Irish in the American Civil War

History is filled with ‘what if’ moments, those occasions where a slightly different result or outcome may have radically altered history as we know it. One such moment occurred on 22nd September 1842, when Co. Tyrone native James Shields prepared to face a fellow Illinois politician in a duel. Shields’ opponent had selected swords as the weapon of choice, confident that his longer reach would be an advantage in the contest to come. He was indeed a man with a distinct height advantage over other men, and his long reach would be felt down through the pages of history; Shields’ opponent was none other than future United States President Abraham Lincoln.


The sequence of events that led to the duel began with decisions that Shields, a democrat, took as Illinois State Auditor. A financial crisis termed the ‘Panic of 1837’ had swept across the country, with banks responding by accepting…

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Wasting Public Money

Last summer it was announced with great enthusiasm by Minister of State for Public & Commuter Transport, Alan Kelly (who is from Nenagh), that nearly €1 million (€880k) would be invested in the development of a cycle lane between Limerick and Nenagh. I had a look at the plans and it didn’t take too long to figure out that this was going to be a monumental waste of good money. I wasn’t alone in holding this view. A number of critical submissions were made to the two local authorities involved during the public consultation phase and the local press even picked up on it, extensively quoting one official in the process (here).

Through the Smarter Travel fund, there was money available to develop cycle lanes in the region. So, when the new motorway between Limerick and Dublin finally opened up, and traffic volumes accordingly reduced on the old N7, it became clear to those in charge that they could get 64km of cycle lane by converting the hard shoulder of the old road. On paper that looks pretty good, and to these decision makers that’s all that really mattered. The fact that a cycle lane was neither sought nor required here and that the investment would provide virtually no benefit to the general public, nor to anyone else apart from those directly involved in the works was immaterial.

Quite simply, the decision to develop this cycle lane was an abuse of the Smarter Travel fund, and a significant waste of public money. While the buck should stop with the Minister, those who devised the plan must surely bear some of the responsibility. But I suspect that a few more white elephants will be pushed through before somebody shouts stop.

The work appears to be complete now, so why not head out the old N7 on your bike and take a good look at how your money is being spent.

How to spend €880,000 (as per the Limerick Post articled linked above)
€440,000 – removal of existing road markings
€80,000 – signage
€90,000 – survey work
€220,000 – civil work

(the balance of the spending, which amounts to €50k, wasn’t explained in the article)

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Limerick Smarter Travel Projects

Just in the last few weeks (as reported by Connected Limerick and All About The Triple blogs) it was announced that Limerick is one of three places in the country that is to receive a good chunk of funding over the next few years in order to roll out its Smarter Travel plan. The Limerick proposal has been devised in a rare joint effort between the University of Limerick and both local authorities which have jurisdiction over the Limerick urban area (Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council). €9 million euro will be spent between now and 2016 on this. That’s a good deal of money so let’s hope that it’s spent wisely.

Some recent mistakes

The recent history of investing in Smarter Travel initiatives doesn’t inspire confidence, however. Two examples immediately spring to mind. First, there is the decision by Limerick City Council last summer to spend almost €700,000 on an ill thought out scheme to direct drivers to the multi-storey car parks of the city, the result being the plethora of poorly located and ill-fitting electronic signboards all around the city. Notwithstanding the waste of resources that this represents, that money from the Smarter Travel budget was spent on an initiative that promotes car usage and which goes against the whole raison d’être of the Smarter Travel programme underscores the belief that those at the tiller don’t really know, or perhaps don’t care, what they are doing. I’ve written about this particular issue previously here.

The other example is the decision to spend about €800,000 on developing a cycle track between Limerick and Nenagh. This time it was Limerick County Council and North Tipperary County Council who were behind the plan, with Minister Alan Kelly gleefully cheering the project on as if it would revolutionise the way we go about our lives in the Midwest. But, when you look at what they are actually rolling out, you’d have to wonder at the justification for spending such a large amount of money, there being no clear benefit to anybody except the contractors engaged to carry out the work. Was any due diligence done? Was there any survey of the demand for this? When it became obvious to everybody that this wasn’t exactly a viable commuter route, we were told that it would greatly enhance tourism in the region (should the Smarter Travel budget be spent on tourism initiatives?). Of course, there’s even more holes in that argument. Every other country in Europe recognises that if you want to promote cycle tourism you must build infrastructure specifically for cyclists, and you choose the route wisely, with cyclists in mind (a radical thought). Painting the hard shoulder of an existing national route red and erecting numerous (expensive) signs to tell people that it is now a cycle-way just doesn’t cut it. Here‘s a local newspaper article from last summer which casts doubt on the plan.

How to spend €9 million?

How should the €9 million be spent? It’ll be cut in some way between administration costs and capital expenditure. But what should the breakdown be?

