West Cork on holidaymakers: ‘We’re hoping they won’t come’

Kilcrohane usually relies on visitors but the usual welcome is temporarily suspended

Elaine Spillane in Kilcrohane, west Cork: ‘It’s surreal. Spring is here but it’s like it’s still winter and we’re all in hibernation’

Elaine Spillane in Kilcrohane, west Cork: ‘It’s surreal. Spring is here but it’s like it’s still winter and we’re all in hibernation’

 

Businesswoman Elaine Spillane normally swims year-round with a boisterous group of women called the Chilli Dippers.

However, each day since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, Spillane has entered the lapping waves alone from a deserted pier near her home on the remote Sheep’s Head peninsula in west Cork.

The tiny village of Kilcrohane, where she has lived and worked for 26 years, is a gateway to the renowned Sheep’s Head Way, a picturesque and rugged trail that attracts thousands of walkers from all over the world.

The Easter bank holiday weekend is normally the start of Kilcrohane’s bustling summer season; the tables outside Frank’s Shop and two local bars are usually thronged with visitors, the local B&B is booked out and the Old Creamery and Bridgeview restaurants buzzing.

These days, however, everything is shut. Spillane says the place is eerily quiet. “Although the Sheep’s Head Way is still open, there are no walkers because of the 2km travel ban.

“The shop and post office are open but the coffee shop is closed. There are no tables outside the cafe, outside the Bay View or Eileen’s Bar. The Old Creamery and the Bridge View B&B and restaurant are closed.”

By the second half of the week, Garda checkpoints have been established in both Kilcrohane and in the village of Durrus, farther east, turning away visitors to the peninsula.

“People are nervous,” says Spillane.

“We have a very elderly population here; a lot of people who would be vulnerable to Covid-19. Our nearest hospital is Bantry hospital, which is small and covers a huge area. Cork University Hospital is the nearest acute hospital and it’s nearly two hours’ drive from Kilcrohane village.

“It’s surreal. Spring is here but it’s like it’s still winter and we’re all in hibernation. We have sunny days and blue skies – but silence. There’s no buzz and no craic on this coast this Easter.”

Striking silence

Spillane is the owner of local property company Peninsula Properties, which is deeply involved in the rental and management of holiday lets in Kilcrohane and the nearby village of Ahakista. She says that once Frank’s Shop closes for the evening, “the silence is striking”.

Spillane handles about a dozen rental properties scattered around the peninsula, all of which are empty.

“Bookings for the rental properties have been cancelled for April and May.

“I haven’t received cancellations for June, but I’m expecting them.

“We need our visitors financially, and we want them from a personal and emotional level,” she adds. “They add to the buzz and the life in the village but we have to be grateful to our visitors, many of whom would be regular people, for staying away now. We need people to come. We want them to come, but we’re very grateful they’re not coming.”

Some people who own holiday homes came some weeks back, she said, but Spillane has not spotted many strange cars in the area lately.

This is in contrast to some west Cork towns such as Bantry and Skibbereen, where significant numbers of Dublin and UK-registered vehicles have been seen in the streets and supermarket car parks.

“There’s no one coming into Kilcrohane now, nobody,” says another local business owner who complains that last weekend the village was “crawling with people even though there was nowhere open except the shop”.

“We’re hoping that they f***ing won’t come; that’s the honest truth,” the business owner says, adding that locals were relieved that new arrivals were now being turned back at Garda checkpoints.

“At the moment there are a few people around who shouldn’t be here. It’s not right.”

No invitation

Visitors need to be mindful of the “special relationship” they have with permanent communities in their holiday destinations, advises Cork city-based psychotherapist Margaret Lenihan.

“Going to another community in this climate could be likened to entering another person’s home without invitation, which can lead to feelings of resentment and can create difficulties in relationships,” she says.

“We need to be mindful of not just our individual safety but that of others as well,” adds Lenihan, who won’t be travelling to her family’s second home near the village of Durrus on the peninsula.

“We have a choice to nurture it or cause a rupture in it,” she says, adding that any ruptures caused by the breaching of Covid-19 travel restrictions could last longer than the virus itself.

“People in rural areas want to be taken into account; they want others to respect their fears for their safety and for their health,” she says. “People think a change of scene won’t do any harm. But there’s a lack of awareness that there are people there who are in genuine fear of becoming ill.”

Roberta Tobin (53), a nurse and mother of three teenagers, has regularly visited the family holiday home on the Sheep’s Head Way for the past 14 years. This year, however, she is staying at home in Mallow.

“All it will take to bring it in is one person – and it destroys the goodwill of the people in that community.

“There are two kinds of people – the people who are taking Covid-19 very seriously and who are terrified and isolating themselves, and the people who just don’t seem to understand the seriousness of the situation.

“There are people out there putting their lives on the line to care for people who are seriously unwell or fighting for their lives. All we’re being asked to do is stay in the luxury of our own homes.”

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