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NEWS REVIEW 2021: July to December

January 4th, 2022 11:30 AM

By Southern Star Team

Supermodel Emily Ratajkowski’s dad John (left), presented Bantry Basketball Club coach Pa Curran with a new set of jerseys. He was accompanied by Robert Romero, far right, owner of Tivoli Bar in San Diego, who co-sponsored the jerseys with Emily and her husband

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JULY

THE month was a rollercoaster of emotions – from Olympic highs, to Covid-related lows.

The month started with an announcement by the diocese of Cork and Ross that 12 priests were due to retire over the next 16 months, which would lead to the greater involvement of the lay community in the running of the diocese’s 68 parishes. Bishop Fintan Gavin noted  there was ‘a lot of change about to happen’ as the diocese was not in a position to replace each priest.

It was a case of from retirements to appointments, as the new chair of Carbery was announced as dairy farmer Cormac O’Keeffe, who said he was looking forward to a multi-million euro makeover of Lisavaird Co-op during his three-year term.

Meanwhile, Bandon FF Cllr Gillian Coughlan took over as Cork county mayor. She said she was honoured, grateful and very excited to take the title, and also very aware of the weight of expectation and responsibility that came with it.

The hospitality sector was hit a major blow with the postponement of indoor dining. ‘Devastating’, ‘heart-breaking’ and ‘soul destroying’ were just some of the terms used by local figures in the industry. Michael O’Donovan, city and county chairman of the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI), said the government were ‘playing with people’s livelihoods.’

Midway through the month, a multi-million-euro green energy facility was announced for Whiddy Island. The Bantry Bay island was announced as the new home for one of the world’s largest energy facilities, as US firm Zenith Energy and Cork-owned EI-H2 would jointly develop the facility which will use electricity generated from renewable offshore wind to produce green hydrogen and ammonia.

Meanwhile, Schull got a huge boost as a multi-million euro donation by generous benefactors meant the village will get an 80-seater state-of-the-art cinema and film centre within two years. Fastnet Film Festival director Hilary McCarthy confirmed that plans were advanced for the facility, which will be known as The Fastnet Centre, at the former AIB building in the centre of the town. The building was donated to the festival by philanthropists Bill and Judy Bollinger, who also agreed to fully fit-out the historic building, too.

Staying with things film-related, a documentary on the life of Schull musician Fergus O’Farrell won a prestigious Ifta (Irish film award). Called Breaking Out, its director Michael McCormack was actually in West Cork to see it announced as the winner of the George Morrison Feature Documentary award.

A Bandon grandmother who was sentenced to 90 days in prison for refusing to wear facemasks in supermarkets was told by a district court judge that she ‘failed in her duty to take basic care for the protection of the health and safety of her fellow citizens.’

Judge James McNulty made the remark at Bandon District Court when outlining his reasoning for sending Margaret Buttimer (66) of The Cottage, St Fintan’s Road, Bandon to prison for breaching two counts of Section 31a of the Public Health Act 1947.

Meanwhile, a teen boy, who was ‘clearly threatening violence’ when he brandished a knife outside a house party in Cork city where 20-year-old Cameron Blair was murdered, was jailed for two years.

And then came what was the highlight of the year for many – the Tokyo Olympics, where West Cork was represented by the Skibbereen rowers and runner Phil Healy. Their families were devastated they couldn’t cheer them on in person, but all of West Cork got behind the Olympians who boosted morale at a time when it was badly needed.

When Aughadown rower Emily Hegarty and her three crew mates crossed the line to take Olympic bronze with the women’s four crew, the cheers were loud enough to be heard in Tokyo; and it was the same for rowers Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy when they took gold with a stunning victory in the lightweight men’s double sculls. It was Ireland’s first Olympic gold medal in rowing and Paul’s second Olympic medal after he won silver with his brother Gary in Rio 2016.

Emotions were running high – and so were temperatures – when a heatwave hit West Cork at the end of the month, with a sweltering 28 degrees Celsius recorded in some local locations.

Clonakilty pledged to be the first town in the country to go off-grid, and the month finished up with restricted admissions at Bantry General Hospital due to a staff shortage.