€5 million on administration would keep an office of 20 people going at an average salary of €50,000 per year (way too high in my opinion, but when you factor in the salaries of the senior managers you’ll probably be left with an average of something like this). That would leave €4 million euro for spending on infrastructure. Is it enough? What would you do with it? Perhaps only 10 people are required to staff the Smarter Travel office. That would leave €6.5 million for infrastructural projects. What can you do for €6.5 million that will bring about not just a benefit in terms of jobs for those who carry out the work but a long-term benefit for the city?

Various working documents associated with the project can be viewed and downloaded from the Limerick City Council website here.

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Blue Skies & Pain

Although Pink Floyd were singing about something completely different, it was their lyrics that immediately entered my head as the mountain loomed into view on Sunday morning.

Temple Hill Galtee Mountains

Temple Hill in the Galtee Mountains

Blue skies and pain. We were driving towards Angelsboro, a little village on the Limerick/Cork border at the foot of the Galtee mountains, to take part in the first race of this years Munster League, and it was truly a magnificent day for it. Even old philistines like myself and Richie felt compelled to record the stunning beauty of this part of County Limerick and stopped along the way to take a few photos.

There is a down side to running on such crisp clear spring days and it is that you can see all that is ahead of you, and when you’re talking about running up mountains that isn’t always such a good thing. Sometimes it’s better not knowing. While we have been training away for some months on the many tough hills within a half hours drive of Limerick City, neither of us had actually competed before, and up to this point had much of an inkling of what to expect. But looking up at Temple Hill on Sunday morning, it’s summit sharp against that blue sky, there was no escaping the simple fact that what lay ahead was no small amount of pure, unadulterated pain.

I’d like to tell you that I am exaggerating, but I’m not. Yet, even that morning, as I finally was forced to confront the challenge, I still couldn’t have believed just how arduous it would turn out to be. I learned that there are a thousand feelings that one gets when racing against others on an open mountain, and many of them are some mixture of pain, distress and misery. On the lower slopes your lungs heave as you try and match the early pace. Then, as you progress up the mountain it’s the legs, now depleted of oxygen, that complain as you push them harder, so that you might reel in the guy ahead who might be faltering, or simply stave off the tenacious bastard who is hanging on behind you, threatening to overtake but never doing so. Hitting the steeper, open slopes, everything else protests too, and long before you reach the top, there isn’t a part of your body that isn’t screaming. For whatever reason, you don’t stop. My theory on this is that defeat hurts more and for a lot longer than physical pain. Your mind knows it too and by flogging you to your limit it is protecting you from the abject despair that goes with giving up. Either that or at some level we are simply twisted sado-masochists. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere between these two possibilities.

I won’t say much more about the pain, except to say that it got worse on the descent. This has something to do with ones legs not being designed to run while accelerating at the rate of gravity. It hurt a lot.

Somehow, for all the torture endured, the whole experience adds up to something genuinely exhilarating and even enjoyable. It helps when the weather gods smile on us as they did on Sunday morning. Even as I suffered on the ascent, all I had to do was look left or right and see the stunning beauty of this part of counties Limerick and Cork. For all the mistakes we’ve made in this country (too many), much of it remains a beautiful place. But it’s not just the weather. Even if we were rain-sodden, muddy messes, running blind through low clouds on desolate mountainy peaks, I know we’d enjoy it then too.

“So, so you think you can tell heaven from hell, blue skies from pain”.

On days like this, you truly can.

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Old Jesuit Church on O’Connell Street – New City Library?

I wrote about this issue back in October (see post here) and the tête-à-tête between the councillor and the city official continued in city hall recently. Here’s the Limerick Post report on the meeting of the Cultural and Sporting Committee last week.

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Getting to UL & Plassey riverbank clean-up

It was heartening to see a large and diverse group of local people getting together last Sunday afternoon to tackle the problem of litter along the river bank between the Park Canal and the University of Limerick.

Limerick UL Shannon river litter

Just a few of the 70 bags collected, and a bike! We also found a motorbike, which is still there and we may retrieve it next time out.

This is probably one of the most picturesque natural amenities you’ll find anywhere in Ireland, and it’s right here on the doorstep of Limerick City. It’s a fairly quick way to get to UL from the city centre if you’re on a bike or on foot, but probably a lot of people don’t realise that. There’s a good chance that most of the 12,000 students and staff of the university aren’t aware of its existence and/or wouldn’t consider using it, which is a pity really because they’d probably enjoy it. As well as that, if they knew that it’s a lot easier to get into Limerick by walking or cycling via the river bank, they might actually interact with the city a bit more than they currently do, and that would be good for both the city and the university.

UL Limerick university shannon river rubbish

Dan has one of those quaint little fisherman's huts up by the bridge at the university and he came along with this canoe and helped transport the full bags of rubbish from upriver back to the Park Canal near Richmond RFC.

