The Phoenix opinion column has been running in the Waterford News & Star for more than 30 years
IN this, the last column of 2021, due tribute should be paid to the people of Waterford city for their resilience and spirit in refusing to lie down for government. None of the other four cities of Ireland have had to fight so often, hard and long to preserve their status. Dublin is now, in the words beloved of its PR agents, a “world city”. Cork is, well, it’s Cork. Galway and Limerick used to be our peer cities but that relationship has become even more fractured in recent years. Still, we cling on. One wonders if there has ever been any protest ever for anything in Limerick or Galway? For the privileged or the politically connected in Ireland life is a constant roll out of facilities and state investment.
It’s not going to get any easier for us as the furore over the possible loss of R117 and ongoing fears over WIT and UHW so evidently show. We can but resist and protest the policies of the unelected and unaccountable Dublin civil service who, aided and abetted by Fine Gael politicians in the past decade, have written us out of the national equation in health and education despite the “promises” in the Ireland 2040 plan.
They kick us by advertising for new Coast Guard helicopter stations on the Monday after the Dáil closes for its Christmas break, but we will not, as the quotation says, “Go gently into the night” and roll over to suit the machinations of the unelected. At some stage our voice will be heard, because our city is indomitable, unbeatable and full of decent people who live in what the Irish Times’ judges recently decided was the “Best Place to Live in Ireland”! Not that we’d be running out and shouting about it or anything like that in yet another display of the Norman or Danish reserve, which still characterises our attitude to self-publicity.
‘Most impressive was the frontage of the Port of Waterford building, which has recently been restored and repainted’
Our unwillingness to blow our own trumpet is quite remarkable in the context of the beautiful and historic city we live in. In many ways the rule of law runs here as it has done for 1100 years in a quite different way to other parts of Ireland. We are often described as reactionary and difficult in our public stances but yet almost counterintuitively we are the most vaccinated against Covid people in Ireland. If anything, people in Waterford have a belief, naïve at best, that if we were entitled to something that we would surely get it. It comes from a belief in order and in government, albeit sadly misplaced in these times when every cent has to be torn from them.
In the past couple of weeks I have been in around town many times. Some people question the wisdom of pedestrianisation in the city in recent decades. George’s Street was fully pedestrianised (among the first such streets, if not the first In Ireland) circa 1985. In the intervening 40 years most of the old city has been paved and pedestrianised. Many of those who are wedded to the primacy of the motor car have resisted such a move, but the Covid pandemic, with its emphasis on fresh air and outdoor living, has shown the value of what has been achieved. Anyone who has been in town in Waterford city over the past four weeks will have seen it. The impact of Winterval on a network of closed pedestrianised streets has been magical, safe and people friendly. It is one of the great contradictions of life that in these terrible pandemic times that the restaurant and pub scene in Waterford has made the jump into public spaces.
Despite all the problems, the city centre has hardly ever looked better. Most premises are brightly painted and look well maintained and well presented. John Street and the Applemarket are super looking, albeit with still the odd parked car(s) detracting from the visual appeal, and still, with the usual dimwit trying to force their way through pedestrian traffic to get to New St. / Michael Street, has rarely looked better. Broad Street looks terrific and people might remember that this was the historic market place of the city centuries ago. The upper floors of the old Flanagan’s fish shop and adjacent Odeon Café have been beautifully restored (the sash windows add a special appeal) pending the opening of the new Wetherspoon’s pub. If the restoration and refurbishment is anything like what has been achieved in the company’s new premises in Dublin’s Camden Street , then it should be eye-catching. The company will benefit hugely from having pedestrian streets outside its doors in Broad Street and in Arundel Square. With the investment they are obviously making, they deserve to succeed.
I think that Arundel Square, Blackfriars, Barronstrand Street, George’s Street and O’Connell Street look really beautiful. Despite the rush towards on-line shopping, bricks and mortar retail is not dead. When you see the beautiful job that the Italian Bakery has done on their premises in George’s Street (and indeed Seagull Bakery in Patrick Street) you can see a different future in store. The little outside area near T&H Doolan’s looks super, as does the area outside Tully’s and Tom Meagher’s. Whatever the future holds, it seems a no brainer that a lot of it will be outside. The physical layout of Waterford city facilitates such development.
Most impressive for me last Saturday was the frontage of the Port of Waterford building, which has recently been restored and repainted. This palazzo, built by the Morris family of Rossduff in Woodstown, dominates Gladstone Street. It is the finest 18th century house in Waterford city. The decision to paint all the window frames black has brought the house back to its original appearance where the façade shows the window openings as dark spaces. It’s actually worth going to see the building in daylight to appreciate its full impact. The house was built in 1785 according to Marc Girouard. It exemplifies the wealth and status of our city at that time. Every time I look at it I realise, again, that those who feel they can side-line the oldest city in Ireland have another think coming. We will prevail. Happy New year to all!