THE town of Ennis has been firmly in the national spotlight recently with a visit from President Michael D Higgins as well as a full episode of RTÉ’s Nationwide dedicated to the hard working volunteers of Ennis Tidy Towns.
On Saturday President Higgins and his wife Sabine arrived in the county capital for the unveiling of a plaque to mark Ennis’ achievement in winning the 2021 Tidy Town Competition.
The couple also visited the Samaritans branch on the Kilrush Road to mark the charity’s 40th anniversary.
The unveiling of the plaque took place at the president’s Alma Mater of St Flannan’s College where they were greeted by a guard of honour as well as some young local musicians.
The Ennis Brass Band played the Presidential Salute as the guests of honour made their way through the audience of invited guests including other members of Tidy Towns committees across the county.
President Higgins described the overall Tidy Towns award as not just one for the entire community, but an award that members of the committee have been working towards for many years and they should be proud of what has been achieved.
He stated that the Tidy Towns competition is “a genuine community initiative” welcoming people of all ages to come together in co-operation.
He remarked that Tidy Towns committees are “intergenerational”, stressing the importance of encouraging new members to get involved.
“Sometimes people forget that often what is most precious to people of all ages is their time, and for people to give their time and effort again and again is so very important.”
He acknowledged the vital role of volunteers, saying the competition showcases the “the spirit of volunteerism and the values underpinning that spirit; solidarity, kindness and empathy, values we must preserve, foster and build upon as we reconstruct our lives, society and economy in the wake of the Covid emergency”.
He remarked on the increasing awareness of ecology and biodiversity in the competition’s entries saying it makes his “heart lift” to hear how knowledgeable young people are.
This is “incredibly important” as the world is “at a crisis” due to the consequences of climate change.
“Our planet is burning,” he said, with the world “coming to a point where we have very little time unless we all change our behaviours in different ways. The window of opportunity is closing fast and urgent interventions are required if we are not to bequeath to future generations a volatile and hostile planet.”
The benefits of getting involved in community based initiatives like the Tidy Towns were highlighted with President Higgins saying, “It is the things that you do beyond the self that enable you to have the best version of the self.”
He said that the country has moved past a period “in which we were beginning to get caught up in 20 years ago where you might say we were being consumed by our consumption”.
“We must not get back to where we were, we must get to a new place and do things generously with a sense of compassion, care, solidarity and kindness.”
He recalled his times being schooled in St Flannan’s and also living in Newmarket-on-Fergus and playing handball, saying Clare is a place that has “always been in my heart”.
He stated that one of the values of the Tidy Towns competition is to be welcoming, and spoke about those fleeing their own countries who are now being welcomed to Ireland.
“May we learn a lot from those who have come to us and may we always have our doors open.”
The many people from Clare living abroad must also be kept in our minds and hearts, he added.
The Ennis win in 2021 was “a very, very significant one” with the competition experiencing a record number of entries.
The president also noted the presence of the other Tidy Towns groups gathered at the event, praising their efforts as well as paying tribute to the other winners of the competition.
After the success of the presidential visit, the Ennis Tidy Town’s committee gathered together on Monday evening to watch a special broadcast of Nationwide showcasing the town and the work of the volunteers.
The programme featured segments filmed at the plaque unveiling ceremony, an interview with President Higgins, alongside interviews with members of the local committee highlighting the dedication that goes into making the town look its best.
Chairman of Ennis Tidy Towns Cormac McCarthy told the programme, “Ennis has been incredibly fortunate, we’ve ranked quite highly in the competition consistently over the last number of years and that’s down to the hard work and dedication of the committee, our local volunteers and our local community partners as well.”
Before this latest win, Ennis hadn’t taken the overall award since 2005 and in recent years the town always seemed to be within a point or two of taking the title.
“This push to win in 2021 is the culmination of years of hard work to keep us at that high level and continually come up with new innovative projects for the betterment of the town.”
“For me the magic of Tidy Towns is that collective sense of wanting to do good for your town, to create that sense of place, to do it with people who have become our second family.
Everyone has the same level of enthusiasm. For me the magic really is the people and the volunteers.”
Showing off the town’s Iris statue, commissioned from prize money won through Ennis’ success in the Irish Business Against Litter league was Tidy Towns volunteer and councillor Mary Howard.
She also demonstrated the town’s drinking water fountain, part of efforts to create a more sustainable environment.
Also featured was volunteer Don Cullinan, part of a core group who go out to tackle graffiti in the town.
“Our aim in Ennis Tidy Towns is first impressions mean everything and if somebody drives or walks into town that it’s a nice town to live in.”
Godsway Kuffour spoke about his love for Ennis, and his efforts to encourage asylum seekers and refugees to get involved with Ennis Tidy Towns.
“I wanted to give back to the society and bring something into the community,” he said.
“Tidy Towns means all-inclusive for Ennis and the whole of Ireland.”
Botanist and ecologist Donncha O Cathain spoke about his work on monitoring the progress of pollinator friendly mowing and the resulting plant diversity.
The programme spoke with volunteers, both the young and the young at heart, as they gathered at the Temple Gate Square.
Among them was long time volunteer and former councillor Mary Coote-Ryan who described the national title win as “magical” saying, “we really are passionate about our Tidy Towns”.
The recent purchase of a weedex machine to remove weeds from uneven surfaces without the use of chemicals was shown by Garry Lanigan.
Young Neasa McCarthy demonstrated the tree trail at Tim Smyth Park, where the group planted native trees signposting their names in English, Irish and Latin along with individual leaf rubs.
The programme also spoke with Mary McAllister, a member of the committee for over 30 years. She recalled how when they first started the volunteers would go out once a month, “but times changed and it kept getting bigger and bigger”.
She said they were “over the moon” with the win. Explaining why she got involved in the group, she also encouraged others to help keep the town looking clean and tidy.
“You have a great pride in your town and you just want to get out there and want everybody to do the same as yourself. If people came out and cleaned outside their own houses that would help so much.”