AUGUST

BANTRY General Hospital (BGH) stayed in the headlines in August when doctors said they feared the local healthcare system could ‘fall like dominoes’ if admissions to BGH were not reopened. The staff shortage arose after one of the hospital consultants went on leave for a medical procedure. Later in the month, people power was credited with the reopening of the acute medical assessment unit after 16 days of closure, when a locum was appointed.

Ballineen bullet Phil Healy made history by being the first Irish woman to compete in three athletics events in one Olympics, and also made an Olympic final, as part of the Irish relay team. Phil was part of the first Irish relay team to contest an Olympic final in the mixed 4x400 relay and while they finished eighth, they did the country proud. She also ran in both the women’s 400m and women’s 200m.

Skibbereen’s Aoife Casey’s eighth-place finish in the lightweight women’s double in Tokyo was another huge highlight. Covid meant celebrations had to be curtailed when our heroes returned, but West Cork still showed their appreciation while adhering to public health guidelines.

Kealkil native Fr Con Cronin was one of two men who died when a bus crashed in Monkstown. Fr Cronin was

out walking when the crash happened and it was reported that he saved his parish secretary’s life by pushing her out of the way as the bus approached.

Meanwhile, parishioners on the Sheep’s Head peninsula were saddened to hear that much-loved parish priest Fr Ger Galvin was to retire, as he continued his struggle with incurable cancer. In an emotional farewell broadcast online, Fr Galvin asked for prayers and forgiveness as he explained about the cancer in his bones and lungs. He lost his battle with the illness later in the year.

Midway through the month, there was fierce excitement when the famous Arctic mammal who was spotted all over Europe since last March, Wally the walrus, was filmed climbing into a boat in the Clonakilty area. He was later spotted in Crookhaven but local wildlife groups urged onlookers to keep a safe 100m from the walrus, to avoid causing him distress.

There was also excitement as filming for the ITV dramatisation of Graham Norton’s book Holding got underway in Drimoleague featuring Pauline McLynn of Fr Ted fame, and Game of Thrones actor Conleth Hill.

SEPTEMBER

NOT too surprisingly, the month got underway with problems with the school bus transport scheme which Independent TD Michael Collins described as ‘nothing short of shambolic’ as students in some parts of West Cork were left stranded on the roadside.

Not long after schools reopened, a scramble started to book Covid tests as the virus began to emerge in the school population. A number of local schools had incidences of the virus and at least one large urban national school had to close down a class after double digit Covid cases.

The rush on testing resulted in the suspension of walk-in testing in Dunmanway’s screening centre and also in Cork city.

The hospitality sector was also facing challenges, dealing with staff shortages they described as ‘horrific’, causing some hotels to restrict opening hours, while others said they had no choice but to turn away business.

Having said that, many local tourism businesses said that summer 2021 was their ‘best yet’ despite having to operate within strict Covid guidelines. Across the board, from boat operators to restaurant owners and hotels, the feedback ranged from ‘exceptional’ to ‘phenomenal’ to ‘unprecedented.’

Ian Bailey’s solicitor Frank Buttimer said there were ‘no circumstances’ in which Ian Bailey would go to France. He was responding to comments made by the French President Emmanuel Macron, who told reporters at a press conference in Dublin that ‘a new trial could be organised.’

Meanwhile, the area’s first independent child and adolescent mental health services centre was announced for Skibbereen. Suicide prevention charity Lisheens House bought a three-storey building on North Street for a purpose-built centre for young people and their families.

And there was great news for Bantry when Hollywood star and supermodel Emily Ratajkowski delivered on her promise to  sponsor the local basketball club’s U15/16s team. Her dad John dropped by their training session to give them their new kit, which featured the name of Emily’s clothing label, Inamorata.

Artist John, who has a house in the area, said they were ‘a great group of kids’, and when he sent Emily a picture of them all kitted out, she thought they looked ‘really cool!’

OCTOBER

SKIBBEREEN emerged as one of the country’s property hotspots with price hikes of almost 20% recorded over the previous 12 months.

According to figures released from the Central Statistics Office, the average price

for a house with a Skibbereen Eircode went from €224,521 in July 2020, to €270,188 in July 2021. In Clonakilty, the price increase was 19%, rising from €255,049 to €303,480 in the same time period. Bandon had a 13% hike, with average prices rising from €214,642 to €242,714.

