For a man of his time, he did an awful lot of good it seems to me, notwithstanding that he had his detractors.
As the late Eamonn Kelly used to say, things rested so for a long time, then along came Clare County Council and their buddies in Shannon Development. Big brown signs went up at every cross for a hundred miles around. Backhanders were bandied about busdrivers, and the concept of visitor pressure was born. The paths on top of the bedded limestone are mere trackways in blue shale, and it duly ravelled and eroded from the countless feet that walked over it. To cope with it all, a visitor centre was built, with a very big gift shop and a very small jacks. You could buy socks with Guinness logos on them ‘til kingdom come, but you had to queue up to discharge your own denatured Guinness. They shot a few seagulls, stuffed them and put them on top of the presses, so that waddly oul’ yanks and long lanky Krauts could get the picture of what was going on outside, while they queued for the restrooms.
Next, some bastard got a really cunning brainwave. They erected a pay-as-you exit parking barrier, so you now had to pay to gaze at the Atlantic Ocean and breathe in the fresh air. The accounting system wasn’t exactly watertight according to some usually reliable accounts, and the car park attendant seemed prosperous. Let’s leave that story for another day. Anyway, the Clare people retaliated to the imposition of the parking charge, as Clare people do, and parked out on the road. Not to be outdone, the County Council then put double yellow lines on each side of the road, for a long distance on either side of the Cliffs. This must surely be the most blatant self-interested abuse of process ever perpetrated in North Clare using yellow paint. I am advised that maladministration in public office is the hardest thing of all to prove in Court, but it would be worth having a go over those same lines, only for the fact that they’re probably gone now.
However, things don’t stand still. Bowing to the visitor pressure they themselves created and nurtured, the powers that be next decided that the visitor centre was too small. In the interests of fairness, a public enquiry was held. In the interests of getting the result they wanted, it was chaired by a road-building civil engineer of some note, whose life’s motto was and remains ‘I’m pro-development’. A man with exceptionally poor eyesight, adjudicating on an area renowned for its exceptional beauty. An honest decent man, but he is what he is. It was decided to build a new centre. Wow. No surprise there for the cognoscenti.
Am I the only one who things that there is something fundamentally wrong and disturbing, if not even immoral, about demolishing a structurally sound and functional building when it is less that a hundred years old? A building should last for generations. A decision to build a structure is a profound one, nicely put by an architect I used to know when he said ‘a building in the wrong place is a mistake that takes us a hundred years to rectify’. I agree. And, why is it the public sector that seems to delight and revel in prematurely tearing down what it has built at our great expense, both ways?
Anyway, there have now been years of moil and toil on the site, tarmacadam has been torn up and relaid, men in shiny jackets to-ing and fro-ing and piddling in portacabins, and it seems they’re now nearly ready to go. I read in yesterday’s Sunday Times that the new centre is almost complete. I wonder how long it will be before the cycle repeats itself?
What they might have done. They could have said, ‘well, our visitor centre is overloaded. Let’s cut back on the promotions side, and fewer people will come. Then the Cliffs will be protected for future generations.’
What they could have done. They could have refrained from putting up all the bloody brown signs right from the start. Then the Cliffs Of Moher would be as Cornelius O’Brien left them. Fewer people would visit. Fewer pairs of Guinness socks would be sold. No seagulls need be stuffed.
It’s called sustainability. We’re supposed to be doing it.