A CLONES RENAISSANCE?

1 July 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The Co Monaghan Border town of Clones has long been a place of extraordinary contradictions.
The people of the town have grown accustomed to, although not perhaps always happy with, their home place being held up as a prime example of the destructive dimensions of partition and the physical manifestations of economic decline.
There is much evidence to sustain these diagnoses.
Yet the town is also a realm for high achievers, and has incubated remarkable talent in sporting, literary and community development fields, and many who have gone on to be national leaders in business and industry.
It is a borderland of particularly rich and resonant historical association, something acknowledged by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan last week when he visited Clones to announce its selection as the location for the 2011 National Famine Commemoration.
Scholarship of the Famine era authenticates the appropriateness of this choice.
As Minister Deenihan noted, the Clones area was devastated by the sufferings of the time, enduring a 35% decline in population in the course of a decade, with more than 2,000 families effaced from its landscape.
But, as the Minister also remarked, out of these bleak days was born a remarkable and enduring tradition that has given Clones another claim to world renown – the lace craft, conceived as a Famine relief measure, that took hold in the area and grew into a sustaining cottage industry, eventually achieving a distinction and regard far beyond the precincts of its genesis.
This history of privation and perseverance resonates in the present.
Clones public representative Hugh McElvaney, long an ardent advocate of preferential investment to remediate the problems of his electoral area, sounded a warning at the recent Annual Meeting of Monaghan Co Council about the downward trend in the modern population of this part of the county, citing statistics presented during the preparatory process for the new Monaghan County Development Plan.
Colr McElvaney considered that the fall in population – which, of the order of 40% over the last twenty years against a pattern of growth elsewhere in the county, is alarming – merited a particular focus by the authority on how it could help the town.
He advocated rates relief and called on the new Co Mayor, his fellow Clones Electoral Area representative Seamus Coyle, to use his “powerhouse position” to support the town and the area.
The interests of the area were very much to the forefront of the objectives outlined by Mayor Coyle in his acceptance speech, and it was significant that the Annual Meeting saw another Clones Electoral area representative, Pat Treanor, appointed to the important role of Chairman of the Monaghan Co Development Board.
Colrs Coyle and Treanor are in important advocacy positions to assist the town in the recovery programme being advocated by Colr McElvaney. But they will certainly not be starting from scratch.
As in other times of population decline, the community of Clones is involved in a number of important development initiatives to stem the threatening tide.
The week of the Minister’s visit saw the launch of improved pre-school and childcare facilities in the town, and workshops held to advance the flagship tourism project of the Ulster Canal from which major economic benefits promise to accrue for the town.
Tourism, heritage and civic amenities in the area also stand to be significantly enhanced by the implementation of the Clones Erne East/Blackwater Rural Development Programme, with the important natural resource of angling a welcome focus for promotion and improvement.
Despite an unfortunate delay in its progress, the Clones Erne East Sports Partnership capital project is also on course for delivery.
This impressive range of social and infrastructural improvements is not a panacea for all Clones ills. Collectively, however, they represent an important resource that, if properly co-ordinated and utilised, offers opportunities for growth.
Significant in terms of financial investment, they are arguably equally as important in communicating to the local community the confidence of a range of development bodies in the capacity of the town and its indomitable spirit of endurance to overcome its economic disadvantages and prosper.
They are certainly due reward for the level of community endeavour taking place, often without widespread acknowledgement or encouragement, in the town and its surrounding population areas.
Recognising the many good news stories emanating from the Clones end of the county is not to make light of the urgency of the appeals that Clones Town and Monaghan Co Councillors continue to make on its behalf, however.
The town is in particular need of industrial and commercial resuscitation. Indeed, if a complementary programme of job creation and urban regeneration is not meaningfully implemented in tandem with the capital projects referred to, the benefit potential of those investments will almost certainly be severely diluted.
In this respect, the threat to the future of Clones Post Office that has emerged in the past week is particularly regrettable.
The rationale behind the plan appears to prioritise cost cutting over common sense, and the many adverse consequences that befall an area when such an essential public service is taken away should galvanise a high level of political and community resistance to its implementation.
Clones, then, has another fight on its hands before it fully realises its ambitions of recovery.
Nonetheless, there are heartening signs of a distinct renaissance in an area of our county that has borne more than its portion of adversity from the waves of political and economic turmoil that have bombarded the island.
Hopefully the positive trends in the town’s fortunes will ultimately prevail over the negative.

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