THERE may be no public access to one of the country’s most iconic beaches this summer – as a direct result of climate change.
Hugely popular Barleycove beach – one of Ireland’s most photographed – is accessed by a floating pontoon that was severely damaged in freak gusts last week – just days after the expensive walkway was installed for the summer.
It’s understood Cork County Council is currently pricing parts for the pontoon, but at time of going to press, was unable to say if it would be installed before the busy summer season. A powerful and unseasonal tidal surge flipped and battered the pontoon in Barleycove on a sunny day in May – one of a number of unpredicted events that are becoming more common due to climate change.
The damage caused to the pontoon was witnessed last Tuesday by Social Democrat Cllr Ross O’Connell.
Ironically, it was the day before the World Meteorological Organisation issued a statement explaining how extreme weather events have led to hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses, wreaking a heavy toll on human lives, and triggering shocks for food and water security.
Last year alone, Met Éireann reported five extreme weather events in Ireland, but the incident in Barleycove occurred on a day when there wasn’t any weather warning – not even a wind warning.
‘There was a big low pressure system off the south west coast which probably caused the swell,’ said Cllr O’Connell, who videoed the high rolling waves.
‘The waves that were coming in were huge,’ he said, ‘and the pontoon just flipped. It was an extremely strong tidal surge. The flooding was unbelievably rapid.
‘We get a big swell down here every winter,’ he added, ‘but it was unusual to see it in May, when there wasn’t any great wind, and no storm – and the sun was actually out.’
Another local Cllr Caroline Cronin (FG) pointed out that the pontoon had been installed just the week before for the summer season.
She said the contractor confirmed to her that there has been ‘significant damage’ done to the pontoon due to successive storms.
‘The pontoon has been a fantastic asset to our beautiful beach and without it we might lose our Blue Flag status,’ warned the councillor.
She maintained the time has come to consider a better solution to secure safe access to Barleycove beach all year around.
The only other safe access currently is through the neighbouring hotel’s private car park.
Cllr Cronin said a more permanent structure is needed to allow people walk from the carpark to the beach all year round.
One possible solution, she suggested, would be to move the crossing further north and change the angle of the bridge to suit the prevailing wind and swell direction.
‘This would have minimal impact on the environment, and could be in place for the busy summer months ahead,’ she said.
The Southern Star asked the Council if the pontoon is to be repaired or replaced but the Council has yet to issue a statement.
‘It would be a disaster locally if the pontoon is not re-installed,’ said Cllr O’Connell, ‘as the parking on the hotel side is not sufficient to cope with the numbers of people visiting the beach in summer, nor is it a public car park.’
He said he had spoken with the Council’s municipal district officer who said the Council is getting prices for the parts and a timeline for getting them delivered.
One local told The Southern Star: ‘If they don’t get this sorted soon, the road to Mizen [Head] will be a disaster this summer, with people using it to get to the beach through the hotel. It wouldn’t be fair on the hotel, either, which is running a business from there.’