Granite sculpture focus of a city's facelift

 

Frank O'Connor, the short story writer, once declared Waterford to be a favourite county but admitted he "never much cared" for the city.

In his contribution to The County Books travel series in the 1950s, Mr O'Connor said he did not hold with the "old sailor in Youghal who declared that `the quays of Waterford and the square of Dungarvan licks the whole world for beauty' ".

"Waterford contains a lot of interesting 18th century work," he added, "including a charming cathedral, but I never got inside the skin of it sufficiently to hate it as I have always hated Galway, or like it as I have always liked Limerick."

Perhaps if the writer was around today he would take a different view. Waterford city centre is undergoing a transformation, a major element of which is almost complete.

Since last summer the city's main thoroughfare has resembled a building site, due to a £1 million pedestrian-isation of Barronstrand Street and Broad Street. The patience of the public and local traders will finally be rewarded when the scheme is completed in about two weeks. The city manager, Mr Eddie Breen, is rightly proud of the result.

"We think aesthetically there's a big improvement because it gives a feeling of space and shows off the cathedral, one of the finest buildings we have in the city. We've gone for very good quality granite and although this made the job slower and more expensive we felt we had only one shot at this and we had to get it right."

A black granite sculpture by the Sligo artist Eileen MacDonagh, including a water element, will be the focal point of the open space. Ms MacDonagh's work can be seen all over the world but this is the first time she has worked in Waterford.

The project is one of several giving the city a vibrant look, including the planned millennium plaza at Clyde Wharf. Work on that project will begin soon, and a major redevelopment of the north quays is also planned.

Mr Breen, who has been in the city for four years, believes local people are only coming to appreciate the advantages Waterford enjoys. "Nationally I think it has a very good profile and that's improving by the day. Sometimes the people themselves don't realise what an attractive place it is and the quality of amenities and facilities they have here.

"Its location - close to mountains and sea - is one of its great strong points," he adds.

Even Frank O'Connor agrees. As he writes in The County Books: "Oh yes, I have always had a deep affection for that Waterford coastline, for little seaside places like Ardmore, with their cottages all soft pink and creamy peach, their geranium-red roofs and the long, narrow fields that fall to the sea, with the gold of wheat and the pale yellow barley and oats, the jade of turnips and the dark emerald of potatoes."