The annual Mayor’s Community Awards celebrate and acknowledge the volunteers and communities that work tirelessly throughout the county. Now in its eighth year, it shines a well-deserved spotlight on groups and individuals bettering West Cork. Emma Connolly profiles this year’s winners and worthy nominees
Individual award: Donal McCarthy, Clonakilty Show
SECRETARY of Clonakilty Agricultural Show for the past 30 years, Donal McCarthy is in fact described as ‘Clonakilty Show’ such is the involvement, commitment, energy and drive he has devoted to the event over the past three decades.
Donal from Ballinard, Ballineen was the worthy West Cork individual winner at the recent annual Mayor’s Community Awards and it’s not hard to see why.
Chairman of the show society, John O’Mahony credited Donal with making the event the success it is today. Due to retire this month, John said he’ll be a very hard act to follow.
As well as the show, Donal has been involved in various other organisations that promoted rural life in West Cork over the past 40 years. That included Clon Macra na Feirme for 10 years, where he served in various roles.
As well as organising 28 shows, he also played a key role in setting up the teenage disco The Boiler Room/The Hideout in 1994 and the development of the showgrounds as a sports track and Parkrun venue. ‘The showgrounds was one of the first Parkruns in Ireland which was funded by West Cork Leader Co-op by €150,000,’ he said.
Donal, who works in the advisory office in Clonakilty Agricultural College, was helped in organising the show by his wife Kate, and daughters Mary Anne, Catherine and Clare, making it a real family effort.
‘We all pitched in, and we enjoyed it. My passion is organising and I was given great freedom to experiment with different ideas so we were always keeping an eye out for something new and keeping the mind focussed on the future.’
Donal is credited with changing the image of the show from a farming event to a family affair by introducing food, music and entertainment to the day, and increasing footfall massively as a result.
Donal was nominated by FG Cllr John O’Sullivan who described him as a very worthy winner.
With no show last year, and none this year, Donal said now was an obvious time for him to take his leave, and he’s looking forward to devoting more time to his garden, and having more free time in general.
But his loss will be immense to the Clon show committee and John O’Mahony said he’ll sorely miss his ‘great comrade.’
‘Once one show was over, he was already thinking about the next.
‘He was a hugely pioneering figure. We took great guidance from him and will miss him terribly,’ he said.
Community Award: Skibbereen Geriatric Society
DESPITE the challenges posed by the pandemic over the past year, Skibbereen Geriatric Society not only maintained its core services, but is also looking to expand.
Set up in 1971, this its 50th anniversary which it intends to mark with the publication of a book in September, and the unveiling of a plaque at the base in Cara House, subject to Covid regulations.
There’s also an expansion planned for their kitchen, where 80-100 meals are prepared a day, six days a week, and delivered to people in the region (Skibbereen, Lisheen, Caheragh, Castlehaven and Baltimore) by the rota of 20 volunteer drivers.
Chairperson Linda Shannon, vice-chair Michael Dwyer and Aine Minihane, manager of the luncheon club, as well as all officers and committee members, staff and drivers, are all delighted with the mayor’s award, which they say is valued recognition after the efforts of the past 12 months.
Covid restrictions meant the luncheon club had to be closed, but vital contact was still maintained with the 50 older adults who would otherwise be in the centre through daily phone calls by Aine. For many of them, this would be their only contact with another person that day.
‘The past year has been a real community effort, everyone got behind us, and we’re delighted this has been acknowledged with the award,’ said Aine.
Linda agreed and said it was a great honour after a challenging year, and that they’re very much looking forward to their September celebrations.
Nominated by FG Cllr Karen Coakley, she said the Geriatric Society is the centre of involvement for older people in Skibbereen and its environs. Regular contact is made with vulnerable people to make sure they are okay.
‘The staff (mostly voluntary) go above and beyond what is expected of them. ‘If a message or a vital prescription is needed, they organise to collect and deliver. They are a reassurance for the most vulnerable older members of our community. Quite often an older person living alone sees nobody other than the volunteer delivering their hot meal. The Geriatric Society has responded by going above and beyond to provide support, assistance and has been the vital lifeline for many people, it has made an outstanding contribution to the area during this pandemic. This award and recognition from the mayor has given everyone a lift, it is great to see the hard work and dedication of such an amazing team being recognised.’
Community award: Fastnet Trails
WITH many people walking their way through the pandemic, the value of initiatives like the Fastnet Trails has become clearer than ever.
Set up in 2015, the system of long and short walk trails on the Mizen Peninsula was a Community Group winner at the Mayor’s Awards.
The brainchild for the project came from Brigid O’Brien, Lisheen back in 2012. She approached the Ballydehob and Aughadown community councils and the rest, as they say, is history.
Secretary Eugene McSweeney explains how their vision was to open up the Mizen Peninsula for walkers with a mix of trails registered with Sport Ireland Outdoors, to suit individuals, families and enthusiasts.
And what they’ve achieved in a few short years, in conjunction with Aughadown, Goleen, Ballydehob and Schull Community Councils, is incredible, currently boasting 20 trails, totalling 150km.
‘We’ve recently got an ORIS grant for €19,500 through our local rural recreation officer Patricia Bevan of WCDP, which we’re using to develop three more walks west of Goleen, which will bring us to 23 walks and 200km in total by the end of the year,’ said Eugene.
Some routes are off road but many take in the back roads along Roaringwater Bay with the Fastnet Lighthouse as a backdrop, hence the brand name of Fastnet Trails.
As well as identifying and posting walks, the voluntary group post information about the area’s history and heritage along routes.
Eugene explains that on one walk alone, the Rossbrin Loop, walkers will pass two 19th century copper mines, and come close to Rossbrin castle.
