Skerries Tidy Towns (a Short History)

Anne Doyle & Maeve McGann
(Skerries Historical Society Meeting – 11th Feb 2014)

Anne Doyle and Maeve McGann shared the hot seat at the February meeting of Skerries Historical Society when they spoke to a packed audience about Skerries Tidy Towns (a Short History).

The Tidy Towns competition was set up by Bord Failte in the late 1950s and Glenties, in Donegal, was the first community to scoop the main prize in 1958 (a total of 52 communities took part in that first year). The main aim of the competition then, was to encourage communities to work together to improve their localities by tackling litter problems, tidying up shop fronts and prettifying the area with floral displays and so on.

Whilst the Tidy Towns movement still awards points for being clean and tidy, the emphasis has now changed to include e.g. having sustainable waste resource management, local amenities and encouraging indigenous wildlife by protecting or even creating suitable habitats. And the number of communities taking part has grown exponentially – last year (2013) there were over 800 entrants!

It is hard to imagine now, with bins provided all along South Strand and the adopt-a-beach initiative working so well, but back in the fifties Skerries was a ‘litter horror’. Even a dozen years later in the seventies, after gargantuan efforts by the members of the Skerries Tidy Towns committee, a competition report described us as having ‘a severe litter problem’ in an otherwise ‘pleasant town with lots of charm and character’.

The Tidy Towns committee did not allow such damning comments to get them down. Putting shoulder once more to the wheel, they redoubled their efforts and were finally rewarded, in 1986, with the accolade of ‘best large seaside town’. Perhaps the organisers of the national competition realised that Skerries was unbeatable in this category because once we had won it, they axed the award from the competition.

Another triumph in the history of the Tidy Towns must have been in 1994 when Skerries beat Malahide to the title of Best Large Town. We may not win every year, but we have the drop on Malahide!! Other prizes were for Skerries Bookshop which took the national award for traditional shop front and Skerries Mills which took the National Heritage Award.

In 1996 Skerries went European when we represented Ireland in Entente Florale Competition. Europe was impressed enough to award us the gold medal – President Mary Robinson came along to unveil the plaque for the first Irish town ever to win Gold in the Entente Florale.

Our Tidy Towns committee continues to work away – you can see the volunteers picking up litter, cleaning away graffiti etc. almost every day of the year. Whilst their eyes are on the prize of the Best Large Town Award – or even the overall award – their efforts have not gone to waste in the years we don’t win. Skerries is no longer a litter black spot. It is, in fact, one of the cleanest, most beautiful and most pleasant places to work, live in or just visit. Many thanks to all on the committee and other volunteers, past and present.

Report by Oona Roycroft

Page updated – 03 / 04 / 2014