IF THE reaction to The Irish Times“Uptown Downtown” series is anything to go by, there is no shortage of ideas on how to breathe new life into Irish towns.
Over the course of five editions, we profiled how five towns – Youghal, Co Cork; Charlestown, Co Mayo; Longford town; Drogheda, Co Louth; and Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin – are faring in the midst of very difficult economic circumstances.
Why these towns in particular? They are, for the most part, towns which rose with the boom, but are now coping in different ways with the effects of the property crash, the economic downturn and emigration.
Their stories of sometimes- neglected main streets, out-of-town shopping centres drawing trade away from traditional areas or the grinding effects of unemployment are not exceptional.
They are realities confronted by many towns across the State which face the prospect of trying to reinvent themselves in very changed circumstances.
But there are also plenty of stories of resilience and hope; of communities taking imaginative steps to attract visitors, encourage local business and fulfil their potential.
There were sharply contrasting responses to the series as a whole, with some praising it for opening up debate on these issues, and others criticising it for “socially irresponsible journalism” or an overly negative portrayal of towns simply doing their best in tough times.
Ultimately, a key aim of the series was to provoke a debate on how to reinvigorate towns that are suffering.
Here is a selection of how readers online have responded:
Decentralise power to allow communities control their own destiny. If towns like Youghal had a mayor in charge of their own economy and environment, many of the problems being experienced by Irish towns would not have happened. Paddy Sweeney
Youghal is any tourist officer’s dream, and here’s an idea for the Youghal Tourist Office. Many will have heard of the Camino de Santiago, part of the the old pilgrims’ route . . . This route is a golden egg for the economy of the region around Santiago and other towns along the route in northern Spain. So consider making such a route out of the Rian Bo Padraig, the ancient pilgrims’ route that stretches from Cashel of the Kings to Lismore and on to Ardmore and the monastery of Declan . . . Sell the package, the ancient walk of monks and pilgrims, a day’s boat trip on the Blackwater, exploring the river and its history, a day sailing, historical trip of the towns of Youghal and Lismore. Caroline O’Sullivan
The decline of a town’s centre is also caused (perhaps primarily caused?) by the exodus of its residents to new homes in its suburban hinterland, not just economic factors. The Lidls and Aldis are a natural byproduct of this condition and not a root cause of the doughnut effect. This diversion of trade from the centre starts with the diversion of people from the centre. Perhaps the new apartments mentioned were an attempt (albeit unsuccessful) to reverse this pathological trend? Douglas Carson, architect
What also helps is buying locally . . . Use a local butcher or greengrocer. Seek out a farmers’ market. Get your gas from an independently owned station. Buy your clothes from an Irish shop, not from a British high street chain. Every small thing we do locally makes our communities more vibrant and welcoming places to live. Taking small steps leads to bigger ones. We can reclaim our power and dignity by working at a local level. Mimi Valiulis
The fate of every village and town lies in the hands of the locals themselves. The co-operative societies set up in the aftermath of the Wyndham Land Act put the small Irish farmer on his feet. If every town and village set up a co-op fund whereby every citizen participated by paying in €5 a week, a large sum could be raised continually to develop local projects. Irish people need to shop where they live first. Declan J Foley
Having read your sombre and downbeat article “The leaving of Charlestown” and specifically the highlighted quote “We should have an amnesty on negativity” it strikes me as a pity that you do not seem to share this sentiment.
Yes, most businesses find themselves in a very different environment from that of 2007. However, these same businesses are developing new modes of operation to survive this recession and emerge stronger and leaner, when the inevitable stabilisation and growth returns. One such company is Grady Joinery Ltd, a family-owned, indigenous Irish window-and-door manufacturing company employing 150 people.
Although it may seem surprising that a company in such a devastated business sector is surviving and even thriving, it is the location that is the truly surprising factor. For Grady Joinery operates and employs its staff in, none other than Charlestown, Co Mayo. Eamon Cronin Grady
The catastrophe of easy money, easy bankers and light-touch regulation combined with a FF government who further inflated the property bubble with tax relief incentives has now effectively bankrupted the country . . . If there were a co-operative spirit of people helping each other within their own communities, perhaps there might be a possibility of making progress. Leo Regan
I suppose some genius will claim that it’s all because of teaching Irish in schools and we need to be high-tech computer whizz kids and start to learn Mandarin. I wonder why there is no new thinking. All you hear about is attracting pharmaceutical and IT firms – why not go back to what we traditionally do? Ireland will never be a nation of geeks, it’s not in our nature. David Walker
I don’t see all the destruction as the end of the world. You have to see it as a wonderful opportunity for reconstruction . . . We have to rebuild. But I have no intention of joining in the rebuilding so some fat farmer at the edge of town can get a few million for a few acres of frontage. We can rebuild. But there is no point in nursing the patient back to health if the cancer has not been destroyed. Joe
The future for Ireland is local businesses, small manufacturing supplying local markets, all mixed in with large corporations focused on export. Why buy a garden shed that’s made in China when I could spend a little more and buy it from a man who makes them down the road? Why buy bread baked in the UK and delivered overnight when my bakery next door has bread with no preservatives? We need to buy and sell from our local businesses and be aware of what’s available nearby before we put price before everything else. Consider the real cost of buying cheap from abroad. Shane O
It is a shame that people are leaving without so much as a protest. I did in the 1980s but we were more naive then. Now we know the corruption and how it’s only the golden circles that matter . . . There is too much central control of policy. Councils should have revenue-raising powers and the rates are killing businesses. What did Enda Kenny say about making Ireland the best place in the world to do business? The best for bankers maybe. Who can afford the tolls now? They should be scrapped completely. David Walker
The town has come a long way. I remember in the late 1980s when Drogheda was as dark and dank as a forgotten sock drawer. Thoroughly unpleasant. No matter how bad it has gotten now there is no going back to that. Likeplace
Yet another socially irresponsible article from the IT. Would it really kill you to publish good news for a change? Even if there is a story of depression in Dún Laoghaire as with all the other towns in the country, is it really helping anyone to sensationalise all of your work with terms like “clawing their way out of debt”, “The panic, fear and desperation”, “credit wolves”, “people going to kill themselves”, “massively overstretched”? Mark J
I could park in the city centre cheaper than in Dún Laoghaire. I believe it’s county council policy that’s killing the town. To survive they need to think outside the box – make it a boutique town or green town or something that sets it aside from other places. Dún Laoghaire can’t compete with the likes of Dundrum up the road so why not find a USP and run with it? I’m not holding my breath. Emily Tully
I think if anything, this article would discourage visitors to Dún Laoghaire. Surely the idea is to highlight what these towns have to offer, and to encourage daytrippers? I live in Dún Laoghaire and that this article is not reflective of the atmosphere in the area. Dún Laoghaire has always had an element of affluence versus starkly contrasting less-fortunates. I’ve no doubt there are financial struggles for both retailers and residents, but there is a real positivity and excitement for the coming summer months. Lavina Conway
Well done to the IT for this series, people . . . don’t want people to know the truth and only want the media to print good news. You could pick almost any town in Ireland for these articles and this piece shows that places can look nice but still hide desperate poverty and deprivation. Actually Dún Laoghaire always had its poor parts away from the harbour and the yacht club. David Walker
If there were a co-operative spirit, we might be able to make progress
It’s a shame people are leaving without protest
Sell the package, the ancient walk of monks and pilgrims, sailing, boat trips
The town always had poor parts away from the yacht club