Cork people revelling in the great outdoors

With parks and walkways becoming hugely important during the ongoing pandemic, John Bohane looks at amenity developments around Cork.
Cork people revelling in the great outdoors

Blackrock Station and platform viewed from the Blackrock Road bridge. Pic; Larry Cummins.

Since Covid-19 hit and the world changed, people of all ages have been flocking to their nearest park to go for a leisurely walk or jog, meet up with friends, or simply to enjoy a change of scene during a time when we have spent so long in our homes.

Cork city boasts a plethora of beautiful parks, some of which have been upgraded in recent years, while there are ambitious plans for more developments.

Stephen Scully, who works in the Parks and Recreation Department of Cork City Council, said the council is very conscious of the importance of parks and walkways.

“Cork has been a designated World Health Organisation City since 2012. Our parks and amenities provide the arena for community cohesion, social inclusion, health, and wellbeing in the city. Access to high-quality parks and walkways contributes to good physical and mental health and an active lifestyle that helps to prevent many diseases.

“It also promotes health and wellbeing throughout the life cycle,” he said.

Mr Scully said Cork City Council is committed to providing high-quality recreational opportunities for residents and visitors to the city.

“One of our main goals, outlined in the Cork City Development Plan, is to have a well-planned sustainable city environment that is a desirable place to live and work. Our parks and walkways are an important contributor to, and underpin the quality of life offering of a successful city. During the lockdown restrictions, there was a heightened appreciation of the value of our local amenities. We experienced a huge increase in footfall across all our parks. The Regional Park in Ballincollig recorded nearly a million visits in 2020.

Grace and Ruairi O'Flynn were delighted to run around Cork's newest park, Marina Park in Ballintemple. When fully completed, Marina Park will be six times the size of Fitzgerald's Park. Picture: Michael O'Sullivan /OSM PHOTO
Grace and Ruairi O'Flynn were delighted to run around Cork's newest park, Marina Park in Ballintemple. When fully completed, Marina Park will be six times the size of Fitzgerald's Park. Picture: Michael O'Sullivan /OSM PHOTO

“We are committed to providing high-quality active and passive recreation opportunities for residents and visitors to the city. We are committed to maintaining existing provision to a high standard and planning for further development going forward,” he added.

Mr Scully said the city council is keen to increase biodiversity across Cork city as they strive to create amenities that protect the environment.

“Cork City Council has signed up to the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan and our parks operations are an integral part of increasing biodiversity across the city. The recent awarding of Green Flags for two of our parks is indicative of our approach. We hope to apply for further flags next year.”

One of the biggest upcoming projects will be the next phase of Marina Park.

Cork City Council said Marina Park has “two main functions”. It is designed to be an enjoyable amenity as well as serving as “a key climate adaptation intervention; acting as a flood storage basin for the south docklands during periods of pluvial flooding”.

Detailed design is underway on the next phase of Marina Park, which will see the development of another 60 acres of parkland from the Atlantic Pond to Blackrock pier, leading to the creation of a ‘regional eco park’.

This next phase will include ecological trails and resting points created through existing forested areas; managed wetlands, including reeds and water gardens; a woodland playground and meadowlands.

It will also contain a cultural heritage trail that will run through the park, including safe public access to the Barrington Folly, the old quay walls, and the slipway at Dundanion Castle.

 The Blackrock Road railway footbridge has been reinstated at the former station on the Blackrock to Passage Greenway, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
The Blackrock Road railway footbridge has been reinstated at the former station on the Blackrock to Passage Greenway, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

Public consultation on phase two of the project is due to take place next spring, with construction beginning the following autumn, subject to planning. Construction will likely take 15 months, with works scheduled for completion in winter 2023.

In the vicinity, work is also due to start next year on the upgrade of the Marina promenade, which will help integrate Marina Park, the upgraded Passage Railway Greenway with the Docklands, and Blackrock Village.

The upgraded promenade, which was pedestrianised in the past 18 months, will include public lighting, hard and soft landscaping, dedicated pedestrian and cycle spaces, repairs to the quay walls, new seating, and bike parking.

Works have also been underway since last spring on the upgrading of the nearby Blackrock-Passage Railway Greenway Phase 1 running from the Marina to Mahon. The Blackrock Station heritage footbridge has also been reinstated across the greenway.

In another initiative, work on regeneration plans for Bishop Lucey Park is due to commence in mid-2022.

Drinking water fountains are also to be installed early next year in a number of larger parks which include Regional Park Ballincollig, Tramore Valley Park, Bishopstown Park, Fitzgerald’s Park, and Gerry O’Sullivan Park.

This is part of a Healthy Ireland initiative to encourage park users to bring their refillable water bottles to the various parks.

Plans for renewed Grand Parade Quarter revealed. Bishop Lucey Park Grand Parade Street View
Plans for renewed Grand Parade Quarter revealed. Bishop Lucey Park Grand Parade Street View

Parks are proving especially popular for people keen to boost their fitness levels. Walkers, joggers, and cyclists love the natural and spacious environments parks provide, while outdoor gyms are also becoming very popular additions.

New outdoor gyms are scheduled to be installed at the Mahon Walkway, Bishopstown Park, The Lough, O’Sullivan Park, and John O’Callaghan Park next year. These will complement the existing outdoor gyms at Fairfield Park and Tramore Valley Park.

Disability swings which cost €24,000 each and are suitable for wheelchair users are also due to be installed in John O’Callaghan Park, Glanmire, Clashduv Park in Togher, and Ballinlough Park in 2022.

