Ballyouskill, Co. Kilkenny
Over the coming months, Sean Keane is going to visit the villages of Kilkenny and report back on how they are doing and what the future holds for them.
This week, he visits Ballyouskill, often forgotten by city folk but where community spirit is alive.
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Ballyouskill, like many other rural communities is fighting for its survival. However, unlike other villages scattered around the county.
Ballyouskill knows it is in a dog fight and has taken charge of the situation. A committed group of people are driving change and renewal, helped by LEADER and Kilkenny County Council.
Funding has been secured to extend and refurbish the busy community hall and with over 700 people domiciled here, it is beginning to cut through the red tape, to tap into the funding that is available. It needs the help of all our State bodies and from the Oireachtas members for Kilkenny.
There have been black days - It has lost its primary school, shop and post office and needs a focal point to supplement the worthwhile work going on there.
However, since the Wheel Inn public house re-opened some years ago, with Frank Brennan at the helm, there has been a reversal of fortunes in Ballyouskill. He is providing the building blocks there with all sorts of activities. There is, and always has been, an extraordinary community spirit here. When you die, not only do your relations, neighbours, friends and others unite and do the catering for the mourners but they dig the graves for their neighbours.
It is a reassuring tradition that lends itself to a sense of pride of place. "We realised that unless we did something for ourselves, no one else would help us," Philip Sheppard said at a recent meeting of the development committee in the hall, attended by me.
There are 700 people in the parish and they are part of Ballyragget GAA Club although, many years ago they had their own team.
Strong local representation is vital to keep places like Ballyouskill going and Labour councillor, Maurice Shortall is a fervent supporter of the work being carried out here but is the first to admit more needs to be done.
"We still need a focal point, meeting place where we can put up a few park benches, basketball court, something that will attract people in the morning and evening.
He is committed to developing the parish hall but sees the need for more - A day centre and the construction of up to 10 units to cater for people who want to retire back to their home place or for visitors is a must .
"We have to do everything we can to help the people here," he said. Red tape, he feels, is stifling development. Everyone is agreed there should be an express planning process for community projects to benefit the community. but in Ballyouskilll, the National Transport Authority showed its aptitude to make something, which should have been a formality, a painful experience.
An application for a community hackney had to be accompanied by a letter of support from a VAT registered charity in the parish - There is none.
"I wish they would show a bit of common sense," Maurice Shortall said.
It's hard to seperate Attanagh in Laois from Ballyouskill and with less than two miles between them, they are linked inextricably.
So it is interesting that in the 17th century, a fierce battle took place in the parish between the O'Moores of Laois and the O'Brennan's of Kilkenny during the Confederation of Kilkenny.
The parish priest here is Fr Eamon O'Gorman who has a huge parish to administer from the Dinan Bridge to over the Laois border taking in Ballyragget, Ballylinan, Attanagh and Ballyouskill. On his appointment four years ago, he was immediately impressed by the community spirit. "The people are supportive of each other and are tight knit and give 110% to whatever community initiative is going on," he said.
Ballyouskill once boasted a national school, dispensary, grocery shop and post office with a priest was resident in the Parochial House to the rear of the church.
“Here we have a community focused on development and unified in the cause and I am delighted to facilitate that drive of positivity in any way I can," Maurice Shortall said.
“And it’s always encouraging and uplifting to work in conjunction with Ballyouskill Community Hall Re-Development Committee under the stewardship of Noel Cummins on a project that will provide a hub of activity in the parish with their ambitious plans," Maurice added. “This pro-active approach will bring to fruition a multipurpose facility encompassing the whole demographic of the community.” he said.
It was not until I walked part of this original famine relief road built in 1848, that I came to realise the beauty of this, at first windswept looking place. I walked up to the top of the Hill, on Cromwell's Road and to the highest point in North Kilkenny with a view of the Wicklow mountains and Slieve Bloom on the other side and on to Ballymartin crossroads.
There is history at every turn - a little lane where local man, James Buggie shot a man sent to kill him during the Civil War. Buggie was an intelligence officer with the old IRA. A leaflet on the walk has been produced with a drawing by Ballyragget based artist, John Walsh
The hall is in constant use as a creche, for palates, cards and Irish dancing. A study group has been going on there since November and has proved a great success. The local branch of the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) hold their monthly meeting there as does Attanagh Group water scheme
It is a half century since Ballyouskill national school closed and while it's disappearance has hit the parish hard, a celebration of the school and a reunion of the former pupils will be held on Saturday, August 5.
The event will include the annual Ballyouskill Cemetery Mass at 7.30pm. Afterwards it will be back to the Wheel Inn where memories will be shared and music provided.
Local man, Pat Holohan wants as many people as possible to come back to their native place, look through the old roll books and other memorabilia that he, Kathleen Carroll and other members of the committee have gathered.
"We want people to visit the area more frequently and we'd like them to bring their extended family," he said. To get in touch and be part of what will be a nostalgic occasion call Pat on 0872244682 or Kathleen Carroll on 0878342941
There are no trains or buses servicing Ballyouskill and the only public transport brings the children from the parish to the primary school in Ballyragget and it's the same story for Ballinakill.
To ensure safe connectivity a local transport service is vital to maintaining and more importantly sustaining the only social outlet in the village, the Wheel Inn. An application has been made for a rural hackney license but the application must be accompanied by a letter of support from a registered charity in the area. Problem is, there is no such entity in the parish and the application is all tied up in red tape.
Cllr Maurice Shortall has asked the National Transport Authority to see sense and grant the much needed licence. "Let's hope that common sense will prevail," Cllr Shortall said.
At the moment there isn't a wow factor to stop in Ballyouskill be you local or visitor. The new school museum area in the re-developed community hall with some interactive / digital technology might help. The key to community is in inter generational projects with the youth being catered for in the newly revamped community hall. This has to happen for the sake of everyone in the parish and a small elderly community in their own little homes adjacent to the community hall would be a major boost for the old people and the village.
And as I left, I was reminded that it is well over 30 years since a play was held in the hall, Big Maggie by John B Keane and all on the committee yearn for a return to those nights when the hall would be full for a week a year thanks to amateur dramatics. Mem Dunphy played the lead and I'd say she would help out with any new production of the play.
Broadband. or rather the lack of it, is another huge issue for the people of Ballyouskill that needs to be started.