Tag Archives: Limerick city

ST Marys Park Floods, Loss turned to Triumph

There’s a distinctive sense of abandonment when there are forces destroying your home and you have no control, your only option but to sit back and watch. That’s how we all felt the morning we woke up last Saturday not to our houses being flooded, but to our entire bottom floors already submerged knee deep in river water. We didn’t even see or hear it coming, we just woke up, heard a gurgle and a creak downstairs and switched on the light to see all our possessions floating past. If we had received a weather warning the night before or were awake to see the first stream come trickling in we wouldn’t have felt as helpless as we did that morning.

The second stage of the nightmare was trying to do a full comparison with the rest of the community. What do we do, should we wade through the water to try and see how the neighbours are doing, or do we sit and wait on the stairs for word from some or any authorities. Our entire blocks bathrooms are situated at the back room of our bottom floor. I did my first and last dash attempt into the water to get to the bathroom that morning. Making my way through the two rooms in a pair of old boots that were spare was possibly the coldest water I have ever put my feet into. Then the blind panic of remembering the animals and pets we had outside. Thankfully my own dog had a wooden dog house that was on a higher level than the rest, so he was okay. But I heard how hard family members further in the centre took the news that their dogs had drowned.

In the midst of peering out our front windows upstairs and everyone posting their photos to Facebook to see if their shock was in line with our own, something truly uplifting happened. People started rescuing other people. Of course, the armed forces and fire brigade were the pillars of our community those few horrible days. But everyone else really stepped up to the plate. St Marys park still remains one of the oldest community’s in our city, and I think that day when everyone was at their lowest and most desperate did its residents remember that. Everybody did their best to restore meaning to the word community that morning, with people rescuing the old and young alike.

When the worst of that day was over and the forces pumped away most of the water there was nothing but quiet assessing left to do. Many people had been evacuated from their homes but my mother, like many others down there, was too proud to leave her house behind. We were all told to stay indoors and upstairs for fear of another flood. To this day, despite the stack of sandbags that’s permanently outside our front door, that fear has been haunting us. That evening, once everyone had received the most help the authorities could give, fear led way to its closest friends – confusion and rumours.

With the few on hand officials and the limited knowledge they could tell us of the floods, rumour began to rip through the houses on our street. The electricity was being shut off at seven. It wasn’t. It’s going to flood again tonight. It didn’t. They’ve stopped giving out sandbags. They hadn’t. It’s natural for a group of people living in fear of the river five feet away to be desperate for information, but the past few days have been a constant torture of relying on ever-changing rumours.

Then it felt like the nightmare was never going to end. After the weekend had passed and we were just about coming to terms with the possessions we lost and the danger we were in, came the contamination warning. Everything the water had touched, from furniture to wallpaper had to be thrown away for fear of contamination. But there’s still the silver lining on the edge of our little grey cloud.  The local government employees are coming around on a daily basis to help clear out furniture and lend a hand. We’ve had local electricians come in to assess the damage and have been given free use of humidifiers for inside the house. There’s even been an immediate relief fund given out to all of us before any real financial aid can be assessed. The entire city has been amazing in its support. We have received all manner of donations from hot lunches to fresh bed sheets from organisations and individuals city wide. Even though we couldn’t be more at a loss at this moment in time, I have never been more grateful to the people we live with. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

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Was Frank McCourt the Only One?

English: Limerick, looking northeast up the Ri...

Limerick

My father is an honest man. He’s hard working, family orientated and deserving of every bit of luck he gets in life. He’s lived a hard one, being the second oldest in a family of 14, beginning work at the age of 13 to support a large family. They weren’t the poorest of the poor, because having a dad in the army meant a set sum came home each week to help them along. But he remembers the poor. They were all struggling back then, in the 1960’s. The way they saw it, nothing was given to you in life. You had to work god damn hard for it, and if you could once in a while cut a little corner to make it easier. These are the people who lived the life of Angela’s Ashes, the life of the Limerick slums depicted in the biography of Frank McCourt.

But was that a correct depiction, or was it exaggeration for want of a better story? Did Frank McCourt go to false extremes to add drama to his Pulitzer Prize winning material, or was Limerick really such a god forsaken place for the broken-backed families living under Irish poverty?

