Robbie Quinn, chair of Abbeyleix Tidy Towns, accepts the award of Ireland's Best Kept Small Town.
A Laois Tidy Towns group is celebrating this week after winning another national award for their town, and looking ahead in hopes of winning the National Tidy Towns 2022 competition outright this year.
Abbeyleix was awarded the title of Ireland's Best Kept Small Town in an exciting ceremony at the Titanic Hotel in Belfast. The award is for the whole island, hosted by the Northern Ireland Amenity Council and the Department of State for Rural and Community Development.
Chairperson Robbie Quinn represented the group at the awards and told the Leinster Express about the moment Abbeyleix was named as the winner.
"I was blown away when our name was read out. All the nominees would have been worthy winners, but we are delighted they choose us.
"While we had absolutely no idea what chance we had, we felt the connection of the awards being held in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast and the fact the carpets from the ill-fated Titanic were woven in Abbeyleix it could only be a good omen.
"Even if we hadn’t won I saw it as an opportunity to market Laois to our friends in Northern Ireland as a county well worth visiting. As a member of the Laois Federation of Tidy Towns Group, I see first hand the excellent work being done in every village and town around the county and all of these places are worth a visit," he said.
He credits the win to the huge group of passionate volunteers in Abbeyleix.
"While these awards are brilliant and mean so much, they are not something that we measure our true success on. Our true success can be seen when you pass through or visit the town and look how well its kept and maintained by the community. Each of our volunteers have their own mental awards from the small wins we get every day working to make Abbeyleix a better place to live, work and visit.
"Our volunteers make a real difference in the areas of litter, maintenance, sustainability, climate action, biodiversity, and inclusivity. All these little wins have led us to these national awards, and we see national titles as deserved recognition for all this hard work by so many people, all year round," Robbie said.
It is the third win for Abbeyleix in the past year, having won the Pride of Place award in its population category of 1,000 to 2,000 people in May, and Ireland's Tidiest Small Town at the national Tidy Town's award in 2021.
The town has also astoundingly won a Gold category award in the National Tidy Towns awards for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021, only missing 2020 because Covid forced the awards to be cancelled.
The secret to winning golds is "buy in" by all the community, Robbie believes.
"Real community, stakeholders and business buy in. Everything Abbeyleix Tidy Towns do, we do for the greater good and the benefit of all. The community see and experience what it’s like to live, work and relax in a well-kept and maintained town and they start to become involved. Some pick up litter or discard their cigarette butts properly, others put out pollinator friendly flower displays or paint and maintain their houses and estates.
"We also have excellent working relationships with our public partners most notably Laois County Council. We are very fortunate to have the help we do but we could always use more," he said.
In the past year, they planted another 6,000 trees and got the town's historic stone fountains flowing again, among new improvements.
The pressure heats up now with judges likely to drop by any day in June or July for the 2022 National Tidy Towns Awards. Abbeyleix was just one point behind the overall national winners Ennis last year.
"The competition is intense with 24 towns within eight marks. We would appeal to people especially for the next couple of months to be extra vigilant on littering and tidiness as we could receive a visit from an adjudicator unannounced at any time in the next couple of weeks.
"It would be lovely if we won. The last couple of points will be the hardest got," Robbie Quinn said.
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