*Photograph: John Mangan
Any person who spends much of their time in Ennis, like me will be aware there are no green spaces in the town centre. It lets our wonderful streets down, unequivocally.
Sitting on a bench in a car park staring at concrete grounds and public toilets – or indeed sitting in a parklet on O’Connell street where you are on public display – are not the most inviting scenarios, although well intentioned. All this promotes Ennis as a town where you park, purchase, and get out.
Works are underway on the Parnell Street lane ways and bow ways development and I look forward to the project’s completion. However the problem will continue to exist that there are no open spaces connected with nature and until this is addressed, our town fails to be a complete product.
Earlier this year I met a family member in town for coffee. The sun was shining and as takeaway coffee was our only option, we decided to find a spot to sit and chat. We looked at each other searchingly as it became clear that places to sit in one’s company, or indeed alone, are very limited. Finally, after deciding against the benches which unavoidably face that building in the Market, we settled for a steel, backless bench facing the impressive sunflower structure in Abbey Street Car Park, which paradoxically stands coldly in the shade.
The tone of this article is intended as passionate rather than prickly. I don’t find fault in too many things and am a man of simple pleasures. When I walk into town next summer with my young daughter to purchase an ice-cream, we will sit together on a roundabout outside Specsavers, surrounded by traffic, as we indulge ourselves and indeed make precious memories to last a lifetime. There is something very wrong with that.
The business community in Ennis are doing their part by creating the town’s famous “boutique shopping experience” – but where are Pat and Mary going to sit when their bags are heavy from all that boutique shopping and they need a break?
The answer has been staring us in the face for a long time in the form of the Post Office field. As we focused on flood defences to protect our town over the years, the walls separating walkers from the banks of the Fergus have become higher and in parts, too high for many to see over at Abbey Street and Parnell Street car parks.
Many towns and cities across the world have developed boardwalks with beautiful and well serviced respite areas to showcase their rivers and nature. It seems odd that Ennis, a town with no open green spaces, has not done so.
Due to volatile water levels, a boardwalk may not be the answer but surely it would be fair to suggest proposing a feasibility study to investigate the public amenity opportunities that do exist along the riverbank. One idea that springs to my mind is a fixed viewing platform (equipped with benches and a waste disposal point) over the post office field which would be connected by a sturdy footbridge to points at Parnell Street Car Park and Bank Place. Alternatively a relocating of the taxi rank in favour of a raised, mini park which would overlook the river may work.
I’m encouraged that the soon-to-be released Ennis 2040 plan might tackle this long-standing issue. We’re told that it’s ready for release and all that’s holding it back is an agreed launch date pending the availability of An Taoiseach. I think the sooner, the better as it may stand as a beacon of positivity for businesspeople of Clare who have endured a dour year.
Point No7 of the plan aims to make Ennis a “place to arrive and spend time where the urban area and scenic landscape meet”. With this in mind, I hope the above suggestion is duly noted by our councillors. It goes without saying, the idea would have the full support of Clare’s most-read newspaper.