One of Cork's oldest communities lights up its street... at the end of a dark year

Community spirit is alive and well in one of Cork’s oldest communities, the South Parish. DEBORAH HICKEY tells us how, in one neighbourhood, residents have come together to light up their street
One of Cork's oldest communities lights up its street... at the end of a dark year

The Christmas lights of Needham Place off Dunbar Street. Picture: David Keane

SOUTH Parish is one of the oldest inhabited areas of Cork city and can be located on maps dating back as far as 1545.

It is home to the Red Abbey Tower, Corks oldest surviving medieval structure, while St Finbarr’s South Church, built in 1766, is the city’s oldest, in use, Roman Catholic church.

 Residents enjoying the Christmas lights of Needham Place off Dunbar Street. Picture: David Keane
Residents enjoying the Christmas lights of Needham Place off Dunbar Street. Picture: David Keane

With the newly regenerated South Presentation Convent, now Nano Nagle Place, attracting visitors to explore its museum, gardens and award-winning cafe, South Parish has a lot to offer visitors to the area. There is, however, a stunning, new attraction currently turning heads in the heart of the parish.

The residents of Needham Place, Dunbar Street, have joined forces in transforming their cul-de- sac into a magical Christmas display which is delighting locals and passers-by alike.

The street, located just beside the church locally known as the South Chapel, is dressed with thousands of twinkling white lights and lined with shimmering Christmas trees. The display is bringing some much needed joy, to the people of the area, at the end of what has been a difficult year for most.

Residents Alina and Nicholas O'Regan.
Residents Alina and Nicholas O'Regan.

Alina O’Regan explains that the idea for the enchanting Christmas display came about while the residents supported each other during Covid restrictions: “We wanted to find a way to bring people together rather than keep them divided.”

She and her husband Martin bought their home in Needham place two years ago, having rented in the adjoining Morton Villas since 2014. It is a close-knit, welcoming community and is a safe area for their six-year-old son to play outside.

Alina enjoys a great relationship with her community, which is made up of a wide variety of ages and nationalities.

Earlier this year, Alina, originally from Romania, suggested to her neighbours that they install colourful window boxes, to cheer up the street.

Enjoying the fine weather during the first lockdown, the residents of the pretty street kept each other company from the safety of their own front doors. They helped each other through the isolation and Alina says they would always check on each other to see if anyone needed anything.

 James Buckley and Finn Hickey-Buckley, enjoying the Christmas lights of Needham Place.
James Buckley and Finn Hickey-Buckley, enjoying the Christmas lights of Needham Place.

During many a chat on the long summer evenings, Alina, together with neighbours Sinéad O’Regan and Christy Holland, began to plan for how they could keep each other’s spirits up as the summer faded and winter drew in.

Sinéad, who has lived in Needham Place for almost 10 years, explains what she loves most about her home; “It’s the people that make the area.”

She enjoys chatting outside while her son plays with the other children on the street and being able to stay connected like this was particularly vital throughout covid restrictions. Sinéad says they grew conscious though, that as the evenings grew darker, residents would no longer be spending as much time outside and would feel more restricted than ever, particularly those living on their own.

Christy, who has lived on the street all his life, says: “We came up with the idea of bringing the indoors outdoors.”

What started out as an idea of having one Christmas tree outside for the children soon grew into a larger scale plan. The result now is that residents, even if they are confined to their homes, can still enjoy the warmth of the community by just looking through their windows.

“We were all feeling a bit down and this gave us a great lift. We’re delighted with how it turned out.”

 Denis and Maureen Holland, who are married 60 years and are the Mammy and Daddy of the street.
Denis and Maureen Holland, who are married 60 years and are the Mammy and Daddy of the street.

Denis and Maureen Holland are married 60 years and are affectionately known as the Mammy and Daddy of the street. Denis still lives in the same house he was born in and his family at one time spanned four houses and three generations on the street. He says it’s a great place to live, being near the church and schools and so close to town.

Denis says Needham Place and Morton Villas have always had a wonderful community spirit. He is delighted that so many younger families have moved to the area in recent years.

“It’s marvellous to see the young people taking such an interest in the community. We all live so close to each other here and we all keep account of one another.”

The couple regularly visit family in Portland, Oregon, and were disappointed to be grounded by travel restrictions this year.

 ‘We were all a bit down in the dumps during Covid but the flowers in the summer and the Christmas lights have really cheered us up.”

 Sinead and Alexander O'Regan, who live in the area. Picture: David Keane.
Sinead and Alexander O'Regan, who live in the area. Picture: David Keane.

While Alina, Sinéad and Christy were the main organisers of the festive display, they insist it was a community effort.

Everyone helped out where they could, all the children were given decorations to colour and all the residents contributed to funding the project. They are surprised and delighted with all the attention that their efforts are attracting.

All residents are hopeful for a return to normality in the new year. They are looking forward to re-scheduling travel plans and getting back to the lives they enjoyed before Covid.

Alina is looking forward to visiting her family in Romania but says the disappointment she felt in not being able to see them this year was eased by her friends in the community.

 The Christmas lights of Needham Place off Dunbar Street. Picture: David Keane
The Christmas lights of Needham Place off Dunbar Street. Picture: David Keane

Sinéad is hopeful that 2021 will be a better year and hopes that people will continue to support and respect each other until Covid restrictions can finally be removed.

Christy is looking forward to being able to plan trips away again and spending more time with those he has seen less of due to this year’s restrictions.

As this strange and difficult year draws to a close, Cork is doing its best to get into the Christmas spirit, but community spirit is shining brightly in Needham Place.

The residents say they know that there are plenty of individual houses in the suburbs who put on a great festive show at this time of year, but what makes their display so special is that it was a community effort: ‘We did it together.’

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