01 Dec 2021

A night of celebration and community at the Kilkenny People of the Year awards

Long Read - Check out the winners who will receive their awards on November 1 in The Newpark Hotel

 Vicky Phelan

Last year's overall winner at the Kilkenny People of the Year awards, Vicky Phelan returns as a guest of honour

Local heroes who do trojan work in their communities will be publicly acknowledged and honoured at a major awards ceremony.

The tireless efforts of many will be recognised when the 23rd Kilkenny People of the Year awards are held at the Newpark Hotel on November 1.

The eight category winners along with the Hall of Fame winner will be interviewed on stage and presented with their award at the ceremony.

This year’s winners are:

John Needs Pembro Support Group - Advocacy,

John Houlihan - Volunteerism,

O’Loughlin Gaels Juvenile Club,

Windgap Community Development Group - Community Rejuvenation,

Captain Larry Scallan - Heritage,

Asylum Productions - Community Arts,

Team Aspect - Social Support,

Ballyfoyle Agricultural Show, Agri Tourism

The Hall of Fame winner is the renowned playwright and novelist, Thomas Kilroy.

Chairperson Rory Williams paid tribute to the category winners on their nominations and acknowledged the contribution that they make to their respective communities. He also thanked the sponsors: Kilkenny County Council, O’Neill Foley, Highway Safety Developments, Glanbia, KBC Bank, O’Shea Farms, The Kilkenny People, Kilkenny Leader Partnership, The Public Participation Network and Countrystyle Foods.

The overall winner will be announced at the awards ceremony. MC on the night is Kilkenny People and Kilkenny Reporter ambassador Siobhan Donohoe.
Among the guests of honour present will be last year’s overall winner, Vicky Phelan who continues to campaign on behalf of the people of Ireland for a more accountable and transparent health system.

Tickets are priced at €40 and are available from The Kilkenny People office on High Street. The price includes a three-course meal and there will be a band and dancing after the formalities have concluded.
Proceeds from the evening will be donated to local charity, Amber Kilkenny Women’s Refuge.

Winners Profiled

John Needs Pembro

Kieran Conway (pictured) along with John Joe Cullen and a group of friends of John Holmes formed the John Needs Pembro fundraising group last November.

In 2012 John Holme’s world was turned upside down by the test results with a rare cancer, which resulted in aggressive tumours of the throat and lung.

He was pitched into a world of exhausting chemotherapy cycles and painful invasive surgeries. In January 2014 surgeons removed his voice box in an effort to arrest the cancer’s progress. It didn’t work. The cancer came back. In May, 2016 his medical team gave up. They told him that they had concluded that ‘no further intervention was advised’ and sent him home to die.

Through an incredible series of coincidences John’s case came to the attention of Professor John Crown - Ireland’s foremost oncologist. Intrigued by the rarity of John’s condition, Professor Crown accepted the challenge.
After a regimen of enhanced aggressive chemotherapy ran its course, Professor Crown recommended three cycles of injections of Pembro which began last November.

The purpose of the John Needs Pembro group was to raise funds to cover the cost of the immunotherapy drug, Pembrolizumab, which was recommended for John by his oncologist Professor John Crown. Each injection costs €5,111. To date John has received 14 injections.

From November of last year until July of this year the group has raised over €123,000.
The group are no longer fundraising as John has responded well to treatment.
John Needs Pembro are the Advocacy category winners.

John Holohan

John Holohan is this year’s category winner for his incredibly volunteerism both locally and nationally.

John has raised hundreds of thousands of euro for the Temple Street Children’s Hospital and has also brought magic and joy to a countless number of children. Every winter John shuts down his workshop in November and becomes Santa Claus during the month of December with his true to life reindeers and sleigh. To experience the excitement and joy on the faces of the children when Santa comes to town is a tonic in itself. To date, John has raised hundreds of thousands of euro for Temple Street Children’s Hospital.

Extraordinary Friend
Angela McNulty, Special Events Manager describes John as ‘an extraordinary friend to the hospital, our families and the children we look after’.
She also describes John as the purest example of “the true spirit of giving”, he empowers others to help him as he spreads laughter, cheer and hope to many people throughout the month of December.

Route 66John is also a proud Irish 66er having completed Route 66 across America with other bikers to raise funds for the hospital. He has also travelled many miracle miles for Temple Street over the years.
Temple Street is the first port of call for tens of thousands of children every year suffering from every kind of illness and injury imaginable.
The children and staff at Temple Street are beyond proud to have his man as their friend and an integral part of their ‘circle of care’.

