Monday, 3 August 2020

A planned luxury resort
threatens Corfu’s ‘last
piece of virgin territory’

Kassiopi Harbour, close to the proposed luxury resort at Erimitis … contractors are being lined up for the flagship ‘Kassiopi project’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This is a bank holiday weekend in Ireland, and in the evenings over the last few days I have been catching up on the television series The Durrells, a television series I missed when it was first broadcast on ITV in 2016.

The series tells of the story of the Durrells, a family struggling financially in Bournemouth in the mid-1930s and who decides to uproot themselves and move to the Greek island of Corfu.

The 26-episode series was inspired by Gerald Durrell’s three autobiographical books about the four years the family spent in Corfu between 1935 and 1939.

It is an evocative series, bringing back sweet memories of visits to Corfu, first in May 2006 to lecture on 19th century Greek history and Irish Philhellenes at the Durrell School of Corfu, then directed by the Irish writer and journalist, and writer Richard Pine, and, of course, last year’s holiday in Corfu, when I travelled throughout the island, as well as visiting Paxos, the monasteries of Meteora and northern Epirus in southern Albania.

The series is all the more poignant, because a planned holiday in Greece later this month has been cancelled in the past week because of the travel restrictions imposed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and because of reports at the weekend of threats to some of the beautiful places I visited in Corfu last year that are associated with the Durrell family.

In a news feature in The Guardian at the weekend (1 August 2020), Helena Smith reported how there is ‘anger is in the air and battle lines have been drawn’ in Corfu in response to plans for an ‘ultra-luxury’ in ‘the island’s last piece of virgin territory – a place of unique biodiversity.’

She lines up, on the one side, campaigners who include Lee Durrell, widow Gerald Durrell, whose portrayed Corfu in My Family and Other Animals, and, on the other, the Greek government and the New York-based private equity fund NCH Capital, which acquired a ‘natural paradise’ near Kassiopi in north-east Corfu eight years ago, when Athens was selling off assets at the height of the Greek debt crisis.

The permits have been granted for the flagship ‘Kassiopi project,’ contractors are being lined up, and by 2026, the developers hopes to have transformed a headland known as Erimitis (‘The Hermit’) into a five-star resort with a large hotel, holiday villas and a 60-berth marina.

Lee Durrell is quoted as pointing out that Corfu has long had enough architectural ‘carbuncles’ along its coast.

But Erimitis is not only home to otters, seals, raptors and reptiles but also lakes, marshes and bright pebble beaches, orchids and strawberry trees, in an area that remains one of the least developed in the Mediterranean and with a unique ecosystem, making it ‘a jewel of nature that must be saved.’

The headland lies along a coastline jokingly referred to as Kensington-on-Sea after the wealthy London district that is home to many of its summer residents. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall are regular visitors.

But Corfu already attracts the super-rich, and billionaires with villas on the island have joined resident conservationists, anti-capitalists, leftists and environmentalists opposing the development. Last month, the financier Nathaniel Rothschild, a frequent visitor to his family’s estate in the area, tweeted that that the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, was ‘foolish’ for endorsing the Erimitis ‘development fiasco.’

Building work is about to begin, but activists are preparing to go back to court to try to block the €120 million development.

The Covid-19 pandemic has severely cut the number of tourists in Greece this year, and is exposing how many parts of Greece, including Corfu, are overly dependent on tourism. Helena Smith reports, ‘Much of the island’s coast is now lined with rundown and eerily empty hotels: the price of mass tourism seemingly catering to another age.’

‘In retrospect it’s a tragedy that some of the very wealthy people who live along this coastline didn’t form a consortium when the property was put up for sale,’ Richard Pine told her. ‘They could have matched the absurdly low figure of €25m, which was all that the state received for selling it off. In place of the resort, they could have endowed a national park with an interpretive centre for schoolchildren to appreciate the ecosystem on their doorsteps.’

Lake Korission in south-west Corfu … one of the many unspoiled natural habitats on the island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A photograph to tell the story of
a unique institution in Limerick

The Limerick Protestant Young Men’s Association premises at 97 O’Connell Street, Limerick … featured in the August 2020 edition of ‘An Abhann’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

My photograph of the Limerick Protestant Young Men’s Association premises on O’Connell Street, Limerick, illustrates a feature on the LPYMA by Craig Copley Browne in the current [August 2020] edition of An Abhann (Vol 3, No 3), the monthly newsletter of the Limerick City Parish (pp 19-20).

The Limerick Protestant Young Men’s Association (LPYMA)

Craig Copley Browne

The Limerick Protestant Young Men’s Association (LPYMA) was established in 1853 to provide suitable means for the spiritual, mental, moral, and physical improvement of its members, as well as to promote both literary and scientific study and the cultivation of artistic taste. During the mid-nineteenth century, there had been a great interest in Limerick in the establishment of such ‘social clubs’ to provide men (and women) with the appropriate means to socialise, exercise and become learned. The LPYMA is a prime example of such an endeavour, with the Association attracting some 470 members by the 1890s. At its peak in the Victorian era, it was famous for hosting large orchestral soirees in the Protestant Orphans’ Hall, which attracted upwards of 500 guests.

The LPYMA was governed by a committee comprising several nominated Patrons, a President, Vice-Presidents (some 40 Vice-Presidents held office at the same time), Clerical members (ex-officio) and Lay members. Many of Limerick’s great and good were involved, such as Sir Alexander Shaw, Sir Francis Cleeve, SirCharles Barrington, Sir James Spaight, Archibald Murray and Robert Hunt.

The LPYMA purchased no. 97 George Street (later O’Connell Street) in 1875, and still operates from this building today. From this premises, the Association operated a number of amenities for its members including: a library and reading room, common room with smoking lounge, lecture hall, sports hall, billiards room and sundry meeting rooms where the various literary, chess and debating groups met. The Association was also fortunate to purchase playing fields and pavilion at Farranshone in 1920, which brought about the establishment of various LPYMA sporting clubs: hockey, cricket, gymnastics, bowls, tennis, rugby, croquet and badminton. This land was sold in 1976.

Most of you will however associate the LPYMA exclusively with sport, and indeed the Association enjoyed great success in hockey, tennis and cricket in particular. One of the Association’s most famous sons was the late Stanley (Stan) de Lacy. Stan played hockey with the LPYMA first team, going on to be capped 37 times for Ireland, and captaining the team on many occasions, including the Lion’s tour of Africa in 1952. In 1939, he played on the British-Irish team against Germany in Munich on the eve of the Second World War. After the game, he was presented with a figure of the ‘Munich Monk’s Child’ by Adolf Hitler!

The LPYMA in more recent times has seen a decline in membership as interest wanes. However, the Association is still here, and hoping to become more active in the near future! If anyone is interested in contacting the LPYMA, they can do so by contacting me at craig.copleybrown@gmail.com or by post at 97 O’Connell Street, Limerick.

The current trustees of the LPYMA are:

Philip Cullen (President), Kieron Brislane (Hon. Secretary), Craig Copley Brown (Hon. Treasurer), Kieran Sparling, Victor Brown, Frank Sheahan, Thomas Peirce and Thomas Clarke.

Other illustrations in this feature include portraits of founding member Archdeacon Benjamin Jacob A.M. and Robert Hunt JP that hang in the boardroom of 97 O’Connell Street, the LPYMA hockey team in the 1940s, and the LPYMA Major Hall.