Address at London/Wexford Association, Irish Centre Camden, London.
Issued : Thursday 28 February, 2008
Areas : Wexford
It is always a pleasure for the Mayor of Wexford to be invited to meet with the sons and daughters of the model county. The pleasure is all the greater, when that meeting involves people who continue to keep in close contact with Wexford, and maintain a pride in their heritage and background.
My first task therefore, is to bring you sincere greetings and good wishes from all your kins-people at home. John Edward Pearce wrote that “Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave and grow old wanting to get back to”.
No doubt all of you get the opportunity to return to Wexford frequently. When you do you will find a vibrant developing county changing beyond all recognition. In population terms – our county has increased from 104,000 in 1996 to 132,000 in the last census in 2006. A staggering increase of 27% in ten years.
While it is true that a slightly colder economic wind is now blowing over Ireland, no less than other developed countries, our unemployment rate is still historically low. It is a source of amazement to many people that on average 40,000 to 45,000 immigrants came into Ireland in the past 10 years.
The built landscape of Wexford is also changing at a rate and a pace never previously witnessed.
As we celebrate this year the 150th anniversary of Wexford Town’s twin churches – we recall that both church spires were the only tall building on the Wexford landscape for all that period of time. Today new structures are being added to our town’s profile. The new Whites Hotel has risen from the historic old Whites site. Not only has Whites become a major national conference venue, it also offers facilities in leisure and sports unique to Ireland. Indeed its cryogenic centre is, I understand, one of only two in Europe. For that reason we were glad in recent weeks to see the London Irish Rugby Team chose Wexford for their pre-season training.
The most striking new landmark building is our new Opera House. It rises seven storeys over the narrow High Street, and will make Wexford a cultural capital of the region and a centre of the performing arts of international importance. The new Opera House will have two world class performance venues. One 750 seat theatre and a smaller space for more intimate cultural activities. The miracle that is Wexford Opera Festival will continue next October when more than 350 Wexford volunteers combine to turn our town into a seat of music, visual arts, drama and of course craic. But the excitement will not be confined to the normal three week Autumn Festival. The new venue in High Street will be active throughout the year providing a permanent home for a variety of artistic activities. I look forward to seeing many of you back home participating in all the events planned from this summer onwards.
The Opera House will be a jewel. A jewel in what is being planned as a cultural spine for Wexford Town. Running in parallel to the spectacular Quay Front, which has become a major civic space for leisure activities, and parallel to the Main Street which is our main commercial spine (also getting a major make-over). The new cultural spine will also include our new central library (opening onto the old town wall) and an accessible Selskar Abbey.
As if that level of development wasn’t enough – the South end of Wexford Town is going to see the most dramatic changes in the built environment, ever seen in our county. Already planning permission has been granted for a 13 storey hotel building. Further commercial and residential buildings will give long term employment for up to 2,000 people on this site.
Our country is doing well. Our county is doing well. Our challenge is to embrace these remarkable changes and at the same time to retain the essence of our Wexfordness. The spirit of friendliness, community and love of tradition that has long defined us. I am optimistic that we are well able to meet this challenge.
On the sporting front – the challenges are equally daunting. We are hungry for hurling success – the lingering memories of 1996 are in urgent need for renewal, and we, as ever are optimistic for this years championships. The form shown in the League opener against Waterford gives grounds for hope! Whatever the fortunes of the men, the ladies have gladdened our hearts last year, bringing home a much needed All Ireland title. I was honoured to host their reception home. And I am honoured again to be in their company tonight.
In a county that knows how to celebrate sporting success, the Camogie players were the stars of 2007. We sincerely hope that it was just the beginning of an historic sequence of victories. I have been practicing both Cúculainn’s Son and Boolavogue for the celebrations expected to welcome an array of silverware back to Wexford in 2008.
Chairperson, ladies and gentlemen, it is my privilege to be Wexford’s first citizen this year. As you will have gleaned from my comments I represent a proud, confident, developing town in a progressive county. We rejoice in our history and past achievements and move into the future with a clear vision. We also want all Wexford folk to renew their bonds with us. Whether in London or Sydney we are all family.
Thank you for inviting me to share this evening with you. Loch Garman Abu.
Mayor George LawlorThe Labour PartyDáil By-election candidate for Wexford
- Work Address:
- Brendan Howlin's Office
- SIPTU Office, Coolcotts,
- [email protected]