Friday 3 April 2015



“Gleeson” (getting louder)


“It’s Gilleece”


“It’s Emma Gilleece”

My mother told me one of the things she liked about my father was his unusual surname Gilleece (in Irish Mac Giolla Íosa). She had the opportunity to exchange her birth given Madden for it upon marriage. I found growing up as the only Gilleece household in Munster had its advantages such as being the only Gilleece in the phone book.  However my mother was conscious of the difficulty my younger sisters and I would encounter with such a family name and so bestowed straight-forward first names (Emma, Kate, Sarah and Jane).  This measure helped indeed but I still go through life politely correcting people and all manner of documentation.

I always correct people. It would of course be far easier to allow people to call me something close, wrong but nearly there such as Gleeson, Gilleaspie, Gillease.  But I don’t want the wrong name. I want MY name.  It’s my identity. It made me stand out in ways I wish my skills and accomplishments could aspire to. The same goes for my home city that I am immensely proud to be from.  

Headline Grabbing
The papers a week ago today were full of the attention grabbing heading about €80-100 million plans for the 3.2 acre Opera Centre site.  Opera Centre although a recent name given to it by a property developer is set in print without quotation marks. For similar reasons as with my own name I was annoyed at this unnecessary attempt to change this area’s identity. 

For those naturally confused let me clear up the fact that there is no opera centre in Limerick. It is in fact a Georgian block bounded by Patrick/Rutland Street, Ellen Street, Bank Place and Michael Street. This area was purchased in 2005 by Belfast estate agent Gary McDowell and Suneil Sharma. The plan was to develop a €350m mixed use complex which would feature the biggest shopping centre in Munster. Sharma was very clever in terms of PR and invited the late Denis Leonard, the highly regarded first Director of the Limerick Civic Trust to buy the birthplace of Catherine Hayes (the opera connection) for €2 million to repeat the successful renovation of No.2 Pery Square no doubt. Shortly after he assembled the site for the ‘Opera Centre’ he sold on his interests to a Dublin-based consortium, headed by developer Gerry O’Reilly, David Courtney and Terence Sweeney, Regeneration Developments. The site was sold in 2011 by Savills for €12.5m (a drop of 89% from the €110m the property fetched in 2005). Following the economic downturn the loan underpinning the property was transferred to NAMA. Limerick City Council wrote to NAMA expressing concerns about the dereliction of the site. This was the same developer of the ill-fated Horizon Mall, Dublin Road built on the outskirts of the city within the County boundaries adding to Limerick’s many shopping centres. The 15-acre site was originally due to comprise of a 39,650sq m (426,792sq ft) retail complex with 50 shops, three anchor tenants and 1,650 car-parking spaces.

“The Chairing of Spring Rice” by William Turner de
Lond captures the celebrations at the Commercial
Buildings (Town Hall) in 1820
Historical Context
Upon the demolition of the City Walls in 1760 the orthogonal city grid of Newtown Pery developed linearly from Bank Place to Barrington Street. The streets were are concerned with were laid out as early as 1764 with Rutland Street, Patrick Street  (1768), Bank Place 1775, Michael Street (1802) and Ellen Street (1805). Patrick and Ellen Streets named after members of the Arthur family who built Arthur's Quay; Michael Street after St Michael's church which still has its graveyard nearby and Bank Place after the Bank of Limerick (Monsell's Bank) was located at No.6 Bank Place. To put these dates into perspective any building constructed pre-1700 is protected under the National Monument Acts and placed on the RMP (Record of Monuments & Places).Patrick Street has held that name since 1780. Several buildings on this    site are on the RPS (Record of Protected Structures:
  • Glynns Butchers- rare example of survived limestone lugged doorcases is highly significant
  • Old Town Hall- Terraced seven-bay three-storey former town hall, built in 1805.
  • The Granary, warehouse, built c. 1790.
  • Sarsfield Bar, Bank Place
  • Bruce House contains a carved limestone Venetian doorcase, dated 1806.

Photograph taken by Dr Ursula Callaghan.
Chairperson of IGS Limerick Chapter
On Rutland Street the visitor finds well-proportioned red bricked merchants’ townhouses, two to three bays wide, four storey over basement, some still retaining original sash windows, roof concealed behind parapet wall, limestone sills are intact. It is also significant for it provides an opportunity to imagine how the intact Georgian streetscape may have appeared in the eighteenth century.I am the PRO for the Limerick Chapter of the Irish Georgian Society and we took control of the former Glynn's Butcher shop on Rutland Street last summer as part of Limerick City of Culture. You can see in the photograph myself and one of the Project Managers/Conservation Consultant Cáit Ní Cheallacháin rolling up our sleeves. Cáit is in my eyes the Jane Jacobs of Limerick city. I might dedicate a full blog post soon to her and how she ensured the survival of this area. 
I am sure Sharma is very good at his job of speculative buying to accumulate maximum profit in minimum time but why should he and his associates rename an historic part of my home town? It is admirable that it is said to be after the Limerick Soprano Catherine Hayes but why not call it the Catherine Hayes centre? Why don’t people acknowledge the elephant in the room, that the high-brow term ‘opera’  sounds more attractive to potential investors. 

Not a single newspaper article tried to alleviate the reader's concerns regarding conservation. I wholeheartedly welcome the move of the third level institutions to this area and I want to see activity once again in these streets and buildings and the creation of permanent jobs. Nevertheless will the Conservation Officer and Heritage Officer (yes Limerick city has these vital people again after years of the positions being vacant thanks to the merging of the two local authorities) Executive Archaeologist and Conservation Architects be part of the team leading this? Will it just be the façades that are retained? Will there be complete rebuilds/infills? It is all perception for instance the Parthenon and the Acropolis when you really think about are just a pile of stones. Somebody think of the health and safety risks! Knock them down, clear the way. Why do we spend so much money getting to these foreign world sites and overlook what’s on our very doorstep? It is all down to promotion and the importance people invest in these sites. 

What's in a name? An immense amount of history that needs to be protected for the enjoyment of future generations. 

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