Supporting info for 2014 application

Abbeyleix Tidy Towns:

Submission for National Tidy Towns Competition 2013

Having long been known as an important heritage town, Abbeyleix is fast becoming recognised for its green credentials. We are committed to the principles of sustainable development and since 2010 our activity in this area has become more structured and formalised with the formation of the Abbeyleix Business & Community Forum (ABC) This new umbrella structure has provided the ideal vehicle to enable the Tidy Towns committee and other existing groups to harness the energy and enthusiasm which coincided with the opening of the motorway and the subsequent diversion of vehicles. The town has been reclaimed by the community from the choking traffic and this has given rise to one new initiative after another. The past year in particular has been a very successful one for us. The following is a brief description of our green community along with some detail on our overall approach to sustainability plus a list of our key achievements over the past year.

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General Approach

Numbers involved on the committee:

We have a core committee of 10 members which are drawn from across the community. We work closely with all the relevant groups in town and have direct representation on the following committees: The Abbeyleix Business and Community (ABC) Group, Abbeyleix Heritage Company, Abbeyleix Bog Project, Abbeyleix Park Development and APEC (Community Employment Scheme).

Please indicate level of voluntary commitment (no. of meetings, general involvement of community, etc.):

Our work in Tidy Towns continues all year round. We meet formally as a group in April to look at out three year plan and to formulate a strategy for the coming year. We do not tend to hold formal internal meetings after that but discuss issues at our clean ups which we are holding this year every Monday and Tuesday evening from May onwards over the summer months.

We have two volunteers who do a daily litter pick on the Main Street and Back Roads Residences Association link into Tidy Towns which is of mutual benefit to both. Should there be an issue that requires attention we have a discussion at the end of our weekly weekly clean -ups

If we have a weakness in this area it is that we are underrepresented by young people. We are looking at a number of ways to address this issue. The development of our website has helped to explain what we are about and we are also developing our Facebook page which (via the main Abbeyleix page) has ready access to up to 75% of the local population. (More on this later)

Agencies and bodies that have supported your activities (e.g. have provided sponsorship, resources, funding, etc.):

We deploy our volunteers to achieve our objectives where possible but we are mindful of our limited resources and as a result we are very proactive in making good use of the various work schemes and grant resources that are available to us.

Work Schemes:

The Department of Social Protection provides an excellent C.E scheme without their ongoing support Abbeyleix would find it very difficult to operate. The C.E scheme maintains the large open spaces on the approach roads and the church grounds.

The Rural Social Scheme (RSS) have provided the services of a Park Ranger for the past 6 years in Fr Breen Park Abbeyleix to maintain the 11 hectare site which is a key resource for our town. They also assist us with our work on Abbeyleix bog

Our partners in the GIY group are utilizing the Tus community work scheme to assist them in their development of the community garden.

Grant Funding:

Our strong track record and ability to deliver community projects is well recognized by Laois Partnership (LEADER) who have part-funded us to deliver the following projects over the past two years:

Wildlife Study of Abbeyleix and accompanying leaflet

Study of historical street furniture

Establishment of native trees in Balladine and Market Square

Tree identification tags

Study of apple trees varieties – see appended sample grant application

Our colleagues in partner community groups have also availed of funding e.g. development of community garden (GIY group), feasibility study for Abbeyleix bog (Bog group)

Local Authority

In spite of declining funds Laois County council is very supportive of our work. For example, they provide us with a small annual grant to support our work and also support us through annual events like Clean up Laois.

We maintain a close relationship with personnel at all levels in the Council e.g. horticulturalist (Maeve Flynn) and the Environmental Officer (Ann Marie Kelly)

We also work closely with the Council on a strategic level and our success in the various competitions has given us the ear of the county manager who values our contribution. This has led to many partner developments including the following:

Abbeyleix Sustainable Communities plan (launched December 2012)

Feasibility plan for redevelopment of Railway line (launched spring 2013)

Traffic Calming measures (Spring 2013)

Buy Local

We are committed to buying and producing locally where possible and this is one of our central themes. We source our materials locally and many of our local shops including Mc Donnel Paints, Dunnes Hardware have been generous in giving us discounts. Supervalu also supply us with gardening tools vis jackets and gardening gloves


Fundraising is becoming ever more difficult. In the past we have organised table quizzes and race nights to raise funds and we are now adopting more innovative approaches e.g. recent Pump Push with the local Fire Station


Prizes from Competitions such as the National Tidy Towns represent a valuable source of funds and also have the added bonus of improving our profile and promoting our message. Through prudent use of these funds we are able to lever addition funding through LEADER etc.

