Community man: An interview with Jimmy Redmond
When Jimmy Redmond stepped forward to accept his Community Hero award in the finals of this year's SuperValu Tidy Towns competition two weeks ago, it was fitting recognition for a man who has spent almost a decade immersed in all aspects of life in his adopted community of Moate.
A familiar figure on the streets of the South Westmeath town, where he moved after his marriage to local woman, Geraldine Melia in 1990, Jimmy is current Chairman of Moate Action Group, which is the umbrella body for all the community-based organisations in the town, including the local Tidy Towns association.
“It was a great honour for me to get national recognition for my work with the Tidy Towns,” says Jimmy, who modestly admits that he is just “one of a large group of volunteers” who are responsible for increasing the overall points total of Moate in the annual Tidy Towns competition by a whopping 61 points since 2011.
“Tidy Towns is about a lot more nowadays than picking up litter and having a few nice flowers, it's more about things like sustainability, nature and biodiversity, landscaping, streetscapes and public spaces, even though the flowers and the litter picking are also very important in the overall context,” says Jimmy.
A native of O'Connell Street on the west side of Athlone, where his family ran the well-known Golden Grill restaurant for many years, and the eldest of five (a younger brother Michael, died in a cot death tragedy when he was a month old) Jimmy Redmond comes from a family with a very strong work ethic.
His late father, also called Jimmy, was a very popular figure in the town, first as a very talented chef with the Defence Forces – where he won no less than three national awards for his culinary skills – and then as the affable and friendly barman in Sean's Bar where he worked for over 20 years after his retirement from the Defence Forces.
The late Jimmy Redmond Snr, who passed away five years ago after a battle with cancer, also worked in the evenings as a chef in the Jolly Mariner, and in Elan, which is where he met his wife, Patricia, who also worked there. A very interesting aspect of their lives together was the fact that they spent 18 years living on the river Shannon in a barge called the St. Molua!
One of the regrets of the Redmond family is that their Dad, who was one of the Jadotville heroes, never lived to see the honours who were bestowed in recent years on the soldiers of Jadotville. Jimmy is delighted, however, that his mother, who is now 76 year old, lives with him and his wife, Geraldine, in Moate.
The Redmond family home on 13 O'Connell Street no longer exists, and is now the location for a car park, which is just one of many changes which Jimmy Redmond Jnr has observed in his home town over the years.
Jimmy's two brothers, David and Donnacha (whom he jokingly refers to as “the baby” of the family) and his sister, Siobhán, were all educated locally and live locally also, with Jimmy himself attending SS Peter & Paul primary school and latterly the Dean Kelly before going on to attend boarding school at St Anthony's in Clara, county Offaly, as his family had a relation who was a Franciscan Monk there.
“Imagine it was £150 a year to go there when I started and by the time I left six years later the yearly fee had increased to £1,500,” recalls Jimmy, who said he had a “very happy time” in St Anthony's and some of the students he met there have become lifelong friends.
Jimmy followed in the footsteps of his parents by working in Elan for 15 years in pharmaceutical manufacturing, during which time he got the opportunity to spend six months working in Gainsville in the US state of Georgia which he describe as “a wonderful experience.”
During his time in Elan, he was also helping out in the family business, the Golden Grill, and it was when he was “having tea in the Prince of Wales Hotel before a night out” that he met a young girl from Moate called Geraldine Melia and as he says himself “the rest is history!”
After their wedding in 1990, Jimmy and Geraldine built a house on the Hall Road in Moate and went on to have two daughters, Amy, who is a primary school teacher in an Educate Together school in the north Dublin suburb of Rush and Lusk, and Emer who is in her fourth year of a Graphic Design Degree Course in AIT and is due to graduate in the coming weeks.
A diagnosis of sleep apnoea meant that Jimmy Redmond had to leave his job in Elan, and he invested monies from his severance package in a creche and Montessori school which he opened with Geraldine at their family home in Hall Road and which operated very successfully until its closure in 2008.
Geraldine works in the HSE and also with Athlone Community Services and Jimmy says she is “fantastic at her job” and a huge source of support to him. As well as his role in the Moate Action Group and his involvement with Tidy Towns, he is also Secretary of Moate GAA and he admits that his phone “never stops ringing” and Geraldine is “unfailingly supportive” of all his interests.
It was as a result of enrolling on a two-year horticultural course with the National Learning Network that Jimmy Redmond became involved with Moate Tidy Towns.
“I love nature and I have always been a very big believer in the importance of community” he says “and my vision for Moate is to make it the best possible community in which to live and for it to be a place that welcomes everyone with open arms.”
Jimmy is quick to acknowledge the assistance of many people and organisations who have helped Moate to make steady progress, including Westmeath County Council (in particular Ruth Maxwell in the Environment Section); the two CE Scheme workers, Joe Evans and David Kelly; members of the St Hilda's Service Unit; the local Men's Shed as well as the staff in the Moate Action Group office, including secretary and stalwart of all things voluntary in the community, Peter Dolan, along with the core group of around 12 people who work as Tidy Towns volunteers, led by Chairman and local Fine Gael Cllr, John Dolan.
The Tidy Towns and Moate Action Group have “many big plans” for the town going forward, and Jimmy Redmond would like to see more people getting involved and becoming “more proactive” about the future of their town.
“There is always something to be done” he says, referring to the fact that the group recently installed a 'bee hotel' at Browne's roundabout and are currently working on a big project at a place called “Clibborns” in Moate which involves the planting of wildflowers, trees and shrubs with an emphasis on nature and biodiversity.
“Moate is a thriving town and if anyone would like to become involved in the many projects we have planned for the future they can contact me directly at 086 6021917...we would love to hear from them,” says Jimmy Redmond.