28 August 2015 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Like the entrepreneurial flair spoken of when we last editorialised, community spirit has long denoted the way of life in Co Monaghan.

Our evolution as a predominantly rural county has been shaped by the strong sense of identity our people feel for their own native place. Although we have five significant urban centres, something unusual for a county of our size and geographic placement, a significant share of our population has remained resident in and around smaller settlements and worked to establish services and a quality of life there that have considerably mitigated the pressures on our towns of urban sprawl and urban drift.

As well as being a mechanism of cultural continuity, and producing a county of considerable interior diversity as a result, our powerful community sense has acted as a bulwark against some of the less beneficial consequences of inevitable social change.

While it hasn’t saved us from the impact of recent waves of youth emigration, centralisation of services, the spread of crime and the bite of recession, that sense has seen us through them – social challenges have acted as a directing spur for collective local endeavour that has delivered training and education opportunities to the doorsteps of our smaller population centres, thrown a shield of community and text alert initiatives around many of them, and frequently supplied the caring deficiencies of an increasingly remote and inward focused State.

During the darkest days of the downturn, our people were wont to joke that we never missed the Celtic Tiger because it never came to visit us – and while we didn’t escape the malicious parting bite of its abrupt departure, the wound left would have been much deeper and slower healing were it not for our self-reliant and self-sustaining way of life.

Four from among the array of excellent examples of communities in action in our county came under the spotlight this week when the judges of the Irish Public Bodies Pride of Place competition came to visit us.

This now well established all-island awards scheme honours conspicuous examples of how small Irish communities come together to work for their mutual betterment. It is informed by active input from the country’s local authorities, a feature reflective of the significant and beneficial shift in the relationship over recent decades between the voluntary and the civil spheres of Irish life.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when local government administration was wary of any interaction with the community sector that went more than a few steps beyond the circumscribed role allotted to the councillors the people elected to represent them on county and town authorities.

The old reserve, however, was gradually supplanted by contact of developing warmth and intimacy. And such was the ready receptivity of Monaghan Co Council and our old town authorities to the new relationship that the foregrounded role assigned local government by recent reforms in fostering community development is more of a “business as usual” instruction for our county than the significant policy shift it might represent in some others.

Our Co Council must nonetheless approach the annual task of selecting Pride of Place participants with a burdened heart – to extract just four representative examples from the cornucopia of endeavour available would tax a Solomon!

We commend the Council for this year’s choice – the nominated projects from Greenan’s Cross, Doohamlet, Castleblayney and Clones have more than mere geographic spread in their favour: each represents an area of community activism that chimes melodically with contemporary social concerns, and is eloquent of the inclusivity and connectivity that the Pride of Place concept cherishes.

While just one element of a diverse group of local initiatives, the ‘Streamscapes’ programme engaged in by Doohamlet people is a striking example of the sustainability ethos in action – plans to harness energy from the river that wends its way through the village in order to supply the heating needs of an extension to the local community hall is an ingenious means of turning a scenic feature to a beneficially ‘green’ utilitarian purpose that is surely transferable to other situations in our watercourse-rich county.

The Castleblayney ‘TransFAUGHmation’ personal fitness initiative that forms a prompt and focal point for other health-related projects in the Mid-Monaghan town is one of the best practical examples the county has witnessed of an endeavour that makes lucid the link between physical well being and good mental health. This is strikingly attested to by participants who have found that the friendship and support in times of difficulty that has accompanied engagement in the physical fitness activities provided in the ‘Blayney community have been of immeasurable benefit to their emotional and mental wellness.

The story of the small but vibrant Greenan’s Cross community, which continues to etch a distinctive character for itself in the fetching rural niche between Threemilehouse and Newbliss, is richly eloquent of the importance of local identity to the people who possess it and the energy and imagination they will expend in its preservation. The commendable progress its people are making in the area of biodiversity would stir envy in any busy town or city.

The work done by the students of Largy College in Clones to inform their contemporaries of the equality issues surrounding sexual orientation, and banish the misunderstandings that often fuel prejudice, bullying and exclusion, shines as an example of young people taking responsibility for their own self-education and self-development. This is again an example that other school communities could beneficially follow – the positive ripples spread in the wider population by the courage and camaraderie displayed by the Largy pupils around this important social issue should create an environment where the formation of sexual identity can take place more easily, and more respectfully.

Wherever they went in our county last week, the Pride of Place adjudicators were at pains to stress that this is a competition in which there are no losers. What was shown to them was heartening evidence in an age of many social uncertainties that Co Monaghan’s community sense remains resilient and strong – something we can all take pride, and confidence for the future, from.


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