A significant amount of work has been carried out in a variety of parks throughout Cork city in recent months to cater to the growing demand from the public. These include Phase 1 in Marina Park. Phase 1 situated on the site of the former Munster Agricultural Showgrounds provides flood storage for the South Docklands.

Marina Park has a series of walkways, ornamental water features, a stream, a performance area, sunken lawns, and an iconic structure in the Central Plaza that is equipped for a café, toilets, and arts space.

In Half Moon Lane, a new pedestrian/cycleway was completed from the South Douglas Road to the Tramore Valley Park complementing the existing pedestrian access from Douglas village.

The River Martin Waterloo Walkway that extends from Blarney to Waterloo along the banks of the River Martin was fully surfaced last year.

The City Council also part-funded the recent Mill Pond Loopwalk during the year, in cooperation with the Waterloo Renewal Group.

The City Council also installed additional cycling racks in a number of the city parks to encourage sustainable travel to amenity areas. They also commenced upgrades to The Lough, Shalom Park, and Meelick Park playgrounds.

The City Council also completed the Glasheen River/School Boys Walk biodiversity plan and pathway upgrade works link between Glasheen Road and Magazine Road.

Planting is a very important aspect of the City Council’s programme to brighten up the various parks around the city. Pollinator planting is becoming increasingly popular and there are big plans to add additional areas next year.

Enhanced communities

The Parks Department has a number of areas set aside for pollinator planting in its parks, with further additional areas to be added in 2022. It also has an increasing number of wildflower meadows areas within parks and open spaces in line with the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan as a biodiversity measure.

The Parks and Recreation Department works with a large number of community bodies in Cork city who are committed to enhancing their local communities, amenities, and open spaces. These include organisations such as Tidy Districts groups, Community Associations, Cork Nature Network, Green Spaces for Health, Waterloo Renewal Group, Residents Associations, Ballyphehane/Togher CDP, and Trees Please.

Cork City Council has also just completed a scheme of winter floral bedding across the city and planted up nearly 70 tiered planters in the city centre area which will flower in the early months of next year. In the summer months, these will be planted with pollinator-friendly summer bedding.

The City Council has recently appointed a Tree Officer. As well as working with numerous community groups, the Tree Officer will also prepare a Draft Tree Strategy for the Council by early 2022.

Thirteen hundred trees were also planted at selected street and park locations during the year and over 200 trees will be planted in 2022. A number of parklets have been installed across the city during 2021 which proved a very successful venture. The parklets proved great additions to the many towns.

Parkruns are notable features of many parks at weekends, and Cork City Council supports parkruns in the Glen Amenity Park and at the Regional Park Ballincollig at 9.30am each Saturday morning. They also support a junior parkrun on Sunday morning at the Regional Park. The City Council hopes to reinstate the parkrun at Tramore Valley Park in 2022 and provide an additional junior parkrun in a city park.

The City Council has supported Bishopstown Orienteering Club in having orienteering courses in the Glen Amenity Park with additional courses to be in place in Gerry O’Sullivan Park, Tramore Valley Park, and Bishopstown Park in the early months of next year.

Allotments and gardens remain in high demand across Cork city and county. Cork City Council said it is conscious of their growing popularity and has supported the recent set up of community gardens at Bishopstown Park in association with Green Spaces for Health and Bishopstown Tidy Towns committee and also at Clashduv Park. They also supported the provision of community allotments at the Tannery Gardens.

Two parks Shalom and Fitzgerald’s Park were recently awarded Green Flag Awards for meeting the required standards in areas including environmental management, biodiversity, and horticultural standards.

Cork City Council said it is also conscious of the need to keep improving walkways. Significant work has been carried out on the Curraheen Walkway/Lee Fields walkway/cycleway from the Model Farm Road to the Lee Fields. This section was recently upgraded with new lighting and planting.

Work was also carried out in Ballybrack Woods, a wooded walkway in the heart of Douglas. It adjoins the Community Park and allows safe pedestrian/cyclist accessibility from adjoining estates into the heart of the village.

A walkway was also completed around the Fenn ecological area in ClogheenmiIcon Sanctuary Walkway in Blarney.

The work has enabled people to have sightings of deer on occasion throughout the past year.

The walkway was also upgraded this year in the River Martin Waterloo Walk which is a riverside walk in a woodland setting.

Green Party councillor Oliver Moran welcomed the city council’s many initiatives on establishing new parks and walkways but said his North East ward is in ‘dire need’ of more green areas and parks.

“It is great to see. However, in the North East ward it is a particular issue here that we want more parks. It has long been identified that in the northeast of the city we are probably the most underserved in the city especially in regards to larger parks but also smaller neighbourhood parks.

“There is not a substantial playground in the ward either. There are three or four relatively small playgrounds in the entire ward. That is something that really needs an investment.

“It is recognised that it is something of dire need in the Cork North East ward.”

Cllr Moran said many local community groups are creating their own community green spaces to keep up with the growing demand from local residents for more amenities.

“We are blessed here with the Glen River Park. During Covid, this park really came into its own. It is almost a sanctuary in the middle of the city with its nature and its biodiversity. It is accessible and can be used by people of all ages. We don’t have a large park here that would be comparable to Fitzgerald Park which people want. There is hope coming from the renaissance of Glen River Park and what the City Council is doing with Bell’s Field. Resident groups are tackling the issue themselves in the northeast. They are working hard in creating community green spaces which are great to see.”

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