WHOOPs, whistles and enthusiastic cheers greeted garden designer Diarmuid Gavin to Portarlington GAA Club last Friday, as he kick started a new project set to give the town a big facelift.
Diarmuid was in town as part of the the RTE programme ‘Dirty Old Towns’ and he brought along the cameras who were filming the event for the new series of the popular show.
“Do you in Portarlington have what it takes to get up off your knees, restore your pride, fight back and show everyone you have a brilliant town? Do you have enough community enthusiasm to get 5,000 people to turn out, march down the streets of your town, find out what’s best and rebuild it, change it forever?” he called out, receiving a resounding “Yes” from the hundreds of men, women and children who turned out on the rainy night.
Last Friday was about gathering support and ideas from locals, and there were suggestions aplenty.
An arts and crafts centre, a music centre, a riverwalk, a social centre, a river clubhouse and a skateboard park were just a few. Others included revitalising the square and the town’s historic buildings, including the old cinema, St Michael’s Athletic Club and Arlington House which was called the “biggest eyesore” in the town.
“We can use our influence to cut through red tape and get answers on this,” Diarmuid said, getting a round of applause.
A lack of volunteers was seen as a problem by another local, who was one of just four volunteers in Portarlington Scouts club.
“We want to use everybody here to be ambassadors. Let this be a start to regenerating the midlands. It has to be sustainable, so it’s working five years after we leave. The spotlight is going to be on Port in a huge way next year,” Diarmuid said.
Lidl are getting behind the project too, with promises of clean up equipment, volunteers from their staff, and free refreshments during the work.
Speaking to the Leinster Express afterwards, Diarmuid explained why they chose Port.
“It’s the unique history, heritage and architecture, but mostly the people. This is a town with problems, it is divided because a lot of people that live here work elsewhere,” said Diarmuid, who was delighted with the enthusiastic turnout.
He has some big plans for the town, which for now he isn’t divulging.
“I do have a big dramatic idea, I think the people will be more open to it here,” he said mysteriously.
The crew will be back soon to film the Christmas lights ceremony, and will be visiting regularly throughout the winter.