It’s the audacity of Manorhamilton’s W8 Centre that takes your breath away.
At a time when rural decline is fast becoming a major problem throughout Europe and the wider world – there are parts of rural Spain which are more underpopulated than Siberia, and some Italian towns will sell you a house for €1, if you would only move there to live – it would be easy to give up on little Manorhamilton.
Like so many Irish provincial towns, Manorhamilton was battered by the bank crash of 2008, leaving a debris of empty shops and ghost estates.
So when you first see the elegantly finessed architectural outline of W8, and the vividly colourful wall-sized murals by Marian Noone, it is mind-blowing.
W8 is so radical – so unprecedented – that it takes time before you process the simple fact that a local developer, Shane Kerrigan, bought an unfinished development in the centre of Manorhamilton, and is busy turning it into something the like of which Ireland has never seen before.
Even before it is fully finished, W8 has a glorious restaurant and café, Ósta, run by one of the North West’s great food champions, Brid Torrades. There are sculptures by Jackie McKenna. Leonie Cornelius has landscaped the site. Grainne McGarty’s interior design is sleek and comfortable.
Mr Kerrigan has front-loaded all those parts of a development – food; art works, interior design, gardening – that Irish developers traditionally deny having any responsibility for. The result is simple: W8 feels integrated and organic, it feels luxurious and dynamic, it feels artful, cultured, modern and European. It feels audacious.
W8 makes Lovely Leitrim even more lovely. You only need to spend a few days here, touring the Five Glens, hiking to Eagle Rock, kayaking at Lough Gill, before heading back to the W8 houses and dinner at Osta, to feel you are getting to the heart and soul of this overlooked county. The sleek sophistication of the concept means that it’s easy to believe you are in some Tuscan retreat, or 5-star hideaway in Seville, but without the hassle and stress of airports and international travel.