Life in the slow lane: Limerick MHA work to beautify the city

Laneway Project, Jesuit Lane 2020

The beautification of several laneways in Limerick City was a project taken on by a host of different groups in recent times. Their aims included: to enhance and improve the built environment, help make the lived everyday experience of citizens more pleasant and rewarding, take areas which are neglected and restore them to abundant life, and in the process of collaborative work, foster a sense of togetherness and a consciousness of ‘caring for our city’. Even if we just cleaned up outside our own house, what a difference it would make if everyone did it! 

Our perception of “lanes” is of narrow, hedged-in mini-roads, alleyways, avenues where lights are dim and litter gathers. They are things we usually hurry through on the way to somewhere else. They are like “short cuts” in our minds, bridges and passes to “the real deal”, the “action” elsewhere. But why not stop and ponder awhile? A lane may have many secrets, knowable and unknowable. Think of the invisible history, floating in the air, uncatchable, the ghosts of lives past – how many feet walked these lanes? On the way to work, to school, to home again, did street urchins play hide and seek in days gone by? Your grandfather? How many people have stood in this lane before you, right where you are standing now? Did young lovers steal time in a lane for a kiss out of sight? How many conversations broke the silence? Did someone trip and break a leg? The leaves on the wall – how long are they there? Who built the wall? When? What sort of a day was it? What was going on in the lives of the workers as the lane was being constructed? The more we use our imagination, the more the possibilities endlessly expand. 

Let us speak of the work that went into the beautification of one particular lane, Jesuit Lane. Apart from murals, flowerboxes and flower-trellises will be great enhancements. LMHA had the great pleasure of using the facilities at the Hunt Museum where volunteers gathered to participate in making the boxes and trellises. The wood was sourced from Ryan’s Timber Merchants and the back garden of the Museum was an ideal place to work. The large outdoor gazebo was where volunteers put together the items and the indoor hallway facilitated the groups who were gold-embossing. Many helpers deserve to be thanked: The volunteers and the staff at the Hunt Museum, the supportive staff of the local authority, the volunteers from LMHA’s Men’s Shed, and the LMHA Women’s Group. Special thanks to Claire (Project Manager), Mick, Mike, Abdullah, Eamon, James, Niamh, Rose, Martina, Aoife, and a special mention to Sarah Gough. Sarah was the instructor for the Women’s Group who produced the beautiful gold-embosses which were attached to the flowerboxes and trellises. 

The weather was mostly kind for the outdoor endeavours. The humidity was difficult to handle at times. Some personal images remain in my mind: Mick’s drill bit was catching, he wanted to lubricate it, I suggested hand sanitiser. Niamh demurred, saying because of the alcohol in it, there would be an explosion. I asked her to take a photo if there was, it would enhance the article. No explosion. Niamh was relieved (or disappointed?) … Claire asked the diligent, capable Abdullah from Syria (Mick christened him “Abby”) if he’d like to play music on his phone. At my suggestion, we were soon being entertained by the voice of the incredible Fairuz, the doyenne of Middle Eastern female singers, hailing from Lebanon but popular across the whole area. Abdullah was grateful that I was familiar with Fairuz. It was nice to see him smiling as he worked … Alisson from Brazil (no, not the Liverpool goalkeeper) samba-ed in to film and photo for video posterity. He was working with some intercultural project, Brazilliant no doubt … On one afternoon, I was early in returning. Linda, the Culture & Communities Co-ordinator at the Hunt, approached me with the question, “How many are you expecting?” I said, “I know I am big-size but I’m not actually pregnant, it’s the women who look after that department”. Linda had a good laugh. It is Linda I must thank for informing me that the tent or marquee we were working in is officially called a “gazebo” … Some of the men tried our hands at the embossing and found it enjoyable, James and Eamon especially. As Sarah stood to admire James’ work on a horse-image, I remarked that there is more money spent on looking after horses in this country than there is on the mentally ill (referring to the bloodstock industry). … I must acknowledge Sarah’s lovely inclusive way of dealing with everyone, her enthusiasm, her encouragement and all-round niceness. The whole collaborative experience drew together many strands of Limerick society and all for the good of the city and those who live and breathe Limerick air every day. Limerick, you’re a lady. And a lady deserves the finest.

Ian Hackett, new manager at LMHA, asked me to comment on how the experience was for me. It was very enjoyable and enlightening to collaborate with different sectors of the community in pursuit of a common goal. It was instructive to learn how talented so many Limerick people are, how conscious of their environment, how willing and able to work together for good. As in many contexts, but especially in mental health, it’s not just the goal or the project you have in mind, the end result, but it’s also THE EXPERIENCE of being together and SHARING that is so life-enhancing and positive.

Photos from the Laneway Project 2020.

Written by Jason O’Donnell, a member of LMHA who has lived experience of a variety of mental health conditions and is grateful for the insight and empathy these have given him into other people’s experiences