Steeped in history and situated in a picturesque setting alongside the beautiful River Clodiagh, Portlaw has achieved much in recent years. Now, a group of proactive locals have come together to pool their resources and expertise with the aim of taking Portlaw to the next level.
The Portlaw Enhancement Committee (PEC) was formed earlier this year and has already accomplished some of its chosen goals.
The Portlaw Community Forum had already been in existence and met a couple of times a year. However, it was felt there was a need for an umbrella group to take an overarching view of Portlaw’s development for the next five to ten years.
Members of the Portlaw Enhancement Committee pictured in The Square, Portlaw. L-R: Brian Barron, Ray Murphy, Declan Clune, Therese Keyes, Derek Delaney, Laura Corcoran, Johnnie Mullowney, Freddy Kelly and Paudie Coffey. Photos: Noel Browne.
With the emergence of increased rural development funding opportunities, those involved wanted to ensure they could position Portlaw so that as much funding as possible can be secured for projects in the area.
The Forum met and agreed to elect a new committee comprised of 11 people – Paudie Coffey (Chairperson), Declan Clune (Secretary), Johnnie Mullowney and Ray Murphy (Joint Treasurers), Derek Delaney and Laura Corcoran (PROs), Therese Keyes, Brian Barron, Alan Walsh, Fred Kelly, and Michelle Murphy. All are already involved in different groups within Portlaw so bring a wealth of experience and enthusiasm to the new committee.
“There’s a strong tradition of community activism and volunteerism in Portlaw, but there was a realisation that we need to be more strategic in our approach to projects,” explains Paudie Coffey.
“Some of us are from political backgrounds but we’re all on the same committee working for the same purpose. We’re pulling together for Portlaw. It seems to be working and we want to keep the momentum going.”
Declan Clune concurs and explains that the main motivation for this apolitical committee is to “do what we can for Portlaw”.
Some individual groups in Portlaw have already been successful in accessing different funding streams. However, the Portlaw Enhancement Committee recognises that such groups have limited resources and that funding application processes can be arduous, requiring a significant amount of work and time.
Members of the Portlaw Enhancement Committee pictured by the River Clodiagh walkway. L-R: Laura Corcoran, Declan Clune, Ray Murphy and Paudie Coffey.
“Many people may have been working towards the same goal with great intentions but, for various reasons, there was a lack of joined-up thinking,” says Declan. “We have a broad range of skill sets so we hope to lighten the load. People with different skills can concentrate on different aspects.”
Members of the Portlaw Enhancement Committee pictured by the River Clodiagh walkway. L-R: Therese Keyes, Derek Delaney, Johnnie Mullowney and Freddy Kelly.
Community Action Plan
At the new committee’s first meeting, it was agreed that a Community Action Plan would be developed as part of an attempt to develop a future strategy for Portlaw. This will examine a whole host of aspects, including built infrastructure, amenities, as well as services and supports for people who may be vulnerable or isolated.
The committee engaged with Waterford City & County Council and Waterford LEADER Partnership and, thanks to this collaboration, have enlisted the services of a trained mentor who will assist with the preparation of the Community Action Plan.
In order to capture an accurate snapshot of life in Portlaw, the committee has decided to undertake a wide ranging and all-encompassing survey which was launched this week.
Participants in Portlaw and surrounding areas will be asked a series of questions on a variety of topics under individual headings. The survey can be completed online, and some print copies are available on request.
A significant amount of time and work has been invested in devising the survey so that it’s relevant and inclusive for all. Information will be collated and analysed to develop a Community Action Plan which it’s hoped will be completed early next year. The committee hope that the results will provide a “mandate” to deliver on behalf of the community.
Paudie explains that the committee members are keen to ensure all future projects are initiated at grassroots level.
“We all have our own views, and we’re all involved in different community groups, but this isn’t about our views,” he says. “It’s about taking the views of young and old and everyone in between – what’s good about the area and what’s not so good – so that we can identify the services and facilities we need.”
For an area its size, Portlaw is already punching well above its weight in terms of its impressive display of volunteerism and community spirit. For example, this is clearly seen in the activities of the town’s dedicated Tidy Towns group, enthusiastic Task Force, talented Portlaw Musical Society, and an array of different sporting groups. There are also a range of supports for families and the elderly through services provided out of Clodiagh House and the Dr Martin Day Centre.
