Portarlington is now the main focus of RTE’s Dirty Old Towns programme, after an overwhelming response by locals to do a “makeover” on their town.
Originally chosen as one of the sideline projects of the six week series, Port is now the star of the show, which airs in early April.
Presenter garden designer Diarmuid Gavin explained why they changed their minds halfway through filming.
“It was just the enthusiasm from the people of Portarlington. it seemed as if they were just waiting for an opportunity to show what they could do. It’s a remarkable response,” he told the Leinster Express.
“The town itself took over the challenge. Pretty soon they had decided what they wanted to do. In other towns I had to bring in leaders for each project, but not this year. I’d have been run out of the place if i had done that,” he laughs.
One of the projects that stood out for him was the Barrow walk.
“Dermot Dunne emerged quickly as a leader, they have five different projects going there, including Edel Rycroft’s steel sculpture,” he said.
Last weekend hundreds of men, women and children gave up their time to volunteer for the “big weekend”, blessed by dry sunny weather, as the show’s filmcrew recorded their efforts.
A number of projects were tackled across the town, including a revamp of Derryounce Wood led by horticulturist John Carey, and a clean up of the empty apartments at St Brigid’s Square, while David Maher coincided the events with his annual clean-up on behalf of Tidy Towns, gathering a whopping 700 bags of litter.
“To have a character like David, who doesn’t want to join committees, but just gets out with the simple idea of picking litter strictly between the hours of 10 and 12, the rest of us can learn an awful lot from him,” said Diarmuid, who plans to keep visiting Port after the programme ends.
“We will be following the progress of the town in the future, especially with the 2020 vision project. I hope that they will use this as the start of something, We will certainly be back,” he said.
The garden designer also praised the young scouts who did great work making bird boxes, and the bright new wall of murals depicting Portarlington’s heritage that now greets visitors arriving by train to Portarlington.
“People realised how important it is to make a good first impression, so I particularly liked that one,” he said.
Still left to do is a full repaint of Main Street, and specialist work on the historic Arlington House, while fundraising events include next weekend’s car boot sale and table quiz.
For full coverage of Port’s “Big Weekend”, see Port notes on pages 24 and 25.