A NEW St Patrick’s Day parade, an international festival and a Titanic exhibition were among the many ideas that flowed at the first annual meeting of the Abbeyleix Business and Community Development Forum (ABC) held this week.
The ABC was set up in May 2010 as an umbrella group to help the community, businesses, sports clubs and associations of the town in responding to the changes and challenges following the opening of the motorway by-pass.
The AGM heard of the firm foundations laid but there was also much discussion about the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead for the town.
In his chairman’s address Brian Maher outlined the background to the group and achievements of the past year. He said the ABC website was one of the first projects launched and it has since proved a useful point of contact for community groups. He said it has enormous potential to promoted Abbeyleix.
He also spoke about other successess such as Abbeyfest, the Abbeyleix bog project, Pride of Place and the information boards erected around the heritage town. He also spoke about upcoming projects which would benefit the town and attract visitors.
He said two new walking routes starting from the Abbeyleix Manor Hotel were about to be set which had the backing of Failte Ireland.
He said a report commissioned by Laois County Council would be published next month which would outline a whole set of proposals for the town. The report which is being carried out under the Department of the Environment’s Sustainable Projects Prorgamme, will include a proposal to develop Market Square.
One of the key issues addressed by Mr Maher and other speakers was the need for business to engage with the ABC group. He said they stand to benefit in the town but may not see the ABC as something that directly helps involves them. He said they could be the engine of projects taken on by ABC.
This issue drew a lot of discussion at the AGM with many speakers calling on business people to gather together so as their ideas and needs form part of the work of the ABC. It was suggested that business people do not see the ABC as a vehicle to improve their prospects. It was agreed that business meet early next month.
The chairman also suggested that the town link up with Durrow and surrounding villages and attractions to attract visitors as part of a total package. While not underestimating the challenges of the recession, he said it could also be an opportunity.
The discussion that followed the chairman’s address was wide ranging and full of ideas. Secretary Patricia Ward urged people to think big and focus on bring international attention and visitors to Abbeyleix. She said the town should exploit its links with the artist Francis Bacon.
One event mentioned at the meeting was an exhibition on the Titanic and the midland connection which is being organised by the Abbeyleix Heritage Company.
However, there was also support for more events aimed at attracting local people. One speaker called for a St Patrick’s Day parade and the meeting heard that there are plans for such an event next year. There were also calls for a big event in every season of the year.
Laois Chamber President, Jamie O’Hanlon urged the ABC take advantage of the E13 million that Laois Partnership has to offer to support both business and local community. He said the chamber would be happy to host an event in Abbeyleix.