Joy for villagers as 'Operation Hollyfort' goes into overdrive
FOR MANY years, Hollyfort was one of Wexford's forgotten villages, but now the local residents have awoken the sleepy hamlet from its slumber; thrown off the dust sheets; opened the windows wide; and they have brought the colour back to its streets.
Few strangers would have had reason to call to Hollyfort. They may have passed through it on the way from Gorey to Tinahely, or perhaps they visited St. John's Church for a funeral or a wedding. They might have called in for a pint to Cooney's Pub, which is famed for featuring in a Guinness advert in 2006, or they may have played horseshoes on the green outside.
Hollyfort lies in the valley of the River Bann, some 5 km northwest of Gorey, and has suffered many years of decline. There used to be a Gala shop in the village, but it closed three years ago. Now the locals get their essentials in the grocery shop attached to the pub.
There was once a shop in the large building on the corner, but it's been closed for years. The old garage has been closed for years too.
There isn't a local school, nor a Catholic Church, as it lies on the border of several parishes. Kilanerin is their closest school and Catholic church.
There's even a ghost estate in the village, complete with eight unfinished eco-friendly houses in Receivership. Another small estate was built in recent years, and it has helped breathe new life into the area. The village also has several attractive cottages and an old forge.
However, the main problems in the village lie in the roads, and last Wednesday, after years of waiting, the locals were delighted to see a crew from Wexford County Council roll into town to begin work on drainage.
One of those welcoming the work crew to the village last week was Cllr. Fionntán Ó Súilleabháin who was delighted to see the start of the long-awaited drainage works. He called for a 'speedy follow-up with village resurfacing and safety measures including signage.'
'While Hollyfort, and its surrounds, is rich in heritage, and has massive potential for development, it was nevertheless one of the Celtic Tiger's forgotten villages,' he said. 'The local community has been doing Trojan voluntary work and deserve all the statutory and Council assistance they can get.'
The work was very much welcomed by the members of the local Development Committee which was revitalised last November, after being dormant for seven years.
'We felt that Hollyfort had fallen off many people's radar, particularly that of Wexford County Council and the Roads Department,' commented Chairperson Carol Boland. 'We held a public meeting on November 13, and it was very well attended.'
That's when 'Operation Hollyfort' began. In the past seven months, the community has really mobilised to breathe new life into the village, and has undertaken major revitalisation works.
Carol explained that Hollyfort is basically a crossroads. 'One road leads to Monaseed, one to Gorey, another to The Gap, and the other road goes down to the River Bann, and up Laraheen Hill towards Kilanerin.' Around 300 people live in Hollyfort and in the surrounding areas.
The November meeting saw the formation of a 14 strong committee, and they set various projects in train, and locals got behind the efforts. The overgrowth on the approach roads was cut back; verges were reseeded; bird boxes were installed; and flowers were planted.
At the crossroads, the big old building which once housed the shop, was repainted, as was the garage. 'We're basically getting the village back on its feet,' said Carol. 'We've entered the Tidy Towns competition. We're getting the community back to life, and we're getting the closed buildings cleaned up, and the roads are being improved.'
'The roads are in a dreadful condition,' she added. 'There are no white lines at the crossroads. Wexford County Council has promised to completely redo the crossroads, and the drainage works are the first stage of the work. They have to be done before the road surface is improved. They are also going to give us footpaths, as it's a very dangerous crossroads.' The resurfacing work is expected to start in the coming months.
Elsewhere, the old schoolhouse, which is attached to the church, is now a community centre, and work is ongoing to refurbish it, so it can be brought back into regular use.
The volunteers also cleared the growth from the old stone walls approaching the village, and rebuilt them at the crossroads.
'The whole village really has been motivated into providing a quality environment to life in, and the whole community has been revitalised by the work,' commented Carol.
'People were demoralised by the bad roads and the whole environment and this has given them the motivation to keep improving. We have great plans.'
They had their first village Christmas tree this year, with Santa, presents and mulled wine, and there have also been other social events including a fundraising quiz night.
There's still lots to look forward to.
The former Gala Shop is to be opened as a creative craft store in September. St. John's Church will celebrate its 200th birthday in two years' time.
The community also plans to develop two major walks - one by the River Bann in conjunction with Trails Ireland; and another on Mount Nebo, which includes the site of a mass Famine grave.
They also plan on bringing the village pump pack to the village.
To learn more about their work, visit hollyfortvillage.blogspot.com or visit the Facebook page.