Are these the best places in Ireland?
‘The Irish Times’ is on the hunt for Ireland’s nicest neck-of-the-woods and has invited members of the public to nominate their favourites. Here are four of the latest pitches
Athlone, Westmeath: Mary O'Rourke
Located in the centre of Ireland, Athlone is the place that I want to put forward and to gush about (as The Irish Times has suggested). I will find it very hard to keep it to 500 words to tell you all about why it is a lovely place to live.
Of course it is the centre of Ireland. Constantly the beauty of living at sea and mountains is extolled – but not for us those faraway delights. For us, the river Shannon flows imposingly through the middle of the town of Athlone, coming down from the lakes of Lough Ree and meandering on down to the lovely countryside of Clonmacnoise. The delight of having such a huge waterway in the middle of where you live is palpable. Emerge from anywhere in Athlone and within minutes you can be at the water.
I like the idea of living in a town which has a past and a storied history. Every Athlone boy or girl learns by heart the poem by Aubrey de Vere:
“Does any man dream that a Gael can fear?
Of a thousand deeds let him learn but one!
The Shannon swept onwards broad and clear,
Between the leaguers and broad Athlone.”
In Athlone we back on to the rolling countryside of Westmeath, with its rich pastures and fine, fat cattle, but across the bridge of Athlone, we face into Roscommon with its lean fields and trimmed sheep.
I like the idea that my town withstood the “enemy” with a brave stand by Sgt Custume and his 10 men. I like living in a town where we praise the past by name and plaque and where we tried valiantly to guard the entry to the west of Ireland. I love the idea that we are in the middle of everything, that from Athlone you can so easily get to Cork, Galway, Dublin, Belfast – anywhere you want to go is never too far from home.
We are the centre for the Amateur Drama Finals each year where people queue patiently to get their season tickets and the talk in the pubs and hotels is of the play last night and the play to come. I like the idea that Athlone is at the centre of a strong literary tradition – Oliver Goldsmith, Maria Edgeworth and most of all our very own John Broderick – fair dues to the town council in naming a new street after him. He had a caustic tongue when he wrote but we so enjoy his writing.
I like the idea that we have great primary schools, secondary schools and our very own third-level institution, the Athlone IT, which has a terrific name for attracting students from all over the country. I like to re-enact in my mind the idea that the monks of old came by water to study in Clonmacnoise. Now the youth of today come by train, road and bus to study in Athlone. There is something about the aura of learning that sticks to this area. Athlone is redolent of past and present studies. Walk through the town on any day and you can meet students of all nations.
Lest I be accused of dwelling too much in the past, we have an endless stream of terrific modern bistros and restaurants from the high-end priced to the drop-in cafés where it’s great to go and gossip. There are good shops, good company, a lively buzz and bright modern hotels.
Like all other areas in Ireland, we are going through difficult economic times, but somehow Athlone has escaped the very worst of it and its industries, big and small, are still thriving. People have tightened their belts but remain cheerful and have a certain air about them – they care for one another.
Lest I forget, we have also bred and reared very fine parliamentarians – TP O’Connor of the Parnellite and the Irish Parliamentary Party, Patrick Cooney of Fine Gael fame and the two Brian Lenihans of Fianna Fáil fame – revered names whose clout still counts in this town.
Oh and I nearly forgot – we have our very own international singer Count John McCormack, who was born and reared here.
Yes, I suppose I am cocky about my hometown, but I love it and you did say I could gush, and reader, have I gushed?
Damien Enright: Courtmacsherry, Co Cork
Courtmacsherry in west Cork, population 520, is a world away from busy roads and urban stress. A single street of pretty houses and Georgian villas set on the bay shore against a background of mature woodland, on weekday afternoons one could – as they say – hear a pin drop. Beyond the seafront gardens, small boats bob in the channel. With its beautiful name and fine architecture, Courtmacsherry has remained unspoiled