What’s In A Name?

Originally published in the Limerick Leader on 31/07/08

Of all the epithets hurled at Limerick over the years, none have captured the imagination of the Irish people quite like “Stab City”.

This unfortunate moniker has found widespread embrace, used not only as an incredibly misguided attempt at scoring street-cred by locals identifying their hometown, but also as a pejorative from those seeking to dismiss the entire county as a cesspool.

Of course, this isn’t anything you don’t already know, but I’m hoping that sparking some kind of county-wide dialogue will help Limerick overcome a rather debilitating PR issue.

Squid of the Limerick Blogger theorized a while back that the media is no longer to blame for the negative image of Limerick, and word of mouth is what continues to propagate the single-syllable summation of the city. He reinforces this theory by pointing to blog entries from tourists who heard the phrase and scarpered the first chance they got.

According to the Limerick Blogger: “More and more often one can find some travel journal where an international visitor to the country is told by the driver of a private bus company, or even Bus Eireann, that Limerick is known as “Stab City”. There are also those that would hear the slur from hotel receptionists and other representatives in the tourist industry who, should in all honesty, be more professional.”

The proposed solution? Setting up a campaign to “name and shame any tourist professional, be it a state owned or private enterprise, who allows it’s [sic] employees to smear the city…” If found guilty, “they would be ‘outed'”.

…Or perhaps not. While their collective hearts are definitely in the right place, the chaps at the Limerick Blogger have taken a somewhat reductionist approach to matters. The proposed solution would be utterly unenforceable.

Despite the conflicting evidence on which Irish urban centre is the most violent, the overwhelming evidence points to the fact that people do consider Limerick to be a particularly dangerous place.

Despite the fact that the videos themselves are utterly innocuous, the suggestions YouTube offers are built around user activity. The results for “Limerick your (sic] a lady and “Limerick Hurling” are much more relevant, but these suggestions appear further down the list because not as many people are looking for them.

Great stuff! Let’s round up the boys, show up outside the place with torches and pitchforks, then march the treasonous bastards down to the custom-built stocks on Cruises St, where we’ll pelt them with rotten fruit until their salty tears flow like the mighty river Shannon!

The sad truth is that Limerick is known as “Stab City” – it’s not something these people made up out of their own prejudices. Even if these industry representatives are using the term in a manner clearly scoffing at how inaccurate it is, devoid of any malicious intent, these impressionable tourists are entitled to become unsettled (wouldn’t you, if the city you were visiting could be summed up with this solitary verb?).

I’ve availed of the offending phrase in this very article, furthering the broadcast of this tricky meme – does that merit my ‘outing’ at the hands of these vigilantes?

This ill-conceived witch hunt makes little sense, as it would only serve to insulate Limerick against the rest of the country. Opinion-shillers in the press nationwide would pick up on the movement, and try to outdo each other in coining a title that more accurately reflects our city. Do we really want to invite phrases like “The Molotov Metropolis” and “Uzi Utopia” into existence? I’d rather not grant anyone the chance to facetiously implore the nation to have a heart, and consider that Limerick criminals have graduated from mere knife-fights to fully-automatic anarchy.

It would be more beneficial for all if the Limerick Blogger would instead launch a campaign in which their sizeable reader base is encouraged to post a short blog entry called “The one thing I love most about Limerick City”.

If each participant in the project linked to the next, it would not only benefit the local community of bloggers, but also the city itself, as it would immediately generate a sizeable amount of favourable information about the city in a fashion easily accessible to web users.

Confirmation bias is a powerful phenomenon: psychics prevail because people remember the ‘hits’ (correct guesses) and forget the ‘misses’ (sheer twaddle). The unfortunate predisposition towards Limerick means that every mention of violence will galvanise the reputation of the city, whereas the tales of sporting prowess, musical talent, or general cultural endeavours will be immediately forgotten.

If you want proof of this, start typing ‘Limerick’ into YouTube, and watch as the search system helpfully suggests a few topics that you might be seeking. Perhaps you’re looking for “Limerick Gangs”, “Limerick Fight”, or “Limerick Uncovered”. Of course, once one actually clicks through to “Limerick Gangs”, the only three Limerick-specific videos are incredibly dull mobile-phone clips of ‘gangs’ of people enjoying themselves at music events in the city.

The results for “Limerick Fight” are similarly bland, resulting in scant recordings of violent altercations; instead offering plenty in the way of comedic staged-scraps or civilised martial arts exhibitions.

If a foreigner was to search for “Limerick Tourism”, they would be treated to a spoof promotional video about our fair city, set to a soundtrack claiming that Limerick is a place where “the Gardai are afraid to go on their own”.

The lazy attempt at humour invites visitors to “relax in the toxic waters of the river Shannon” and “sample the delights of an urban drive-by shooting”, boasting that “a five day break in Limerick will cost you £240, your wallet, your keys, and whatever else you happened to have in your jacket”.

Despite what this video insists, the tagline for Limerick tourism is not in fact “open your mind, hand over your wallet”, but until a genuine effort is made to establish a positive web-presence for Limerick-City, it may as well be.

The worst part about these online issues is how easily they could be relieved. If Shannon Development were to digitise their back-catalogue of promotional videos of Limerick and put them on YouTube, the piss-takes would become the minority overnight.

The more horrendously outdated the videos uploaded, the better, as our prevalent culture of nostalgia means that watching serious matters being discussed by people in ancient garb with odd facial-hair styles is a great source of unintentional humour. Of course, whilst viewers are enjoying the footage from the distant past, they would also be exposed to the Limerick that Limerick wants them to see, along with proof of how quickly the city has developed.

Of course, making viewers reconsider their negative perceptions of Limerick isn’t enough – once the old notions have been torn down, it’d be a good idea to supplant it with something a little more positive.

This city is riddled with museums, galleries, and music-venues. These cultural jewels could surely bind together and produce a video that paints Limerick in a more flattering light.

Better yet; they could sponsor an amateur film-festival, in which budding young filmmakers are tasked with showing their favourite aspects of the city. A city listening to its youth always makes for good publicity, and I’d wager that the resulting videos would be imbued with a kind of authenticity that can’t be artificially reproduced.

More needs to be done. Shannon Development needs to start pimping out its YouTube profile at every opportunity; at the end of every TV and radio spot the address should appear along with a tantalizing promise of more information. There’s not even a need for costly advertising – every e-mail to come from its office should bear an automatic signature pushing these videos. If the content of the video is even only slightly worthwhile, people have a tendency to share them with friends.

The Limerick Coordination Office – the people who brought us the ‘I’m From Limerick’ video and the Limerick Street Ambassadors – are still in the planning and fundraising stages of creating a website.

As much as the LCO’s local efforts are appreciated, I’m sure I’m not overstating their failure to capitalise on the most efficient and cost-effective technology for spreading information when I describe it as laughably myopic. The wait for this site that will extend the influence of the LCO beyond Limerick City should be eased by Shannon Development’s assurances that they are in the process of posting the ‘I’m From Limerick’ video on YouTube, just a few months shy of its six-year anniversary.

Establishing a robust online-presence is paramount in the information age, and as it stands, the official promoters of our city are so late to the party that it’s hard to take them seriously. The responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of individual web-users to put positive content online, and so far this has consisted of a great deal of negativity towards the city.

I hope I’ve shown that there are much more progressive ways to tackle this problem than rounding up a posse to punish those for what is essentially a breach of political correctness.

It’s unlikely that Limerick will ever be emancipated from the title “Stab City”, but generating enough goodwill towards the city is a good start towards making it less of an issue.

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