Communication with community (newsletter, public meetings, etc.)?

We are a relatively small town which lends itself to good informal communication and decision making. On a more formal level, the ABC Umbrella structure - which has representation from all sectors (arts/sports/community/ business / retail/ tourism) - has allowed a more strategic approach to community decision making and to the sustainable development of our town. We have put considerable resources into strategic planning and try to attain a good mix of planning and doing. For example, our strategic plans for the Tidy Towns and also Abbeyleix Bog. In the case of the sustainable communities plan the Department of Environment arranged for urban designers to work with us. These exercises provided excellent opportunities to stop and formulate thought through plans for the town and importantly, also provided a forum for the general public to come on board and contribute their viewpoints.

We plan to develop our web presence this year by consolidating all community sites into one portal which will achieve our aim to truly make it a “one stop shop” for everything in the community. This project is being headed by the ABC with our support and will undoubtedly increase traffic to our site.

In addition to formal public meetings and AGMs etc. we communicate with our community using by all available media resources. Regular updates on our Newsletter are a great way to keep the community briefed. 21st century technology in the form of the web is also invaluable and Facebook is also proving invaluable as it provides a two way communication process. We recently set up a texting system to coordinate activities on our clean up evenings over the summer.

As mentioned above we have direct representation on the majority of the community groups in the community and engage in the wider strategic development of the town through our membership of the ABC forum.

Website – comprehensive listing of reports and studies relevant to the community plus details of initiatives

We use the “Update” parish newsletter to keep the community informed on our activities and to recruit for manpower

We are working on a Facebook Page at the moment. We see this as means of recruiting new members who wouldn’t be picked up by traditional communication methods. In the meantime we are communicating via the main Abbeyleix Facebook site

Other inclusive working methods:

Given today’s hectic lifestyles we are encouraging people to get involved in short-term project rather that necessarily formally joining the committee. Facebook offers a good opportunity to communicate with the type of people and to put out call for one-off jobs that need doing.

    • We work very closely with APEC our local community employment scheme and have a very productive relationship with them.
    • We also use relevant community events such as the Abbeyfest Festival and the Applefest Festival to promote our work, to fundraise and to recruit help. We also arrange wildlife walks on Abbeyleix Bog as well as an annual summer picnic – this is an excellent way of getting children involved as well as encouraging parents to get on board.

How do you engage with your local schools?

Abbeyleix Tidy Towns have a great association with both National Schools we encouraged both schools to become involved in "The Green Schools" We were very proud when they received their Green Flags. The South National School received their second Green Flag in 2012. The South School are the first school in Laois to be awarded the energy flag for promoting physical fitness in their school Another Flag another success story.

The bog is very accessible to the schools and we have hosted a significant number of visits over the past three years. The childrens section of our website is aligned with the curriculum and has some good resources for teachers.

How has your community benefited from involvement in the competition?/Please summarise how you see your group’s work contributing to the development of your community.

We see Abbeyleix Tidy Towns as a key contributor to the sustainable development of Abbeyleix and see our work marking a strong socio-economic contribution to the town. Working in close partnership with The Abbeyleix Business and Community (ABC) Forum and our other partner community organisations we have already achieved strong recognition for our efforts.

In 2012/2013 alone were successful in the following:

International Liv Com competition coming second to a group in Australia.

We were also acknowledged through the National Tidy Towns as national winners of the sustainability awards

Abbeyleix was selected by the Dept of Environment to deliver a comprehensive sustainable communities plan which was launched in late 2012. We are already working with partner groups in the community to promote sustainable development and will be using this document as a road map in the years to come.

We were shortlisted for the community section of the Green Community Awards which took place in spring 2013. We lost out to Cloughjordan.

There is considerable momentum in the community at the moment following on from a strong performance in the above competitions. The community gardens and allotment sites are very visible and high profile hives of activity and are a great means of encouraging more people to get involved. The Abbeyleix Bog project is also moving along and we are working closely with the committee to jointly arrange walks and other public events to promote the bog.

