Those 7 rich list of people from Limerick are only ‘some’ . There are more .What is different about these successful people is that they earn their fortunes from outside ‘the state’unlike most elsewhere in the country who suck on political quangoes and drain the Irish Taxpayers.

  18. Finally …..it is a lot easier to live a full life from a normal post of employment due to its very low cost base and very good infrastructures and continue to enjoy the best of what Ireland has to offer compared to other cities in ‘the state’.

  19. …ooops…….It is Limerick City ….not Limerick that we are talking about in this article . There is no such thing as County Limerick …that is made up of ..North Kerry….Tipperary …and the periphs in the south ,of Cork .County Limerick was a legislation error …just to pile in land for the city dwellers who were made up of mainly foreign soldiers are merchants then.

    Limerick City can never match the might of the little islanders to win an all Ireland and never will and County Limerick might just as well join the surrounding counties to get a career lift.

    It is now time that Limerick City decide to legislate a City Principality …and wall it in …away from the curse of St Munchin….and the Pale Dubliners

  20. ………I must not forget the late great Limerick camera ..Eamonn O’Conner …who brought to the TV all the Olympics and Rás Tailteann and Tour de France and all TV coverage for news RTE from Munster …and the famous Derry Massacre in the Falls Road we are all now familiar with ….and all these were edited in Limerick first.

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