The new €600 million Opera Lane development opened its doors in Cork last week, taking advantage no doubt, of the moratorium on reporting of the L***** Referendum. As a talking point for Cork, it was a welcome respite for a public who were well and truly L*****ed out of their skulls. This was evidenced by the fact that eight times as many of the Cork News’ Facebook fans responded to a question about H&M than a discussion about a certain Treaty.

Opera Lane has been warmly received, although its inception has caused a small controversy. City councillors have raised questions as to how the completion of the centre led to the renaming of ‘Faulkner’s Lane’ to ‘Opera Lane’ despite the fact that they were never consulted about it. Faulkner’s Lane was named after Riggs Faulkner who owned a bank on the historic street in 1760. History – or rather my lazy, superficial trawl through Google – doesn’t tell us much about Riggs Faulkner, so one can only guess at the kind of banker he was and what he would have thought of the Opera Lane development if it had been proposed back in his day.

As an investor, would he have taken a punt on it? It’s unlikely. I imagine him as an austere, greying man with a monocle who never sat down, chairs being the work of the devil. Riggs may have been happily married to a woman called Penelope or Dorothy to whom he spoke just once a year as a special concession at Christmas. This isolation was necessary, women also being the work of the devil. He would be a prudent banker, who lent money only to those borrowers who, as collateral, had made a deposit of a strong child that had a skillset with a heavy emphasis on chimney sweeping. He was a businessman no doubt with an eye for a profit, but what would he have made of the plans for Opera Lane if they had landed on his mahogany bureau?

Of course, approving a loan was a more straightforward decision in mid 18th century Ireland. For a start Riggs would have been backed by a strong system of financial regulation known as the Penal Laws. Any discussion about an exciting development opportunity with your friendly bank manager may have ended shortly after the question “And your surname, sir?” or, failing that, “Have you attended a novena recently?” It was quite simple really – Catholics couldn’t own land so it’s hard to imagine that Opera Lane would have got approval. It’s worth considering this as we examine the smelly mess our banking system has got itself into and wonder how it happened. I’m not for a minute suggesting a reinstatement of all the Penal Laws, but nobody could disagree that the country would be in much better shape now if we Catholics had been forbidden from buying property – even just for a little while.

Opera Lane is indeed impressive and its developers have claimed that it is “a different type of shopping centre”. It certainly has a different slogan to its counterparts. Other shopping centres are more conventional in their claims. Wilton is “in the heart of the community”. Mahon Point reminds us there’s “every reason to shop at Mahon Point”. Opera Lane, on the other hand, takes advertising taglines to a new level – they appear to be targeted directly at anyone studying Junior Cert algebra. According its website: “Opera Lane = Fun + People Squared.” There is a certain ambiguity here as there are no brackets in this equation so it’s not clear whether Opera Lane is Fun + People² or whether it is actually (Fun + People)² in which case, if you did the algebra this would change to: Opera Lane = Fun² + 2FunPeople + People².

This is clearly the better option as we all love FunPeople even if their relentless good humour can grate at times. I’m not sure how Riggs Faulkner would have regarded Fun + People Squared. Fun was definitely out, being the work of You Know Who. “People Squared” may have piqued his interest as a possible method of punishment for loan defaulters.

To the best of my knowledge, Opera Lane is the first retail outlet to use an equation to encapsulate the retail experience. I certainly have not seen anything similar in the Ballincollig Lidl when I was there last. Lidl = Yoghurt + Sledge Hammers + Chimney Sweeping Brushes.

Says Riggs Faulkner, “That’s more up my alley.”

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