4 October 2019 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The coming to an end this week of the long wait by the picturesque and pristine North Monaghan village of Glaslough to replicate the national Tidy Towns success they enjoyed in 1978 has precipitated great pride and jubilation in Co Monaghan.

The 41 years since Glaslough’s fabled first triumph in the national contest and their second have wrought enormous change in both the physical and social landscape of Ireland. Back in the 1970s, the Tidy Towns event fostered best practice in an admirable but relatively narrow field of environmental endeavour, handing out accolades to urban and rural population centres that best conformed to the literal meaning of the contest’s title and kept their streetscapes neatly presented and litter-free. But as the decades have passed, shifting Irish demographics and both the worsening of the stresses on our environment and an accentuated appreciation of the importance of dealing with them has broadened the concerns of the competition and those wishing to aspire to conspicuous success in it to matters a great deal more complex and demanding than the worthy virtues of neatness and tidiness.

It is in no way to detract from the monumental nature of Glaslough’s success in 1978 to suggest that the village’s natural advantages of setting, architecture and history – conspiring to create an almost idealised example of the quaint Irish village – went a long way towards persuading the judges of its merits as a national title winner, with the rest of the work being done by diligent community endeavour and adherence to high standards of presentation. Glaslough still possesses all those virtues in abundance, but to repeat their first success in the present day context required a significant broadening of the remit of its Tidy Towns Committee to embrace projects addressing all the elements of sustainability that now factor so prominently into prevailing social policy governing the protection, conservation and enhancement of our natural and built environment.

The enormous amount of work done by Glaslough in this area as it has pursued its steadfast goal of winning another national title is evident from the comments in the reports of the adjudicators who determined their successful fate in the 2019 Tidy Towns. The judges proffer particular commendation to the biodiversity and local wildlife considerations that guided portion of the local committee’s enhancement initiatives, describing as superb the visionary ‘Grow My Tree’ pilot project. There is praise too for the Greener Glaslough campaign’s address of many of the pressing imperatives of climate change through an innovative, inclusive and non-didactic approach that surely nears template status for all local communities wishing to take affirmative action in this regard.

Glaslough’s second Tidy Towns national title has not been easily achieved. Huge annual efforts have been devoted to gaining incremental improvements in marks and ensuring that the village and surrounding community maintained and gradually improved its standing against an annually expanding field of national competitors, many of them with much more substantial resources readily at hand than a small rural location in Co Monaghan could conveniently access. In the past few years, particularly around the time of Glaslough’s success in the Entente Florale international competition in 2017, there were times when the holy grail of a second national crown seemed so tantalisingly close that local people could almost feel its warm glister on their fingers. But when it remained elusive, rather than hanging their heads in despair and asking, ‘What more can we do?’ in a defeatist tone, the people of Glaslough posed the question constructively, taking careful account of adjudicators’ guidance towards possible improvements and enhancement of their home place, and consulting informed and expert opinion where appropriate.

Another template for success was constructed, and its fulfilment on Monday last rightly ignited jubilation that resounded in waves from the village itself to encompass all of Co Monaghan and its hinterland on both sides of the Border.

While few would dare to voice such a sacrilegious query aloud in the vicinity of Glaslough in these glory days, the question is sometimes posed by observers of the great to- do that attends the annual preparation for Tidy Towns adjudication and the announcement of the results themselves: what real benefit is such an achievement beyond the pride and sense of reward it confers on the people and local area that achieves it?

The considered and correct answer from the Co Monaghan perspective is that Glaslough winning the national Tidy Towns title is a very big deal indeed. We are at last making some significant strides in developing a niche of our own in the Irish tourism sphere, and having the tidiest place in Ireland in our midst is Manna from Heaven for those who have the task of marketing the product.

Glaslough is already one of the flagships of that product thanks to its own innate appeal as a fascinating rural retreat and the presence in its vicinity of the Castle Leslie Estate, now a major competitor in the visitor market with a cachet and reputation of global reach. The enhanced status that the Tidy Towns judges has now conferred on Glaslough can only be to its advantage as a destination, and by extension to the considerable advantage of the tourism and hospitality sector in our county.

But there is much more to our benefit to be gleaned from Glaslough’s achievement than merely additional music from the tourist till. The example set by the community in realising its ambition is one that can be replicated in other parts of our county which have their own goals and targets to achieve. Its patience, thoroughness, inclusivity and judicious consultation facets are highly transferable to a range of other community enhancement initiatives, and are also vital safeguards for the fragile fabric of our rural communities which, at the present time, have to weather some potentially very erosive forces.

And, if we are to address climate change, the meaningful work will have to start in the places that we call home. One of the great disincentives to corrective environmental action at a micro-level is the feeling that can so easily beset us all of individual helplessness to turn back the tsunami of climate harm already done to the planet.

The Glaslough example shows that if people come together in a committed community endeavour to play their own small part, then a great deal can be achieved – and an important legacy left, to be built upon and carried further, for the generations who will have to deal with the full brunt of the climate change challenge.

In short, Glaslough’s second national Tidy Towns title is a very big deal indeed – for its achievers, their county and the
country as a whole.

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