An iconic West Cork landmark is for the chop. Local Deirdre Crowley has penned an ode to it
My favourite thing about Bandon is the river. It has always been my favourite thing about the town. Of course, I love the buildings too – the Town Hall, the Courthouse, the churches elevated high near God, near the sky.
I love the streets in their colourful quirkiness. The hilliness of some parts and the flatness of others. But it is the river that gives the place a life, a music of its own, a unique energy that is ever changing and unpredictable. It sings many a song, soft and loud.
From the footbridge, the river can look beautiful – gentle, elegant, weaving its way along on a summer’s day, it glistens.
At other times and we have seen it, it can be violent, aggressive, raging with a madness that can and has destroyed so much in the past. It has witnessed many a sad happening too, sad indeed. Like every place, it has its stories.
From the old rusty footbridge we get to see some heartwarming sunrises, or the most beautiful sunsets. Moonlit at night, it can seem magical too.
Spectacular moments that are free to see in every season. In summer or in winter, the view from the footbridge is a delight. In all my travels, it still has the power to excite and charm. I cherish that view. We can witness a world within a world, nature at its best and worst. Sometimes we are joined by the proud heron, surveyor of all. And, of course, there is all the other river life that makes it exciting.
Some of the best-fed birds in Ireland live in Bandon. Word got out a while ago that there is a healthy supply of all kinds of treats – some good and some not so good – for the ducks, crows and seagulls of the town. They congregate in the water around the footbridge, eyeing anyone who cares to stop and look at them for a while.
Then, once they are certain that the person looks like a ‘feeder’, they start to swoop and squawk. Sometimes, with terrifying enthusiasm, they scramble for their share, but usually delight a toddler in a pram or a small-faced child who has learned to share her bread with others.
As a child I was always afraid that the spindly steel construction would collapse under me. I feared the skinny legs that held the bridge up couldn’t possibly be enough to hold me too.
Sometimes I thought I saw it sway in the wind on a windy day. I would rush and run from one end of the footbridge to the other, hoping it wouldn’t crumble under my little feet, relieved and always surprised when I got to the other side intact.
Sometimes I held my breath the whole way across in case I landed in water and I would have to swim.
I don’t know when I stopped believing the footbridge would break, maybe I was in my twenties. I loved that all the new generation of children in our family had no such fears. Their biggest delight was throwing tiny bits of bread into the black and blue water to see which bird would get them first. My fear for them was that their little bodies might slip through the bars of the bridge and that they might end up in the water. But fears are short lived in comparison to joy. And joy is what the footbridge offered me on so many days.
The footbridge has felt many a pair of feet tramp back and forth on its back. It has stood proud and tall through good and bad times. It has accommodated little feet, big feet, new feet and old feet. It has carried bicycles, wheelchairs, prams, skateboards, rollerblade, old Bandonians, new Bandonians, tourists and travellers, visitors from far and near.
It has been painted over and over again, all the careful hands from generations who made it look beautiful, layers of paint from every decade.
Flaky and crusty, made shiny and new, year after year. It has been decorated with bunting for Eucharistic processions through the town, festooned with the green, white and gold for St Patrick’s Day. And at Christmas, lit up with hopeful lights, that anticipate the arrival of not just Santa Claus.
It has witnessed so many comings and goings, it has carried so many happy hearts and broken hearts. If it had a voice the stories it could tell would keep you enthralled. It has been there with us for so long. But now it has to go to make way for something new. And because of that I have to say just a few words of gratitude.
I salute you, old footbridge. I thank you for all the years you carried me from one side to the other, for all the happy encounters and sights I witnessed from you. I thank you for keeping me safe, and for not letting me down, even when times were tough.
And yes, I am sad to see you go, but don’t forget, even though we may never have said it out loud, you have been loved my many. Thank you … and goodbye.