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NEWS REVIEW 2022: January to June

January 2nd, 2023 10:00 AM

By Southern Star Team

The fishing vessel Sceptre sank alongside Keelbeg Pier in Union Hall in February. (Photo: Andrew Harris)

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JANUARY

PEOPLE began the year wondering if things were ever going to change.

Everyone was still living and working around the dreaded Covid regulations and in January the acronym PCR – short for the polymease chain reaction – test for Covid – was on everyone’s lips.

Why? Because Covid test centres were functioning at ‘full capacity’ and there were no PCR appointments available anywhere in Cork county.

January, ostensibly a time for change and reinvention, could have been more accu- rately described as ‘the bleak mid-winter.’

There was an outpouring of sadness in early January too following the death of the much-loved St Alphonsus O’Brien who passed away at the age of 104.

The death of the Bandon-based educator was con- sidered to be ‘the end of an era.’ She was renowned for her speed and drama classes and especially her popular Good Friday Passion Plays, but what was remarkable is that she survived the Spanish Flu as a child in 1918.

Lots of people made the best of the tail end of the hol- iday season, such as Eamonn O’Neill, a Kinsale fisherman, who used almost 170 lobster pots to create a 15th high Christmas tree to raise funds for Kinsale RNLI.

Elsewhere, in Skibbereen, one lucky Telly bingo place won €10,000 on the RTÉ show having purchased her ticket at Trevor Hegarty’s Costcutter at Market Street in Skibbereen.

Online links to home – to burial sites too – were facilitated in January when Cork County Council made 45,000 burial records available free of charge.

Skibbereen Heritage Cen- tre has been digitising Cork County Council’s burial re- cords for some time and the latest upload brought the total number of graveyards cov- ered around the county to 89.

The significance of the work was outlined by Terri Kearney, manager of the cen- tre, who said there had been a huge increase in people trac- ing their Irish ancestry and the heritage centre’ genealo- gy service has been inundated with online queries.

There was good news in Bantry when it was confirmed that enabling works on the former Convent of Mercy building in Bantry had been carried out.

It was a long wait – nine years to be exact – for work to start on the reconfiguration of the building to create more social housing units, but when complete they will alleviate pressure on the local housing waiting list.

Covid in its many different forms continued to make headlines including the publi- cation of a court case in which a 66-year-old Bandon was castigated for displaying ‘ab- surd selfishness’ in refusing to wear a face mask in compliance with Covid regulations. Margaret Buttimer of The Cottage, St Fintan’s Road in Bandon contested the charge and she was given a six-month suspended sentence.

In Kinsale there was much delight when it was an- nounced that the communi- ty school was to get 15 new classrooms, two science labs and a new library as part of a €13.6m extension to the school.

Kinsale Community College was the third second- ary school in West Cork in as many months to receive funding for significant new projects.

The huge uptake in wild swimming during the lockdown meant that the appearance of the Portuguese Man O’War on our beaches was a cause for concern in mid-January.

Warmer sea temperatures and the increase in storm-force winds were two of the likely explanations for the influx from the Tropics.

In January district court sit- tings across West Cork were severely curtailed due to the rising numbers of Covid-19 cases. Sittings were limited to ‘urgent business only.’

Meanwhile, the Irish Community Air Ambulance made a direct plea to the government to help cover the €2.1m cost of running the service in 2022.

In 2021, the air ambulance service said it was tasked 512 times in 14 counties, which was the busiest year ever since the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) air ambulance was launched in July 2019.

It was with great sadness that people learned of the passing of Bantry man Denis Connolly. Denis, a long-time employee at Rowa Pharmaceutical, was the friendly face at Bantry Airfield.

A life-changing crash left him paralysed from his upper chest town and people showed their love and support for him by establishing a GoFundMe campaign to try and bring him home from Rehab, but sadly he passed away in hospital.

The New Year started with a boost to the €80,000 fundraising campaign established by the Sherkin Island Development Society to buy the old national school on Sherkin Island as a community centre.

While the Hayes family from Ardfield were amazed to find they had won the top prize of a new home in the ‘Win A Gaff’ draw.

