While there was little overt disagreement at last week’s ‘Kilkenny’s Future’ meeting, the spectrum of ideas was certainly diverse.
This was particularly the case for the public’s vision of what should become of the St Francis Abbey Brewery site. Below are some of the main ideas put forward by a number of different speakers on the night:
Declan Murphy, chair of the Kilkenny branch of An Taisce said there was a need to focus on the issue of climate change, particularly given Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan’s commitment to tackling it.
“I think we have got to think about climate change and biodiversity,” said Mr Murphy.
“We also have a wonderful prospect with not one, but two rivers [at the brewery site]. There is a walking route – let’s connect them all up and make a river corridor.”
Dr Michael Conway, cardiologist/owner of the Hole in the Wall, urged people to ‘think big’, and made an impassioned argument for the establishment of a university campus on the brewery site.
“There are a lot of proposals here, but no big, big idea,” he said.
“This city is the sort of city where academics love to hang out, it is blessed, it hasn’t been altered. Kilkenny is also the same distance from Dublin as Oxford and Cambridge are from the metropolis.
“If we drop this opportunity, we will be looked on in years to come as having missed it,” he warned.
John Cleere, the former chairman of Kilkenny Tourism, said that what was required for the St Francis site was a visually striking building.
“It is a huge site, and I think we need an iconic building – something that will make people gasp,” he said.
“I was in Bilbao recently. They used to get around 25,000 tourists each year before the Guggenheim. Now they get over 3 million. We need a building that will anchor the centre of the city for hundreds of years to come.”
Ger Cody, Watergate Theatre director, said he was attending the meeting both as a Kilkenny citizen and as a member of the national campaign for the arts. He said the arts, theatres and festival groups should have a role in future development of the city and brewery site.
“If we are speaking about a Medieval Mile, some form of communication must be made through the arts community,” he said.
“I suppose, from a selfish point of view, I would be slightly concerned because of the geographical site of the Watergate in proximity to the brewery. Hopefully, plenty of communication will go on.”
Seamus Brennan said there was a potential danger of rushing into a decision in the case of the mart and brewery sites. He urged all parties to proceed slowly and with caution.
“We should do nothing in a hurry, he said
“If we have done nothing with the Diageo site in 10 years’ time except restore it to its nakedness, I will not be disappointed. It would be a disaster if we hop and try to do this quickly.”
Emmet McAviney, chairman of Killkenny Triathlon Club asked whether it might be possible to develop a clubhouse on some part of the site. He said triathlon was the fastest growing sport in the world, and that a central base would benefit the club and city.
“At this year’s TriGrandPrix, we expect about 1,000 people,” he said.
“It will be the biggest one-day event triathlon in Ireland. The river is a great asset, and nowhere else in Ireland could you run a triathlon right through the heart of the city.”