By Lynda Kiernan email@example.com @laoisnews
A group of locals in Mountrath has big plans to restore life to the once thriving Laois market town, now a route for lorries avoiding motorway tolls.
Among the ambitious plans of Mountrath Community Forum, is a monthly outdoor market, a business enterprise hub, and a community hub at the former Brigidine convent.
This week the Leinster Express visited the town to hear about their plans.
Mountrath Community Forum is made up of ten people, formed in 2015, with the aim of promoting social, business and environmental life in Mountrath.
They also wanted to simply spread the word about grants so that clubs, groups and individuals can get the cash to develop their ideas.
“We are committed to bring projects to fruition to improve our locality. I hope we can work with everybody in the town, and bring a bit of life back. I know that new businesses would be supported by locals,” forum member Eddie Phelan said.
With Cllr James Kelly, also on the hub, they showed the Leinster Express around.
Some vacant buildings have been repainted by their owners, with paint supplied by the forum, but the number of empty businesses is striking, while the trundle of passing lorries is constant.
“This town used to have over 20 pubs, and a lot of clothes shops, when it was a market town. We have about six new housing estates since the boom but most people commute to jobs elsewhere,” Cllr Kelly said.
The motorway actually made things worse he said.
“It had a negative effect, because all the HGVs still go through the town to avoid the tolls, and it’s a hard town to drive through, with the T junction and the roundabout that’s not a roundabout. Bus Eireann abandoned Mountrath, but we have no bus shelter for private busses, so people sit on windowsills in the rain waiting,” he said.
The forum had pushed for new brighter streetlights and road surface on Shannon St, which he says has reduced anti social behaviour.
On Thomas Court, near the impressive new stone bridge, a derelict old garage is about to be transformed.
The very first premises for Telfords, it is to become an enterprise hub for new start-ups, if the forum gets an estimated €200k of funding needed to restore it.
They have already leased the vacant farmers Macra hall for adult education courses. It was recently refurbished, with new flowerbeds done by CE workers.
It will also be the base for monthly Cottage Markets.
The forum has helped locals to set up a new cycling club, a junior Foroige club, and a Men’s Shed, and has linked with many local groups like Tidy Towns, community alert and sport clubs.
Their most ambitious plan is to buy the Brigidine convent and convert it into a community hub.
“In the past, Mountrath was overlooked for vital funding, we aim to ensure that our community has a voice in the future of our town,” Mr Phelan said.