Back in the summer of 1985, Ballinspittle was famous as the homeplace of Ireland’s best-known moving statue.
Ever since, the village has been known for an immaculately tended Marian shrine, and little else.
But today, Ballinspittle is transformed from the place seen on grainy television news footage, and in yellowed photographs of crowds straining to see a ‘miracle’. Ballinspittle is bucking the national economic trend. I should know. I moved there in 2005.
Established premises and trading families are welcoming new enterprises — to pull together. That’s the key — Ballinspittle’s sense of community. Here’s a quick tour.
The newest kid on the block is La Vie En Rose. Setting out its stall in what was once a regarded pub, the house-and-garden store has become the consummate boutique experience — parachuting you into Francophile, farmhouse country, and shabby chic, all in one go. You can even sidle up to a lit stove while exploring its ‘olde’ world.
So, how is business? “Brilliant. I pinch myself everyday. Everyone’s been so kind and helpful,” says proprietor Sharon O’Cinneide, who only opened in July, with the support of her son Aran and husband, Níall. “I knew things would work. But I thought it’d be next year, at the soonest. My neighbours bring visitors into the shop — just to show it off. Having spent years in France, with a dream to come home, here we are.”
One door away, this ambition is again on show. “When I was leaving Kinsale six years ago, people said I was committing business suicide by coming out here,” says Shannon Keane, who runs Diva Cafe and Bakery, and a delicatessen beside Lordan’s butchers, a stone’s throw away. “But they were wrong. People wanted a café-cum-coffee house here. And they got it.”
Ms Keane has propelled a minor exodus of customers from Kinsale, the nearby gourmet capital of Ireland, to Ballinspittle, where they taste their savouries and sweets, instead. The move would have made many baulk, but not Ms Keane. She’s reaping the rewards. Just witness Sunday mornings, when bikers and cyclists compete for parking space.
“We make all our own food on site,” she says. “All sourced locally, too. . Not having to order in makes such a difference. So, we know we’re offering quality.”
How does Ballinspittle tick? “It’s one helluva hardworking village. Everyone here puts in the time. I see people opening up at first light, like JJ and Katherine in the supermarket. And I know how long the days can be, for people like Ina, beside me in the hair salon, or Leonard and Lindsay in Hurley’s pub down the street. The village’s togetherness makes it all possible and worthwhile. That and being able to meet your bills,” Ms Keane says.
Standing at the counter in Lordan’s butchers, I see strips of meat in packets you would expect to be filled with peanuts. Well, to be honest, I was staring at them for a while before I was enlightened about their contents. “Biltong,” says butcher Kenneth Daly. “The surfers love it. They stock up on their way to the beach.”
“Bil ... what?” I ask. “Oh, it’s strips of cured meat. Like beef jerky. It’s dried out,” he says, barely raising an eyebrow, used to the new custom. “They adore the stuff. They can’t get enough of it. So, we make sure we’ve got it for them. Those boys are passing through the village all year round.”
With two blue-flag beaches in Garrettstown and Garrylucas, only two miles away, Ballinspittle has witnessed an influx of Australians and South Africans, and a bunch of other nationalities in search of a surfing haunt.
And they’ve found it. Just check in with Jon Hynes, who runs GTown Surf, Cork’s number one school. He’s seen a minority sport turn mainstream in a matter of years. “Surfing’s experienced huge growth in Ireland over the last few years. And we’re blessed with a fabulous coastline. We’ve got one of the most consistent stretches in the south. Perfect for budding surfers. So, there’s no excuse for not getting out there and enjoying the waves,” says Jon. “And that’s what people are doing.”
Before leaving Lordan’s, I ask Kenneth if Ballinspittle’s now ‘cool’. “Without a shadow of a doubt,” he says. “But, no matter how trendy things get around here, you’ll still know your neighbours. That’s why this is a place to live. Everything you need’s on your doorstep. The most important thing, though, is having people to talk to.”
This momentum is shaping Ballinspittle’s present and future, in tandem with those who’ve been here, well, forever. Cue a visit to Coholan’s garage, where Pat and son, Padraig, repair a constant stream of motors, as if on the side of a racetrack. Theirs is a service you don’t find everywhere. Straight-talking professionals who get you back on the road without any fuss.
Standing in their yard, you look over the bridge to Ballinspittle’s new estate, Lissoran. Only completed in the last few years, it ran the gauntlet, like so many other developments, to find people to occupy its houses. But unlike the ghost schemes dotted around the country, this village’s extension has a car outside most doors.
“They’ve been filled with locals and people coming from outside the village,” says Pat. “The population has certainly grown. We’ve seen that at the national school. Forty started this year. Now, that’s a record. I think we’ve two new teachers, as well. And things are looking good for next year. It’s a great place for kids. Quiet, relaxed and safe.”
Maybe Ballinspittle’s garnering attention because of its youthful vibe and the heady mix of beautiful strands and enchanting shoreline, a mecca for water sports enthusiasts. Perhaps it’s to do with the sheltered abandon of Kilmore woods and the area’s natural tranquility.
But, as a blow-in, I suspect it’s more to do with the spirit of the place, brilliantly manifested in its many festivals, and eye-catching offerings, like Doggie Style’s canine grooming parlour.
Blending humour and tradition, this premises has turned heads, and wowed Tidy Towns’ judges, who commented on it in their 2011 report on the town.
It’s hard to top the subtle stuff, though — like being saluted in the street or at the Co-op, by name. Having someone ask about you and your family, with genuine interest. That gives you a reason to call a place home.
Even if you’re away for a while, it’ll always be there for you when you get back.