Skerries won't be a hidden gem much longer - and the locals couldn't be happier
At first glance, it could have been an unremarkable Monday afternoon in the seaside town of Skerries, Co Dublin.
Blackbirds sheltered among the sails of the nearby windmills, while primary schools finished up classes for the day.
But all the serenity was slowly giving way to a buzzing sense of excitement over news of a double victory in this year's Tidy Towns competition.
Skerries Tidy Towns Committee claimed the award for Ireland's Tidiest Town at a ceremony in the Helix yesterday, after facing tough competition from 859 villages and towns across the country. It also snatched the prize for Ireland's Tidiest Large Town.
Ray Hunt, manager of the Skerries Mills visitor centre, called the win "unbelievable".
"Skerries has won the gold medal in its category so many times it's unbelievable, but we've never won the overall Tidy Towns," he told the Irish Independent.
"Skerries joined the competition one year after it started - we've been in it for the long haul."
Mr Hunt also pointed out that rising tourist numbers were a positive sign but often put a lot of pressure on the Tidy Towns committee.
"There aren't big hotels or huge companies to give the money to the committee," he said.
"But after a sunny Bank Holiday weekend, the place can be trashed, with litter and everything," he added.
"Trying to keep the place tidy is a big job and I know it's a big job for the committee."
Mr Hunt also said a promised Dart line to Balbriggan could put the hidden gem on the map.
The town is currently served by three bus routes, as well as trains to Dundalk and Drogheda.
"It (the Dart) should bring a huge boost to the town," he said.
"Everybody says it's nice to be the best-kept secret, but we wish it wasn't."
Deirdre Fahy runs Olive Deli and Cafe in the town and said the committee members were regular customers.
"They're normally in for lunch but I think they're away with a bottle of champagne now," she said.
"They work so hard. There's never any graffiti around the town, they're out painting it right away," she added.
Deirdre is also among the locals who help out with keeping the streets pristine.
"I have one patch from the Rush Road to town. To be honest, there's hardly anything to pick up because people are really litter-conscious," she said.
"But if there is rubbish, it's my patch and I stop the car and pick it up."
On the seafront, news of the win for Skerries was spreading like wildfire.
Anna Thornton and Wyn Rafter, who have lived in Skerries for years, were delighted with the committee's achievement.
"It's great news. Well done to the people that did it," Anna said.
"Every year, winter and summer, they're out making the place look lovely."
Meanwhile, Evie Anna McKenna from Drogheda was spending the day with her friends Leah Reid (22), Emma Hodges (22) and Leah's daughter Sadie May (17 months).
Evie Anna (21) said the awards came as no surprise.
"Near where we live, towards the end of the day, it would be in bits," she added.
"You'd think Skerries would be too, for somewhere that's so popular."
Meanwhile, other towns and villages across the country were also celebrating their achievements at the Helix.
Birdhill in Co Tipperary won the prize for Ireland's Tidiest Village.
Listowel in Co Kerry took home the award for Ireland's Tidiest Small Town, while Ennis in Co Clare was given the title of Ireland's Tidiest Large Urban Centre.
The competition, which is supported by SuperValu, has been an annual event since 1958.
For the past five years, more than 800 towns and villages in Ireland have competed for the coveted awards.