Cobh will soon have one bank left: That’s some withdrawal...

There were three banks in my home town of Cobh once upon a time,  soon there will be just one, so says Trevor Laffan
Cobh will soon have one bank left: That’s some withdrawal...

The Munster & Leinster Bank building on South Mall in Cork in 1967. Bank branch numbers have dwindled in recent years

I HAVE no interest in banking. My mother often said I was useless with money and I didn’t know how to mind it. She was right and I’ve always thought it’s important to recognise your limitations, so with that in mind, I absolved myself of all financial responsibility.

My wife assumed control of our finances the day we got married. Just as well she did too because we would be a lot worse off today only for her.

If I need money for anything, I just make an application to her and if she approves it, a lodgement is made in my wallet. She charges me interest at 65%, which she says is perfectly normal, so that’s fair enough.

She must know what she’s talking about because she even understands online banking, and it’s a good job too because physical banks are becoming harder to find.

They keep closing and moving around. That doesn’t bother me because the only time I present myself at a bank is when my signature is required for something, but it’s a different story for those who aren’t handy with internet banking, and I would imagine that’s a sizeable group.

There were three banks in my home town of Cobh once upon a time, A.I.B, Bank of Ireland and PTSB. We have been dealing with the PTSB since we got married but now it’s in a virtual way because they closed their doors in Cobh in 2012 and moved to Midleton. But, as my financial controller is useful with her laptop, it isn’t a big issue for us.

The Cobh branch of the Bank of Ireland is also about to close its doors and that’s not going down too well with some of the locals who are questioning the decision. 

The bank says the branches closing are predominately self-service locations that do not offer a counter service. Cork will lose nine branches altogether, one more than Dublin, and the most of any county in Ireland.

During the pandemic, Cobh has been quiet like all other towns, but during a normal summer this place would be heaving with tourists. The cruise liners alone would be filling the town with visitors, in addition to an existing population of over 12,000. With only the Allied Irish Bank left, it remains to be seen how they will cope when normal life resumes.

The AIB, formerly the Munster and Leinster for those with good memories, has been a part of Cobh for as long as I can remember, and they haven’t always had an easy time of it.

In August, 1972, two men, one armed with an automatic pistol and the other with a flick knife, held up the Cobh branch of the Allied Irish Bank, and got away with about £7,000 in cash and some unsigned traveller’s cheques.

Val Dorgan, writing for the then Cork Examiner, told how the bank staff and one customer suddenly found themselves confronted by an aggressive gunman and his companion, who produced a knife with a five-inch blade. The manager and staff were locked in the strong- room by the gunman, who explained to them in a northern accent that it was for a good cause.

Some of the staff were hysterical and feared they might suffocate, and because of their pleading the robbers closed the grille door of the strong- room but left the main door open. 

The manager opened that door by unscrewing a panel of the lock and immediately raised the alarm, but by then, the robbers had a 20-minute head start.

A massive manhunt went on over the following few days, with gardaí working alongside armed soldiers, and searches were carried out all over the island. Matters came to a head in O’Keeffe’s Wood on the outskirts of the town, when two men sought by the gardaí eventually broke cover after a search dog got close to them and they were taken into custody.

A few years later, in 1979, the AIB became a target again. Margaret Fennelly, the wife of the then manager, Billy Fennelly, was kidnapped from her home in Rushbrooke, just outside the town of Cobh. She was at the oven, doing some baking, and when she turned around, she found a man standing there, pointing a gun at her.

The gunman told her he was taking her as a hostage in exchange for £60,000. He tied her up, wrapped her in a duvet and placed her in the boot of his car. Her husband Billy was contacted by the kidnappers who demanded £60,000 for her release. The caller said she would be killed if the gardaí were alerted.

Fennelly ignored that warning and immediately raised the alarm. Gardaí mounted a massive operation with all available detectives in Cork city and county, backed by uniformed gardaí, called into action. Acting on instructions from the kidnappers, the manager collected the money and drove to a hotel in Mitchelstown and waited there for further instructions.

At the same time, two gardaí were on patrol in Cahir when they spotted a Mark 4 Cortina parked on a side road in a secluded area. It looked out of place, so they decided to investigate further. As they approached the car, they heard a muffled sound coming from the boot. They forced it open and discovered Margaret Fennelly tied up in a duvet and covered by blankets. She was in a shocked state but apart from that was safe and well. The whole ordeal lasted five hours and nobody has ever been brought to justice for the crime.

Thankfully, stories like this are rare now, and as we move closer to a cashless society, physical banks are becoming more irrelevant, which is making life difficult for robbers. Simply trying to find one is hard enough for them.

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