By Jimmy Rhatigan
FROM pills to paninis could well be the title of a South Kilkenny best-selling book of the future that would document the life and times of a local landmark building.
The re-incarnation of a one-time seat of medicine and prescription room, replaced by paninis and toasted sambos, could be the catalyst that sparks new life into a village that almost died.
For generations a proud Ballyhale was always impeccably dressed in a suit that showcased an action-packed local parish of 400 families, encompassing Ballyhale, Knocktopher and Knockmoylan.
Slowly but surely, the backside fell out of the barrel of a rural area that boasted a plethora of vital facilities, shops, pubs, post office et al.
Over circa 10 years, three pubs bit the dust. The local post office put up the shutters, a chipper died, a one-stop shop and petrol pumps became history and suddenly there was nowhere to go, to chat, to buy a newspaper or box of matches.
The lean years of austerity took their toll and the killer blow came when a once vibrant village was bypassed by a new motorway.
Young and young at heart were left to twiddle their thumbs. But proud pensioners, their grandchildren and all in between refused to wait for the day when tumbleweed would blow down the main street of Ballyhale.
A renaissance born in August 2016 at a local public meeting, now sees the area gripped by a new enthusiasm and optimism with the opening of a shop and tearooms at the heart of the parish.
The fulcrum of the parish is back at full throttle.
What was once a doctor’s dispensary with prescriptions room is now a thriving shop and tearooms.
The box of matches is back and the weekly and daily newspaper is again at arm’s reach for the local community.
The last man who lived in the Main Street house that became a home, with county council agreement, was honoured when Billy’s Tea Room was christened in memory of the late occupant Billy Kiely, a former Roadstone employee.
Billy passed away in 2016. The house began to fall into rack and ruin, holes in the roof, flying slates that could have brought injury or worse.
Following a generous makeover the Tea Rooms and Shop, just opened, are already buzzing, the pride and joy of a people who have reason to believe that sister businesses may, in time, return too.
The new kid on the block, the business/community service is run by a magnificent seven committee of men and women, with the blessing of an entire parish and the goodwill of volunteers who man and wo-man the shop and tea room seven days a week.
The venture goes a lot deeper than selling bread and butter and providing full Irish breakfasts, at reasonable rates.
It is also a home from a home, a place to sit and chat, while away a few houses with neighbours and friends, over a cuppa and a slice of home-made gateau.
The big plus is that no longer is there a reason for anyone in the parish to be home alone.
The local hostelry, a resilient survivor of the crash, now has a buddy in business. Andy’s Bar opens every day from 4.30pm to finish.
Billy’s Tea Rooms are open from 8am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday and from 10am to 4pm on Sundays.
The refurbished building is a tasty mix of old and new, furniture from another time, in contrast to a brightly lit and modern dining area.
There is a pristine kitchen, an open fire for winter warmth, a mini library and crafts area.
You name it and if it is on your grocery list, it will be on the well stocked shelves at the new facility. An excellent menu has something for everyone.
“We are delighted with the local enthusiasm for what we call the KBK Community Co-operative that includes the three church areas in the parish, Knocktopher, Ballyhale and Knockmoylan,” committee secretary David Murphy told The Reporter.
“Early indications are that we are going to be very busy all year round. That has to be exciting for all age groups in our community. We have no doubt that this project will be a tremendous success. It is for our community, by our community.”
Tea Rooms Committee
Chair Noreen Murphy; treasurer Noeleen Hearne; secretary David Murphy; Pat Bookle, Helena Cody, Martin Holden, Brian Murphy. Non Executive Directors Richard and John Kenneally, Janet Ging.