The Applefest Festival offers a very good example of the positive work being done to promote heritage, environment and sustainable living in Abbeyleix. Jointly organised by Tidy Towns, Heritage House, Abbeyleix Community Garden, and the local GIY Group, the Applefest is now an established annual event held in the grounds of Heritage House. The festival aims to celebrate the local harvest, to promote local produce and to promote –in a fun way – traditional approached to utilising our local harvest. As with many other initiatives, this festival is the outcome of a combined effort from all corners and age ranges of the Abbeyleix community.

This means that as well as being formally recognized as a heritage Town, we are instrumental in getting Abbeyleix recognised an Environmentally Responsible Sustainable Town.

The Built Environment

Summary of projects undertaken for this year 2012 / 2013-

After much campaigning we are pleased to announce that the post office has improved access to accommodate wheelchair users. This has been a long time coming. We are now directing our efforts to the Bank of Ireland which is the last remaining public building with inappropriate levels of access

We spoke about our new community garden on last year’s application which is now entering into its second phase of development. Initial clearance work was carried out in spring 2012 and a limited range of crops including potatoes were grown last year to clean up the site. In conjunction with the GIY group we have brought the community on board who have worked with a local architect (on a voluntary basis) to put the fine detail to the final design of the garden. As we write workmen are on site laying the paving etc. Our other allotment site near the Church of Ireland is developing also and is entering its second year of production. Out Active Retirement Group has also established a small allotment area in Gort na nOir.

Please do call to visit this wonderful garden – the entrance is between the Post office and Whites Solicitors opposite the public library.

Our Sustainable Communities Plan was officially launched in November 2012 and we are in discussion with Laois County Council as to how we can implement recommendations – the plan is relevant to the category as it deals specifically with. enhancement of the Public Realm in Abbeyleix. This will be a long term process which will inform the strategic development of our town over time.

We have already implemented two recommendations from the plan (New trees in Market Square plus two groves of trees in Balladine) April 2013


Summary of projects undertaken for this year 2012 / 2013 -

We welcome the changing focus of the Tidy Towns competition towards sustainability and continue to focus on non-showy projects which yield long term gains. For example, we favor spending our scare resources on native tree/ shrub planting over transient displays of annual flowers.

In keeping with this philosophy we are pleased to report that one of our most exciting projects this year is the replacement of the failed exotic trees in market square with native hornbeam trees. Following consultation with Mary Keenan (Tree Council of Ireland) and Maeve Flynn (Co Council horticulturalist) we elected to establish Carpinus betulus which will be well suited to the location. The trees have an underground anchoring system to hold them in place and there is also provision for irrigation in the establishment phase.

Following on from a recommendation of the sustainable communities plan we have also established two circular groves of native trees in Balladine to mirror other established circular groves of trees elsewhere in the town including Casserly’s Hill and Lady’s Hill.

As mentioned in the previous section our community garden and allotment sites are continuing to develop.

Wildlife and Natural Amenities

Summary of projects undertaken for this year 2012 /2013 -

Our scoring in this category has been below par in recent years and as a result we have prioritized activity in this area. Abbeyleix bog continues to be our key habitat feature but we are keen to ensure that wildlife is considered within our more built up areas.

Key Projects delivered in previous year:

We have continued to publish all available habitat and species information on our tidy towns and bog websites and the habitat survey and leaflet initiative which we told you about last year has provided an good non-technical account of our main species and habitats. - ongoing

We worked with the Abbeyleix Bog Project group to deliver a significant feasibility study and conservation plan to set out a blueprint for the future management of the bog. This study which was completed in December 2012 was the culmination of a 7 month exercise which included a high degree of community consultation. (See website for copy of study) June - Dec 2012

A strong recommendation of the plan was to further improve access to the site by constructing a boardwalk network. This proposal is now at an advance planning stage and relevant detail is available on the website. Jan - present

We have implemented an invasive species management plan on Abbeyleix bog and have already worked with the local Rural Social Scheme team to clear a significant area of rhododendron from the bog. We have consulted with NPWS experts in formulating our plan and have applied herbicides as advised to prevent regrowth. The focus of this work to date has been to tackle isolated clumps of rhododendron within the open bog areas which have the potential to encroach further. Nov 2012 – Feb 2013

