Tyrrellspass Tidy Towns won a municipal district prize.

Cathaoirleach Awards ‘We have a responsibility to do our bit for one another’

Athlone Sub Aqua Club were the overall winners at the 2023 Cathaoirleach Awards, which were presented at Belvedere House, Mullingar, on Friday June 9.

Now in its 17th year, the annual event recognises individuals and groups in Westmeath whose voluntary work has made a difference to their communities. Philomena Brennan from Castlepollard won the Active Elderly award. The Environment and Heritage prize went to Athlone Tidy Towns. Streete Warriors Basketball Club were triumphant in the Children and Youth category.

Athlone River Safety Awareness Group picked up the award for Community Involvement. Athlone retired defence forces support organisations, ONE and IUNVA, were the Equality and Social Inclusion winners.

Westmeath Comhairle na nÓg won the Pride of Place award. Ballinahown was the overall Tidy Towns winner an Tyrrellspass, Streamstown, Multyfarnham, Castlepollard and Milltownpass all picked up Municipal District prizes.

Mullingar Handball Club and Mullingar Homecare Services received Age Friendly Recognition awards. Scoil Phadraig came first in the Eco Primary Schools category and St Brigid’s NS and St Kenny NS were joint-second. The Eco Preschool Awards went to Mullingar Academy of Childcare (first), Giggles Preschool and Childcare (second) and Little Friends Preschool (third).

Annette Barr Jordan from the Community Development section of Westmeath County Council was the MC and welcomed everyone. “Tonight we celebrate the selfless souls – the volunteers we all see in our communities. They work in all weathers, through all seasons, enhancing the lives of people in our communities, enhancing our lives and enhancing our county, working, ladies and gentlemen, as volunteers for us all.

"But tonight, your night, this night, we put the names to the selfless souls and faces. Tonight we celebrate and recognise their work, their time, their efforts and their giving freely of themselves.”

Outgoing cathaoirleach, Cllr Aengus O’Rourke from Athlone, gave the opening address. “For me, this is definitely one of the most important events in my year as cathaoirleach. Because, like you I am involved in community initiatives. Where I can, I volunteer my time to support local communities and I really enjoy it.

All stakeholders

“After all, we are all stakeholders in our communities – we have, in my view, a responsibility to do our bit for one another and for our communities. But in my work, I see and come across some extraordinary people making an extraordinary difference. This evening, we will recognise these people and these groups.

"And it is only right and proper that this kind of commitment and contribution to our communities is indeed recognised and acknowledged. By participating fully in their community, the people we will honour this evening not only help to create a better place, but their efforts also encourage and benefit others and, in some cases, even benefit those far beyond our shores.”

In his speech, Pat Gallagher, chief executive of Westmeath County Council, said that “this event encompasses community action and initiative, environmental improvement and awareness, sustainable development of our towns, villages, and rural areas, pride in our places, active citizenship, and includes all ages, backgrounds, abilities and districts”.

He recalled the words of his late Irish teacher in secondary school, “Ar scáth a chéile a mhairimid”, which Pat translated as ‘We live in each other’s shade or shelter’. “In other words, we all depend on each other, need each other and look out for each other. You put that into practice.”

The guest speaker was the 2022 Rose of Tralee, Rachel Duffy, who talked about the pride she has for Westmeath. “I grew up in the village of Rosemount and from a young age, I’ve been surrounded by people who want to do good. And it doesn’t matter how big or how small, they just wanted to make a positive difference within the community.

"And what I witnessed from those people, and from people in communities all over the county, and I’m sure this is something that will resonate with a lot of people here today – you don’t do it for recognition or thanks or a pat on the back, you do it to sustain the life of the community, and to create an accessible, welcoming and ever-improving community for generations to come.”

“If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last 18 months, it’s that the people of Westmeath know how to work together, they know how to support people, and they know how to put their faith in others. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve got to work with a lot of local community groups and charities around the county and I’ve seen first-hand the selflessness and pride of these groups.

"The work that is done by volunteer and community groups is invaluable to the structure of our society and our quality of life. It’s a pleasure for me to be here today in the company of so many inspiring people who are passionate about helping others. The work that’s being done by you people here creates ripple effects that change the entire community for generations to come.”