Laois showcased its community champions superbly on Friday September 16, when Ballinakill greeted the judges in the IPB All Island Pride of Place Competition 2022.
Pride of Place, now in its 17th year, is sponsored by Irish Public Bodies Insurances Ltd and hosted by Co-operation Ireland under its Local Authority Programme, comprising officials from authorities in both parts of Ireland.
The aim of the competition is to recognise initiatives taken by local communities to create pride in their area and to celebrate the vital contribution that community groups make to society.
The competition focuses on people coming together to shape, enhance and enjoy all that is good about their area.
There was no mistaking the pride of local people when they displayed for the judges, all that they have and continue to do, to make their local community, a better place to live, work and visit.
The day started with Adam Kelly, a student from Ballinakill National School welcoming the Judges at the “Twin Trees”, which was formerly the site of toll gates for the village. Adam collected a “gold coin”, as toll from the judges to enter the village.
Liz Kennedy, Chairperson BCDA and Pride of Place Committee member in her introduction said: “We are really proud to have been chosen as Laois County Council’s entry in this years IPB All Island Pride of Place Competition – entering the category for a Population 300 to 1000 citizens and proud to realise that a Laois man, Tom Dowling, is founder of the competition.”
Local historian Ger Dunphy gave an informed and at times witty account of the key aspects of the history of Ballinakill.
The history of the toll gates and the main buildings and people of the streets of Ballinakill were described in detail. The talk was interspersed with stories on the deportation of RIC policemen and the visit of an Australian Ambassador in 2003, the background to the Stanhope influence and the link between the local Mansfield family and J.F. Kennedy.
Mentioned also was the fact that Seamus Heaney had fished in the Masslough and had written a poem on the tench caught there.
The 1901 census was used to describe the range of craftsmen and merchants in this busy charter town. Given the enthusiastic feedback a series of talks on the history of Ballinakill is planned for early November.
Liz Kennedy went on to say: “We have always been proud of Ballinakill – its natural beauty, its history and heritage, the many clubs, groups & businesses who contribute to the fabric of our community and, most importantly, the daily lives of the people of Ballinakill.
“If there was any doubt about the value that we place on Ballinakill, we ask our visitors to look no further than the toll they had to pay to gain entry.
“Today is about showing why we are proud to live in Ballinakill, why we are proud of everything we have, and everything we have achieved- as a community and for our community.
“Ballinakill has developed as a community since the formation of its first Parish Development Committee in 1969, a time when volunteers worked tirelessly when there was little government funding available to the current day, when most voluntary groups receive public funding, to provide community facilities and services.
“Time does not allow for me to read a 1997 submission by Fr. Conlon to the community in which he outlined ‘A DREAM FOR BALLINAKILL’” but she welcomed all to read it from the booklet that was prepared for the event.
“The committee sent their best wishes to Fr. Conlon who was unable to attend on the day.
“His commitment to and support for all organisations and people of the community is outstanding and we know he would love to have been part of what was a wonderful day for Ballinakill.”
It was with this mindset she said, that the Parish Council initiated the formation of Ballinakill Community Development Association clg formally, Ballinakill Community Development Committee.
Since forming in 2018 the Association has received tremendous support and funding from stakeholders.
This substantial funding has facilitated the completion of two major projects – renovating the outdoor swimming pool and developing the playground in the new Amenity Park.
This site was donated to the parish by the Salesian Fathers of Heywood and is now leased to the Development Association by the diocese of Kildare & Leighlin.
Liz said: “It is, however, important to note that this development could not have taken place without the co-operation of all of the community- the support from local businesses and local fundraisers has been phenomenal.
“Ballinakill has also shown itself to be a community which adapts to the needs of an ever-changing society.
“This is evident in the demise of some groups and clubs and the formation of others, as society became more mindful of the importance of diversity in responding to the needs of people to enhance the community.
“While much of what I have referenced previously relates to new initiatives, it is also important to acknowledge the groups which have ‘stood the test of time’ such as the Parish Council, the GAA and Tidy Towns.
