The winner of the Best Place To Live in Ireland competition has been announced – Westport in County Mayo.
Dubbed the Venice of the West, the Mayo town has beaten off stiff competition in the Irish Times poll.
Readers nominated 563 entries from all 32 counties in Ireland with the five judges making their final selection from a shortlist.
The final list of nominated towns and villages included Cork city; Ardara, Co Donegal; Westport, Co Mayo; Killarney, Co Kerry; and Rathmines in Dublin.
Judge Dr Maureen Gaffney said: “We have the very happy dilemma of discovering that Ireland is just a great place.”
The paper reports that the competition was a huge success after the Irish Times invited members of the public to nominate the place in which they lived and explain its appeal.
All kinds of habitats were eligible, be it a town or city suburb, a village or remote rural spot, a tiny community halfway up a mountain, a street, a road or a housing estate.
Irish Times Features Editor Conor Goodman, chairman of the judging panel, said: “It became not just a search for a pretty place but an examination of living in Ireland today.”
John O’Callaghan, who nominated Westport in what one judge called a ‘lyrical pitch’ was standing in the town’s Octagon when he heard the news according to the Irish Times report.
He said: “I’m just thrilled for the town but to be the first place in Ireland is a really wonderful boost.
“This competition is deeper. It goes to the heart of how rooted the people are, of how much of a community they have.”
The judges visited Westport last week before making their final decision.
Dr Gaffney said: “Even in the rain Westport looked so beautiful, without a single piece of litter.
“The town has solved the most consistent problem facing nearly every community, getting people to work together.
“With a population of 5,500, it has 97 voluntary associations, each working hand in glove, creating fantastic facilities for its young and even providing a colour service for local business frontages.”
Chairman of judging panel, Goodman added: “Westport is a beautiful place, well-kept and pleasant to visit, but those aren’t the reasons it won.
“The judges chose Westport because it is a community of people working together to make the best of the town’s many advantages.”
Judge Paul Keogh said: “It is a model to every town and county. On governance, it scores really high. It has been so well managed. Yes, urban Ireland is alive and well.”
The five judges were: Dr Gaffney, adjunct professor of psychology and society at University College Dublin; Paul Keogh, founding partner of Paul Keogh Architects and former president of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland; Gerard O’Neill, chairman of Amárach Research and a co-founder of Hireland.ie; Irish Times Environment Editor Frank McDonald; and Irish Times journalist Edel Morgan.