'We're a very resilient community': optimism in northside as restrictions ease

Mary Corcoran hears there is optimism in the air in the communities of Mayfield, Montenotte and surrounding areas as they prepare for the comeback from the pandemic
'We're a very resilient community': optimism in northside as restrictions ease

Deirdre O'Callaghan, staff member, at the Flower Point florist, Old Youghal Road, Mayfield, Cork, as preparations are made to reopen for limited walk-in customers. Picture Denis Minihane.

BUSINESS owners and community leaders alike have described a sense of optimism permeating through the communities of Mayfield, Montenotte and surrounding areas as restrictions ease and shops, hairdressers, social clubs, pitches and churches begin re-opening their doors once again.

The community, like many others across Cork, has been heavily impacted by the pandemic over the past 14 months, but it has adapted and remained resilient in the face of adversity.

When the first lockdown hit last year, community groups and organisations rallied around to support those in need and those on the ground say that over the past number of months the community has become even more tight-knit than before.

Cllr. John Maher. Picture Denis Minihane.
Cllr. John Maher. Picture Denis Minihane.

“You wouldn’t fear something like this happening again when you see the strength of the community,” said local Labour party representative, Cllr John Maher, as he outlined how the community came together during the pandemic.

“What it [the pandemic] did do for us is it brought us back to basics.

“Sometimes, we all get caught up in our own world and that’s ok, but I think people stopped and they looked left or right and said how are you,” he said.

'A resilient community'

This was echoed by Lord Mayor of Cork and local Fine Gael Councillor Joe Kavanagh, who described how sporting organisations in the locality had stepped up to the plate during the pandemic, with local GAA clubs helping deliver food parcels and clothes packages.

Despite the many challenges over the past number of months, he said businesses in the area had shown their resilience.

Cork Lord Mayor Cllr Joe Kavanagh.
Cork Lord Mayor Cllr Joe Kavanagh.

“We are in a very resilient community in the Mayfield, Montenotte, St Luke’s and Tivoli area.

“I think businesses have suffered, but a lot of them have reinvented themselves with click and collect, and take away services, particularly the restaurants, hotels that have had afternoon teas and click and collect your lunches and dinners. In fairness, most of the businesses have been very active communicating with their customers.”

Adapting to new practices 

Roy Burns, bar manager, in the bar as preparations are made for reopening the Cotton Ball, Mayfield, Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.
Roy Burns, bar manager, in the bar as preparations are made for reopening the Cotton Ball, Mayfield, Cork. Picture Denis Minihane.

Among the many local businesses who found themselves needing to adapt quickly to the pandemic was The Cotton Ball.

The family-run brew bar has its own brewery on site and found itself in a situation where it had kegs full of beer which it could no longer distribute to bars which had closed their doors.

Manager Roy Burns said they decided to introduce a growler system which allowed them to bottle their draft beer and sell it to customers.

“We were always thinking about using the growler system and it [the pandemic] gave us the impetus to set it up and start using it and from day one it took off.

“That helped us. It’s all a family-run business. It kept the lads in the brewery in the job. They couldn’t brew beer for pubs that were closed. Between the two of us then we could keep going for the year to some degree.”

The brew bar opened for a few weeks before Christmas, but when they realised they would have to close their doors again, they decided to begin a food offering.

“We had to come up with another idea of how we keep business ticking over so we came up with a takeaway menu, just a simple one, so we could open our front door,” explained Mr Burns.

With outdoor dining and socialising set to dominate the summer, the Cotton Ball is yet again adapting and is working on expanding an outdoor dining area.

Roy Burns said he has witnessed a real change in people’s mindset as the restrictions ease and he is looking forward to being able to invite customers back in.

“Definitely the last couple of weeks you can see there’s a bit of up and go. It’s a great family area. You can see there are a few more smiles around as they are out doing their power walks in the evenings,” he said.

Preparing to re-open fully

Another local business which is adapting its model ahead of re-opening is the Montenotte Hotel.

Ray Kelleher, director of sales & marketing, The Montenotte Hotel, Cork, pictured on the panoramic terrace against the backdrop of the Victorian sunken gardens. Picture Denis Minihane.
Ray Kelleher, director of sales & marketing, The Montenotte Hotel, Cork, pictured on the panoramic terrace against the backdrop of the Victorian sunken gardens. Picture Denis Minihane.

The hotel remained open for essential workers during the lockdown and early on began offering a click-and-collect afternoon tea.

“We found a niche and it worked for us. The branding was really important for us and it kept us out in the community throughout,” explained Raymond Kelleher, Director of Sales and Marketing at the hotel.

Earlier this year it opened a vintage van, catering for those out walking in the local community.

“We noticed there was an awful lot of people out walking and so we said there was an opportunity and to be honest we were blown away by the support we got from the local community from day one. There was such a pent-up demand for people to get a coffee and have a chat after doing their walk,” he said.

