It’s not every day a cultural institution is destroyed. Seeing the White House Bar callously gutted by its new owner was offensive and upsetting for many of us who’ve made the White House something of a second home. The pub’s new management has behaved with savage disregard for loyal patrons and willfully abandoned a cultural legacy without so much as a whisper of apology.
The White House Poets – a landmark of the city’s cultural scene – planned to hold their final night of poetry on Wednesday, 20th July. That was the day the bar was closing for ‘renovations’. Though we were saddened by the sudden closure, we could at least go out in style. Instead, with barely a few hours notice, the White House closed on Tuesday and the gutting began.
It’s hard not to see that as a deliberate snub. The poets were robbed of our last night in a place we’d supported for years, a place where we’d made unexpected friends, heartening and sometimes bizarre memories and where we’d forged somewhere we could feel accepted, encouraged in our writing no matter its’ content or style and where a little piece of our hearts belonged.
The bar’s new owner spat on the White House’s legacy. On the very day the poets had been due to attend our last night, several passers-by witnessed the disgraceful destruction of that legacy. The White House’s walls were decorated with historic photos of famous visitors through the years – Jack Charlton, David Norris and Michael D. Higgins to name a few – and a small collection of very old books. These relics were chucked into the street, clearly intended for the rubbish tip. It wasn’t enough to turf out loyal customers at the last minute, the new management decided to recklessly destroy pieces of cultural history as well.
Any hope that the new White House would open its arms to its old patrons and embrace its cultural heritage died yesterday amid the heartless, moronic trashing of the place’s treasures. And all in the name of money. No doubt the bar’s new owner thinks he can make a profitable little enterprise that will justify his desecration of a living piece of history.
There may be a broader lesson in the loss of the White House. Limerick’s failure to win City of Culture for 2020 seemed to shock many observers. It did not shock the White House poets. Anyone who has read the bid booklet can see why the bid failed. The sterile document is loaded with corporate doublespeak and asinine jargon. The bid document has no heart and shows no real awareness or interest in Limerick’s culture. What the document makes clear is the real motivation behind the bid – money.
As the bid booklet makes clear, Limerick 2020 would have been an economic boom. It would no doubt have benefited the city’s money-grubbers who couldn’t care less about culture until its filling their already deep pockets. And it would certainly have pleased certain local politicians with moneyed constituents. But just like City of Culture 2014, it would not have actually helped Limerick’s real cultural scene or those who make it happen.
The loss of a treasured cultural institution and the failure of Limerick’s City of Culture bid must wake us up to the real needs of culture in our city. There is a thriving cultural scene right now – poetry, music, theatre, art and everything in between – and that scene is driven from the bottom up. We cannot and do not rely on bigwigs with big money agendas to make culture happen. But to those who have power and influence, we need to make it clear that they do not speak for us and we will not become part of any movement that tries to hijack our cultural life in the pursuit of short-term financial gain. Greed has no place in Limerick’s arts.
The White House poets will go on writing, reading and doing all we can to help Limerick’s cultural life grow and thrive. Those of us who love the arts, whatever way we express it, must fight and fight hard to promote and protect our work from the malign influence of false friends and cultural saboteurs. We are culture and we are better than this.