Dad Joe said he thought it was ‘a joke’ when he got a call telling him he had won an entire, architecturally designed family home at The Miles in Clonakilty that was worth over €300,000 after they bought a ticket from their local GAA St James’.

West Cork’s lucky streak continued when – against all odds – it was confirmed that West Cork had not one but two new millionaires in a single day.

West Cork’s newest millionaires made contact with Lottery bosses following the double West Cork bonanza in the EuroMillions draw.

Two shops – Minihane’s Gala store on Pearse Street in Clonakilty and Healy’s SuperValu store in Dunmanway – both sold winning tickets worth €1m.

There was drama on the high seas in January when West Cork trawler owners en- gaged in a ‘peaceful protest’ of up to 60 boats at the Porcupine Seabight after Russian vessels engaged in manoeuvres off the coast.

It prompted Patrick Murphy, the chief executive of the Castletownbere-based Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation to say they would be ‘keeping its eye on Russia.

FEBRUARY

THE seizure of €220,000 worth of cannabis in Bantry in February was one of the biggest hauls in West Cork in recent years.

The area’s chief superintendent confirmed it was ‘an intelligence-led’ operation that was indicative of the demand for drugs in towns and villages throughout the country.

Meanwhile on February 1st, seven post workers involved in the collecting and sorting of mail at the Goleen, Schull and Ballydehob post offices were relocated to the central office at Market Street in Skibbereen.

The sorting of mail – a tradition that goes back to the founding of the State – ceased at the three Mizen Peninsula post offices. The offices didn’t close but the loss of the sorting facilities was estimated to have resulted in a 25% reduction in revenue. Later in the year, however, it was confirmed that Goleen was to close.

A generous benefactor gave a man from Bandon a car after reading an article in The Southern Star about him being housebound during lockdown.
The woman gave Rafal Kolibowski of Oaklawn, Castle Road, Bandon, who has motor neuron disease, the specially-adapted car after reading how the family couldn’t afford one of their own.

‘What this person did was an amazing gesture,’ said Rafal, who vowed to pass on the care to another person for free when he doesn’t need it anymore.

The start of what proved to be a very long-running saga happened in February when it was announced, following a meeting of the West Cork Municipal District, that the Dursey Cable car would be closed from March 31st for necessary repair works to its two towers.

Consultants engaged to carry out regular structural reviews confirmed that the two towers supporting the cable were no longer up to spec and needed to be replaced.

Islanders were philosophical at the time saying ‘this day was always going to come’ – given that the cable car was in its 50th year – but they staked their claim for a ferry service to meet the needs of the 22 stakeholders living or farming on the island.

Grim news emerged from the murder trial of Kilcrohane man Timmy Hourihane when it was told that he was beaten to death ‘for no other reason than for being gay.’

The 53-year-old died after an attack on October 13th 2019 at a tented village for the homeless at Mardyke Walk in Cork city.

Mr Hourihane, a father-of- one, was a trained chef and worked for some time for the Hilton Hotel group in the UK, but was homeless at the time of his death.

Union Hall was in the news on the double in February when a vessel – the Sceptre – sank at the quay side. Cork County Council responded quickly to contain any diesel spill by placing anti-pollution booms around the vessel. Meanwhile, a contractor was appointed to rectify damage caused to ladders at the Keel- beg Pier in Union Hall. Local users had complained that the wonky ladders – which were damaged during the normal course of business – were nearly impossible to use.

The Irish Defence Forces spotted a number of international warships both outside and inside Ireland’s exclusive economic zone of responsibility.

In a statement, the Defence Forces said that as part of their maritime, defence and security operations, Air Corps maritime patrol aircraft and the Irish navy ‘observed US, Russian and French vessels in international waters off the island of Ireland’ on February 2nd.

The Irish Air Corps also monitored the presence of Royal Air Force combat air- craft south east of, and out- side, Ireland’s exclusive eco- nomic zone of responsibility.

Opposition to a €30m wind farm project on the southern slopes of Gougane Barra was mounted in earnest in Feb- ruary following a decision by an Bord Pleanala to grant a 10-year planning permission to Wingleaf Ltd to construct seven wind turbines in Curraglass despite the fact that Cork County Council had already refused planning permission for the development.

