Lorrha builds on success of community hub

Lorrha in north Tipperary is building on the success of its community hub, which comprises a community shop; tea room; parish heritage and genealogical centre with plans to add a shop, tea room and heritage centre on to the side of the existing community hall.

“This will help us to improve the service we are offering the community as well as freeing up the hall for more regular events. It will give us more space and freedom to host bigger events as, at the moment, we have to move all the shop and tearoom items every time we host a big event like a play or the country market,” said Fionnuala O’Crowley, PRO of Scéal (Social Community Enterprise for the Advancement of Lorrha/Rathcabbin), the local voluntary group which identified the need for the initiative.

“We are looking forward to this exciting new step and the possibilities it will bring, and are thankful for the continued support of our volunteers and the community, as well as Tipperary County Council; North Tipperary Development Company; local politicians and all who have helped us along the way,” she said.

Economic Downturn

Like other rural areas around the country, Lorrha had been feeling the effects of the economic downturn before Scéal was founded at an open community meeting in 2015.

Most notable was a decrease in population and employment that resulted in the closure of the local shop. This left Lorrha village without a daytime community hub.

Scéal believed that bringing a vibrant organisation back to the heart of the community would benefit the area in many ways and could be achieved by focusing both on the needs of local people regarding social inclusion, and on what Lorrha has to offer tourists.

“Situated in north Tipperary and bordering counties Galway and Offaly, Lorrha is the meeting point of three provinces: Munster, Connaught, and Leinster. It is in this central location on the banks of the river Shannon that St Ruadhan, one of the twelve apostles of Ireland, founded his monastery during the 6th century,” said Fionnuala.

“Lorrha was once a centre of education and religious life, and the remains of Lorrha monastic village can be seen today through well-preserved ruins brought to life by local storytellers and guides. Our centre provides a service to the local community as well as the many visitors and the culturally curious who already visit the parish.

“These visitors were leaving after touring the village to go to neighbouring towns such as Birr and Portumna without any interaction with the local community. They had no options regarding learning about the local history of the area, researching their genealogy or even having a coffee,” said Fionnuala.

There were concerns within the community about some members becoming isolated as they did not have the daily interaction that a visit to the shop had previously provided. We wanted a space for people to meet during the day which was missing in Lorrha.

“According to the 2011 census, 293 people in the Lorrha parish are over the age of 65. This equates to 17% of the total population of 1,712 and is above the county average of 13%. A local hub is vital for this demographic.”

The initiative set up initially as a pop-up in the community hall. “It took off and we eventually took over the running of the hall from the original committee. We did a small bit of fundraising, but mainly we just tried out the idea and it took off. Our committee took over the responsibility for the running of the community hall and it grew from there.”

Welcoming

The Scéal community shop; tea room; craft, and heritage centre opened in the summer of 2016 and quickly became a friendly and welcoming hub for the community, according to Fionnuala. “Our group was formed from representatives of many local groups and organisations, bringing together people with a range of expertise and interests who share the common goal of improving our parish.

“Our community shop/tearoom/heritage centre is the public face of our organisation. ‘The Cottage’ community co-operative shop and tea rooms in Loughmore inspired us to set up and we visited their tearoom and community shop for more information. They have been very helpful to us along our journey,” Fionnuala said.

“Our shop is open from 10:00am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday and 10:00am to 2:00pm Saturday and Sunday, which is a big commitment but our volunteers are wonderful. The community hall was not being used very much but now has a new lease of life.

We provide a platform for people to try selling their local crafts, giftware or home baking. We stock all sorts, such as: wood turned bowls and giftware; pottery; local photography; handmade cards; historical books and journals; knitwear; jams and chutneys.

“We have a general grocery section; fresh local eggs; seasonal organic vegetables; rashers and sausages from a local butcher; daily newspapers and also stock briquettes and dog food. Everyone is looked after.”

“We have recently started opening every second Saturday evening from 7:15pm to 8:30pm as part of our social inclusion initiative. Mass in held in Lorrha every second Saturday evening, so we decided to open after this to try to attract people in who wanted to meet up for a bit of a chat and a cup of tea. It is open to anyone who wants to call in and is proving to be a popular event,” said the PRO.

Information

The heritage centre is run in conjunction with Lorrha and Dorrha Historical Society which provide walking tours of the area. “It holds lots of interesting information on the history of our area,” said Fionnuala.

“We also facilitate the active retirement group on Wednesday afternoons. They can meet up in a nice environment and also do some shopping and buy their newspapers if they wish. Last summer we began running country markets in conjunction with local villages under the Lakeshore Community Market banner. These ran up until Christmas.

“We held a Christmas market in Lorrha and it was a huge success and a great way to finish off the year,” Fionnuala said.

“We have also hosted exhibitions such as the Lens2Pens collaboration between photography and poetry, which is here now. As part of our effort to be environmentally friendly, we launched reusable cups which feature an illustration by local artist Carmel Slevin. We also launched reusable jute shopping bags which feature our Visit Lorrha and Dorrha information and logo. Both are proving popular with locals, tourists and our diaspora,” she said.

“A hugely successful play ‘Come Date With Me’ by local playwright and shop volunteer Anne Marie Hough was staged last November in the hall, attracting huge crowds. We are extremely grateful to all involved with the Lorrha variety group as their productions bring in much needed funds to our group.

Bringing History To Life

“We recently launched interpretive panels in conjunction with Lorrha and Dorrha Historical Society. These illustrated panels depict each historical site in Lorrha monastic village as it originally was. It is a great addition for locals and visitors alike as they help bring the history to life.

Tours come into the area frequently and we have hosted schools; universities; historical societies and pilgrim walkers over the years.

The group is keen to promote tourism locally: “In May 2018 we launched our tourism initiative ‘Visit Lorrha and Dorrha.’ This involved highlighting local produce; tours; restaurants, and activities to interested parties from the tourism and hospitality industries as well as representatives from the council, to raise awareness for future marketing and funding prospects,” Fionnuala said.

“We operate our social media accounts under Visit Lorrha & Dorrha on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and our website is: www.visitlorrhadorrha.com,” the PRO said.

“Outside Lorrha village there is much more to see including two tower houses, Redwood Castle and Lackeen Castle. Lorrha and Dorrha parish also boasts a rich natural habitat of bogland, rivers, and lakes.

“It is a nature enthusiast’s paradise and is situated on the Ormond Way walking route, which is part of the Beara Breifne Way. For cycling fans, Lorrha is also home to the Fat Friar Way which offers 48km and 25km routes around the area. Lorrha is included in Ireland’s Ancient East; Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands and Lough Derg Lakelands,” said Fionnuala.

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