Former city manager a 'catalyst' in transform ing Cork

 

Joe McHugh, the former city manager identified with the modernisation of Cork's infrastructure and the preservation of its cultural treasures, died on August 15th aged 75.

During his term at City Hall between 1974 and 1986, the Galway-born official oversaw the most ambitions plan in Cork's history for the transformation of its outdated road system while working at the same time to keep what was most worth preserving in a city which was celebrating the 800th anniversary of the granting of its municipal charter.

As an "outsider" Joe McHugh had to tread carefully among competing interests and harmonise relations between City Hall and a county council which resented the expansion of Cork's boundaries. At the end of his term, he was lauded in the local press as "the man who changed a city" and was conferred with an honorary doctorate of laws by UCC for his work as a "quiet catalyst" in the transformation of Cork.

He was born in Galway on November 11th, 1926. His father, Thomas, who was a member of the recently-formed Garda Síochána, was soon transferred to Clifden where Joe McHugh spent his early years. His mother, Mary Keating, was a native of Co Laois.

Another transfer brought the McHugh family to Limerick in 1932. Joe McHugh was to spend the next 40 years of his life there. He was educated at Limerick Christian Brothers School and excelled at Gaelic football. He later played at Limerick senior county level and was on the team which reached the Munster final in 1947 but was beaten by Kerry.

Family holidays were taken in Lahinch and Joe McHugh became a passionate golfer for the rest of his life. For a while he played off a two handicap.

When he left school, he thought of becoming an accountant but dropped the idea to join Limerick Corporation as a temporary clerical officer in February 1946. He worked under Matthew Macken, who later became Dublin City manager and was a "huge influence" on him. He was promoted at what was a rapid rate in those days and was assistant town clerk by the age of 27. He married Kay O'Connor from Kilfinnane in 1954.

He was responsible for the production of the first Limerick City development plan as part of the Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary Regional Development Organisation. It was one of the first RDOs in the country and Joe McHugh acted as its director from 1968 to 1971. In that year he applied for a senior post in South Tipperary County Council and became county secretary for the next three years.

At 48, he applied for the job of city manager and town clerk of Cork Corporation and was successful. It was a sensitive time to arrive in such a post. His predecessor had overseen the expansion of the city boundaries and there was resentment in the county at what was seen as encroachment on their territory. He set up a joint city and county committee and this helped in the implementation of the Cork Land Use and Transportation Study (LUTS) under which much of Cork's infrastructure was put in place, including ring roads, bridges and the Jack Lynch Tunnel.

He also helped ensure preservation of older parts of the city such as the Huguenot quarter and the redevelopment of the North Main Street area of Old Cork and the English Market. He oversaw the restoration of Christ Church, and the creation of Bishop Lucey Park. He was especially proud of the development of a municipal golf course at Mahon.

There were setbacks as well. His son, Jimmy, was killed in a car accident. He himself was to undergo triple bypass heart surgery.

Job creation was to become a priority following the closure of Fords, Dunlop and the Verolme dockyard. He worked closely with the IDA in attracting new industries to the city.

He helped establish the National Sculpture Factory and encouraged local authority support for the arts. The Cork Opera House weathered some difficult times with financial aid from the corporation.

A project close to his heart was Schoolboys Harness Aid for Relief of the Elderly (SHARE) which was started by Brother Jerome and pupils of Presentation College where his brother-in-law, Alf Madden, was teaching. Joe McHugh pledged matching aid by the corporation for the project which helps to build housing for the elderly.

On retirement from the city council at 60, Joe McHugh became executive chairman of the Cork Gas Company. He continued to enjoy his golf at Douglas.

He is survived by his wife, Kay; sons David, Conor, Dermot and Rory; daughter Jenny Sault; brothers James, Kevin and Aidan and sisters Joan Mulkeen and Claire Madden.

Joe McHugh: born 1926; died, August 2002