A retired secondary school teacher himself, he said most of their committee members are volunteers and retirees, keen to give back their time, expertise and skills to their community.
Members include, to the East: Eugene and his wife Margaret (manages Facebook page), Brigid O’Brien, Teresa Hickey, Fachtna Whooley, Ian and Deirdre Hardy (founder members); Schull: Tom McCarthy and Denis Quinlan; Goleen: Tommy Jermyn, Chris Sanders, Elizabeth Savage and Dan Allen.
‘We’ve had great help from land owners, Cork County Council, local community councils and their scheme workers, and the Gwendoline Harold Barry Trust in Skibbereen,’ he said.
Social Democrat Cllr Ross O’Connell nominated the group for their work from Kilcoe right out to Goleen at the end of the peninsula.
‘The group has led the way to the creation of excellent walking and hiking trails in this area, something that this peninsula had previously been lacking. Not only have these trails been welcomed by tourists to our area, but also by us local residents, particularly during the recent successive lockdowns.
‘They have provided us with places to exercise safely within our 5km, with views that are second to none nationwide.’
Nominee: Darren Kelly, Dunmanway physiotherapist
Like many others, Darren Kelly had to close his physiotherapy business in Dunmanway at the outset of the pandemic. But he didn’t rest on his laurels, and used the following months to mobilise other like-minded people in his community to help those cocooning.
‘I got in contact with Doheny GAA, who I play with, to see if we could organise our services locally to help with shopping, fuel etc. After a quick chat with the club’s Daniel O’Donovan and Mairead Mawe we put the word out that we were looking for volunteers and very quickly we realised there were a lot of people willing to help. The local Meals on Wheels service contacted me regarding relief drivers, and I put this to our volunteer WhatsApp group who quickly answered the call. Within days we had learned all the routes and had taken over for the drivers until July,’ he said.
Last April, Declan also spearheaded a hugely successful virtual fundraiser.
‘The idea was put together with the help of Daniel and Mairead again, and Declan O’Dwyer. We made up two teams between the Doheny Ladies and Men’s Clubs and raced over three days virtually from Mizen Head to Malin Head, and back.
‘It was really good to see so many people running and walking around the town over the three days. We raised over €12,000 and split the money between Pieta House and Dunmanway Hospital.’
Nominee: Bantry Tidy Towns Painting Group
A four-person team comprising Majella McCarthy, Debbie Delaney, Deirdre Fitzgerald and Annette Sullivan make up Bantry’s Tidy Towns Painting Group and their work is regarded as being instrumental in helping to transform the look of the town and surrounds.
Chairman of the Tidy Towns Michael Healy said: ‘They take on their various painting jobs with no fuss, they have a real desire to get the job done and move on to the next job while having great fun as they work. They are a joy to work with and bring that great air of positivity and work ethic to the task at hand.Bantry is very lucky to have this team working on behalf of the town.’
Some examples of the work they carried out recently include repainting the cemetery wall at The Abbey, which hadn’t been done for three years and was unsightly on a main approach road. They have linked in with Murnane & O’Shea to paint a wall in Newtown, on another approach road to town.
Michael added: ‘Their work is a major contributor to how the town looks and their ongoing work improves the town significantly year on year.’
Nominee: Deirdre Fitzgerald, Bantry Project Group
Bantry Project Group was set up in 2017 to provide a way for different groups to work collectively for the betterment of the town. The group comprises Bantry’s Business Association, Chamber, Tidy Towns, Development and Tourism, West Cork Development Partnership and local councillors. Deirdre Fitzgerald was nominated as its volunteer chairperson in 2017 and has remained in this position to date. She explained: ‘We work collectively reviewing projects for Bantry, discussing same and collectively source funding to progress agreed projects for the town. It has provided a really positive forum for us in Bantry. To date the group has delivered on many enhancements to the town, with many more planned for 2021/2022. The groups have all worked so hard to improve our town and this nomination was reflective of the collective approach of our work to date. To get this recognition for my years of voluntary work was greatly appreciated.
‘In Bantry, there are so many super groups and individuals volunteering over many years and this has helped to build a great sense of community in our lovely town.’
Nominee: Dunmanway Meals on Wheels
Dunmanway’s Meals on Wheels rose to the challenge of the past year in a magnificent way.
So said Rita Kearney, project co-ordinator of the Family Resource Centre, where the service is based, who has outlined their ambitious plans to expand.
‘We deliver 60-70 meals to older people throughout the community; that takes in Dunmanway town, east to Ballineen, west to Drinagh and Drimoleague,’ she said.
The team comprises 25 volunteer drivers along with a new catering manager, two assistants and an administrator.
‘Our plan now is to also provide meals to families and on a short term basis to people who have just been discharged from hospital,’ said Rita. ‘Great credit is due to our entire team who all pulled together and showed great courage and determination over what was a psychologically challenging year. I’m very proud.’
Nominee: Niamh O’Connell, Kinsale Covid Volunteer Group
THE community response to helping those cocooning in Kinsale was unbelievable, according to Niamh O’Connell, of Kinsale’s Covid-19 Volunteer Group. Starting out by compiling a list of volunteers to help the over 70s, the response snowballed to distributing weekly care packages (an idea by Teddy and Fiona Dyer of Footloose). Donations of €500 came from Eli Lily and €1,000 from retired builder Teddy O’Brien. Restaurant owners supplied meals, while volunteer Alan Clayton set up a GoFundMe page. ‘In total we raised over €11,000 between the GoFundMe (over €6,000) and donations (over €5,000). We used over €4,000 towards the care packs. We had a surplus of €6,500. At Christmas we made two donations of €2,000 and €500 to Meals on Wheels and €2,000 to Lions Food Appeal. There’s still €2,000 in reserve to donate,’ said Niamh.