Last chance for your best place pitches

Mon, May 28, 2012, 01:00

The closing date to enter our Best Place to Live in Ireland competition is May 31st, so this is your last chance to nominate your locality as the best in the country. Here are four more pitches before we pick a winner

Moate, Co Westmeath - Vera Hughes

There was a time when one sped with unholy haste through the sleepy, little towns on the Dublin-Galway road and considered the Irish midlands to be dull, flat, and uninteresting. But in the mid-1950s fate and romance decided my future husband (a Dubliner) and life would be in Moate. Fifty-six years on, I can say in all sincerity “Ich bin ein midlander”.

So what makes this midlands town the best place in Ireland to live in, for me a westerner, when it lacks the wild grandeur and drama of mountain and sea? Its gently undulating landscape is spectacular – the mighty Shannon, with its many picturesque wooded islands linking north and south, is a shining ribbon of solidarity. Its people are warm, genuine and excellent neighbours, once you get to know them.

Its story is fascinating. Its Gaelic name “Mota Gráinne Óige” reflects its native Irish and Norman origins – Moate from the Norman-French “motte” or moat (which is at the back of Main Street) and Gráinne the Munster princess who wed a local chieftain and cleric – they were enlightened times in the 16th century. Gráinne was a feisty colleen who, tradition has it, dispensed justice from the summit of the motte.

Today’s Gráinne, resplendent in silver raiment, rode in a chariot, flanked by her medieval henchmen in the Easter parade, past clusters of daffodils and tulips trumpeting their glory in the sunshine.

After the Normans came the Quakers, a sober, God-fearing, frugal-living sect who made Moate an industrial town that gave much local employment for almost two centuries, until English tariffs and the nefarious Act of Union killed the industries, and Moate reverted to a market town. While today not a single Quaker remains, their legacy does. I live in a large, solid, unpretentious 1790s Quaker house – with bell-pulls to summon the servants – and the name Cartronkeel contains the Norman “cartron” or 60-acre measurement, together with “keel”, the Anglicised form of “caol”, meaning narrow.

There is so much to explore farther afield – the remains of castles, abbeys, monasteries, holy wells, cairns, battlefields, St Ciarán’s Cathedral in Clonmacnoise, Newgrange, which was built before the pyramids, the sacred hill of Uisneach, umbilicus of Ireland, and Tara of the high kings, and then there’s Goldsmith country too.

Today’s Westmeath and its environs marries past and present sympathetically, and with restrained, good-mannered dignity in its hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, golf clubs and sports arenas, without the honky tonk and exuberant vulgarity often unhappily obtained in some seaside resorts.

Here, there is a genuine Westmeath welcome, an honesty and naturalness towards the stranger. Ken Wardrops’s much-acclaimed film His and Hers featured 90 women from the midlands, women who were at ease and happy in themselves and in their lives.

Now long a midlander by adoption, I too am happy in myself, not hell-bent on having to live in top gear, but delighted to live in this leisurely, magical corner of the hidden Ireland of music, drama, song, dance, art, literature, history, friendship and good neighbourliness – everything that makes life worthwhile.

Killarney, Co Kerry

The town of Killarney has a feel of true community spirit, with the good of our local community being the responsibility of all who live here. The testament to this spirit was our national award in the tidy towns and numerous Entente Floral awards. - Mark Murphy

In my 12 years living in Ireland, 11 of the years have been in Killarney. Hailing from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and having lived in Dublin for a year, Killarney was very different. Although it is smaller and quieter, the natural beauty of the place is overwhelming. Another great thing here is the schools. St Oliver’s national school has 27 different nationalities. Not only that, we also have an inclusive school policy, which makes it a great place for educating kids. With the parks, gardens and playground, it’s a great place to bring up children. For me, initially, Killarney seemed too small a town to live in; now I can’t imagine living anywhere else. - Veena Krishnankveena

For sports we have the most beautiful horse-racing track in the world, a selection of championship golf courses including the home of the Irish Open, and a vibrant rowing heritage going back 150 years on the lake that has bred some Olympians. Fishing is bountiful both on the lakes and many rivers. For the canoeist, you have rapids and many quiet caves to spend your time. - Tom Randles

Any community, of any size, anywhere in the world, can be measured against the yardstick of the 3 Ps: the people, the place and the pace. Apply this test to Killarney and the result will give you two more Ps, which are perfection personified. - Michael Rosney

Surrounded by its 25,000 acre National Park (right), Killarney is without doubt Ireland’s best place to live. I am blessed to be living here, taking my daily walk in Knockreer, breathing in such pure air filtered by magnificent trees as I treasure the wow factor of the natural beauty that surrounds me. We have more trees, of different shapes and variety of leaves, here in Killarney than in any other part of Ireland. These lead us gently into each season with their own vibrant symphony. - Kathleen O'Regan-Sheppard

Ballinteer, Co Dublin - Wendy Tapia

There was once a fox mother who was looking for her missing baby fox. The desperate mother had been asking every neighbour if a sleek, fluffy, yet elegant and beautiful baby fox was seen walking around. Nobody had seen such a fox. After hours of searching, the worried mother and a group of neighbours, who were now helping her search, saw an odd animal in the distance with atrocious fur, close to bald. It could very well have been a giant rat or a very squalid dog and to their surprise, the fox mother, with her eyes full of tears of joy, started screaming: “It’s my boy, it’s my beautiful boy.”

