TECHNICALLY a village — and the only one to charm its way into this series — Innishannon has become a destination in its own right.
Its most famous resident, author Alice Taylor, has consistently shone a spotlight on the village, while a hard-working Tidy Towns team has long ensured that Innishannon is recognised for its picturesque qualities.
It has to date won four prizes in the Tidy Towns competition; one endeavour award, one landscaping award, and two bronze medals.
Just 23km west of Cork city, in more recent times it has also become a dormitory town for city workers.
Lena Angland is one of those workers, a software manager at Pilz Ireland on the Model Farm Road.
Lena, however, didn’t choose Innishannon for convenience. Rather, it is the place in which she has her roots. Although she left her home village for a period after college, she returned eight years ago to raise her family of three children, now aged one, four and eight.
She has recently given the village an amazing gift in the form of Wanderful, an augmented reality wildlife trail in Dromkeen Woods. In situ since February and getting a massive thumbs up from children, it is a major reason to stop and enjoy some quality time in Innishannon, rather than passing through, as people have tended to do in the past.
The wood is situated just over the bridge on the Bandon side of the village. Download the free Wanderful app before you go, then watch out for symbols pinned to the infrastructure of the woods (eg: benches or fences). Once a symbol has been located, hold up the app camera and an animated 3-D hidden creature — such as a fox or an owl — is revealed.
You’ll have lots of fun lining up your child for a photo so it looks like the animal is sitting on a shoulder or in the palm of a hand. There are facts to learn about each of the ten animals too, and make sure you are paying attention as there is a quiz once the trail has been completed.
“A lot of people have come to the woods to try it out and have said it’s a great incentive to get kids out learning in a fun way without even realising they’re learning,” says its creator who combined her technical background with a love of the outdoors.
“It’s a whole experience, marrying nature and technology in an innovative way.”
Wanderful aside, it is a great spot for a ramble. You will feel like you are surrounded by nature, even though you are still just at the edge of the village. Fairy houses erected on the trees add more fascination for smallies and, on the day of my visit, there was a delightful carpet of bright bluebells throughout.
After the woods, children will still have energy for more adventures and on the site of Valley Rovers GAA lies a very impressive playground. It’s in the area known locally as The Bleach, which gets its name from Innishannon’s linen mill of the 1700’s, where the linens were bleached. It’s an area that saw a lot of footfall during the last lockdown.
“We’re blessed with the Bleach,” says Lena. “It also contains an 800 metre riverside walk. The GAA have made it a one-way system, enabling social distancing.
"That walkway saved all our sanity; to go out and do a few laps and take the kids with bikes.”
Also on the GAA grounds is The Sideline Hut, a mobile unit run by Cork City FC’s Jack Walsh and GAA star Kevin Canty. Situated next to the playground, their barista coffee and home-baked goods provide welcome refreshment while the kids play.
The facilities are a huge credit to Valley Rovers, who donated the land for the community playground and who incur ongoing maintenance costs, for which there is a donation box at the entrance.
There is another considerable attraction for kids in Innishannon, housed within the post-office and Gala store.
“It has an Aladdin’s Cave of children’s toys that suit kids from three to 83,” laughs Lena.
“People would travel from all over the country to go to this,” she adds, describing collectors; toys, such as model trucks and tractors.
From there, you won’t have far to go to satiate hunger. Across the road, behind Barrett’s pub, you’ll find a mini food court hosting Galley’s Kitchen, a street food market stall serving burritos, falafels and veggie burgers; Ho On The Go, offering tasty Asian food; and The Quirkey Kitchen, a stylish vintage mobile coffee truck serving coffee and delicious homemade treats. The latter outlet is run by Siobhan Quirke, wife of Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, so you might even be served by the GAA legend himself on occasion!
Another great spot for food is Rohu’s Country Market, offering a broad selection of local produce, with extended opening hours on Friday and Saturday for takeaway pizza.
The Found Out Café on the Main Street — which often exhibits local artists — has been sorely missed during the past five months but it will be back in action on July 5.
Lena is also looking forward to returning to Innishannon House Hotel, which reopened last Wednesday.
“It’s a great place to go for Sunday lunch; to sit out and look at the river and the stunning gardens. You can sit down and see your kids quite safely all around,” she says, fondly recalling past visits.
This summer, Innishannon will also welcome a new business, Wild Flour Bakery on Main Street, where you will soon be able to pick up items like sourdough bread, rosemary focaccia, cinnamon buns and hand-made pastries.
Innishannon is also a wonderful destination for history buffs, with a map and brochures at the traffic lights to advise on a self-guided tour.
“There’s around a dozen points of interest that will take you around the village,” says Lena.
Among them is the Horse and Rider sculpture representing the origin of the village, when it was the only point on the River Bandon to gain access into west Cork.
Meanwhile, at the western end of the village is a sculpture of Billy the Blacksmith, honouring Billy and his family who plied their trade there for generations.
The restored St Mary’s Tower, which had fallen into disrepair, can also be visited at the village’s ancient Huguenot graveyard.
And how does Lena suggest I end the day?
“You can refuel the car at O’Sullivan’s Centra service station and get a well-earned ice-cream for the kids on the way home.”
And one for me too!