Castleisland: Preparing for Life on the Streets – But Not as we Know It !

Castleisland after Covid-19 ? A blank canvass – an empty stage – a town craving creativity and new thinking on an old theme as the hub of its neighbouring villages. ©Photographs: John Reidy Main picture taken on 24-4-2020
The late Barrack Street sports historian, Denny ‘Good’ O’Sullivan pictured at Lower Main Street with an old Rás Tailteann programme. But look, in the context of what the businesses in town are now planning,  at what’s going on behind him on the accommodating depth of the footpaths. This was on the morning of the restart of the FBD Milk Rás which stopped overnight in Castleisland in May 2001. ©Photograph: John Reidy 23-5-2001

Members of Castleisland Chamber Alliance held a conference call with representatives of the Castleisland Corca Dhuibhne Municipal District recently.

What transpired between them mightn’t be the most reassuring reading today if you’re looking out a window or door on a rain and windswept street.

However, optimism reigns in the former, indomitable market town in an era where laws and rules will have to be of the light touch variety and to mould themselves to  brand new realities of life as we’re getting to know it.

Detected a Desire to Return

From the meeting the chamber team detected what they described as ‘a major desire to facilitate as far as possible a return to business in the new normal, especially as the shared feeling was that restrictions may be lifted earlier than planned.’

“The purpose of the meeting was to understand, from an council’s perspective, the requirements of the Castleisland town businesses and also for the chamber and businesses to understand where the council is coming from,” said chamber chairman, Michael John Kearney.

Locals Looking for Guidelines

The locals will be looking for guidelines in developing extra, outside facilities, new ways of trading with protocols and practices for doing business in an utterly changed and highly charged environment.

Vitally important matters for the resumption of business will be the funding, licensing and planning implications of this new way of thinking on your feet and on your street.

Food outlets, businesses, bar operators and other retailers have been consulted by the chamber.

A Flexibile and Light Touch Approach

“The chamber’s view is that an innovative approach with speed, flexibility and light touch bureaucracy are vital as we trial, change and adjust to find the most effective ways to go forward as the various restrictions are eased,” said Mr. Kearney.

“Peoples livelihoods are at risk and emotions will be running high. We can’t be restricted in our response by overly bureaucratic requirements,” he continued.

“Early, and clear communication from Kerry County Council to the businesses of the town, through its management, planners and safety officers will be vital also, to enable any new arrangements to be put in place speedily and safely.

Thinking Beyond the Summer

“All new arrangements must be capable of sustaining business beyond the summer, into autumn and winter, so covered solutions will be needed outside of premises and on the street, where practical.

A town and village scheme, recently announced could be the source of funding for expenditures required in the town to accelerate a return to 100% business level.

“There is both an accelerated and normal process within this scheme with July 3rd. and August 14th. closing dates for the former and the municipal district team must be central to the preparation of the application.

Canopies and Awnings

“It is the councils view that canopies and awnings should be of standard colour, and design and the standards will be defined by the planners and bearing in mind the façade of the buildings in focus.

“The chamber’s view is that speed, flexibility and light touch bureaucracy is needed. Early, and clear communication from the planners to the businesses of the town, is vital also, to enable any new arrangements to be put in place.

“The municipal district administrators should also negotiate a volume deal with suppliers and seek to have these canopies included under the towns and villages scheme funding.

Spaces for Food Outlets

The chamber’s findings show that a big increase in outside space is the key requirement and the council’s preference is for clusters and hubs of tables and seating shared by multiple outlets, and covered for adverse weather conditions.

“But” Mr. Kearney said “this equipment must be purchased under the towns and villages funding scheme and no license fees should be applied as business grapples with the changes and try to hang on in there until we get through this crisis.

No License Fee

“The chamber is of the view that each outlet should, if required be allowed to supplement this proposal with facilities on the outside of their premises also at no license fee cost.

All the ongoing costs of running these hubs must be carried by the MD – Hand sanitiser, daily cleaning, rubbish collection, etc – otherwise it will not work.

The extra spaces are needed to allow for social distancing, as will be in force at the time, hand sanitisation, and respiratory etiquette, to be properly practiced. Safety and health of both customers and staff is the key objective.

Stagger School Lunchtimes

There is a feeling that schools, and business lunchtimes if not staggered will challenge the capacities available in shops and food outlets. But then most of the schools have their in-house catering facilities which could overcome the need for students to venture onto the streets at this vital time of day.

In the chamber’s view the creation of a E-commerce platform is vital to ensuring that the town can compete on line. A gift card scheme is being designed under the auspices of a support your local town initiative.

Parking Free Zones

The chamber is also calling for parking free zones in areas of the town the members have identified as suitable for outdoor seating. They are also appealing for patience from traffic wardens and Gardai in dealing with elderly customers / drivers under the strangeness of it all.

They would also like to see public houses being able to share in the proposed outdoor clustering of tables and chairs in our proposed, new tented village approach to life.

Castleisland Back In Full Flow

In this new world, knee length socks, long johns and overcoats may become the new must have pieces of apparel ‘going forward’ – as the politicians like to say.

In rounding off the chamber’s wish list, Michael John Kearney went out on an optimistic note:

“We look forward to working with the municipal district and our councillors in bringing Castleisland back into full flow for the summer ahead,” he concluded.

Where is the Bank of Ireland

If we really are in this together, where is the Bank of Ireland now as a punch drunk Castleisland business community struggles to its feet after months of lock-down.

Bank of Ireland was one of the first business in Castleisland to ‘pull the plug’ in the face of the increasingly darkening news in March.

There are people here who feel strongly that the bank stole away under the cover of that darkness and will not darken the doors of Castleisland again.

No Replacement Manager Appointed Since 2017

If anyone out there in banking land knows, wouldn’t it be only courtesy to let the people of the area know.

That the Bank of Ireland failed to appoint a successor to its last Castleisland branch manager Paddy Garvey after his retirement in 2017 was a harbinger of things to come.

The March evacuation of the services here seemed to follow that same inevitable course of action.

Bursting with Ideas

There are keyboard warriors and some ordinary people out there who will be bursting with great ideas about how the town could and should pick its steps and progress from this unprecedented point in its amazing and trying history.

Now is their time to shine and test those ideas.

As a great and proven survivor, this little town deserves the attentions and respect of all our elected representatives and people who sit in positions of responsibility and power.

It has been through bloodshed and terror, turmoil and war and has had some of its most prominent buildings burned to the ground at various times.

But they were rebuilt by the resilience of the natives.

It is that spirit that will get us all back on track and prove that we are indeed ‘All in this Together.’