Listowel, Ireland’s tidiest town: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again

Kerry town came so close in recent years but winning overall award was still a surprise

Listowel has been crowned Ireland’s Tidiest  Town. Photograph:  Domnick Walsh / Eye Focus

Listowel has been crowned Ireland’s Tidiest Town. Photograph: Domnick Walsh / Eye Focus

 

You’d have to get up very early in the morning to compete with Listowel in the SuperValu TidyTowns competition.

A group of volunteers go out between 6.30am and 7am every morning to pick up litter around the town, water the flowers and apply a lick of paint where one is needed.

A good start is half the battle to keep a town tidy, says Breda McGrath, one of the “dawn crew” or “Cagney and Lacey” as they are known in Listowel. They go out from April until the Listowel Races, the September meeting that marks the end of summer.

Ms McGrath retired from the Kerry Group five years ago and joined the TidyTowns committee in the town.

Four to five volunteers emerge from their homes at dawn to clean up Listowel setting an example to everyone else. Ms McGrath said their motivations were “pride in our place”.

“It encourages other people and I do think it has improved the town though there is still litter around. It encourages people to be more careful,” she said.

Listowel had come close on previous occasions to the big prize, but many locals thought they did not stand a chance this year because the streets of the town were dug up to lay gas mains.

Nevertheless, the committee had used the money that it won with the competition’s small town awards in 2015 and 2016 to enhance the streetscape and were ready for another tilt at the title this year.

Attracting visitors

Listowel is not on the tourist trail in comparison with many other places in Kerry so it has to work harder to attract visitors.

Listowel TidyTowns chairwoman Julie Gleeson attributed the win to “hard work”. There are 15-20 volunteers involved in the local committee.

“We have a lot of people passing through. We don’t have a lot to keep them here and we are off the Wild Atlantic Way, which is a pity,” she said.

“We’ve been so close to the top for the last number of years that every year we say, ‘oh well, maybe it’s this year ’ and it never came. That’s why it came as a total surprise to us.”

The prospect of winning the big prize, having come so close in previous years, kept many volunteers going when it was easier to quit, she believes.

She also acknowledged that local schools and housing estates had contributed to keeping Listowel tidy as had Kerry County Council.

“There are so many people to thank. I couldn’t thank them all individually,” she said clutching the trophy.

Writers’ week

Listowel is most famous for its writers’ week inspired by its most famous son John B Keane. A statue of him was erected in Listowel in 2007.

“He’d have loved this, but his son Billy is very proud of Listowel as well,” said Ms Gleeson.

It was a jubilant Listowel party that made its way back to Kerry on Monday evening with the coveted trophy.

Local councillor Michael Kennelly (Fine Gael) said the award was effectively for a “lifetime achievement” in enhancing Listowel. “Every year they have been increasing their effort. The town has never looked so good and they’ve got their justification.”