How new bypass has boosted life in Cork town

A month since the town’s bypass opened, ADRIENNE ACTON drops into Macroom to see how folk feel about the change - and finds universal approval among locals and businesses
How new bypass has boosted life in Cork town

Macroom town centre during so-called rush-hour since the bypass opened - there is now far less congestion on the Main Street. RIGHT: Julie Sanders in her pet store in Main Street, she says customers can now park easier

“I’M seeing people that haven’t been in the shop in years... no more trucks... the mood here is happy.”

These were just a few of the positive reactions when I spoke to people in Macroom a month on from the opening of the bypass that aimed to end the infamous jams in the town.

After years of campaigning, the first section of the much-anticipated Macroom bypass was opened on December 9 by the then Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Lord Mayor of County Cork Cllr Danny Collins.

The years of tailbacks though the town were to be a thing of the past.

The bypass will remove 40% of the 13,000 vehicles, including 700 heavy goods vehicles, passing through Macroom daily, says Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

A month on from the opening, and the effects and benefits are being felt by local people and businesses alike.

I spoke to a few owners and managers of businesses on the Main Street to see if they and their customers are already reaping the benefits.

Local matriarch and much-loved shopkeeper Evelyn McSweeney has seen a huge improvement. Her family’s shop on the Main Street has been in business for more than 90 years and has borne witness to all the changes through the decades.

Having been on the local town council for 20 years, where she campaigned for the bypass, Evelyn tells me that the improvement in the town was immediate.

“No more trucks! It’s lovely,” she says, “all the work we did in the council to bring this to fruition was worth it. Locals are much happier.”

Julie Sanders, who has run the nearby pet store on Main Street for 12 years, says her takings were up this Christmas because people were able to find parking near her shop and weren’t dreading their visit to the town, as they had previously. New customers are visiting her shop daily and the future looks bright.

Ken Leonard, manager of the Supervalu store on the Main Street, also says takings were up this Christmas. Supervalu has been serving the local community for 60 years and Ken has been at the helm for 21.

“I’m seeing people that haven’t been in the shop in years,” he says. “Customers from the western side of the town that would have gone to Killarney are now back to us, as are those that would have gone to Ballincollig on the eastern side.

“It’s brilliant to see these customers back again and they’re delighted to be back, knowing they don’t have to sit in an endless line of traffic to get into town any more.”

Darrin Ring, of Cronins haberdashery and household goods, another much-loved business serving the community for 60 years, says that customers are no longer complaining about the noise of the trucks.

“The conversation is all about the pleasure of shopping in the town. They’re browsing more and the mood is happy.”

Another improvements is the time it takes to bring children to school in the mornings. The back roads that had been used as short-cuts by parents were also being used by delivery drivers, making these narrow roads dangerous. Now, parents are seeing their travel time halved. It’s also much safer in the town for people going about their daily business.

But what about the future? As the saying goes, ‘strike while the iron is hot’. I asked local Fianna Fáil TD Aindrias Moynihan, whose constituency office is on South Square in the town, to share his thoughts.

“I’m really excited about the possibilities now for Macroom. The bypass has added greatly to the town and the wider area,” he said.

“It’s not an end result in itself and I see it as chance of new beginnings. We will see customers coming in from the hinterland, but we should be ambitious and look wide and far.

“We’re accessible to large populations like Killarney, Cork city, Cork airport and beyond.

“The challenge locally is to identify our niche and to promote the area so that people will want to come to Macroom.

“Just like Kinsale is known for food, Macroom must establish its niche and bring people. We’ve got amazing amenities on our doorstep including the Gearagh and the Town Park.

“Also, there are tasty foods producers and rich cultural heritage locally for example. Different steps are being taken in the background to promote Macroom and the Lee Valley and there is great potential out there.”

More than €7million was approved from the Rural Regeneration Development Fund (RRDF) last year towards town centre redevelopment, including the Middle Square, O Riada’s car park and the old Church of Ireland areas for example.

The Council advanced planning permission for these and the substantial funding last year will bring them a step closer to reality.

The Briary Gap theatre and library renovation is due to be completed in the second half of this year and it will add greatly to the cultural heart of the town. Locals are really looking forward to seeing it reopened, and people coming to enjoy the new centre and cafés and pubs nearby.

The nearby Gearagh is also a tourist attraction, and the sighting of rare Penduline Tits and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers there recently will only attract more visitors.

Since the bypass was opened, I’ve spoken with many who have seen the real benefits already.

Residents living along roads at the edge of town tell me about being able to walk safely and comfortably, as much of the traffic that dogged the area are now gone onto the bypass.

For people walking or driving around in the town, they tell me how it’s easier to get out by the bus station and easier access the town.

The long, unpredictable wait in traffic to disperse is gone, and you can leave later in the morning or plan to drop into the town without the worry of being stuck in traffic for long periods of time. The time-saving is a big benefit for many.

Some people told me that they were reserving judgement until after the Christmas period, as the improvement was hard to gauge - it is after all the town that never reared a fool - but the results in so far suggest it’s all so positive.

The best comment I got was from a lady who said that bringing her elderly and frail mum to the doctor’s surgery weekly had been very stressful, as she hated having her mum sitting in the car stuck in traffic for long periods.

That’s all gone now, she can leave her house 20 minutes before the appointment, which makes the outing much more of a pleasure.

And isn’t that what it is all about, an improved quality of life?

The first 8km stretch of the bypass has been a resounding success. The remaining 14km of this €280million project, cutting 17 minutes off the travel time to Killarney, and bringing Killarney and Tralee much closer to Macroom, is due for completion in early 2024.

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