CELEBRATIONS are taking place in Tulla, after the Cnoc na Gaoithe Cultural Centre was honoured nationally as a model for excellence in town and village renewal.
“It’s like achieving a Michelin Star,” said Breda McNamara, Chairperson of the Cnoc na Gaoithe Development Committee. “We are so delighted that what has been done here has been recognised. The buildings were donated by the Sisters of Mercy over a decade ago and they have been the gift that keeps on giving. We’re so grateful to the order and thrilled that the centre has been able to revitalise the heart of Tulla. To have that recognised on the national stage is very satisfying. It’s recognition for a job well done.”
Last week at Local Authority Members Association (LAMA) All Ireland Community and Council Awards, Cnoc na Gaoithe picked received the national award for ‘Best Town and Village Regeneration’ project. It was chosen from a shortlist that also included the Ballinamore Area in Leitrim, #WeAreAthleague in Roscommon and the enhancement of O’Connell Street in Sligo. “At the end of January, the County Council approached us about nominating Cnoc na Gaoithe for the National Award,” Breda outlined. “The nomination was submitted on February 23, and there were 15 other nominees in the category. We were notified on March 15, that we were through to the final four. Not for one second did I think we would win, but we are absolutely delighted after 11 years of really hard work, fundraising and chasing grants and match funding.”
The project was first mooted in 2011, following the donation of the buildings on Church Street by the Sisters of Mercy. Since then, and despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, they have been redeveloped to include a performance space, venues for classes, accommodation and a tearoom. The latest project has seen the construction of a state-of-the-art multifunctional performance space and auditorium in the former school building. Externally, an orchard garden has been restored, together with other landscaping, parking facilities and new entrances. Dilapidated out-buildings were also removed, enhancing the core to Tulla.
Significant funding of €900,000 was granted in November 2019 under the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund (RRDF) towards the €2m regeneration project. Minister Heather Humphries visited as part of the ‘Our Rural Future Roadshow’ in 2021, and expressed her delighted at returning again last September to officially open the multipurpose performance space and auditorium.
“We have managed to rescue two fine buildings from dereliction,” Breda noted. “The redevelopment has also created three new access routes and it’s really lovely to see the life that has been brought back into the centre of Tulla. The buildings had been boarded up, but now the heart of the village has been brought back to life.”
The fact that the centre now has a weekly footfall of 300 is another great source of satisfaction. “Our big focus has always been on a multipurpose facility,” explained Breda. “We are so glad now that every kind of community activity can take place here. We have the schools, the church, the camogie club, the scouts and every other organisation using the centre. The Limerick-Clare Education and Training Board (LCETB), the HSE and Clare County Council also use the facilities. There’s a huge variety of classes from trad and dance to yoga, mindfulness and pilates. There’s a fabulous sound in the auditorium and since last October, we’ve had Seán Keane, Cherish the Ladies, Elle-Marie O’Dwyer, The Fogus and a host of local acts. The accommodation side is busy and the tearoom is popular after all kinds of community and public events.”
Day-to-day the centre is looked after by a dedicated team including a caretaker and volunteers. “We are very lucky to have so much great voluntary support,” Breda said. “The tutors who run the classes are all very good at organising their work and things run very well with everybody’s help.”
The past decade has seen what Breda describes as “blood, sweat and tears”. “It has been worth every minute of it,” she said. “So much great work is done without any recognition, so it’s lovely that what has happened in Tulla is being highlighted at national level. In addition to the hard work, we’ve had a lot of luck in terms of funding and philanthropic support and I think part of that is down to the power of the Sisters of Mercy who made the project possible.”
The trophy recognising Cnoc na Gaoithe as a leading example of town and village renewal will be on display in the centre after an official presentation by Cathaoirleach of the local authority, Councillor Tony O’Brien.