Cutbacks leave rural groups in real peril

The Blackwater Valley contains some of the most beautiful — and verdant countryside in Ireland. Its rolling hills give way to the Blackwater River, the third largest in the country.

But, however beautiful noteworthy and historic an area may be, as an elderly neighbour of mine was fond of reminding me, you can’t live on the view.

The Avondhu Blackwater Partnership Limited (ABPL) have developed and delivered LEADER and other programmes, which have proved vital to the survival of many communities in the area.

Now there are growing concerns that Government initiatives to involve local authorities will seriously undermine the work that has been done by Partnership companies.

They believe the Government has not put forward any legitimate case proving that local authorities will be able to deliver such programmes more cost effectively, more efficiently or more progressively than the existing, tried and tested companies.

“Our observations draw on over 20 years’ experience and strong track record in efficiently and effectively delivering innovative enterprise and community development,” an ABPL spokesperson points out.

“This approach has encouraged community development and promotes social inclusion from tackling rural isolation to urban deprivation through a range of enterprise, training and community development supports.”

Avondhu Blackwater Partnership Ltd and the Irish Local Development Network who are the representative body for the 51 local development companies in Ireland have welcomed many aspects of the document but continue to have concerns about many of its key proposals.

“We need to strengthen both local government and local development,” ABPL concludes. “LEADER and other local development programmes should remain with the existing companies who have a proven track record, low administration costs and are ready to deliver further programmes with the successful bottom-up approach which has served the local development sector, the citizens and communities of Ireland so well.”

KILWORTH

One of the area’s success stories is the recently renovated Kilworth Village Park and Playground. The central site has had several incarnations, including a stint as a private vegetable garden and a wildlife sanctuary before becoming derelict for a number of years.

Kilworth Muintir Community Council, one of the first Muintir groups in Ireland, was established in 1959 and is noted for being the first Muintir to organise a rural group water scheme.

The pro-active group became aware of the strong local need for a children’s playground and a public recreational space and began to look at possible sites in the village. With help from LEADER, Clann Credo and have course, local donations, the project went ahead. The playground was opened in 2008 and the village park added shortly after.

The two facilities are in daily use by community members of all ages.

BALLYNOE AGRI

Eddie and Linda O’Keefe’s first foray into Agri Diversification came about in 1993 when their daughter became sick.

The couple spent two years travelling up and down to Crumlin Hospital and eventually realised that the daily duties of milking their dairy herd was becoming a huge problem.

In 1996 Eddie saw that farmers were having difficulties in securing slatted steel units.

The couple began developing their own business as quickly as possible, selling pre-formed cages directly to farmers and employing one person to help with the work.

But when the grant for these units was discontinued the enterprising family knew it was time to explore other options once again and began working in the feed haulage business.

A LEADER grant enabled them to start a wood chip business to supply the industrial sector. But following an economic downturn, the family had to sell the tractor they used to power the wood chipper. Nothing daunted, Eddie, good with his hands and something of an inventor, took an old engine from a silage harvester and adapted it to power the wood so that it could be chipped in a stationary position. Now the operation could be run by one person and the system was much more efficient.

Their daughter Maeve will soon complete her degree in Agriculture. Her innovative research project, a Hoof Paring Crate makes pairing safer and easier for farmer and animal, and has a patent pending. Today, Ballynoe Agri employs five people plus family members.

THE FARM, GRENAGH

The more urbanised we become and the more pre-packaged and pre-prepared our food, the more our youth is in danger of seeing food as produced in some sort of virtual world, far away from the living reality of a working farm.

Many children have expressed amazement when they realise that milk gushes from a cow’s udder and that feathery clucking hens produce the breakfast egg.

Mick Forde says that the idea to develop ‘The Farm’ came about from the many visits he and his family made to Open Farms in the UK. Mick, who has a farming background, felt that he could develop a facility that would appeal to people of all ages.

With the help of a LEADER grant, he started to look for a location for his dream business and was delighted when a suitable property came up for sale in Grenagh, County Cork.

Mick felt that one of the farm’s most attractive features was the number of original buildings.

Today, The Farm is a very significant contributor to the local economy, employing six full-time and two part-time staff and sourcing all local food stuff for their restaurant. Farm animals, walks a farm shop give visitors an enjoyable day out and an opportunity to see just how its all done.

Now, Mick is very pleased to announce the forthcoming Rural Heritage Interactive Display.

It’s the first of its kind to depict life both before and after the electrification of rural ireland. The Farm has disabled access to all areas.

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