PEOPLE with cars went to Crosshaven, Cork comedian and actor Niall Tóibín used to claim, “and the rest of us went to Murphy’s Rock”.
Tóibín was born in Friars Walk, but he grew up on the northside, where he learned his craft in the Cork Shakespearean Society, in the loft above Linehan’s sweet factory, under the shadow of Shandon, alongside Cork acting royalty such as Liam Ó Murchú and Joe Lynch.
You can see Shandon, and the North Cathedral, three miles or so away to the south, from the highest point of the field above Murphy’s Rock, and you can look from those northside landmarks, left to right, across to the Eir mast in Churchfield — the Church of the Resurrection being obscured by trees — and the reservoir at Knocknaheeny.
Joan Sutton, who lives locally and is part of the recently-formed Murphy’s Rock and Bride Valley Support Group, says you used to be able to see the eight-arch railway bridge at Kilnap from here too, but “it’s all overgrown now”.
It’s pretty windy up on the hill at this time of year and Joan says that on any dry day you’ll meet dozens, sometimes hundreds of people out catching the air or strolling down to the Glenamought River, a tributary of the Bride.
At the top of the hill, overlooking the valley, you can stand on the former foundations of an old Royal Irish Constabulary ammunition store and lookout post dating back more than a century.
There’s a lot of history here, and as far back as the 18th century, the river powered eight mills, with iron works, textile, corn, and flour mills, as well as the Glen Distillery, which was in operation for at least a century before JH Sugrue took it over in 1884.
Under Sugrue, the Glen Distillery produced high-quality whiskey which was distributed worldwide, and by 1890 the annual output was 60,000 gallons.
A corn mill was built in the early 1800s by the Murphy family, and the arched opening for the mill wheel can still be seen. The family’s memory lives on in the name Murphy’s Rock.
The Murphy’s Rock and Bride Valley Support Group is campaigning for the establishment of a regional park on a publicly- owned 200-plus-acre wetland site currently earmarked for partial development.
The late Niall Tóibín used to call the area around Murphy’s Rock “the riviera of Cork” and Joan Sutton wonders whether Tóibín knew that the fields where he sported and played as a child were once owned by the O’Flynn family, whose son Father Christy O’Flynn founded the Cork Shakespearean Society in 1926, three years before Tóibín was born.
The Murphy’s Rock wetlands, which are the source of the Glenamought River, have been a favourite beauty spot for generations of northsiders, and members of the Murphy’s Rock group have recently, and cautiously, welcomed a proposal to establish a park incorporating the local amenity, but have also sought assurances that no development will occur on a site which has been a green space for more than 30 years.
“It would be an absolute sin to build on this, the last real wilderness in the city,” she tells The Echo as we walk the uneven ground down to the Glenamought.
“We’re out here walking this land every day, the local people, and when I say local people, I mean people from all over the northside of the city and the surrounding areas.
“This belongs to all of us and developing it would destroy it, so why would you want to destroy something that makes us all richer?” She says her group has welcomed a recent amendment to the draft city development plan put forward by Green Party Councillor Oliver Moran, which would set out an objective to establish a park on the site.
However, she says, the group would need “cast-iron” reassurances that no development would take place on the land, which was previously owned by the Industrial Development Agency and is currently the property of the Land Development Agency (LDA).
“What we are calling for is a regional park which would take in the entire 200-plus-acre site and an absolute guarantee that no building will take place there,” she said.
Pauline Cudmore, who is secretary of the Murphy’s Rock group, says the area should be designated a Special Area of Conservation, as it is the habitat of thousands of species of animals and plants, many of them endangered.
“The area around Murphy’s Rock is home to kestrels, bats, rabbits, mice, foxes, buzzards, dippers, heron, squirrels, badgers, otters, stoats, trout, lamprey, not to mention innumerable types of lichen,” she says.
“The Glenamought River is a tributary of the Bride and it is absolutely pristine, and it should be remembered that our streams are the lifeblood of our local environment,” she says, picking up on a phrase Joan Sutton has used to describe Murphy’s Rock.
“It really is the last wilderness left in Cork City,” she stresses, “and we simply cannot afford to lose it”.
Joan says any development of the Murphy’s Rock site would be “a betrayal of the environment” and of the people who have appreciated it for generations.
“Any development on the site would have a catastrophic environmental effect on what is an outstanding area of natural beauty and, as Pauline says, the habitat of a number of protected species,” says Joan.
She says the group is planning to meet with the LDA in the coming weeks to discuss concerns about the future of the amenity.
Last month, Green Party City Councillor Mr Moran told The Echo that he had proposed a late-stage amendment to the draft city development plan and it was agreed by councillors.
“Agreement has been reached on the wording of an objective to put in place a new Glenamought River Valley Park, and the proposed new park will form a linear wildlife corridor and riverside amenity, encompassing Murphy’s Rock near Dublin Hill,” said Mr Moran.
“The plan will state that development in this area will need to safeguard access to the riverside, protect biodiversity, and preserve this ecological and visually-sensitive asset.
“Consideration will also have to be given to the historic, cultural, and social landmarks of the area,” he said.
Joan says she is hopeful that Cork City Council will take seriously calls to establish a regional park at Murphy’s Rock, but, she says, she and her group are taking nothing for granted.
“This is a beautiful amenity,” she says, “and we are willing to fight to save it”.