THERE is more than a touch of magic to what has been achieved by the Athea Tidy Towns Committee in a very short time span.
They have transformed derelict buildings, planted up empty spaces, created wall art of stupendous quality, put flowers a-blooming the length of the village, encouraged wildflower gardens to thrive and invested thousands of euro in street furniture and improvements. And now, they have “magic-ed” into being a Fairy Mountain.
Even more impressively, all this has been done in just a little over two years.
“They have transformed the village,” publican and shop-keeper Mary Collins says in admiration.
Last year, their hard work paid off handsomely when they took top place in the Limerick in Bloom competition and won the Endeavour Award in the Supervalu Tidy Towns competition. “We had the second biggest increase in marks in the country,” explains Damien Ahern, the Athea Tidy Towns secretary.
But this great outpouring of zeal and energy began simply with an observation in the local notes regretting the fact that the Tidy Towns committee in the village had lapsed. As a result, a meeting was called on May 8, 2012 and, as Damien says with a laugh, surrounded by his fellow committee members: “This gang turned up.”
“This gang” included a whole bunch of new faces and, Damien adds: “It has been hell for leather since.”
A big bonus, long-time community activist Thady Hunt chimes in, is that the committee members are a really talented group, with lots of skills to contribute. And this has paid off big-time.
But a lot of good, sound groundwork was already in place when the committee got down to work, they are all quick to point, thanks to work undertaken by the Athea Community Council.
But the new committee took a good, long look at the place, made their lists, drew up their five year plan and got on with the job.
“That is the good thing,” says treasurer Henry Moran. “We just do it. And people are committed.”
That tried and tested commitment stretches through the winter when they meet once or twice a month to plan out their work and, crucially, to organise their fund-raising but it rises to almost daily involvement in the early summer and particularly in the run-up to judging.
And it has created a great camaderie among the committee members.
For Jim Dunn, an artist who retired to Athea from teaching in Cheltenham five years ago, joining the committee has opened another door into the community. He and his wife Liz fell in love with Athea some 16 years ago and have now made it their full-time home. They attended the first meeting and have been active members since. Right through last summer, Jim could be seen creating his colourful mural at the south end of the main street, helped by Liz and any interested or passing person. “It started with a portrait of one of my neighbours, who is a champion flute player,” Jim explains. Then were added in characters from Athea’s past and present including musician Donal de Barra, the famous Aherne brothers of Olympic and World Championship prowess, the footballer Clare Carmody, the late local councillor Mrs Wrenn, and the late Con Colbert who took part in the 1916 Rising. At the centre is the Giant of local folklore, who was carrying his dead mother across Athea, but kept dropping bits of her, thus giving the names to many of the local townlands. Thus you have Coole East and Coole West from cúl or pole of the head, and Dromfhada from long back.
Currently, Jim is working on a second mural, this time in sepia colours, which gives the nod to old Athea and its traditional farming ways.
Elsewhere, an old shop and filling station which had begun to fall into disrepair has been given a make-over and a number of other, empty houses have also been given a paint-job and some flower boxes.
“We tackled four or five of them last year,” Henry Moran explains. And at each of the entry points to the village, special features have been put in place, including a wildflower meadow on the Glin road.
But it is the Fairy Mountain that will surely win them a place in the hearts of children and parents from all over the parish and beyond.
Conjured out of a patch of woodland to the side of the community centre, a trip to the Fairy Mountain is a delight and will tickle the imagination of any child.
The idea was inspired by a visit to the Fairy Garden in Parknasnilla, Henry Moran explains and then, Damien Ahern’s research turned up the Irish Fairy Door Company, who had created two Fairy Gardens in Dublin. They came to Athea and cleverly created a storyline which grafted the folklore tale of the Giant of Athea with a new story, that of the fairy Lú and her nine friends, all of whom have now taken up residence on Fairy Mountain where they have their own tree, their own role and their own front door.
The mountain also includes a special tree called Cróga, which is a worry tree, where children can place their hands on the tree, think of their worries and Cróga will magic them away. There is also a special post box at the end of the trail where children can leave notes for the fairies and it flows naturally into the Giant’s Garden, created almost 20 years ago where the journey of the Giant is depicted. In addition, it includes nature and wildlife features such as a bug-hotel, a crow’s next and wild undergrowth, in a near-perfect blend of fun, amenity and sustainability.
Hopefully, the Tidy Towns judges will be as impressed with the Fairy Mountain as the hundreds of children who attended the launch earlier this month or have visited since. Already, notes Henry Moran, the path is well-trodden.
For the Tidy Towns committee, however, the path ahead still has its challenges. There are jobs still to be done: sweeping and power-washing are top of the list this week and next. Then there is the Gould monument to rehabilitate. And then there is the ongoing maintenance, and keeping everything up to standard.
Last year’s successes did, however provide a big boost, Liz Dunn acknowledges. It gave them recognition and an incentive to keep going. “We were mad to go,” Henry Moran adds. “We’re like a football team in the fourth division and we came up a bit. We are not going to give up now and want to make it to the first division.”
Go and visit them yourself. Better again, sign up for their inaugural 5km and 10km walk and run on July 6 at 3pm, which is a fund-raiser and a surefire way to see the loveliness that is Athea.