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NEWS REVIEW 2021: January to June

January 3rd, 2022 11:40 AM

By Southern Star Team

Jesse Dale enjoying the snow in Ballingeary

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JANUARY

IN a year that many compared to Groundhog Day, it can come as no surprise that Covid-19 dominated the post-Christmas headlines.

The number of confirmed cases simply sky-rocketed after everyone attempted to have ‘a meaningful Christmas’ and worry became the order of the day.

The year began with Dr Jason van der Velde urging people to consider their level of social interaction and – wait for it, spoiler alert! – he repeated the exact same plea at the end of this year as the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases started to escalate once again.

Other grim headlines focused on Brexit and the devastating impact it was to have on Ireland’s fishing industry, while other businesses only learned the full cost of trying to import, or indeed export to the UK, in the weeks and months to follow.

Residents in Shannonvale were most definitely looking ahead to another ‘crap’ year because despite decades of campaigning to have a disgusting sewage leak onto their village green cleaned up, the problem was still being ignored by Irish Water, despite its proximity to the source of Clonakilty’s drinking water supply.

In Clonakilty town, people were celebrating an announcement by Aldi that it is to open a store this year (2022).

Elderly people throughout West Cork who had hoped to take the ‘Belfast or Blind’ bus for sight-saving cataract surgery were told they would have to hold on a while longer due to the all-pervasive Covid restrictions.

At the end of January there was lots of frustration for students and people working from home who were struggling with poor or non-existent broadband to do their homework or their day jobs.

At the same time, the stop-start messaging around the looming Leaving Certificate was adding to the heartache and worry of the country’s sixth year students.

Meanwhile – thank you global warming! – early sightings of whales, dolphins and latterly Wally the walrus put a smile on a lot of people’s faces as they walked in seemingly endless loops within their 5km limit.

But it took a snow day – or two, or three – at the end of January to give people that truly giddy ‘school’s out’ feeling.

On the up side, takeaway food had never been so good, especially in Baltimore and Ballydehob where Ahmet Dede and Rob Krawczyk’s Michelin Star standards made date night dining a perfect 10.

FEBRUARY

LIKE a boxer reeling in the second round, February headlines reminded readers that however bad lockdown was for them, the life circumstances of people living with abusive partners was infinitely worse as the number of reported cases rose by 26%.

A threatened price hike for people dumping their rubbish and disposing of their recycling raised tempers to boiling point within Cork County Council and the members protested long and loud until a more modest increase was agreed.

Climate Action got a shot in the arm, so to speak, with the announcement that Myross Wood House in Leap was to be the new location for a centre of excellence for climate action and sustainability.

Former Schull secondary school student Fionn Ferreira – a winner of the Google Global Science Fair for his proposal to collect plastic from the seas – also attracted the financial backing of a Hollywood A-lister, Robert Downey Jnr.

Meanwhile, jaws dropped collectively with the publication of freakish weather events like the washing away of a huge chunk of the pier in Rosscarbery, while others crossed themselves when the Church launched a new ash-and-dash blessing during the closures, as well as a new cashless system for making donations.

An equally jaw-dropping statistic came when Cork County Council’s director of housing Maurice Manning announced in February that almost 1,000 homes would be built by the local authority in 2021 and that €100m had been spent on housing in the previous 12 months. True to his word, by September many new homeowners were already receiving the keys to their new homes.

It was a case of ‘hold the front’ page as The Southern Star paid tribute to Con Downing – photographed at home with his lovely wife Tonette – on the occasion of his retirement as editor, a move that marked the end of his 45-year association with the paper.

MARCH

THE announcement of Bank of Ireland branch closures in Dunmanway and Bantry were – to continue the boxing analogy – another low blow, at the start of March. The banks blamed people moving to online transactions.

Then, one week later, it was the turn of the PTSB to say its Bandon branch and others were to become fully automated.

Elsewhere in Castletownbere, Clonakilty and Enniskeane, members of the ever-active West Cork Divisional Drugs Unit made a number of cannabis, cocaine and heroin seizures. Even during lockdown – or maybe because of it – the movement of drugs was frequently intercepted.

As the level five lockdowns continued, the gardaí were kept busy busting house parties that were being held in contravention of Covid-19 regulations – a lot of which are just making their way into the district court lists in recent months.

Pandemic pressures were evident in every sphere, but it still came as a shock when Fine Gael Cllr Aidan Lombard stepped down from Cork County Council.

