As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column for the Waterford News & Star
WELL that’s the question that someone in the audience (and I think I know who) threw up to his younger brother Luka Bloom, in the Coastguard recently. Luka was talking about how his parents met in the Majestic Hotel and spent their honeymoon there.
Being born in the Midlands, like myself, Luka loves the seaside and coming to the Waterford coast. I knew exactly what he was talking about, because a week wouldn’t go by but someone would say to me, aren’t we lucky living here…?
Really lucky, I always answer.
‘How many places in Ireland could boast that a contemporary writer has created a back catalogue of work with roots in his own place? The language, the characters, the dilemmas, all sketched out over a lifetime.’
There’s no argument about the coast, but do we really appreciate Waterford City, just the way she is? Ten of us went to Red Iron, Jim Nolan’s latest play. How many places in Ireland could boast that a contemporary writer has created a back catalogue of work with roots in his own place? The language, the characters, the dilemmas, all sketched out over a lifetime. Brilliant and brave too. There is something unique here. Jim’s talent, and the Waterford audience is a match made in heaven!
But how does that get counted in GDP and wealth generation for this Region? Well it doesn’t because we haven’t figured out enough ways to count quality of life, culture or community.
There is a simple recipe for quality of life. Care is at the centre of it; a roof over everyone’s head, enough to eat and a friendly warm community. I have paid taxes for a lifetime and that’s what I want the money I have contributed spent on. Warm homes, great hospitals and a variety of educational opportunities. But we don’t measure care or love when we only produce figures about wages, development and investment.
Instead of focusing so much on growth and wealth, what if we loved Waterford a bit more? We could consolidate what we have and take better care of every inch of it. Like Jacinda Arden in New Zealand, we could aim to make what we have BETTER, and stop thinking we have to be BIGGER!
Ever since I came here, the headlines have screamed, “Waterford ignored again”, “Waterford left out again”, “Cork and Limerick getting more”. It seems to me that too many of us have internalised this narrative as a negative belief and it grinds us down. We can’t continue to believe we are victims of some national plot?
I couldn’t give a fig about Limerick and I definitely don’t want to live there no matter how much more money gets spent on it! In a recent survey by jobs.ie, 16% of Dublin workers would actually choose to come and live in Waterford.
I’m a blow-in and will always be one. My own childhood was nomadic. By the age of nine I had attended four schools and lived in five different homes. I was like an orphan when Waterford very kindly adopted me. I now feel rooted in a way I never was.
So why would anyone want to have more shopping centres, UK chain stores, carparks, traffic; diluting the cosy city centre and making Waterford just like everywhere else? It’s not all about shopping and retail. A living city needs green spaces, beautiful walks by the river, trees everywhere, libraries and community projects, lots of small shops and art centres, history on show, safe play spaces for families, lovely benches to sit and watch the world go by, yummy food markets and a sense of community. A city that is person centred.
Small is beautiful. Let’s celebrate that! Blow-ins understand this. We are here because Waterford has retained a friendly Irish feel that is lost in many other bigger cities. Because the ordinary people, the volunteers, the creatives, make Waterford the unique place it is. In fact Ireland as a whole has the 3rd highest quality of life figures on the United Nations index for 2019.
Waterford should prioritise investment in quality of life. Instead of more shopping centres in the heart of the city we need new sustainable homes to bring young families back into the centre. We need to be greener and cleaner. It’s not just the job of politicians, there’s loads more we can do ourselves.
When my grandmother worked as a “shop girl” in Hearn’s on the Quay, at the beginning of the last century, she always said Waterford was like Paris; beautiful women wearing stylish coats, fresh air from the sea coming up the river, plenty of handsome working men. There is still something special about walking around this City in the chilly December air; enjoying a sausage in a blaa, a coffee on the street, a spin on the big wheel. How bad?
As yer man in Bridget Jones said (and because it’s Christmas) I love you Waterford… just the way you are.
Catherine Drea blogs at Foxglovelane.com