THERE are surely many villages that would secretly like to have town status but locals still refer to Ballincollig town as “The Village”.
You will hear resounding cries of “Up the Village!” on match day — and Tom Butler reckons the village feel is part of the town’s charm.
“There’s a fantastic community here, even though it’s a large urban centre now. We have our own identity as such, even though we’re a suburb of Cork city,”, he says.
Born in Carlow, Tom moved to Bishopstown as a child, before relocating to nearby Ballincollig in 1986 where he has lived ever since.
He has served an incredible 21 years as chairperson of a very active Tidy Towns committee, which has been instrumental in bringing home eight gold medals in the national Tidy Towns awards, as well as taking silver at the Entente Florale, a Europe-wide competition.
Tom has also had a steady 29-year career working with Apex Fire where he is regional manager for Munster, managing a team of 20 people.
Father to two grown-up children in their early 30s, he has witnessed Ballincollig’s massive transformation since they were babies, most notably the development of Ballincollig Regional Park. It didn’t exist as an amenity back then but now it is truly the jewel in Ballincollig’s crown. With looped walks, riverside walks, playing pitches, a skate park, picnic benches, exercise equipment, a playground, basketball court and a fairy trail, there’s something for all ages to enjoy in this vast 130 acre site.
Tom is passionate about Ballincollig heritage and is very much looking forward to the historical aspect of the park coming to life thanks to a new Powdermills app due to launch shortly. In preparation for the app, new signposts were erected earlier this month near the ruins of the old Gunpowder Mills buildings.
Once the app is live, people will be able to scan the signs and learn the significance of each building, from what was one of the largest gunpowder mills in Europe, until it ceased operation in 1903.
There’s a lot of ground to cover within the park’s 130 acres, so fortunately refreshments can be found at An Cumann Tae, a coffee dock run by Nosh & Coffee at the GAA grounds entrance to the park, while at the main entrance Café Chico has been a godsend for the past ten years, alongside Crepe Cuisine, serving up delicious sweet and savoury crepes since long before mobile food trucks became trendy.
Step out of the park and there is still more heritage to be found, with 13 heritage signs erected all over Ballincollig in a joint initiative between Ballincollig Tidy Towns and Ballincollig Heritage Association with funding from the council. It can be a fun challenge to find them all while also learning something at the same time.
If you fancy more walking and don’t mind being alongside the roads, three routes of varying lengths have been devised, with route maps installed on the streets to outline the journeys. See if you can spot the ruins of Ballincollig Castle while out n’ about. Situated on private land facing the Maglin valley, it is the town’s oldest existing structure, from 1468.
Barack Square, tucked away in the centre of town, is a lovely spot to rest your weary limbs. A landscaped garden and fountain lies in the middle of what are now office blocks with a mix of old and modern architecture, named after figures from Ireland’s past: Kavanagh, Pearse, Yeats, Behan, Parnell and Emmet. An authentic artillery piece takes pride of place there too as a further nod to the town’s military history.
Another brand new place to sit and relax is at the parklet on Main Street near Kelleher’s Pharmacy, installed in conjunction with Cork City Council, Benchspace and Ballincollig Tidy Towns. It’s a wheelchair-friendly parklet with seating and plants, many of which are pollinator friendly.
In visiting Ballincollig, you’ll be supporting a town that’s making a big effort to be eco-friendly, as Tom explains: “We’ve a pollinator corridor through the whole of Ballincollig. Our Poulavoune Roundabout was one of the first in the country. Right through the town there’s areas that bees can feed.
“We’re also trying to make Ballincollig spray-free. There’s a motion coming before the council to not have any herbicides sprayed.”
Ballincollig is constantly evolving, with new businesses breathing new life into the town.
IncrEdible Flowers has just opened on the Old Square, offering unique chocolate fruit gifts designed and handmade in Cork. Meanwhile coffee outlet Box’d 2.0 is expected to open this month on Leo Murphy Road/Link Road where the drive-through Roasted Road was previously located.
Needless to say, there are other great places for food too, and thankfully the likes of Sliced, The Tung Sing and Ramen kept everyone fed during lockdown with takeaway services.
Bacco Ristorante’s red gingham table-clothed tables are once again a pretty outdoor sight on Chapel Lane, while The Plaza Bistro on Time Square is well set up for outdoor dining with patio heaters and a notable effort made by staff to sanitise tables and chairs between customers.
The White Horse recently unveiled its revamped, expanded beer garden and outdoor dining menu. Its upstairs live music venue fell silent during the pandemic but as a recipient of funding from the Performance Support Scheme announced last week, let’s hope we will be hearing some beautiful noise coming from there before too long.
Every Wednesday morning, you can enjoy the atmosphere of the farmers’ market situated at the lower end of the Castlewest Shopping Centre car-park and featuring culinary treats from Brendan’s Burritos, Cork Sultan Delight and Le Kiosk (Afro-Carribbean street food), among others.
Make sure you stick around and do some shopping; ladies will get a fashion fix at Silk Peaches, Blue Fig and Lily and Clara boutiques.
For kids, there’s a small playground opposite Lidl — generally quieter than the one in the Regional Park — and if it’s a rainy day, The Reel Picture on Time Square will b a e place of refuge with a good movie.
Finally, there’s a hidden gem behind Lidl at Innishmore where you’ll find a large mural dedicated to Irish and local sporting heroes, including Roy Keane, Sonia O’Sullivan, Juliet Murphy, Liam Miller, Christy Ring and the O’Donovan brothers.
Created by the YMCA Step Group in 2017, it is a perfect fusion of art and sport. Up the Village indeed!
You can catch up on our Come to My Town series below.
Next week: Carrigaline.