IF you are planning a staycation in the Mallow area, Rosarie O’Flaherty has one piece of key advice: “Bring your canoe and your fishing rod. We are very lucky we have the Blackwater River going through the centre of town.”
Rosarie is a Mallow native who commutes to Cork city for her job as a pharmacy technician in CUH, but her heart is right back in her hometown, where she is the secretary of Mallow Tidy Towns.
Being a mum to three girls, aged nine, 10 and 11, she is also in demand to lead family adventures around her locality.
Right in the centre of town stands Mallow Castle, which gives her plenty of scope for those adventures, bringing back memories of her own childhood growing up on Bridge Street and playing hide and seek in the old castle (dungeons an’ all!)
These days it’s council-owned and modern day health and safety standards have seen the ruined castle closed off, but it’s still interesting to wander around it and imagine the lives of the people who lived there.
Rosarie gives me a little tutorial: “It’s a 13th century castle and there’s a more recent castle on the grounds too. But it’s actually got 33 acres of parklands and there’s a herd of white deer that was gifted years ago by Queen Elizabeth I and they are still there. The council has developed a fabulous walk-way along the length of the river, which is about two miles.
“There are trees, flora and fauna; you might see an otter or herons. It’s very peaceful and calm; you’ll probably see a fish jumping. You’ll feel so connected with nature.”
Within the grounds, Rosarie points me in the direction of Lover’s Leap, a large rock space overlooking the river, from which doomed lovers once jumped. Her local knowledge also reveals the Bullworks.
“That’s a traditional area where a lot of people grew up swimming in Mallow. Even in the sunshine last summer, it was like Spain down there,” she says, before adding a word of caution.
“It is a river so you do have to be careful, but it’s a great spot.”
Also within the vast grounds you’ll come across Mallow Spa House, constructed in 1828.
“There’s a well that bubbles up underneath the house and the water temperature is 22 degrees Celsius.
"Next to the house there’s another well and you can see the bubbles coming up through the limestone rock and it’s really warm,” she explains.
“It was originally a medicinal spa destination. It’s being done up by the council and it’s going to be developed into a walk-way amenity as well,” adds Rosarie.
Indeed, there are many plans for upgrades in Mallow, with almost €2 million in contracts signed off by Cork County Council for improvements to Mallow Castle Park, Mallow Town Park and the Spa House Park. Covid-19 may have pressed pause on the plans — but you can have a thoroughly enjoyable visit now and return in a year or two to see an even better version.
There’s an existing playground in Mallow Town Park, for instance, but it being near a busy road and in a spot with a propensity for flooding, there are plans for a new state-of-the-art playground in the Mallow Castle grounds.
Just as the Spa House is an example of Tudor-style architecture, so too is the landmark Clock House in the town, just around the corner from the entrance to the castle.
“The clock chimes every quarter hour on top of the Clock House and there’s a plaza in front that’s a lovely spot for a coffee”, says Rosarie.
The cafés of Mallow have adapted well to ‘the new normal’, partly thanks to Project ACT, an initiative run by Cork County Council to focus on rebuilding the economy and community life. With this scheme, Mallow has a busy Town Activation Team and supporting cafes is just one of the projects. Take a stroll down Main Street and you’ll see that Priory Coffee, Food Capers and Brudairs have all installed parklets outside their doors.
“Most businesses have changed and done business differently. Click and Collect has been really successful and a lot of businesses have gone online.
“Lucey’s, one of the butchers, which would have done a lot of catering, is now after opening a coffee shop,” she says to illustrate the town’s resilient spirit.
“Businesses have been willing to develop, evolve and change. They are very proactive people.”
The council has suspended pay parking in the town too, to attract people back in. Bridge Street Car Park is one such spot, with close proximity to the Mallow Castle entrance, although with only ten spaces available, don’t pin all your hopes on it. While you are there though, check out the utility box, painted with a tribute to Mallow FC’s Steve Murphy.
Mallow is also honouring its own with an artistic depiction of famous town resident Demi Isaac Oviawe, along with her fellow Young Offenders cast-mates. That mural is situated at The Gilbert Centre, just next to a newly beautified rockery with blooming flowers, thanks to the efforts of Mallow Tidy Towns.
Another boost to the town is the selection of Cork Racecourse, Mallow, as one of only three locations in the country to host this Saturday’s Drive-in on-screen Bon Jovi concert, a welcome evening of entertainment, before hopefully a return to the pre-pandemic live music we all miss so much.
Mallow makes a great base for activities all around too, with Doneraile Park only a ten minute drive away (where you’ll see more deer!); you’ll be at Ballyhass Adventure Sports Centre in 15 minutes and Nano Nagle’s birthplace, situated between Mallow and Kilavullen, is also worth a visit, not to mention the Ballyhoura mountain bike trails for those who are handy on two wheels.
But back in the town (with your canoe or fishing rod in hand), Rosarie is giving me the inside track on a few famous faces that have been spotted on the riverbank down through the years.
“Chris Tarrant was one (original TV host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire) and Jack Charlton was also a fan.”
Well, if it’s good enough for them...
Next up: Martina visits Bandon.
You can also catch up on Martina’s series on EchoLive.ie — search for “Come to My Town.” She has so far featured Cobh and Bantry.