UP the village! is a long standing mantra in Ballincollig town that speaks volumes about the close-knit community that has been steadily growing in recent years.
It is this spirit that has brought the people of Ballincollig through thick and thin of the Covid pandemic and, with the vaccine programme well underway and many older members of the society returning to the public sphere, there is a feeling of hope and optimism swirling the streets of the up and coming suburb.
Looking ahead to the summer months, chairperson of the Ballincollig Business Association Emer Cassidy said local businesses had been very resilient and were giving the reopening everything they had.
“They are looking forward optimistically, taking the positives and feeling the excitement build from the vaccination programme.”
For the local community, Emer said it was the little things that were lifting moods.
“Getting a haircut or visiting the shops is just such a delightful experience at the moment, everyone just wants to be out and about.”
Benny McCabe opened Arty’s Bar in Barrack Square, Ballincollig just months before the pandemic began. He said Ballincollig is a very positive place and he is looking forward to the summer ahead.
“We opened in November 2019, we got to Cheltenham week and then we had to close.”
The publican, who owns a number of well known pubs in the city, said it was a pity they had such a short introduction to the town, but said he and his staff had been given an amazing welcome by the locals.
“It’s a nice place to be and the welcome we got was like something I have never seen before.”
Getting creative and innovative in line with the pandemic and the Covid-19 restrictions, Mr McCabe installed a full kitchen on the premises of Arty’s Bar and got to work feeding the locals with a full menu from burgers to sandwiches and a multitude of hot snacks for choice alongside a drinks selection of hot ports to hot chocolates and cocktails and artisan brewery beer.
“We are buzzing to get back open fully,” he said.
“We have been operating from a hatch, but the Irish pub is an institution and there is nothing like sitting down with a creamy pint in front of you.”
The publican said he had high hopes for his Ballincollig bar.
“It has a lot of potential. Please God it will be a memorable summer for all.”
One good thing that came out of the pandemic, if such a phrase can be tolerated, is an app that hopes to enhance the enjoyment of the extremely popular Regional Park.
Born of pandemic boredom and inspired by the multitude of visitors that descended upon the amenity area over the past 14 months, local man, David Haskett, set about creating an interactive information app that would help people learn about the history and heritage of the park and the Gunpowder Mills that are within it.
The Ballincollig Gunpowder Mills commenced operation in 1794 and production ceased in 1903. Ballincollig Royal Gunpowder Mills was one of three Royal gunpowder mills that manufactured gunpowder for the British government.
The Ballincollig Powdermills is Ireland’s largest industrial archaeological site, spread across 130 acres in the beautiful River Lee valley.
“The park is within my 2km radius,” David explained. “So when the first restrictions were implemented it was still somewhere I could go to.”
David said he and his wife and son explored the whole park, going down every pathway and trail, and realised there was a lot more to the amenity than they originally thought.
The local man said he wanted to make the history of the park more accessible and realised an app was the way to do that.
After putting out a call on social media, David was able to put together a team of 25 people who wanted to help make his idea a reality.
“We had historians, architects, solicitors, developers, a photographer, a vast array of people who saw merit in the idea and wanted to be involved.”
The team would meet every Monday via an online format to discuss the project and move it forward.
David said he also appreciated the investment from the council, in terms of time and resources, to enhance the park.
“I made a presentation to the council and they agreed to erect signs with information and QR codes that could be scanned by the app, to bring the user additional information on the building they are viewing.”
Mr Haskett also said the council had cleared a lot of the overgrowth around the heritage buildings making them more visible to park users.
In terms of the importance of the park, during pandemic times, David said there were a multitude of reasons why people were flocking to the amenity in droves.
“It is a wide open space with woods, wildlife, river, a playground, pitches, and heritage buildings. It appeals to the fitness fanatic, those with an interest in nature or history, there is something for everyone.”
David said creating the app with other volunteers also built a community of like-minded souls which has helped him to get through the lockdowns.
“We meet once a week online, the banter is good. We didn’t know each other before and now we have a WhatsApp group and we are constantly communicating. It’s interesting.”
David said he was delighted with what the team had achieved but said the real swell of pride would come from seeing people use his app.
“I’ll be very proud to be walking through the park some day and see a family using the app to enhance their own visit, that is something I am looking forward to.”
With a population of over 18,000 people, Ballincollig has seen huge growth in recent years, but to many, the town is still known as The Village due to the close knit community that has been invaluable throughout these trying times.
Speaking about the heart of the town, local councillor Derry Canty said local volunteer organisations went above and beyond to look out for those who needed help over the past 14 months.
“It is great to see the community coming together. Some people were very down and out due to the restrictions and the isolation, they weren’t used to it, but thankfully, in the last few weeks, you can see elderly people out and about more. You see a lot of people with a smile on their face after getting the vaccine.”
Derry said everyone took great joy in seeing the town reopen.
“People are delighted to get out of the house again.”
Despite the renewed zest for life, Derry said that some people would be worried about the ongoing health crisis and it would take some time for them to relax and return to normality.
The local councillor also said the Regional Park had been a godsend to locals.
“The park was packed, morning, noon and evening. It’s a great change of scenery and it’s fantastic to be out in the fresh air.”
A stalwart park frequenter is Margaret Long of Cafe Chico. The original coffee stop at the park celebrated a decade of suplying sweet treats and caffeinated drinks at the amenity site in the midst of the trials of the last year.
“The park has become a sanctuary for people’s mental health, an oasis of serenity in stressful times,” she said.
“It was one of the only places to enjoy a coffee and sit outdoors safely.”
Cafe Chico was shut from March to May in 2020 in line with Government guidelines but said they were flat out for the months they were open, with a long line of customers from morning to evening.
“I feel privileged to have been able to provide the service that I have been offering in these difficult times. People really needed the treat of getting out and socialising while getting a coffee. It was very important to people.”
Margaret said from walkers, to dog walkers, parents with children, and the work from home crew, there was always a crowd at the park over the past 14 months.
“There is all kinds of everyone.”
Margaret said she felt the mood was lifting a little in recent weeks with the vaccination programme underway and said familiar faces that she hadn’t seen in many months were finally returning.
“People have more confidence, there is a freedom in the vaccine, people feel safer.”
Margaret said she thought people were becoming more resilient to the weather, popping out for a walk even in the wind and the rain.
“They say there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes and I think more people are investing in good waterproofs!”
Another element of Ballincollig enjoying a pep in their step is the sporting community, which, like a number of other organisations, have been tentatively returning to training.
Ballincollig GAA club chairperson Brendan Murphy said the past 14 months had been very challenging for the club.
“It is great to be back at it.”
The club, which boasts 1,500 members, is a focal point of the community, according to Brendan.
“Everyone is extremely excited to come back, particularly the younger teams. It is great to meet old friends after so long.”
Brendan said there was a great appetite among the players for the season ahead, in terms of the league and championship.
“It’s been a long winter for everyone, most of the players have been training away themselves are in good shape. I think it will be an interesting season.”