As mentioned in the previous section we have established a significant number of native trees in and around the town. (Balladine and Market Square). We also participated in the one million trees initiative and planted 100 native trees within the Abbeyleix bog site. April 2013

The Abbeyleixbog facebook site has gone from strength to strength and is now a very effective forum for visitors to the bog to post photos, compare notes and discuss identification of species. We are fortunate that there are a number of expert subscribers to the site who are on hand to offer advice on identification of plant and insect species. Ongoing

National Bioblitz Challenge will take place on June 8, 2013 - Abbeyleix Bog is one of 7 national sites taking part under the auspices of the National Biodiversity Data Centre - all bog partners are involved - IPCC, BnM, Laois Co Co and NPWS. Poster with guided public events is attached. Leaflets to all households, schools will be distributed in Abbeyleix. To-date 4 meetings in preparation, as well as a training day at the National Biodiversity Data Centre in Waterford.

Timeline of activities on the bog over the past year:

March-November 2012: Feasibility Study and Business Plan for the project with support from Laois Partnership

Butterfly Transects by Annemarieke & Clare now in its 3rd year and in partnership with the National Biodiversity Data Centre

Bumblebee Transects by Eugene O'Brien as from 2013 in partnership with the National Biodiversity Data Centre

Collins Bog and Killamuck Bog Loop walks in partnership with ABC (See attached scan of walk in ST)

Paddy Woodworth's article in the Irish Times (see connection on Facebook page)

Race Night last year December to raise funds for the feasibility study

6th classes of both North and South Schools in Abbeyleix taken on 5 x guided walk on the bog with Dr. Fiona MacGowan and Dr Mark McCorry

6th Class of South School were on the bog again in April 2013

Contact made with Corlea Bog group from Longford and Cabbragh Wetlands in Tipperary to start a network of similar community groups.

Contact made with Seamus Boland, Chairperson of the Peatland Council of Ireland - Abbeyleix Bog Project invited to speak about the model used in Abbeyleix

Technical Advisory Group of the Abbeyleix Bog Project meets every 3 months and attended by National parks and Wildlife Service, IPCC, Bord na Mona and Laois Co Co representatives, together with 4 representatives of the community.

Conservation Management Plan for 2013 was written

Posters for the information boards completed (see overleaf)

Book on 'The Story of the Abbeyleix Bog' is currently in research stage - old maps, photographs, stories are collected. De Vesci Papers in the NLI, as well as the documents in the Military Archives have been researched. To be published in 2014.

Heritage Week programme in conjunction with the Abbeyleix Heritage House are planned for 2013 - photographs and exhibits re the cutting of turf on the bog as well as artefacts, tools and equipment used will be displayed.

'Bog Shoes' were purchase to make the walking on wet parts of the bog easier (Photo on Facebook page)

Rhododendron removal has started over the winter months 2012/13 as part of the Conservation Management Plan 2013

Abbeyleix Bog is included in a two-year hydrology study on 52 SAC bogs in Ireland, currently been undertaken by NPWS.

Plans for the coming year:

We have been invited by Laois Partnership to participate in a programme which will run between June and November to develop a biodiversity action plan for the town. This is an exciting initiative which will help to pull together and put increasing structure to our actions in this area. June – Nov 2013

Innovative tree identification tagging – will be completed in line with the above mentioned Biodiversity Action Plan

We are in touch with a Men’s Shed Group who have agreed to construct Bird/ Bat Boxes and Insect hotels around the town in appropriate locations.

We are in the early stages of developing a smartphone app which we will pilot on Abbeyleix bog. This will be available free to users and will utilize the Everytrail platform. It will offer a guided tour of the site with GPS capability and audio visual content. It will be invaluable to visitors and also as an educational resource for teachers. Please watch out for details of this on our website and let us know if you want an explanation of how it works when you come to visit. Ongoing

Litter Control

Key Projects delivered in previous year:

Two volunteers do a daily litter pick . Their was a lot of dumping on our bog we collect two trailer loads of domestic rubbish from our bog during National spring clean week . T.T are delighted that they now have a keen walker who volunteered his services to keep a watchful eye for litter on the bog Schools are actively involved in our National Spring Clean and are very committed to to keeping Abbeyleix Litter free. The schools recycle all classroom rubbish

We participated in Clean Up Laois Week in April which kicked off our clean up regime for the year.

