Whoever said community spirit has seen better days?
It’s a question locals from the quiet and unspoilt surrounds of Abbeyshrule answered in the most emphatic of fashions last Thursday as villagers rallied behind its bid for environmental as well as international acclaim.
From early morning, you could almost feel the sense of anticipation and excitement. The rationale behind such overriding sentiment was two fold as hopes remained high of retaining its Tidy Towns crown for another year while more pertinently its entry into this year’s Entente Florale competition was the only topic up for discussion amongst locals.
Internationally recognised, the contest saw 12 curiously named ‘jury members’ arrive in the village as part of a wider judging process under the event’s small villages category.
For those behind its bid, the many months of industrious planning and endless labour appeared to pay off.
Standing alongside his fellow FAS scheme worker, Pat Burns, Legan man John Joe Ward told of the exhaustive, but worthwhile efforts that had gone into last week’s visit.
“It’s has been hectic, it’s been a holy terror in fact,” he explained as jury members made their way into the grounds of Abbeyshrule’s Cistercian Abbey. “They (organisers) would want you to work until 4am this morning.”
Whatever about those demands, both men afforded themselves a brief smile as they cast a quick glance around the village’s manicured greens.
“I’m 20 years on this (FAS) and 10 years around these parts but I have never seen the place looking so well,” added John Joe.
His close friend and co-worker said his task had been simple-to “cut the grass and get the flowers ready”.
Asked about the prospect of getting a day or two off in recognition of their efforts, he quipped: “Ah I don’t know, I doubt it.”
Joking aside, the day had been a long time coming, especially for retired Eircom worker Gabriel Sleator.
“I moved in here four years ago after spending 20 years or so in England. My wife and my mother-in-law are both English and decided to come with us. The criteria was to find a house within 20 miles from Athlone and to tell you the truth, we couldn’t be happier.”
Speaking in glowing terms of his home in the nearby Corn Crake Meadow area, Gabriel said every little detail, from the large scale to the more mundane had been carefully planned for.
“If you stood still in the village last night you would have been painted,” he giggled. “There were people going around picking up flower petals, it was just terrific to see. Everything that has been done has made Abbeyshrule a nicer place to live.”
For some of the village’s more senior residents, like Cathal McGoey, the occasion was particularly emotional.
A permanent fixture in the locality for the past 77 years, Cathal said the introduction of a rural electrification scheme in 1948 was the only event which mirrored the events of last Thursday.
“It was very close to it as, like today, I remember there was music and a bit of ceremony to it. It shows if everybody pulls together and teaches it to the next generation just what can be achieved,” he said.
Some of that next generation, led by the likes of the Innyside Singers and O’Reilly School of Dancing, took to the stage soon after treating those present to a wide ranging display of song and dance.
Then, it was back to local establishment The Rustic Inn as jury members met in private to discuss what they had seen.
“Any white smoke yet?” shouted a more than interested by-stander as he entered its front doors.
Many more, meanwhile, stood outside as the sun shone down.
Edel Shannon and her mother, Ita Reilly were suitably impressed.
“There is very little that you could say has been out of place,” said Edel, pausing to reveal her two daughters Ellen and Leah had just taken part in the afternoon’s entertainment. “A huge amount of effort has been put in.”
Just what reward those endeavours throw up only time will tell. Whatever the result community spirit it would apppear, from an Abbeyshrule perspective at least, couldn’t be in better shape.