THE man who runs Kinsale’s historic Piper’s Funfair says he has been overwhelmed at the outpouring of public support for his family since it was announced last week that the funfair and iconic showman’s wagon are on the verge of being forced out of the the town for good.
By Saturday, almost 1,800 people had signed a change.org petition initiated by Marc O’Riain, the local Green Party representative.
This petition states: ‘The Council are forcing Piper’s caravan out of Kinsale. The is not only a loss for the Piper family, but also for the character and traditions that make the town unique. We, the undersigned, call on the Council to reinstate Piper’s caravan in Kinsale’.
Speaking to The Echo, Brendan Piper said that the show of support had been unexpected, but was very welcome.
“Piper’s came to Kinsale in 1932, my grandfather was on the road with his own father and what they used to do, they used to travel all West Cork,” said Brendan.
“On the way back every year, they’d cover the Kinsale Regatta, but my grandfather fell in love with Kinsale at the age of 18 so he settled in in the town, on Short Quay, and he built our showman’s wagon that we have now.
“Not only did he build the showman’s wagon, he also built his own funfair. From scratch he started up in Kinsale.
“So the showman’s wagon and the funfair was all built in Short Quay. In Kinsale alone, I’d be the fourth generation and hopefully not the last,” said Brendan.
Despite the long history of the funfair in Kinsale, after the enforced break caused by Covid-19, Cork County Council demanded the showman’s wagon be removed from the Short Quay area, as it was illegally parked, and demanded a significant increase in license fees in order for the funfair to continue operating in the Town Park, an increase that Brendan says is simply unviable.
“It’s devastating that we’ll have no more to do with Kinsale,” he said, “it’s our heritage, it’s our history, it’s our culture.
“Our funfair is different, we’ve the old traditional funfair and we take pride and joy in that.”
When he learned of the situation, local Fianna Fáil councillor Sean O’Donovan took up the case on the behalf of Piper’s.
“I first heard of it last year when the wagon was taken out of Kinsale,” said Cllr O’Donovan.
“I contacted Brendan and he told me the Council had been on to him and asked him to remove it from Kinsale because he was illegally parked.
“I felt that it was very wrong because they had been there so long, I suppose it’s part of the history and fabric of Kinsale,” he added.
Cllr O’Donovan put a motion to the Bandon-Kinsale Municipal District supported by Cllr Alan Coleman in July last year. Cllr Coleman compared the wagon to “Kinsale’s Eiffel Tower”.
“There was a bit of opposition to it, but no counter-proposal, so my motion passed,” said Cllr O’Donovan.
“So I was quite happy that the showman’s wagon would be left in Short Quay.
“I contacted Brendan and, after his refurbishment of the wagon, he came back into Short Quay with the wagon and then he applied for his license for the funfair in the Town Park on the quay - and one of the conditions was that the wagon had to be removed from Short Quay permanently.
“It’s kind of iconic, the showman’s wagon really, it’s a place where you get your photograph taken and everyone knows you are in Kinsale - that sort of thing. It will be a huge loss to Kinsale, it’s unique.
“A showman’s wagon is very rare in Ireland, if you go to England, you’d have to go to a museum and pay to see one, and I think Kinsale is so lucky to have it.
“I really can’t understand why Cork County Council want to get rid of part of the heritage and the culture from the town,” he said.
Cllr O’Donovan confirmed to The Echo that a special meeting of the Bandon-Kinsale Municipal district will be held on Wednesday to discuss the Piper’s funfair and caravan.
Brendan said that he has worked all of his life in the funfair and to be forced to close would be a terrible personal blow.
“When I really started to work, I was the age of seven, I was actually giving out change in the showman’s wagon,” he said.
But the support he has received has given him hope that all may not be lost.
“I’m just gobsmacked, the rapport we have with the town, the response we’ve had to the petition, it means a lot to us.
“I thank the people so much, we are overwhelmed with the support we are getting from the people.”
Brendan says that,at 82 years old, he doesn’t want to worry his father unduly about the situation.
“I don’t tell my dad, he’s 82, a good 82 thank God, he’s at this all his life and he doesn’t know half the things, I only tell him what he needs to know because at 82 he doesn’t need to know that.
“To take bread and butter, to take a man’s tradition, his heritage and bread and butter out of his mouth, that’s heartless.
“My dad always said, ‘the day the true local people in Kinsale don’t want Piper’s in Kinsale, that’s the day we’ll go out’.”
Last week, Marie O’Sullivan, who runs a café in Kinsale, said she hoped a solution could be found.
“I hope an agreeable solution can be found for all the stakeholders involved,” she stated.
“There is confusion in the town. It was landed on us last week.
“Hopefully, common sense will prevail.”
In a statement on Monday, Cork County Council stated: "Cork County Cuncil has traditionally charged Piper’s funfair an exceptionally modest rent for occupation of a popular town centre car park in Kinsale. The car park is sizeable, with capacity for up to 50 vehicles, and the Piper funfair has operated from this site for a long period of time.
"The Piper family engaged in discussions with the Council during 2019 to update and regularise the annual arrangement for the funfair and the formal proposals included specific increases to the charge starting in 2019.
"Regrettably, due to the ongoing pandemic, the Piper Funfair was not able to occupy site in 2020 or 2021.
"The Piper family indicated earlier this year that they wished to return to Kinsale for the summer of 2022, and their attention was drawn to the previously discussed rental changes, which contain the rent significantly below market levels but reflect a necessary contribution for services which are provided by the Council in Kinsale.
"These services are partly funded through commercial rates, which is a tax incurred by local businesses and is an important source of funding for the Council to provide essential services, maintain public spaces, and provide amenities including carparks, public conveniences and litter bins.
"As the funfair does not incur commercial rates during the temporary occupation of the car park the income from the rental is applied to support the services which are available for visitors to the funfair. The funfair is traditional to the site and a unique offering for the town residents and visitors and it is in this context that the rent payment has been, and continues to be, heavily subsidised. The rent proposed for 2022 is a nominal charge in the context of commercial rents incurred by ratepayers in the town.
"The Council engaged in a legal process, which was initiated by the owners of a caravan previously parked in the Short Quay, to address the owners' right to occupy the public area and the owner of the caravan subsequently removed the caravan on a voluntary basis. It is normal and appropriate for the Council to refute unestablished claims to permanently occupy public areas, or unsubstantiated claims of ownership."