Come to My Town: Kanturk punches above its weight

As we continue to explore Cork’s towns to see what they have to offer, MARTINA O’DONOGHUE visits Kanturk where she chats to Kieran Fitzgerald about all his hometown has to offer
Come to My Town: Kanturk punches above its weight

Kanturk Castle, County Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan / staff

“Lockdown forced all of us to have a proper re-think and re-calibrate and appreciate what’s in our area”, says Kieran Fitzgerald, reflecting on recent times in his home town of Kanturk.

“Sometimes the far away hills are greener and you forget what’s on your own doorstep, purely because you are so familiar with it.”

Kieran, of Fitzgerald Insurances, is certainly familiar with Kanturk.

“I’m born and bred in Kanturk and I’m living here all my life. I went to school in town and went straight into the family business at 18 or 19 years of age. I’ve been working in the family business for over 30 years. My wife is from Kanturk. We’re firmly entrenched in Kanturk.”

Kieran got involved with many organisations down through the years including the rugby club, GAA club, Tidy Towns, community council and Chamber of Commerce. It’s clear he has much belief in the town and is eager to entice others to visit too.

“Kanturk is a town which is unique in my opinion because we have three very nice parks in the town. We have one on the way in from the Mallow Road, The Greenane Park, which stretches along on the banks of the River Dallow. It lets nature grow its own way with trees and green areas.

 Kieran Fitzgerald. Picture John Tarrant
Kieran Fitzgerald. Picture John Tarrant

“And then O’Brien Street park is in the heart of the town, running along the banks of another river, the Allow. That’s a more manicured park; a lovely place to walk and maybe sit down with a cup of coffee. And then you have what’s known as the Town Park, which is the main park and in my opinion, is as nice as you are going to get anywhere, with a lovely playground for kids; just a lovely place to walk around or sit down and chill out by the river bank. The river is playing a big part in our town because there are two of them and the parks are built along the rivers”, says Kieran.

O’Brien Street park recently played host to Kanturk Arts Festival’s Poets’ Trees Project, a collection of original poems submitted by poets with a connection to the town. Installed on the magnificent trees, it made a walk in the park extra special. It’s been so well received it is having an extended run, with the poetry remaining in situ until next week.

Lockdown restrictions brought about a seemingly universal enthusiasm for walking, whether to clear the head, kill boredom or purely for exercise. Kanturk was no exception and aside from the three aforementioned parks people also took to the roads.

“There’s a couple of loop walks around Kanturk and during the lockdown period you’d see an awful lot of foot traffic.

“There are two 5km walks from the town; one down past the castle and one out the other side past Greenane Park. You wouldn’t be short of exercising space”, says Kieran.

However, you might need to ask a local about those loop walks, as Kieran acknowledges that they are not signposted and, “if you weren’t from Kanturk you wouldn’t know they existed”.

We still haven’t got to what Kieran considers to be the most impressive aspect of the town.

“For me there’s no question, the showstopper is Kanturk Castle, known locally as ‘The Old Court’. The grounds around it have been maintained meticulously and you can walk there on newly constructed footpaths from the town. It’s about a half mile outside the town and one of the finest examples of that type of castle in the country.”

The castle - a four story Tudor-style mansion with five-story towers - was built in the early 1600s for Dermot MacDonagh MacCarthy, although never completed. Since 2000 it has been managed by An Taisce and it is designated as a National Monument.

“It’s a fantastic structure for anyone who has an interest in architecture or history but even to bring the kids. I’ve done it myself, just for a walk around the castle. They love it,” says Kieran recalling past visits with his children, now aged 16 and 20.

There are other items of interest to look out for around the town, including the incredible sculptures of a fairy complex and beehive in the Canons Wood. Commissioned two years ago in a joint project between Kanturk Arts Festival and Kanturk Tidy Towns, they were carved from tree stumps by the very talented Will Fogerty using a chainsaw.

The statue of world ploughing champion Thady Kelleher near Kanturk Castle, Kanturk, Co Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan
The statue of world ploughing champion Thady Kelleher near Kanturk Castle, Kanturk, Co Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

There’s a sculpture of legendary ploughman Thady Kelleher beside the Kanturk – Banteer road, while Kanturk-born suffragette Hanna Sheehy Skeffington is immortalised with a bronze statue in Kanturk Town Park.

Golf enthusiasts are also welcome in Kanturk.

“We have an 18-hole golf course, maintained to the highest standard. It would be recognised as a high quality course and another great asset to the town,” said Kieran.

“It’s a parkland golf course, matured now at this stage. It’s approximately two miles outside the town in a place called Fairy Hill.”

Time for refreshment and Kieran is loath to recommend one café above another, only saying, “We are spoilt for choice.”

Left to my own devices, I spot The Daily Grind right opposite O’Brien Street Park. Quite handy in this Covid era, it has a ‘grab and go’ fridge, bursting with healthy lunch and snack options to take away or to enjoy in its outdoor seating area.

The outdoor seating at the Club House Kitchen on Percival Street is pretty inviting, while on the menu there is an impressive range of vegan options as well as more standard fare. Also on Percival Street is Yumm, which has been building up quite a following on social media.

This place really comes into its own with its sweet treats. The biggest challenge of your day will be to choose and restrict yourself to just one!

Café Bia on Stand Street has been busy constructing a new outdoor seating area in recent weeks, not to mention celebrating nine years in business at the end of last month. It’s a great place for grabbing a panini, wrap or sandwich, while home-made lemonade and gluten free mini-rolls have also been going down a storm.

Kieran suggests that Kanturk a great place to base oneself for further exploration, reminding me that “you’re an hour from Limerick, an hour from Killarney and an hour from Cork.

“As towns go, we have a lot to be proud of in our area. It’s a small little town in rural Ireland. It punches above its weight in my opinion anyway.”

Next week: Dunmanway

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