The motive behind the theft of ‘Stop’ signs at a number of locations in the county, including Dunmanway, proved a mystery and the subject of a garda investigation.

It was not clear if the signs, taken between March and September, were cut down for scrap or if it was just vandalism, or a student prank.

The reduced opening hours at West Cork’s only public swimming pool were forcing families to seek swimming lessons elsewhere, despite having a state-of-the-art facility on their doorsteps – a situation described as an ‘absolute joke.’

And even though Dunmanway Municipal Pool remained closed on Sundays and Mondays, the Council ironically said people need to start using it, in order to make it viable.

Councillors were unanimous in their call for longer opening hours for the facility.

Urgent actions were needed to tackle lengthy hospital waiting lists, including in Bantry, a Sinn Féin member has said. Clare O’Callaghan, who was recently selected to contest the next general election for Sinn Féin in Cork South West, was commenting as the party launched its ‘waiting list experience survey.’ Clare said urgent action is needed in the face of a ‘tsunami’ of delayed and missed care.

A local councillor who was convicted and fined €500 at Bandon District Court for failing to file a written statement of his expenses after he unsuccessfully contested last year’s general election said he won’t be appealing the conviction.

Cllr Alan Coleman told The Southern Star that he had no plans to appeal the conviction in a prosecution which was sought by the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO).

A young art student from Kinsale explained how she was desperately seeking a permanent home for herself and her mother in their native coastal town. Ruby Rose Kingston Parker, (19), a student of Limerick School of Art and Design, said she has been effectively homeless for the last two years, and ironically her student accommodation is so much more secure and comfortable than the home she is sharing with her mother.

A video was posted of a stag swimming across the harbour in Glandore, and a local Landowner said he believed it entered the water at Poulnavone, Ballincolla, near Union Hall.

Visiting at Bantry General Hospital (BGH) was restricted in November because of a high volume of Covid-19 admissions. ‘We were also dealing with the first case of hospital transmission since the pandemic began in March 2020,’ Dr Brian Carey, BGH’s clinical lead for Covid told The Southern Star. Dr Carey said BGH was one of a small number of hospitals that continued to allow visiting until it was no longer sustainable.

One of Hollywood’s highest-paid actors – Sofia Vergara – tucked into West Cork fish and chips on her whistlestop tour of West Cork on her holidays. Owner of gastropub/restaurant Townhouse O’Deas in Schull, Aislinn O’Driscoll said Sofia and her actor husband Joe Manganiello were just like any typical Sunday afternoon customers!

A young couple watched their two-year-old daughter turn blue on the roadside after they were advised to make a dash for the emergency department in Cork city.

The child’s grandfather, Mike Stephenson, spoke to The Southern Star about his family’s anger and emotional distress and to highlight what he feels is the lack of availability of ambulances in some emergency situations. The couple were told it would be quicker to drive to Cork because the nearest ambulance was in Clonakilty.

NOVEMBER

PLANS were announced to connect remote parts of West Cork by bus for the first time, including Durrus and Kilcrohane, Mizen Head and Castletownshend, and Baltimore and Union Hall. The plan is a five-year project by the National Transport Authority called ‘Connecting Ireland.’ It also provides for an interurban bus service which would operate between Skibbereen, Bantry and Killarney, while it is proposed to have more frequent services on the route serving Skibbereen to Cork, via Clonakilty and Bandon.

Skibbereen environmental activist Saoi O’Connor was spotted beside Greta Thunberg at the Cop26 climate change conference in Glasgow. Saoi said only people, not conferences, could help tackle the climate crisis.

A student from West Cork is convinced she was the victim of ‘injection spiking’ while out socialising in Cork city with friends on Hallowe’en night. Erica Grozavu Fitzgerald (18) who is studying in Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa, recalled enjoying her night out, when all of a sudden she became very unwell, left the venue on her own, stumbled and collapsed on the ground. She said she wanted to warn others, due to the increase in the incidences of ‘injection spiking’.

