The National Tidy Towns initiative was launched by Bord Fáilte, the Irish Tourist Board (now Fáilte Ireland), in 1958 as part of the 'Tostal', a nationwide festival celebrating all things Irish - who said the Gathering was a new idea!
A step-up from the original National Spring Clean Campaign which ran between 1953 and 1957, Tidy Towns rapidly developed its own identity and has gone on to become Ireland's most well known and popular local environmental initiative.
Right from the start, the primary focus of Tidy Towns was to encourage communities to improve their local environment and make their area a better place to live, work and visit. The competition aspect was an important element in developing friendly rivalry that would help boost standards across the board. and the winner of the first competition held in 1958 was Glenties, Co Donegal.
However, the emphasis was always on participating rather than winning as the very act of taking part brought benefits to the community. And with a focus on long-term results rather than quick returns, Tidy Towns was soon seen as a unique and far-sighted initiative.
Although just 52 towns entered in its first year, Tidy Towns rapidly increased in popularity with an average of 700 entrants per year. Its success also spawned many other initiatives at national, county and local level, which further boosted its reputation and impact. It is impossible to accurately estimate the number of people who have had some involvement in Tidy Towns, but it is safe to say it has run into the hundreds of thousands, and its influence on the transformation of Ireland's landscape is undeniable. Following the restructuring of Bord Fáilte in 1995, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government assumed responsibility for Tidy Towns and now organises the initiative with the support of national sponsor SuperValu and a number of other agencies. Its success continues, and while it has moved with the times, it still retains the same core principle of its founders - 'make your place a better place'.
Kerry owes a great deal to the unsung heroes who get involved with their local groups - well done and thank you.