Monday, August 07, 2017

Out of Town: Clonakilty, Co Cork

We recently visited Clonakility after many years of not having been there, and found a thriving town that arguably is the real jewel in the crown of West Cork's small coastal communities, writes Brian Byrne.

It's not one you can do in a day trip from Kilcullen, but a couple of days away in that area will certainly remind us from the flatlands of Kildare just how nice some other parts of our small country are.

Following a summer flooding incident five years ago, the town's business and community leaders took an opportunity to give the place a makeover, bringing in the services of a town architect originally from Sicily, Giulia Vallone, who now works with Cork County Council. This resulted in the RIAI Public Choice Award 2014 for the ‘Clonakilty 400, Urban Design and Masterplan’ project, which included the revitalisation of the classic Emmet Square.

The mix of Georgian and Victorian architecture of the town with some cosmopolitan details from the Continent is not universally appreciated — "Things like modern rusty lamp-standards might be OK in a Mediterranean climate, but are not necessarily suited to Ireland," noted one shop-owner.

But it all seems to have worked, with the town winning an award in April of this year as 'Best Town in the UK and Ireland' at the 2017 Urbanism Awards.

Clonakilty's centre is an eminently walkable one, and even on a light drizzly day is colourful and bright. It had a good summer buzz going during our visit.

The night life is famous, with a number of pubs being the focus of entertainment from local and international musicians. Notably De Barra's, which is a regular venue for the likes of Kildare's own Christy Moore.

O'Donovan's Hotel was the location of many orations by Michael Collins, born a few kilometres away and who attended the local national school. There's a recent statue of him commissioned from local artist Kevin Holland.

To my mind, the town showed that there's still a space for small shops in a small town, though it's probable that the strong tourist footfall of the summer is a big help. Lovely bookshops too, where the owners have time to talk to you, like Coughlans, and the Clonakilty Bookshop.

If you get there, enjoy the bohemian atmosphere in Spiller Lane (above pics). And for a lunch or afternoon snack, Molly's Cafe and Wine Bar in Recorder's Alley is just great. I'm sure there are lots of other nice spots too, but there's only one lunch you can have on a day's visit.

Clonakilty is really recommended by the Diary for that end of summer break.

ED NOTE: 'Out of Town' is an occasional series just to show that we occasionally get further than Main Street Kilcullen.