On Wednesday, August 8th last, Castleconnell was judged in the Co-operation Ireland 32 County Pride of Place Competition. This competition was introduced in order to appreciate and honour the efforts of the community who come together to improve their local area and its amenities. Castleconnell is in the category of population of over 1,000 people and the committee is made up of representatives of the local ACM, Tidy Towns, Development Association, local Cultural and Sporting Organisations with Colm Martin as Chairperson.

The following piece by Barbara Hartigan introduced the Judges to our lovely village and its many amenities.

Good morning!

You could have travelled to Castleconnell by helicopter, by river or by rail!

But, you probably arrived by road from Daly’s Cross, past Castleconnell National School with its well-earned “Green” flags proudly fluttering, displaying its students environmental awareness.

You have passed the Award winning Station, festooned with flowers. Here we take a right turn, down Main St heading towards the romantically named World’s End.

Today, on this fantastic stretch of river, stands the Boat Club with its fine purpose built club house that introduces 100 boys and girls of all ages to the sport of rowing.

Last year, 2011, they won three National Titles, had two members selected for the Irish National Team, and one rower on the Paralympics Team in London, even as we speak.

For close on thirty years dedicated volunteers have fund raised tirelessly to ensure that the red and grey vests of Castleconnell rowers are participating in Regattas both nationally and internationally.

The construction of a slipway to facilitate disabled rowers has proved a unique, wonderful and most welcome innovation.

As we return to the village, let us take a quick detour into Scanlan Park to admire the Soccer pitch where recently, Johnny Giles encouraged 230 young, eager boys and girls to work towards fulfilling their dreams.

There too, let’s pause at the Community Allotments, an initiative with Limerick County Council and Ballyhoura to see how the future is in the capable green fingers of 22 families.

Heading back to the village, past the imposing Church with its great windows and Celtic monuments, to the Community Hall with its newly refurbished stage and sound system, where groups gather to play badminton, to dance, to direct drama, to tackle the skills of Scouting, Judo and Tai Chi. The ICA is also a strong organisation in the parish and they meet monthly to share their talents, their opinions and their friendship.

The old pump still stands at the top of the street, lovingly decorated with flowers, planted and cared for by the ever vigilant Tidy Town’s members whose “Pride of Place” is so much in evidence.

As we face down towards the ruins of the great castle we see the ACM on our left. What vision and foresight to take the brave steps in 1998, to embark on making such a financial investment, not to mention the years voluntary commitment and hard work needed to make this building become the heart of the community.

It is here that the Evergreen Rambling House meet once a month to share their music, their memories and their laughter over a cup of tea.

Here too you will find Poetry readings, Art exhibitions, History talks, Fetes, Festivals and Fancy dresses that involve people of all ages and interests and provide a venue for friendship, fun and for fundraising.

What joy to see the now Annual St Patrick’s Day Parade grow from a modest beginning, to snake right around the village, followed everywhere by cheering crowds and excited children.

At the bottom of the street to the right, you can see the Credit Union that backs and supports families the length and breadth of the Parish.

Most recently, the new Playground, beautifully located draws parents and children together, to swing, to slide, to spin, to climb and to chat. What better place to make new friends!

Next door, the old School House now resounds with the sound of music as the Harp is joyfully taught to eager students from far and wide in the Irish Harp Centre.

Taking the river walk to the footbridge, we can stand and watch the mighty Shannon gain speed, to prepare itself for some white water that entices intrepid Kayaks, filled with the spirit of adventure, to lurch, slide and tumble towards the Falls of Doonass. It was on this stretch of river that to great excitement, the World Kayaking Championships were held in November 2007.

Continuing along the river path through the most wonderful avenue of trees, that tip their toes in the water and sometimes even wade in waist high as the water levels rise. We follow this nature trail and admire its many points of interest, listen to the sounds of its wildlife and smell the scents of its surroundings.

Pride of Place is shared with visitors who stay in the Castle Oaks Hotel, where we climb the twenty five steps that link the grounds to this unspoilt riverside walk.

Across the road, in All Saints Church of Ireland, a wonderful Autumn Series of Concerts is held, organised by Limerick County Council, the Arts Council, Music Network and local parishioners, bringing renowned international artists to perform in this beautiful and intimate venue.

How proud we are the share the magic, as a capacity audience sit transfixed in candle light listening to beautiful music.

On Summer evenings, here in Mackey Country, you can hear the cheers, the whistling, the shouting and the clapping as sportsmen and women meet to train, to practice, to compete and hopefully to win. Every triumph is heralded with a lap of honour around the village with cheering players, supporters and a cavalcade of horn blowing cars and we all get to share the glory and excitement.

Castleconnell is full of People who Share, People who Care and People who want to make a difference.

Those like the Care of the Aged Members who, with a small committee of 12 and 24 voluntary drivers, tirelessly look after the elderly and the more vulnerable in our society. They have provided approximately 1,600 meals on wheels every year, for the past thirty five years, not to mention much needed friendship, foot care and fuel.

We have wonderful Singers, Choirs, Musicians, Groups and Bands who delight in providing entertainment for every occasion.

The Annual Craft Fair, has gained the reputation of being one of the best run and most innovative craft fairs in the country. For the past twenty four years, it has ploughed back its profits into the community, while giving a platform to local creativity.

The Folk Group, now in its seventeenth year, meet every Tuesday night in Herberts to provide music for all tastes, poetry, prose and participation. And if Tuesdays don’t suit you, on Wednesdays you can enjoy a traditional evening of toe tapping rhythm, atmosphere and craic in Guerins.

Last month, forty seven members of the Mid-West Vocal Academy Community Choir and forty three members of the Watch House Cross Choir from Limerick City, returned from a highly successful visit to Poland, where unlike the Irish Team, they definitely scored!

We are proud of the time and effort spent in restoring Gouig Bog. We are protective of our environment and as you will see, we are passionately determined to assist in the survival of the honey bee!

The fifty eight organisations that exist and thrive in Castleconnell are a testament to the vibrance, the enthusiasm, the dedication and the vision of its people.

This is our Place. Our Pride and Joy!