Why has the community of Garryowen been left without a community centre? It is almost certainly the only community of its size and age in all of Ireland without such a facility.
In 2010, Garryowen Young Men’s Group produced a video titled ‘Does Garryowen need a Community Centre?’
Now, the odds are narrowing for the young film-makers to see pension age before Garryowen gets a community centre. One of the local residents they interviewed at the time was actually of pension age and had campaigned in her younger years for a centre.
Mrs. Reale, a resident of Garryowen for over 50 years said that when she moved in “the corporation” earmarked a site for a community centre.
“We went about it. Next thing was there were 17 objectors. We got fed up then. That was the end of it. …And all the young fellas standing around on corners with nowhere to go.”
Instead, Mrs. Reale and her fellow volunteers put their energy into organising Garryowen teams to enter the community games.
“And none of the children involved ever went wrong. There was one year we won everything,” she said. Praising the Christian Brothers, she said Garryowen had a proud history of producing “great hurlers and soccer players”.
“Garryowen is not a bad place, but the youth have nowhere to go. That’s what Garryowen is lacking,” she said.
The film-makers ruled out the few obvious-looking potential locations. The Markets Fields stadium was for sports only. St John’s Scout Hall couldn’t be used because it’s a heritage-protected building where 14 rooms are closed off because there’s no fire escape.
Among those they interviewed was Kieran O’Donnell (FG) who was a councillor at the time. He has since been elected a TD, appointed as a Minister of State and, in fairness, he remains supportive a decade on.
But children grow up in a decade. How many more decades does the community have to wait? This particular Garryowen Young Men’s Group, if they were to reform, would have to become the Garryowen Soon-To-Become-Middle-Aged Men’s Group.
Some communities have it harder than others – which is a good reason why they should be prioritised.
National figures show Limerick city scoring highest in terms of long-term unemployment and poverty, while educational attainment is low. Many communities suffered extreme neglect by the local authority, leading to the setting up of the independent regeneration agency (now back under council control).
When Garryowen was not deemed needy enough to meet the criteria to be included in the initial regeneration programm, it lost out on community funding. Had it been a little more “disadvantaged” it may by now have a multi-million euro community centre.
It has cost the community and the State more not having one.
In 2018, Jennifer O’Brien, then the manager of Southill Area Centre a few kilometres from Garryowen, pointed out that the annual cost of running a community centre in the city was almost the same as keeping one young person in a juvenile facility for a year – around €340,000 (incidentally by far the highest cost in Europe).
In any case it is odd that a long-standing community like Garryowen has been left without a community centre. It is almost certainly the only community of its size and age in all of Ireland without such a facility.
Good social infrastructure is included as a matter of course in planning for new build communities in the Greater Dublin area and elsewhere.
Limerick city officials cannot point the finger at developers. While Garryowen is located near Limerick city centre, gentrification (see our previous issue) is not an problem and there are acres of grassland in the heart of the community owned by the council.
The good people of Garryowen have spent too long watching this space.