“Community participation and innovation is at the forefront of everything we do in Ballinakill and it is these qualities, which will ensure that the needs of the community will be met in the years ahead.
“We will have challenges but perhaps none will be as great as the challenges we faced during Covid. Our community came to a standstill, our schooling and religious services moved online and we were denied our traditions of grieving and celebrating together.
“We showed our resilience in the face of that adversity by establishing a Covid community response group with the Development Association, the GAA and Laois Volunteer Centre working together. We are so proud that Heywood Gardens and our woodland walks provided a safe space for many, far beyond Ballinakill, to exercise and socialise in a safe, serene environment.
“We recognise that we have ‘a lot done, more still to do’; there is vacancy and dereliction in the town, and we recognise this as a problem.
“The government’s ‘Town Centres First’ and ‘Croí Conaithe’ policies will be very beneficial to Ballinakill and we are committed to working with the Local Authority to ensure they are implemented here.
“As a community, Ballinakill is acutely aware of the need to be proactive in relation to climate action.
“Our children learn about its importance in all our schools through initiatives, such as the pollinator patch and water harvesting in our playschool, the highly successful Green Schools Programme at primary level and Heywood school’s community allotment.
“The air-to-water system heating the pool, solar panels heating the water for the showers and the proposed plans at the Amenity Park show our awareness of environmental issues and our desire to achieve sustainability.
“The Development Association has secured funding through the ORIS grant and Eirgrid Community Fund. This funding will be used to create a biodiversity area at the amphitheatre and install PV panels to generate the energy required to heat the pool.
“Our Tidy Towns Committee, winners of two Endeavour Awards, commissioned a local craftsman to reconstruct flower beds using the existing stone and replanted them with the original plants and pollinator friendly plants. It also engaged ecologist Dr. Fiona McGowan and Green Pine consultants to incorporate sustainable development goals into their 5 year plan.”
Cathaoirleach of Laois County Council, Cllr Thomasina Connell said: “The Town of Ballinakill has gone from strength to strength over the last number of years.
“On each and every opportunity when the community of Ballinakill had to come together for local projects, they did so with such commitment and unity and have continued to set themselves apart in how they deliver for their local area.
“I am always impressed with the energy they exhibit in bringing about positive change in Ballinakill.
“What they have achieved to date is enormous and they should be very proud of their success. I wish them every success in the Pride of Place awards and am proud to support them as Co. Laois’s nominated town for 2022.”
Mr. John Mulholland, Chief Executive of Laois County Council praised Ballinakill for their excellent work and pride that they have taken in their local areas, particularly the participation of young people.
He acknowledged the assistance of all the local and national agencies in the process of the social, cultural and economic development of our county.
He particularly referred to the strides that have been made by these entrants in the past number of years, to successfully make improvements and develop their own communities.
On the bus tour Bernie Dunphy, Tidy Towns, BCDA and Pride of Place Committee member outlined their projects.
Bernie said: “On the Ballyragget Road, 2 flower beds were rebuilt with existing stone and used a nature based landscape architect plans to plant it. Nearby a biodiversity area was pointed out.
In Chapel Street a site at Baunmore was shown which has potential for fresh landscaping.
“At Ballinakill Amenity Area co-operation with BCDAclg was outlined.
“This includes a covered amenity area which would have seating made from local wood and will provide an outdoor space for cultural activities during the summer months.
“The area will also have an outdoor library box, bike rack and disability and family friendly parking. On the Abbeyleix road a 300 metre beech hedge was planted during Covid.
“Family units took sets of plants and sowed them in keeping with Covid guidelines. An awareness of the need to harvest water was highlighted since nearly 300 litres of water was used in 2 days to water flower beds there.
“Tidy Towns worked with the playschool to provide a pollinator friendly planter and provided a water butt to harvest water for it and the town planters.
