Plan being drawn up to ensure access to Cobh in storms

Plans are being drawn up to ensure future weather storms will not trap people in a famed seaport town, writes Sean O'Riordan.

More than 10,000 people faced difficulties accessing or exiting Cork harbour’s Great Island and the town of Cobh during storm Ophelia last month.

The island’s sole road was impassable in parts due to fallen trees while the cross-river ferry did not operate due to high winds and the rail connection to Cork city had also been suspended.

With trees crashing down on the Fota Road, concerns have since been raised about the likely risks facing the local population in the event of a medical emergency.

In one particular incident, it emerged that while council workers were trying to clear fallen trees from the Fota Road after the storm, ambulance crews had to manhandle a stretcher out through the debris to a waiting ambulance.

In the meantime, Cork County Council officials have entered into talks with gardaí and the owners of Fota estate to access a private road through the estate if the main Fota Road is impassable in the future.

The roads had been constructed in the harbourside estate some years ago when the Irish Open Golf Championship had been hosted there.

Senior council area engineer Gerard O’Hora told a meeting of the Cobh/Glanmire municipal district council that a draft proposal had been drawn up to use the estate roads in the event of a repeat of storm damage similar to Ophelia.

He noted, however, that further talks would have to take place between the local authority, the gardaí and the estate owners.

Mr O’Hora said council engineers will also need to assess the estate’s road network to make sure the roads were capable of facilitating emergency traffic.

He outlined some details of the proposals after the issue was raised, at the meeting, by Cllr Cathal Rasmussen.

The councillor said while there was an emergency plan in place for the Cobh area it was simply not workable because of the current lack of an alternative route in and out of the Great Island in the likely event of all three forms of transport — road, rail and ferry — were inaccessible.

Cllr Sinead Sheppard agreed with Cllr Rasmussen that something needed to be done to address the issue.

She said a plan had been drawn up a number of years ago for a new road onto the island but is currently shelved, and gathering dust.

“I know we are not going to get €58 million for a new road, but we need to ringfence money to make the (Fota) road safer by reinforcing walls, rebuilding walls and putting public lights there,” Cllr Sheppard said.

Cllr Kieran McCarthy, who like his two colleagues also lives in Cobh, said something had to be done to rectify the situation.

Meanwhile, Cllr Anthony Barry pointed out that there were a large number of big trees remaining within the walls of the Fota estate and were extremely close to the Fota Road.

Cllr Barry said that like any landowner, those who own the estate had a duty of care to ensure all potentially dangerous trees were cut down.

The cathedral town, a major heritage location, is well known internationally as the ill-fated Titanic’s last port of call in 1912. However, it was also a main port of embarkation during mass emigrations in the 19th and 20th centuries and the prisoner ships bound for Britain’s colonies.

This story originally appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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