Meanwhile, library users in Clonakilty were asked to take a leap of faith on Valentine’s Day by going on a blind date with a book.

The fun initiative involved staff wrapping books with just a few faint clues about what might lie beneath the covers.

Librarian Regina Webb said they were hoping to create a bit of happiness and fun in people’s lives.’ It was also a way of making sure that no one had a lonely Valentine because you are never lonely with a book, she said.

West Cork’s three one-star Michelin restaurants were celebrating in February after they each retained the globally-recognised accolade.

The Michelin Guide Great Britain and Ireland 2022 includes Bastion in Kinsale, Restaurant Chestnut in Ballydehob and Dede in Baltimore. Ireland now has a total of 18 Michelin star restaurants.

February ended on a turbulent note with back-to-back storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin. Dudley proved to be a gentle precursor compared to the force of Storm Eunice, which hit the shores with such ferocity that it left more than 21,000 people without power.

Bandon celebrated the opening of its new state-of- the-art library, which is five times the size of the old facility and has more than 30,000 books.

Located on the ground floor of the new primary care centre on Market Place, the library is equipped with customised furniture and has dedicated areas for children, teenagers, young adults and it even has a sensory nook for people with autism.

In Skibbereen, it was confirmed that a planning application to create a film studio in part of the O’Donnell Design furniture factory had been submitted.

When film crews came to West Cork for the production of The Sparrow and the Graham Norton TV series Holding, O’Donnell Design had an involvement in both productions.

It gave them the idea to create a base where sets could be created in West Cork and it received the backing of film stars and producers who live locally, as well as the number of professional production crew who have chosen to make West Cork their home.

MARCH

THE people of West Cork lost no time showing their solidarity with the people of Ukraine after it was invaded by Russia on February 24th.

Much of March was dominated by fundraisers and collections across many towns and villages, as well as a solidarity rally at the footbridge in Bandon.

Meanwhile, it was ‘third time lucky’ for yet another millionaire win in West Cork. A Lotto Plus 1 prize of €1m was sold at O’Leary’s Spar store in Lissarda near Macroom.

The lucky punter became the 11th National Lottery millionaire in the first three months of the year.

People continued to show their love and support for Ukraine when a five-year-old boy, who has blood cancer, found a safe haven in the home of his aunt in Ballydehob.

Leonid Shapoval’s medical needs were quickly met when Irish people responded generously by donating to the Help Leonid with his Leukaemia Treatment GoFundMe page.

He was also given a full medical assessment at the Mizen Medical Centre in Schull before being referred to the Mercy Hospital in Cork where he received further medical attention.

Leonid was due to have a bone marrow transplant in Kyiv but when the family arrived at the hospital they were handed his files and told to get out of the country – that was just days before the hospital was bombed by Russian forces.

The need for training in dealing with victims of sexual abuse and violence for gardaí, social workers, judges, teachers and other public sector employees was one of the findings of an extensive survey of victims and survivors of abuse in West Cork.

The survey was commissioned by the West Cork Women Against Violence project and involved almost 30 survivors and their supporters who shared their experiences of abuse and assault.

It is hoped that the findings of the survey, conducted by Dr Caroline Crowley, would inform a specialist sexual violence support service in West Cork.

By a narrow margin of 10 votes, FG party members selected Schull businesswoman Caroline Cronin to be their new councillor in the Schull Electoral Area.

Collective jaws dropped when it was announced mid-March that the Clonakilty-based fintech company Global Shares was to be acquired by JP Morgan Chase for a reported half-a-billion dollars.

Global Shares – which specialises in employee equity and share ownership processes – has its headquarters at the West Cork Technology Park.

The company said the acquisition would ‘bolster the range of services offered to corporate clients’ and would create a new client acquisition channel for JP Morgan’s wealth management businesses.

Clonakilty’s ambitious plans to go ‘off grid’ moved a step closer to becoming the country’s first community-based solar project in March.