We have pursued a prosecution on two dumping cases but have been unsuccessful - see appended CHALLENGES section

Plans for the year:

We have an ongoing programme for removal of rubbish from Abbeyleix Bog

Clean up and litter picks now taking place weekly on Monday and Tuesday

Sustainable Waste and Resource Management

Key Projects delivered in previous year:

We have worked with the local traders and the local Lions Club to complete our purchase a second installment of LED Christmas lights. This brings the total investment to approx 12,000Euro. The LED lights which use 1 watt each compared to 60 watt bulbs on the older light sets provided significant energy savings our bills came down correspondingly. Christmas 2011 and 2012

We have also utilised our community festivals to communicate environmental best practice to a wide cross section of our community. Over the past two years the remit of Abbeyfest (our arts festival) has been extended to include a significant “buy local” and food sustainability sub theme. We have also developed

the Applefest to celebrate our local apple harvest (1400 kgs of apples - which would otherwise have gone rotten - pressed to produce 560 litres of apple juice) and to promote local food producers. October 2012

One community crèche which is accredited under the Eco Cert scheme is working to an energy improvement plan which includes: installation of heating controls; dual flush toilets, low energy lighting etc. This scheme was renewed in 2012

Laois County Council has just (as of February 2013) installed a telemetry system for Abbeyleix which will enable detailed remote monitoring of water usage in Abbeyleix. A new water treatment plan is scheduled to commence construction this year.

We are committed to waste minimisation and recycling. The town is served with a door to door recycling collection service (alternate weeks - cardboard, plastics etc.) and also has 2 bottle banks & clothing banks. The door to door service was expanded in 2011 to include a brown bin collection (alternate weeks), for the collection of compostable waste. This additional service, which is available free of charge, marks a significant improvement to the environmental performance of the town.

Although we were unable to get statistics for the door to door collection of recyclables and compost waste, it is apparent that the community participates strongly in the recycling collection service. The number of brown bins which are put out for collection on alternate Fridays is on the increase, but we are aware that there is a job of work to persuade more people to engage in the compost programme. We have plans for an awareness raising campaign this year. Ongoing

The stats for our bottle bank for 2012 are as follows: Glass collected - 46561 Kgs;Aluminium Cans Collected - 1804 Kgs; & Steel Cans - 68 Kgs. Stats for Calendar year 2012

We also participated in a WEEE Ireland collection and collected 8.278 Tonnes on 9th June 2012.

Scoil Mhuire NS which has a green flag has installed water hippos to reduce water consumption. This continuing initiative yields estimated water saving of 133,956 litres of water in the school year - ongoing

Our local Community Employment (CE) Scheme continues to run a scheme to collect newspapers and form them into compressed briquettes which are distributed to our senior citizens - ongoing

We were stakeholders in the Feasibility Study for the Abbeyleix to Kilkenny Leisure Trail (funded by County Council and delivered by Mary Tubridy and Associates) which examined the feasibility of developing the old railway line between Abbeyleix and Kilkenny as a walking/ cycle route

Although this initiative is at an early stage we see a great opportunity here to promote carbon free travel opportunities. Publish date Dec 2012

Our community Garden initiatives mentioned in previous sections are also promoting the buy local, source local and grow local campaigns which is central to sustainable resource management. The final design for the walled garden includes a plan to harvest rainwater. Ongoing - Estimated completion summer 2013

The active retirement group has also recently established a small allotment near the community centre in Gort na nOir Jan 2013

Forthcoming events:

AM Kelly (Environmental Officer) will host a public workshop day in Abbeyleix in May telling us about changes in the Recycling Directive.

We have been in contact with Vincent Carragher of the Tipperary Energy Agency to discuss participation in their low carbon communities initiative which will be the follow up to their very successful Energy Neighbourhoods campaign. We intend to pilot a project before the end of the year.


Key Projects delivered in previous year:

We have finally been successful in removing the damaged bollards from outside the Topaz filling station. These were an unsightly feature on the southern end of our town and attracted negative comment in previous adjudications.

Following a tidy up and renovation of the entrance to the Stone Arch last year we have removed graffiti which was placed on the stone work. We feel that it is important to nip problems in the bud before they escalate.