Since the fox mother found her adorable boy, who was not even close to her description, I have wondered if it is that our eyes see and our heart decides on beauty.

I may never find an answer to that, but I am convinced that there is something elegant and beautiful about the land where I live, Ballinteer. Where roots grow strong, right beside the joy of blue and the endless green. The breeze and the fog come to wake the land at dawn, and during the night the fox mother may pay us one or two visits. She is not looking for her beautiful boy any more; she is just guarding the land. After patrolling for a while, she climbs to the top of a steep hill, where the city proclaims an extravagant nudity of lights, and a shy revelation of the sea.

The mountains that she inhabits are now peppered with flowers that learn to grow through pavements, clean roofs, an army of trees and one or two yellow signs to take sleepy heads to the land of work. Wherever you turn, you find beauty, you rejoice.

People call this place “Baile an tSaoir” which means “Home of the Stonemason”. It takes only a glance to understand that here, as stones become the expression of grace. My Mexican roots crossed oceans to feel the inexplicable warmth of Irish soil and call this place home. This is home, and in my love for this land I have found invincible summers, an undeniable dot of greenness in the middle of the universe, thousands of inspiring moments while listening to the chat of the drops coming from the waterfall in Marlay Park (above) and the fragrance of burnt wood in the air.

The shimmering light of the afternoons makes me blink and wonder if this is just a very vivid fantasy, maybe an early dream, but a second later the fresh waves of air remind me that I am awake, I am alive. I have seen that fox countless times and imagine hundreds of stories of her tread. The indulgence of living here, close to the colour of silence and the sound of chaos, makes me reflect that this could very well be only a statement of my heart and indisputably the best place in Ireland.

Aughrim, Co Wicklow - Tony Mulqueen

Bright waters meet in the vale that cradles our village. The Ow, the Derry Water, and the Macreddin and Three Wells Brooks form the Aughrim river. Before us lies Croghan Mountain and behind us the sheltering mass of Lugnaquilla. Wicklow granite is the signature building material in a stone-cutter’s village. Local stonecutters built the fabric of the village: the forge and mill, town hall and workers’ cottages.

Seat of the county pitch, Aughrim needs no introduction to GAA followers. Sports as diverse as tae kwon do and angling are catered for, with dedicated clubs and venues. From the white-clad junior martial artists to their white-clad elders on the village bowling green, from the quiet haunts of the angling lakes to the throbbing excitement of a county final, there is sport and recreation for all.

Our angling lake lies at the heart of the village community park. Purpose-built for access, the National Angling Disabled Facility is well stocked with hard-fighting rainbow trout. The lake is part of a general community area, home to a bowling green, a village meeting place and community hall, a farmers’ market and an IT centre. Children and their parents can enjoy a safe play area in the park, stocked with playground equipment to tire out the most vigorous youngster.

Town planning is thoughtful and sustainable, encouraging growth of the village core while leaving us with uninterrupted views of the Wicklow hills. The development that has taken place in the boom years was completed to a high standard. The scope is sustainable: sufficient to support a sturdy retail sector, residents’ groups, and a vibrant school and sporting life.

We enjoy access to nearby woodland trails such as the Sean Lenihan Way and Ciaran Shannon Way, which both commemorate local people who devoted much time and energy to improving the quality of life in Aughrim and the surrounding town-lands. Our best-loved beauty spots narrowly avoided closure due to recent local government cuts: the battle was won this time, but the war is far from over.

The people of Aughrim have thrown themselves with vigour into town competitions such as Tidy Towns and Entente Florale, winning sheaves of awards including national Tidy Towns champion. The well-filled wall of fame in the community hall is a source of pride, but even more so is the sheen of loving care given to the village by many hands.

IT workers can avail of a high-quality broadband service to mix an unspoiled village lifestyle with an Internet-based global economy. The village is well linked to urban access, through routes such as the N11 and the Dart at Greystones, giving roughly an hour’s journey time to the capital. Judging by our many visitors – wedding parties, vintage rallies, walkers, anglers, cyclists and motorcycle enthusiasts – this ready access is very welcome to those travelling in the opposite direction.

Do you live in the best place in Ireland?

The Irish Times is on the hunt for Ireland’s nicest neck-of-the-woods, and invites you to nominate your favourite. It can be a town, suburb, village or remote spot – anywhere that, despite all the problems our little nation is going through, you feel supremely lucky to have landed in. The reason could be the neighbours, social life, scenery, the facilities or none or all of these.

THE PRIZE

The winning “place” will be announced in early summer. The Irish Times will mark the accolade with a plaque for the locality, publish a story on the winning place, and make a short film about it for irishtimes.com.

THE JUDGES

The best place will be chosen by a panel of five judges: Maureen Gaffney, adjunct professor of Psychology and Society in UCD; architect Paul Keogh; statistician Gerard O’Neill from Amárach Research; Irish Times Environment Editor Frank McDonald; and Irish Times journalist Edel Morgan.

YOU

We want you to tell us in no more than 500 words why you think your area is the best place to live in Ireland. Pitch, argue, convince and gush, and explain what gives your neighbourhood the X factor. There are also some questions about everything from the local schools to the quality of the environment. But don’t be put off if you live in an area that doesn’t fit all these criteria. Ultimately, the strength of your pitch will count. See irishtimes.com/bestplacefor details on how to submit