Proof that it pays to persevere
It took 15 years and the unstoppable determination of a voluntary committee. Now, the new scheme of seven houses for elderly people has been nominated for a national award. Maria Pepper reports
Fifteen years of lobbying, pushing and perseverance by a voluntary committee in Rathangan has paid off with the completion at a cost of €900,000 of a scheme of seven new houses for elderly people that has been shortlisted for an Age Friendly Ireland award.
The last of the residents moved into a brand new home in McCall Cottages last week, bringing a happy conclusion to a campaign that began in 2003 with the establishment of Rathangan Senior Citizens Housing Association for the purpose of developing an age friendly community on a piece of vacant parish property beside the priest's house in the village.
After the National Building Agency agreed to design the manage the project, a number of delays and obstacles were encountered, including the temporary absence of a bishop to sign off on the transfer of land and an initial failure to secure planning permission for 14 two-bedroom homes due to a poor percolation test result on Rathangan soil.
'We would have stopped there but Trinity College came up with a pilot proposal to use a community willow bed as an alternative secondary sewage treatment solution', said association chairman and retired teacher William Considine who has been involved in the development from the start.
The NBA lodged a second planning application in 2007 for seven homes (five one-bed and two two-bed) with willow bed treatment and was granted permission this time. Two years later, the building project was put out to tender and was won by local company Bawn Developments run by the Berry family.
But the recession arrived and national cutbacks forced a reduction in costs and specifications.The situation was further complicated in 2009 when the National Building Agency was dissolved, requiring a new design team led by founding committee member and local architect Brian O'Driscoll of O'Driscoll Lynn Architects.
A new specification was put out to tender in 2012 and Bawn was again the successful bidder. Building work started in 2013 but delays in securing good title to the land caused a downing of tools.
Still the voluntary housing association held faith and persevered and in 2016, building work finally recommenced. The organisation, with qualified accountant Catherine Benson as its secretary, was lucky to receive 100% funding from the Department of the Environment, with the scheme costing in the region of €900,000. Catherine is now stepping down after 15 years and a job well done.
The first of the new houses was completed towards the end of 2107 and the scheme was fully completely recently. All of the houses are now occupied by elderly residents, some of whom are back living in the village where they grew up having lived away from the area for many years.
Members of the housing agency can rightly be proud of their achievement but they don't intend to stop there. As well as managing and maintaining McCall Cottages into the future, they are planning to develop the vacant presbytery into a community space for the residents as well as a digital hub and library archive. The current members are William Considine (chairman), Catherine Benson (secretary, outgoing), Brian O'Driscoll, Rory Hannigan, Gerry Mernagh, Annette Walsh,Paddy Byrne and Anita Walsh and credit is also due to former members, the late Nicholas Furlong, Ger Furlong, Fr. Nicky Marshall and Fr. Tom Dalton.
Age Friendly Ireland has selected the Rathangan project for an award in the housing category along with two other initiatives in its annual Recognition and Achievement Awards. The he winner will be announced at a ceremony, attended by Rathangan representatives at a ceremony in the Hillgrove Hotel in Monaghan on Wednesday, April 11. The awards celebrate projects that have made a real difference to the lives of older people in Ireland. The houses are named after PJ McCall, the legendary Irish songwriter and poet who spent his summer holidays in Raghangan and who wrote Boolavogue, Kelly, the Boy From Killane and Follow Me Up to Carlow.