ASH2020 Chairman’s letter for Ashbourne News December Issue
I often wonder what the original inhabitants of Ashbourne thought of the ‘wagon train’ of newcomers that descended, out of the blue on the little village ‘all to one side’ in the early seventies? Three thousand people, mostly from Dublin City but with a fair sprinkling of Culchies, all staking out homesteads up in Garden City; young couples mostly, some already with small children. Veterans of that era speak of the challenges they faced, transport, water, schools and many more, but almost always with the proud satisfaction of the pioneer who had surmounted the obstacles and carved out the promised land. These same veterans still speak nostalgically of a sense of ‘we’re all in this together’, of self-help and collaboration, of a ‘can do’ optimism that pervaded the young community and marked its collective triumph over the difficulties it faced. A fact that I often reflect on, that so many of these young bloods, though old timers now, are still the backbone of so many of our community groups today.
Since that time, as Ashbourne doubled in size and then doubled again, as the infrastructure caught up with the demographics, it was to be expected that some of the pioneering spirit of the early days became more muted. as the ‘frontier village’ matured into a well-settled functioning Town. Not that the spirit of Community activism declined; indeed, the vibrancy and variety of Ashbourne’s Community Groups (80-plus at last count) continues to be a distinguishing feature of the Town. Many excellent projects over the years stand as monuments to a citizenry that believed strongly in building a better future for its children and for the generations beyond. Mentioning the GAA, the Arkle Statue, the Parish Hall, the Heritage Trail etc. in this context risks giving offence because I have omitted many equally worthy projects, maybe in some cases projects that do not have a physical manifestation but are of great value nevertheless. Permit me to name the above few as a token of the many.
But something must inevitably be diminished when a Community expands at the rate experienced by Ashbourne. It’s hard to define; where there was one Community, now there are many, where there was Garden City, we now can name upwards of fifteen such distinct entities; there are now 21 sports organizations, seven schools, myriad music and other cultural groups. Many people from abroad have chosen to make Ashbourne their place of residence, and in very many cases have elected to call Ashbourne ‘Home’. Such diversity on so many fronts is extremely healthy for the general well-being of the Community, once we encapsulate it in an overarching identity as citizens of Ashbourne; we see its benefits clearly in the cordial and convivial atmosphere that marks our Town. And, while reflecting on this, we should remember that the price of such continued well-being is constant vigilance; that while pursuing our individual identities, be they identities based on ethnicity, career, locations, or interests, we take care not to forget our common identity as citizens of Ashbourne; to experience again the shared pride in our collective achievements that the old-timers speak of with that touch of nostalgia.
In future issues of the Ashbourne News I will write in more detail about the great variety of events and activities that will happen throughout next year. It promises to be a non-stop round of activities and events, doubtless with many late nights and slow mornings. That will be great. But there is also a serious side to Ash2020, an opportunity that would be remiss of us to ignore. People who attended the first public meeting that set the ASH2020 project in motion may recall that a highly respected ‘old-timer’ advised that we should make ‘Inclusivity’ the major theme of Ash2020; I agree wholeheartedly. To this end we are conducting a project focusing on Inclusivity in its broadest sense, what we can do differently to promote it, in the immediate and longer term, what are its constraints and limitations, etc. While actions will flow from this initiative throughout our bicentenary year, the ‘lessons learned’ from this and other researches will feed into a Community Conference that we will hold in November 2020. At the conference, the various experiences of Ash2020 will be assembled and prMarchesented as a source of knowledge that can be drawn on by those who take up the baton of community activism in future years. In effect, we hope the Conference will copper-fasten the advances we make in 2020 so that they are safe for future years and establish relationships and understandings that ensure the process of continuous improvement continues.
While Ash2020 is first and foremost a community-driven program, I want to acknowledge our reliance and indeed dependence on those other ‘corners of the Public Square’ whose support and encouragements has and will contribute to underscore our efforts: 1) our elected representatives, 2) the MCC executive and last but not least 3) the business and commercial entities of Ashbourne and its environs. The Councillors of AMDC have consistently supported us with encouragement, advice and resources; MCC executive were ‘first out of the traps’ in February 2018 when they set out the form and extent of their generous support. We have delayed seeking sponsorship from the business community until now, electing to wait until such time as the shape of the Ash2020 program became clear, but now that we are at that stage we will shortly be offering our colleagues in the business community the opportunity to sponsor some of the myriad events and activities that will happen next year.
I want to end on a cultural note; on Nov 28 we launched the Anthem ‘Ashbourne mo bhaile’, composed by Siúbhán ní Gríofa with lyrics by Siúbhán, Ian Jenkinson, Giovanna and Ephrem Feeley. I think this is a tremendous piece of work, and the reception it has received already bears witness to its impact. I thank those wonderfully gifted people for the happiness and pride that this will bring, lending a great impetus to the start of our year of celebrations. We trust it is a portent of the quality and talent that will characterise the Ash2020 program and of the legacy which that program will leave for future generations.
I hazard a guess that the citizens of that small village back in 1970, who probably viewed the new arrivals with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension, would, fifty years later, doubtless applaud.
Chairman – Ash2020 Board