Historic backpacking hostel moves on to new era on Wellington Road

Dan McCarthy speaks to the people taking over at the new An Oige hostel as it moves to Wellington Road.

Historic backpacking hostel moves on to new era on Wellington Road

For generations of backpackers or students passing through Cork for a night, the An Oige hostel at 1-2 Redclyffe Place, Western Road was the place to grab a bunk.

Drenched Germans weighed down with backpacks, Scandinavian cyclists with loaded paniers or West Cork students in between flats this An Oige hostel always willingly gave a place to the traveller for the night.

However, Billy and Breda Noonan who ran it since 1985 are finally hanging up their keys.

Well fear not, the long-established tradition of An Oige youth hostels in Cork is merely being transferred to Sheila’s Hostel on Wellington Road. Under the stewardship of Liam and Kaye Maher, Sheila’s Hostel is taking over the reins from Billy and Breda who have decided to call it a day in the youth hostelling business.

The new premises at 4, Belgrave Place just off Wellington Road certainly comes with a lot of history attached. The tall, elegant building was once home to Scoil Ita which was run by Maire and Ita McSwiney, sisters of the republican lord mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney who was executed during the War of Independence in 1920.

Billy and Breda Noonan who have managed the An Óige hostel at Western Road, Cork since 1985. They are due to retire on Thursday next, and from Friday next the An Óige business will transfer to Sheila's Hostel, Belgrave Park, Wellington Road Cork under the ownership of Liam & Kaye Maher.(Pic: An Óige)

Billy and Breda Noonan who have managed the An Óige hostel at Western Road, Cork since 1985. They are due to retire on Thursday next, and from Friday next the An Óige business will transfer to Sheila's Hostel, Belgrave Park, Wellington Road Cork under the ownership of Liam & Kaye Maher.(Pic: An Óige)

It is thought that MacSwiney had his last lunch at the building before he was arrested and taken to London and hanged. The school later became Scoil Mhuire and migrated further down Wellington Road to Sidney Place.

Liam Maher explains how the transition to the new hostel premises came about: “An Oige have closed their premises in Cork and I’ve taken on the franchise and all the An Oige and Youth Hostel Association business.

An Oige are very keen to maintain a presence in Cork since their Western Road premises closed. Billy and Breda have been in operation since 1958 at the Western Road {An Oige since 1985}. And they closed on April 7. It was one of the first youth hostels to open in Cork.

“My parents started Sheila’s hostel in 1984, the year Fords and Dunlops closed and Cork was going through a recession. At the time they were looking for a different avenue to get out of the bedsit market. Sheila’s has been operating as an independent hostel since then. It’s a new venture for us and a new avenue of business coming from the An Oige brand which is a big international brand,” says Liam.

The whole MacCurtain Street, Wellington Road area is at the centre of a major transport hub with the train and bus stations a few hundred metres from the front door of the hostel. There are upwards of 30 eateries on MacCurtain Street alone and there is a huge footfall in the area.

Liam and Kaye Maher pictured at Sheila's Hostel, Belgrave Square, Wellington Road, Cork.Sheila's Hostel became the official An Óige hostel in Cork following the closure of the existing hostel on the Western Road on Thursday, April 7th last.(Pic: Siobhan Russell)

Liam and Kaye Maher pictured at Sheila's Hostel, Belgrave Square, Wellington Road, Cork.Sheila's Hostel became the official An Óige hostel in Cork following the closure of the existing hostel on the Western Road on Thursday, April 7th last.(Pic: Siobhan Russell)

“The Victorian quarter is getting a big push at the moment. All the local traders are working together. All my customers get discounts in the restaurants and bars and likewise they have my card so they tell people about us and send them up. We’re all trying to look out for each other to get this area north of the Lee more appealing to everybody,” says Liam.

As you would expect the spread of visitors to the hostel is like the United Nations.

“We get a huge spread. Exotic. Every nationality is represented - Indonesian, Bolivian, you name it. Hostelling is a very international mix. In the last six months we’ve had a huge influx from Croatia as they recently joined the EU,” says Liam.

He says it’s not just students and backpackers who are staying at Sheila’s. “They are relocating and coming to Cork or Ireland to find work. It is difficult to find long-term accommodation in Cork so they end up staying for a month or six weeks until they find their feet,” he says.

Sheila’s has a 188-bed acommodation capacity which would seem pretty huge for a hostel. To put that in perspective, the Generaror hostel in Smithfields in Dublin has a 500-bed capacity. But Liam isn’t complaining. Since the advent of the Wild Atlantic Way business is doing well because they are close to the train station, bus station and ariport.

“A lot of them start their tour in Cork It’s a the start of the Wild Atlantic Way and a lot of our guests look for advice on the Wild Atlantic Way which has been a fantastic markting device for tourism. Tourism is certainly on the bounce in Cork,” says Liam.

avid Matokic from Croatia and Sabrina Serra from the USA, pictured at Sheila's Hostel, Belgrave Square, Wellington Road Cork.From Friday next, April 8th Sheila's Hostel will be the new An Óige hostel in Cork following the closure of their current hostel on Western Road which has been in operation since 1958.(Pic: Siobhan Russell)

avid Matokic from Croatia and Sabrina Serra from the USA, pictured at Sheila's Hostel, Belgrave Square, Wellington Road Cork.From Friday next, April 8th Sheila's Hostel will be the new An Óige hostel in Cork following the closure of their current hostel on Western Road which has been in operation since 1958.(Pic: Siobhan Russell)

Final word on Billy and Breda who have handed over the baton to Liam.

“They were of huge service to Cork and I’m sure there are plenty of tourists out there who would remember how they were looked after by Billy and Breda and how Breda would cook up a storm for all the backpackers and all the groups going through there. I’m sorry to see them go but time moves on and business moves on too,” he says.

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