Friar St/South Main St in Youghal — which extends 200m from the town’s Cork entrance to the town centre’s Clock Gate — was traditionally a bustling thoroughfare.
As five factory closures contributed to the loss of more than 2,000 jobs from the mid-1980s, the streets reflected the decline. Friar St/South Main St lost a hotel, two cinemas, several pubs, two bookmakers and numerous small retailers. Approximately 17 former retail premises lie idle in the area.
As part of a several town development proposals, a revitalised Chamber of Tourism and Commerce proposes to help regenerate the thoroughfare as an art-focused quarter in a public-private driven initiative. Nick Ryan, chamber vice-president, believes the creation of a heritage and cultural exhibition space can kick-start a process that will attract similar and feed-off developments in the area.
“The potential for small artist-occupied studios, where tourists can meet artists and experience or participate in the creation of art or crafts, for example, is huge,” he said. The challenge, says Dubliner Mr Ryan who owns Youghal’s Walter Raleigh hotel, lies in “creating the right environment where property owners, community organisations and local authorities can unite in enhancing the streetscapes, attracting tourists and creating employment. We are just the facilitators.”
Ironically, said Mr Ryan, “the lack of development has actually preserved the integrity of buildings, with their historic character remaining almost completely intact”.
The plans follows the development of a Raleigh quarter at the town’s northern end, in which the former town council spearheaded massive restoration that highlights Youghal’s links with Walter Raleigh and other historic figures.
“Youghal is one of the best preserved heritage towns in Europe but we need more to occupy tourists — and we certainly need to improve their first impressions as they approach the main street,” said Mr Ryan.
County council members of the East Cork Municipal District supported the proposal at its November meeting. A feasibility study is being organised.