Neil Armstrong had just become the first man to walk on the moon, 500,000 hippies had gathered at Woodstock and, at the very tip of the Beara Peninsula in west Cork, taoiseach Jack Lynch officially opened the Dursey Cable Car.
The year was 1969 and this week, Cork Council marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of Ireland’s only cable car which ensured that Dursey Island was no longer cut off from the mainland by treacherous seas.
Local parish priest, Fr Matthew Keane told RTÉ in 1969 that the 50 or so residents of Dursey were stranded for over a month every year due to the raging seas that it made it impossible to cross Dursey Sound by boat.
Fr Keane pushed for a cable car and Cork Co Council duly delivered and on December 5th, 1969, Mr Lynch officially opened the cable car which could carry six passengers on the 374m journey high above Dursey Sound.
Mayor of the county of Cork, Cllr Christopher O’Sullivan, was joined by former operators, engineers, councillors and members of the local community for today’s ceremony to mark the historic launch of Ireland’s only cable car.
Former operators reminisced at the local Lehanamore Community Centre about the five decades of history while the handful of residents still living permanently on the island spoke about the economic and social importance of the cable car, both for the island and for Beara.
“The cable car is more than a means of transport - it has become a tourist attraction itself on the Wild Atlantic Way. Tourism boosts the sustainability of scenic rural areas, because it creates employment for local people, said Cllr O’Sullivan.”
He said visitor numbers to Dursey have grown from 12,000 visitors in 2015 to 22,000 in 2018.
“We have seen how the Mizen Head signal station is accessible by the famous footbridge . . . In the same manner, travelling to Dursey Island involves the use of the famous cable car which is an integral part of the distinctive experience.”
Cork Co Council has invested heavily in the maintenance of the existing system over the years but as the existing cable car now requires substantial investment, a new improved two cable car system is now being proposed.
Cork Co Council chief executive, Tim Lucey said that, as part of an overall visitor project in the area, the council had lodged plans with An Bord Pleanála for a new cable car system with a decision expected early next year.
The proposed development, estimated to cost €10.5 million, would have two independently operated cable cars with a visitor/interpretive centre, café and improved car parking on the on the mainland side, he explained.
The centre on the mainland would explain the history of the island with a particular emphasis on biodiversity while developments on the island would be limited to a small building to receive the cable car, he said.
Mr Lucey said that the project, which will be funded by Fáilte Ireland, was being warmly welcomed by both locals and tourism interests, with visitor numbers projected to increase incrementally over a decade.