Home News Community Abbeyleix builds on 64 years of Tidy Towns’ effort for big win

Abbeyleix builds on 64 years of Tidy Towns’ effort for big win

Abbeyleix Tidy Towns

“The win is a nice endorsement of good work delivered but the real motivation is to make things better for our community and create a better place to live and work.”

That’s the perspective of Robbie Quinn who chairs Abbeyleix Tidy Towns Committee which was announced as Ireland’s Tidiest Town in this year’s national Tidy Towns competition.

Abbeyleix swept the boards, taking four other awards: county winner, best small town as well as regional winner and receiving a gold medal. Its All-Ireland pollinator plan was also highly commended.

While it wasn’t a case of setting out to specifically take the top award, the big win was always at the back of their minds as they climbed the ladder in recent years, and they used it as a means to an end, according to Robbie. “We try not to get too hung up on point scoring but it’s a good benchmark of where you can improve.”

The Tidy Towns’ effort  goes back to 1959. “In the early years of the competition, from 1959 onwards the Abbeyleix entry was sponsored by the local ICA guild and while it was given exceptionally good marks, it received no prize,” Robbie recalled.

“The president of the ICA at this time was Kay McCoy who along with Millie Lalor Fitzpatrick, Gertie and Rita Mc Donnell, Rosetta Neville, Lady Susan de Vesci, Bride Reilly, Liz Harding, Kathleen Cass, Dan Murphy, Paddy Lalor, Mai Kiernan and many more flew the flag for Abbeyleix Tidy Towns.

On the 2023 executive are: chairperson:  Robbie Quinn; secretary: Mary White; vice-chairperson: John Joe Fennelly; and treasurer: Jackie Walsh.

The committee comprises: Anita Bonham, Irene Bonham, Mary Fennelly, John McDonald, Mary McDonald, Agnes Fennelly, Bernie Loughman, Betty Whelan. Olive Kavanagh, Blathnaid Bergin, Brian Maher, Fiona MacGowan, Karen Hyland, Liam Hyland, Mairead Rafter, Michael Rafter, Mark Clancy, Martina Peacock, Maura Whelan, Sylvia Donovan, Derek McGarry, Qinie and Gerry O’Hara.

“Community involvement, engagement and cooperation and having a strategic and systematic approach to activities are key to doing well in the Tidy Towns competition,” Robbie said.

“At its core however, Tidy Towns is about doing things properly. This means well planned out projects, proper maintenance of buildings and amenities spaces, natural and man-made. A respect for natural space and biodiversity is foremost to this.”

The focus has changed so much since 1959 in that Abbeyleix and many other Tidy Towns groups all over the country would love to have the competition name changed, according to Robbie.

“While the competition still holds the same ethos since 1959 of increasing quality of life for all in our locality,  it is now delivered not only through litter picking and cleaning but through climate action plans, sustainable goals and lots of biodiversity action.

“The challenges this has brought are often to do with creating awareness among the general public.

“For example, people complain about ‘untidy’ grass verges so we in Tidy Towns are spreading awareness about the importance of ‘Don’t mow, let it grow’ to protect and conserve our local wildflowers and pollinator species, as well as enjoying the beauty of our native grassland wildflowers,” Robbie said.

“While the competition has moved with the times, it still retains the same core principle of its founders: ‘Make your place a better place.’ What makes SuperValu Tidy Towns special is that it truly shows the power of community and how collective small actions can make a big difference toward ensuring our communities are more sustainable places to live, work and play for generations to come,” the chairman said.

“The award is a welcome recognition of all the good stuff happening in the various groups in Abbeyleix including Tidy Towns; Fr Breen Park Development; the community garden and pizza oven; Abbeyleix Women’s Development; sports clubs; schools and of course the Abbeyleix Bog Project which is of national and international importance.

“All in all, it represents a great joint effort. The win should help us all to push on with more good innovative and exciting projects in a collaborative spirit,” said Robbie.

“In addition to our committee members who come out numerous times during the week, we have a small core band of volunteers, who never fail to impress, numbering about 25.

“Thanks to their efforts we have brought the town to a new high. But we could not do it with these alone and we have great support from a few external sources,” Robbie said.

