Report by Heike O’Sullivan
Do you have an appointment coming up at Bantry Hospital, or do you currently visit there frequently to call on a loved one? Are you one of the many commuters or delivery van drivers on Bonane’s ‘Tunnel Road’, connecting Kenmare and Glengarries? A Kerry farmer, heading to Bantry’s farm shops for cattle or sheep nuts, or bale wrap? Or perhaps a Cork farmer, taking livestock to Kenmare Mart? If so, then you will be delighted and relieved to know that thanks to local people power from both sides of the Cork/Kerry border, astonishingly short sighted decisions by Kerry and Cork County Councils to temporarily close the Tunnel at Turner’s Rock and the Tunnel-to-Glengarriff road, have been quashed.
In July last, Kerry County Council had published a Notice for the closing of the N71 Secondary National Road from around the area of the three short tunnels to the Long Tunnel, to facilitate repairs to the Caha Tunnel where loose rock has been identified as a potential traffic hazard. Extending the road closure into Lyre on the Cork side, the proposed closure of this major link between West Cork and South Kerry was to take place during the first week of September.
To make things worse for our very own version of cross-border traffic, Cork County Council was pursuing plans to close the N71 on their side of the Tunnel for the entire month of October, to accommodate road repairs and resurfacing works. This road closure was also originally supposed to take place during the main tourist season, only for local councillors having put their feet down last April, resulting in a postponement of the works until October. The advertised diversions would have required road users to detour via Castletownbere or via Ballingeary and Kealkill. Alternative routes, well known to locals, would have included the Priest’s Leap, Healy Pass and the Old Bantry Road, but these are obviously not suited to lorries, coaches or campervans.
There is no question that the proposed remedial works to stretches of road surface on the Cork side, as well as repairs to the Long Tunnel are needed and must take place sooner rather than later. A recent survey of the impressive, hand-hewn Tunnel revealed loose and hollow rock, causing potential safety risks to Tunnel traffic. Indeed, Kerry County Council has erected a ‘Rockfall’ warning sign near the short tunnels in recent weeks. It is also understandable that the County Councils want to carry out the work during periods of (hopefully) dry weather. However, it is truly puzzling that Kerry and Cork County Councils thought they would be able to close a road as important to our locality on all levels as the N71, without encountering outrage and opposition.
Anyone with any experience of traffic in our area is more than aware that, once the summer holiday visitors have gone home with the beginning of the new school year, a different kind of tourist comes to enjoy Kerry and Cork. Far from national road traffic reducing to nearly nothing at the end of August, the combined efforts of local businesses, local tourist and marketing boards and Fáilte Ireland have succeeded in extending our tourist season until pretty much the end of October, weather permitting. September still sees coach tours as well as plenty of individual tourists in cars or campervans travelling through Bonane’s Tunnels, and I wonder what the organisers of the Cork Rebel Tour would have said on 8th September, if the Tunnels wouldn’t have been reopened as per Kerry County Council’s schedule, thereby ruining the cycle race’s ten year anniversary for its 2,000 participants. From a tourist industry’s point of view, not just Bonane businesses such as Molly Gallivan’s, Lorge Chocolates or The Weaver’s Shop would have suffered from weeks of road closure at what is still a very busy time for them. Obviously, Kenmare and Glengarriff traders would also have been adversely affected and so it was no surprise that Kerry and Cork County Councils received plenty of objections to their respective plans.
At 9pm on 30th July last, a mere 43 hours before the end of Kerry County Council’s advertised objection period, a public meeting was held in Kenmare’s Brook Lane Hotel. It was well attended by representatives of businesses from both sides of the Tunnels as well as local politicians. All those involved must be applauded for having successfully influenced the Councils’ unhelpful plans, so surprisingly detached from the realities of life and business of the people they are there to serve.
The communities in the scenic areas between Kenmare and Bantry are happy that Kerry and Cork County Councils have seen sense and have taken the concerns of people affected on the ground seriously.
Kerry County Council will extend the time of the remedial Tunnel works to twelve days instead of the planned week, but the work will be carried out during night time hours. Between Monday 24th September and Friday 5th October (both dates inclusive), the N71 will be closed from Esk West to Lyre, each night between the hours of 19.00hrs and 7.00hrs.
Cork County Council’s resurfacing works on their side of the Tunnel is reportedly deferred until after the October Bank Holiday weekend and will now not necessitate the full closure of the Glengarriff road. Council staff have re-examined the section of the N71 concerned and have concluded that the length of road requiring resurfacing can be reduced, subject to the agreement of Transport Infrastructure Ireland. This would reduce the length of time that will be required to carry out the work, and traffic could be kept flowing by way of temporary traffic lights or ‘lollipopping’. Watch this space…