Kilkenny City was declared tidiest of them all after beating 848 other towns and villages across the country to claim the top title for the first time in almost 30 years.
Success was all the sweeter for the fact that the award was presented by Tipperary man Alan Kelly, the environment minister, who graciously put aside county loyalties to sing his rival’s praises.
“This is a fantastic achievement for Kilkenny — a really worthy winner,” he said. “It is 1985 since Kilkenny last won the overall prize, but they have been consistently achieving high standards in the competition at local and regional level.”
But it was a bitter sweet victory for campaigners protesting against plans for the construction of a new bridge across the River Nore over concerns it will damage the city’s medieval heritage.
It won’t have escaped their notice that the judges commented generously on Kilkenny’s efforts to preserve its medieval character. “Nowhere on this island does the ancient streetscape still impact so definitely on the contemporary city,” they reported.
Kilkenny was also named the Tidiest Large Urban Centre while Clonegal, Co Carlow, claimed the award for Tidiest Village; Kilrush, Co Clare, was declared Tidiest Small Town, and Westport, Co Mayo, took the title of Tidiest Large Town. For Westport, this was familiar territory as it has won the large town category seven times since 2001 and the national title three times in the same period.
Kilkenny’s ascent to the top has been more recent, the city won the large urban centre category in 2010 and 2011 — its first major awards since 1985.
The adjudicators paid tribute to the massive community effort involved in making the marble city shine, noting that more than 80 residents’ associations were active in the campaign as well as many other local groups.
Local TD John Paul Phelan described the effort as “superhuman”. “Tourism is a critical industry in Kilkenny city and county and maintaining high standards is paramount.
“This great result augurs very well for the future of the industry. Everyone involved needs to take a well-deserved bow.”
Colin Ahern, chairman of Kilkenny Tourism added: “This is a fantastic achievement and the result of huge effort by everybody in the area.”