When I fly into Ireland I often fly into Shannon, a nice looking airport. The main building is a hugely optimistic bright space boasting a pleasant looking restaurant which allows diners to gaze over the Shannon estuary. That the food served in these splendid surroundings is often the worst kind of canteen muck is symptomatic of the nuts-and-bolts problems which beleaguer many of contemporary Ireland's architectural gems.
There is more to architecture than handsome structures; the clients they've been built for have to know what to do with them afterwards. Post-Celtic Tiger, Ireland is peppered with interesting examples of purposeless or mindless civically-funded architecture.
The country now boasts, for instance, a plethora of impressive looking purpose-built arts venues in which very little of an artistic nature goes on. Instead they're, all too often, given over to community events and low rent touring theatrical shows. This tends to give the arts in Ireland a slightly mutton-dressed-up-as-lamb quality and must sorely thwart talented teenage wannabe creatives who can't play the funding game.
Shannon doesn't improve when the hapless commuter leaves the building and goes in search of public transport. There is no designated public transport connecting Shannon to Limerick city. Instead one has to cower, often amid Atlantic coast winds and rain, in a bus shelter which might suffice in balmy Florida but which is entirely inappropriate here, given the often inclement local weather. As I cower, I can't help but notice that very few others are waiting with me. Maybe a few student types or backpackers
Presumably most of the Irish commuters get picked up by family and friends.
The Brit businessmen have all arranged hire cars in which they fan out across that part of the country, bringing their values with them as they speed off.
A substantial percentage of those flying into Shannon are these guys, anxiously staring at, or working on, phones, laptops, and other examples of what Hamri the Painter of Morocco used to call "Japanese shit." Generally speaking, they clutch copies of the Daily Mail or the London Times. They bring something more with them on those planes than their copies of right-wing tabloids. They also clutch creepy right-wing Tory business ideas and practices as they recolonise Ireland.
Most of our provincial towns and cities are now awash with international retail chains actively wiping out small independent local retailers. As these shop owners retire or give up, a slice of regional Irish culture is being remorselessly killed off so that my dysfunctional Ryanair business companions can find new openings and opportunities for their sad, anonymous, products. They see the whole wide world as one phenomenal business opportunity just waiting to be opened up.
Eventually I always escape from the airport - on board the Galway/Cork bus if I'm lucky. This gets into town pretty quick. The alternative is a Shannon/Limerick commuter route which goes up the airy mountain and down the rushy glen, picking up every troublesome skinhead, impoverished student, polite but confused Pole, overly chatty housewife, and slow pensioner known to man. Shannon will never become a proper airport, worthy of the building in which it is housed, until reliable rail links into Limerick and Ennis are developed.
The bus lets us out alongside the train station, located in a part of Stab City full of foreign junkies, welfare mothers, Limerick lowlives, plus large helpings of unfortunate looking Chinese and Africans trying to go about their business. I make my way down wet bleak streets in ruins, punctuated by islands of redevelopment, until I reach the central shopping zones in search of a place to eat. Mostly, in Limerick, the passing stranger might be forgiven for thinking that they all live on chips and mayonnaise. There are more charity shops and Euro shops in central Limerick than I recall seeing in any other Irish town centre.
It'd be nice to see it getting a leg up in the world. It is worth pointing out that Limerick seems to play host to a large number of city centre businesses which are owned and run by women. This is one old Limerick tradition which is worth preserving. It seems, despite plans for renewal, regeneration, and social engineering to be a place which the rest of the country has turned its back on.
I catch a train as far as Limerick Junction where I have a cup of tea in the waiting room where, during the Tan War, Michael Collins used to come from Dublin to liaise with Munster and Clare IRA leaders. It's being turned into a no doubt digital eating experience.
Another train, bound for Rosslare, takes me across east Limerick and west Tipperary. I pass through Cahir, Tipperary town, Clonmel, and Carrick-on-Suir before coming to rest within the shadow of Slievenamon. This is one of the most beautiful train journeys in Ireland, seemingly maintained as a top secret resource reserved for a handful of elderly Irish living in Britain who're heading for Rosslare plus gaggles of Clonmel housewives fresh from Dublin shopping splurges.
Joe Ambrose has written 14 books, including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. Joe is currently working on his next book, Look at Us Now - The Life and Death of Muammar Ghadaffi, which is an expanded version of a story first published in the anthology CUT UP! Visit Joe's website for all the latest info: JoeAmbrose.co.uk.