Athenry – The Challanges of Growth – Christmas 2001

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Anyone who left Athenry in the mid 90s and returned today would notice a huge change in the town. Housing estates are been built on almost every approach. New industrial concerns are being established and the traffic is much heavier than we were used to.

The rate of growth in the town itself has been amazing. Athenry population actually dropped for many years in the 1960s and 7os. In the 1996 census the population grew by just 2 on the previous five years! At a rough estimate the town’s population has increased from 1614 in 1996, to about 2600 today and if even a portion of the number of houses already planned for are built, then the figure will rise by the same amount again in the next few years.

The result of this rapid growth is severe pressure on the whole range of infrastructure in the area. Already we can see the traffic problems, not only in the town but at Derrydonnell and Carnmore cross each morning, as the inadequate road system cannot take the traffic volume. The need for a comprehensive traffic management system within the town itself is obvious, and some meetings have already taken place on the issue. Any such plan must deal with on-street parking, car parks and a sensible one —way system. The whole situation of the new N6 and its access to the town is another major issue that will affect the traffic situation. A ring road to take heavy traffic out of the centre of the town is also badly needed and all of these issues are been discussed on an on-going basis with Galway Co. Council.

Rapid growth presents great opportunities to the whole community, new residents and old. It brings a welcome infusion of new energy, new ideas and more business to the area, giving a new lease of life to organisations and clubs and starting new ones. Already new residents’ associations have been established and inter-action with community groups is under way. This is very important as we all have a role to play in the development of a Community Spirit, as well as better community facilities to cater for a bigger population. The need for better community facilities is obvious. A children’s playground is a must for the future, as is a Community Centre where the people of the area can meet as a wider group, or as members of the various organisations. It should serve as a focal point of the parish, available to all.

Both the Hurling and Soccer club’s developments show what can be done with vision and commitment. It is very difficult to address the needs that come with rapid growth without a certain amount of outside help.

We are completely dependent on State bodies for the provisions of services like water, sewerage and roads. The only input the local community has is as a lobby group and it helps to have active community organisations when these issues arise. It’s not always successful but sometimes yields results that would not otherwise have happened.

Where there is a local financial contribution needed in order to get state funds, then the results can be very obvious. Again we have the local sports clubs as an example, local money helped by government funds giving us facilities to be proud of.

If the present rate of growth continues Athenry will soon be of a size which would warrant the setting up of a Town Commission. Towns like Loughrea, Ballinasloe and Tuam already have this status and it gives those towns a budget of their own from Galway Co. Council. In addition, regular meetings of the Town Commissioners are attended by senior Co. Council staff, this ensures that local problems are identified and there is a certain accountability to the commission. A Town Commissioner would also ease the burden of local voluntary groups in this area, at a time when the voluntary sector is under much pressure. The Department of the Environment grants commission status and it makes sense that we should investigate the possibility of Athenry receiving it in the medium term. It is a logical step in terms of future development and as the Mace and Seal, on display in the Heritage Centre shows, the town has been there before.

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About this record

Written by Peter Feeney

Published here 24 May 2023 and originally published Christmas 2001

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