Cllr Lombard actually said the lockdown allowed him to stay longer because he could attend meetings online. It was the pressure of the day job that did for him in the end. Turns out he was just one of many councillors to walk away from local politics but the Carrigaline man did not rule out the fact that he might one day make a return to the Council chamber.

Local councillors welcomed the announcement that the Joe Walsh Walkway in Clonakilty is going to be extended as far as the Technology Park – walking having become the national pastime.

After 132 years with men at the helm, Siobhán Cronin broke new ground on International Women’s Day to become the first female editor of The Southern Star, while a short seven months later, Timoleague-native Emma Connolly became her deputy.

Ballydehob postmistress Bridie Roycroft took up the cudgels on behalf of post office personnel everywhere to complain about plans by An Post to offer services like parcel pick-up and collection locations to retail shops.

Such a move would wipe out post offices, said Bridie, who is chairperson of the southern region of the Irish Postmasters Union.

APRIL

THE month got off to a positive start with the announcement that West Cork is one of the areas more likely to benefit from the government’s ambitious five-year plan for rural communities. Cork South West TD Michael Collins described the plan, Our Rural Future, as ‘the shot in the arm that West Cork needs’ but noted that it is dependent on the provision of high speed broadband.

Many readers were caught off guard with the front page story that plans were being advanced for a whitewater rafting park at Lough Hyne! However, it turned out to be a very well executed April Fool’s prank.

Frontline workers, as well as those in the hospitality sector, spoke of their concerns about the delay in receiving the much-needed Covid-19 vaccine after the government moved to change the programme to an age-based system. Garda Representative Association rep for Cork South West, Gda Jason Collins said they felt ‘betrayed’ and let down by the government after the change in policy and said it felt like a ‘complete disregard’ for their safety and the public’s safety as well.

Meanwhile, residents at Clonakilty Community Hospital were able to more easily connect with their families during lockdown, following the donations of six tables to the hospital. It was all down to the voluntary Cairde Clonakilty Community Hospital Group, who rolled out the individualise devices. It was also confirmed that the Ahamilla GAA complex outside Clonakilty, along with the Primary Care Centre in Bantry, would alternate as the West Cork vaccine hub, and health officials said they expected to vaccinate 900 people a day. It was welcome news for several West Cork GPs who had been left frustrated by the low supply of vaccines they were receiving.

A dramatic sea rescue over two days off the coast of Castletownbere saw seven crew members from the Ellie Adhamh eventually wrenched to safety from their sinking trawler.The rescue operation involved multiple rescue agencies including Coast Guard helicopters, R115 and R117 and local rescue teams in what were very rough sea conditions.

Locals in Allihies were still left perplexed that an enormous sinkhole that had appeared on a road 18 months earlier was still not repaired. The hole measured 20ft in diameter and was described as ‘highly dangerous.’

Clonakilty businesses were also thinking outside the box with plans to pilot a food digester scheme involving several hotels and restaurants, in a project led by Clon Chamber.

Seven homes and a major tourist attraction in Glengarriff –The Ewe – had a lucky escape following two fires that were set deliberately in mid-April. An estimated 80 acres were burned at the Caha Pass, plus 80 more at Tooreen, while 27 firefighters from three different fire stations fought the blazes for nine hours.

Meanwhile, a hotelier in Clonakilty said that insurance companies are ‘almost operating a cartel’ when it comes to getting insurance for the leisure industry. David Henry of the Clonakilty Park Hotel said that he can only renew his insurance cover with his existing insurer as there is no competition in the market.

Staying in Clonakilty, there was good news when it was announced that the €12m Clonakilty Flood Relief Scheme was completed after three years of work, while a planned €10m redevelopment of the Sister of Mercy buildings in Skibbereen – which were gutted by fires last September – got the green light.

MAY

A CORK/Kerry ‘bubble’ should operate between the two counties in the event of further lockdowns, according to Cork Senator Tim Lombard. He said with low cases of Covid-19 being reported in the south west it was important to reward counties, whose levels of the virus were low.

Meanwhile, gardaí in Bantry investigated an incident at a Mealagh Valley amenity area over the bank holiday weekend which saw more than 100 anti-mask protestors gather there. Locals who were visiting the area said they ‘felt intimidated’ by the sheer volume of the crowd.

A new book on the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier was released by English author Nick Foster. Murder at Roaringwater was the result of six years of work during which he pieced together the life and death of the French woman. Meanwhile, the producers of Chernobyl indicated that they would be turning the popular West Cork podcast into a TV series, while two other productions, one by Jim Sheridan and another by Netlfix were also set to be released. Ian Bailey called on Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to re-open the  murder case and said his life has been ruined by a ‘false narrative.’