“Grainne Fennelly and the Community Employment crew year-on-year do a significant amount of work in keeping the town clean and green. Our lone rangers, Jonathon Carthy and  Anthony McHugh, keep our town clean seven days a week from 5am – 7am; others take on various admin and other small projects such as sign cleaning. We also have our invisible hour where people who are time pressed can do their bit at a time that suits them.

“The teachers, staff, and children of the two national schools and Heywood Community School have rowed in, supporting climate action initiatives  through their Transition Year programme, Green Schools, and Junior Tidy Towns, and others regularly help showcase the town,” he added.

“We have amazing support from Wes Wilkinson and the outdoor staff of Laois County Council. Suzanne Dempsey and Tricia O’Rourke provide year-round support and  coordinate the Laois Federation of Tidy Towns.

“Siobhan Duff and everyone in the environment section, and the management and staff of Laois County Council offer unrelenting  support.

“We cherish the wonderful working relationship we have with all the statutory bodies and external agencies that we come in contact with and who help to make our job that bit easier,” the chairman said.

“We are also very fortunate to have our very own vexillographer Cormac Bowell who manages to give a real lift to spirits with his flags and bunting,” he said.

“Keeping the town tidy is a foundation stone but on top of this, we delivered a very rounded programme of activities based on the ongoing Implementation of our climate action plan, biodiversity action plan and Tidy Towns five-year plan,” the chairman said.

There was continual development of Balladine Neighbourwood, a 2.5 acre site planted with over 3.500 native trees in the town centre. Promotion of the community notice boards and branded sustainable development goals’  signs allowed other groups and organisations advertise their events and underpin the  poster-free status.

A second cross community clean-up with Abbeyleix Tidy Towns/Durrow Tidy Towns and local GAA clubs took place in March,  the brainchild of Durrow Tidy Towns. A second annual plant swap was held, a  county first.

The fountain conservation report in partnership with Abbeyleix Heritage Company was published after receiving Heritage Council funding.

Based on these recommendations, this will now help guide future repairs based on best conservation practices to plan restoration and preservation works to conserve the fountains for the next generations, Robbie said.

The street enhancement scheme was supported where over €160,000 was invested in the town with the support of DRCD and Laois County Council.  The  garden of reflection and remembrance on the Ballinakill road to acknowledge all those lost in recent years and as a thanks to  frontline workers, was completed and launched.

Solar compacting bins were installed in Market Square and the playground. The Ukrainian Walk was supported with Abbeyleix Bog Project and park development committees. The shopfront design guidelines were published to bring awareness to built heritage and the supports that are available for businesses around the town centre, in July.

One of the big one initiatives over the last few years has been tree planting. “Abbeyleix among other titles has always been considered a woodland town.

“Our tree programme got going during Covid as part of the climate action project and has kept up a head of steam since. We have now planted 14,650 over the past three years. The majority of these were native tree and hedge plants  delivered in conjunction with ‘Trees on the Land.’ All this planting, which took place in the town and surrounding areas, was catalogued, and verified in line with the terms of the ‘Trees on the Land’ programme.

“We are also rolling out an edible landscapes programme and have been busy planting fruit trees over the past two winters,” Robbie said.

“Over the last year we worked on a wonderful project of huge heritage value with our neighbours in Abbeyleix House and Farm.

“The largest area of ancient lowland oak woodland left in Ireland occurs along the river Nore in the Abbeyleix Estate and in recent decades the estate has been sowing acorns from these majestic ancient trees. They gifted us 13 of these saplings this year to help us create a very appropriate treeline of Abbeyleix oaks to frame the southern entrance to the town,” the chairman said.

“This was a great collaborative project for Abbeyleix as Laois County Council also got involved with the clearance and planting last spring. Then with very bad timing, the drought of May arrived, said Robbie.

“However, the Abbeyleix volunteers stepped up and every tree got two buckets of water every second day with barrels filled by the neighbouring house, a wonderful example of community-wide collaboration which is exactly what Tidy Towns is all about.”

SEE ALSO – Work never stops as Abbeyleix continue to make strides as a sustainable town