Archdeacon Michael Murphy has inspired an overall award win in the national Tidy Towns competition for the third time and in three different locations.
The Kerry priest, a sprightly 86, was parish priest in Sneem when it scooped the prestigious overall award in 1987 and following his transfer to Kenmare he led that town to the ultimate prize in 2000.
This year he was the secret weapon in Killarney’s push for glory and he was the toast of the tourist town last night as locals took to the streets to celebrate.
Archdeacon Murphy, the elder brother of Bishop of Kerry Bill Murphy, led by example and set off on daily litter-picking chores on the streets and roadways around Killarney while gently persuading others to join him on his mission.
Killarney Tidy Towns committee chairwoman Yvonne Quill described Archdeacon Murphy as “the golden man”.
“He is just absolutely phenomenal,” she said.
Ms Quill said everybody involved was delighted with the 310 marks received which earned Killarney the title of Ireland’s Tidiest Large Town in addition to the overall prize.
The success comes just seven days after Killarney was named Ireland’s Cleanest Town in the Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) contest. “We are absolutely delighted. It is a fantastic reward for all the work that has gone in this year,” said Ms Quill, who praised the role played by the local authorities, Killarney Chamber of Tourism and Commerce and the dozens of locals who weighed in behind nightly voluntary clean-up campaigns.
Tidy Towns committee members were given a rousing welcome when they arrived back to Killarney by train last night. They were paraded through the immaculately maintained streets to the flower-bedecked town hall where dozens of local schoolchildren, carrying banners and waving flags, joined proud locals in the celebrations.
Over the past 20 years there has been a major push to transform Killarney from a frequently slated town, where neon lights and plastic shopfronts were once the norm, into a tastefully decorated and well-presented location.
Now proud locals will point to the fact that the only plastic on show is on the credit cards of the tens of thousands of visitors that visit the town to enjoy the scenery and the facilities every year.
Mayor of Killarney Seán Counihan said great credit is due to the town council’s street cleaning staff who set the standard for others to follow.
The campaign to transform the image of Killarney can be traced way back to 1991 when Kevin Moynihan, a civic-minded accountant from Cobh, Co Cork, with a practice in Killarney, encouraged the town council to launch a novel Killarney Looking Good competition.
That inspired hotels, pubs, restaurants, streets, schools, factories and residential areas to compete against each other for annual awards and it has led to remarkable visual improvements in every area of the town once controversially described by Bridgestone Guide publisher and critic John McKenna as being a location best viewed through a rear-view mirror.
Other winners included Kilkenny (Tidiest Large Urban Centre) and Lismore, Co Waterford (Tidiest Small Town).