“There was also an exhibition of our work in the hall. Ballinakill Tidy Towns greatly appreciates the support of everybody involved in preparing for Pride of Place competition.
“Amenity Park that Robert Miller of Altamont Gardens and Buds and Blossoms festival sponsored the planting of the roundabout for us.”
Fifteen First Year students from Heywood Community School embraced a mid morning swim in the local outdoor swimming pool.
Ballinakill Students Riona Kennedy, Molly McGrath, Grainne Dowling, Emily Dunphy, Ellen O’ Mahoney, Alivia Walsh, Hannah Byrne, Sean Og Cummins, Matthew Delaney, Sean Carroll, Jamie Fitzpatrick, Brody McCabe, Harry Doyle, Tristan O’Shaughnessey and Eva Furlong impressed the judges with their skills under the direction of Ms. Valerie Case Laois Water safety and Ms Alice Walsh who worked as a swimming instructor in the pool during the summer months.
Meanwhile Heywood Community School TY Art class collaborated with Ballinakill N.S students to complete their beautiful and bright geometric mural at the amenity park wall in front of the pool.
Judges stopped to admire their work and complimented them on their creative design.
School prefects Jade Orr, Eabha Condren Bill McGrath and Luke O’ Reilley escorted the judges to the beautiful surroundings of Heywood Gardens.
Heywood Music Students Lucy Cahill, Molly O’ Rourke and Erin Lawlor greeted the judges with some gentle music to create a tranquil atmosphere, On their arrival the students impressed them with their local knowledge of the Lutyen’s garden and their pride of its beauty at their doorstep.
Jade Orr explained how lucky that Laois is the only county outside Dublin to have such a beautiful visitors attraction.
Students felt that the months of lockdown over the past two years allowed local Ballinakill residents to appreciate the natural beauty around the village. OPW gardener Eoin gave the judges a great insight into the history and maintenance of the grounds.
On the return walk to Heywood Community School, Luke and Eabha informed the judges of the history of the school, the origins of the Salesian College and its amalgamation with the Brigidine Sisters, Presentation Convent and Laois LOETB in 1990.
Jade Orr referenced local historian and former Geography teacher of the School Mr. Ger Dunphy and his book when completing her recent CBA history assessment on the history of the school.
Judges were introduced to Principal Mr. Philip Bowe, and Deputy Principals Mr. Peter Malone and Ms. Mary Harrington. Mr. Philip Bowe was former student and boarder of the college briefly explained the school ethos and development of the school over the years.
Judges were escorted to the back of the school to view the All -weather pitch and multipurpose gym which is such a valuable asset to the school as well as the local and wider community. Mr. Bowe also directed the judges to the newly built ASD centre ‘The Ryan Centre’ which meets the community’s special educational needs since 2021. The centre opened its second special class in August.
TY students under the direction of Home Economics teacher Mr. Denis Carrigan welcomed the judges back to the community hall with their culinary treats created in their Home Economics class that morning.
Judges spoke to local students Caitlyn Moore, Ivan Dunne, Luke Lannigan, Kelly Ann Drury Chloe Moore and Aoibhinn McKinnie about the TY programme in the school and their life as young teenagers living in Ballinakill and the facilities available for the youth in their community.
The Community finally wowed the judges with wonderful refreshments in the chapel.
The judges were accompanied during the day by Cathaoirleach, and local elected members and public representatives, all of whom spoke of the enormous benefits to the county of the work and co-operation that Pride of Place brings.
Pride of Place judges Edward Sheehy and Maurice Inglis congratulated the entry representing Laois in this year’s competition, stating how heartening it is to see local communities making such efforts to sustain themselves and look after each other.
They stated that to be chosen by the local authority to represent Laois on the national stage, meant they are winners in their own right.
The Judges retired for lunch to the comfortable surroundings of the local establishment, that is O’Shaughnessy’s Bar in the village.
The results of this All-Island competition, which attracts entries from north and south of the border, will be announced by Co-operation Ireland at a special gala event in Dublin in January, 2023.