Clonakilty Chamber completed the purchase from renewable energy company Amarenco of a 26-acre site with full planning permission for a 5MW solar farm near Beanhill in Shannonvale.

It is envisaged that the scheme would save 1.75m kgs of carbon from the atmosphere.

There were celebrations to mark the publication of Stephen Redmond’s book Fastnet The Final Challenge in March. Ballydehob-based Steve has conquered some of the world’s most gruelling swims and has the distinction of being the first person to complete the 40km swim from Baltimore Harbour to the Fastnet Rock lighthouse. He is also, of course, the first person in the world to complete the Oceans Seven marathon swimming challenge.

Beara celebrated some big news when it was confirmed that a multi-million euro fit-out is planned for Castletownbere’s Dunboy Castle.

The striking castle which was on the market for €2.5m has been bought by Dublin businessman Paddy McKillen Jr who has plans to complete the development of Dunboy as a destination hotel and resort.

Tempers flared in March when it emerged that an 88-year-old woman in Bandon, who sustained a broken shoulder and a hairline fracture to the hip, had to wait 14 hours for an ambulance to take her to hospital.

Her son spoke to The Southern Star about the severe and unnecessary distress it caused his mother and he expressed his concern that similar delays ‘could cost lives.’

On a lighter note, Fianna Fáil TD Christopher O’Sullivan broke hearts everywhere when he announced at the end of March his intention to marry his girlfriend Sarah Redmond, a Dublin-based lawyer.

APRIL

THE month kicked off with the announcement that mega-star Billie Eilish has got strong West Cork roots which can be traced back to the Clubhouse Bar in Lisbealad near Dunmanway, according to research by Ian O’Brien, who is a third cousin to Billie’s dad Patrick O’Connell. And it also emerged that Southern Star reporter, Kieran O’Mahony is ‘doubly related’ to her and is her fourth cousin!

Bandon’s Graham Dwyer, who was convicted of the murder of Elaine O’Hara following a lengthy trial at the Central Criminal Court in 2015, was set to appeal his murder conviction, following a major ruling at the European Court of Justice (CJEU) regarding the retention of phone data. His legal team challenged the legality of the prosecution using mobile phone data to convict him of the murder.

The lack of staffing was blamed for the closure of one of West Cork’s finest public loos. Residents in Baltimore had lit a fire under local councillors because the facility – which is incorporated into the harbour master’s building – had been closed since a local Council operative retired.

Locals in Gougane Barra lodged an application in the High Court to challenge a controversial windfarm planned for the area that would be visible over their skyline. The decision to go to the High Court came on foot of massive opposition to the decision by An Bord Pleanála to overturn Cork County Council’s refusal of the proposal.

A discharge of effluent into the Ilen River in Skibbereen resulted in a €1,000 windfall for 26 Tidy Town organisations throughout West Cork after Judge James McNulty convicted West Cork Distillers in Skibbereen of the offence and directed them to give money to all the organisations.

Public reps in West Cork said a national taskforce was required to co-ordinate the movement of thousands of Ukrainian refugees across the country.

They claimed that State agencies, including the HSE, were not ‘plugging in’ to what was happening on the ground in Clonakilty, and that there was ‘no coherent plan’, leaving volunteer and local groups to pick up the slack.

Meanwhile, Cork County Council revealed that its preferred provider to offer a ferry service to cut-off Dursey Island had pulled out of the process. The ‘preferred tenderer’ informed the Council it wasn’t in a position to secure the necessary marine licence to operate the ferry. Council officials then invited new tenders, while the islanders said they were losing patience.

Gardaí in Bandon marked 100 years since the first gardaí arrived into the town in 1922 by marching through the town complete with current and former colleagues, led by the Garda Band.

An Innishannon actor and qualified chemist was making waves on Albert Square after landing a role in in the popular BBC soap, Eastenders with his West Cork accent intact. Former Hamilton High School student and Trinity College graduate Aidan O’Callaghan played Lewis Butler, the new manager of the Prince Albert gay bar.

Councillors described as ‘frustrating and disappointing’ the fact that the Town Hall in Skibbereen has been closed for years and that the local theatre society is without a venue in which to stage their award-winning play.

