At 1:45 in the afternoon of 8th August 2012 the door gently closed and the vintage car containing the two judges pulled out down Castle Street, turned left on to the back road and away from the village.
The TG4 van was loaded up, the local garda giving a wave as they passed by, the community hall emptying of people and equipment, shopkeepers taking posters down, volunteers sweeping the detritus away. The village was strangely quiet following its earlier bustle and intensity.
The judges had just carried away a jumble of memories and events that had occurred here that would no doubt be discussed and collated, and form the basis of their report. What they left behind in Castleconnell however was a myriad of emotions, relief, satisfaction and sense of achievement not only how we stood together and displayed the best of what we were about, but in more important and long-lasting terms, the renewal and re-energising of our community bond and spirit.
The competition, Pride of Place (PoP), started in 2004, a 32 county initiative run by Co-operation Ireland in conjunction with local authorities, was designed to recognise and celebrate the vital contributions that community groups make to foster and improve their communities in sports, cultural activities, civic pride, caring groups, future planning, heritage and environmental awareness. It all seemed to fit.
Our preparations had started on May 23rd 2012 when representatives of community groups and individuals responded to an invitation to a public meeting held in the local Harp Centre and heard that Limerick County Council has asked Castleconnell to consider being the county nomination in the over 1,500 population category of the PoP competition.
The strong consensus was that we were happy to be nominated, thought it would be a good event for the village, as well as strongly believing we had a good shot at doing well. After all it wasn’t every day that one was asked to become a member of a PoP group!
A committee of 14 was quickly formed, made up of representatives of committee groups and other activists in order to organise ourselves for the day. Little did we know …
A survey of the active community groups (58) showed the depth of volunteerism and activity present in the village and hinterland as well as a sense of the work we had in front of us. The committee formally met weekly at the start and more intensely as judging date loomed, handling the various issues that needed to be addressed, harnessing the community groups and their members to assist in the task.
We planned a program for the day, developed a series of presentations, prepared to show photos and clips and provide a tour of the village and also a forum to give the judges the opportunity to meet and put questions to the community. Decisions to be made abounded, what venues to use, what sights to include, how we should make our pitch, who to make it and how to fund it, but how to involve everyone was critical. Mail drops to every house in the area, communications via the community groups, notes into the local newspapers and pamphlets, holding a competition in the national school and elsewhere as to why they like living in Castleconnell and countdown posters XXDays to Go! were some of the activities undertaken to engage local interest.
One by one tasks were assigned and issues raised and addressed. Meetings were always lengthy and intense and not without heat along the way. But all of these sprung from passion and drive with the best interest of the village in our hearts and together we forged our agenda.
That morning at precisely 10am, the judges arrived at the ACM and were warmly welcomed by a packed room of locals, many of whom had taken the day off just to be here.
The judges listened to local presentations of the history, present day and future plans, and watched a DVD of the sights and sounds of Castleconnell at work and play. They asked searching, provocative and challenging questions about funding, planning, supports and linkages to other areas and agencies. The contribution from local voices in the audience cannot but have impressed them. This engagement with the community with so many questions and our responses, threw our timetable completely out!
A tour of the ACM, World’s End, Scanlan Park, Playground and Ferry area. Harp Centre, Hotel and Churches followed, including musical interludes and planned activities. The day was kind to us, overcast but warm and dry. At each point, the judges were informed of the history and present day activities and plans that took place there. We had fishermen and rowers, gardeners and footballers, singers and comógie players, beekeepers and toddlers, storytellers and musicians, parsons and priests all dropping by. However our train driver who held up the judge’s car for 10 minutes at the level crossing was not at this time, considered in the same high regard!
The day cumulated in a visit to our aptly named community hall where our community groups had set up stalls advertising their activities. The presence of a Castleconnell Pride of Place banner that ran the length of the hall, with each letter individually handcrafted by locals framed the presence of the whole community who attended in such numbers. The judges toured the hall with some difficulty given the crowds and spoke to each of the groups manning stands all of which just radiated enthusiasm and passion for what they represented. The artefacts on display, the vibrancy and colour, the presence of young and old, the representation of local sports, heritage, environment, arts and music, leisure and community support groups, each of whom proudly displayed their endeavours with pamphlets, videos, trophies, books, clothing and pictures. The excitement and buzz in the hall was palpable.
It was great that we took a moment to show enormous pride in ourselves, and to witness how our community bound tight together on this special day. Our special place — Castleconnell — Our Village by the Shannon.
Castleconnell Pride of Place Committee; Irene Cullen (Treas) Janet Harbison, John Hardiman, Barbara Hartigan, Turlough Herbert, Majella Hynan, Colm Martin (Chair), Brendan Murphy, John Mc Namara, Nicky McNamara, Gobnait O’Connell, Catherine O’Doherty, Judy O’Hare (Sec).
Postscript: On Saturday, November 3rd at the Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony held in Thomond Park, Castleconnell Village was awarded Runner-up in the 2012 All-Ireland Pride of Place Competition.
Congratulations from An Caisleán and the whole parish.