ON a sunny, early-summer’s day, Tournafulla is quintessential Limerick; gloriously serene and lushly green with the white of the Mayflower dancing along the hedges.
Strung along the valley of the Allaghaun and surrounded by hills, it is, its residents are proud to say, the longest village in Ireland, almost a mile and a half from the bridge at one end to the school at the other.
In between, there were once ten shops, four pubs, a post office, a garda station, a creamery and a filling station.
Now, the garda station is up for sale, and just two pubs and a co-op farm shop remain. To buy a paper or a pint of milk, is a round trip of 12 miles. There is no CIE bus service, mobile phone coverage is patchy and broadband is insufficient and expensive. Without the Rural Bus service, Tournafulla’s older citizens would have no way to collect their pensions or do their messages.
Four years ago, a newspaper account told of the great clear-out of young men from the parish and the GAA club. Almost in one sweep, they lost the makings of a team.
But if, in too many ways, Tourafulla could be seen as a microcosm of rural decline suffered over many years, it is also a potent beacon of resilience.
“You have to play the hand you’re dealt,” declares Liam Lenihan stoutly. It’s not about looking back, insists the secretary of Tournafulla Developoment Association, it’s about fighting for a present - and for a future.
At the heart of this fight, are the community centre and, across the road, the GAA club. And looping it all together is music.
Halla Tadhg Gaelach officially opened in 2001, after a gargantuan effort by locals who raised £200,000 towards the cost of the building. Called after the poet Tadhg Gaelach O’Súilleabháin, who is one of the parish’s most famous figures, the campaign to build it ushered in a new wave of community activity which has continued since.
Each week, the hall hosts music classes, indoor bowls, meetings and cards while on a monthly basis, there is a ceili and the As You Like It club.
And when Tournfulla wants to celebrate, this is where they meet. Very importantly, the dances and the indoor bowls bring in people from outside.
But some local efforts, such as the Tournafulla Fleadh, which ran for 22 years, came to a natural end.
The GAA club however continues to forge ahead. Over the past 10 years, the pitch and the training ground have been transformed. And this year, the club has embarked on another big project: to build a new clubhouse with new bathrooms, changing rooms for male and female, a referee’s room and a meeting room.
Now, Helen Brouder and a group of like-minded women are spearheading another new direction: Tournafulla Sustainable Living.
The idea grew out of another initiative, the As You Like It club which began life as a way for a group of women interested in doing crafts to gather together on a regular basis.
“We got the As You Like It up and going and we then decided to try and look at sustainable living within our own community. It was a case of let’s see who can do what,” explains Helen.
The wealth of possibilities they uncovered both delighted and surprised them. “There is a massive amount of talent in the Mullaghareirks,” Anne-Marie McCartan, a keen supporter of the initiative points out.
That talent ranges from bread makers and basket-makers to spinners and quilters and includes knitters, wood-turners and jewellery makers.
Some of that work and creativity was brought together at the Tournafulla Christmas Market, initially established by the West Limerick Indoor Bowls Club and now continued by Sustainable Living. “
Over 800 came through the door, “Helen Brouder explains. “There is a Dickensian theme, we all dress up and last year we had over 30 stalls.”
In 2012, Sustainable Living became even more ambitious and ran its first summer Food and Craft Fair. It was intended to showcase the wide variety of goods available in the locality but also to bring the community together for a parish day with sports and entertainment.
“We want people to be able to work within their own community, to be able to make a living making their breads or chutneys, or weaving or whatever,”says Helen.
Crucially, the fair is a “route to market. If we can include all that into some kind of coherent structure, we would be pretty much sustainable here,” adds Helen.
Another feature has been the “declutter sales” they have organised, where people brought goods to sell and some items were auctioned. “People got value and people who sold got money.” says Helen.
Now, Helen and others are convinced there is an opening for a co-op shop in the village. They have investigated how it works in another small village in Co Tipperary.
“The energy is there,” Helen Brouder says,
Concern about, and a determination to wrest a future for their community is at the heart of all their undertakings.
“I do think about the future for my children, and what we can develop for them,” Anne-Marie McCartan puts it simply.
But declares Helen Brouder: “We are ignored.” And she is frustrated by the red tape and cost involved in even the simplest of activities. “We can’t even afford to run a St Patrick’s Day parade because we can’t afford insurance,” she says.
It is a point echoed by Liam Lenihan who cites the fact it can cost up to €2000 and a lot of paperwork to transfer a licence to the community centre for the annual parish social can cost up to €2000.
These kind of obstacles cost time and effort also - and can sap energy and the will to do.
But, stresses Anne-Marie McCartan: “We take the co-operative approach.”
People, and organisations, help one another out. They have to. But even more so, they want to. The future can only work if everyone plays their part. And a determination to maintain community life in Tournafulla runs in their blood.