A Clonakilty GP said several towns in West Cork are in danger of having no Saturday morning medical cover, as the HSE has, effectively, closed the clinics, having not paid doctors for the work since last July. Dr Oriel Perrott told The Southern Star that doctors get paid a couple of months in arrears for the Saturday morning clinics, but they have not received any payment now since July.

Five pocket diaries that were once owned by Michael Collins will be on show in Clonakilty next year and they will also be available online. That’s all thanks to the Collins family in West Cork who have generously donated to the State the five pocket diaries that were once owned by Michael Collins.

Meanwhile, three of the five day care centres for the elderly in West Cork remained shut since they closed at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, leaving service users feeling forgotten. When Covid hit, staff in HSE-run centres in Clonakilty, Skibbereen and Dunmanway Hospitals were redeployed to the Ballinacarriga testing centre, where they have remained.

West Cork took three gold medals, three silver, and seven bronze, in the national Tidy Towns competition.

West Cork IFA members said that they were ready to support further protests by the association if the Minister for Agriculture didn’t engage with them. They were speaking after the organisation’s ‘Save Irish Farming’ rally in Dublin, which they said was a resounding success.

People with Covid-19 symptoms were finding it difficult to secure appointments for PCR tests, such was the demand in late November, while those with appointments experienced delays of several hours at West Cork’s test centre in Ballinacarriga.

A major fundraising campaign was launched to renovate the home of a hugely popular Bantry man after he suffered life changing injuries in a single-car crash. Denis Connolly was left paralysed from his upper chest down, with limited use of his shoulders and hands, after the crash last June. He received treatment at the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dun Laoghaire, but sadly died in hospital in December.

Murderer Graham Dwyer’s attempt to have his conviction over turned on the basis of a legal technicality was furthered when an advocate general of the Court of Justice of the EU, assigned to Mr Dwyer’s case, submitted his opinion. Unlike judges however, an advocate general has an advisory role only and will not take part in the ultimate decision making process.

DECEMBER

A NEW podcast brought to life the tragic yet fascinating love story of Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan. ‘My Dearest Kitty’ is an 11-part series of short videos by Michael Collins House Museum in Clonakilty.

The Bantry region could be left without a garda superintendent in the future after a new operational model is implemented, the Star reported. The model will see the amalgamation of both the Cork West and Cork North garda divisions.

A new group called Lough Hyne Matters says the lake is being turned into a watersports resort and an increase in human activity – kayaking, diving and swimming – is having a detrimental impact on the marine reserve.

Storm Barra battered Bantry, leaving 28 property owners to count the cost of the fourth flood event in just 18 months. Across West Cork, other communities counted the cost, too, as severe and damaging wind gusts and heavy rain led to trees being toppled from Bandon to Beara, the flooding of roads with surface water and tidal surges, and several fallen cables affecting power supplies.

As the 25th anniversary of her death approached, Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s friends took out a memorial notice in the Star to mark her untimely death at Toormore in 1996. ‘It is our way of asking the Irish people to emotionally adopt Sophie,’ said her friend Bill Hogan.

Caheragh man Darren Lynch announced that his fundraising cycle for the air ambulance had raised over €30,000.

He had decided to organise the cycle after he had witnessed the service first hand when he fell from his bike and endured serious injuries during the Mizen Looper cycle in July. He wanted to ensure others could avail of the service if they needed it.

There was shock in West Cork when Olympic gold medallist Paul O’Donovan was left off the shortlist for the RTÉ Sportsperson of the Year award. But he said his monthly award for the Celtic Ross Hotel West Cork Sports Stars meant more to him anyway!

The West Cork Women Against Violence project launched an appeal for a new home as they revealed they had to leave their Bantry town centre home of 14 years, as the building was being sold. They admitted their service would not be available over Christmas, a traditionally busy time for women’s refuges, but they hoped to be back in action on January 4th.

Pubs and restaurants said the government’s 8pm curfew, brought in just days before the busy Christmas period was an effectual ‘lockdown’ as many felt they couldn’t operate under the restricted opening hours.

There was surprise when Cork County Council issued a press release asking the public to think twice before lighting the fire this Christmas, in an effort to reduce air pollution. Many people felt that, given the tough two years we have had, it was bad timing to ask us to get rid of the cosy Christmas fire in the hearth.

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