We are fortunate that a good deal of our cabling in already underground. The Council has no funds to continue this program at the present time.

Plans for the forthcoming year:

Our main objective within the category is to paint all the street furniture, including bins bollards & ESB poles.


Several of the protective cages around the trees on the Main Street have been damaged by heavy vehicles that pass through the town daily which gives the town an untidy appearance. We have discussed the possibility with Laois County Council of having them repaired. Budgets cuts will not make this possible. Tidy Towns have been in discussion with a steel Fabricator re possibility of the committee engaging him to do the necessary. We are having problems with Health & Safety requirements because it is still a very busy road. We do not know if it will be resolved before the National judging

Residential Areas

Summary of projects undertaken for this year 2012 / 2013 -

The container in Fr Breen Park has been painted green as recommended in the plan. It had to be repainted during the year following a graffiti incident.

The majority of our estates have formed residential committees to look after their area and this approach has largely worked well. For example, Abbeyleix Crescent has continued to develop their estate and have staked up their newly planted line of lime trees. Ashbrook have continued to develop their site and have given us an account of their work to date which includes bird boxes, bat boxes and traditional varieties of apple trees – see website.

We have not suffered particularly badly with unfinished estates although there is a problem in De Vesci Hill where significant numbers of unoccupied units still remain. We have tried to intervene to remove tattered signage and to arrange for perimeter fencing to be maintained. However, we are not in a position to do much in this case as ownership is unclear and we have no line of contact with owners or managers of the buildings in question.

We are pleased to note that Grallow Hill estate is now largely occupied and the appearance of the estate has improved dramatically as a result. The footpaths are still a problem and we have comments on this in our challenges section.

We have added further comments on our three year plan.

We have decided that we do not have the resources to organize a tidy towns estate competition for Abbeyleix and instead encourage our members to participate in the county wide competition organized by Laois County Council. Past winners of this competition include Ashbrook and Gort na nOir. We are not aware if this completion will be run this year.

Comment on Fr Breen Park

With reference to Fr Breen Park. All sporting clubs & Abbeyleix Park Development committee make a major contributing to maintaining a great community facility in the centre of the town providing sporting & recreational facilities for Abbeyleix & its environs. The combined efforts of all working together have secured Capital Sporting grants from the National Lottery, HSE Grants to provide accessibility for all in the buildings. Laois Partnership provided a capital grant of €120,000 to provide a state of the art youth cafe. The Park Development Committee received a Grant of €55,000 early this year to provide an outdoor gym. This is an exciting project and work will commence shortly. All these developments have made a major contribution to the Tidy Towns effort by all working together to enhance our town.

Roads, Streets and Back Areas

Summary of projects undertaken for this year 2012 / 2013 -

The boundary fence near the entrance to Abbeyleix bog was repaired in spring 2013

3 damaged gates were replaced in the Rathmoyle area – one with wooden gate and two with steel gates. The steel gates will be painted next year when the surfaces have oxidized

The large woodland site on the opposing site of Abbeyleix bog has been clearfelled in 2012. This is in line with standard forestry practice and native trees have been retained. The site has a “raw” appearance at the moment but we have been reassured by the forestry contactor that the site will regenerate quickly.

We have some problem areas in which we cannot intervene due to un-cooperative owners etc. Further comments are added on our three year plan.

Upcoming projects:

The roadside wall and entrance to Scoil Mhuire to be repainted in summers 2013

General Impression

Issues faced –

Having long been known as an important heritage town, Abbeyleix is fast becoming recognised for its green credentials. We are committed to the principles of sustainable development and since 2010 our activity in this area has become more structured and formalised with the formation of the Abbeyleix Business & Community Forum (ABC) This new umbrella structure has provided the ideal vehicle to enable the Tidy Towns committee and other existing groups to harness the energy and enthusiasm which coincided with the opening of the motorway and the subsequent diversion of vehicles.

The town has been reclaimed by the community from the choking traffic and this has given rise to one new initiative after another. The past year in particular has been a very successful one for us and we look forward to building on this success.

Abbeyleix is the place where community is not a term that is used lightly, but a way of life for young and old, business and volunteer alike. The level of community participation has gone from strength to strength and bit by bit we are developing a more green and sustainable community.