'Best place is where you and your family flourish'

Mon, Jun 18, 2012, 01:00

The judges have applied very diverse values in selecting what for them would be the Best Place to Live in Ireland, writes CONOR GOODMAN

THE JUDGES of The Irish Times Best Place to Live in Ireland competition have narrowed their search to just five places which are in the running for the overall award.

They include one village, one small town, one large town, one city, and one suburb or urban village.

They are: Ardara, Co Donegal; Westport, Co Mayo; Killarney, Co Kerry; Cork city; and Rathmines in Dublin.

These five will be visited by the judges over the coming week, and the overall winner will be announced next Monday, June 25th.

Cork was selected as the best city, closely followed by Waterford city. (Dublin was deemed at an early stage to be too diffuse a collection of communities to be considered a single “place” in itself).

The Dingle peninsula, which was on last week’s longlist as a “rural district”, did not make the shortlist.

For the Best Place to Live in Ireland competition, The Irish Times invited people to nominate the place they lived in, and explain its appeal. All kinds of habitats were eligible: “a town or city suburb, a village or remote rural spot, a tiny community halfway up a mountain, a street, a road or a housing estate”. From early April until late May, the competition attracted 563 entries from members of the public across 32 counties.

The judges are: Dr Maureen Gaffney, adjunct professor of psychology and society at University College Dublin; Paul Keogh, founding partner of Paul Keogh Architects and former president of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland; Gerard O’Neill, chairman of Amárach Research and a co-founder of Hireland.ie; Irish Times Environment Editor Frank McDonald; and Irish Times journalist Edel Morgan.

The judges applied a variety of criteria in arriving at their decision.

Psychologist Maureen Gaffney said: “For me the best place to live is one where you feel you and your family can flourish: where you feel safe and happy, competent and fulfilled, free to be your best self; where you feel you matter and what you do matters, where you belong.”

Architect Paul Keogh said: “There are two fundamental questions: where are the places that balance a high personal quality of life with the ethics of sustainable living – social, economic and environmental? Second, where are places that combine the attributes people find attractive in suburban and rural locations – conviviality, identity, safety, continuity and closeness to nature – with those only urban places can provide: convenient access to education, health, leisure, employment and culture?”

Irish Times Environment Editor Frank McDonald looked for “a street that’s designed for people rather than a road designed for cars. Diversity is also important. An ideal community should contain young, old and those in between; well-off and poorer people, students, foreigners.”

The winning place will receive a location-appropriate plaque or sign noting the accolade.

It will also be profiled in the paper and will be the subject of a short film commissioned by The Irish Times. You can read all 563 entries and learn more about the competition at www.irishtimes.com/bestplace

THE SHORTLIST

VILLAGE: ARDARA, CO DONEGAL

In choosing Ardara, the judges noted that it “makes the best of what it has and it has a lot for a relatively small place – schools, good shops – and it’s hard to get vacant premises in the village.”

Its many festivals, including the multicultural Melting Pot festival, also played a role. Jenny McHugh, who nominated the village, wrote: “There are few places that can boast such a tight sense of community as Ardara. We have so many events throughout the year, catering for visitors and locals alike and showcasing some top-class music, crafts and family entertainment. The people of Ardara work hard and work together, helping to put our town on the map.”

Runner-up: Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary

LARGE TOWN: KILLARNEY, CO KERRY   

In their many nominations, Killarney’s locals were very convincing. The judges chose it as “a real place, not just for tourists”, noting its “mix of scenery such as the lakes, mountains, etc, and the ability to commute. The area also offers a great mix of activities.”

Nominee Amélie Gagné wrote: “After many weeks of travelling, I eventually put my backpack down in Killarney. And little did I know down it was going to stay. Day after day I discovered just a little more about the town. First physically of course . . . the many walks in the National Park and the majestic beauty of the lakes, by Ross Castle in the moonlight. After more than 10 years I know how truly lucky I am to have put my backpack down in this town.”

Runner-up: Greystones, Co Wicklow

CITY: CORK

CORK WAS noted as “lively, colourful, compact, welcoming, fun, and with plenty of variety in nightlife and restaurants”.

Rory Copplestone, who nominated the city, described it as “a very welcoming and exciting city . . . Cork is surrounded by many towns and villages, like Kinsale, Cobh and Crosshaven.

“These towns provide great majestic views and stunning scenery either out on the water or on the mainland.

“All these features and qualities help make Cork a beautiful, cultured and vibrant city.”

Runner-up: Waterford

SUBURB: RATHMINES, DUBLIN

Rathmines was chosen for its diverse population, welcoming atmosphere, proximity to the city centre, schools, excellent local facilities and its “real main street”, with a variety of shopping.

Nick Kelly nominated it originally and wrote: “Originally developed to house Victorian clerical workers toiling in the metropolis beyond the canal, Rathmines has long attracted, and catered for, a more diverse population.

“While this has always been a busy, messy place, better known for its late-opening laundromats and early morning walks of shame, Rathmines, like Manhattan, retains its ability to ambush you with beauty.”

Runner-up: Glenbeigh Road Area, Cabra, Dublin

SMALL TOWN: WESTPORT, CO MAYO

The town was chosen for its sustainable transport initiatives, its access to nature and its sustaining industries. It “has it all, plus employment”, said one judge.

John O’Callaghan, who nominated the town, wrote: “The Westport to Achill line has been reopened as the Great Western Greenway, a fantastic new amenity for cyclists and walkers alike.

“Westport is a dynamic and industrious town, with a variety of successful indigenous and multinational businesses. I love Westport deeply.

“I’m always passionate in extolling its many virtues and no matter where I go I always love to return.”

Runner-up: Skerries, Co Dublin