Skibbereen Community School guidance counsellor Cormac O’Brien drove a van full of medical and humanitarian supplies to the Ukraine border during the Easter holidays. He set up ‘A Van from Skibbereen to Ukraine’ GoFundMe page and within weeks had surpassed the €15,000 goal after receiving almost 300 donations.

The gym at Dunmanway swimming pool remained closed, as it was meant to be used as an ‘emergency rest centre’ for Ukrainian refugees. Cork County Council said the gym facility was to close with immediate effect, taking many users by surprise. However, there has been criticism about the unsuitability of using a gym to house traumatised families, even if it is for a short period.

Concerns about the volume of traffic going through Innishannon village were highlighted again following another traffic collision, which saw a car hit a row of parked cars outside Brookside Terrace. Concerned locals have set up an action group, Innishannon Traffic Action Group (ITAG) and called for urgent traffic calming and awareness measures to tackle the problem which they says is making the village unsafe.

West Cork politics was rocked when Cllr Karen Coakley resigned from Fine Gael, citing bullying and intimidation. She launched a scathing attack on Fine Gael in front of Minister Simon Harris at a party meeting in Dunmanway and spoke about the ‘toxicity’ within the party, where she claimed ‘bullying and skulduggery’ were in play and that she is ‘beyond disillusioned with Fine Gael.’

A 28-YEAR-old man who ‘set upon’ father-of-one Timothy ‘Timmy’ Hourihane from Kilcrohane at a homeless camp in Cork city before punching and kicking him to death on October 13th 2019, was jailed for 11 years.

James Brady, of Shannon Lawn, Mayfield, Cork, had pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr Hourihane, a former chef who once worked for the Hilton group in England.

MAY

THE grandson of actor Maureen O’Hara, Conor Beau Fitzsimmons spoke of his family’s disappointment that Cork County Council never reached out to them about the life-size statue made to commemorate their famous grandmother.

The bronze statue of the Hollywood star had been erected in Glengarriff village, without the prior knowledge of either the locals or Maureen’s family.

However, it was removed just 48 hours later and there was confusion as to why this happened. Online comments had said that statue didn’t resemble the Hollywood star.

Meanwhile, plans for a €10m visitor centre and cable car for Dursey Island were scrapped. An Bord Pleanála said they would not contest a judicial review being sought by Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) who challenged the planning permission granted by Cork County Council in 2019.

Glandore Harbour Yacht Club (GHYC) and Sailing School said it would have no choice but to close if the County Council was to go ahead with its radical proposals for the pier, which would dramatically reduce the storage area for boats on the breakwater section. Stakeholders say would mean an end to all marine leisure activity in the harbour.

There was sad news for Goleen when it was announced that the village post office would close, following the retirement of postmistress, Breda Buckley. She said its closure would lead an ‘awful hole’ in the community after An Post confirmed that it had not received any suitable applicants to take over the agency, despite advertising it.

The thorny issue of insurance for the hotel industry was highlighted many in the industry saying that spiralling insurance premiums was causing a crisis in the industry. They criticised the government’s lack of action on planned reforms of the industry, while one hotelier described the situation as ‘out of control.’

David Henry of the Clonakilty Park said the hotel has had to fork out an extra €27,000 for its premium this year, and has been penalised for projecting increased sales as the industry recovers after two years of slow growth.

A proposed new ferry service for disconnected Dursey Island was described by one islander as ‘a waste of taxpayers’ money.’ Martin Sheehan said the new ferry service would only be available for two hours, either side of high tide, three days a week.

Three West Cork mums launched a campaign to develop the first special school in West Cork. And they were looking for other parents of children with additional needs to join them, to find out precisely what’s needed, and in what location. The campaign was spearheaded by Laura O’Mahony, Emily O’Driscoll and Emma Howlin, who all live in the greater Clonakilty area and are parents of children with autism. Their kids, all with different needs, currently attend either an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) unit, or a special school in Cork city.

There was also an appeal for a new base of operations for the Bandon Family Resource Centre at a meeting of the Regional Health Forum. Cllr Sean O’Donovan (FF) expressed the hope that the family resource centre – which is currently located at a two-room facility at Glasslyn Road – could be moved to the recently vacated Watergate Centre next to the community hospital at Ardan.

