Castlemitchell-Churchtown – a community worth protecting
The Castlemitchell Churchtown area in South Kildare is a special place, a close-knit community with a positive sense of belonging and an enduring strength. Its identity, like many communities in rural Kildare, is family, community involvement, GAA, music and politics, and here it revolves around the Old School, the refurbished Community Hall and the local GAA pitch.
Going back 150 years, it's always been like this in Castlemitchell.
So why then did Kildare County Council want to exclude the area from the next County Development Plan 2011-2017 that is currently under review?
But fear not, the guardians of Castlemitchell, as always, like the Greek minotaurs, took a stand at last month's county council meeting and urged others to vote against their planners' advice.
As a result the area will now keep its 'rural node' status, which will protect this rural area and its community for generations to come.
The County Development Plan
The next County Development Plan will run from 2011 to 2017. It will have a legal influence on future planning decisions. It proposes to divide the county's smaller population areas into villages, rural settlements and rural 'nodes', of which there are 11, 20 and 12 respectively.
Speaking at the monthly meeting Cllr Mark Wall argued that the Castlemitchell/Churchtown area should be added to the list of nodes, which include Moyvalley, Cloghinerinka, Cadamstown, Kilshanroe, Newtown, Tirmoghan, Carbury, Timahoe, Lackagh/Mountrice, Ballyshannon, Ballyroe and Kilkea.
He, supported by Cllr Martin Miley and others, said that Castlemitchell/Churchtown has a national school, a community hall and clubs and worried about it being left off lists for facilities as a result of not being included in the plan.
Currently there are no figures available on planning applications in the area.
Cllr Martin Heydon said Castlemitchell had facilities but he asked if they forced everyone into Athy where would the
sense of community be in Castlemitchell, which has a community hall that has just been refurbished.
Why exclude Castlemitchell-Churchtown?
The planning officials argued that the decision to exclude Castlemitchell in the new plan – it is listed in the current one – was based on a number of things including draft regional planning guidelines, environmental constraints and Department of Environment residential guidelines.
They say that given Castlemitchell's "limited social and physical infrastructure" and the fact there were no increases in the number of houses in the current plan, it decided the area be of a lower order.
Senior planner, Michael Kenny, said the idea for the nodes was that new developments should cater for local needs only and they considered the settlement strategy reasonable.
Cllr Wall's proposal to maintain Castlemitchell in the list was put to a vote and councillors supported Cllr Wall and Miley by 13-3, with three independents voting against it. The area will now keep its all-important rural node status.
Castlemitchell has a lot to be proud of and, now with no devaluation from the planners at Kildare County Council, it can look forward and plan for the future.
Eugene Doyle, Chairperson of the Castlemitchell and Churchtown Development Association, praised the conviction of the Athy Area councillors.
"Their conviction at the council meeting in persuading other councillors to vote against the planning officials' advice is admired and we are very grateful that this devaluation didn't happen."
The consequence of the possible devaluation of the area would have been dire, he said.
"If we were devalued by Kildare County Council our community spirit would be affected in terms of possible grants from agencies. There would be a block on planning permission for people living in the area and it's important for new people to be allowed come into the community, to keep it going.
"Like any community the next generation offspring keep it going. The whole community here would have been under threat if the council were allowed to get away with it.
"During the Celtic tiger boom years a lot of community spirit got lost because of greed, but in Castlemitchell we've always had it and we will definitely continue it into the future. There is no way a couple of officials n Kildare County Council will write us off like we don't exist. I'm very confident Castlemitchell will survive."
Mick Brazil, chairperson of the Castlemitchell GFC, was also angry with Kildare County Council's proposal.
"I think it's disappointing. There is so much to be got out of the community here and I'm happy it didn't get passed. I have to say community spirit here is a big thing."
Indeed the GAA is Castlemitchell. It has produced great achievements since it first established in 1939, most recently winning the Ladies Junior A Championship in 2009 and then reaching the Leinster Junior Finals.
Teacher Ger McDonagh of the Churchtown Pipeband, founded in 1919, and sustained sometimes solely through the years by Jimmy Fennelly, was glad the local representatives had the vision to see the importance of the 'rural node' category to Castlemitchell.
"Every community needs new blood and new investment to maintain itself and continue on. Without new people in the area it's not going to sustain itself.
"I'm certainly glad to hear that our local representatives had the vision to see this, while Castlemitchell may be small gloss on a map for the planners, it has the spirit of a fabulous community with a big heart," he added.
A testament to community spirit
N 53 01.389' W 007 01.980'
Comprising 7,279 acres.
Castlemitchell-Churchtown is more than 800 years old. It is located in an isolated position at the southern tip of the county and is known as the premier rural community in south Kildare because of its strong GAA traditions and its sustained community spirit.
Many say no other area in Kildare can match the strength of its community involvement.
Over the years its champions include former minister Joe Bermingham, the Gaelic football Donnelly brothers, Mick Fennin, secretary of Castlemitchell Football Club for 33 years, Mossy Reilly, Dot Mullan, retired schoolteacher Maisie Candy, and many, many more.
Known fondly as the Mother of Castlemitchell Maisie, as one person put it, "motivates us to keep the show on the road".
As a historian and a folklorist for the area, she has highlighted the importance of community involvement and has helped maintain its community spirit.
And then there are the grassroot politicians, Cllr Martin Miley, Cllr Mark Wall and Deputy Jack Wall who all live in the area; and former minister Joe Bermingham was from Castlemitchell, too.
Deputy Wall sums it up nicely: "Castlemitchell epitomises what the GAA is all about. A small rural club, enriched by its desire for success, yet never willing to lose its identity to achieve it."
Here is a list of Castlemitchell and Churchtown's community associations, activities and achievements to date.
They have a lot to be proud of and, now, with no devaluation from the planners at Kildare County Council, the community can look forward and plan for the next generation.
Churchtown School: Established in 1857, the school is more than 150 years old. A three-classroom extension was completed in 2008 and it is attended by more than 100 children.
Castlemitchell Hall: Decades of selfless devotion by the Welfare Committee resulted in the Castlemitchell Hall opening its doors in 1968. It can hold up to 200 and it is always the centre hub of activity, hosting the Castlemitchell Dancing Class, the Churchtown Graveyard Committee, the annual Goose Club, summer projects, charity fundraising events, plays and most recently the Castlemitchell's Got Talent competition. It is also in negotiations with the Craft Council of Ireland to establish a heritage trail and artistic hub.
Churchtown Pipe Band: The Churchtown Pipe Band was founded in 1919 during the War of Independence. Over the years, Gerry Byrne of the band won the All Ireland Solo Piping; it played at Athy's twinned town Grandvilliers in France to mark Bastille Day; it played before the Ladies Leinster Junior Quarter Final in 2009; played for the President of Ireland Mary McAleese at the 2009 Ploughing Championship held in Athy; and the band led the Rose of Tralee Charmaine Kenny, through the town of Athy.
Castlemitchell Gaelic Football Club: The GAA is Castlemitchell. It has produced great achievements since it first established in 1939 and opened its new pitch and dressing rooms in 2001. Goalkeeper Christy Byrne won a Leinster Senior Championship medal in 1998; in 2000 his second along with Tadhg Fennin; and most recently it won the Ladies Junior A Championship in 2009 and then reaching the Leinster Junior Finals.
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Weather for Naas, Ireland
Wednesday 22 May 2013
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