IT’S OFTEN said that a rising tide lifts all boats and there is perhaps no better example of this than the transformation which is taking place in the picturesque village of Kilmacthomas.
Since the official opening of the Waterford Greenway in March 2017, the village has welcomed visitors from throughout Ireland, Europe and beyond and has become one of County Waterford’s tourism hotspots.
Dungarvan may be claiming the title of ‘Home of the Greenway’, but Kilmacthomas is proudly proclaiming itself as the ‘Heart of the Greenway’ as attractive large signs which have been erected on approach roads into the village clearly indicate.
While the Greenway may have acted as a catalyst, the transformation of Kilmacthomas has been happening in gradual stages for many years as a core group of people have been striving to promote and enhance the village.
Now, thanks to the feel-good factor generated by the success of the Greenway, it’s hoped that this groundwork can be built on in order to take Kilmacthomas to the next level.
Working for the community
The industrious Kilmacthomas Social Enterprise Group (KSEG) is comprised of 10 members who are all proud and enthusiastic members of the local community keen to help their area in whatever way they can. The group was initially established with the aim of striving to apply for grant funding and ensure all available funds are accessed.
Grant application processes can often prove arduous and very time consuming. Thanks to the varied skills of its members, KSEG can now target specific funding streams and ensure Kilmac, as a whole, accesses all relevant funding.
“Sometimes people don’t know about all of the funds which are available,” explains KSEG member Laura Kirwan. “Money is available and we have people with expertise who can access it on behalf of the community.”
“We like to think of ourselves as an umbrella group,” adds fellow member Pierce Casey who explains that some of KSEG’s members are also involved with other local committees.
For example, both Pierce and Laura are members of the award winning Kilmacthomas Tidy Towns group. There is regular interaction between these community groups, as both groups share the same overall goal of improving their local community in whatever way they can.
The Kilmacthomas Social Enterprise Group’s Christmas Craft Fair held on Sunday November 21st. Photo: John Troy.
“The whole ethos of the group is that we’re here to enhance what Kilmac already has and to make it a better place to live, work, visit and to rear a family in,” explains Laura.
In recent years, KSEG’s members have been active in organising and assisting with various events which have taken place within the village, including as part of the successful Comeraghs Wild Festival. Members were also instrumental in ensuring the renovation of the village’s playground came to fruition.
With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, KSEG sprang into action to ensure nobody in the community felt isolated – becoming one of the first groups to establish a dedicated volunteer helpline.
“It was a great success,” explains KSEG member Paddy Mulhearne. “Obviously nobody really knew what was happening at the start of our first lockdown so it was decided among our committee that we would set up a helpline and we asked for volunteers. There was huge community spirit as everyone got behind it.”
Between 50 and 60 people enthusiastically offered their services as part of this admirable initiative. Members of other community groups rallied round, with the Kilmacthomas Cardiac First Responders providing training for volunteers, emphasising hygiene and infection control measures. Local Gardaí and the Civil Defence came on board, and Kilmacthomas GAA Club offered assistance in what was a heart-warming display of community involvement.
Laura explains that most of the calls received related to requests for assistance with shopping, which proved to be a valuable service for many locals and provided reassurance.
“It wasn’t a stranger calling to somebody’s house,” says Laura. “People got to see a familiar face.”
Waterford City & County Council eventually co-ordinated the helpline as part of a wider national initiative, but Laura says it wouldn’t have been a success without the initial involvement of locals.
“It petered out as people became more comfortable,” explains Paddy. “But it was there for people if they needed it and provided peace of mind.”
KSEG is also keen to continue to promote and enhance the local Community Text Alert system which has proved hugely successful and also provides peace of mind for locals.
“It’s a very important part of the community,” says Laura, with its importance becoming even more apparent during lockdowns at a time when many felt isolated and vulnerable.
Pictured at the KSEG Christmas Craft Fair are Lyndsey Mulhearne, Susan Veale, Paddy Mulhearne and Laura Kirwan. Photo: John Troy.
KSEG recently resumed in-person meetings. However, members remained in contact via Zoom and WhatsApp throughout the pandemic.
Although constrained in terms of what they could do, this team of devoted volunteers diligently strived to embark on smaller projects and planned ahead, brainstorming for when they could eventually hold large events. With all of their projects, KSEG are keen to approach them from a grassroots level.