Meanwhile, Bandon District Court heard an unusual small claims case about a tomcat who failed to do the deed with another cat, after money was exchanged. Judge Colm Roberts said the ‘magic didn’t happen’ and dismissed the claim made by Inna Kozinda.

Schull’s annual Fastnet Film Festival proved it could compete with the best of other film festivals by attracting stellar guests including Paul Mescal from Normal Friends, Ciarán Hinds, Stephen Rea and Joe Alwyn, boyfriend of Taylor Swift.

It was also announced that Micheál Martin would become the first Fianna Fáil leader to address the annual Michael Collins commemoration event in Béal na Bláth in August. He accepted an invited from the Michael Collins Commemoration Committee to speak at the centenary commemoration, the first full event to be held there since 2019.

JUNE

THE numbers of people reporting instances of sexual violence or abuse in West Cork were only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ said researcher Dr Caroline Crowley following the publication of a report. It was commissioned by West Cork Women Against Violence (WCWAV), and revealed the extent of the issue, and the urgent need for support services in the region.

Soaring energy hikes were putting pressure on Baltimore’s community swimming pool and fitness centre as it struggled to keep afloat.

The public was also warned not to attempt to access Barleycove beach until the pontoon has been reinstated, following damage caused to it during a tidal surge. Cllr Ross O’Connell (SD) warned that accessing the beach could be dangerous and that people might find themselves stranded later in the day.

The landmark Marine Hotel in Glandore, and its extensive apartment and townhouse complex, went on sale with a guiding price of €5m. The hotel closed in 2013 and the property was bought in 2015 by city-based property developer Tom Scriven for investment purposes.

The remains of three-year-old Clarissa Saunders, who died in tragic circumstances in West Cork in 2013 was exhumed, cremated and brought back to the United States for burial. Her mum, Rebecca spent nine years trying to bring her daughter home after she was buried with their father, who was responsible for her death.

Union Hall was abuzz with film crews and even rumours of the Obamas coming to town as filming started in the village for a new Netflix TV drama/ thriller Bodkin being made there. The former US president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama are executive producers for the production and an open casting session was held in Dinty’s Pub.

A €300,000 community centre on Whiddy Island was described as a monument to community initiative. Over 300 people were invited to the island off Bantry to join in the celebrations in the spacious new centre in a location overlooking the bay.

The centre is already being used by the 25 islanders for meetings, social gatherings and classes and will serve as a first-rate venue for local functions, training courses, and family fun days.

A Dunmanway woman said she won’t give up fighting for answers regarding how the organs of her stillborn baby were incinerated without her permission in Belgium.

Laura Kelleher says her baby Hope was a fighter, and she owes it to her to be the same and she and her husband Fintan want to make sure this doesn’t happen to any other parents. Staying with Dunmanway, a meeting heard that residents in two privately-owned housing estates became prisoners in their own homes, due to issues with wastewater and drinking water.

Cllr Declan Hurley (Ind) said residents at Castle Heights and Togher Village estate have been putting up with substandard conditions for the past six years.

Business groups in both Bandon and Kinsale, as well as politicians, called for a ‘level playing field’ when it comes to pay parking, following confirmation from Cork County Council that pay parking was set to return to both towns after a two-year absence.

The towns are the only two in West Cork that operate pay parking and Hilary Farrell of the Bandon Business Association (BBA) said they were very disappointed that pay parking was being reinstated in the town.

In Bandon, outgoing county mayor Cllr Gillian Coughlan said she has serious ambitions to be a Fianna Fáil TD for Cork South West.

The Bandon woman, who was due to hand over her mayoral chain, said she has ‘put a lot of time and effort into representing Fianna Fáil (FF) over the past 10 years’, and if the opportunity presents itself, she would definitely seek nomination, for the second time, to run as a candidate in the next election.

Parking issues were also annoying locals in Baltimore as they said people who were parking camper vans and leisure boats in bays that are designed for homeowners and day visitors.

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