Bridge too far for Kilkenny chiefs as protesters wade in
IT is 26 degrees in Kilkenny and at 'Camp Nore' much of the flesh on show is peeling or glowing red after nearly three weeks of protest in the sun.
Yet morale remains strikingly high.
A rota system has been set up among 200 supporters. At any one time at least 20 are always out on picket duty - protesting against the construction of a new bridge over the River Nore, part of a €10.7m project.
And on one of the warmest days of the year, there is almost a carnival atmosphere.
Some use the river to cool off in the hot sun, an opportunity they will not be afforded for much longer if the planned construction of the bridge goes ahead.
Last Thursday, they donned life-jackets, and commandeered a boat to prevent pile-driving equipment from working the river bed.
A Kilkenny County Council meeting was held yesterday to review the project after An Bord Pleanala approved the extension of a ring road around the city.
The new bridge is being constructed near the 238-year -old Green's Bridge in the city as part of the Central Access Scheme (CAS) first proposed in 1978.
Activist Enya Kennedy (39), originally from Belfast, moved to Kilkenny eight years ago after falling in love with the city.
"I really don't want to see this beautiful place destroyed," she said.
"People are here for very different reasons but the one thing we all have in common is that we are here to preserve Kilkenny, whether it is from an archaeological point of view or for tourism and jobs. Some people are here because they believe that this new bridge is ugly. It is going to scar Kilkenny in many ways."
The bridge is due to cross the River Nore, linking the Castlecomer Road on the east of the river with Vicar Street and Irishtown on the west.
However, the bridge comes on to lands behind two protected buildings, meaning there will be no vehicular access to Vicar Street. Instead traffic will divert around the two protected buildings and through the old Smithwick's brewery in the city.
Sean Hickey (26), a self-employed landscape gardener, has taken five days off work so far to protest.
He has opposed the CAS for 11 years after completing an art project called 'Road to Nowhere' for his Junior Cert in 2003.
It sparked a passion and he went on to study planning in college to get a better understanding of the CAS.
"Apart from one street that was done in the 1820s, the only other street in Kilkenny altered in the last 800 years is Ormonde Road. That puts the CAS into context, this is a huge alteration to Kilkenny's fabric," said Mr Hickey.
He would much rather see the county council complete the ring road that currently goes two-thirds of the way around the outskirts of the city as this would take HGVs out of the Green's Bridge area.
"There is no need for the bridge. We need a northern ring road extension," said Mr Hickey. "Common sense suggests that if the northern part of the ring road was completed, the congestion problems in Irishtown and Green's Bridge would be solved," he added.
Meanwhile, the founder of Kilkenny's Business Club, Paschal Bergin, believes that the bridge is a necessity to protect commerce in the city.
"If you stop bringing people into the city centre, those businesses will die," said Mr Bergin. "I think it is going to make Kilkenny more accessible for its own residents, the tourists and for young children that cycle," he added.
He added that the city would be safer for cyclists with the new bridge.
Kilkenny Chamber of Commerce are also supporting the CAS.
But not all business owners agree with Mr Bergin, with local businessman Willie Duggan pointing out that all of the great walled and medieval cities in Europe are preserved because they are seen as precious and valuable.
He thinks that the unused mart and brewery sites on either side of the new bridge should at least be developed first before linking them is even considered. "Let's put in the developments first, and then see if we need them linked," he added.