THE great historian, Professor John A Murphy, was a proud Macrompian - the living embodiment of that old saying that Macroom is a town that never reared a fool (or knave, I think is the more accurate version of the quote).
That pride was encoded in his DNA, handed down from his father, Thade.
John A, who was awarded the Freedom of Macroom in 2006 - joining an elite band of just three - once wrote that, to his father: “Macroom was the finest town in Ireland (hadn’t he seen inferior specimens during his footballing travels?), its square the grandest (better than Bantry’s, even before it became cluttered) and the view of the Sullane upstream from the Old Bridge unsurpassable.”
Growing up, John A was of the view that West Cork “began geographically at the top of Pound Lane” in the town.
But, in his long lifetime, this gateway town to West Cork became ever more choked up by traffic - cars, lorries and buses en route to and from Cork city and up the country, heading to and from some of the most scenic spots in the country, in West Cork and Kerry.
Locals know that to venture into Macroom at anything like a busy hour risks being stuck in crawling traffic, sometimes stretching several miles either side of the town.
At these times, it is hard to believe that it is “the finest town in Ireland”. Indeed, there is a section of footpath in Macroom that is less than 12 inches wide, beside which lorries thunder along - when they are not standing still belching out fumes.
It’s plain crazy that, in 2022, thousands of motorists an hour risk being held up every time Mrs Murphy wants to use the pedestrian crossing to walk from Supervalu to the town square - but that has been the reality.
For decades, Macroom has looked on enviously while other major towns on main road routes were bypassed, and given a new lease of life. Now, finally, their own day is about to come, presenting an opportunity for it to reclaim its unofficial crown as “the finest town in Ireland”. Will it take it?
On the twenty-eighth day of November
The Tans left the town of Macroom.
That lyric from the song The Boys Of Kilmichael is so famous, it even appeared as a Holly Bough Diffney Quiz question a few years back!
Well, it will be on the 27th day of November - tomorrow week - when the new Macroom Bypass will have the first of its launches, when a group of runners will leave the town of Macroom.
Local athletes from the West Muskerry Athletic Club have organised an event along the freshly-laid new road ahead of its opening - in the form of a family fun 5km walk and run and, for the hardier athletes, a 10-mile run.
The 8km stretch of new road around Macroom will then open to traffic for the first time on December 9 - the Eastern section of the bypass linking Coolcower to Carrigaphooca.
The entire 22km €300million stretch of new N22 will be totally open by the end of 2023.
As local Fianna Fáil TD, Aindreas Moynihan said: “It gives an opportunity for Macroom now to look forward, identify its own niche, and attract people and give a new future to the town.
“Kinsale is known as a foodie town and Macroom can now identify its niche and promote the area much wider.
“Whether it’s in tourism or another area, Macroom now has a chance to go after its niche and to be known much wider, and I think that’s a big challenge ahead of Macroom now, to really get the full value out of the bypass.”
He is right in that, although this is a time of celebration for Macroom, it is not a time for it to rest on its laurels. The bypass cannot be seen as the endgame for the town, but as the catalyst for reinvention.
The question is, how can Macroom take full advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reinvent itself?
I live five miles from Macroom, and it is my go-to place for shopping, takeaways, the library, haircuts, the playground, and even the odd pint if I can find a designated driver!
Therein lies the first problem that arises in planning Macroom’s future. Public transport - ie, buses - are infrequent, forcing all visitors to drive in. Taxis, too, can be hit-and-miss - far from ideal if you fancy a night out.
Now the town’s main streets will be quieter, there is an argument for introducing a 30k/mh limit and a few speed bumps, and also installing a cycle lane.
There is great potential in the town, but little enough in the way of current attractions for locals and passing tourists.
There is a lovely fairy park for smallies, and the castle itself is striking - but more could be done to highlight Macroom’s heritage - which dates back to the 6th century and includes significant Cromwellian and War of Independence events.
There is a fine park and path along the Sullane, which is a well-kept secret. The area also has a fine golf course and a thriving GAA scene.
Like many towns, there is an issue with derelict houses and businesses along the main drag - at a time of a housing emergency, I don’t need to say any more about how ludicrous that is.
Suffice to say that with Macroom soon to be just half an hour’s drive from both Cork city and Killarney, it is about to become even more of a desirable place to live.
Oh, and this may sound an outlandish suggestion, but couldn’t we ban all bookies from trading in town centres?! They add nothing to a place.
However, there is a fine blend of old and new businesses in Macroom - Pickled Cafe in the square is a good example of the former, while McSweeney’s shop has been trading since 1940.
The main issue for Macroom has been a lack of a suitable arts venue ever since The Briery Gap burned down in 2016. The pandemic didn’t help, but work is now ongoing to redevelop and reopen it as a cultural hub - a 217-seat theatre and library - next summer.
There are also plans afoot to turn the long-abandoned Church of Ireland church into an event centre
It will be great to offer local cultural alternatives to the city, and my one hope is that these new venues don’t just cater for the older populace, but run regular events for local teenagers, who have very few places where they can congregate and socialise.
That natural wonder, The Gearagh, is right on Macroom’s doorstep, and you feel this is an under-appreciated resource the town could tap into in the future.
There is plenty there for local representatives and tourism bodies to work with.
The aim is simple: To transform Macroom from a town you drive through, to a place you want to drive (or cycle, or catch a bus) towards. Can they achieve it?