Over 150 people convened at the Walter Raleigh hotel on Sunday December 12th for the screening of A Town Out Of Time, Michael Twomey and Kieran McCarthy’s short ‘contemplative documentary’ on Youghal’s decline through and since Ireland’s late nineties and mid noughties boom time.
Report: Christy Parker/Photo: Michael Hussey www.youghalonline.com
The film did not endeavour to scapegoat or apportion blame, but across 27 minutes of footage (edited from over three hours), allowed the camera to communicate impartially the visual evidence of a town far from thriving. Vocal commentary was added from UCC’s Dr. Kieran Keohane on the sociological impact of urban changes and similarly from his colleague Brendan O’Sullivan., a director of sustainable development. Also vocal –and local- on celluloid, were financial consultant and former Labour town councillor Donie Daly and local retailers Ken Brookes, John Kennedy and Michael Farrell.
Before the screening even commenced, a point of controversy arose when it was revealed that the original intention to screen the film in the reportedly €2.5m Mall Arts Centre was abandoned due to a €500 tag for hal hire and insurance. Particularly for two locals uncertain of turnout, this was beyond contemplation, so the un-costly welcome of the Walter Raleigh was preferred.
The film addressed its topic under four categories –job losses, doughnut effect, planning and the future. The lens alighted on empty factories to communicate the loss of over 2,000 jobs across several closures at a time when the country was thriving through “the myth of the Celtic Tiger,” as Mr. Kennedy recalled it.
Amidst all this, the doughnut effect evolved. The term is a portrayal of the physical void created at the centre of an urban setting when commerce relocates to its perimeters. This process commenced in Youghal with the arrival of Lidl and Tesco. It would have been –and some day may yet be- exacerbated with the development of a retail complex at the decrepit old Murray Kitchen’s site in the same area, which was rezoned for retail amidst high optimism a few years ago. Currently its would-be developers and ‘Dunne’s Stores’ flag wavers, Galvin Brothers of Killarney, are now €45m in debt and maybe located in the corridors of the High Court.
Brookes Supervalu proprietor Ken Brookes recalled that whilst not begrudging its right to exist, he objected to the proposed ‘Dunne’s’ development. He then referred to “the hardest decision of my life” as he somewhat augmented the doughnut effect by relocating from the town centre to the upper end of North Main Street. The requirement of greater car parking space to compete with newly arrived Lidl and Tesco in Greencloyne prompted the move. He said he believed the arrival of another shopping complex on the town’s periphery would have “destroyed the town centre’s infrastructure,” a point considered valid by Bord Pleanala when they refused planning permission to Galvin’s. Wistfully, Mr Brookes also recalled a halcyon time when Merrick’s flourished and workers even arrived in town to take up residency in the building where they worked.
Mr. Keohane pointed out that the doughnut left a non-physical legacy too, as it removes a community’s meeting points and thus diminishes the threads of social interaction that help to bind it. Mr. O’Sullivan explained that planning guidelines operate on town centre protection, with new developments ideally slotting into the area and only progressing ever outwards according to necessity and practicality. He elaborated that accelerated development and accelerated de-development equally exacerbate problems of identity and attachment, no less than one-off housing affected those in rural areas not otherwise tied to the land.
It is widely accepted within and without the town, that some diabolical planning was executed in Youghal over the past decade. Moll Goggin’s Corner in particular, Allen’s Quay and to a slightly lesser extent Green Park, are regularly cited as areas forever ‘uglified’ if one may invent a term. Mr. Daly described these apartment complexes as “90% empty in some instances” and not just unproductive but evolving into even worse eyesores through graffiti and other despoilments. “We’re stuck with them for hundreds of years now,” sighed Mr. Farrell. He described the towering insult to Youghal at Moll Goggin’s Corner as “selling out” the precious tourist attraction of the wonderful adjacent strand. Mr Farrell advocated that planning decisions be made only by qualified people and with regard to the overall effect on the town and not just the immediate locality. His point resonated through Mr. Keohane’s insistence that bad planning “is not a victimless act” but has longterm negative effects on a community.
To a haunting music score, the town’s derelict sites were paraded one by one, emerging and departing like sick soldiers on the battlefield of Youghal’s lost economy. Only the rats, literally, remained hidden, one felt as the feeling of loss and an empty return for faith grew increasingly nauseous.