Former principal at Portlaw National School Therese Keyes says there has always been a strong sense of community spirit in Portlaw and this has been enhanced through the influx of newcomers to the area.
“Initially, when there was a lot of new building in Portlaw, it took quite a while for those who moved here to assimilate,” she explains. “Gradually, over the years, we began to see their children coming to school in Portlaw. It’s really through children that people become involved in various aspects of the community, be it sports, music etc.”
One particular area in which committee members believe there is huge potential is the development of a remote working hub. While Portlaw is fortunate to have employers such as Agora Publishing based at Woodlock House, the committee feel there is potential to retain people who work elsewhere by establishing a hub. This is an issue which came to the fore nationwide during Covid-19, and the Portlaw Enhancement Committee is keen to gauge if an appetite exists locally for such a facility.
“We feel that a town of our size is big enough to cater for it,” explains Paudie, who adds that a quick audit of existing facilities and utilities gives further cause for optimism.
“We’re very fortunate to have fibre broadband in the town, so anyone who sets up here can have direct access to quality broadband. We also have a natural gas network that runs past Portlaw from Clonmel into Waterford City.”
Portlaw Enhancement Committee members pictured by the River Clodiagh walkway.
Success with schemes
Proving that they certainly mean business, the committee has already applied for three significant funding schemes.
After meeting with representatives from Waterford Council, an application was submitted for this year’s Outdoor Recreational Infrastructure Scheme under which €20,000 was secured. This will be used to reopen Cleary’s Boreen and create a looped woodland walk which will link with the Tower at Clonegam.
This route had become impassable in recent years and was a dumping blackspot. Along with being an attractive destination for visitors, it’s envisaged that the walk will become a popular amenity for locals and serve as an example of how the community can maximise the potential of its surrounding assets.
Paudie describes this allocation as a “massive early win” which clearly illustrates that Portlaw can access funding streams through collaboration.
Additionally, Portlaw has been included in the Community Streetscapes Scheme which the committee believe represents another important milestone. This funding will assist businesses and organisations located in the centre of Portlaw wishing to brighten-up their premises.
The next tranche of funding to be allocated as part of the Town and Village Renewal Scheme has yet to be announced, but the committee members are hopeful that this application will also meet with approval.
In addition to the success experienced with these schemes, Portlaw has experienced positive news in recent times in relation to its Garda station which is to remain open, having previously operated on a curtailed basis.
The All Together Now Festival at Curraghmore Estate.
One of the major issues currently facing Portlaw is the future of the prominent Tannery site.
“Through the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund, and other opportunities, we feel we will come up with a plan and buy-in from community along with Waterford Council so that we can at long last unlock the potential of the site,” explains Paudie.
The Tannery site represents an important part of Portlaw’s past, and the committee members are keen to build on the “unique social and industrial history” of Portlaw and the area’s tourism potential.
Paudie references the success of the All Together Now Festival as well as the Comeraghs Wild Festival and says the committee members are grateful to have the co-operation of Curraghmore Estate.
Having seen the success of neighbouring attractions such as the Waterford Greenway, the Suir Blueway, and Mount Congreve Gardens, the committee believe Portlaw has a key part to play in the Waterford tourism success story.
“Geographically, we feel we’re ideally located to link all of these attractions and become a tourism hub in East County Waterford,” says Paudie.
While there are many reasons to be positive, the committee members aren’t afraid to face up to reality and acknowledge that there are challenges ahead.
A current stumbling block in terms of tourism potential is the lack of any major accommodation providers. There are also limited housing options for young families. Specific sections of the committee’s survey will address matters such as housing, as well as social issues including loneliness and family breakdown.
“It’s not all good news,” says Paudie. “We know that there will be areas where there are deficits, be it amenities or services.”
He adds: “Physical projects are only successful if you have a healthy community spirit and buy-in from the local community.”
There certainly appears to be plenty of community spirit and buy-in amongst the members of the Portlaw Enhancement Committee and, with such commitment, enthusiasm, and the involvement of so many with the best interests of Portlaw at heart, the future of Portlaw looks very bright.
Curraghmore Estate which showcases Portlaw’s tourism potential.