Residents of a Letterkenny housing estate have seen their neighbourhood become a community, while their work with the council has brought them reliable street lighting for the first time in about three years.
Lighting in An Gleann Rua was “the best Christmas present we could have gotten,” said Chris Carr, secretary of the Gleann Rua Residents Association. For a few years, only a few lights were lit. Now all but a few are lit, and those last ones will be addressed in the new year.
Fianna Fáil Cllr. Dessie Larkin said the lighting resulted from residents’ resilience, their dealings with councillors and the council, and the work of council engineers and planners. In 2010, a motion he brought before the county council identified Letterkenny as the pilot location for a cross-department scheme to address unfinished estates.
“We’re going forward together and we all take heart in the fact that we’ve had this result,” he said.
Mark McFadden, association chairperson, said Gleann Rua reflects problems that exist around the country. Gleann Rua is “well progressed compared to some of the others,” Chris said.
The estate also needs footpaths and another layer of tarmac on the road, and the treatment plant must be relocated. Due to what Mark and Chris called a lack of communication between developers and residents, the grass wasn’t getting cut.
“The grass was about a foot high,” Mark said. Earlier this year Chris and Mark began collecting 25 euro from each house to have the grass mowed. Residents also organised clean-ups, using 20 euro from association funds to buy snacks for children on the day.
Prior to this, few of the residents knew each other. But the engagement has created a great community spirit, Mark said. Residents exchanged phone numbers and emails; there’s an association Facebook page. “You take a walk around and you know everyone’s first name,” Chris said.
The association also contacted Letterkenny town and county councillors, who came to tour the estate. Mark brought a torch because it was so dark. Residents outlined all the issues but prioritised lighting -- they were concerned about children on unlit roads and there had been burglaries.
“On the walkabout the councillors were saying this was a disgrace,” Mark said. He wondered then whether they were saying what residents wanted to hear. “But the week before Christmas, the lights went on,” he said. “Fair play to them.”
Councillors had set up meetings between residents and council in what Dessie called a partnership among residents, councillors and council planning, roads and water staff. Residents are now in contact with developers through a third party.
“It’s ongoing work,” Dessie said. “We would hope to have their estate and others in a position to draw down bonds where those bonds exist.
“It’s taken an awful long time and a lot of work from the executive,” he said. “We’re not where we want to be, but we’re on the right road.”
This can serve as an example, residents said. “When people get together, they can make things happen,” Mark said. Chris said, “As somebody said to me, it’s real active citizenship.”