While many believe that Dublin has raced ahead in economic terms, those living in rural areas throughout Ireland are still struggling to see signs of such a recovery.
However, many community groups are taking matters into their own hands and are striving to create sustainable employment within their localities.
One such local example is Kilmacthomas Community Meitheal Ltd. which has been instrumental in ensuring that the village’s historic Old Mill will have a positive future.
Gortinore Distillery has acquired The Old Mill in Kilmacthomas with the intention of establishing a whiskey distillery and bonded warehouse for the ageing of whiskey.
The project will generate up to 35 construction jobs during the refurbishment process and 15 permanent positions will be created once renovation work is complete.
The Old Mill was established in the mid-1800s and operated as a woollen mill until the early 1920s.
The building was then taken over by the local Flahavan family, as John Flahavan outlined.
“We were expanding our business at that stage. The building was empty and we needed storage space for grain,” he explained.
“In 1936/37 we purchased the building to use as a grain store. Following that, everything went well for a few years until we had a big fire in 1947. The entire building was virtually gutted. The building originally had a slate roof but it was then rebuilt with reinforced concrete. This means that now, even though it’s an old building, it’s a very solid building. That rebuilding work was carried out around 1950 and we used the building up until 1999.”
The Old Mill was purchased by Waterford County Council who had ambitious plans for the site during the Noughties.
A public car park was constructed alongside The Old Mill, however plans involving the actual building never materialised.
A number of local people decided to take matters into their own hands, as Jim Bowdren explained.
“We said something should be done with the mill rather than leaving it the way it was,” he said.
Jim spoke with John Flahavan who also felt that the building should be put to good use.
“We said something should be done with it but we didn’t know what,” said Jim.
Kilmacthomas Community Meitheal Ltd was formed, using the skillsets of local people.
Along with Jim and John, Kilmacthomas Community Meitheal Ltd, is comprised of Mike Kavanagh, Michael Norris, Mary Ryan and John McDonagh, with all members bringing their own individual expertise to the committee.
The committee members then examined projects throughout the country and explored a number of possibilities for the site including bakeries, restaurants, activity centres etc.
“We had looked at a number of different possibilities,” explained John.
“We all felt our main aim was to get the building back in action and to see it refurbished and generating employment.”
Then, word filtered through of a businessman who was expressing interest in the site.
“I got a phone call one morning from Enterprise Ireland who said they were dealing with a client who had been looking at the mill in Kilmacthomas. I was given Aidan Mehigan’s details and we got in contact,” explained John.
Jim added: “We never expected somebody to look at the mill and say that they could create a distillery within it. His vision really impressed us. It’s great to have Aidan on board as it would have been a shame to see the place go derelict again because of no financial backing.”
There has been a hugely positive reaction within the village to the plans to open a distillery at The Old Mill.
“People knew something was happening but they weren’t expecting something like this,” said Jim.
He believes there will be many spin-off benefits for Kilmacthomas and Mid Waterford as a result of the opening of the distillery.
Along with the eagerly awaited opening of the Waterford Greenway which passes through the village, and the ongoing success of the Copper Coast Geopark, it certainly appears as though Kilmacthomas has a bright future ahead.
Undoubtedly, Kilmacthomas Community Meitheal Ltd. is a huge success story for the village and a template for other communities.
“Unless you’re prepared to put in the effort you won’t get what you want. You have to be in charge of your own destiny. We have to look at ourselves and how we can create jobs rather than looking to the government all the time,” said Jim.
“There are groups out there trying to get off the ground and they are being stonewalled and it wears you down. You have to look at bigger picture and keep at it.”
He paid tribute to all those involved with the committee and the positivity of members.
“It’s hard to work with negative people. When you have people singing from the same hymn sheet, the positivity flows throughout the group. That’s the gel that binds the group together,” he said.
Michael Norris added: “At times, we felt like we were hitting our head against a wall. You have to have the interest to keep at it. None of us ever got anything from this. All our efforts are voluntary but you’d be amazed at how much you can learn and you can carry that on to different sectors. It was a great learning curve and to get a reward like this at the end is fantastic.”
The committee also paid tribute to Fergal Reidy of Waterford Council and all those who helped them including Claire Connors of LEADER.
Aidan Mehigan of Gortinore has said he is keen to integrate into the Kilmacthomas community and work with the resources available.
“We definitely don’t want to be a business that comes in and isolates itself from the community,” he said.
Cathaoirleach of the Comeragh District of Waterford City & County Council Cllr Liam Brazil (FG) welcomed the proposal for The Old Mill in Kilmacthomas, noting that the development has the potential to create sustainable employment.
He said its proximity to the Waterford Greenway would enhance Kilmactomas as a visitor destination.
“For the next generation, this shows there is a positive future in Kilmacthomas,” added Mike Kavanagh.
This group certainly lives up to the origins of the word ‘meitheal’ of neighbours in rural areas coming together to help one another.
The efforts of Kilmacthomas Community Meitheal Ltd. clearly display what can be achieved when a community comes together and pools all of the local resources which are available.