It was all go in Portarlington last weekend, when the much awaited “Big Weekend” arrived, and celebrity gardener Diarmuid Gavin and his filmcrew came to town.
Saturday kicked off bright and sunny with the annual Tidy Towns clean-up. 700 bags were filled in two hours, and afterwards many volunteers arriving at the Dirty Old Town office on Main Street, hungry for more work, spurred on by the public appeal for help.
The many areas targeted included the Derryounce Walk, the empty apartments at St Brigid’s Terrace, Scouts Wood and the environs of the train station. Hi vis jackets, tools and paintbrushes were handed out and everyone young and old got stuck in to improving their town.
An army marches on its stomach however, and everyone took a break to eat food donated by local supermarkets, The social services centre was kindly made available as a pop up restaurant, and Shane O’Neill and Kieran Dunne had the job of making sure everyone got fed, watered and quickly back to work.
“We fed about 150 people on Saturday, and 70 on Sunday,” said Kieran, who was helped by his wife and his neighbours from Kilnacourt. We are living in the town, so why wouldn’t we get involved,” he said.
Enjoying a hot cup of tea were the crew in charge of laying a new path beside the Barrow from French church bridge to Spa Street, overseen by Dermot Dunne.
David “Scrooge” Weldon was one of them.
“I worked for years around the town in construction, I’m not doing a lot now. This is something to do, it’s good for the town, and it’s good craic with the boys,” he said.
They are laying a tar and chip path to prevent erosion from floods, planting native species of trees, and erecting decking and a pergola at Spa bridge. The old pump house, now the only reminder of the power station, has been refurbished.
“It’s a lovely feature now at the river, it’s a reminder of times past in Port,” said Dermot.
One of the most striking changes is a new sculpture, now standing beside French Church bridge. The word “LIVE” in huge 8 foot red letters made out of box iron steel, designed by local architect Edel Rycroft and donated by JJ Stapleton, who is confident no metal thieves will find the sculpture easy to steal as they needed a crane to install it.
“This is fantastic, a real involvement of the community. You meet people on the street now and you don’t know them. We had young lads from Gracefield and Port GAA clubs helping us, and the women were doing the planting and painting,” he said.
Down at the entrance to St Brigid’s Square, local residents and auctioneer Matt Dunne with his son Josh were wielding paintbrushes like experts.
The apartment block on Bracklone Street has lain empty for four years since the developer went bust, and had been an eyesore at the front of the 80 year old housing estate.
Residents Hannah Dunne aged 10 and her cousins Caoimhe and Aron were hard at work, while the Happy Endings camera crew filmed them.
“I painted my room before, I like painting. It makes the town look much brighter and cleaner now,” Hannah said.
Joe O’Dwyer, former chair of Laois Football Board, was full of praise for one of DOT’s hardest working organisers, Ann Dunne, who is involved in many other volunteer organisations including Meals on Wheels and Port Community Development Association.
“Ann is the connection to everything. What she has done has been tremendous, a credit to the town. The whole endeavour is outstanding,” he said.