That last point can’t really be overstated. The city and the university that is just 4km away from it are remarkably disconnected. It’s true that in some respects UL has become the formidable institute of learning that it currently is because of (at least partly) that distance. Developing a self-contained campus on an out-of-town, green field site has lots of advantages (mostly to do with development and administration), which I needn’t go into now. But it’s also true to say that the decision not to locate the university in or at least closer to the city centre some 40 odd years ago was a missed opportunity for Limerick City.

Short of moving the university, which isn’t going to happen, one way of overcoming this disconnection is to improve the transport links between UL and the city. Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do. The bus service is frustratingly unreliable, but even if it was ruthlessly efficient you’re still talking about a significant journey time to get from the door of your student apartment to the shops and cafés of Thomas Street or the pubs of Catherine Street and Denmark Street if you factor in the time it takes to get to the bus-stop, wait for your bus, travel on it and walk to where you want to go once you’ve disembarked in town. It’ll also cost you about €3 for a round trip, which isn’t insignificant, and which is likely to further discourage you from making the journey on a regular basis.

But what if you choose to cycle or even walk? These aren’t a whole lot more attractive options than the bus. If you’re cycling via the main road, you’ll be taking your life in your hands (you really will, it’s a death trap). If you choose to follow the cycle lanes, where provided, your journey will be painstakingly slow. Aside from the safety and time issues, there’s two very steep hills along the route!! Even for experienced bikers, cycling is not much of an option.

Of course, none of this is good for Limerick City, because it means that the mainstream university population doesn’t interact with it very much. The disconnection is alive and well, and it’s having a huge negative effect on the vibrancy of the city, and the general economic well-being of it too.

UL university limerick city shannon river cycling environment

These new signs are a good idea. It would be great to see more of them, and located at various junctions so that people could see clearly that travelling from the city to UL and vice versa via the canal and river is quicker and easier than going via the main road.

All is not lost, however! I mentioned at the top of this blog post that the river bank is the shortest route between the university and the city. To be precise, it’s 3.5km (2.2 miles) from the bridge at Dromroe student village to the Abbey Bridge if you go this way, as opposed to 4.4km (2.72 miles) if you went via the main road. It’s also a much easier cycle. There are no hills!! There’s no motorised traffic along the route (apart from a very short stretch near Richmond RFC), so you’re quite unlikely to get run down. On top of all this, it’s a genuinely picturesque journey in most places. Cycling to Limerick from UL or vice versa would take a slow cyclist an easy 13 minutes, and by anybody’s reckoning, that’s a pretty short journey time. Suddenly, the city and the university aren’t so far apart, and that disconnection doesn’t appear to be as much a fait accompli as it has been up to now. At the moment, there are reasons as to why you might not choose this route, but none of them are insurmountable. It’s incredibly muddy in places and not designed for bikes. Good work has been done by the city council recently on a short stretch between the Park Canal and the first of the little humpback bridges along the way. This kind of work is very welcome, but needs to be rolled out for the full distance between the canal and the university (which is mostly the jurisdiction of Limerick County Council, rather than the City Council). Closer to the city, the long straight section along the canal is not the most inviting part of our city. The existence of a few derelict buildings near the Lock Gates at Charlotte Quay is off-putting. These have huge potential but perhaps that’s a discussion for another day.

Lough Derg Way Shannon University Limerick UL

A stretch of the path was recently improved by the city council. When the contractors were putting back this way post, they seemingly had forgotten which way it was supposed to point. They guessed wrong!

Anyway, well done to all those who were involved in the clean-up on Saturday. It was quite amazing to see the amount of litter and debris that was collected in just a few hours, and unfortunately there’s a lot more to do. Not to worry though. You know that when you are finding Chomp wrappers from the 1980’s that this is rubbish that has accumulated over a long time, and it’s not something that will have to be dealt with continuously once the bulk of it is collected.

There’s plenty more photos from the day and also a nice little video made by Gabriela Avram and Miriam Lohan (who organised the clean up) a few weeks ago which shows just how nice picturesque the area is but also the scale of the litter problem. Click the link to view it –

Finally, congratulations to Richmond RFC who secured promotion from the league on Sunday. Their hospitality and assistance to the group doing the cleaning up was fantastic.

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Sizing Up The Competition

there’s so much good sense in this article …


Hanging out at the Copenhagenize Consulting office is making me think a lot about how you brand and market a product. The product we think about is bicycling and we’re mainly trying to compete with car driving. For the record, I’m not a car-hater. I’m really not. Vehicles are very useful and they’re essential for many professions. A carpenter, for example, would have a hard time transporting lumber, tools, and a table saw to a job site on a bicycle. (Although, according to Mikael, there are plenty of bicycling carpenters,electricians, and other tradesmen in Copenhagen and beyond.)

The vast beauty of the rural American landscape is often best (or most effortlessly) accessed while road tripping, preferably while blasting Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ or some other equally quintessential American tune. Cars are an important part of our transportation system; I just happen to think they’re an oversold product in urban America…

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