The tiny Tipperary village beat 869 other entrants in the annual Tidy Towns competition to take the top spot — the biggest number of entries in the contest’s 59-year history.
Victory was all the sweeter because Birdhill was just one point behind the winner, Skerries, in last year’s competition. It has been named tidiest village on three previous occasions, has won numerous gold medals and county awards, and has a gold medal in the similar, Europe-wide Entente Florale competition.
For Denis Floyd, Birdhill native and chairman of the village’s Tidy Towns committee, the Tidy Towns was the main goal and achieving it was the fruit of a quarter century’s labours.
“I’m delighted. It’s a dream come true, really. We’ve been trying a long time, working hard for 26 years, and eventually we’ve got the big one,” he said.
The win is all the more remarkable because the population of Birdhill village is just 45, while the catchment area brings it up to only around 300.
Mr Floyd’s advice to other villages is not to let their size stop them thinking big. “Keep at it — that’s what I’d say. The key to it, really, is to involve the community.
“We’re very small, we wouldn’t be able to do it if we were depending solely on the people within the speed limit area but by bringing in people from outside, and outside expertise, too — such as people who know about landscaping or the promotion of wildlife — you can make the best of what you have.”
Having got landscaping and litter control down to a fine art, the committee branched out into more complex projects in recent years and believe what clinched it this year was installing solar panels in the village park to provide lighting after dark and paying special attention to plants that help boost the national bee population.
Birdhill is a very different place from when the committee started out because, until seven years ago, the village was on the main N7 Dublin-Limerick road.
“We were trying to do work on the side of the road with traffic thundering by,” recalls Mr Floyd.
The opening of the M7 changed all that but the village was determined not to be overlooked once it was bypassed.
Big changes and new challenges lie ahead, though, because there are plans for 60 new houses on the edge of the village which could almost double its population within a few years.
“That will have a huge impact, but hopefully in a very positive way. We’ll get more people involved and hopefully they’ll have as much pride in the place as we do.”
A cash prize of €10,000 will help kickstart planning for the new arrivals but for a couple of weeks before their AGM in October, the committee members are going to enjoy their success.
They were among more than 1,000 representatives of Tidy Towns groups from all over the country who gathered in Dublin’s Helix Theatre yesterday for the announcement of the winners.
Between the bronze, silver, and gold medals, regional and county awards, commendations and special prizes, more than 200 groups and individuals went home very pleased with their efforts. For others, there is a way to go to reach the Birdhill heights. While the winner scored 332 marks, the lowest this year was 200 — shared by Bishopstown in Cork, Ballysloe in Tipperary, and Dowra in Cavan.
Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring said the contribution the groups made to their communities made them all winners.
“I know it’s not easy and you don’t get the thanks you deserve,” he said. “On my own behalf and on behalf of the Government and on behalf of every community in Ireland I want to say to you the volunteers, thank you for what you do for your country, thank you for what you do for your towns and villages and counties.”
SuperValu, which has sponsored the competition for the last 26 years, announced it would remain on as sponsor for a further five years. A series of public consultation meetings to discuss the future direction of the competition will take place around the country in the coming months as the contest prepares to mark its 60th year in 2018.