The Arklow & District Chamber of Commerce welcomed over 300 people to this year’s Chamber Ball & Business Awards, which was held in the beautiful Bay Suite ballroom of the Arklow Bay Hotel last weekend.
Business owners, community groups, local councillors and everyone in between donned their finest suits and frocks for a lavish night out on the town to remember. The conversation flowed as the Arklow community celebrated the return of the much anticipated awards, after a three hiatus due to Covid restrictions.
The evening held a special significance for 39 year-old Chamber President James Kelly, who was hosting the event for the first time.
“It’s just unbelievable,” James said. “There’s so much positivity going around in that room tonight. Now, if we can just harness that, then Arklow is looking in pretty great shape going forward.
“The amount of work that went into tonight, by the sub-committee and everyone in the office, was simply incredible. Everyone who was here definitely deserved it. It was humbling to see everyone back to normality.”
After a sumptuous meal, awards were handed out to the Arklow businesses, community groups and individuals who have excelled in their work over the past year. Long-serving Chamber committee member. MC Jimmy Dunne. introduced all the nominees and entertained the crowd with his famously dry wit.
First up was the winner of the coveted ‘Employee of the Year’ award, which was given to the highly experienced John Connolly of LMH Engineering. In total, the stalwart has been with the company for an impressive 48 years.
The ‘Best Community Group’ award went to Arklow’s GAA clubs – Geraldines Ballymoney and Arklow Rock Parnells. The former concentrate on football, while the latter focus on hurling.
During the pandemic both clubs had volunteers out supporting and assisting people in need, providing the delivery of essential items and ensuring people living alone were cared for.
One of the most highly anticipated awards, ‘Best New Start-up’, was won by Arklow Photo & Framing, with beaming owners Eamonn and Karen Bermingham collecting the award on the night.
Managing Director, Aaron Travers accepted the ‘Established Business of the Year’ award on behalf of Travers Insurances. The company has been in Arklow for over 50 years and many of their clients have been with them for three generations.
Up next was the ‘Environment & Sustainability’ award, which went to the Woodenbridge Hotel. In 2021, the hotel became the first in Wicklow to complete the 50 Shades Greener programme, an initiative that aims to reduce energy and water consumption.
In 2022 the hotel installed 74 solar panels on the roof of Woodenbridge Lodge and introduced a new state of the art heating control system.
The night took a solemn turn as the ‘Arklow Person of the Year’ award was posthumously bestowed on Michael Allen, who co-founded both Smyth Construction, who built the Arklow Bridgewater Shopping Centre, and the Arklow Business Enterprise Centre.
“Michael’s contribution to the Chamber of Commerce was both visionary and dedicated,” Jimmy Dunne said. “Through his efforts he continued to up hold the standards of generosity of spirit and community commitment.”
Members of Michael’s family were in attendance, with his son Dermot accepting the award on his father’s behalf.
In bringing the awards portion of the evening to an end Jimmy Dunne announced the winner of the newly created ‘Front-line Worker of the Year’ award, which aims to recognise individuals or groups who went above and beyond to help the Arklow community during the pandemic.
The packed ballroom rose in unison to give the worthy winner, Avoca mother of four Vivienne Connell, a standing ovation.
Despite having a heart condition, and a young family at home, Vivienne put herself at risk throughout the pandemic, working long, gruelling shifts for what felt like an eternity.
“It’s a really special honour and I’m chuffed with it,” Vivienne said. “Thankfully, I think we (St Vincent’s) coped very well. We were well prepared, but it was really, really tough.”
“I’d like to thank my colleagues of course and so many people I worked with in the Arklow area. We are a great bunch here, we really have each other’s backs.
“And of course my husband Paul and my children, I couldn’t have made it through those dark days without their support.”
Festivities continued on long into the night, with live music and high spirits generating a warm, convivial atmosphere. A truly great community event that was enjoyed by all.