Wednesday, March 16, 2011

From Shopping Centre to Conference Centre?

Having looked at Failte Ireland's conference and events website for the Island of Ireland I have to say that yes, I am indeed disappointed at Waterford Citys' omission from it. Having said that and having read Gary Breens response to the issue in today's Munster Express it does seem a little more than obvious, that, rather than jumping up and down about our omission, we would be FAR better employed looking at our hotel and conference offering and asking ourselves: how can we come up to the Faitle Ireland standard of 4 and 5 star hotel rooms, large scale conference facilities and a trade association/conference bureau which would engage in selling Waterford (with the assistance of Failte Ireland) to the lucrative International Conference market?

I have a suggestion: it seems to me that the Ferrybank Shopping Centre (artists impression above) is an ideal venue to be converted into an International Standard Conference and Events venue, with conference facilities, hotels, dining facilities and services all on one site, conveniently located adjacent to Waterford City (albeit within the County Kilkenny boundary). It seems to me that this would bring back to life an otherwise dead duck project which, in my opinion, has little to no possibility of ever opening up as a shopping centre in its own right as the population simply does not exist in Ferrbank to sustain it.

Ideally, I would moot for these type of facilities to be placed on the North Wharf, however that too is highly unlikely to happen and as the famous phrase goes; we are where we are. It seems to me that it is an obvious solution which would deliver a world class conference and events centre on one site the likes of which a city which considers itself to be a Gateway should have, as well as a solution which matches a need (for such facilities) with their possible supply. Could it be that two plus two really would add up to four in this instance?

It would appear to me to be a win-win situation. The building, if left in its current state will, sooner or later deteriorate a la the Ardree Hotel and Waterford badly needs to rise to the challenge laid down by Gary Breen (a Waterford man who does Trojan work for this City and the South East in his tourism role) in his letter.

Perhaps, the Waterford City Chamber of Commerce might consider setting up a group to explore this and/or other ways of ensuring that Waterford meets the criteria and will be able to compete for conference business and perhaps then they might facilitate the setting up of a conference bureau or undertake themselves - as a Trade Association - to do that work?

That way we would be moving forward in a positive and constructive way. The rates would go to Kilkenny County Council for sure, but the business spin-off would certainly benefit Waterford City. And isn't it time that we started having a few wins as a team here in the South East? Because, whether we like it or not we are going to have to work more closely together if we want to compete not just in Ireland, but globally.

This would, of course, involve a change in direction for the project and for both Councils but we either change and evolve - or we die, and we certainly are not competing (or even featuring at the moment in the citys case) on the world conference map. So do we want to stay off the map and hold onto that white elephant shopping centre....or could we make something of it and open up another market for ourselves?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Thomas Francis Meagher to be Remembered on St Patricks Day

Waterfords' Agnes Aylward will be remembering Thomas Francis Meagher and the historic year of 1848 when the Tricolour was first flown here in Waterford City on RTE Radio 1 between 9 and 10am on the morning of Saint Patricks Day. For those who are interested, please tune in!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

1848 Tricolour Commemoration Keynote Address

Fellow Councillors, Members of the Oireachtas, City Manager, His Excellency the Canadian Ambassador Loyola Hearn, Monsieur Cairet, representing the French Embassy, Mayor Charles Gautier of Saint Herblain and party, Colonel James Tierney and members of the 69th Regiment, Church Representatives, ladies and gentlemen:

On 9 July 1849 an order for the deportation of 4 prisoners to Australia - the penal colony of Tasmania or Van Diemen’s Land as it was then known - arrived at Richmond prison in Dublin. Among the prisoners was a young Waterford man Thomas Francis Meagher.

1849 was indeed a dark year for Meagher personally and for Ireland.

Having narrowly escaped the death penalty for his involvement in the failed 1848 rebellion, he was, at 26 years of age facing a very uncertain future – transportation from his native land for the rest of his life. This year the National Museum of Australia are mounting a major exhibition celebrating the Irish contribution to Australian society. It gives me great pleasure as Mayor of Waterford and as a member of the Board of Waterford Museum of Treasures to announce that we have been asked to loan 2 historic objects from the Meagher collection to this temporary exhibition, recognising the importance of Thomas Francis Meagher.

This weekend we are celebrating Thomas Francis Meagher and especially the national flag of this country. In proposing the tricolour of Green White and Orange as the flag of an independent Ireland Thomas Francis Meagher turned for inspiration to that country on the continent of Europe which was seen as the as the bastion of freedom. France - that nation of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity where the Blue, White and Red of their flag had, since the Revolution acted as a potent symbol of liberty, not only in France herself but across the world.