Commandant Larry Scallan

In just five short years, Commandant Larry Scallan, presently serving as part of a UN mission in Lebanon, has created an incredible portfolio and collection of work on local military history - in particular the present celebration of a decade of centenaries.

His lifelong interest in history has influenced everything from developing the museum at James Stephens Barracks, commemorating and telling the story of two men executed at the barracks in the Civil War and leading many on a walking, historic tour of Kilkenny and its many landmarks from the War of Independence.

He was involved in re-enacting the famous Christmas Truce tale and remembering the events of 1916. Commandant Scallan has told the fascinating history of Kilkenny during those turbulent times with a great degree of understanding and empathy.
Larry Scallan has certainly enriched our understanding and perception of those volatile yet inspiring times in our history.
He has made connections with people who have contributed interesting items to the museum.

His work for local groups - from those researching who served in World War One to the very successful centenary celebrations of the 1916 rising locally, was particularly outstanding.
And he is full of ideas for bringing alive the military history of Kilkenny.
Larry Scallan, a Wexford man, has made Kilkenny his home for himself and his family for more than 20 years now and our community is a better, and more informed place due to Larry's continued research and dedication to telling the stories of all soldiers who served.

Team Aspect

From Castlecomer, Team Aspect are four cyclists and a support team of family and friends who have raised more than €31,000 for the Aspect unit at SOS Kilkenny.

In 2016 four members of Deenside Wheelers decided to take on the Race Around Ireland to raise funds for the Aspect unit - Pat Maher, Cathal Phillips, John Dowd (pictured far right) and Seamus Nash (pictured far left).
Race Around Ireland is a non-stop, 2,000km race around the country. In 2017 the four lads won it. Along the way they raised €8,000 for the Aspect unit.

But their biggest challenge was to come - Race Across America.
They trained for two years for what is the world’s hardest cycle race, including altitude training and preparing for the desert heat by training on their bikes in a sauna!

From the Pacific coast of California to the Atlantic coast in Maryland, at least one cyclist was always on the road 24-hours non-stop, day and night, over 5,000km of mountains, deserts, heat, cold, illness, tiredness. Together, the four cyclists and their dedicated support crew faced, and surmounted, every challenge thrown at them and completed the course.

The challenge was gruelling but it was all worth it when they revealed they had raised an amazing €23,369 for the Aspect unit.
Team Aspect undertook these challenges to raise awareness of the wonderful work of SOS Kilkenny and the Aspect unit.
Aspect day service was opened in 2013 to provide specialised day services to adults with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability in the Kilkenny area.

Ballyfoyle Agricultural Show

Ballyfoyle’s Agricultural Show has been awarded the Kilkenny People of the Year Agricultural Tourism Award.
For the past 24 years the committee have been running the Ballyfoyle Show as a gymkhana. However for their 25th anniversary this year they decided to do something special and host their first ever Agricultural Show.
This was a very brave move for the committee as agricultural shows are closing up and down the country due to high insurance costs.

The inaugural Ballyfoyle Agricultural Show on the day received great reviews from Jim Morrison, Chairman of the Irish Show Association. They certainly set the standards high, enough to even impress Showjumping Ireland.
Ann Callanan (pictured), Chairperson of the Show has been there from the start with a super team. She says they are very privileged with a committee as they really are great group of friends, not to mention the generosity of the landowners - the Costigans and Harpers.

What is special about this unique show is that every penny they make goes directly to several local charities every year. With nearly €130,000 raised over the past 25 years for local worthy causes, the committee of Ballyfoyle Agricultural Show are truly a godsend.

The show is also highly committed to involving their local youth in the day to day planning of the show. Many young people are on the organising committee, where they pick up invaluable life skills.
A lot of professional riders have also come up through the ranks at the Ballyfoyle Show and continue to be great supporters and still compete in the show every year.

Asylum Productions

Staging a drama is a big undertaking. Taking a famous novel, adapting it and then staging a drama while incorporating the whole town as your stage and the community as your cast, is amazing.
As part of the Kilkenny Arts Festival this year Asylum Productions did just that.
With the aim of bringing the whole town together to tell its own, difficult, story, Asylum Productions decided to adapt what was a controversial book when it was first published, and incorporated as many people and places in the town as they could.

