Monday, June 11, 2012

Limerick City: An outsider's perspective

I've been living in Limerick for almost a year now, here's how I've got on.........

“You’re moving to where? Limerick?!?  You’re fucked lad”!!! Oh how they laughed as I packed my bags and left the comfortable environs of the sunny South-East to take up residence in the ‘most violent city in Ireland’.  It may have only been just over 100 miles in a westerly direction but for some it seemed like I was entering the twilight zone. As they bid me goodbye I could have sworn I saw one of them mouth the word forever. For chrissakes lads it can’t be that bad, can it?

Violent or nay there was no turning back for me now. But I’d had plenty of time to get used to the idea and I figured I was ready. So why move to Limerick? Why come to a city with a reputation so bad the mere mention of its name had people rolling their eyes and voicing any one of several well-worn stereotypes?  Well I certainly wasn’t moving here for the good of my health that was for sure. I was coming to make a fresh start. Having secured a place on the Journalism course at the local University I was moving lock stock and was ready to make Limerick my base for the next four years. And a few scary stories about some local ne’er do wells wasn’t about to put me off.

So what did I know about the place which was to become my new home? Well very little as it goes. In fact I would go as far to say that I knew fuck all about Limerick City and was relying on anecdotal evidence to educate me on my new habitat. Friends reliably informed me that I would be lucky to survive more than a few days and warned me not to leave the house without a carefully secreted blade somewhere on my person. Loved ones choked back the tears and told me not to leave the house at all, ever. But luckily I’ve never been one to pay heed to the words of others and so on a rainy (more on that later) Friday afternoon in early August I found myself sat on a chair in my new home looking out the window at my new city, Limerick City.

Early impressions? Mostly positive. I noted with some degree of wonder that the main thoroughfare was remarkably long and could in many ways be compared to the Las Vegas strip. Okay so it had none of the glitz and glamour you associate with that Mecca in the Nevada desert, but drunken idiots stumbling along its entire length? Yep. Bright shopfronts luring you in with false promises? Uh huh. Thousands of discarded chewing gums worn into the pavement? Most definitely. And the great thing was from my city centre apartment I could watch all of this action as it occurred and didn’t even have to leave the comfort of my own home. The folks back home would be relieved.  

With over three weeks until my time in UL began I had plenty of time to familiarise myself with my new surroundings and as someone who likes nothing more than a good aimless amble Limerick was perfect for me. Mooching around the city was one thing but I wanted to go further afield, see what the real Limerick was like. I was well aware of where not to go but only knew those places by name. Best to just find out where the rough areas are by myself I thought as I struggled to shove a carving knife down the front of my trousers. So off I went like the intrepid traveller that I was, eager to meet new people and discover new places, I was either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.

The first thing that struck me was the River Shannon. I’m not exactly what you’d call a seafarer and I can’t even swim but I couldn’t help but be impressed by this vast expanse of water. And the array of bridges which straddled it, connecting the Northside to the Southside only added to the appeal. But was there a North v South divide I wondered as I crossed one of these many bridges? Which was I? Should I align myself with a particular side if things kick off? So much to learn and so little time to do it I thought as I continued my walk through what was now the suburbs I presumed. But wait, what was that ahead? A road sign which if I’m not mistaken says “Welcome to County Clare”!! Had I been walking that long? Had my daydream about all things North and South lasted for days rather than minutes? No my watch reliably informed me that I’d only left my house a mere 45 minutes ago. And here I was in another county. Crazy stuff! What was Limerick, or Clare, going to throw at me next I wondered?

Further walks provided me with enough intel to know where and where not to go. My rule of thumb was to never go beyond the shadow of Thomond Park and I’ll be safe. Lovely stadium by the way, pity they play such a shite sport inside in it. That brings me to my next observation of Limerick City. They don’t half love rugby do they? Fuck me!! Knowing nothing of provincial rugby I couldn’t for the life of me understand why every second person seemed to be wearing red jerseys, jackets, sweaters, hoodies, polo shirts, vests, t-shirts, bras, tank tops, overcoats, undercoats, blazers or any other type of attire you can name. What’s with the little Stag emblem I thought to myself, is this yet another fashion craze which has somehow passed me by? Further inspection revealed that for once I wasn’t lagging behind in the fashion stakes and this ubiquitous sports clothing was that of the Munster rugby team. Ahhh I see.