“That’s the only way we will be successful,” explains Laura. “As a group we might have our own ideas or perceptions of what should be done, but anything we’ve ever done on a large scale has been done with public consultation and the feedback has always been positive.”
Currently, the village’s former stationhouse is the focus of the group’s long-term plans.
“It really is an open book,” says Laura. “There’s no idea that’s going to be ridiculed. We’re interested in hearing all ideas. This is a project for the village so we would like the village to take ownership. There is great enthusiasm within the group to see this project through.”
One idea centres on the creation of a remote working hub, while also preserving and promoting the area’s railway heritage.
“Our intention, Covid permitting, is to call a public meeting in the New Year so that we can really focus on it,” explains Pierce.
The grounds adjacent to the stationhouse, home to a car park for accessing the Waterford Greenway, were recently utilised for the KSEG Christmas Craft Fair held on Sunday November 21st. There were around 20 local stallholders in attendance, showcasing their impressive wares to delighted visitors.
Among the items on sale were KSEG’S very own ‘Happy Christmas from Kilmacthomas’ cards which proved hugely popular last year and were sent to homes across the globe.
The sale of these cards is an important fundraiser for KSEG. Funds have also been raised through the sale of additional merchandise such as water bottles and calendars. The group is grateful for the huge support it receives, including from local businesses that stock the group’s merchandise and support in other ways.
In particular, they highlight the contributions of Pat Phelan from Phelan’s Centra and Craig Dee and Stephen Lynch of Momentum Events and Coach House Coffee. KSEG are keen to stress the importance of shopping local, as support for local businesses has a direct knock-on effect on support for local community groups.
KSEG works closely with Waterford City & County Council who have also been very supportive of their efforts. For example, a recent Council grant enabled the group to purchase gazebos for its craft fair.
There has also been great support from local councillors. Last year, members of KSEG accompanied councillors representing the Comeragh District on a walk throughout the village which allowed them to highlight some areas requiring attention such as footpaths, rubbish etc. Many of these issues were subsequently acted on.
New bike parking facilities in the village.
Another recent positive announcement for the village came last week with the announcement of €69,930 for the Kilmacthomas River Walk Enhancement Works.
“All these amenities attract visitors,” says Pierce. “We’re trying to make Kilmac more attractive for locals and tourists alike. It took a while to get going, but we feel we’re on the journey now and, when people see movement, they get behind us.”
Pierce believes Kilmac’s appeal continues to be its “uniqueness as a village”. Laura agrees, pointing out that although footfall has increased and new businesses have opened, Kilmac has managed to retain its “old-world charm.”
“Kilmac has a unique identity, it’s not just another village or tourist area,” she says. “That’s the feedback coming from tourists which I think is lovely. There isn’t another tourist area I know of that has the beauty of the mountains, the nearby sea, and an amenity like the Greenway. There is a great future for Kilmac.”
Paddy says the feedback being received from tourists visiting the village, who hail from throughout Ireland and abroad, speaks for itself.
“Kilmac is very open and welcoming,” he says. “Everyone is delighted to see the increased footfall in the village from tourists. Local businesses are really benefitting and there’s a great atmosphere, especially during summer. I think Kilmac will go from strength to strength.”
Pierce adds that KSEG is eager to reach out to similar groups in nearby areas such as Bonmahon, Mahon Bridge, and Portlaw and “work for the common good of the greater Comeragh area”.
He believes they could establish a sub group comprised of a representative from each individual group within this area. “It’s about working together and generating ideas,” he says.
The recent creation of new bike parking facilities in the heart of the village illustrates that Kilmac is serious about capitalising on its tag as a tourism destination.
“Kilmac is now becoming more tourist orientated and has its own identity,” says Paddy.
He believes all of these positive developments compensate for other recent losses, such as the closure of the village’s Bank of Ireland branch this year. Paddy adds that KSEG is always keen to hear from people who would like to join and get involved in their activities in any way.
With the dedication and vision of so many committed and passionate volunteers, 2022 certainly looks set to be another very positive year for KSEG and the wider Kilmacthomas area.
To keep up to date with activities, visit the Kilmacthomas Social Enterprise Group Facebook page.