The sunshine certainly played its part, but Castlecomer was looking cleaner and greener than ever last week, as school students and other groups joined forces in a community-led effort to spruce up the town.
On Thursday morning, around 200 local school students took part in the Castlecomer Green Day. Among the projects tackled: Painting walls and railings, picking up litter in amenity areas, and powerwashing buildings that needed cleaning - including the disused courthouse. Significantly, also, the Transition Year students of Castlecomer Community School co-ordinated the ‘spring cleaning’ efforts of local primary schools.
“It has gone very well, the students were out from around 9.30,” said Paul Behan, vice-principal at Castlecomer Community School.
“This is an opportunity to showcase the whole town.”
The school secured its Green Flag in February, but will not be presented with it until next month. Last week, the focus was on Tidy Towns, and schools helping the initiative by fostering links between Transition Year, the local authority, Fas and community development programmes. Community Enterprise programme participant Terry Moore was on hand on the day also.
As the secondary school students got to work, local primary schools were busy too. The Convent primary school, Wandesforde School and the Boys National School all re-launched their cleaning campaigns within their own respective schools.
Susan Dennehy is the principal of Wandesforde school, where 50 young pupils went out to tidy the grounds and surrounding area. She said the event was a great success.
“The place is spotless now,” she said.
“The Transition Year students came down in the morning and co-ordinated it. It was absolutely fantastic to get out and get stuck in, and have people involved.”
While all the local primary schools have been active in terms of ‘spring cleaning’ in previous years, last week was the first time there was a co-ordinated effort between several schools, including the Castlecomer Community School.
Local councillor Maurice Shorthall praised the students for their hard work and initiative. He said it was important for everyone to get involved where possible.
“There is a great buzz in the school - everyone talks about TY and the benefits of doing it, and here people can see some results straight away,” he said.
“We have to say special thanks to newly-appointed deputy prinicpal Paul Behan, who really has got stuck into this project. A lot of it is down to his initiative.”
Teacher Pat Tynan said that the ‘Green Day’ added a splash of much needed colour to a few areas in the town.
“This is an ideal project for them - it has been fantastic looking at them getting involved and taking it on,” said teacher Pat Tynan.
“There is a different atmosphere about the place and colour - we walked around and thought it lacked colour, and that’s important particularly now with the Discovery Park and more tourists coming.
“The big job next year will be to maintain it and take on new projects. They are coming to the end of Transition Year, and it has been great.”
David O’ Rourke of the Tidy Towns Committee said that it was a big coup to have the students from Castlecomer Community School taking part.
“We came on board with this willingly,” he said.
“It is the first initiative of this kind. It is the first time to engage with the secondary school, we have always engaged with the primary schools.
Mr O’ Rourke said that in the past, a lack of involvement with second-level education resulted in some of the message from primary school being lost. However, he said, the new impetus to get to the secondary schools was showing its benefits.
“It is working - in terms of littering, young people are now looking for bins,” he said.
“Without a doubt, it can only be positive. We are on an upward curve.”
The students themselves agree they have gained a lot from the experience. One group of Transition Year girls was part of a team that went around to identify the litter blackspots, and the areas that they felt were in most urgent need of attention.
“We had a flip camera, and the group went around the town,” said TY student Kim Kavanagh.
“We had a look at anything that wasn’t appealing to the eye,”
Her Transition Year colleague Mary Hennessy said that being involved in the programme had given them all a greater appreciation of the town and keeping it tidy.
“The whole school is more conscious of it,” she said.
“You would be ever since the Green Schools [initiative]. Last year’s Transition Years took it up and we have carried it on.”
Cllr Shorthall said that given the project’s success, future campaigns could look at tackling other areas, such as the approach roads to the town. He said that the reaction from the community had been an overwhelmingly positive one.
“People are just looking at it in amazement,” he said.
“This is a wonderful youth initiative that fully complements the work of the local authorities.
“It is costing us 1.5 million a year to keep Kilkenny county and city clean, and that could be used so productively. This sort of initiative is the way forward.”