Westport in modern times

Features


Westport in modern times

Liamy MacNally Less than two weeks ago Westport was beaming, bustling with being busy – like thunder on the mountain. It started with the Gaelforce West display of all that is good about the outdoor life, on a weekend of celebration in the grounds of Westport House. The occasion was used to educate, raise awareness and fund-raise. The Gaelforce West weekend opened the town to another side of life just as it introduced the town to new people. All were suitably impressed by what the other had to offer.  Voluntary, statutory and business bodies stood side by side in a generous mix of everyday life. The Gaelforce West then bowed to another gale force – the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party meeting in Hotel Westport. 
Walkabout
Released from the darkness of opinion polls, the soldiers of destiny sought out peace and tranquillity along the shores of Clew Bay, attempting to capture the spirit on the water. Spirits were renewed, in many ways. The leader revealed that any successor has big shoes to fill, size eleven to be exact! An Taoiseach’s walkabout in the town is the type of exercise that he appears to thrive on. He has no problem rollin’ and tumblin’ through the streets of any town. He can meet and greet like the best of them. His charisma is different to that of any of the other political leaders and he wants to retire at 60!  Not for him a Mary Harney style of retiring, much less a Tony Blair leadership mauling - so far anyway!
Bertie has that sense of impeccable timing – being in Westport when the National Tidy Towns Award Winner was announced. It could only happen to Bertie. It was the spark he needed to ignite his passion for meeting the ‘plain people of Ireland’. There is still great talk about the shoes in O’Donnell’s and the jacket in Port West. It does not matter if he paid for them or accepted the goods as gifts. Cash is not the be all and end all of a transaction. History, loyalty, integrity, sincerity and honesty all play a part. Who knows how and when the deal goes down?            
Tidy Towns Award
The Tidy Towns win was special this year. International events overtook the win in 2001, when it was announced the day before September 11. The win that year was lost amidst an outpouring of communal, international grief and rage. The emphasis was on the pain and heartbreak of mindless acts of murder.
This year the win was celebrated with a strong presence at the awards ceremony in Dublin Castle. Representatives from most of the partners that make up the success that is Westport Tidy Towns were present. The ebullient Elsie Higgins, as Chair of the committee, was duly poised to accept the trophy, which she also forgot to collect! Cathaoirleach Tereasa McGuire was flanked by Town Manager, Peter Hynes; Town Architect, Simon Wall; Town Foreman, Eamonn O’Malley, not forgetting Tony Naughten, Frank Dolan, Cllr Dave Keating, Jackie Foley from FÁS, Liam Campion from sponsor SuperValu, the Western Regional Fisheries Board, Chamber of Commerce, and a host of others who travelled from Westport. All involved can take a bow for a job well done.
Years ago we all wondered if Westport would ever be in a position to take         the coveted national title. The then Town Manager, Padraig Hughes, and Town Foreman, Paddy Keane cajoled people and organisations to support efforts around the town. ‘Some day baby’ became a catch phrase for many people in pursuit of the elusive accolade. 
That day has now come to pass, on two occasions. Any win is not just the claim of a current group of volunteers but can be traced back to the efforts of so many along the streets of time. The late Patsy Golden swept outside the Royal Hotel every day. Most shopkeepers and business people did the same. Pride in how their premises looked was instilled in them. That manifested into pride in how the town looked and the emergence of Westport Junior Chamber and Westport Tourism. Other groups, from Ireland West to the Westport Sea Angling Club, among others, prided themselves on showcasing the strengths of the town. Every group played its part in laying foundation stones that now support the Westport of today.
The Council
While Elsie will be first to tell you that it can take hours of ‘deliberations’ to get projects supported by various partners, the fruits are readily on show in our lovely town. Westport Town Council deserves special praise and credit for its active support in the Tidy Towns competition. It provides personnel and supports projects. The outdoor staff can take great pride in the way their work is on public display and greatly admired by locals and visitors alike. If they ever get the working man’s blues when there’s an evening haze settling over the town, they can remember that they fought the best on the front line.          
Beyond the horizon of victory lies more work. Just when you think it has all been done you realise that there is still some little piece of litter to place in a bin. And all the time you wonder how to deal with the growing menace of cigarette butts. The fact that discarding each one warrants a €125 fine does not seem to cross anyone’s mind. Litter control is not about fear. It is a mindset. You get to the stage where you pick up litter because it is the appropriate thing to do, not because some plonker sees fit to throw it on the pavement. And they still exist!
Sculpture
The extra good news is that the Environment Minister, Dick Roche and the County Manager, Des Mahon, have agreed to share the cost of erecting a sculpted replica of the National Tidy Towns Award on a site in the town, probably on The Fairgreen. It will not take long for the Covies to put the proverbial nickname on the said ‘creature’ once it sees the light of day. It will provoke as much comment as the wooden sculptors of yesteryear that sparkle around the town. Some of them – especially the one at Chestnut Grove – are in need of a little treatment. They would now be missed, like Nettie Moore, if they vanished from our landscape. Mary Angela Kelly was always a great defender, and rightly, of the ‘wooden soldiers’.
Some have a preference for a water feature to be attached to the new sculpture. It would be appropriate if the location is The Fairgreen, overlooking the Carrowbeg River. There will be those who fear that, with another gush of water, the levee’s gonna break! The dry summer and the high walls of the Mall should put paid to any fears. Sculpture is always a welcome addition to any town. Hopefully work can begin on the project sooner rather than later. The gardens, the flowers and the fountains all play a part in making the town look well. Once the celebrations are over the cry again will be ‘Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’, heart burnin’, still yearnin’, in the last outback at the world’s end’.  Comhghairdeas do chuile dhuine.