Has anyone noticed the latest battle to hit the streets of Limerick?
Over the past number of months I have watched, albeit with a certain sense of mortification, the green Limerick tour bus that spends it's day bringing no-one no-where. Forgive me for being a cynic but let us be honest here. Limerick city centre simply does not have a siteseeing offer that merits the presence of this little green ghostbus. So I was tickled pink when I discovered that a red tour bus has arrived on the scene just across the river. Two buses are now competing for the lone tourist naive enough hand over money for a trip through the streets of a city which, lets face it, seems to have suffered rather than benefited from the years of the Celtic Tiger.
One must always be careful when making comments about a place which many call home. Limerick is my home, I returned here out of choice recently and I have rediscovered a place that I genuinely have a passion for. This love for the city inspires me to open my eyes, to take notice of the things that are wrong and that could be fixed. I believe that if someone spends the whole of ones live in the same place it becomes more and more likely that the flaws will go unnoticed. So this blog entry is a constructive criticism of Limerick.
After watch the tour bus standoff just beside the Locke bar I decided to make my first trip to the new Milk Market. With the atmosphere of a petit Covent Garden this space is enclosed by an impressive white canopy which ensure the winter drizzle will not dampen the enthusiasm of the fantastic people who sell their ware. Yesterday was the artisan market and dozens of traders created a buzz that I haven't seen in the city for a some time. With coffee shops, a fantastic creperie, deli's and much more, Limerick's Milk Market is well worth a visit some morning.
Whilst wandering through the market I was approached by Peter Ward who runs the Country Choice Delicatessan. Obviously extremely proud of his business, Peter is only too delighted to introduce you to the many epicurean treats on offer. Peter established the Country Choice business in Nenagh, Co Tipperary back in 1982 and over the past 25 years has developed a national reputation in Ireland for sourcing, cooking and selling good food. Country Choice has stuck to its core principles of local sourcing of foods and promoting the work of the best of Irish artisan producers both in the region and nationally.
As I left Country Choice Peter handed me a map of Ireland which has been produced by Good Food Ireland. Why do I mention this? I will start by quoting Good Food Ireland's mission statement:
"Good Food Ireland was founded by Margaret Jeffares in November 2006. It operates as a not-for-profit, industry driven Irish food tourism organisation. It is the only industry group with an all-island food tourism strategy. Good Food Ireland provides business benefit for the membership through its framework which allows them to penetrate from local community to the global market and vice versa. Good Food Ireland has a Steering Group led by a Chairman who advises on the future strategy of the organisation."
I arrived home and opened the map on my kitchen table. It is a fantastic celebration of quality Irish food and culture. Many hidden culinary gems are revealed with over 173 businesses listed, included contact details, addresses and pinpoints on the map of Ireland. Naturally I was curious as to what businesses from Limerick would be represented on the Good Food Ireland map. Not one. Nothing. Not a single shop, restaurant, deli, butcher, baker, candlestick maker.
Antrim, Armagh, Carlow, Clare, Cork Derry, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh, Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Leitrim, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Roscommon, Sligo, Tipperary, Tyrone, Waterford, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow.
All of the above have at least 6 entries. Cork has 40. Now these are not 5 star Michelin restaurants. Yes, Ballymaloe features but so does the Burren Tearooms in Clare, The Heatherlea Bakery in Bangor, Kinsale Farmers Market and Kate's Kitchen in Sligo. Forgive me for getting a bit vexed but Limerick's omission on the Good Food Ireland network is not simply an oversight. It comes from a lack of PR savvy, it comes from a lack of an sense of pride in our local product, it comes from idle laziness in the City Hall, it comes from a lack of leadership.
Limerick does not have much when it comes to siteseeing. Our two rival tourbuses will continue to roll through the city empty. Good Food Ireland is an example of another means of attracting people to our city and region. The 170 little pinpoints on the map of Ireland are very equally and fairly distributed nationwide. Tourists will pick up this map. Many will possibly do a culinary tour of Ireland using this map as their guide. Limerick does not feature. Until such time as organisations, businesses and elected representatives get their act together from a marketing and PR perspective Limerick city will remain a place which, as stated in a tour guide many years ago, is 'best seen in your rearview mirror'.