Ireland’s Narrow Roads Benefit the Foodie Town of Skibbereen

by Pat Dodd Racher, September 18 2012

Ireland has 96,029 kilometres of roads, according to Whitaker’s Almanack says 96,036 kilometres. That’s a lot of road for a small population of 4.59 million, in fact only about 48 persons per kilometre.  The UK in contrast has over 158 persons per kilometre of road. Ireland’s roads are well maintained considering their length and the financial crisis besetting the country, but there are lots of potholes, and just as importantly for big lorries, the roads are overwhelmingly single-carriageway.

Down in the far south west, the big supermarket chains are refreshingly absent. Although Tesco has moved into Ireland’s cities, there is no Tesco in Skibbereen, West Cork, Ireland’s most southerly town. The German discounter Lidl has arrived, but otherwise the food stores are independent or co-operative. The Spar at the Drinagh Co-op in Skibbereen has a coffee shop selling amazing cakes, and the other big central supermarket, SuperValu, is independently owned by local firm Fields. SuperValu is a symbol group, the name franchised from the Musgrave Group of Dublin (which also has the Centra name in Ireland and the Budgens and Londis names in the UK).

Attractive buildings, free parking, a buzz: Skibbereen

Skibbereen is a vibrant town, which this month staged the Taste of West Cork Food Festival. Restaurants, pubs, shops, hotels, the Heritage Centre, in fact virtually the whole of Skibbereen, created a foodfest with almost 50 events. The town’s population is only about 2,000 people, and they show how much a community can achieve if everyone works together. Fair trade, organic produce, community gardens, farmers’ markets, Skibbereen fuses town and country and has a long history besides.

The famine of the 1840s, mass starvation and emigration are commemorated in the Heritage Centre, constructed from the former gas works. The now-closed Mercy Heights convent, near the cathedral, is on sale for development but, like sites all over Ireland, is languishing on the market. There are vacant shops, closed restaurants, but most of Skibbereen is soldiering on, surviving, celebrating the survival. Parking is free, and shoppers’ spending mostly stays in the locality. That changes if remotely-owned retail multiples come to dominate. Then money is sucked out, never to return.

Those potholes and narrow roads are protecting Skibbereen from the articulated trucks which deliver just-in-time to superstores. I never thought I’d start to applaud potholes as community saviours!

Plenty of public space, independent shops, flowers and bright paint: recipe for lively small towns


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