A few weeks ago, Landon Thomas Jr, a reporter from the New York Times, approached me to do an interview about the causes and consequences of the housing boom and bust cycle we have been going through. Rather than bring him to my (rather nice) office in the new Kemmy Business School, I suggested we go out into Limerick city, to a social welfare office (this one) and meet people who have been directly affected by the downturn, and go to Southill and Moyross, and meet people who haven't been affected by either. He said yes to both ideas, and he wrote about his experiences in Limerick and Dublin in today's New York Times.
I mean, talking to me is nice, I like to think I know something about what's going on with the Irish economy, but to get a real sense of what's happening, you don't want to talk to a guy who can't get fired about a surge in unemployment and a macroeconomic collapse.
So off we went to the social welfare office on a wet Wednesday before Christmas. Dell had just announced they were considering cutting 2,000 jobs at the local plant, and many construction firms were laying workers off or going into liquidation. We met some nice and, frankly, frightened people. People who had never been unemployed---who didn't even know anyone unemployed, until a few weeks ago. People with young families, scared about what the future held for them.
We were told many of the people laid off in October and November were bouncing in nightclubs or driving taxis or working on family farms for a pittance. People were very nice, and extremely generous with their time. I think Landon, the NYT reporter, got a good sense of what was going through their minds at the time. The security guard said there were so many people signing on on Monday and Tuesday that there were fights when someone tried to skip the queue.
We left the social welfare office and traveled to Moyross (map), a disadvantaged area on the outskirts of the city of Limerick. Moyross is one of the most deprived places in Europe, and also one of the areas scheduled to be redeveloped by the regeneration project currently underway in Limerick.
Moyross is one very long cul-de-sac. Driving through it, you feel slightly depressed by the layout and general conditions of the houses and infrastructure. Given the stories one hears about the place, I confess I was pretty happy it was a gloomy wet Wednesday afternoon as we rolled about in our bright red hire car (Of course, nothing happened, and everyone was lovely). I must say I'm very hopeful for the prospects of regeneration in this area.
We talked to local activists, and met some of the residents, all of whom were guardedly skeptical about the possibility of renewal of the area. Many spoke about the services that are there, recently installed, and I heard later how many of those made unemployed by the drop in housing construction are now working with young offenders in government-sponsored community schemes.
Then we met the Franciscan friars, in particular Brother Shawn, who told us about their experiences praying for and with the people of Moyross, and living with them. Brother Shawn described the people and the work of the monks in conveying the gospel to this area, and spoke to us of the other missions the friars had been on in Honduras, London, and the South Bronx. The monks paint religious motifs on the burned out and abandoned houses around their friary, and here are some pictures I took of them on the day. The friars are trying to make things better for Moyross in their own way---through prayer.
We left Moyross in the late afternoon with Brother Shawn, discussing the potential for growth and development of disadvantaged areas in Ireland and abroad.
It was an interesting day, and I learned a lot about what's going on in the Irish economy, without googling anything :).
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Here are the monks in 2007, talking in Moyross.