Jennifer McKeon, Westmeath County Council Community Development Section, Terry O'Niadh, adjudicator, Ashcroft and Village Close residents group members Teresa Murtagh Susan Mullen, Ann Mulvaney (chair) and Ashling Goss, with Annette Barr-Jordan Westmeath County Council Community Development Section, and adjudicator Peter Hynes.

Parish tour unveils depth of Raharney’s hidden treasures

Pride of Place adjudicators visit Raharney

Raharney is most definitely one of Westmeath’s hidden treasures. If you’ve never stopped there and gone for a walk around, the chances are you won’t be aware it has a glorious park, a beautiful river, a serene grotto – and an almost-hidden Zen garden-style outdoor seated area.

It’s also got the stunning ‘The Third Place’ community building, an immaculately-maintained school, a host of clubs and groups and two housing estates that have recently completely transformed themselves.

On Monday of last week, Raharney was encouraged to showcase itself and confidently tell its story for two Pride of Place adjudicators sent to assess the area.

There was a particular focus on Ashcroft Park and Village Close, as it was the work instigated by the residents of those areas that prompted Westmeath County Council to nominate them for a Pride of Place award.

The sun beamed down, and there was a festive vibe in the air as adjudicators Peter Hynes and Terry O’Niadh conducted their assessment, the two men showing genuine interest in all they saw, and making clear they were impressed by the immense local effort that has gone into polishing existing assets to perfection, and transforming what had been problem areas into positive features.

The story of what has been achieved was detailed in an opening presentation at The Pavilion in Raharney by the team that initially came together in 2018, but what really opened the eyes of the visitors to what has been achieved to date was their guided walk around the village.

The adjudicators learned that even though the estates are around a kilometre apart, the residents decided to pool their energies, and they became a powerful force, achieving phenomenal successes along the way.

Explaining the motivation that started the collaboration, Ann Mulvaney, chair of the Ashcroft and Village Close residents group, said that in 2018, Raharney was designated a “rural disadvantaged area”.

“We didn’t like that and decided: ‘By God! We’re not being called that!’,” she stated.

Among the most significant of those successes was one that came with the support of Westmeath County Council: the removal of an ad hoc dump that had developed on a corner of the 28-house Ashcroft estate. Over a long period, to the frustration of the residents, fridges, washing machines and other bulky waste had piled up on the site.

The ground was cleared and it is under grass.

Nearby, there is now a fenced-in play area, marked off for hopscotch and snakes and ladders, and containing soccer goals and basketball hoops. Previously, the ground had been used for parking cars.

The entire Ashcroft Park is now maintained to park standard, with verdant green areas, and in newly-created flower beds, richly-coloured flower displays. Next in the pipeline for the estate is planting fruit trees in order to provide the community with its own orchard.

Village Close is a smaller estate, containing just 10 houses.

Before the transformation exercise began, residents were hemmed in on one side by a towering row of gloomy Leylandi trees. Not alone were they blocking out the light, resident Susan Mullen reveals, but they were even interfering with wifi access.

“It’s made a huge difference: there is so much light now!” says Susan.

The adjudicators heard that the team has made a point of providing activities for the youth: for Bike Week, they had social media star Ray Dolan bring his ‘Twelve Bongs’ show to Raharney; at Halloween, there have been scarecrow competitions and pumpkin carving, and at Christmas, Santa came with goody bags for the local children.

Another project undertaken by the group was the refurbishment of the pavilion in Raharney, including purchase of a new kitchen for the building. The Ashcroft Park and Village Close teams have also worked closely with the St Vincent de Paul charity; with the Step Together Women’s Shed established during the pandemic; with the Men’s Shed; with the Tidy Towns group, the GAA and other organisations. The adjudicators expressed particular admiration for the way the residents had managed to make the “not huge” grants they got go so far, and local councillor John Shaw said the work of all the local groups in the area has been “absolutely incredible”.