After a four-month absence due to Covid-19, the Belfast or Blind bus made a welcome return, with 65 people travelling to Belfast for hospital appointments, including 21 who sought treatment for cataracts at Kingsbridge Private Hospital.

Halfway through the month, businesses such as hairdressers and non-essential retailers were allowed open up for the first time this year. Churches, too, also opened their doors and there was a sense of relief and optimism across West Cork as society began to finally open up again.

Covid continued to dominate the news and gardaí in the Cork West Division said they issued 544 Covid-related fines for the first four months of this year, totalling €63,303, with the majority of those being fined for travelling beyond their 5km.

With dire broadband in their area, two Rossmore business women reached out to SpaceX and Tesla boss Elon Musk to help them. Emma Fitzpatrick and Lesley Cox were more than thrilled when SpaceX reached out and committed to trialling their Starlink satellite to both their homes.

Local estate agents said  that the lack of affordable long-term rental housing in West Cork was having the potential to undermine the region’s ability to attract a quality labour force.

Meanwhile, an  independent report claimed that Cork County Council is being short-changed on a grand scale when it comes to funding for Ireland’s biggest county. The report also showed that it will take 52 years to strengthen the county’s entire roads network.

There was plenty to celebrate at Cappabue National School as they secured the Schoolovision title for the second year in a row, with their song We Create Magic. They had won the title the previous year, too, with their eco rap One Small Change.

Graham Norton confirmed that his novel  Holding  was to be filmed for ITV in West Cork over the summer with a call-out being made for local trainees to join the crew for the shooting of the four-part adaptation of his novel.

Members of the West Cork fishing fleet were among a flotilla of trawlers which descended on Cork city, in a bid to voice their concerns over the future of the industry.

JUNE

THE month got off to a positive start as West Cork hotels welcomed visitors with open arms for the busy bank holiday weekend after months of closure. The mood in the sector was upbeat, judging by the volume of bookings made at both hotels and campsites. However, with large crowds descending on local beaches, Cork County Council was criticised about the lack of toilets and the conditions of the existing few.

Traffic also got so bad at several beaches later in the month that gardaí had no choice but to close them for a period and these included Garrylucas, Garrettstown and The Dock (Kinsale) beaches. Motorists were told to turn back and leave the area.

As restrictions eased, the Bishop of Cork and Ross Bishop Fintan Gavin, who was appointed in 2019, finally got a chance to visit the diocese and meet parishioners.

Meanwhile, The Southern Star launched a new digital series, The Big Story and the first episode, entitled Macroom: Choked by Traffic  examined how the new multi-million euro bypass will breathe new life into the town on its completion.

The accommodation crisis across West Cork was highlighted again when three lifeguards said they had to face three-hour daily commutes because they were unable to find accommodation in the region. It was a similar case for Eugene Murphy, who turned down a position with a start-up in West Cork because he couldn’t find any house to either rent or buy.

Insurance was also affecting the popular Clonakilty Community Bike Scheme, which was forced to sell the new bikes it had bought, because insurance companies refused to provide cover at any price.

A Bandon couple got more than they bargained for after finding over €1,000 in a charity shop.

Evelyn McCarthy and her husband Ger of The Kilmichael Bar had been examining a two-seater at Lisheens House in Skibbereen when they spotted a wad of money in the armrest.

Meanwhile, excitement reached fever pitch in Myrtleville after O’Connell’s Foodstore sold a €2,469,871 winning Lotto ticket.

Concerns about the Climate Action Bill were expressed by Cork South West Independent TD Michael Collins, who said that if it was to be passed, rural Ireland would be left in ruins and ‘dictated to’ by an un-elected body – the Climate Advisory Council.

At Skibbereen District Court, one of two hermit women, Irene Gibson, was fined €1,000 following a conviction for setting up a retreat at Corran, Leap, without planning permission.

A retired judge slammed a proposal to move family law cases to the city, which would cause unnecessary hardship for many people in West Cork.

Former judge Con O’Leary said the Department of Justice was in the process of putting in place a system of regional family courts because the facilities in ordinary country district courts were totally inadequate.

Property prices in coastal areas of West Cork were on the rise since the pandemic with prices having increased by up to 34% since March 2020. Schull emerged as a particular favourite destination for purchasers, according to a report from property site Daft.ie.

Meanwhile, the production crews behind the filming of Graham Norton’s book Holding put a call-out for extras ahead of the commencement of filming in July. They sought applications from adults over 18 of all backgrounds, abilities and ethnicities for paid work.

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