This was the year Blackrock was awarded its first ever Gold Medal in the national Tidy Towns competition. This was something Blackrock Tidy Towns had planned to achieve for the village over the next five years, so when the announcement was made in in September it came as a complete surprise to the hard-working committee and their volunteers. Blackrock had won its first bronze last year, and it was most unusual to jump straight to gold in such a short space of time. Out of 850 entrants in the Tidy Towns competition, only 36 gold medals were awarded in the whole country in 2013, putting Blackrock in the elite top four percent. The award was recognition not only for the work of the Tidy Towns, but also reflects the work put into the presentation of private properties by individuals and businesses in Blackrock – a real community effort. As well as the gold medal, the village was also awarded the hugely prestigious national award for Climate Change in recognition of a programme of “green” initiatives undertaken in the community over the last number of years. Winning these awards will have significant benefits for the economy of the village, as Tidy Towns groups from all over Ireland will now want to visit Blackrock to see how the awards were won. The desirability of living in a Gold Medal village will also mean greater demand for housing, but this will only materialise if the gold status is maintained into the future. For this reason, the Tidy Towns are already well advanced in delivery of their 2014 work programme.
Blackrock also received a number of awards in the Louth Looking Good competition for 2013, coming second in the county overall, and receiving the top award for litter control in the large village / small town category. Haggardstown old graveyard received the award for best kept graveyard in the county, and the “Crocodile Rock” can sculpture at the bring banks received a special award.
Blackrock Tidy Towns was established in 1993, and in October this year they celebrated their 20th anniversary with an afternoon exhibition in the Community Centre and a gala dinner in the golf club attended by many past committee members. The celebrations included the showing of a 30 minute video especially commissioned to chronicle the work of the Tidy Towns in the village over the last 20 years.
A number of significant projects were delivered during the year. A landscaped feature was created at the Old Golf Links Road entrance to the village, including a namestone and flagpole, and to the same design as the entrances at The Loakers, Greengates and Sexton’s. Additional bicycle stands were erected on the promenade, and an information panel was installed beside the new telescope. A magnificent bee and butterfly garden was created in the park by the Eco Tribe from St, Fursey’s school, and raised vegetable beds were added to the list of attractions there. The most significant project however was the installation of the beautiful new sculpture “Bradáin” on the promenade. Created by internationally renowned artist Richard Perry, the sculpture recognises the fishing origins of Blackrock, and a ceremony to mark its installation was organised by the Tidy Towns at the end of November. This included the laying of a simple wreath to remember deceased members of the fishing and lifeboat communities in the village, and all those who lost their lives in the waters around Blackrock. “Bradáin is destined to become another landmark attraction for the village.
The Tidy Towns annual Raft Race took place in June, with a number of added family-oriented attractions and a full programme of events. In August Noel Sharkey conducted a guided tour of Haggardstown graveyard to mark Heritage Week, and Blackrock Tidy Towns participated in the “brocante” at The Square in Dundalk, organised by Louth Tidy Towns Together. A number of environmental events were held in the park involving Dr. Pamela Whitaker, including a “Herbal Tea and Poetry” afternoon. The annual “Beautiful Blackrock” awards ceremony took place in October where a variety of individual gardeners and business premises owners received recognition for their contribution to the overall appearance of Blackrock, and where Pat Rafferty, supervisor of the local Community Employment Scheme was named Blackrock Environmentalist of the year for his work “away beyond the call of duty”. Because of Blackrock Tidy Towns’ reputation for coastal care, they were invited to make a presentation at the Northern Ireland Coast Care awards ceremony held in Stormont in October. As well as being such an honour, this provided the Tidy Towns with a unique opportunity to showcase Blackrock to a new audience, many of whom expressed an interest in visiting the village as a result.
During the summer months the promenade was a blaze of colour as usual thanks to the “Blackrock in Bloom” initiative sponsored annually by Haggardstown Garden Centre, and the Summer Flags project sponsored by Tiernan’s Centra. During the year Rock Cabs came on board to sponsor the new Tidy Towns van which plays such an important role in litter control and other work around the village.
A key feature of Tidy Towns work is their liaison with the three schools in the parish. As well as assisting in the annual Spring Clean, pupils participate in the various workshops and events organised by the Tidy Towns and facilitated by Dr. Pamela Whitaker and Louth County Council. The Tidy Towns are especially looking forward to working with St. Francis School in their new home during 2014.
Litter management and general maintenance goes on all year round to make sure that not an item of litter is evident anywhere in the village. Grass verges are cut regularly and kerbside weeds kept under control. The Fane Community Employment Scheme under supervisor Pat Rafferty plays a critical role in all of this, and it is because of the dedication of the CES workers that the village looks so well. Their work was absolutely vital in Blackrock being awarded the Gold Medal this year. The Probation Service plays a significant role in litter control on the beaches and foreshore, and RehabCare personnel will be found hard at work each week taking care of the entrance to the Priest’s Beach.
Part of the success story for Blackrock Tidy Towns is the ongoing liaison and co-operation between themselves and other agencies and organisations. They work very closely with Louth County Council, and especially with the Environment Section under Mary Murtagh. They are active members of Louth Tidy Towns Together where they network with other Tidy Towns groups in the county. Louth Leader Partnership is their main source of funding for major projects, but they also depend very much on local sponsorships and private donations. They are represented on the Blackrock Park Committee and undertake joint initiatives with them. They also work closely with all the residents associations in Blackrock to make sure the village is always presented at its best. However, their main success lies in the fact that they have some 40 volunteers around the village on whom they can call at any time to help in various projects and initiatives, and the support of the community. “Without the continuing co-operation and support of our volunteers, and of the residents and businesses of Blackrock, we certainly would not be able to carry on” said John Horan. “We want to thank everyone in the village for their support and for the major contribution they made to achieving the first Gold Medal for the village, and wish them all the very best for 2014” he said.