Organising events to spark the interest of the whole community in the lead-up to Christmas to help keep money in the locality – that’s what the people of Clogheen are getting up to this Christmas.
With the help of some funding from Tipperary County Council’s Christmas Retail Support Scheme, all sorts of events have been organised including a Santa dash, a shop-local draw, a night-time Christmas Clogheen loop walk, children’s art competitions and Christmas parties in the community hall for adults and children alike.
From the switching on of the lights on the Christmas tree on 9 December through to the shop local draw on the 23 December, Clogheen villagers will be making a major effort to help themselves by working together in a common aim – and having fun along the way.
The grant from the council was the original carrot, but now in its fourth year of Clogheen involvement in the scheme, this Christmas project has become an annual village tradition.
The format is simple. The scheme provides cash grants of anything from €500 to €3,000 to selected villages or towns in Tipperary to organise events to keep shoppers in the county over Christmas. This year Clogheen got €900, and it has been put to good use.
“I’m a bit tight with it!” says county councillor Marie Murphy, one of the committee that I meet in the 19th century St Paul’s church-turned-community centre. “We spend some of it on posters and some on prizes and on doing things, such as providing refreshments after the street events like the Santa dash,” she says.
The Santa dash involves as many people as possible dressed in Santa clothing walking/running/prancing around the village at a set time.
KEEPING BUSINESS IN VILLAGE
Keeping shoppers in the village is vital for its survival, according to all those I meet: Marie; walking tour organiser Liam Fleming; parents’ council representative Sinead Hickey; and local XL shop owner, Colm Browne.
Clogheen, like other rural villages, has experienced industry and service loss in recent years. Here, the co-op, bakery and bank have gone, and new developments like online grocery shopping and discount supermarkets’ later opening hours have taken their toll too, but businesses are doing their best to combat the challenges.
Colm Browne opened his shop on the main street over two years ago. It was a place he worked as a teenager. “It had been closed for a year, but I must say from the minute we opened people have been supporting it,” he says.
“It’s good to be employing people, and we try to keep prices as competitive as we can. Things like running a Christmas club and a Christmas card competition for the children and a coffee morning for the Hospice helps to bring customers in too.”
Clogheen, thankfully, they all say, still has its post office – something that’s vital to the village economy. It also has several traditionally-fronted shops, including a butchers and a needle-to-anchor hardware shop.
Design-wise it is distinctive with its three-, rather than two-, storey buildings lining the street. The village also has a former district hospital with a Hospice facility – St Teresa’s – a day-care unit and a health centre on the same site nearby.
WALKS COMBAT RURAL ISOLATION
“Organising all the events definitely brings people together,” Liam Fleming says. Liam is heavily involved in the exercise side of things, and a Christmas walk of the Clogheen loop will take place on 18 December.
It is a spin-off of the village’s summer Couch to Mountain Top walking programme and the current How’s She Cuttin’ one that sees over 50 people out walking two nights’ a week. Both stemmed from the success of Operation Transformation activity last winter.
“It’s quite a sight, seeing so many people with fluorescent jackets out walking the roads. It definitely helps neighbours to get to know one another,” says Sinead Hickey.
The good news is that these organised walking events are attracting the attention of the University of Limerick, where social enterprise researchers see the advantage of replicating this community activity elsewhere.
This year, the Clogheen community has had to deal with the crisis of the community hall roof needing fixing, along with new plumbing and re-wiring.
“That helped to bring the community together, too,” Marie Murphy says. “We had a door-to-door collection, which was well supported, and 40 people turned up for the clean-up we had recently, which was great.”
This well-used village hall will be the venue for many of the Christmas activities.
SCENERY AN ADVANTAGE
On the very positive side, Clogheen has the huge location advantage of being in a very scenic area, with the spectacular Vee pass on its shoulder. Summer trade is therefore good, as tourists, Sunday drivers and cyclists flock to the Vee for its dramatic road swing and rhododendron-flushed views.
The village also boasts a hostel, an award-winning restaurant and a holiday camp – again important for summer visitors. But in the meantime it is very obvious that, in December 2016, Christmas and community spirit are both alive and well in this Tipperary village.