The film pondered the future to a lesser degree, though the focus of the audience would settle on it more considerably. Mr Keohane offered hope in the context of ever-shifting opportunity. “Places like Bray and Skegness have reinvented themselves out of physical decline and Youghal can do likewise,” he encouraged, indicating that it needed leadership and a definite direction in so doing.
The film, professionally produced and presented, was afforded heartfelt applause. The immediate reaction from some quarters was to question why not one representative from the most immediate port of responsibility- Youghal Town Council- was present. All had been invited, confirmed Michael Twomey, but with the exception of Cllr Liam Burke, who had furnished viable cause to be missing, he had no idea as to the whereabouts of the elected representatives. Two had not even acknowledged his invitation. “It’s surprising, as are usually good at attending openings and things,” he mused mischievously to much mirth in the hall.
Moving swiftly on, the film maker reminded that, “it’s not about the council anyway. They can’t resolve our problems. They have no power,” he proceeded. “Their own TD’s don’t even care about them. Cork County Council has the revenue and effectively run the town but they don’t care either. I think its brave town for town council because it’s a lose-lose situation. They end up getting the blame for things they can’t control. Politics between Youghal Town Council and Cork County Council is a juggernaut laden with boulders going downhill on flat tyres,” he concluded to applause.
The absence of a political figurehead or nine meant that the film maker was left to field, rather than chair, the questions and opinions that subsequently emerged. He did so exceedingly well, to ensure a legacy of positivity from a disheartening diversion.
Opinions and options
One by one feelings flowed and topics tumbled: “For over 40 years a lot of town organisations sat on their hands and let things happen; we have to be embarrassed as a town now,” said one man. “The local train station was a wasted opportunity, “voiced another. “A tourist driving from Moll Goggin’s where you can now no longer see the bay, past the closed hotels and derelict sites, to the Clock Gate, would ask themselves, ‘What the hell happened here?!,” interjected Michael.
One man spoke of “crap political stuff” after his willingness to clear rubbish voluntarily from Claycastle car park elicited a warning from Cork County Council not to get involved. Another mentioned tourists yearning year on year to access the ever-evasive interior of the Clock Gate. As heritage raised its head, it was deemed that the annual Youghal Celebrates History recurrence was an “elitist” event; not that this was bad but just that it did not preoccupy locals very much. “History is not being sold here,” said Michael Twomey.
The Youghal entrance sign at the bypass on the Cork side was ridiculed as being unlit and even party to a dangerous piece of road. Dungarvan’s “American style billboards” proclaiming the arrival at its territory was hailed as exemplary. No toilets at Youghal beach? “A joke,” condemned Michael, recounted recently seeing a very elderly man trying in vain to persuade a locked front strand door to allow him in. An elderly speaker told of his plans to build a small hotel, a nine-hole golf course and chalets at the Rifle Range, only for Youghal Town Council of the 1970’s to him successfully. He was still angry. Why, asked yet another voice, reasonably, were Allen’s Quay and Carlton Wharf allowed to rise without the proposed marina and swimming pool respectively, first installed?
The film had indeed focused minds and the past was forming a warning for the future. “Get involved in community activities for a start,” urged a man determined to establish a community garden project. “We need a sea-change by way of a lot more community co-operation,” insisted Michael Farrell. Free car parking was crucial too, he felt as he criticised a current project to diminish on-street car spaces in favour of bicycle bays. As for politics….”Don’t always vote for Mr or Ms. Popularity (person or party), he urged, “They may not have two brain cells to rub together.”
The viewing concluded with a jaundiced regard for politics. “A town is its people,” intoned Michael Twomey, again to wide agreement. To that end, if the town wants something done whether to follow dream, development or destiny, “we would best do it ourselves,” was the conclusive opinion. How that resolve can be nurtured and generated may hold the key to Youghal’s survival and prosperity -or otherwise. The power of film can only do so much.
* While there are many requests for copies of the film to be made available, the makers say they cannot commit to distributing it wholesale until they have first investigated the option of having it transmitted thought television. “It was never intended as a commercial venture in any case,” says Michael. Meantime a second screening may be on the agenda early in new year.
Click on image to enlarge