The hotel is currently preparing to re-open its gym and to begin welcoming residential guests from next month.

Like other businesses, it too is adapting and construction has commenced at the hotel on a new rooftop bar and terrace.

“We are hoping to have that open by late summer,” explained Mr Kelleher.

“That will be an extension, another added facility for hotel guests and the local community. Construction has started. We’re excited about it,” he said.

A difficult period 

Some local businesses have already re-opened including Technique Hair and Beauty, which, like salons around the country, has witnessed a huge demand for its services.

Joe O'Regan, manager Technique Hair and beauty salon in Mayfield. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Joe O'Regan, manager Technique Hair and beauty salon in Mayfield. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

“We’re absolutely hectic for the next two to three weeks,” explained manager, Joe O’Regan.

He said that it had been wonderful to see clients return in recent days, some of whom have not seen people outside of their immediate families in months.

“People have been shut up in their houses, particularly our elderly clients...and you can see them — they are absolutely pouring their hearts and souls to their service technician. They are really enjoying the social aspect of getting the haircut.”

He said that the past few months have been difficult for those in the industry.

“The uncertainty was a big thing. In the hairdressing industry, a lot of places aren’t re-opening and that’s a challenge we are facing. With spacing, a lot of people have had to let go of staff and you are trying to space out people if you only have a certain square feet — you can only have so many plastic shields.”

Despite the challenges, he remains positive.

Increase in customers 

Deirdre O'Callaghan, staff member at the Flower Point florist. 
Deirdre O'Callaghan, staff member at the Flower Point florist. 

Another business that has witnessed an increase in customers in recent weeks is Flowerpoint.

The florist has been operating a delivery service and owner Karolina Grabowska - Hebdzynska says it has received great support from the local community.

“Christmas was very busy and of course Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day... The locals were a great support. They were brilliant,” she said.

As more businesses lift the shutters and re-open the doors Ms Grabowska - Hebdzynska says things have become more upbeat in the area and business has picked up particularly in the past week.

Of course, it is not just businesses that have started to welcome back the community.

Community activities resume

Mayfield GAA is among the many clubs which has started to recommence its activities.

The club’s PRO, Stephen Hackett, says there is a big interest from parents looking to sign their children up to the club, with a number of new members.

“To welcome them back through the gates and have the pitches open has been phenomenal. It’s been overwhelming, to be honest.”

He said that children, parents and coaches alike are delighted to be back.

“I couldn’t put a price on it — it’s been absolutely phenomenal to see the kids coming through the gates.”

'People are feeling positive again'

Church of Our Lady Crowned, Mayfield, Cork.
Church of Our Lady Crowned, Mayfield, Cork.

Churches have also started to welcome back parishioners after a 24-week closure, something which Mayfield parish priest Fr Charlie Kiely said has been greatly welcomed by many in the community.

The parish offered online masses during the pandemic, and Fr Kiely said as many as 20,000 people were watching services each week.

However, he said many missed being able to come into the physical building for mass.

“The church here is 60 years old next year. A lot of people in the community would have seen it being built, they would have paid for the building of it, they would have been married here..the people have great pride in the church here.”

He said that people in the community had experienced very difficult times over the past few months. In one week in January there were six funerals at the church.

“It was hard going and it really scared a lot of people when that second wave hit,” he said.

The parish priest said that people in the community are more hopeful now.

“They are looking forward to going back to normal again. People are feeling positive again now,” he said.

Cllr. Ted Tynan.
Cllr. Ted Tynan.

Local Workers Party representative, Cllr Ted Tynan said he too felt that there is more positivity in the community as society re-opens after a difficult number of months.

“I know of 17 people in the Mayfield area who passed away. The impact of that grieving on the family was aggravated by the lockdown,” he said.

He described how on a number of occasions neighbours came out from their homes to clap as the hearse passed.

“It brought people to tears and had a huge impact on the families travelling behind the hearse.”

Spring has brought with it a renewed sense of hope though.

“There is a spring in the step. People are beginning to feel like they can relax. The weather is helping too of course,” he said.

Hopes some changes will continue 

Cllr. Oliver Moran.
Cllr. Oliver Moran.

The past 14 months will undoubtedly remain etched in everyone’s mind for some time to come and local Green Party representative, Cllr Oliver Moran, said he hopes that some of the changes which came about as a result of the pandemic will continue.

“What Covid did was it put an awful lot of the emphasis on the local and the local shops become more important, the local parks became more important.”

The local councillor said the pandemic helped people remember places and things they’d forgotten about.

“I think as a country we’ve gotten through the last 12 months and at every step it has been a challenge and something new — no doubt there will be issues that come up as part of opening up, in the same way that we’ve gotten over the challenges of the last 12 months as they came, we’ll get over these as well.”

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