There were millions of families just like Frank McCourt’s struggling in Limerick, my fathers’ one of them. But Mister McCourt spoke of beggars at the church doors, starving children, a stinking rat-infested city. My father doesn’t remember such a city. “Sure, you had the odd hole in your sock, you carried a paper Tesco bag in your hand instead of a school bag on your back and you ate boiled potatoes every day till it came out your ears. But we weren’t poverty stricken. The worst I ever saw was borrowing money off the loan sharks.”

One of the biggest presences amongst struggling families in the old walls of Limerick was the church. They went to mass and paid their dues in the hope it would pay off. They went to school and learned from them, and were scolded by them. One thing Frank McCourt didn’t fail to mention was the absolute power of the church – the fear and respect they incited in the children and the poor alike. Visiting the Frank McCourt Museum in Limerick an exact replica of a classroom is on display, teachers cane included. The museum itself was once Frank McCourt’s former school, Leamy House. Tour guide Dorothy Cantrell explains that Mr McCourt attended such an establishment, and he writes of corporal punishment in his book.

 

Mostly nuns taught in primary schools and after that the secondary education available to young boys in Limerick was the Christian brothers. My father’s memories of punishment are very similar to that in Angela’s Ashes. He remembers the nuns wouldn’t put force into the stick but the “brothers”, as he calls them, would. “We feared them because if you got something wrong, they’d ring you up in front of the class and slap you across the hand with a stick, or worse a leather strap. They could whack you four or five times over and there was certain bitterness about the way they hit you. It was both a punishment and warning to the class.” Even outside the classroom they held a high status in Irish society. “We were brought up to respect them, to bow your head if you saw them in the street passing,” remembers my father.

But what he doesn’t remember are beggars at the church door, which was a big presence in Mr McCourt’s memoirs. There were individual members of the clergy that were generous and would help people out of their own will. But collectively the church did nothing for the poor aside from the odd collection, according to my father’s memories. “Some would steal from the candle boxes and collection boxes for the poor. The priests claimed the money was for the poor but personally I never believed it. Which is why some boys I knew would steal from them, it was supposed to be going to them anyway right?”

In his memoirs, Mr McCourt writes about stealing the odd loaf of bread or carton of milk to help his family along. This depiction of a family trying to make ends meet does not seem to be an exaggeration. Petty crime was big back then, more so out of survival than anything else. It was an innocent crime of hungry children. “We were as naive that when you broke into a bakery, you’d rob a few buns but not even think to look at the till for the hunger in your stomach commanded you,” recalls my father, speaking from experience.

My father recollects a lot about the way of life of a struggling Limerick family. In order to make ends meet, they had to try things differently. Their mentality was the way of the underdog; nothing was fairly given to them, so why should they play by the rules. He remembers most of the fathers of the families he lived near went down to the Dock Road of a Saturday morning. “They’d follow behind the horse and cart that carried the coal, and the coal that fell off they’d bag it and keep. Some would go home and use it, others would sell it, and I remember a lot of men coming into the pub to swap it for a few pints. We all had our own recycling systems going,” he laughs.

But there has been some outrage amongst members of the community in how Mr McCourt depicted the city. There have been public accusations of lying against him when he appeared on TV shows. The museums guide, Mrs Cantrell, commented that it was always a case of for and against when it came to Angela’s Ashes. “I can only say that here in the museum we have a comment book, our visitors like to write in it after they’ve seen the museum. Every single one of those comments is positive.” Their museum has encouraged a foreign interest in both the story and the city of Limerick, with visitors ranging from Japan to Texas.

So was Angela’s Ashes accurate, did it debase an entire city or did it bring it fame? It has upset Limerick residences and its author has been accused of lying. Then again it has brought a huge foreign interest to Limerick. His story has certainly left its legacy on his city. Mrs Cantrell says that both Mr McCourt’s story and the museum, in his honour, stand as a reminder. “To remind us what it was like for the majority of families in Limerick, it holds on to the story and offers hope. Hope for those less fortunate, that you can still aim high and that you can reach to the level of a Pulitzer prize, just like Frank did.”

