Pride of Place judges Tom and Alison Dowling, seated at table, with locals in Kilmeedy during Monday’s judging Picture: Keith Wiseman
THE tiny rural community of Kilmeedy scored a national first when they held the first, open-air presentation ever made to judges in the Pride of Place competition.
The judges, Tom and Alison Dowling, were delighted with the decision, even though it made it more difficult for them to see the many slides and videos illustrating the community’s achievements.
And by opening with a poem from local poet Joe Healy, Kilmeedy marked itself out as a community with a difference.
“There is something uniquely special about this place,” Tom Dowling beamed, to the great delight of the scores of people who had gathered for the presentation and to demonstrate their support for and sense of pride in their community.
“You can feel it, see it, hear it in the passion of your presentation.”
Earlier, that passion rang through the contributions made by different members of Kilmeedy Development Association as they spoke with pride and feeling about Kilmeedy’s history, its farming culture and businesses, its sporting success and dancing nights in the Glenside Ballroom and especially, the measures that had been taken to halt decline in and revitalise this small, rural community in the heart of West Limerick.
It was, by any measure, a story of turning adversity into opportunity. An empty house in the village was transformed into a community centre.
The vacant Garda barracks were taken over and converted into a creche and after-school club as well as a hub for a range of community employment schemes. A long neglected garden became the opportunity for a different kind of garden, an intergenerational garden and a symbol of compassionate community.
The track leading down by the side of the school has become a Boreen Walk, complete with grass down the middle, wild flowers at each side and a delightful duck pond, with four downy ducklings at the end. There too, blacksmith Martin Myles, now in his 80s, can be found, still plying his craft.
There was pride too in the voluntary housing schemes that had been put in place to offset the drain of people out of the parish and in the Rambling House which draws people to the village every month.
And the roll-call of involvement continued through a newly formed youth club, an Active Aged club, a Heritage Group, a Walking Club, a Tidy Towns committee, an active Comhaltas branch, an All-Ireland winning Scór group and a Vintage Club,the GAA and the soccer club and Community Games, all contributing to sustaining social and community life in Kilmeedy.
“The strong heart-beat of our community belies its small size,” Siobhan Reidy said in her presentation.
But, as development association chairman, Seamus Murphy pointed out, a key factor in the renewal of Kilmeedy has been the development of Local Training Initiatives based in the village.
Both the Healthcare and Childcare course and the Horticulture Course have been bringing scores of people into Kilmeedy each day and providing them with new careers and new pathways in life.
Later this year, the judges were told, the hope is to expand the horticulture course to include food hygiene, hospitality and retail and provide a garden to fork experience.
This will also tie in neatly with the very ambitious project to develop a community shop and cafe in what was the former post office, Siobhan Reidy explained.
This building has now been leased and work on transforming it is underway. It will provide an outlet for food producers in the area, provide a shop in a village which has seen all its shops close as well as a social hub across all generations.
The commercial kitchen will also be available to local food producers, Ms Reidy added.
“There are a few challenges ahead,” she continued. “But I believe the future for Kilmeedy is exceptionally bright.”
Kilmeedy is the helping hand always held out, she added, the people who stop to water the flowers on their way home from work, the coaches who give of their time, the people who turn up to make the tea and coffee at funerals.
“It is the sum of all these groups and individuals that weave the rich tapestry that is Kilmeedy. It is an unique and wonderful place.”
Mr Murphy, summing it up, said: “We have achieved more that we should if you look at the size of the parish.”
Kilmeedy is entered in the population category of of 1-300 people in this year’s Pride of Place competition which is run by Co-Operation Ireland and the local authorities.
Other entries from Limerick are the Children’s Grief Centre in the Communities Reaching Out section and Limerick Civic Trust in the Creative Place category.
The winners will be announced in November.