The result was an overwhelming, sell-out success.
Donal Gallagher is co-founder and co-artistic Director of Asylum Productions. Medb Lambert is also currently Artistic Coordinator of Equinox Theatre Company, Ireland’s only Inclusive Theatre Company, which is part of KCAT Art & Study Centre in Callan.
The Big Chapel X was about a town telling its own dark and difficult story in a positive way. Cast and crew were an inclusive community of actors, producers, and local volunteers, young and old.

Medb said they worked hard to make sure everybody felt welcome. As this is the third community production they have staged in Callan in recent years people knew they were welcome and the atmosphere at rehearsals was very open.
The local business community got behind the production which was also supported by the Abbey Theatre and Kilkenny County Council.
In all almost 350 people took part in the production, volunteering behind the scenes and acting, singing and in the ‘riot squad’.

O'Loughlin Gaels

O’Loughlin Gaels Juvenile Club is nominated for the Kilkenny People of the Year Award for its incredible support in youth development.

The club is home to 400 juvenile members and caters for teams from under-5 up to 75, serving St John’s Parish, Johnswell, Dunmore and the eastern side of the City.

O’Loughlin Gaels summer camps for juveniles are now in their 12th year and the Easter camp is in its second year. Niall Bergin (current senior hurling manager of O’Loughlin Gaels), ran the successful summer camps for many years, with his brother Mark now taking over.

The club boasts first class facilities and the pitches are full every night of the week. They have a Handball Club, as well as Under-6s to adult Camogie Club. The clubhouse was built in the seventies. Like most GAA Clubs, success runs on the back of volunteers, with a lot of time and dedication shown for the love of the game.
Huw Lawlor and Paddy Deegan both started with O’Loughlin Gaels, which now has five members on the Kilkenny under-20 squad.

Other past senior players include brothers Andy and Martin Comerford, Brian Hogan and Kilkenny Minor player John McNamara. Although the seniors recently lost to Ballyhale Shamrocks, as consolation the Juniors beat Conahy Shamrocks in the junior decider and the Junior B hurlers won their county final, beating Barrow Rangers.
The club has just celebrated 50 magnificent years, with Brian Murphy as Club Chairman, following a distinguished line of servers to the club. Brian Fox is the current Juvenile Chairperson.

Windgap Community Development Group

Windgap Community Development Group has been awarded the Kilkenny People of the Year Community Rejuvenation Award.
An entire community of Windgap has been given a renewed breath of life with the village’s new Community Centre, tearooms, shop and meeting rooms.

The local people worked closely with Kilkenny LEADER Partnership to make this a reality. The Community Hall has undergone a transformation and is the new pride of the village, boosted by significant Tidy towns projects. Windgap also has a community playground, loop walks and the biggest Grotto in Europe.

After years of hard work and detailed planning, this small community has become a beacon of hope for other rural enclaves. With Windgap and Tullahought’s modest populations, they have pulled together to generously enable this project alongside significant public funding. And it’s not over yet!

The tearooms is run completely on a volunteer basis and has already caught the attention of the national media, soon to be featured on RTE’s Nationwide and TG4.

Windgap Community Development Group would like to accept this award on behalf of the community, because it is their money that has made this a success and helped to put this roof on the village.
The community would also like to remember the late Fr Nicholas Flavin and his tremendous contribution.

Hall of Fame - Thomas Kilroy

Thomas Kilroy is a renowned playwright and novelist. He was born in Green Street, Callan and studied at UCD. In his early career he was play editor at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.

In the 1980s, he sat on the board of Field Day Theatre Company, founded by Brian Friel and Stephen Rea. The literary giant has penned his own memoirs Over the Backyard Wall, which describes a coming of age embodied by escape, self-discovery and a struggle to contend with the rigid culture of a small Irish town in Co. Kilkenny during World War II.

In 1978 he was appointed Professor of English at University College Galway, a post from which he resigned in 1989 to concentrate on writing. He is currently living in Mayo and is a member of the Royal Society of Literature, the Irish Academy of Letters and Aosdána.

One of Ireland’s most distinguished living playwrights, he is best known for his iconic novel, The Big Chapel (1971) which was nominated for the Booker Prize and won the Guardian Fiction Prize and the Heinemann Prize.

The Thomas Kilroy Collection, his personal archive, was deposited at Galway University’s James Hardiman Library; Kilroy addressed the launch event in March 2011, which was attended by amongst others, Brian Friel and the future president of Ireland, Michael D Higgins. The ‘Big Chapel Project’ of 2019 by Asylum Productions takes it name from the famous book by Kilroy and was an inclusive, participative community engagement project

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