Saturday 17th September 2022

The community of Ballinahown gathered in the sunshine last Saturday afternoon for the official opening of the new Astro Turf facility at St Colmcille’s Sports Park and the Biodiversity Park.

The village was a hive of activity on the day with music provided by the Army Band; children’s entertainment from Bozo the Clown; facepainting; Rinka classes; matches held by local clubs; relay races and rounders; a beekeeping talk and a scavenger hunt in the Biodiversity Park among some of the activities on the day.

Both the Astro Turf facility and the Biodiversity Park were officially opened by Minister of State with responsibility for Local Government Peter Burke, who described them as a treasure to have in the centre of the village.

Acknowledging the hard work and commitment of all those involved, Minister Burke said there is a huge responsibility in taking on projects such as this.

“The real hero of a project like this is the community coming together and particularly when you’re on the border here of Offaly and Westmeath, you really put that to your advantage in terms of a dual application,” he said.

Minister Burke said he was first approached regarding funding for the Astro Turf project by Cllr John Dolan in March 2021 and he was delighted to be able to provide funding along with both Westmeath and Offaly county councils.

“It’s been an absolute privilege to work with so many people around Ballinahown and I look forward to supporting you into the future as well,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of Westmeath Community Development and the Rural Development Programme in LEADER, Peter Ormond congratulated all those involved in bringing the Astro Turf project to fruition.

He said when he was first approached regarding funding for the Astro Turf facility he outlined the work involved and said they were about to take on a daunting task.

Working with both Westmeath Community Development and Offaly Local Development Company, the group was able to put a plan in place to secure funding for the project to the tune of over €300,000.

“The people of Ballinahown had a vision for this project, they had foresight, commitment and dedication and it’s great to see the project brought to fruition here today,” said Mr Ormond.

 “The rural development programme which we all work on with LEADER is about enhancing and empowering communities and what we have here today represents all that is good about community development. The people here today and the wider community emphasises all things that is good about community development and your success to date in attracting funding and delivering projects is an example for others to follow,” he added.

Roisín Lennon of Offaly Local Development Company said the Astro Turf and Biodiversity Park were super facilities.

“Isn’t it a privilege for a national school to have all this as their playground and their backyard and more importantly for the community to have this in situ for everyone to be able to use. I would like to extend a sincere thank you to the community of Ballinahown for taking on this project,” she said.

Representing St Colmcille’s Sportspark committee, Cllr John Dolan thanked the various agencies involved in the project – LEADER, the Department of Local Government, the Town and Village Renewal Scheme, the HSE, local sponsorships and fundraising.

“Without all of this, we wouldn’t have the facilities that we have here today and I think they are second to none,” he said.

He said the Astro Turf and Biodiversity Park had turned out way above their expectations.

“These facilities have made our village even more special and they will be used and enjoyed by current and future generations and no price can be put on that,” said Cllr Dolan.

Cllr Dolan also spoke on behalf of Westmeath County Council and said it was always an easy decision for the council to provide funding to the village as the council knew any projects planned would be completed and completed within budget.

“The council are vital partners here in Ballinahown and it wouldn’t be the village it is without their help. On behalf of Pat Gallagher I want to acknowledge all of the work that has been done by the community and I also want to thank him on our behalf for the support they have given us,” he said.

Chairperson of Ballinahown Community Development, Helen Conneely, spoke about the Biodiversity Park and said the land was first leased from Westmeath County Council ten years ago. The first stage involved the creation of an initial walking track followed by the installation of an apiary and she thanked Andrew McGuinness for his help with this.

“We’re very aware of the environment and climate change and the Biodiversity Park and our biodiversity plan is part of addressing that as a community going into the future,” said Ms Conneely.

After securing funding from Westmeath County Council through the Town and Village Renewal Scheme, the pond, amphitheatre and orchard were installed and the track was upgraded.

Ms Conneely thanked Martin Murray and Vincent Burke, the architects who worked on the project; Féidhlim Harty, a pond expert who helped with establishment of the pond; main contractors Patrick and Shane Brazil; the community employment participants and the council for its funding.

In keeping with the ethos of the Biodiversity Park, Ms Conneely explained that much of the materials used were recycled or upcycled. The next stage of the park will involve planting wildflowers.

MC for the day, Denis Rohan thanked all those involved in bringing the project to fruition.

“I would like to pay tribute to Bernard Farrell, Brian Farrell, Jimmy Corrigan and Mick Young, who originally put their names down to purchase the land for the Sportspark from the Land Commission,” he said.

He thanked engineer Billy Burke and Lloyd Adams who represented the contractor for their work on delivering the Astroturf facility. Mr Rohan also thanked the sponsors of the facility and in particular Heavin’s, Silverline Cruisers and the Hodson Bay Hotel.

He thanked the diocese for leasing the land for the Astroturf and making the project possible. Mr Rohan also paid tribute to artist Shane Turner for his “masterpiece in art” on the target wall.

“Shane created the mural on the wall and it represents sportspeople in action and it represents the different disciplines and it captures the whole idea of the Sportspark facility in Ballinahown,” said Mr Rohan.

Following the cutting of the ribbon on the Astroturf by Minister Burke, the facility was blessed by Fr Brendan O’Sullivan and Rev. William Stacey.

Fr Brendan said: “As we come together on this happy day for our community may we thankful for the hard work and dedication of so many that has brought us this far. May we always value and appreciate the work that others do for our community and may each of us give something back in our time.”

The St Colmcille’s Sports Park Astro Turf Facility has been part funded by Westmeath & Offaly Local Community Development Committees through the Co-operation Element of the Rural Development (LEADER) Programme 2014-2020 and the Department of Rural & Community Development. Other funding was secured from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the HSE, with huge support from our local community and businesses in terms of financial and ‘in kind’ support. 

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