You get a real thrill when places you know, and which are dear to you, get recognised.
I certainly felt pure joy, as well as a strong sense of pride when I saw that three Midlands towns had made it onto the Irish Times list of twenty Best Places to Live in Ireland.
Tullamore, Abbeyleix and Ballinakill, were all there. On a list of only 20 which covered the whole country.
That’s pretty impressive. And it emphasised to me, the need for us to take time, every so often, to recognise, and celebrate, what we have.
I think we know instinctively how important it is to do this. When we are abroad, and when we meet people who have visited here, we are only too ready to lap up and agree with their insights into how easy it is to feel at home here. Only for when we ourselves are at home, we perhaps slip a little too easily into focussing on the negative.
Yes of course there are things we can, and must do better. Yes of course there are ways in which we could, and should, improve.
But in so many ways, Ireland is a wonderful place… and the Midlands has much of what is the best of it.
So today I want to congratulate Tullamore, Abbeyleix and Ballinakill and tell those of you who DON’T know much about them, just why they are so special.
Tullamore is a large town located right in the middle of the country. The Grand Canal runs through it, and it has a harbour. And while yes, there are still some empty premises, the town centre is busy and bustling. Pilot pedestrianisation, outdoor dining, and wonderful streetscape enhancement works really brought it to life this Summer.
Ballinakill has much to offer too. It’s known as the “town of the woods”, and has an entrancing eighteenth-century landscape in Heywood Gardens. And its most unusual feature, an outdoor HEATED swimming pool thrived this summer thanks to the work of the dedicated community there.
And as for Abbeyleix…it is a really pretty heritage town, and also one which is leading the way in the fight against climate change. Its town centre has a fantastic NeighbourWood project, while its precious amenity bog will host the Community Wetlands Forum next week.
Tullamore, Ballinakill, Abbeyleix, and many other towns like them, are places where people feel connected and feel part of the community.
We need more of that. And this Government is working hard to provide it. We have a Rural Future policy, as well as a Town Centres First one.
We are connecting people with broadband and active travel infrastructure, and supporting new job creation through the Just Transition Fund.
The sense of ‘community’ can easily get lost in cities, as well as in isolated rural homes miles from a local village. But in many of our country’s towns, community is thriving.
Let’s recognise that, value it, celebrate it, and nurture it.
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