August local hero is Mark O'Meara, who has dedicated himself to keeping the beautiful Milford Lock and it's surroundings in pristine condition - and all because he loves the area. According to the awards judges, Nationalist Editor Conal O'Boyle and Talbot Hotel General Manager Ken Battigan: "Mark's commitment to Milford is an inspiration. He is a very worthy winner of this award."
When Mark O'Meara married the woman of his dreams, Yvonne Lowry, 11 years ago, the happy couple had their wedding pictures taken at Milford Weir. Now a resident in the area, Mark can be seen down by the river every week of the year keeping the place clean and free of tiresome weeds and briars. Although he started to clean the picturesque area when he was involved in a local FAS programme, he now does it on a voluntary basis.
"He's doing powerful work here," explained Cllr Jim Townsend, who nominated Mark for The Nationalist Local Hero award. "The area around the weir, the bridges and the car park is in pristine condition and had never looked better. There's been a very big increase in the number of visitors to the area, especially for the couples getting married."
Over the past five years, Mark has transformed the area. "In 2008, I was coming home and I noticed the weeds growing around the bridge. That annoyed me, so I went to see the Ballinabranna/Milford Development Group. They were delighted that someone was taking an interest," he explained. Since then, Mark's biggest project in Milford was clearing a field that was covered in briars and weeds. It took almost a year of heavy digging and lifting before the work was complete, and a beautiful old ruined house was revealed. People now use that image as one of the many beautiful backdrops found in Milford when they are getting their photos taken.
During the summer, Mark and his friend Reggie Mathews are especially busy because it attracts so many visitors. As Cllr Townsend said: "During the warm weather, it was like the beach because there were so many people there swimming." Mark, a trainer welder, has been spending considerable time on the lock, bridges and weir, cleaning up after the multitude of swimmers and sunbathers have packed up and gone home. He says that he does it because the area is special to him.
"It take a bit of work but I don't mind, I'm used to the hardship!" he laughed. "People say that I'm mad to this for nothing, but I'm glad to so. I wouldn't be idle; I need to be busy. I just love this place, it's beautiful."
Carlow’s Local Heroes is a monthly awards initiative from The Nationalist in association with the Talbot Hotel. It aims to recognise and celebrate local people who have won the respect and gratitude of their friends and neighbours through their work in the community.