62 Places are not simply physical forms and backdrops, nor are they simply a context for social interaction. They are also the repositories of imagery and projections, traditions and memories. Places, constitute “centres of existential experience” (Relph, 1976, p. 88). Hence, in thinking about place we must consider not only its materiality in space (where it is and how it is configured) but also its role as a site of social interaction (the basis of associational life). Moreover, we need to think about the imaginative and representational dimensions of place that feed into wider signification systems (for instance, look at how a multitude of disparate places along the Western seaboard have been transformed into a single signifying unit by their inclusion in the Wild Atlantic Way route). For the present purposes and drawing on the work of Gieryn (2000), let’s think about place broadly in terms of three key features: (1) Place as a geographic location, in this instance, a particular townscape in the heart of the midlands of Ireland; (2) place as a material form, as a particular built environment- historical and contemporary that constitutes part of the material culture of everyday Irish life, and, (3) most importantly, places are identified with and represented by ordinary people. Gieryn (2000) counsels that the three defining features of place -location, material form and meaningfulness- should be treated not as separate conceptual entities, but as an analytical whole. In this essay I endeavour to communicate the meaning of Stradbally, Co. Laois as interpreted by the participants in Townscape who live there. Residents of Stradbally display a strong sense of emotional rootedness in the locality. This is predicated on a sense of the historical past and feelings of nostalgia often arising from the experience of a lifetime lived almost exclusively within the locale. The town’s past-- and in particular, embedded memories from childhood-- form an integral part of their interpretive frameworks. When asked to characterise Stradbally participants in Townscape frequently elaborated specific memories of their own early childhood, of the relationship between Stradbally and its surrounding townlands, about the importance of the Big House to the locality, of sociability between neighbours, and a sense of easy communality. Participants variously recalled how they had come of age in Stradbally, returned their after years of emigration, bought or built or rented a home in the locality, and how their sense of attachment to place was developed and nurtured over the years through their immersion in close familial and neighbourly networks. Environmental backdrop A crucial part of our human physiological nature produces preferences for environments that satisfy basic needs, such as places that offer protection and comfort, (Riley, 1992, Simonsen, 1997). Environmental backdrops, both natural and constructed, come to be inscribed in our place consciousness. In Stradbally, people are acutely conscious of the environmental backdrop provided by the lush pastoral landscape. Over and over again, participants commented on how significant that backdrop is both as an aesthetic asset and as a focus for leisure activities: On the Caragh Road, there’s a wood, it’s called the Windy Gap, very scenic place, and I bring the dogs up there every day, most days anyway. If you come into [Stradbally] from the Windy Gap way…you come down there’s a huge [panorama], you can just see the whole of the town, and also lots and lots of hills and whatever else. And like, it is a lovely place to live. The views around here are beautiful, you know. There’s a place called Windy Gap, just two minutes up the road, you wouldn’t see anywhere as nice anywhere else 48