MY travels this week take me just 30 minutes west of Cork city to Bandon, which was founded in 1604, with a reputation for being a trade town.
Just call it ‘The Gateway to West Cork’ at your peril…
“We’ve always had the moniker of ‘The Gateway to West Cork’ but we’ve decided we don’t like that moniker actually,” says Hilary O’Farrell, chairperson of Bandon Chamber of Commerce.
“It means you pass through the town and we want to change it so that people think about stopping in Bandon.”
Hilary is well known to Bandon residents, doing business in the heart of the town at O’Farrell’s Newsagents.
“Since I was born, I’ve lived on the main street. My great-grandmother opened the shop in 1904. My kids are the fifth generation living over the shop,” she says.
Long-running family businesses are something of a trend in Bandon.
“It’s always been a trading town and we’ve a huge amount of businesses that are old family businesses, going back over generations, which I think is lovely because it gives the town character,” she says.
Hilary loves the convenience of living above the shop in the town centre and also appreciates how well Bandon is situated for access to other amenities.
“Bandon’s location is ideal because we’re a half hour from Cork city and when you go out west, in only 15 minutes you can be on a beach. It’s a huge selling point for Bandon that we’re located adjacent to Cork Airport and West Cork.”
Another huge selling point, she reckons, is the town’s location by the River Bandon, where she has seen canoe clubs descending again in recent times.
Right next to the river lies a path with an aesthetically pleasing route for taking a stroll and enjoying nature. Named after the town’s most famous son, the Graham Norton Walkway was officially opened by the man himself in 2013.
You can enter the walk near Kelleher’s Topline on the Glasslyn Road and you’ll also find some great sporty amenities along the way. There’s an outdoor exercise area, a skate park and a full basketball court, with plans afoot for the development of a new playground in the area too.
There is an existing playground tucked away at Mill Place — again by the river — but with no room for expansion, it was decided that relocation would be desirable. The new site, on 1.2 acres of land gifted by Cork Marts, next to all the other amenities, will be ideal.
Like everything else though, money is a stumbling block and Bandon Playground Group has been working tirelessly to raise funds to get the project off the ground.
Hilary, a mother to three young girls, aged three to 10, tends to park up at Baxter’s Bridge to take her family walks by the river. She also points me in the direction of The Clare O’Leary Walkway, named in honour of the achievements of the Bandon-born mountaineer and adventurer. This 3km walk follows the path of the old Cork-Bandon Railway line, accessed via the public car park around 2.8km past Innishannon on the left-hand side when heading towards Bandon.
“The ground is really even, you can bring a buggy or a bike and it’s great for older people as there are benches along the way. And there are beautiful views over the river again,” advises Hilary.
“Eventually, the idea would be to get all the walks linked up together. It’s something we’re working on,” she adds.
A walk up Kilbrogan Hill will bring you to another area of interest.
“It’s the Shambles,” says Hilary, describing an old circular building that once housed a market.
“It’s in the north-side and when Bandon was founded first it would have been the oldest part of the town, so it’s very historic. There’s a picnic area there; it has benches and tables.”
If you’re not organised enough to pack your own picnic, don’t worry, there are plenty of places in Bandon from which you can grab some grub.
For example there’s Cracked on St Finbarr’s Place, Gym Junkiez on South Main Street and Warren Allen on Pearse Street, while O’Reilly’s Maxol garage on the Clonakilty Road has a food truck on-site.
The newest culinary offerings come from Sendai Asian Kitchen, a food truck opened earlier this month at the forecourt of Hernon’s Londis on the by-pass.
The Perfect Cup at Howard Court closed during lockdown but its enterprising owner, Margaret, didn’t stay idle.
“She got a custom-built silver caravan and set up a takeaway burger bar called The Perfect Burger. She’s going to keep that going full-time. It’s innovative; people are thinking on their feet,” says Hilary, describing how business owners have adapted.
“Nearly every restaurant in Bandon has opened a take-away service. Everybody’s trying hard to keep going.”
If you are wandering around town, keep an eye out for brightly painted electricity boxes dotted around the place, thanks to Creative Bandon. And if you are artistically minded, you might want to plan your visit to take in Eilbhe Donovan’s exhibition ‘Caibleadh’, at the Grey Heron on Bridge Street. It’s exciting to be allowed indoors to view art again and this one — showcasing a selection of works inspired by Eilbhe’s frequent trips around the Seven Heads Peninsula — runs until June 30.
Meanwhile, if you want to get away from dry land, Courtmacsherry beach is only a 20 minute drive away with more amenities and walks, while Harbour View beach is just a mile outside the nearby Kilbrittain village.
Bandon hasn’t had the easiest time of late. Extreme flooding in 2009 shook the town badly and in the past few years, traffic disruption due to drainage works hasn’t helped the perception of the town. But roadworks are a necessary evil and they always come to an end eventually.
No pain, no gain. Hilary and her colleagues in Bandon Chamber certainly aren’t looking backwards.
“We would be of the opinion that you have to look forward, think for the future and plan for the future; there’s no point dwelling on the past. As a group, we talk positively.
“It’s creating a good momentum in the town; everybody’s on the same buzz. We’re all looking to the future to develop Bandon in a really positive way.”
Next week: Martina visits Clonakilty.