Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Athy Food hub, Manley Shop and Tir na nOg

The recent announcement of the Food and Drinks Hub to be located in the former Model School on the Dublin road is welcome news for Athy. The media announced it as an initiative by Kildare County Council and full marks to the senior officials of that Council for their involvement in what is another important part of the continuing attempt to revive the town’s fortunes. In the reports I read in the local newspapers there was no mention of the woman who came up with the original idea. Liz Fingleton, who lives in what was once part of the Model School residence, first promoted the concept of an interactive visitor centre for Ireland’s food and drinks industry and specifically sought to have it located in the vacant Model School. Liz did an enormous amount of research and canvassed support from several Irish companies before discussing the idea approximately two years ago with Athy’s Enterprise Network which had earlier been established by Athy Lions Club. Following that presentation Liz entered into discussions with Kildare County Council and I can only surmise that the good news which greeted us last week was the end result. Liz’s initial submission outlined the links between tourism and the food industry and how drinks related visitor centres were successful in Ireland. She noted that food and drink were synonymous with Irish tourism and expressed the belief that an interactive food and drinks visitor centre, if designed to world class standards, would bring a positive tourism response. As part of her very detailed submission Liz prepared a suggested tourist trail for Athy related to food production and allied topics. It featured the proposed food and drinks centre in the Model School, the town’s old Market House, Athy’s old corn exchange, Minch Nortons and Boortmalt and diverse but linked elements such as the Canal, the Workhouse and many other less well-known town features. Congratulations to everyone involved in the Food and Drink Hub project, but a special thank you to Liz Fingleton who more than anyone else is responsible for this unique project. Forty-three years ago a young Portarlington man who had learned his trade in Tullamore decided to set up business in Athy. Athy at that time was still home to the I.V.I. foundry, Bowwaters Wallboard factory and the Asbestos factory and the young man from County Laois was quite confident that the south Kildare town offered an unequalled opportunity for the opening of a menswear shop. Today Manleys Menswear celebrates 43 years in business and while the retail life of Leinster Street and indeed the town itself has changed enormously over the intervening years, the Manleys shop has grown from strength to strength. Today Tom Manley who founded the business is joined by his son Philip and his wife Susan in providing a high-class menswear service. For the town of Athy, which has seen the closure of so many retail units over the last 15 years, the continuing success of Manleys Menswear is an acknowledgement that the towns retail sector can be revived and can be successful. Another local success story captured in last week’s newspapers was the award made to Kathleen Cash for her contribution to early childhood education. Kathleen, who is the proprietor of Tir na nOg nursery and Montessori school, was named educator of the year at the national Early Childhood Awards presentation. Early learning schools, whether nurseries, creches or Montessori, were not part of Irish life when I was growing up. I saw my own grandchildren avail of preschool learning and noted how advantageous it was for them when they entered primary education. Irish life has changed so much, even within the limits of a generation or two and so much for the better as evidenced by the exceptionally good work of local pre-school providers in and about south Kildare. People like Liz Fingleton, Tom Manley and Kathleen Cash in their own time and in their own ways have made our town a better place in which to live. There are so many others, often unnoticed, who daily contribute to the wellbeing of our community. Those people are the unsung heroes but today we can acknowledge the unique contribution of Liz Fingleton to the regeneration of the town and that of Tom Manley and Kathleen Cash in the continuing commercial success of Athy.

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