So yes, Limerick people love rugby. Understood loud and clear. And sure why not? Their hurling team is shite. Gaelic football team? Couldn’t tell ya. Their soccer (football to you and I but soccer for now to avoid confusion) team is apparently one of the most progressive clubs in the country but still finds itself in the second tier of our national league. So rugby it is. Well you’re welcome to it lads, thanks all the same. It’s pretty difficult to avoid it though, especially on Heineken Cup days. I’m no lover of rugby but I can still appreciate the effort made by everyone in the city to create a carnival atmosphere whenever Munster are playing at home in Europe’s premium competition. It’s an atmosphere I’m content to soak up from indoors though as I wouldn’t dream of fraternising with those canapĂ© scoffing, face painted simpletons.

But how on earth did rugby ever become so popular in this part of the world I thought to myself. You have to be outside to play rugby and it is a sport which is best performed on grass. How did they manage to brave the rain for long enough to learn the rules of the game? Why wasn’t Limerick the home of mud-wrestling and not rugby? Surely that would make more sense? What I’m trying to get at is it rains a lot in Limerick. A helluva lot. It rains all the time. It could be the sunniest day with not a cloud in the sky but mores the fool you if you leave the house without some form of rainwear. Cos that rain is out there and it can strike at any time. One minute you’re walking along commenting on how tanned you’re going to get, the next you’re diving for cover as the heavens unleash a monsoon of epic proportions. Limerick is by far the rainiest place I have ever been to in my entire life. The thousands of creatures which reside in the Amazonian rainforest wouldn’t last five minutes here.

And what of the creatures who reside in this concrete jungle? The natives. What are they like? Yes we know they love rugby but there must be more to them than that. First off there’s the accent. Not the pretty, lilting accent of the well-bred, upper-class though, that’s perfectly unremarkable. I’m talking about the hard Limerick accent, the stuff they speak on the street innit. If I had to sum up the Limerick accent in one word I would call it....... interesting. It’s like the Cork accent but different, not quite as sing songy. It sounds as if those speaking it wish to molest the words before they even exit their mouths, leaving nothing but an indecipherable squawk once it finally hits the air. Sometimes I just sit by my open window and listen to the locals converse in this strange dialect. And I feel just like Darwin must have done all of those years ago.

They may talk in a rather odd way but what of all this unprovoked violence I was promised? Where had that gotten to? In my previous abode in Waterford City I had been privy to a variety of stabbings, murders and general tomfoolery all in the space of a couple of years, since moving here: nothing. Not a dicky bird. I did nearly get run over by a swarthy man commandeering a horse and cart but aside from that I remained intact. I have seen something else which I wasn’t expecting though and it is something which is saddening for locals and outsiders alike. I have seen heroin addicts, and lots of them. Whether it be morning, noon or midnight these lost souls roam the streets of Limerick City and were it not for their continuous begging for “change for the bus” I might feel a modicum of sympathy for them. Kudos goes to the quite creative chap who asked me for money for a takeaway one night though. I treated him to a four course dinner at the Cornstore for his efforts.

It may seem like I have done nothing but take the piss out of Limerick and its inhabitants during the course of this article and for that I can only apologise. Like the little boy who does nothing but pull the hair and steal the comb of the girl he fancies I have chosen to express my love for this fine city by poking fun at it. It’s a great place and I love living here.  It may be cast as a dangerous badlands by the national media but nothing could be further from the truth. The jewel in its crown is obviously the University but even discounting that for a second there is plenty to enjoy in the city. I could go all ‘Lonely Planet’ and start recommending places to go and things to do but where would be the fun in that? Better to just come here and check it out for yourself. But maybe bring a little Stanley Knife with you just to be on the safe side.