Let's move to... Thomastown
The vibrant town has strength in numbers thanks to its close-knit society, says Enda Sheppard asdfg
Community spirit is alive and well in the lively market town of Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, where there are always interesting projects on the go.
The historic town on the River Nore, 17km southeast of Kilkenny city, with a population of just over 2,000, is the kind of place where you will find secondary pupils from Grennan College's craft school, and students from the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland's Ceramic Skills and Design course (both based in the town's beautiful Island Mill), hauling stones and painting walls alongside local tidy towns volunteers for the massive Thomastown Weir restoration project.
Or, if you drop into the Bridgebrook Arms on Mill Street, or Eddie Murphy's bar, on Low Street, you might find yourself marked down for a pub quiz to raise funds for the weir project or an equally worthy cause.
Musicians play their part too - Luka Bloom found himself donating the proceeds from a recent gig locally to Thomastown Community River Trust for the development of the weir's Olympic-sized open air swimming pool. And both Paul Noonan, of Bell X1 fame, and Cork troubadour John Spillane have done benefit gigs for the Thomastown Community Kindergarten on Rock Road.
Based in the town for a time, the band Snow Patrol found themselves sponsoring a Thomastown United soccer team.
Building work is well underway on the community gymnasium and leisure complex at Grennan College, and then there is the wonderful Town of Food/School of Food campus on the site of the former boy's national school on Dublin Road.
Originally known as Grennan (Irish: Grianán, sunny place), the name Thomastown derives from Thomas FitzAnthony, an Anglo-Norman seneschal (governor) of Leinster, who founded the town in the 13th century at an important crossing point on the River Nore.
The medieval core of the town is a square block formed by Low Street, Pipe Street, Market Street and the Quays on the west bank of the river. The streets were laid out in FitzAnthony's time to maximise the number of properties with street frontage and the layout has remained essentially unchanged. In other words, Thomastown is one of Ireland's first properly planned towns.
Narrow convoluted streets and sharp angled junctions give the town a unique identity.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, it became a centre for milling, and several mills can be seen upstream from Thomastown bridge.
On the outskirts lie the impressive ruins of Grennan Castle, and the town and surrounding areas are rich in architectural treasures, including, nearby, the quaint deserted medieval town of Jerpoint, and the elegant ruins of its 12th century Cistercian abbey.
Of more recent vintage is nearby Mount Juliet, once a Georgian mansion, now a leisure complex and home to a Jack Nicklaus-designed championship golf course. It draws well-heeled tourists from far and wide, to golf, fish, ride out, or just fine dine and unwind in luxury.
Also located at Mount Juliet is Ballylinch Stud, while not far away is Gowran Park racecourse.
Social/Amenities: When Thomastown Weir was breached back in 2008, the Thomastown Community River Trust (TCRT) was set up to restore it.
The weir's recently opened Olympic-sized open air swimming pool is a real community venture that has seen the involvement of official bodies like the Kilkenny LEADER Project, mainly, but also the donated blood, sweat and toil of many Thomastown residents. The result has been the restoration of a much loved, and beautiful, local amenity. Artist and photographer Shem Caulfield would cheerfully admit the weir project has taken over his life. "The local community here have pulled off a major coup in working together to make this project happen," he says.
In 2013, Thomastown was designated Kilkenny county's 'Town of Food'. With an emphasis on locally-sourced food, the title carried with it €775,000 in grant aid, plus €180,000 raised locally. Meanwhile, Food Campus Kilkenny houses the recently opened School of Food, for the training of budding chefs.
The Thomastown area also has a vibrant craft scene. Look out for Clay Creations, on Low Street, displaying the quixotic ceramics and sculptures of local artist Brid Lyons, while Karen Morgan's contemporary pottery shop is well worth a browse, as is Jerpoint Glass in Stoneyford.
The Thomastown GAA club is rich in hurling history, and sport is well catered for in general.
Woodlands and attractive walkways abound, including the Thomastown to Inistioge trail.
In a town so committed to good food and supporting artisan producers, eating well is only to be expected. Sol Bistro on Low Street has the John and Sally McKenna independent food guide's seal of approval, while the coffee shop adjoining the delightful Watergarden gallery and garden centre is also highly recommended.
Those with a sweet tooth will find it hard to pass Truffle Fairy, on Chapel Lane, while the Blackberry Cafe, on the corner of Market Street, uses mostly organic and local ingredients.
The Bridgebrook Arms houses the Red Door gig and theatre venue, and every Thursday their 'open mic' event packs them in. There's a regular open mic slot also at Eddie Murphy's where, in 2012, Paul Heaton of Beautiful South fame, played solo.
Transport: The R700 Regional Route from Kilkenny to Rosslare and the Dublin-Waterford National Primary Route N10 intersect at Thomastown. The town is served by the Waterford-Dublin railway route, Bus Eireann and private operators.
Schools: St Mary's National (boys and girls) on Maudlin Street and Grennan College.
Property: Property is comparatively hard to come by, as there has been little major development, even in the boom years. Auctioneer Sharon O'Brien points to the sale of several three and four-bed semis in The Greens development recently, for between €60,000 and €75k. Or you can have a four bedroom bungalow at Baunskeha for €235k, for sale through agent Ella Dunphy.
Says Elaine Walsh of Green Door Properties, a starter house in newer estates like Dunane, The Belfry, The Meadows or The Greens would go for between €110k and €120k.
A four-bed property in mid-range Berkley Lawn, for example, would fetch around €185k while Barry Murphy Auctioneers is quoting €125k for the three-bedroom semi-detached Mallfield property.
For a detached mansion near Mount Juliet, prices often go above the magic million.
The four-bed semi, 65 Maudlin Court, is on offer for €159,500 from J David Hughes Auctioneers, Kilkenny; Green Door Properties is quoting €188,500 for the four-bedroom detached 25 Berkley Lawn, while the 4000 sq ft four-bed detached opulence of 2 The Glen can be yours for €1.3m, through Hooke and MacDonald.
• Next week: Let's Move To...The Liberties
Attractive townscape with historic buildings and its riverside surroundings
Predominantly young population and thriving arts, crafts and cultural scene
Plenty of good artisan food available
Lack of new housing
Continued emigration of young people
No public park
Still some derelict/unoccupied sites