IF you go down to the woods today... you might see they’re in urgent need of maintenance.
But help is at hand due to a crowdfunding campaign and a capital grant from Cork County Council.
The future’s looking great for East Cork’s Glenbower Woods, the community-owned beauty spot that Killeagh locals say has been a godsend during Covid-19 restrictions.
Thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign that has raised more than its €5,000 target, plus a €54,000 grant from Cork County Council, the trails, bridges and picnic benches in the perennially popular woodland are set for a major and much-needed revamp in the coming months.
Glenbower is one of Ireland’s only community-owned woodland amenities and has been a much-loved resource for generations of East Cork families.
Richard Lynch, a Killeagh resident and member of Glenbower Woods Committee, says. “All of the kids through the generations would have played there: my father, myself, and now my own kids all spend time there. We spent our time there, and basically only came home when we were hungry. It played a huge part in our lives and now those kids are adults in the community, who grew up with those memories.”
Richard was instrumental in applying for the €54,000 Cork County Council grant, which he says will be used for long overdue maintenance and upgrades in the woods; recent storms have blocked pathways, while wooden bridges over the River Dissour, which flows through Glenbower’s valley, have become rotten over time.
Although the grant allows for considerable work, it won’t be enough to replace one of the features of the forest most loved by past generations — the seven-acre lake that occupied the centre of the valley for almost 150 years before it was drained in the late 1980s.
“I’m afraid we’d probably need ten times the amount of money to do that,” Richard says with a laugh.
But an ambition to see the lake reinstated is one of the reasons why Glenbower ended up a community-owned woodland in the first place, he explains.
Glenbower Woods had been owned by the DeCapell family since 1172, and in the 19th century they invested in the wood as forestry amenity, and also as a source of water to power a grain mill whose ruins are still visible on the outskirts of Killeagh village today.
The DeCapells created an artificial lake by damming the River Dissour, and water was funnelled through millraces that are now used as walkways in the woods. The DeCapells only ended their connection to Glenbower when they sold the valley to Coillte’s predecessor in the 1930s.
Although the lake was very popular with locals, in 1989 the dam was breached and it was drained, on the grounds of public safety. A year later Glenbower Wood and Lake Ltd was formed and 33 acres of woodland was bought by the community using fund-raised money.
The ambition was to reinstate the lake.
“Unfortunately, that dream remains unrealised,” Richard says. “But I remember swimming in it as a child.”
Planning for improvements to the woods couldn’t come at a better time for the village, with work beginning on the Youghal to Midleton Greenway.
There are hopes amongst Killeagh residents that the amenity, which will run through the village, will revive the East Cork village to its heyday, when it was home to a busy train stop and a popular annual May Sunday festival.
“Now we have the Greenway coming, it really opens up Glenbower as a destination in East Cork,” Richard says.
“We see it as an amenity for all the community, a huge asset.”
Richard says that improvements to the woods, which will include replacing three wooden bridges, improving signage and replanting trees, will be undertaken with sensitivity to avoid impacting on the treasured local wildlife.
“The ecological development will be integrated,” he says.
“Our goal is always to maintain the integrity of the woods. It’s an ancient woodland, and most of the replacement trees we’ve been planting have been native Irish hardwoods.”
In years gone by, the committee has fundraised to maintain the woods with events like coffee mornings and raffle ticket sales. This year’s successful GoFundMe campaign was the brainchild of Richard’s fellow committee member, Lou Stepney, who has lived in Killeagh for 11 years.
“Because we had storms early in the year when the trees had their leaves on, when they came down they caused a lot of damage,” Lou says.
“Lots of paths were blocked, and picnic benches and bridges got damaged. It all needs to be repaired, but because of Covid we couldn’t do any of our regular fundraising events, so we decided to try crowdfunding.”
“We’ve just been blown away by the support. We’ve had donations from Australia and America, from people who grew up here and still have family in the area.”
Lou says travel restrictions imposed during the Covid crisis have made locals all the more grateful for Glenbower Woods.
“From a personal point of view, it’s been my saving grace,” the mother-of-two says.
“Every time we go there, I’m so grateful that it’s within our five kilometres. Everyone you meet up there says the same thing: what would we do without this place? It’s been a tonic for everyone’s mental health.”
“I love the fact that you can go every single day and it will be different every day. There might be a change of colour or light, or there’ll be a new type of mushroom; there’s always something new.”