The book strayed from a kinder view of Limerick to that of a harsh one. Life in the slums, although it was poor and sometimes cold, was not a constant stream of misery. One of the things my father looks back on fondly is the city’s sense of community. Community being another aspect which Mr McCourt failed to write about. It was a tale of sorrow, but a tale from only one man among thousands. It may have been the life of Frank McCourt, but it wasn’t the life of every Limerick resident. There are many more people left to tell their versions, people just like my father. So no, Frank McCourt wasn’t and will not be the only one to share his memories. Limerick city remains full of untold stories.

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Saturday night’s alright for fighting…..well not anymore lads

English: a typical scene of Street Fight

Image via Wikipedia

It’s a shame how we idolise and fawn over the wrong people in our society – the actors, the models, the singers and the politicians (well they do contribute a little I suppose). We glorify these people all because they can act or sing, and as ignorant consumers we ignore those who do real work for our sake alone. The people who are the corner-stone of civilisation and we couldn’t even begin to understand how vital their role is – people such as bouncers. This one is for them: the underappreciated, unnoticed and often ignored guardians of nightlife. We have a love-hate relationship with them, we have our connections amongst them and we might even flirt with them if our chances of entry are looking bad – but we never considered how unsafe we would be without them.

Let me paint you a picture of Saturday night in Limerick city, when the pubs close their doors and the nightclubs spew out bare footed, drunken messes. A night when the brave boldly go down Cruises Street for fast food and the meek flee into the first taxi that pulls up. The city’s bouncers, our protectors of sort, can always be seen on the outskirts guiding the drunk, blocking the abusive and chatting up the slutty. They’re our shinning knights in padded black coats. Without these intimidating burly men standing guard every night, half of Limerick would be a bloodied mess on their way home.

If your one of the meeker ones, then I’m sure in your past night outs the bouncers have been your best friends. These men are the ones that stand in the cold all night ready to confront any trouble that comes their way. They’re the ones that stop that girl from throwing a kebab in your face because you looked at her sideways. They’re the ones that insert that glorious protective barrier of a hand in between you and the skinhead that’s about to kill you. They’re the ones that tell the tangoed, scantily clad girls to lean off the counter to save us all a nasty sight. And most importantly, they’re the ones that give you a light for your cigarette to calm you down, before you kick the head off your boyfriend.

Bouncers aren’t exclusive to just nightclubs anymore. They’re stationed everywhere and it’s no longer just the entry of our beloved Trinity Rooms (RIP). They’re at the front doors of fast food chains, ready to drag the penniless out by their ankles (which I’ve actually seen happen) and slap them away when they lick the window (I couldn’t make sense of it either). The assurance of protection that comes with a bouncer’s proximity is now extended from the nightclub to the take out and in between. A fact I relish when trying to scoot past the street brawls outside HMV. They don’t only add a sense of protection when you now leave the club and go for something to eat; they also add a higher standard. You are required to have shoes on when entering such high calibre places like McDonald’s and Burger King. Which means the days of looking at cut, bare feet when you’re trying to order food are gone – thank you bouncers.

They’re there to help us when we need them, and there to stop us when we don’t. We’ve all been on the receiving end of the bouncers’ authority. The “not tonight”, the “you’re too drunk” and the “well I just saw you trying to seek in so now you’ve no chance of getting in”. We’ve all tried the pleading and begging routine of “it’s my birthday,” “sure I’ve only had one” and the “I’m from America here on holiday” line. If you’ve never been refused by a bouncer, you don’t get out enough. I’m sure you’ve abused them to no end when you couldn’t get your way. Thinking about it now, don’t you feel guilty for shouting insults at this hard earning family man just trying to do his job and get home to a warm bed? I was.

Give the bouncers of our city a break next time you think of throwing out an insult. Sure, some may seem too keen on the girls that pass, but they’re only men. And some may seem stern, but you know in your deepest of hearts that the third shoulder of whiskey really was too much and you should go home. Listen to them, give them a break and don’t take them for granted. It would be an entirely different city at night without them – for danger is just a kebabs throw away.

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