In 1848, Meagher went to France and returned with the new flag for his nation - a tricolour of green, white and orange made by and given to him by French women sympathetic to the Irish cause. That flag was first flown in public in March 1848 during the Waterford by-election, from the headquarters of Meagher’s "Wolfe Tone Confederate Club" at No. 33, The Mall, Waterford just a stones throw from where we stand today.

It is also significant that following his escape from exile in Tasmania Meagher chose the United States of America as his refuge. As an escaped convict he would never again be able to return to Ireland or his beloved Waterford where he would have faced arrest and imprisonment.

For Meagher America was that other great bastion of Liberty - a new nation which had emerged at the end of the eighteenth century and which he referred to in the course of his famous Sword Speech as;

“A giant nation that sprang up from the waters of the Atlantic, a fettered colony which became a daring free Republic.”
It is also ironic that when Meagher arrived in New York in 1852 and settled there he was returning to the continent where his father was born – several hundred miles to the north in Newfoundland.

Meagher’s grandfather, Thomas Senior, originally from County Tipperary, had settled in St John’s Newfoundland at the end of the eighteenth century where he prospered. He was part of that great wave of settlers from the south east of Ireland – all from within a 30 mile radius of Waterford city – that settled in Newfoundland. Today over half of Newfoundland’s population are of Irish decent and it is no wonder that one nineteenth century politician referred to Newfoundland in the middle of the nineteenth century as ‘merely Waterford parted by the sea.’

So for Thomas Francis Meagher America was his second home and like many other Irish people who settled there it would come to have first claim on his allegiance.

At the outbreak of the Civil War in America in 1861 Meagher called on his fellow Irishmen living there to volunteer for the Union army to defend the Union.

It is also significant that another famous Irish American – John Fitzgerald Kennedy who paid an official state visit to Ireland in 1963 as President of the United States of America should choose the example of Thomas Francis Meagher of Waterford, when in his address to the Joint Houses of the Oireachtas he summed up the contribution of the Irish community to the development of America. He paid tribute to General Thomas Francis Meagher’s Irish Brigade in the Union Army and in particular the 69th Regiment – Meagher’s own regiment.

President Kennedy referred in particular to the Battle of Fredericksburg.

At this battle the Irish Brigade wore sprigs of green boxwood in their caps – that famous ‘Sprig of Green’ and when the brigade suffered huge casualties the field was littered with those same sprigs of green. One of these sprigs in now on display in the Waterford Museum of Treasures – perhaps one of the most poignant objects from the Meagher collection.

As a fitting recognition to all those who fought to preserve the Union Thomas Francis Meagher was asked to be one of the pall bearers at President Lincoln’s funeral following his assassination in 1865.

The Ireland that Meagher left in 1849 was going through the most catastrophic event in its history. The Great Famine was entering its fifth year– a famine which would see 1 million Irish people dying of starvation and disease and another million forced to emigrate.

The very last letter that Meagher wrote in Ireland and which is now on display in here in the city – holds words which are as important and inspiring today as they were 162 years ago:
“in the darkness which covers the land we hear but the wail of the dying, and the supplications of the penniless and the breadless. Never, never was their country so utterly downcast, so debased, so pitiful, so spiritless.

Yet I do not, could not despair of her regeneration. Nations do not die in a day. Their lives are reckoned by generations, and they encompass centuries. Their vitality is inextinguishable. Their sufferings are sometimes terrible, but they survive the deadliest plagues, the red inundation of the battle-field, the storms which topple towers and pyramids, the fire in which millions of wealth is melted down, the earthquake which engulfs cities and buries a whole people in one indistinguishable sepulchre—they have been known to survive all.

Thus too, shall Ireland survive all her sufferings, her errors, and disasters, and rear one day an ‘Arch of Triumph’ high above the wreck and wilderness of the past.”

In 1848, Meagher had gifted the tricolour to the future Irish nation. That flag was, and remains a powerful symbol. Its adoption as the National Flag in 1949 gives Waterford and Meagher a presence in perpetuity. It remains a potent symbol of reconciliation and assimilation.

We can but hope, as we stand here today that the Irish flag will continue to inspire our people; that it will continue to symbolize a continuous engagement with our emigrants and diaspora and that the errors and disasters of which Meagher spoke and which appear to echo our nations challenges once again today will inspire us all to strive to re-imagine ourselves, our beloved city and our nation and that we will rear again our own ‘Arch of Triumph’ over the wreck and wilderness of our more recent past.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I commend to you a great Waterford son, Thomas Francis Meagher, who in his short 44 years of life was forever true to himself. Here on the Mall where is ghost may hover today I commend to you the green, white and orange and all that those colours symbolize for our people and our nation, flown for the first time in our ancient city in on March 7th in 1848 - the tricolour: the Irish flag.

Thank you.