Tuesday, 3 February 2009

A settlement pattern: Carrick-on-Shannon - a donut?

This post is prompted by an article in last week's Leitrim Observer, our weekly local paper, that reported about a recent public meeting of the Carrick-on-Shannon Chamber of Commerce, "in order for opinions to be voiced with regard to how business in the town can be improved".

I've often thought about Carrick, and last October, when I was back from Germany, I walked the town with my camera. I thought this is a good occasion to put some of these pictures up here, because Gerry Faughnan, the President of the Chamber has said something that reflects what went through my mind:

"Carrick-on-Shannon is unique, it's like a donut with people circling around it."

Let me first tell a little bit about Carrick-on-Shannon. It is the county town of Co. Leitrim. Like the little village of Dowra, near where I live, Carrick is located at a county border, in its case it is the southwestern border of Co. Leitrim to Co. Roscommon. In 2006 it had a bit more than 3000 inhabitants, but these seem only to be those on the Leitrim side. In any case it is of a size that would be called a village where I grew up.

Carrick is the administrative centre of the county. As there is no public transport, apart from the train and buses, from Dublin to Sligo - the train station is outside the centre in Co. Roscommon - Leitrim people have to travel to Carrick by car. There is also cruiser tourism during the season, and it was always noticably quieter at other times of the year.

I admit that I don't get to Carrick as often as we used to, because we do our main shopping "unpatriotic" at the famous Asda in Enniskillen. Like the government we have to cut costs. The distance to Enniskillen is about the same as that to Carrick. And Enniskillen has a yarn shop, with unfortunately only acrylics, but they do for my swatches.

When I arrived here in 1992 Carrick was a nice small provincial town with shops located in the old centre that mainly consisted of Main Street and Bridge Street. These are clearly visible on the picture below with their rows of small traditional town houses and backyard buildings.

picture source:

Here is a nice website, designed by Gartlans, where you can walk a historical tour through Carrick, not quite up to date, the conversion of the former courthouse into the Dock, an Arts Centre, is not yet mentioned.

Gartlans' Internet cafe was in 2003, I think, the place where I made my first aquaintance with the Internet. (What did I use it for? Looking for yarns, mind you. I now have Internet at home, but with a speed of mostly 26 Kbps I had to make collages from the pictures, which don't take as long to upload. We are promised wireless broadband by the National Broadband Scheme by 2010. Hope it will work with the trees around me.)

Here are some pictures of the older parts of Carrick-on-Shannon, with the renovated Market Yard, that hosts a weekly farmer's market - but apart from that is also mostly empty - in the centre; and the Dock to its right.

In the last years a lot of building has taken place around the old centre and outside town. Housing estates, offices, retail and enterprise parks, a cineplex, government buildings, hotels, etc. Tesco and other retail development was built in a flood plain. Let's not forget MBNA, the major employer for the town. The picture is not up to date in this regard, and the outside areas are not visible anyway.

The Bush Hotel of course was already there, with its 200 years history. Here is a nice article about it.

Lets not forget the Shannon. Here is the old bridge, and new marina. I'm not sure what the three wooden posts are meant to be. I find them irritating.

The cruisers in the bottom picture above were there before the houses in the back ground, which are arranged in a similar accumulation. As would be the cars that are missing in the car parking spaces in the foreground. If you read the report about the Chamber's meeting, you can guess why.
It is here, behind the Landmark complex, where free car parking is still available:

Despite of all the new buildings the centre now feels not more, but less busy. Many shops are empty. Not just old ones, but most of the newly built retail and office buildings. Sometimes a new shop opens only to soon close again. Many new residential buildings are also empty. Whilst the town had population growth, it is not of an amount that justifies all the new buildings. Employment opportunities in Carrick, as in Leitrim as a whole, are limited. With all the for sale or to rent signs, the lack of people and activity, there is indeed a feeling of "depression", of discontinuity and uncertainty. And that could already be felt before the credit crunch. I'm also kind of lost at what the function of the town is meant to be. The report about the Chamber's meeting says there was a suggestion to introduce shuttle buses that would bring people into the centre from the retail parks outside town. That says a lot. It sounds like a desperate attempt, doesn't it?
(I'd be happy if a bus would go from here to Carrick, at least twice a week.)

Yet Carrick is still a nice town. Here I've put together some of the nicer new spots:

You see the fence on some of those? There are some nice lanes leading away from the main streets, but they end all at this fence. There is no connection of the old and new parts of the town centre, because behind this fence is the hole in the donut. I suppose it is this what is meant by "Central Park" in the report about the meeting. The address is "Flynn's Field, Townparks".

I first show what was meant to be there:

picture source: http://www.bannon.ie/propertydetails.php?ID=73&PremType=Land, brochure

Here is the description of the proposal:

mixed use development comprising retail, residential, cinema & offices. The development consists of demolition of all existing structures on site. The scheme consists of 249112m2 gross floor area & 10660m2 basement carpark. The development varies from single storey (6m) to 5 storeys over basement (17.89) comprising:(a) retail shopping centre, gross floor area 10610m2 of 19 retail/service/cafe units, circulation area and anchor unit of 3228m2 gross floor area. (b) 6 duplex apt. blocks at 1st, 2nd, 3rd floor level comprising 60 duplex apts. (30 no. 2 bed & 30 no. bed). (c) 539 parking spaces on 2 levels accessed via ramp from 'new street' to the rear of Landmark Hotel. (d) 5 screen cinema, gross floor level of 2360m2. (e) 2 floors of office accommodation of 1209m2. (f) 150 bicycle parking spaces, bin store, site works, landscaping, ancillary works. (g) pedestrian access. The site is 1.22 hectares (12,197m2).

I feel this is over the top, much too overambitious and out of character with the town. Wherein would lie the connectivity that would give the town the feeling of a whole, of identity? More empty shops, offices and appartments? That seems to have been the vision of the town planners who gave it permission.

Now, here one can see what is there since a few years:

The site is for sale with full planning permission, and in the current economical climate it is to hope that this monstrosity will not be built. But planning permission only expires in 2010. Meanwhile no one will be able to buy the site I suppose, to do something good. Wouldn't it be great if the Council could do that, and the people of the town could take part in finding their mutual vision of how the "heart of Carrick-on-Shannon" should beat?

I've found these lines from Carrick by Susan L. Mitchell on Garlan's Carrick-on-Shannon website:

"Here in your little streets begin
Again for me the young surprise of life, give back the eager eyes,
The bounding hearts, the hands that clung
The song other comrade voices sung".

And also this about the smallest chapel in Ireland:

"A remarkable example of one man's deep love for his wife, this tiny R.C. chapel on Bridge Street in Carrick is the smallest in Ireland and reputedly the second smallest in the world.

When Mary Josephine Costello died at the age of 47 on 6th of October 1877 her heart-broken husband, Edward Costello, had her body embalmed and placed in the care of the Marist Sisters in Carrick-on-Shannon. He immediately commissioned, no expense spared, to have erected this beautiful Chapel in her memory and a last resting place for them both...
On the front gable in one of the component stones of the building is a raised monogram - the Costello coat of arms with the motto "Ne te quaesiveris extra" - 'Seek not thyself outside thyself'."

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