Emma Connolly finds that the secret of
the success of this picture postcard
village is simple – the hard work done
over many years by the local community
RATHBARRY is the perfect example of what can be achieved through community spirit and hard work – precisely 36 years of it.
The village, between Clonakilty and Rosscarbery – comprising 41 residents and 27 houses – was in the national spotlight this year after being declared the country’s Best Kept Town for 2017.
And they make no secret that their path to success has only come about through strong community focus, a ‘can do’ attitude and determination.
To say thanks to everyone involved (past and present) in making the community the vibrant spot it is today, a day of celebration was recently held with a picnic, village walk and other entertainment.
Their story starts way back in 1981 when the late Mary Hayes founded Rathbarry Tidy Towns – by initially sending her own family members out to cut grass, weed etc – and there’s been no looking back since.
Original officers elected were Tom Galvin, Seamus Hodnett and Jim Maguire (all now deceased) with a small committee made up of Matt Galvin and the late Gary Rasmussen, Dan Driscoll and Mary herself.
The interest grew annually and, by the time of Mary’s death in 1983, the Tidy Towns culture was very much alive and well. In the mid-90s, new members joined the committee, including Eugene Scally, John O’Regan, Donal Hayes, Breda Hodnett, Esther O’Regan, Martin Barry, Con Scully, Timothy Coughlan, Brian Whelton, James O’Hea and Joseph Hodnett, to
mention a few.
As well as keeping the village pristine, they also embarked on ambitious projects such as developing a Cottage Museum along with the much-visited Sprigging School. It was initially opened on the Castlefreke Estate by Lady Carbery in 1825 as a worldwide revival of the art of lace making was under way with the name coming from the particular lace design associated with the area, which is shaped like a spray or a sprig.
Assistant secretary Deirdre Hodnett explains the collaborative nature of their work: ‘When projects were being carried out, materials were sponsored and machinery was given free of charge by the local people where possible. Co-operation from the local school and businesses and public bodies such as Cork County Council, FÀS, Duchás, Coillte, Clonakilty Community Employment scheme, etc also helped to put Rathbarry on the map.’
And, by 1999, Rathbarry started to see the results of their labour when it was crowned Ireland’s Tidiest Village in the National Tidy Towns Competition. Interestingly, near neighbours, Clonakilty was Ireland’s Tidiest Small Town in that year and with just one mark ahead of Rathbarry, Clonakilty was declared the overall winner of the Tidy Towns Competition.
Rathbarry has been in the top tier of the competition every year since and, although it hasn’t won Ireland’s Tidiest Village since then, it was won several other awards of which it is very proud (see panel).
Rathbarry is picture postcard pretty and, for its size, punches above its weight in terms of amenities boasting the already-mentioned Cottage Museum and Sprigging School. However, the Tidy Towns team also developed a river-lake walk and picnic and recreation spots with the help of Coillte and, more recently, produced a brochure and map with walks, trails and places of interest of interest to locals and tourists.
Deirdre is keen to focus on the village’s community spirit which came to the fore on June 28th, 2012 when the shop, post office and houses in the village were severelydamaged by flooding.
‘Postmistress and secretary of Rathbarry Tidy Towns Committee, Breda Hodnett, was stranded on a downstairs’ window sill until neighbour Gerald Butler came to her rescue, using a ladder to enter the house from an upstairs window. The morning after the whole community arrived on Breda’s doorstep, helping to get her house and business back on track.’
It was Breda herself who got the letter in January last informing her ‘that arising from Rathbarry’s excellent performance in last year’s National Tidy Towns Competition, the town has qualified to participate in Ireland’s Best Kept Towns Competition for 2017 for the village award.’
Nobody dared to believe that Rathbarry would go on and win the overall title, beating off competition from other category winners such as Kenmare, in the Small Town Category; Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Large Town Category, and Antrim, Co Antrim, Large Urban Area Category.
The current Tidy Towns committee comprises Breda Hodnett, Martin Barry, John O’Regan, Frank Hart, Sean McCarthy, Fr Pat Mc Carthy, David Bateman, Margaret Taylor, Deirdre Hodnett, John Hurley, Jonathan Deane and James O’Regan.
And, even though Deirdre says their win has given them a great boost, they are still keen to move forward with their three-year plan to 2019. Some of their objectives include creating a Rathbarry Tidy Towns website and introducing a wheelchair-friendly walk in the village.
Looking forward to 2018 and 2019, ambitions are to introduce a car pool for workers to both Clonakilty and Cork.
Deirdre feels people are definitely becoming more conscious of litter and they work closely with schoolchildren to help encourage good habits.
‘The Cork Co Council Anti-Litter Challenge is one initiative that helps in this area. In total, 26 villages in West Cork entered this year and it really sets the goal to have zero litter. Rathbarry came third in West Cork with 298.6 marks out of a possible 300 (reports showed one small piece of litter and four cigarette butts accounted for the 1.4 marks we lost).’
However things like cigarette butts (despite proprietors’ best efforts) and dog fouling on walks continue to be a concern with plans to run the ‘Scoop the Poop’ campaign with Cork County Council.
Deirdre adds: ‘The village is what it is today because of 36 years’ work, not just the last year and there is plenty to be done to keep Rathbarry in the top tier of the National Tidy Towns competition.’