Tramore hopes to develop its coastal attractions, with less of the hurdy-gurdy
Electoral changes are causing concern over a weakening of the town’s political influence
Sunrise over Waterford estuary and the meeting of the Three Sister, the Barrow, Nore and Suir. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
“There are three towns in Tramore, ” says John Culbert, former chairman of the town’s Chamber of Commerce. “The tourist area, the new housing estates between here and Waterford that were built over the last 10 years and, in the middle of all that, a small little old town trying to make a living.”
Culbert says the fact that the town’s two post-primary schools are due to merge will help create a definite sense of community among those growing up in the town. “It’s a huge uniting factor.”
He has reservations about the pending administrative merger. “It could be a bit of a mixed bag. We are losing our town council, so the town will no longer have a mayor or elected local representatives. Because of the new electoral areas, there is no guarantee that Tramore will have representation at council level. At present, we have nine town councillors, including the mayor. In the county, the Tramore area returned seven members out of 23. The fact is, all politics are local, and if you’re not at the Cabinet table, you don’t have a voice. The person who shouts loudest is the one who gets the attention.”
The number of councillors Tramore will have after the town council is phased out is of concern to Joe Conway. He is a former mayor of the town, and a current town and county councillor, and he’s in agreement with Culbert’s views.
“I’d be a great believer that the closer you are to the people, the more relevant it is. For a lot of people, it’s all about the pothole outside their door. They’re not interested in looking at the macro picture of the economy of the southeast. The new electoral council area will be so big that Tramore will be lucky to return three out of the 32 council members. We had seven, and seven out of 23 was a much healthier batting average than three out of 32.”
However, he’s optimistic that the new council will give “new impetus” to the town. The former council offices were in Dungarvan, a town Conway thinks was geographically too far away to benefit Tramore.
“A lot of people would feel that Tramore interests would sit more naturally in Waterford than in Dungarvan. People here are more connected to Waterford, whether by work or through their families.”
He’s anxious to point out that no plans have yet been announced for the existing purpose-built civic offices in the town. “They are only 10 years old, state of the art, energy efficient buildings, and there is a lot of concern in the town about what is going to happen them.
As to why the town has grown so much in recent years, he says: “It’s always been seen as a desirable place to live, beside the sea. I’ve always seen Waterford and us as Brighton and Hove. It’s the complete package; culture in Waterford, and leisure in Tramore.”
He hopes tourism will be developed in the town. “We need to develop the tourist offering away from the day-tripper experience; to get away from dependence on hurdy-gurdys. We need to think about coastal cliff walks, and eco tourism.”
For 25 years, Annette Devine has been the manager of the 60-bed Majestic Hotel, which has views out to sea. Just last week, it was announced that Tramore’s biggest hotel, the 80-bed Grand, had closed and would be for sale.
“I am alarmed, and I hope it will be bought,” she says. “Otherwise, there will be an average of 150 fewer people in the town every week in the summer. And empty buildings are not good in the middle of a town.”
Devine sees Tramore as “A sort of a suburb of Waterford; a bit like Salthill is to Galway. In the merger, we want to retain our identity as a holiday destination.”
Avery Coryell grew up in San Diego in California. In the 11 years he has been in Tramore, he and his wife Niamh have established a 37-bed hostel, an eight-bed guesthouse and six self-catering apartments. Their business has been down 40 per cent in the past five years. “The main reason we picked Tramore to settle was that we felt there was a lot of untapped potential here, and that potential is still mainly untapped.”
Coryell believes modern tourists want experiences at a destination, not amusement arcades. “They want to catch a wave, climb a dune, meet local people.” He is involved with the town’s tourism committee, and they are hoping to establish a heritage walking trail, that will link some of the town’s best-known features, such as the Metal Man, cliff road walk, coastguard station and promenade. “We have an abundance of maritime and natural heritage here.”
He would also like to see a “world class” public amenity park created in the green space that lies on the edge of the town. “Tramore is a suburb of Waterford; it’s like the back yard of the city, the playground of the city. Our gain in population has been Waterford’s loss. During the boom, people who were able to afford to move out, did so.”
He welcomes the merger of the councils. “I think it’s silly that we were a city and council. If the county can work together more efficiently to market everything in the county, then that’s a good thing. Borders mean nothing to a visitor.”
He is familiar with the “all politics are local” refrain. “To some degree that is universal, but I don’t think it’s a good system that everything is so locally driven. There should be national and county plans, and equity of support across all regions.”
Does he think the loss of the town mayor and council will be damaging for Tramore? “Not at all,” he says decisively.
“The merger is going to make things better for everyone in the county.”